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Back to the Source: Fashion Fibres and Tiger's Teeth

Back to the Source: Fashion Fibres and Tiger's Teeth

The adventure of finding new and interesting fibres from the forests of Borneo is filled with surprises. We’ve shared the natural materials of rattan, water hyacinth, banana, and pandan in our previous posts, so what could possibly be next?

There really are a surprising number of fibres yet to talk about, all beautiful, natural and linked to indigenous traditions that relish and revere the forest for its abundance. The two fibres featured in this part three of our overview are bemban and purun.

But first, I wanted to share our encounter with the Shaman in Eheng Village of East Kalimantan on Borneo. Previous to our interview with him, we were invited to the last night of a four day healing ceremony inside the village longhouse.  This ceremony left us with many questions about the role of the Shaman, so we sat down for a conversation with one of several healers who were present at the ceremony.  We saw various potions and wares of his healing trade, but the last items he revealed were particularly surprising.

       Bear and tiger teeth hold significant spiritual power, including the ferocity and strength of the animals. These teeth, the Shaman told us, were given to him by his grandmother. 

We loved meeting the kind and generous people of Eheng Village, who live off the land and carry on the many Dayak traditions, including weaving various plant fibres.
Bemban and puruna are both, like rattan, sustainable and growing wild in the surrounding forests.

Bemban (Donax caniformis)

Bemban grows on the swampy wetland and peat forests but also can be found in bamboo forests. Bemban skin, or the outer portion of the plant’s stem, is used as a material webbing. Once processed and dried, the green color turns to shiny golden brown and is surprisingly smooth and silky in texture. It’s beautiful and strong, making it perfect as a material for handbags, baskets, and mats. Unfortunately due to development, this material is becoming increasingly difficult to find. 




Purun / Mendong 

Purun (Eleocharis dulcis) or Mendong (Fimbristylis umbellaris) grows in wetlands and is often known as a weed found in rice fields. However, because its leaves can be used to make handicrafts, such as making mats and unique bags, it’s status as a pesky weed has evolved. Today, these grasses are deliberately cultivated and even have become a source of income. 

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