Brunei Darussalam - Crafts

Southeast Asia is justifiably famous for its woven fabrics. Intricate designs made with fine and expensive threads are the hallmark of an industry that has been carried out in this region for many centuries.

Brunei Darussalam in particular is proud of its tradition in this ancient craft and produces some of the finest examples of woven material to be seen anywhere in the world.

Perhaps, it is the skill that is passed through generations; may be it is the inherent patience and love of fine workmanship that Bruneians possess to be able to produce such exquisite stuff. Whatever the reason there is no doubt that to be the owner of a gown or sarung made of such stuff is to feel proud and must be treasured and savoured for life.

Increased mechanisation has reduced many of the world's ancient crafts into a production line of artistically inferior products. It is reassuring to know that Brunei's woven fabrics, one of the arts central to Brunei culture, are not likely to suffer such a fate. Weaving today is carried out much the same way as it has always been - that is with pride, patience and painstaking learning, which can only come about with years of experience and dedication to this art.

The earliest recorded mention of cloth-weaving in Brunei Darussalam can be traced to Sultan Bolkiah's reign from 1485 to 1524. Magellan’s expedition visited Brunei sometime during this period and his official chronicler, Antonia Pigafetta, reported meticulously seeing beautiful examples of Brunei handicrafts, in particular. the woven cloth.

It was common cottage industry even in those days. So it is clear that woven cloth can be dated earlier than the 16th century. Like most proud traditions the art has been preserved through the centuries by the age-old system of father teaching son - only in this case, mother teaching daughter. The technology is much the same today as it was then. You will see no expensive sophisticated automatic weaving machinery; only a handloom operated by highly skilled, artistic and patient women.

The designs too have also survived many centuries. The most well-known and famous is the Jongsarat. It is generally acknowledged to be the design that above all others reflect the skill, artistic beauty and fine workmanship which a quality cloth possesses.

It is well-known in this region because more people see Jongsarat being used than any other design. It is worn on royal or state occassions, worn by brides and grooms for marriage ceremonies and is also sometimes used as elaborate and decorative wall coverings. Such is the high regard people in this region hold for the Jongsarat that it is also given to visiting foreign dignitaries as souvenirs. Of course there are many other designs. The Kain Bertabur, Sipugut, Sukmaindera, Silubang Bangsi and Arab Gagati are but a few of the many examples of patterned cloth available today in Brunei Darussalam.

Cloth-weaving in Brunei Darussalam undoubtedly originated within the confines of Kampung Ayer. Apart from the indigenous Borneo tribes and nomadic hunters, the majority of Brunei's population lived on the waterfront. It was in their homes that the women - perhaps many of them living closely together - perfected their skills. They probably exchanged patterns and equipment, helped each other when difficulties arose and generally operated within a tightly knit cooperative society. It was from this beginning that the art flourished and it is not difficult to see where the inspiration for the designs came from. Living in harmony with their natural beautiful surroundings and their deep faith in Islam they naturally got inspired to do many of the designs, which have survived to this day. Thus the popular creations of yesteryears, incorporating nature's abundant source of inspiration such as leaves, local flowers as well as Islamic patterns, make up the majority of designs one can see today.