By Sakini Mohd Said
SUNGAI SIPUT (Bernama) -- It was the first day of Pos Kuala Mu's three-day craft-making workshop but only 10 people from the Orang Asli settlement here attended it.
It was the first-ever workshop organised by the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation (Kraftangan Malaysia) in September to help the Orang Asli villagers there to learn new skills.
Housewife Senuara M. Raffi, 27, who was among the earliest to turn up at the community centre in Pos Kuala Mu to attend the three-day workshop, expressed her disappointment at the attitude of her fellow villagers for missing out on a tremendous opportunity to pick up a new skill or two.
"This is the first time in my 27 years here that someone is holding free classes to teach us to make batik and rattan crafts," the mother of two told Bernama, adding that outsiders were reluctant to organise courses at their settlement due to its remote location in the Simpan Piah forest.
Senuara then persuaded her friends to attend the two subsequent sessions of the three-day workshop and needless to say, both sessions drew a full house.
Pos Kuala Mu, about a two-hour drive on a narrow and winding road from Sungai Siput town, comprises four villages -- Kampung Mu, Kampung Toh, Kampung Gapeh (consisting of Kampung Gapeh Hilir and Kampung Gapeh Hulu) and Kampung Bersah.
Pos Kuala Mu is inhabited by about 900 Orang Asli of the Temiar clan. TOURIST ATTRACTION
The workshop in Pos Kuala Mu was conducted under Kraftangan Malaysia's Semarak Kraf
programme, which was launched in February this year and aimed at creating new craft communities comprising youths, people with disabilities, B40 household members, housewives, single mothers, Orang Asli and Sabah and Sarawak's indigenous groups.
At the Pos Kuala Mu workshop, the participants learnt how to make rattan accessories such as key chains, earrings, rings, necklace, coasters and mini baskets. They were also taught the tie-dye batik-making technique.
Senuara said the new skills they picked up at the sessions would help them to enhance the commercial value of their heritage crafts, thus making them more attractive to tourists visiting their settlement.
Located in a hilly area at the foothills of the Titiwangsa mountain range and surrounded by verdant jungles, Pos Kuala Mu became more accessible to tourists and visitors after the road leading to the settlement from Sungai Siput was paved in 2017.
Realising that it has great potential for ecotourism, Senuara intends to hone her craft-making skills as she has hopes of opening a souvenir shop someday to sell locally-made crafts and products.
"Pos Kuala Mu is popular with local and foreign visitors, most of whom come during weekends and school holidays. One of the first things they would ask us is where the souvenir shop is located as they want to take home something as a memento," she said, adding that they would also buy whatever local fruits or forest products such as petai
that were available there.
Senuara said Pos Kuala Mu has a souvenir shop that sells mostly mengkuang
mats and baskets, similar to the ones used by the locals. PILOT PROJECT
Kraftangan Malaysia, together with the strategic cooperation of the relevant local authorities, private and government agencies and non-governmental organisations, has so far held 12 projects throughout the country under the Semarak Kraf
Abdul Rahman Omar, director of the Craft Entrepreneur Development section at Kraftangan Malaysia's Industrial Development division, said one of the objectives of the programme is to give selected communities exposure to the development of local craft products.
"This will boost the craft industry's productivity, create job opportunities and improve the economic status of the communities concerned," he said, adding that the type of skill taught would depend on the resources available locally and the culture of the local community.
According to Abdul Rahman, the workshop that was held under the Semarak Kraf
programme in Pos Kuala Mu served as a pilot project for the development of a craft community among the Orang Asli.
The pilot project, which is part of the Research and Development phase of the Semarak Kraf
programme, involved 40 villagers, 20 of whom were taught how to make rattan accessories and the others, batik textile craft.
Abdul Rahman said another workshop would be held from Oct 8 to 10 in Pos Kuala Mu under the programme's Craft Product Development and Production Laboratory phase.
"Two more related activities will be held there in January and June next year to ensure that the local community remain committed to generating an income from the craft industry," he said. SHARED PROSPERITY VISION
Kraftangan Malaysia director-general Ibrahim Ismail, meanwhile, said the crafts produced at Pos Kuala Mu would be sold at all Karyaneka boutiques. Karyaneka is the marketing arm of Kraftangan Malaysia.
He also said that the Semarak Kraf
programme was timely in view of Visit Malaysia Year 2020 when tourist arrivals are expected to increase.
"Apart from teaching them (selected communities) craft-making skills, we're also exposing them to marketing strategies. We will be exposing the participants to promotional events in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru," he said, adding that they would also be taught to harness social media platforms to market their products online.
"Earlier, we held a similar project in Lahad Datu, Sabah after which the participants were invited to showcase their crafts at major promotional events to instil in them the confidence that their products are marketable," he said.
The Dewan Negara's sole Orang Asli senator Datuk Isa Ab Hamid said the Semarak Kraf
programme is in line with the government's Shared Prosperity Vision 2030, which ensures that no minority group is left out or marginalised from the nation's rapid development.
Referring to the 40 Orang Asli in Pos Kuala Mu who participated in the Semarak Kraf
project, he hoped that they would make use of the opportunity to develop their heritage craft industry and make their products more competitive.
Translated by Rema Nambiar