JOHOR BAHARU (Bernama) – The traditional Malay woodcarving is one of the country’s most priceless heritage that dates way back into the country’s history.
Its intricate motifs today still grace palaces, gazebos, pergolas and traditional Malay houses, and does not fail to impress all who view it.
Those skilled in traditional Malay woodcarving have to undergo a process as intricate and tedious as its designs as well, making them a rare breed of artisans.
One of them is Mohd Nor Zaini, 35, whose passion for woodcarving has led him to learn the trade and set up his own business in Batu Pahat, Johor.
He first entered the field in 2000, by enrolling for an 18-month course in a Wood-based Furniture Industry at the Mara Training Institute.
After that, he worked for eight months with a company making private yachts using Burmese teak, before pursuing his studies in the Art of Woodcarving for three years.
Mohd Nor then worked on improving his skills by taking on jobs at carpentry workshops around Muar. He used the money he made to buy woodcarving machines.
“Besides carpentry stints at the workshops, I also took on odd jobs until I could raise enough money to start my own business at the end of 2006,” he told Bernama, who met him while on a media tour with Kraftangan Malaysia to Johor.
He said the first machine he bought was a router. He then added on a jointer, planer, a sawing machine and a lathe.
“I only took on bigger jobs after completing my collection of machines. I then worked on gazebos, pergolas, mosque pulpits, house porches and balconies, and now earn a better income,” he said.
Mohd Nor passion for the art was fuelled by his desire to uplift the art of traditional Malay woodcarving.
He found the uniqueness and intricacy of design in ancient woodcarving such as the “bunga ketumbit” and “bunga bakawali” motifs highly fascinating.
The art has also allowed him to relive the symbol of majesty that was evident in the design of old Malay palaces.
Another woodcarver, Badrul Hisyam Mohamad, 39, also saw woodcarving as an avenue for his artistic expression and would like to see the art continue.
The cost of raw materials is one of the main challenges of those in the industry. The cost of good quality wood, especially the “cengal” wood, can be steep.
This has forced many woodcarvers to work with grade B wood such as “kempas”, “kapur”, “mersawa”, Meranti and Seraya.
Badrul Hisyam said the price of cengal today could easily reach RM10,000 to RM12,000 a tonne. The “merbau” wood could cost around RM8,000 a tonne while the “balau” wood ranged between RM7,000 and RM8,000 a tonne.
He had traveled to Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar in his 20s to gain further knowledge and expertise on woodcarving, as well as to find good quality wood.
Besides that, the lack of skilled artisans in the field was also a challenge to the industry. Badrul Hisyam, who has his own wood workshop in Pontian, Johor, has to employ 10 Indonesians to assist him as there are not many local youths who were interested in working in the industry.