Pottery made in Sarawak is of two distinctive types – one done by the Iban, Murut and Kelabit potters and the other by Chinese potters. Today, the range of Sarawak’s potters have improved vastly as they create ceramic stools, drinking water cisterns, decorative jars and vases, lamps, candle holders, ashtrays, teapots, mugs and even photo frames. Attractive souvenir items are also produced, ideal for tourists and visitors. Even the locals use Sarawak pottery as gifts during official functions and special occasions. Kuching’s potteries are grouped together at 8th Mile on the Penrissen Road, just outside the state capital.
Woodcarving is one of the bastions of Sarawak handicrafts, and you can find anything from stylishly crafted Kayan and Kenyah wooden spoons to ten-foot-tall guardian figures crafted from solid belian (ironwood). Amongst the more popular items are elaborately decorated wooden bowls; Iban hunting and trapping charms with small hunched figures carved on the end of a long spike; all kinds of ritual masks; Melanau sickness figures (blum) used to cast away illnesses in healing ceremonies; entire longhouse doors carved from a slab of hardwood; blowpipes that can kill a wild pig (or a person) at 100 m; and the ornately carved and painted hornbill figures used by the Ibans for celebrating Gawai Kenyalang, the hornbill festival.
Pua Kumbu is without a doubt an outstanding material culture of Sarawak. This woven art by the Ibans is well known for its exquisite patterns where designs are tied-and-dyed on vertical threads. Today, Pua Kumbu is not only woven as sarongs, carpets and decoration but even as clothes and overthrows.
Other magnificent woven cloth of textile art in Sarawak is kain songket of the Malays. They are hand-woven textiles of gold and silver threads combined with fine cotton or silk yarn. It is very similar to the gold threaded kain songket of Kelantan and Indonesia. However, in Sarawak they were regarded as a legacy from the Brunei Sultanate days. The kain songket is made to a size of a two-and a half yard sarong or skirt length.
The indigenous people of Sarawak have since long ago been associated with beadwork for adornment as well as for ceremonial purposes. Here, beads tradition goes back to the very remote past. The variety of beads, the materials from which they are made, their colours and the values attributed, all make up an interesting conversation and discussion. Beads, today, are used in many different ways and one can see government officials using them as gifts and garlands for different functions and events as well.
From containers to kitchenware, flooring to fans and pipes for water or tobacco, bamboo is used in a thousand ways in Sarawak. The variety of its uses is matched only by the diversity of the designs and carvings.The Bidayuh people are masters of bamboo carving, and produce very fine boxes and containers that may have been designed to hold betel nut or blowpipe darts, but are just as good for storing pens and pencils. The Penan tribe produces equally fine bamboo basketry.
Rattan is one of the most durable jungle products found until today. Whole longhouses can be put and hold together by a single string of rattan – a palm species, which trunk is bendable and suitable for weaving. And don’t forget the ever popular Sarawak rattan mats – not only are they comfortable, they are also beautiful and of high quality. Woven rattan baskets are made of different jungle creepers, fibres, stems and leaves for the usage in the daily life of tribal people: storing paddy seeds, harvesting, gathering of jungle vegetables and fish traps.
One of the most popular souvenirs among visitors today is the conical-shaped terendak hat originated from the Melanaus. Melanau women are skilled at weaving them from sago palm strips and wild sang leaves, using rattan strips as binding. Intricate designs give the terendak a beauty that never goes out of style.
Sarawak pepper has gained international recognition by chefs and gourmets as one of the most favourite pepper ingredients due to its distinctive flavour and taste perfected through years of government funded agro-research. Today, with the advancement of technology, there’s more variance in pepper produces like pepper candies and pepper perfume (you won’t sneeze). Pepper plantations can be seen along the Kuching-Serian Road.
Salted Terubuk Fish
Sarawak’s all-time favourite and very unique souvenir craze is the Salted Terubok (American Shad) Fish. Visitors would normally come back from Sarawak bearing salted terubok (nicely wrapped in a box for longer preservation) for their friends and family. One of the favourite fishes in Sarawak, terubok is full of bones but tasty nevertheless. The trick of the trade is to find the biggest terubok fish as the bones are larger and easier to dispose. Also available is the terubok egg, and far more expensive. It may set you back about RM200 per kg.
Bario Rice is regarded by the ‘Orang Ulu’ and natives as the finest and best rice from the highlands of Sarawak. It is grown on cool climates at an elevation above 1,200 metres. According to the natives, the rice is only eaten by the longhouse chief on special occasion. It is long been regarded as one of the finest rice grains of the world. It is famous for its soft texture, fine and elongated grains with mild aromas and splendid taste. The rice is a home-grown, laboriously planted and harvested by hands using age-old traditional methods. In the planting of the Bario rice, there is no usage of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
It has all the attributes of organic rice with an added flavour and unique taste as a result of the cool, pristine and unpolluted environments where it is grown. It is perfect for health conscious consumers. Bario Rice is specially air-flown out of Bario and Ba’kelalan highlands to enable the rest of Malaysians to sample the finest rice derived from the Land of the Hornbills.
Sarikei is famous for its pineapple. The town is the pineapple capital of Sarawak. It lies in the centre of an agricultural area. Pineapple is the ‘star’ of the town where there will be a Pineapple Festival held every year. In fact, right in the middle of town, there stood the town’s emblem standing at five metres tall on the waterfront. The fruit bears testament to a true ‘winner’ of the agricultural sector, it contains sugar content of 17 per cent, low acid and few pickles on its leaves. The fruit can be kept cool and has a long shelf life. During the festival, various classes of pineapple were judged for sweetness, shape, colour and appearance – Nanas Madu, Nanas Sawi and Nanas Paun.
Source: Sarawak Tourism Board.