Monday, December 19, 2005


Perak was once a wealthy Malaysian state, rich not just with the valuable tin deposits that became the backbone of Malaysian economy at one time, but also with its cultural and traditional heritage.

These days, modern-day Perak is known for its bustling cities, beautifully landscaped parks, imposing limestone hills, and its many fruit stalls that line the street selling the famous Tambun pomelos and groundnuts.

Not far from Perak’s royal town of Kuala Kangsar, in the district of Sayong, is the center of a unique cottage industry specializing in the production of earthenware jugs, the labu sayong, another of Perak’s famous contribution to Malaysia’s traditional craft heritage.

The labu sayong is an elegant, gourd-shaped carafe that is used to keep water cool. The jug, with the characteristic double bulb design, is burnt to a black colour that gives it the ability to cool its content quickly. It is even believed that the drinking water stored in the labu sayong has certain health properties to cure common ailments like cough and fever.

The labu sayong displays some fine designs inspired by Malaysian tradition and culture. Such motifs that can be found as ornamentation on the labu sayong are designs based on local flowers (bunga tanjung, bunga pecah empat), spices (clove, star anise) and leaves (bamboo shoots).

The beautiful workmanship present in each labu sayong can be attributed to the fine skill of the craftsmen as well as the high quality of clay used in the process. Very fine clay soil, found along the riverbanks, is used in this craft, which is then pounded into extremely fine powdery form. The coarser remains are removed before water is added. The mixture is then carefully kneaded to dispel air bubbles and shaped into its distinguishing bulbous form, which consists of a body, a neck, a head and a spout.

The shaped clay is then polished with a smooth pebble. The clay is now primed for decorative embellishments on its outer surface. The motifs – which have been carved on wood – are stamped onto the surface of the clay

Once completed, the labu sayong is then left to dry in the sun, after which it undergoes three levels of heat before it is ready for use. First, it is smoked with coconut husks and some firewood, then it is fired in a kiln at high temperatures and finally, fired with rice husks to obtain the colour of rich ebony.

The labu sayong is then glazed on its bottom with resin to prevent stored water from seeping out, rendering it waterproof.

These days, the labu sayong can be found in many kitchens as the preferred storage for drinking water, as well as in the main areas of the home as decorative pieces.



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