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Malaysia Ethnic Festivals - Ethnic fashion in the limelight

By Johan Suhaimi

malaysia borneo festival - A vest decorated with colourful beads
A vest decorated with colourful beads.
malaysia borneo festival - Orang Ulu costumes
Orang Ulu costumes.
malaysia borneo festival - Iban women in full regalia
Iban women in full regalia.
malaysia borneo festival - Lun Bawang traditional attire
Lun Bawang traditional attire.
malaysia borneo festival - Bisaya costumes
Bisaya costumes.
malaysia borneo festival - Silver anklets of the Iban
Silver anklets of the Iban.

The recent celebration of three festivals - Tadau Kamatan, Gawai and Adau Gayoh - showcased not only the fascinating cultures of the ethnic groups but also their colourful traditional attire.

The menagerie of traditional costumes and clanging of bells on the attire is a perfect combination of ingenious design and comfort. The colours and styles also depict the type of life each ethnic community has evolved into.

The attire combines metals, beads, bones and wood materials to form one gigantic canvas that in turn creates a beautiful persona for the wearer. Some costumes seem to be a clash of colours but strangely enough produce a fantastic but fascinating result.

Traditional attire worn by Iban showcases patience (either in wearing or creating it!). A simple suit is actually several layers piled one on top of the other. Weighing the dress down are heavy jewellery such belts made of silver coins.

The other thing that is reflected in the Iban costume is the fine silversmith work that abounds in the "super" large pieces in each attire. The most important is the Sugu Tinggi (a comb case made entirely of silver).

The Orang Ulu traditional dress on the other hand, is full of beads. The background is fiery red or black. At a glance, the beads appear to be sewn onto the attire but a closer inspection reveals that the costume is "appliqués" with the beads.

The designs are ahead of their time by binding and at times by weaving onto a flexible base. The attire is then fully adorned with the sequins, silver or gold threads, as well as several fish scale sequins that work as tiny mirrors. The crazy-clashing colours often feature the designs of dragons, monkeys and foliating petals, which are interconnected into a fine vine.

The attire (both for men and women) usually has short sleeves or is armless like a waistcoat. The cutting of these attire is also tricky as it is figure-hugging and comfortable at the same time.

The Lun Bawang attire may seem rather simple. But the scattering of sequins sewn onto each attire is just as wondrous as the other costumes. The full use of round beads to deck each attire is both functional and fashionable.

Who might have guessed that the simple beads actually act as a guard to stiffen and add weight to the otherwise light and flimsy attire of the ladies? The men on the other hand, look "super macho" in their traditional clothes that are made from the bark of the Timbaran tree. The simple headgear complements the good-looking features of Borneo folk.

The Bisaya, meanwhile, is decked totally in black attire. The black is continently highlighted with strong stitch-work that strengthens the attire and decorates it as well. The Bisaya attire is similar to the traditional costumes of the Dusun, Kedayan and Puak Belait of Brunei.

In the past the attire of the Bisaya was long-sleeved and fastened with a kubamban (silver buttons) but as time passed, it was made shorter. A full gold-threaded sarong (tubular skirt) completes each outfit. Full breast covering jewellery of silver and gold (plated that is!) adorn each dress.

The simple hair do are tied into a low knot with a hairnet made of sparkling glass beads and hairpins that complete the attire.

Source: Borneo Bulletin Weekend




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