El­derly woman pre­serves craft with love and pa­tience

New Straits Times - - News - FER­NANDO FONG KUALA KANGSAR

IN Kam­pung Kepala Ben­dang in Sayong here, the art of mak­ing labu sayong (tra­di­tional wa­ter pitch­ers) is be­ing kept alive by the tire­less ef­forts of el­derly vil­lage folk, such as Mar­je­nas Su­laiman, 54.

Mar­je­nas, known to lo­cals as Kak Jan, said many peo­ple re­garded Kuala Kangsar as a hub for Malay tra­di­tional crafts­men, who were sought af­ter for mak­ing keris (tra­di­tional Malay dag­ger) among oth­ers. How­ever, she said, the tra­di­tional craft was slowly be­ing for­got­ten.

She said many labu sayong pot­ters left the pro­fes­sion due to old age and their chil­dren were not keen to take up the trade in their pur­suit of ur­ban liv­ing.

Re­al­is­ing that the skill is in dan­ger of be­ing for­got­ten, she ded­i­cated her time to keep the tra­di­tion alive by pass­ing on her know-how to a new gen­er­a­tion of crafts­men.

“I have had ap­pren­tices in the past, but from my ob­ser­va­tion, many young peo­ple had nei­ther the pa­tience nor the skill de­spite their en­thu­si­asm.

“It takes time and lots of work to trans­form lumps of clay into ob­jects of beauty and util­ity,” she said in an in­ter­view with the New Sun­day Times re­cently.

The pump­kin-shaped wa­ter ves­sels, made of clay found along Sun­gai Sayong in Perak, al­lows the stored wa­ter to cool even on a hot day.

She said there used to be hun­dreds of labu sayong mak­ers in the vil­lage as it was once a pop­u­lar cot­tage in­dus­try, but the num­ber had dropped to only a hand­ful.

She said run­ning a prof­itable labu sayong busi­ness re­quired not only an eye for artis­tic flair but also busi­ness skills.

“A busi­ness that does not make enough profit will go out of busi­ness,” she said.

The small num­ber of sur­viv­ing pot­ters also face com­pe­ti­tion from ma­chine-made labu sayong, which are mass-pro­duced by us­ing the slip cast­ing tech­nique, where liq­uid clay mix­ture is poured into a plas­ter mould.

“They are cheaper and widely avail­able, but I’m happy to see that many peo­ple still pre­fer the hand­made ones be­cause of the ef­forts that went into mak­ing them.”

She said hand­made labu sayong rep­re­sented love, com­mit­ment and tra­di­tion.

“The art of mak­ing it is im­bued with love,” said Mar­je­nas, who has been per­fect­ing her pot­tery skills since she was 15.

She said al­though mass-pro­duced labu sayong were en­tic­ing due to their uni­for­mity, smooth qual­ity and dura­bil­ity, it was the hand­made ones that were bet­ter ap­pre­ci­ated by the peo­ple for their meticulous artistry.

“The pot­ters pre­serve the dy­ing tra­di­tion by trans­form­ing their cre­ativ­ity into a prac­ti­cal piece of art,” she said.

Th­ese days, when she is not mak­ing labu sayong, Kak Jan con­ducts work­shops and give demon­stra­tions at her work­shop to vis­i­tors, in­clud­ing tourists, with the help of her two sis­ters.

At the work­shop, vis­i­tors can try their hand at sculpt­ing labu sayong us­ing the tra­di­tional pot­tery turnta­bles.

The in­come gen­er­ated from con­duct­ing such work­shops was not much, she said, but it pro­vided her much sat­is­fac­tion in her ef­forts to pre­serve the tra­di­tional craft.

For her, labu sayong is more than just a house­hold uten­sil: it is also a tan­gi­ble ex­pres­sion of the Malay com­mu­nity’s unique cul­ture.

“I feel proud to have taken this on for most of my life, and I hope to keep it alive for as long as I can.

“This cen­turies-old craft skill will die one day, un­less younger peo­ple make an ef­fort to keep it alive with love, ded­i­ca­tion and com­mit­ment,” she said.


Mak­ing ‘labu sayong’ re­quires skill and pa­tience.

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