Preserving a treasured attire

Iban womenfolk urged to pass on their skills of making the ‘tangu’ to the younger generation in order to keep alive a tradition that is unique to their community.

COLOURFUL: Bicha (right) and her friend, Mereta, displaying the tangu.

THE skills of making the tangu — which is part of the traditional costume of the Iban womenfolk — should be imparted to the younger generation.

A local tangu maker, Bicha Undi, who strongly advocates such a ‘transfer of expertise’, said the attire might become a thing of the past without a conscious effort to preserve it.

“The Iban community must work closely with the authorities concerned to help their younger generation, especially the women, perpetuate the unique art of making the tangu — and other traditional Iban items.”

She said it was vital for future generations of the community to know about the tangu because by appreciating the historical significance of this         hand-made item, they could continue to uphold Iban culture and heritage.

Bicha who has been running her tangu stall at the Sibu Central Market since 2000, picked up her skills from her mother when she was 18 years old.

“My mother told me it was very important for young Iban women to learn such skills so that future generations could learn from them and carry on a tradition peculiar to the community,” recalled the 43-year-old from Rumah Ingoh, Sungai Paku, Kapit.

And to preserve the tradition, she has taught her daughter the exquisite art of making the tangu.

“Just as my mother had passed her skills to me, I have done the same for my daughter and advised her to do the same for my grandchildren and they for their children to ensure our cultural heritage will live on.”

Bicha, who now lives in Sibu Jaya, said tangu is worn by placing it round the neck with the material extending down to cover the shoulders and part of the back and front body.

Before operating her stall, she went from house to house to promote and sell the tangu. Now she plies her ware at the Sibu Central market from 8am to 5pm everyday, except Sunday.

“Those wishing to place orders are welcomed to drop by. I can make one tangu in three weeks if it’s needed urgently. If not, I usually take a month.

“Anything of good quality takes time to prepare. Patience and passion are needed to make the tangu. For me, making this traditional wear helps preserve the Iban culture.

“This gives me much satisfaction. Also, it makes me feel my mother is      beside me when I make     the tangu.”

According to her, children’s tangu costs between RM150 and RM170 apiece while the adult version fetches between RM200 and RM300 each.

“Friends from the Malay and Chinese communities do approach me to get their supply, especially for their dance troupes. To me, this is the special thing about the 1Malaysia Concept.

“Moreover, domestic and foreign tourists alike have bought the tangu for their own collection and as souvenirs for their friends,” she said.

Bicha gets her materials from shops around the town.

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