The Timeless Tradition of Textile Weaving in Brunei Darussalam (In Bahasa Melayu)    
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Today’s A Journey through Aesthetic Realms will be presented in Bahasa Melayu, with subtitles in Arabic, Aulacese (Vietnamese), Chinese, English, French, German, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Mongolian, Persian,Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

Brunei Darussalam is one of the countries in the world producing the finest woven textile.

Welcome to A Journey through Aesthetic Realms on Supreme Master Television. A sparkling gem in Southeast Asia, Brunei Darussalam – The Abode of Peace – is full of wonders: a no-tax social welfare system with free education and healthcare, the awe-inspiring Kampong Ayer (Water Village), and the magnificent Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque are just a few of them. Among Brunei’s treasured cultural heritage, woven textile has a long and rich history which is reflected in many aspects the Bruneian way of life.

Please join us today as we look into the time-honored customs of the beautiful weavings with Dr. Siti Norkhalbi Haji Wahsalfelah, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Academy of Brunei Studies.

My name is Dr. Siti Norkhalbi Haji Wahsalfelah. I am a Senior Lecturer of the Academy of Brunei Studies and I am also the Director of the Academy of Brunei Studies (Universiti Brunei Darussalam). My field of research is about woven textile in Brunei.

Traditional Bruneian fabric is made by women and used for ceremonial costumes, with special cultural significance. It is not known when cloth making began in the land of Brunei. But historical evidence suggests that it has been practiced for at least 8 centuries.

Based on the archaeological dig in 1952 and 1953 by member archaeologist Tom Harrison who was working for the Museum of Brunei, several weaving equipments had been discovered. Based on the carbon radiation techniques, it was proven that the weaving equipments discovered were in existence for 800 to 850 years.

There were also several notes made by travelers visiting Brunei. Chau Ju-Kua, a Chinese traveler to Brunei in the year 1225, explained that during that period of time, he witnessed women from high society wearing woven clothing. (Antonio) Pigafetta, who visited Brunei in 1521, also spoke about the use of woven cloth worn by the palace officials as “sampin,” a form of sarong and known as “sinjang” in Brunei language.

Woven cloth was also given away or used as presents to travelers who visited Brunei, especially the high officials from overseas, as a tradition.

Nowadays, the exquisitely patterned materials are widely used in religious, official, and everyday life of Brunei. They convey a national identity rooted in the Muslim faith.

The woven cloth of Brunei is created by the Malay community or the Brunei Malay tribe, which are of the Muslim faith. All of the motifs that are used to decorate these cloths are of plant or floral motifs.

Dr. Wahsalfelah kindly introduces to us a few distinct designs of traditional Bruneian fabrics in more detail.

There are several types of woven cloth patterns in Brunei Darussalam. Of them, like the one that I’m showing here, is the “kain bertabur.” It is called “bertabur” or scattered because of the floral motifs scattered on the cloth. Thereafter the normal source of these types of cloth motifs are the “pucuk rebung,” a type of bamboo plant. The sides of these woven cloths are called “air muleh,” which symbolize the Bruneian’s gentle and courteous character.

The sides, “air muleh,” are normally used in many of the woven cloth of Brunei. This form of design is considered the latest that is created in line with the users’ preferences. Nevertheless, it still uses traditional motifs. For example, this cloth uses the scattered spiral florals. Spiral florals are said to be the creation of the late Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Sa'adul Khairi Waddien, the 28th Sultan of Brunei. And this is sample of a particular floral design known as “kain beragi.” It is normally worn by the men attending special occasions such as wedding ceremonies.

And it is of the designs of the “kain jong sarat.” It is named “jong sarat” because it is full of florals and has only two main colors: the background color and the gold threads, or silver threads, for decorating the cloth. This cloth uses one of the most common forms of the oldest motif in Brunei.

Other than the motifs that I have just explained, there are also other designs such as the “silubang bangsi,” “bunga sipukut” (also known as “kain sipukut”), and “kain liputan madu.” In recent years, there have been many more kinds of designs that have been created by the weavers or the weaving designers.

In addition to the soothing motifs, Brunei fabrics adopt pleasant colors, which oftentimes convey specific messages under different circumstances, particularly in royal or official ceremonies.

The use of the woven cloth in the royal tradition shows, or potentially shows, the status or the rank of the wearer. During the reign of Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien, the 28th Sultan, His Highness introduced uniform traditional costumes with specific colors indicating the rankings of state dignitaries and royal dignitaries. This was further elaborated during the reign of Sultan Haji Hassan Abdul Bolkiah.

For example, during the birthday of His Royal Highness the Sultan of Brunei, woven cloth is worn during the royal parade and also during the honorary awards presentation. The dignitaries shall wear their traditional Malay costumes complete with “kain samping,” a form of “sarong” and “arat,” or what is called a belt made from the woven cloth. The color and the design also show the status of the wearer.

Brunei woven cloth is currently used as part of the clothing as the academic gowns of universities. The selected color and design indicate the status or academic level. For example, the color blue is for undergraduate. And master’s degree has the same color but with a different design, whereas for the doctorate degree it has a different color as well as a different motif.

In traditional wedding celebrations, the color and pattern of the bride’s and groom’s attires also have cultural meanings. Both the bride and the groom will be wearing outfits made from the same woven cloth of the same color and design. It represents unity from the viewpoint of the Brunei people. From the viewpoint of the Malay community, weddings are not only seen as a unity of the married couple but also of the families of this couple.

The choosing of the same color and the same motif also symbolizes the common understanding between the two sides. In order to have a peaceful wedded life, one needs to have a common understanding between both the groom’s and bride’s families.

In a traditional wedding ceremony, the newlyweds also exchange “kain jong sarats” as an evidence of their love and a symbol of the groom’s ability to provide the bride a comfortable life. Woven fabrics are meaningful during other traditional ceremonies as well, such as the birth of the first child, a boy’s passage to adulthood, and a person’s departure from this world.

“Mandi belawat” is celebrated during the birth of the first child. During this ceremony the new mom wears clothing made from the woven cloth (with) gold ornaments called “bunga goyang,” a kind of headdress. Then a piece of the woven cloth called the “kain khatib” is spun around the body of the new mom. The child will also be adorned in traditional Malay outfit and also wrapped with the woven cloth.

This shows appreciation towards God’s blessings, blessing the wedded couple with a child. The “berkhatan” ceremony is usually held when the boy is about 10 years old; an appreciation prayer and chanting is held. The boy is then seen wearing Malay traditional costume made of woven cloth. This goes to show that the boy has matured and has the duty towards conducting rituals such as prayers, fasting, and conditional responsibilities.

Handwoven textiles are equally popular in minority groups such as Bisaya, Dusun, Belait and Kedayan to represent affluence and harmony during tribal rites. To preserve this and other precious national heritages, the Brunei government has set up handicraft centers where the traditional way of fabric making is taught.

The Brunei arts center is seen as an effort to ensure the survival of the woven cloth tradition. Interested people may attend the courses that are there, or that are offered at the arts center of Brunei Darussalam. There are several handicraft courses, makings of silver and silver handicrafts, songkok making, and also cloth weaving.

Other than that, various efforts have been made to ensure woven cloth as part of the Brunei people. Nowadays, woven cloth is made as something to show the steadfast nature of the Brunei people. Therefore, it is used in several events, displayed and paraded in various shapes to show this is the true identity of the Brunei Malay community.

As the Brunei society is more exposed to traditional weavings thanks to the arts centers, a new trend has emerged in which customary materials are used in a variety of novel applications in the modern life.

In terms of the use of woven cloth, there are efforts to diversify or create varieties in the production of the woven clothing which not only centralizes on the use of clothing but also to make other accessories, such as tissue boxes, neck ties for men, cushion boxes, and the likes, to be suited with today’s lifestyle. This may be seen as one way of promoting the Brunei handicraft in line with the requirements of today.

Cloth weaving and fabric handicrafting have recently become popular among Bruneian housewives. It is not only a way for women to improve their standard of living and be financially independent, but also an opportunity to make a direct contribution to society.

We thank Dr. Siti Norkhalbi Haji Wahsalfelah for sharing with us a wealth of information about the rich tapestry of traditional Bruneian handwoven textile. May the exquisite artistry continue to thrive, adding beauty to your precious nation and our cherished world.

Esteemed viewers, we appreciate your company on today’s A Journey through Aesthetic Realms. Please stay tuned to Supreme Master Television for Vegetarianism: The Noble Way of Living, after Noteworthy News. May heavenly melodies uplift your spirit.

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September . 2021