Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ethnic By Design

Kuching Waterfront Ethnic Pavement Design

Today I took an afternoon off to pay another visit to the Kuching Waterfront area, prompted by a relatively cloudy day and a weather condition that has improved greatly since two days ago by the absence of rain. To my mind this is an indication that the rainy monsoon season is at its tail end.
What fascinated me today was the design at the waterfront pavement. It's indeed uniquely Sarawak in style which reminded me of a sprouting fern I took a picture in Bintulu last month.

Sarawak is a land of diverse ethnic identities. There are 27 ethnic groups in Sarawak, besides the Malays, Melanaus, Chinese and a very small minority of Indians. Among the ethnic groups it is the Ibans, Kayans, Kenyahs and Kelabits that have a very rich and developed art in design work which are applied on fabric, handicraft items, totem poles, shields, doors, arches and weaponry.
The motifs are inspired from many sources that are deeply interwined in their 'world view' of the natural phenomena as well as that of the supernatural kind.

Motifs can be inspired from animal life ranging from the small lizard to the big crocodile. In between them , designs could well feature the squirrels, tree shrews, deer, bird's legs or birds in flight. From plant life are created in very stylised techniques images of bamboo shoots, leaves, flowers, lianas, creepers and various flowers. From the human form to the supernatural world are figures depicting mythical fore fathers, warriors, medicine men, chiefs or just plain mortals.

Juvenile Crocodiles at Jong's Crocodile Farm .( pix)
The crocodile being a living ancient relic of the carnivorous dinosaur family has an important place in the lives of the natives because there are creatures that are to be avoided and not killed for fear that once killed more will return. Whether there are of the saltwater or freshwater types they don't follow specifically their territorial boundaries. Therefore you may find the biggest of the reptilian crocs i.e. the salt water crocodile(Crocodylus porous) trapped in your fishing net somewhere upriver. There are hundreds of stories in Sarawak referring to the terror days ( some years) when some huge ones prey on humans along the many river systems of Sarawak. And while Sarawak is known as ' The Land of Rivers' it is also the playground of fearsome crocs, the most well known being named ' Bujang Senang' which loosely translated means ' The Easy Going Bachelor'.

Designs on 'Sape'- a local musical instrument having only four strings.
The above designs on the 'Sape' are symmetrical, repetitive and intricate and thus traditional.
They are unlike the design on the Kuching waterfront pavement which twirls and turns in a flowing and asymmetrical fashion and therefore more modern or contemporary in outlook. It is interesting to point out that the full length of the waterfront( about half a km) is tiled using this 'flowing pattern' resembling a long river that meanders, bends and joins other tributaries on its destined journey towards the open sea , crocodiles apart.

1 comment:

Protege said...

I liked this post, as it shows off your artistic mind.;)
It is fun that you see so many things in just a design of the pavement.;)
Very interesting string instrument, wonder what is sounds like.;))