Brunei-made handicrafts a dying form of art?

National 2 minutes, 40 seconds


BRUNEIAN-MADE wooden handicrafts are seen as a dying art, with tourists finding it difficult to search for mementos that symbolise the sultanate’s cultural heritage.

During a visit to markets in Brunei-Muara and Tutong districts, handicrafts such as machetes and walking sticks were found at seven stalls, but only three were made in Brunei. Others were imported from Limbang and Bintulu in Sarawak.

A woodcrafter from Kilanas, Abu Samah Hj Damit, said most of the tourists who approached him said finding local-made handicrafts such as keychains was difficult – unless they were factory-made.

“Tourists told me they usually look for souvenirs that are made by hand, which they say is more special as it reflects our culture and heritage,” said Abu Samah, who has been in the trade for four years.

“When such goods are sold at a cheaper price; not every tourist come here to find the expensive and heavier merchandises, some just wanted to have simple mementos that would remind them of their visit here once they are back in their countries,” he added.

A 2009 survey conducted by scholars from Universiti Sultan Sharif Ali (UNISSA) found that 45 per cent of tourists questioned, favoured handicrafts more than others.

In their paper, the “Study on Tourist Expenditure Patterns in Brunei Darussalam,” Dr Mohammed Sharif Bashir and his colleague Hjh Nur Annisa Hj Sarbini had suggested Brunei establish a national brand identity based on its cultural and heritage to attract inbound visitors and develop the tourism industry.

Abu Samah, who is a vendor at Tamu Serambangun in Tutong, also sells wooden keychains shaped differently such as keris, machetes (parang) and gong, with the word “Brunei” written on them.

While showing his handmade products such as walking sticks, the self-taught woodcrafter said he learned by reading online materials.

He explained that he uses different fruit trees sourced from suppliers to carve the walking sticks which are about three-feet tall.

In terms of varying his products, Abu Samah said he could only produce “a little per day” as he could not afford to buy more wood and better machineries for his production needs.

“Good materials are quite expensive and kind words are just not enough to make woodcrafts that are of good quality,” he said.

“Furthermore, not having enough machinery would also mean that my products are limited and I only have one grinder currently, I would have to stop working after some time so that the grinder would not be broken,” he said, adding that he would have no other means of living if the grinder breaks down.

Abu Samah said he is determined to improve himself in terms of refining his designs, and encouraged aspiring woodcrafters to possess a competitive spirit.

“Do not be discouraged whenever you see others with better designs, be motivated to overtake them in terms of your crafting skills through hardwork, InsyaAllah it can be done,” he said.

The woodcrafter said he is considering marketing his products overseas, but would need to find ways of doing it.

Another vendor at Jerudong market said imported handicrafts are more expensive compared to Brunei-made wares.

He said foreign-made machetes cost $250-$300, while the Brunei-made parangs are valued at $70 to $150.

The Brunei Times