Malaysia: Rare Iban beaded costume on display at Textile Museum

KUCHING, Malaysia (The Star/ANN) - A rare Iban beaded costume nearly a century old is currently on display in a new exhibition at the Textile Museum here.

Known as baju ujan, the apparel is a family heirloom belonging to Sandin Bennidect, from Bintulu, and is on loan to the Sarawak Museum Department for the Beads: Diversity in Usage exhibition.

“It was made by my great-grandmother in 1920 and has been passed down the family over the years. Most of the beads in the costume are old and fragile. Some have broken so I replaced them with newer ones.

“In the past, beads were very expensive so people who had this costume were considered high-class. Traditionally, the costume was worn by Iban maidens for major celebrations like a wedding,” he said.

It is accompanied by the dujung marik headgear, which consists of a cap decorated with seed beads, brass buttons, bells and colourful threads.

A woven skirt worn underneath the baju marik, a short bead train known as tali ujan and heavy brass anklets complete the costume.

Sandin, a senior technician at Malaysia LNG Sdn Bhd, said interest in the costume began growing through Facebook exchanges about five years ago.

“We used to conceal and store it at home. But now we bring it out for exhibitions so that more people will know about it,” he said.

He added that he made a costume with a similar design using contemporary beads to be worn on occasions like traditional beauty pageants.

“It took me a few months to make it during my spare time. To me, it’s important to preserve our traditions or they will be lost.”

Department director Ipoi Datan, who opened the exhibition, said it displayed a rich array of the Sarawak Museum’s bead collection, including headgear, necklaces and baskets.

It also complements the Borneo International Beads Conference being held here this weekend. The exhibition runs until Oct 31.