Rediscovering Love For Tradition

It has been years since I directed my own short film. But I’ve gotten my chance again when I started my new beginnings at TVS. I was so excited. For the last 4 years, I had to tuck away my passion and dream of directing a film due to committing to a job position I needed to settle after graduation. It was all for the sake of income. Survival. But hey, how many people get to say they’re doing the job they love upon landing their first?

It was my second day at TVS when I was told to produce something to do with one of Sarawak’s biggest pride; keringkam. Keringkam is a traditional headscarf worn by Sarawak Malay women. The fine embroidered pattern on the scarf is usually handcrafted with a course metal thread made of either gold or silver. In the old days, keringkam was only worn by the Malay royalties and nobles. However, as time progresses, it is now commonly worn on special occasions. I asked what is required for the content and my boss answered something I never heard of at my previous workplace, “It’s up to you. The sky’s the limit.” It is something I always wanted to hear in creating and the only time I got to hear something like it, was because my previous producer in a previous project wanted to bail and leave me to get the work done. But this time, this means something! I can let my imaginations go wild.

Despite my excitement to finally directing again, living the dream of being a film director, firing up that kept away passion again- I, had no love for keringkam.

Being Malay myself I originally was quite prejudiced with keringkam. I feel like it’s too expensive and for such luxury to only be worn on a special occasion? What a waste. At least a luxury brand hijab or gold and silver jewellery is something you can wear every day and show them off. The flex of its worth with the money spent? It’s definitely better, I thought.

And so I started working on the project, I decided to go with a short film. I wrote my script in about 20 mins, surprised by how smooth that went, I move on to castings and other stuffs. I also started to ask around for keringkam samples and went to Songket & Keringkam Gallery, Kuching for my own research. At first, I merely doing this for the sake of my passion and dream as a film director and keringkam was just a subject in my story.

Then I get to meet Amirul Zacky, the founder of Tampan Keringkam for the first time. We first texted on WhatsApp when I reached out to him. I can see he’s excited with the short film project. I went to his office the next day to discuss about sponsorship and having him to participate as a special appearance too, a cameo.

Amirul is a very energetic person and he’s passionate about keringkam. A lot. I can’t help but see a bit of myself in him except in a different subject, mine with films. Amirul said he does not want the keringkam to be breathed in as a new air, but rather to be kept as it is and be worn more often by everyone. He wanted to get rid of the prejudice that I had all this time which is also on the public’s mindset, ‘It’s too expensive to own and to be used only occasionally. It’s not worth it.’. He insisted that a keringkam is expensive because of what it carries, a tradition. Yes, it may be another piece of luxury but it’s a tradition’s lush from our ancestors a long time ago. It’s not just another overpriced branded cloth. Having one is appreciating one, he convinced me.

Amirul believes that by maintaining its original function as a selayah or selendang, the worth of a keringkam is able to be kept exclusively. To which, I agreed. When I created my script I did not want the keringkam to be shown as something old made into new but rather something old, long existed- forgotten, but was found once more and be loved again. He understands where I’m headed with this short film and instantly we knew: we clicked.

The keringkam maker thinks by making the keringkam into something else like a bag or a pair of shoes, one day sometime in the future, keringkam will lose its value. “It will be just another piece of clothing material.” He told me. “And what’s special in there?”

Keringkam usually an heirloom. Passed down from generation to generations. It usually will be given to the women in the family. From a mother to a daughter and to their daughter after that. Those without daughters will pass it to their daughters-in-law. Nowadays, it has become a trend in which keringkam became a wedding present from the mother to their daughters.

On our meeting, Amirul brought one of the keringkam he made to show me and that was when I see keringkam in a whole different perspective. The way I can see its worth, now that I understand it’s more than just a headscarf. It’s a legacy. Holding the exquisite red and gold embroidered piece, I realised how ignorant I was to my very own tradition. Meeting Amirul who spent years working with keringkam, definitely made me understand its value so much more.

As I progress in producing my film, I effortlessly fall in love with keringkam. Seeing how it was made, I understand the intricacy of completing just one selayah. The detail it takes to complete just one petal of a flower in its pattern, the love and care being put within it. I was exposed so much more in the world of keringkam, and oh, how charmed I am with this classic traditional piece. It is indeed different than distinctive in its own way. Keringkam is so much more than just a fashion piece. It is tradition. Our tradition. Hence it should be appreciated and not to be taken for granted. I’m glad to see that people are starting to get interested with keringkam again with the exposure it has out there by the local community and also celebrities.

There are things that are better kept as it is and one of them is keringkam, a timeless piece of tradition. As how my love for films stayed with me despite all the years I kept it away, I found it again coz it never truly gone. And that is also how it is between keringkam and the Malay community in Sarawak. There were times when it was forgotten, hidden through time, but it was found again and given love once more by those who remember to bring it out to light before it dimmed for good.

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