Harvesting rattans to make the world’s longest mat
By Patricia Hului
When a group of 400 Orang Ulu weavers from Bakun, Baram and Murum communities made their way into the Guinness World Book or Records on May 16, the internet went crazy.
People took to online to congratulate the weavers and show their support for them.
The weavers, from five sub-ethnic Orang Ulu groups namely Kayan, Kenyah, Ukit, Penan and Lahanan spent five months since January this year weaving different sections of the mat, finally joining these sections together at Sungai Asap.
The world record attempt was organised by Belaga women NGO, Peng Doh Belaga and sponsored by Sarawak Energy.
The mat officially measured at 1128.272m making it the world’s longest hand-crafted mat in the Guinness World Book of Records beating Sweden’s 797.51 m (2,616 ft 5 in) long rug manufactured by Hemtex AB in 2010.
Bear in mind though that without all the rattan, no world record attempt could happen in the first place.
No rattans, no mat
The weavers’ endeavour to carve their names into the Guinness World Book of Records was documented in ‘Mat Weavers Tale’ which revealed the labour-intensive work of harvesting rattan.
For the Penan community in Baram, it took them two hours by four-wheel drive (4WD) to get to the edge of the deep jungle before exploring further into the woods by foot in search of these natural fibres.
Instead of driving in one 4WD, they rode in two because according to Penghulu Juing Lihan from Long Win, the second car would work as a backup car just in case their ride could not handle the tough, hilly road in Baram.
Their trips to collect these rattan did not necessarily yield fruitful results; there were days when they came home empty-handed as it is difficult to find rattan at in the Bakun settlement scheme at Sungai Asap.
The place to find rattan is at the dam catchment site which covers an area of about 14,750km2.
For Laing Lerong from Uma Kelap, the Bakun reservoir has its own advantage when it comes to collecting rattan where instead of walking for hours into the jungle like they used to before moving into the resettlement scheme, now they just anchor their longboats at the reservoir bank and look for rattan within the dam catchment area.
According to Peng Doh Belaga chairman Datin Debong Anyie, different sub ethnic Orang Ulu communities had different practices in collecting rattan.
For some, only the men went out to collect the rattan while for others, women joined in the harvest.
“When the rattan was finally brought home, the men also did the hard work of stripping, cutting, processing the rattan,” Debong added.
“Mostly for Kayan and Kenyah women, they only weave. As for others such as Ukit and Penan, the women know how to harvest, process and weave.”
From the harvesters to the weavers, this initiative saw the unity of every community in Bakun, Baram and Murum for without their joined effort, they wouldn’t able to make the world’s longest woven mat.
Besides the behind-the-scenes footage of making the world’s longest mat, Mat Weavers Tale also tells the story of the communities’ journey towards development, embracing change, their sacrifice and initiatives to achieve a better livelihood for themselves and their future generations.
The three part series documentary is expected to be out later this year.
Belonging to the palm family; there are around 600 species and 13 genera of rattan known so far.
It is a creeping plant which grows from the forest floor and climbs upward using the trees.
Compared to timber, rattan is easier to harvest and transport while it also grows faster than trees.
Some studies have shown if left undisturbed, some rattan could reach lengths of up to 150m.
Rattan is mainly used in furniture making and basketry, it is also used for tying and binding and even making fences and fish traps.
Nevertheless, rattan can be used in more ways than just domestic and handicrafts use.
BBC News reported in 2010 scientists in Italy has come up a way to turn rattan wood into bone.
It was found that rattan could be used as bone implants since it shared the same strength, flexibility and porosity of bones.
Last year the Italian firm which researched this subject announced that trials on sheep were successful and rattan could be used for bone implants by 2019.