Visit any souvenir shop in Sarawak and you will find beaded products like necklaces, purses, headgears and clothing. They make excellent souvenirs to bring back home with you and great gifts for your friends, family and even corporate clients. The fact that Sarawak is famous for its beads is a known thing, but did you know that authentic Sarawakian ceramic beads come from a village in Lawas known as Kampung Tuma?
It is the only village in Sarawak where ceramic beads are made. Kampung Long Tuma is also the only village in Sarawak with a kiln.
At Pusat Kraftangan Manik Seramik (ceramic beads handicraft centre) under Kampung Long Tuma’s village industry development programme, a mixture of powdered river clay and water is hand rolled into beads of varied shapes and sizes. Designs are then meticulously carved into the beads using a toothpick before they are baked at 800°C for eight hours, expertly hand-painted and glazed then baked again at 1,800°C for another eight hours.
Ideally the designs are kept traditional and the colours red, white, black and yellow are typically used. However, modern designs are also available to keep with current trends, with many other colours included such as green, blue, pink and purple.
What’s special about these beads is that the clay used to make them can only be found near the banks of Sungai Lawas. The clay is usually taken from the bottom of the river during low tide by a group of more than five women. Doing so during high tide is risky seeing how the river is also home to crocodiles. The clay is left out to dry in the sun before it is pounded into powder, sifted, then mixed with water to form a dough before it is rolled into beads.
Forty-nine-year-old Patricia Busak, who takes charge of the beads handicraft centre, specialises in painting and glazing the beads while the other artisans who work at the centre are in charge of other tasks like kneading the clay and designing the beads. With the amount of work that goes into producing these beads, it’s no surprise that they can fetch considerably high prices. But although traditional and heirloom beadwork can fetch thousands, the modern ones can be far more affordable.
At Pusat Kraftangan Manik Seramik Kampung Long Tuma, visitors can purchase ready-made beadwork including necklaces, bracelets, beaded traditional clothing and souvenirs at very good prices from the showroom just next to the production facility. They also offer personalised beadthreading service so you can have your necklace or bracelet made using all the beads that you yourself choose.
Beads produced at the crafts centre in Long Tuma are mainly distributed to handicrafts centres and souvenir shops all over Sarawak, so it’s relatively easy to get your hands on the beautiful handicrafts of the Lun Bawang folks in Long Tuma. However, if you want to see in person how the beads are made and maybe try your hand at making your own bead from scratch, Pusat Kraftangan Manik Seramik Kampung Long Tuma is definitely worth a visit.