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Tigers Teeth and Fashion Fibers

Tigers Teeth and Fashion Fibers

The adventure of finding new and interesting fibers 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 fibers yet to talk about, all beautiful, natural and linked to indigenous traditions that relish and revere the forest for it’s abundance.  The two fibers 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 (Borneo).  Previous to our interview with him, we were invited to the last night of a 4 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 potions and wares of his healing trade. The last items he revealed were particularly surprising.


Bear and tigers teeth hold significant spiritual power, including the ferocity and strength of the animals.  These teeth, he 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 fibers.  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 outer portion of the plant’s stem,  is used as a material webbing. Once processed and dried, their green color turns to shiny brown.  It’s beautiful and strong, making it perfect as a material for handbags, baskets and mats.  Unfortunately due to development, this material is growing difficult to find. It is surprisingly smooth and silky in texture.




Purun (Eleocharis dulcis) / Mendong (Fimbristylis umbellaris)

Purun or Mendong grows in wetlands and is often known as a weed found in rice fields.  Today, these grasses are deliberately cultivated and even have become a source of income.  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.

Up next, pineapple fiber and ketak.  

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