Preserving Sabahan ethnic costumes, one ‘chanteek’ doll at a time
By Patricia Hului
‘Cantik’ may be the Malay word for pretty, but with a dash of Sabahan slang, the word turns into ‘Chanteek’.
Nestled in the town of Tamparuli, where the famous ‘Jambatan Tamparuli’ song originated, is an art gallery called Chanteek Borneo Gallery.
It houses dolls – yes, tiny little fake humans – wearing traditional costumes of Sabah.
Anne Antah, founder of the gallery wanted to preserve this part of Sabah before knowledge of it became extinct because – let’s face it – besides special occasions such as weddings and cultural events, no one walks around in traditional costumes nowadays.
The 39-year-old costume maker was a former computer science lecturer before she put her hands to preserving Sabah’s ethnic heritage; one doll-sized costume at a time.
Officially opened in August 2014, currently Chanteek Borneo Gallery has 230 varieties of costumes from 55 ethnic groups with 13 staff working full-time.
The Borneo Post SEEDS interviewed the founder and entrepreneur on her passion for cultural preservation.
How did you get started with traditional doll costume making?
It started in 2011, at first just doing it as part of my cultural interest.
Then, my collection was growing from the most common known eight ethnic groups to 12. I got excited to do more and my collection keeps on growing.
How long does it take to make one doll?
It depends on the costume’s complexity. Some take half a day to complete, some would take one week like the Dusun Tindal Tempasuk.
How do you do your research on these costumes?
By reading books, checking on old photos, searching the Internet for photos and videos, meeting and talking to the villagers, especially to the elders and through photo sharing with friends with similar interests in ethnic costumes.
Nowadays, people also send me photos of their elders in costumes for references especially those minority ethnic and less known costumes.
Do you face any challenges in researching and making these traditional costumes?
Yes, lot of challenges.
First, sewing doll costumes is not as easy as sewing normal cloth due to its size.
It took me six months to learn and teach my staff the tricks of sewing miniature costumes.
Secondly, materials that look closer or resemble the actual costume are very difficult to get.
I need to be creative in modifying materials to be used as the costume and accessories.
The third challenge would be that my references are very limited especially with minority ethnic groups.
Sometimes there is no reference at all, so I’ll just do the basic costume then the ethnic group itself will share with us what kind of accessories to add or how their costumes look like.
From their sharing and description, we upgrade their mini costume accordingly.
Who are your usual buyers?
My buyers are usually personal collectors; they are from all over Malaysia.
I do have buyers from overseas; they know I’m doing the doll, so they will purchase it when they come to KK.
Ever since I had the gallery open, it is easier for my customers to choose.
So far, the biggest purchase was when I was commissioned by the University of Zurich, Switzerland, to prepare 100 miniature costumes of Sabah ethnic groups for their miniature museum.
I’m still working on the costumes and I expect to be completed by this October.
Do you have any message on preservation of culture?
We need to preserve and be proud of our own culture and heritage.
Our culture nurtures what kind of a person we are and it is important for us to pass it on to our children and younger generation.
Our culture is our identity; it defines our characters and our belief towards the universe.
What are your future plans for your gallery?
It would be fantastic to be able to make all the miniature costumes of the ethnic groups in Malaysia especially those that are lesser known.
However it would take lots of time of research unless there are specific associations or organisations that already has the information.
I hope in five years time, Chanteek Borneo Gallery would be known to all as a gallery or a place for cultural references and educational centre where the kids could learn about other people’s culture.
For more information on Chanteek Borneo Gallery, visit them at Kpg Lakang, Jalan Telibong Tamparuli, Tamparuli, virtually at www.chanteekborneo.com or drop an email at firstname.lastname@example.org