Breathing life to ‘candas’

Rokiah Mahmud

When eating ambuyat, a traditional Bruneian delicacy made from sago, we often use a utensil called candas, a v-shaped bamboo stick similar to a pair of chopsticks but is adjoined together at one end.

One carpenter who makes this utensil is Haji Samihon bin Haji Kechi, a former teacher in the Tutong District.

Haji Samihon is known among his family and villagers as a talented carpenter who shares his knowledge with younger generations.

“I became interested in making candas and other wooden products when I was young. My siblings and I learnt the skills from our late father who had the skills in making wooden handicrafts and carpentry products,” he said.

“Our father taught us to earn a living through carpentry. He advised us to be independent without relying on assistance,” Haji Samihon said. Spending most of his spare time at the back of his house where his carpentry workshop is, Haji Samihon expresses his creativity through wooden products, and thinks of it as his second career after retirement.

The 63-year-old owns ‘ieoon’s Wood Shop’ at Kampong Penapar in Mukim Tanjong Maya, Tutong where he sells his products to tourists and local customers.

He welcomes those wishing to learn more about carpentry, especially traditional products like candas. Haji Samihon said since candas is made from bamboo, one must ensure to use the right type of bamboo.

“There are two types of bamboo suitable for making candas, Buluh Abang and Buluh Taba.

Haji Samihon bin Haji Kechi during the process of making candas. PHOTOS: BAHYIAH BAKIR
Haji Samihon cutting the bamboo

The bamboo can be found in the woods. Buluh Abang has longer sections compared to Buluh Taba.

“When collecting bamboo, it is important to be properly attired and also have safety equipment.

“Safety gear such as safety glasses, safety boots, and hand gloves are important to avoid unwanted incidents and accidents such as being stung by snakes.”

Haji Samihon said during his time, the elders would look at the moon – Bulan Tua and Bulan Muda. “Our elders often chopped the bamboo during Bulan Tua (full moon) as the bamboo is hard and can be shaped easily.

“During Bulan Muda (new moon), most of the bamboo is bubukan (containing dust and debris inside the sections). The bamboo cut down during this time break easily when shaping the bamboo into candas.

“The process of making candas is not complicated but it is important to know the techniques,” he said. ”The process begins with choosing the bamboo, chopping it off using a special machine and then splitting it.

“A parang (machete) is used to split the bamboo into two sections, each should be about two centimetres wide.” He uses Pisau Raut, a special knife to smoothen the rough surface.

“For candas, I make it into various sizes – small, medium and large ones. The small candas are for souvenirs, the medium one is used for to eat ambuyat. The large one can be used as tongs for cooking.

“The process of making candas can take almost a day. After the bamboo is shaped into candas it is then soaked in boiling water to sanitise it and to avoid mold so that the quality will be preserved. It is also to ensure that the bamboo is safe to use.

“Apart from candas, Haji Samihon also makes kitchen utensils such as gegawi (long wooden spatula), tables, chairs and wooden decorations. He uses wood from several types of trees like Kapur, Selangan, Meranti, mango, jack fruit and rambutan.

“We must preserve our national treasure and cultural heritage. At the same time, the elders must play a role in disseminating and attract the interest of the younger generation in learning to make candas or other traditional handicrafts so that we can preserve it forever.”