The unique Sarawakian Orang Ulu Kabo necklaces and bracelets are locally known as ‘Buah Kabo’, as they resemble a fruit. The Kabo in English is called a bobble and it is made from hundreds of glass seed beads.
In Sarawak, the Kabo is commonly used by the Orang Ulu community, namely the Kelabit, Kayan and Kenyah people, who live in the highlands of Sarawak, Borneo. This tradition goes back hundreds of centuries, as the Kabo was only used by the tribal men.
Producers of Kabo like Green Daun – a Craft Shop located in Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia – took the initiative to learn these special Kabo making skills from one of the Orang Ulu people in Sarawak. Now after learning and understanding this ethnic jewelry, they have made quite a number of them over the last years.
Kabo necklace and bracelet History
There is no exact history to the Kabo, but stories handed down from generation to generation seem to be the only form of documentation. Sarawak museum should be a good source of information. The Kabo has always been a strong tribal accessory that is used till this very day. The original Kabo comes in bright chilli red colour, and is used as a centre piece of the men’s necklace. Even male kids would wear the Kabo necklace in Sarawak.
In the past, it was considered a taboo for women to wear the Kabo, hence only the men wore it. Through the generations, and thanks to modern times, the Kabo is nowadays used by both men and women, as taboos are less observed amongst the Orang Ulu people.
Men used to wear the Kabo when they went hunting or traveled to other villages, and when other tribes saw them, they would roughly know what tribe or village the person came from.
Tthere seems to be nothing sacred about the Kabo, except that the design indicates from what Orang Ulu village a person hails from. The sizes also indicate which ethnicity villagers belong to.
Kabo necklace colors
Tradition says that the original colours of the Kabo were red, orange and brown. Sometimes a mix of colours were used in making them. Nowadays, due to contemporary modern jewellery designs, they are made in various colours, and this is mainly a result of fashion.
Kabo are made in various colours and based on modern contemporary design, mixing ethnic tribal and modern beads, coming out with chunky necklaces, fusion bracelets, simple Kabo earrings and even in minimalistic designs.
The Kabo designs are following the traditional way of making them, but infused with modern day crystals, spacers and clay beads. Producers try to keep the Sarawakian elements in the modern designs, making them suitable for everyday use.
Making a Kabo is not an easy task, as the work involved is skillful. The Kabo can be small, medium, large or even extra large, depending on how big the wearer wants them. Colours can be selected to match the overall design.
Kabo necklace and bracelet in Malaysia
The Kabo is handmade and cannot be machine made. This means, you will not see Chinese versions selling at super cheap prices. This is one of the Sarawakian ethnic jewellery that is very unique and special, which reflects the Orang Ulu community.