Towards building Malaysia’s largest miniature ethnic costume collection
By Patricia Hului
300. That is the number of costumes Anne Antah needs to break the Malaysian Book of Records and be declared the owner of the largest Malaysian miniature ethnic costumes collection.
The director of Chanteek Borneo Gallery has had this record-breaking idea simmering since 2014 but decided to formally attempt it this coming August.
“I was not confident enough so I put the idea on hold. Then came this year and I thought it was about time to make the idea materialise,” she said.
So far, she has 238 Sabahan costumes, 15 Sarawakian costumes and 15 from Peninsular Malaysia which include Cik Siti Wan Kembang and Minang costumes.
With one month left on the clock, the Tamparuli-based costume maker is aiming to create traditional attire from 20 to 25 ethnic groups in Sarawak.
“I’ve had a few customers ask me, ‘When will you be doing Sarawak costumes?’ They said it would be nice if I had Sarawak dolls too.”
She picked up her needle and attempted her first Sarawakian costume last year – the ngepan Iban Saribas.
“I had a long ‘history’ with this costume,” Anne said adding that she was not happy with her earlier version of the attire.
After a few modifications, Anne was finally satisfied with the fifth version of her ngepan Iban Saribas.
Her favourite costume to make was the typical ngepan Iban woman costume.
She shared that the most painstaking process was making a miniature version of the coin corset with dangling coins (Sementing Buchai or Sengkiling) as she had to hand stitch the sequins one by one.
“I had to make it that way because there were no materials that resembled the life-size version of it.”
Another one which required more meticulous work from Anne was the Orang Ulu costume.
“This too needs the sequin and beads to be hand stitched piece by piece.”
She admitted, “Of course it is difficult at first but it gets easier.”
About 90 per cent of the work are done by hand. Plus, the gallery has only one sewing machine to operate.
This attention to detail is needed because it is part of Anne’s mission to preserve Malaysian culture by making these miniature ethnic costumes.
“At least 70 to 80 per cent of this miniature costume must be accurate,” she stated.
Hunting for the materials
Collecting all the materials to make the dolls require Anne to travel 2,196km from Kota Kinabalu to Taipei.
“It is quite difficult to find the materials because doing miniatures is not easy,” she admitted. “You have to deal with things as small as 2mm to 5mm.
“Sometimes we need to be creative; I used a fish hook, for example, as part of the Dusun Tantagas’s necklace.”
Anne also frequented local hardware stores in search of her materials.
Apart from the clothing materials, Anne custom-ordered the dolls from Shenzhen, China, being exact with her specification on black hair and black-eyed dolls.
“I did order for those with tanned skin but this skin tone is as tanned as it gets.”
The Gulu Gulu Collection
When The Borneo Post SEEDS interviewed Anne a year ago, the gallery she founded had 230 varieties of costumes from 55 ethnic groups in Sabah.
“There will be more costumes added to the Sabah collection which we call the ‘Gulu Gulu costume dolls’.”
She explained that the Gulu Gulu (which means olden days in Kadazan Dusun) collection is made of old costumes during the times before the introduction of beads from China.
“In the olden days, there were no beads to make the clothes more attractive. Their costumes were made from plain black cotton with minimal decoration.”
According to Anne, these Gulu Gulu costumes started to resurface last year and even more so during the recent Kaamatan festival.
“During the last Unduk Ngadau competition, there was quite a number of Gulu Gulu costumes coming out and mostly were hand-woven.”
With the buzz over the costumes from the olden days, Anne was able to add more variety to her Sabah ethnic collection.
As for her Sarawak collection, she admitted she still needed more information and help making them.
“Those who have input of Sarawak ethnic costumes can contact me,” she said.
Anne also welcomed those who are interested to learn how to make these miniature costumes, pointing out that she was open for internship at the gallery.
“I am also looking for resellers, particularly handicrafts store owners who are interested to resell these dolls.”
Opened in August 2014, Chanteek Borneo Gallery is an art gallery aimed to conserve Sabah’s ethnic heritage through miniature costumes.
If you have any detailed information on Sarawak ethnic costumes, contact Anne at her office at 088-792 018 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those who are interested in traditional costumes and miniatures, visit her gallery at Kpg Lakang, Jalan Telibong Tamparuli located about 45 minutes from Kota Kinabalu city.