19 October, 2009

The Supple Rattan

I am forever fascinated by nature's special gift to the jungle peoples of Sarawak. From its deep tropical rain forests are obtained the 'rattan' (Calamus). The rattan is a versatile, pliable and flexible climbing plant and due to its suppleness, it is sometimes referred to as the 'supple jack'. To utilise the rattan one has to perform much processing work because when found in the jungles it is a very thorny plant and some cleaning and drying processes have to be introduced to make it last and workable. There are rattan mats and drums with rattan ties and fasteners ( see inset). At my farm I used to carry fruits in rattan baskets. There are rattan fish traps, rattan bags, rattan walking sticks, rattan balls, rattan walls and ceilings, rattan furniture - chairs, tables, table mats, beds, partitions, cribs, and even rattan cosmetic jewellery items like rattan rings, rattan beads, rattan bangles and rattan head bands.

My favourite rattan carrying basket called " Abik" in the local Bintulu Melanau dialect.

Rattan baskets of different shapes and sizes to carry jungle or farm produce to home or market.

And just the other day at the native crafts exhibition I stumbled upon these beautifully ethnic-designed "parang" which is the Malay word for sword-like instruments where the rattan is used to tie or hold the sheaths of the parang together.

An expert craftsman requires no nails or glue but instead uses rattan strings as fasteners.

The "parang ilang" once used by native warriors for head hunting expeditions are prized souvenirs for visitors to Sarawak today.

The above is a rare show for me. It's a special axe used for building dugout boats or canoes called "perahu" in Sarawak. The handle is made from rattan and fastened to the cutting blade using rattan strings. This axe is preferred over wooden or metal handles for the simple reason that it is lighter and gives that 'spring back' effect .


  1. Look at all this lovely craft! Stunning, I really love the big baskets.;)

  2. Those are pretty nice...I like the weapons. :) I know that at my son's karate dojo they train with rattan sticks. But my favorite is when they make a rattan chair or other furniture out of it. Do the Sarawak people make crafts to sell with it, or do they only use it for themselves because it's so versatile?

  3. I like the weapons too, I think its beautiful handmade

    Rattan Furniture


Related Posts with Thumbnails