We envision this as an art and cultural response to the climate degradation around us and how this repeated cycle of mismanagement of our natural resources stems mainly from social and gender inequity.
- Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY)
Crafts are the living expression of Orang Asli identity and life. Each object is fashioned based on a need or a function in line with an aesthetic sensibility garnered from their relationship to their land and immediate environment.
Most (but not all) weavers are women, making this a craft closely associated with home and community. Some weavers share that they started gaining interest as they watched elders weaving together as a community to celebrate the fruit season (perayaan musim buah). Others say they picked up the skill in school or a fun hobby that gradually develops into a lifelong interest.
Over the years, this traditional art form has evolved into a highly-developed economy thanks to the support of government agencies and NGO groups who organise weaving courses and seek to sell Orang Asli crafts to communities in urban areas.
Today, we are witnessing a renaissance in Orang Asli arts, culture and history as a younger generation begins reclaiming their stories, voices and spaces.
Loss of Orang Asli identity is climate injustice
However, the reality is that the land’s destruction leads to the gradual erosion of Orang Asli weaving culture and their identity.
Mengkuang, or pandanus, is a leafy raw material used by Orang Asli for weaving. Unfortunately, these materials are becoming increasingly scarce in urban areas. At the same time, wild mengkuang is challenging to find without the dense forests located far from the suburban villages Orang Asli have been relocated to. It’s also tricky to replant mengkuang in the small compounds given to Orang Asli in compensation for their ancestral lands.
The scarcity of mengkuang is a symptom of the greater issue of land loss for Orang Asli communities. By losing their ancestral lands, Orang Asli communities are not just losing raw material; they are losing the ability to plant, hunt, fish and gather what they need. They are losing their connection to tradition and history, their homes and way of life.
This is effectively the extinction of a generations-old culture.
An artistic response
To speak to this story, we have brought together a team of weavers to create an installation consisting of four large mengkuang mats that employ variations of a traditional weaving technique known as “Kelarai” interspersed with embroidered topographical patterns.
Kelarai is a checkered weaving technique that uses the simple but beautiful arrangement of continuous, symmetrical squares to produce a pattern of motifs based on local flowers, fruits and animals.
Each mat is woven in a different colour to represent a specific industrial activity driving the conversion of natural forests and ecosystems that threatens the Orang Asli way of life; timber harvesting, mono-crop plantations, mining, and mega infrastructure projects.
On top of the kelarai weave are embroidered topographical patterns which map the texture of the land left behind by clear cut logging.
When brought together, the mats tell the story of the land: its shape, history, and subsequent destruction.
For the public, we hope that they see what we are capable of making and the economic potential of weaving -- that we have unique talents. For Orang Asli, we hope they will see the importance of persevering and promoting our culture: for the younger generation to pick up weaving, for Orang Asli to collectively defend our customary lands and, ultimately, our culture and identity.
- The weavers of Kampung Orang Asli Sungai Buloh
Timber harvesting for wood-based furniture, construction, pulp-and-paper industry, etc.; commonly harvested species from natural forests include Meranti (Shorea spp.), Keruing (Dipterocarpus spp.), and Merbau (Intsia spp.). Commonly harvested species from forest plantations include Acacia, Eucalyptus and Rubberwood (Hevea brasiliensis).
Green | Kelarai Tampok Jantung
Monocrop plantations such as palm oil and rubber.
Red | Kelarai Berdiri (Tulang Belut)
Mining for rare Earth minerals, in places such as Ulu Jelai in Pahang, Malaysia and Ulu Muda in Kedah, Malaysia.
Brown | Kelarai Pucuk Jala
Mega infrastructure projects such as the building of mega dams at Nenggiri, Gua Musang, Kelantan, Malaysia.
Blue | Kelarai Jari Kedidi