Are you familiar with beads? Have you ever come across ancient ones? Generally, beads are well-known objects the world over. Some of them are believe to have existed for over 100,000 years! They are usually employed as small decorative objects and come in variety types of shapes, sizes and colour. Beads can be made up of stone, bone, shell, glass, plastic, wood and pearl, and are later collaged together with threads or strings. Despite being previously mostly known as jewellery, beads in modern times are more related to art and craft.
History tells us that the use of beads indicated social status, wealth and power amongst the natives of Borneo. Narrowing it down to the Sarawak area, original beads there were made out of wood, shell, stone, glass, wild boar and leopard teeth and also bones. It can be said that beads in Sarawak are quite unique as they are related with the region several ethnic groups. The ethnic influence played a major part in the pattern and technique of beads making, with each ethnic groups having different patterns and meaning of their beads, commonly used as jewellery and also sawn into traditional clothing.
To give you a few examples, beads in Iban communities – Iban is the largest ethnic group in Sarawak – are used in a traditional piece of clothing (Ngepan Iban) called Tango. A tango is worn on a lady’s shoulder and is an essential part of women traditional dress. Bidayuh ethnic group uses beads as the necklaces, while the Orang Ulu group mostly uses beads in headbands, traditional dresses, hats and accessories such as reed baskets. Most of these beads are worn by natives during Gawai Festival.
The yearly Kuching Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) is mainly a celebration for culture, and as beads and culture are inseparable, the festival Craft Bazaar showcases a great range of beads made ad used by Sarawak indigenous people. There you can see both beads belonging to the past, and beads used in modern times, sawn onto handbags and modern times clothings.
I am a local and I have visited Rainforest World Music Festival craft bazaar every year in the past five years. I admit I really admire the beads made by my own ethnic people. Sure, the variety of beads around the world is quite wide, but Borneo beads design and colours and patters are so unique, you will not be able to find a match anywhere else. Similarities perhaps many, but never exactly the same. In fact, Sarawak takes the beads business quite seriously by organising a Beads Conference: https://greendaun.com/borneo-international-beads-conference-2017/ – This internationally acclaimed Beads Conference has seen many countries participating over the years, and is highly recommended for those who love beads, or want to know more about them. There will also be a special craft bazaar in conjunction with this event, showcasing many traditional and contemporary beaded jewellery on sale.
Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) is back this year from 12 to 14 July – for tickets and program click HERE. This will be your chance to visit the Craft Bazaar, open daily from 10,30 am to 8,30 pm, and grab some interesting specimen. For Sarawak Tourism Board website and events, click on https://sarawaktourism.com Unique Sarawak beads are waiting for you!