Sunday, May 31, 2015

I learn how to anyam

Weaving thatched roofing
This was one of those things that just well, happened. The moment I stood on Malaysian soil again I had this overflowing restlessness within me to do something, anything. I guess that's just one of the many traits of an unschooler, being in a dormant state of not continuously learning makes me rather fidgety and it also makes me say yes to any activity that happens to stumble upon my path.

And one of them was following Fai, that's the 11 year old brother of mine, to his bushcraft classes conducted weekly in Gombak by the orang asli

The finished woven thatched roofing made out of bertam leaves

We did our fair share of starting fires with the bow drill technique, cooking hill rice wrapped in large leaves and stuffed into bamboo stalk filled with water over the fire we had just made, learning how to swing a machete or parang properly, identifying edible ferns and mushrooms or that specific leaf to wrap around a wound to stop it from bleeding excessively or the correct trees and listening (Or at least straining to do so with the embarrassingly minimal knowledge I have.) to the orang asli ramble on about the history this particular village had with the British that had brought tribes from all over Malaysia together or how much the rain forest means to them and how they want everyone to hopefully experience the beauty of it before it ebbs away.

  But I was absolutely hooked on weaving the thatched roofs out of bertam leaves, I guess I just have a tendency to be that little teeny bit more interested in anything that falls into the arts & craft category even if it's not very artistic at all since it's just remembering the steps to that same repetitive pattern over and over again.  

At the following bushcraft session I was passed a bertam leaf to weave as an evaluation test if I could proceed to learn slightly more advanced weaving techniques with the orangasli mothers and the week after I found myself sitting on the front porch of the weaver's house with a bundle of dried mengkuang leaves.

Overly excited Karen learning basic anyaman

And that's how weaving traditional Semai craft made it's way into my weekly routine. I'd leave home at nine in the morning to head to Gombak and have the best roti canai and limau ais ever for breakfast at the kedai next door then head down the steep mismatched steps to the weaver's house to immerse myself in a day of non-stop back breaking weaving. I really am amazed at how these women can spend hours bending over the mat they're weaving without any discomfort whatsoever, the wooden wall of her porch is undeniably my best friend after the first two hours. Now I'm just slightly concerned about the physical state I'll be in within the next twenty years or so.

The weaver's daughter in the background

Weaving would be such a dull activity (No, it wouldn't) if it weren't for the weaver's daughter who finds this Chinese Kakak who's learning how to weave with her Mom incredibly fascinating. During the first session she'd run her fingers through my hair and comment on how panjang it is and when I replied with a 'no, I'm not married'  to her 'Kakak sudah kahwin?' question she made the most hilarious game over sound after staring at me with huge confused 5 year old eyes. Then she mumbled something about how it might be a little too late for me to scout for a suami now and trailed off with a tsk tsk kesianye.

Tucking the ends in using a porcupine's quill

Starting off was definitely a challenge since it was a lot more complicated than weaving with large bertam leaves and it took a good few hours before I could see the pattern in anything, it looked like nothing more than a mess of intertwined mengkuang leaves and the mid section was all I could do during the first lesson since the starting, corners and ends formed a never ending stream of question marks in my head.

Luckily I had a wonderfully patient teacher that didn't mind demonstrating techniques multiple times and after another lesson or two I could make bookmarks, bracelets, mats and small bags! 

Cutting thorns off a fresh mengkuang leaf

Last week instead of a full day of weaving I had the opportunity to learn how to prepare the mengkuang leaves that were growing right behind the weaver's house for weaving and I had it in mind that it was a tedious process but as I went through it step by step it had made me realize that the bundle of mengkuang leaves that were already prepared for me at the start of every lesson probably took a day to make, and that's excluding soaking it over night or dyeing.

How to prepare mengkuang leaves for weaving:

                                      1. Harvest leaves from the shrubs and remove all 
                                      thorns from the sides and middle part of the leaf with 
                                      a sharp knife

                                      2. Remove moisture from the leaf by gently pulling it 
                                      through a small fire, you'll see the leaf turn into a darker
                                      green once the moisture is removed.  

                                       3. Soften the leaf the moment it's off the fire by running it 
                                       between your thumb and index finger, might result in
                                       slightly burnt fingers. 

                                       4. Remove the central vein of the leaf and cut into thinner 
                                       strips with a sharp knife.

                                       5. Bundle the leaves together and soak it overnight.

                                       6. Air dry leaves and soak it once again in batik dye 
                                       overnight. Unfortunately natural dyes aren't used.

                                       7. Air dry leaves till fully dry. 

It's been immensely fascinating learning one of the dying traditional crafts of Malaysia and to be able to spend time with such humble yet generous people. Thank you for guiding me on this journey and opening my eyes to the unseen beauty of the lands, people and culture of Malaysia.

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