12 Handicrafts of Malaysia - Traditional Malaysian Art & Craft

Malaysia is well-known for its rich history and exquisite handicrafts. Due to a mix in culture and a number of tribes who have settled in Malaysia, the Malaysian handicrafts display a mix of the same. Every handicraft here has a tale to tell and a reason behind why it is the way it is. When visiting, you are likely to see several handicrafts, a few of which are extremely beautiful and can be brought back home as souvenirs. For many of these handicrafts, Malaysia also offers workshops for these handicrafts that are worth the experience.

Here are the 12 stunning handicrafts of Malaysia:

1. Batik

Colourful Malaysian batik design
Malaysian Batik (Source)
Embedded in Malay culture, Batik is one of the oldest forms of craft in the world. Batik is a form of art that transforms a simple white cloth into vibrant colors using wax-resist dyeing techniques. The most popular kind of motifs is leaves and flowers. Malay batik does not depict humans and animals since it is against the beliefs of Islam, although, butterflies are a common exception. It is famous for its geometrical designs, mainly spirals. It is now endorsed as the national dress among the general population that reflects the Malaysian idea with the help of local designers. This form of art over the years has developed its individuality, making it different than Javanese traditional hand-printed batik.
Where to Find: Malaysian Batik can be found on the east coast of Malaysia like Kelantan, Terengganu, and Pahan

2. Songket 

The colourful songket fabric of Malaysia
Colourful and gold embroidered Songket fabric (Source)
A handwoven fabric of silk or cotton, Songket is a traditional handicraft of Malaysia. Intricately plated with gold or silver threads which create a shimmering effect, it is inseparable from the lives of people of the Palembang tradition, who wear this on notable occasions like birth, marriage, and death.
Where to Find: You can find authentic Songket in East coast of Malaysia such as Terengganu and Kelantan.

3. Pewter

Malaysia Pewter cutlery set with a tray, glass and jug
Malaysian Pewter set (Source)
Pewter is a famous alloy found in Malaysia. Pewter objects are a part of everyday objects in the lives of people of Malaysia, principally as religious accessories. Glamorous and extravagant in its looks, its long-lasting shiny luster makes it popular. Pewter is used to make candle holders, keychains, bookmarks, tableware, and even accessories.
Where to Find: You can find Pewter and crafts made from Pewter in East Malaysia,  particularly from the indigenous tribes of Sabah and Sarawak.

4. Pottery

A beautiful Malaysian Pottery Vase
Sarawak Malaysian Pottery Clay Vase with Brown Glaze Vintage Souvenir  (Source)
Pottery in Malaysia goes beyond just home utensils. It is an excellent display of talent, aesthetics, and cultural beliefs. It requires a lot of devotion and a feeling of oneness with nature.

5. Nyonya Beadwork And Embroidery 

Kasut Manek- Nyonya Shoes made with beadwork and embroidery
Nyonya beadwork and embroidered shoes on display (Source)
Associated with the Peranakan Community, this Malaysian handicraft craft originated from the Straits of Melaka. Also known as Nyonya shoes, Peranakan shoes, or kasut manek in Malay, they form an integral part of the Nyonya culture. These shoes are very intricate and take up to 3 months for making a pair. This artwork can be found in everyday household decors to more ornamental pieces for special occasions like weddings. It makes use of colourful glass and metal seed beads. The more intricate the design, the costlier it is. It is tedious eye-work. Every creation is the vision of the maker, making every pair unique. There are very few craftsmen today in Malaysia who are loyal to this craft.

6. Keris

Keris hammer and dagger
The Keris hammer and dagger (Source)
Also called as Kris, it is an asymmetrical dagger. Often considered to have essence or presence, it is said to possess magical powers, some possessing good luck while the rest possessing ill luck. Both a weapon and a spiritual object, it is used for display as a talisman with magical powers and as accessories for ceremonial dresses indicating social status. A number of cultural beliefs surround its presence and roles in history and special occasions. Unfortunately, keris making is a dying art form in Malaysia today.
Where to Find: Kampung Ladang Titian in Kuala Terengganu is a one-stop destination for Keris. Apart from this, The Craft Complex in Kuala Lumpur holds an exhibition from time to time.

7. Rattan Weaving

Rattan Weaving basket
A basket made with Rattan weaving technique (Source)
Suitable for making furniture, Rattan is also a popular choice for art pieces and handicrafts in Malaysia. It is highly durable and resistant to splintering. It is used to create rocking chairs, tables, baskets, and other household wares. It is most suitable for the hot and humid tropical climate. However, today the art is dwindling because of changing preferences. Very few craftsmen today have kept this form of the craft alive in their works.

8. Pua Kumbu 

Pua Kumbu clothes on display in a store in Malaysia
A shop displaying Pua Kumbu clothes (Source)
A traditional patterned multi-colored cloth, Pua Kumbu's origin revolves around the legendary characters of Menggin and Dara Tinchin. All the raw materials for its dye as harvested in rainforests. It is traditionally used by Iban people and is considered sacred. It happens to be a sign of material wealth, social rank, and prestige. The complex motifs are inspired by nature and their beliefs. A printed version of pua kumbu is available for ladies' fashion and accessory. To a surprise, there is no written guide to this Malaysian handicraft, It is passed through hands-on practice and oral narration. This craft is highly extensive and might take three weeks to two months to complete a piece. Its individual motifs are woven together to tell tales of spiritual and ritual powers.

9. Tekat

Tekat or Tekatan, is a traditional Malaysian couched embroidery. It makes use of gold thread work on rich velvet, usually maroon. Its origin lies in Perak and Perak still continues to win over the production of tekat. Tekat is widely used to decorate items used during Malay weddings like clothing, bedspreads, pillow and bolster cases, betel nut boxes, tray covers, hand fans, and shoes. It involves intrinsic work to ensure that a minimal amount of gold threads are wasted. Its motifs draw inspiration from local plants like jasmine and hibiscus flowers, paddy stalks, and bamboo shoots.

10. Kites

Colourful Malysian kites
Colourful Malaysian Kites (Source)
Wau Bulan is a specialty of Malaysia. This crescent moon-shaped kite is a matter of national symbol in Malaysia. There are several types of Wau kites, each famous for its distinctive shape. These kites are huge in size and what makes it different from others is its colours. They are decorated with large patterns that are strongly colored. The motifs on the kites usually include floral patterns and to make them more attractive, they are adorned with paper tassels. It is a form of traditional craft in Malaysian states like Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah, and Perlis. These kites create a humming sound because of the use of bamboo while making them. It is still widely found in traditional Malay states like Kelantan and Terengganu, primarily during harvest time.

11. Labu Sayong 

Labu Sayong Pottery
Source
A state icon for Perak, it stands out because of its colour. Black, glossy Labu Sayong is gourd-shaped jars crafted out of fine clay. It is the forefather of the ceramic industry in Malaysia. They display excellent craftwork and are a testimony of the potters' patience. Made using limited resources, you might find minor flaws but these flaws speak of nothing less than the authentic handmade jars. It is used as a traditional water pitcher. It is appreciated not only for its utility but also for its aesthetic. Apart from using it as a water pitcher used to store cool water, it can be made into lamps stands and vase for decorative purposes. Lampshades are the most sought after decorative pieces. Besides the traditional glossy, black, they come in various intricate detailings and colours and their prices depend on the same. The modern pottery techniques have posed competition to this traditional practice, however, the craftsmen creating Labu Sayong have managed to preserve this beautiful creation.
Where to Find: You will find Labu Sayong in Kuala Kangsar.

12. Sape

Sape carved musical instruments
All the pretty Sape lined up in a row spotted at the Sarawak Cultural Village (Source)
The Sape is a traditional musical flute instrument. It is traditional to Orang Ulu from the Kayan and Kenyah community living in Central Borneo. It has a striking resemblance to guitars. To a surprise, Sapes are carved out of a single wood bole. These carvings are extremely beautiful and display the creativity of the maker.

A mix of cultures and tribes make the handicrafts of Malaysia are exquisite and unique. Many of them are stories of history woven into the present, keeping alive the mythical references and great characters from the past. What strikes the most is the ability to sustain the craft generations after generations only through practice, verbal directions, and memory. What is even more beautiful is the willingness of these craftsmen to keep it alive and sustaining it in its most natural form even today.

This post was published by Yashi Shah

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