New Loom Design A Boon For Pua Kumbu Weavers

Last update: 23/04/2015

By Sakini Mohd Said

SIBU (Bernama) -- Merai Anak Kaya had long been accustomed to the nagging pain in her shoulders and lower back.

Sitting in an uncomfortable position for some 11 hours, weaving the "pua kumbu" will do that to you.

The 56-year-old Iban woman has tried all sorts of remedy to soothe away the pain, but it returns the moment she sits in front of the loom and resumes her routine as a weaver.

Sometimes she wonders why she subjects herself to such pain, but soldiers on when reminded of her love for the art and heritage of her ancestors.

The traditional patterned multicoloured ceremonial cloth is considered a sacred object in the Iban community, used during special rituals and celebrations.


"I leave the loom only to eat or answer the call of nature. If I permit myself many breaks, it would take much longer to complete it. But if I keep at it, I am usually able to produce over a feet of cloth a day (about 0.3m).

"However, the limited amount of movement has definitely contributed to a lot of back pain. I have to sit up straight during weaving because it would affect the weave if I don't. This is why my body aches so much," she lamented.

The decade she dedicated to making pua kumbu was testament of her love for the uniqueness and artistic qualities of the pua weave.

The pua kumbu cloths, which are popular among the people of Sarawak, are predominantly found in red and brown tones. Its motifs usually feature animals and plants that are frequently linked to the rituals and taboos of the Iban community.

Her journey as a pua kumbu weaver began with the determination to learn under a master of traditional weaving at the Tunjugah Foundation. Her application for enrollment was not immediately accepted, but she persevered in trying due to her love for the art.


Her patience and effort were not for naught. After a year of trying, she was accepted into the course and is today one of the masters of pua kumbu weaving in Sarawak.

Based at Tuai Rumah Jingga in Sungai Lengan, Sibu, her expertise in weaving fine yarn into a textile product has been passed on to her daughter and also taught to the women living nearby. The income she earns from the sales are also given back to the community.

Besides helping the local women increase their income, Merai also wants to ensure that the craft is not forgotten.

To achieve that, she was adamant to tackle the discomfort experienced by weavers and the resulting low production through a paradigm shift.


When the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation (Kraftangan Malaysia) Sarawak branch introduced an innovated version of the traditional loom "kek Iban", her interest was piqued.

Eager to get her hands on one, Merai applied to Kraftangan Malaysia for a unit. She found that the new version of the loom had indeed made the production of pua kumbu much easier than the traditional method.

"My lower back no longer aches because this weaving device emphasises on assuming the correct body posture. This has made things easier. Our movements used to be restricted because we were afraid it would affect the quality of the weave. With this new device, I am able to rest and even walk around without worrying if it will affect the product. It has also increased the production capacity," she said.

Merai believed that the innovation would help to further uplift the heritage of the Iban community.


The original kek Iban was fashioned from wood and designed around the concept of a "backstrap loom". It forces weavers to sit on the ground with their legs stretched out, while the back strap goes around the weaver's waist and wraps around the beams to keep the threads at the right tension.

Prolonged sitting, particularly in that position, may take a toll on the weaver's spine and legs.

The new device, shaped like a table loom, was redesigned with wood and steel, giving it a modern look without sacrificing its traditional characteristics.

Weavers can now produce high quality pua kumbu cloth in comfort and in a fraction of the time.

Kraftangan Malaysia Sarawak branch director Azran Arip said the new device was designed to address the health issues caused by using traditional looms.

"The pua is one of the main textile industries of Sarawak. But it has become increasingly difficult to produce due to the amount of time and discomfort experienced by its weavers.

"We began researching for the solution in 2009 and after three years, this is what we came up with," he said.


The innovation allows weavers to sit comfortably on stools that are level with the loom.

Besides an increase in comfort level, the device also facilitates production in terms of quantity and variety.

Azran said a cloth measuring 10 metres by 0.7 metre would only take a week to be completed using the innovated device. With the traditional loom, it would take around three weeks - and that is if the weaver spends eight hours a day on it.

"And that duration does not even include the tying and dyeing process," he explained.

The efficacy of the new loom has won Kraftangan Malaysia Sarawak the Best Innovation Award at the ministry-level Quality Day celebration.


To date, Kraftangan Malaysia Sarawak has given away the device to 10 entrepreneurs who are who are full-time weavers.

Despite its benefits, there are weavers who refuse to even try out the new device.

Understanding that change is not always easy to embrace, Azran said that Kraftangan Malaysia was providing training programmes to help traditional weavers learn using the new tool.

"They have been so used to weaving using traditional looms that they may find it awkward to suddenly have to change.

"So we have prepared several technical programmes and training to demonstrate how to use the new loom. Several entrepreneurs in Betong, Kuching and Sibu have been supplied with the new device," he said.

He hoped that with increased awareness, they would eventually become more open to adapting to the new innovation in weaving, subsequently taking the market to a global level.