The Famous Woven Silk Fabrics
of Pahang

tenun pahang brand

Sutera Tenun Pahang DiRaja (Royal Pahang Woven Silk) 

I will now take you now to a small village in the Pahang royal town of Pekan that is famous for fine woven silk fabrics and cloth – the Sutera Tenun Pahang Diraja or "Royal Pahang Woven Silk" cloth.

You see, in Malaysia, whenever someone asks or talks about fine woven silk cloth, inevitably reference is made to the famous and popular product ("Tenun Pahang Diraja" in short) made by the village of  Pulau Keladi  in Bandar Diraja Pekan, Pahang. 

This famous Pahang woven silk cloth was conferred royal status by DYTM Tengku Mahkota Pahang, Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah on the 8th of May 2006. 

In fact, the village of Pulau Keladi in Bandar Diraja Pekan, located about 20 km (or 25 minutes drive from Kuantan) is the main source of Tenun Pahang Diraja, and the majority of the Pulau Keladi village folks are skilled in the manual weaving of silk threads into highly desirable quality designed silk cloth, famed all over Malaysia.

It is a small cottage industry, and just like the woven silk clothes in the east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu, they are mostly done by the womenfolk of the village. 

Nestled amongst the quaint wooden houses of the village, you will find the Kompleks Budaya Pulau Keladi, (or Pulau Keladi Cultural Complex), a modern wooden-styled building opened officially in 1996 by the then Chief Minister of Pahang. 

This complex is not only a place showcasing Tenun Pahang Diraja fabrics and related products,it also acts as a center for training young men and women who are interested in learning the art of silk weaving that is unique to the place.

This is to ensure that the art and skill of silk weaving of fabrics in the Pahang-style would be preserved and continued by the future generations.

Inside this building, there are written explanations on the various stages and processes involved in silk weaving and making.

You can also find a pictorial history of silk weaving in Pahang and of the prominent personalities involved in Pahang silk weaving in the past, namely, Tuk Tuan Keraing Aji (see below) and also Puan (Mrs.) Selama binti Sulaiman. 

The latter, who died in 1958, was a renowned Pahang silk weaver who exhibited her beautiful products in London in the early 1950s and had won recognition and acclaim as "Tokoh Tenun Pahang" from the English government for her skills.

Besides the pictorial history and display of the beautiful and fine silk clothes made at the Complex, this is also a place where visitors can see first-hand the actual equipment used for silk weaving and closely observe the actual spinning of the silk threads and weaving of silk into the actual completed cloth by the skilled craftsmen and women.

Skills Required 

If we observe a master silk-weaver at work, we can see that it is no easy work. Indeed special skills are definitely required to ensure the silk threads are woven eventually into a beautiful cloth and a work of art!! We will especially marvel at the dexterity in using both hands and both feet to move synchronously to achieve the proper weaving process.

For instance, he needs to pull the reams from the top with the right hand, which makes the needle carrying the thread to move from right to left, and completing which his left hand will pull a wooden strap to join the threads together to make the full length cloth.

tenun pahang at chini

At the same time, the right and left legs need to alternately pedal up and down on the floor levers to open and close the sheets of threads attached to the long wooden stick to provide the route for the needle.

It is amazing that all these actions need to be done synchronously with perfect timing, otherwise precious time will be wasted to rectify any error.

And through it all, the look of the final end product will need to be visualized in the weaver’s mind when doing it!!

I was told that a piece of silk cloth measuring 2 meters can be completed in one day by an expert or fulltime weaver. A completed cloth suitable for a Malay male costume sampin is normally about 2 meters and dresses for ladies require about 4 meters in length.

Visitors who wish to make specially designed cloth can order their own customized patterns of the silk woven cloth there. The waiting time for the order completion however will depend on the availability of the silk thread colors and the peculiarity of the design ordered. Normally completion of the order can take from a couple of days to more than a week.

Due to the work and the skills involved, the Tenun Pahang Diraja fabrics are relatively expensive and cost from RM150.00 per meter, depending on the patterns and designs. Sometimes orders are received for the inclusion of gold threads in the cloth to make the designs more outstanding and different.

Designs And Patterns 

A completed cloth can be summarized as comprising of two sections or areas, i.e. the head ("kepala kain") and the rest known as the "tanak kain". In Tenun Pahang Diraja, these two sections normally have different patterns and colors. The head is the more prominent part with the darker patterns. In the Malay sampin, this part (head) is worn at the back.

The design or thread pattern of the Tenun Pahang Diraja clothes are arranged either vertically or horizontally. With the colors carefully co-ordinate and matched, the final product would be a delight to behold, a truly wonderful work of art.

Various names are given to the established designs and patterns. And the more elaborate the designs naturally will cost more because of the greater work to be done during weaving.

The Machine 

tenun pahang kek siam weaving machine

The equipment to weave the silk manually is made from wood, and known locally as mesin kek or kek siam.

It needs the special skills of a good carpenter to ensure that the machine made would work properly. However, nowadays, with the slow demise of the industry, it is difficult to find a skilled carpenter to build the machine.

And indeed, there is currently a lack of skilled weavers in Pekan because the current younger generation of village folks are not interested in laborious although artistic pursuits, such as silk weaving. They are more interested in relatively easier manual work at the modern factories, which also, with overtime payments, could earn them more income.

This inevitably leads to the current low supply of Tenun Pahang Diraja against the high demand from the market for the silk cloth, leading to longer lead time to complete orders. 

A Sidetrack..

tenun pahang tun razak's house

Just across the small road besides the Kompleks Budaya Pulau Keladi is the Tun Abdul Razak Memorial and the house where Malaysia’s beloved second Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak bin Dato’ Hussein was born.

It is a typical Malay traditional wooden house, with the old style lay-out of the verandah and windows, and over-all architectural structure.

Inside, we can see the usual Malay house utensils used by the old generation of Malays, from the spoons, ladles, cooking potteries, the mortar and pestle for pounding spices (forerunner of the modern "blender") and other traditional utensils.

A unique item not seen by many, I believe, is the filtering equipment to ensure water purity from wells that is made from clay.

tun razak photo

Tun Abdul Razak who was born in Pekan, was one of the founders of Malaysia, and he succeeded Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj as Malaysia’s second Prime Minister in 1969.

He died in office in 1972, and was buried at the Warriors’ Mausoleum at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur.

In Kuala Lumpur, there is also a Tun Razak Memorial at Jalan Perdana, exhibiting his works and memorabilia during his time as the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

He is the father of Malaysia’s current (6th) Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Mohd. Najib.

Silk Threads 

The history of silk imports in the Malay Peninsula stretched from the 15th Century when Indian traders first brought silk to Peninsula Malaysia and followed by the Chinese traders.

In the 18th and 19th Century, imports of silk were also made from Cambodia and Thailand, with the local weavers calling the raw silk threads as Epot silk and Lakchauan silk respectively. 

The original white colored silk threads are still imported mostly from China, although nowadays Thailand and a few other South-east Asian countries also produce good quality silk threads.

In Malaysia, although rearing silk worms for silk production was tried before -- in the late 1800s-- unfortunately the ventures failed as the silk worms do not seem to thrive well. This was probably due to the unsuitability of the climate for the silkworms because of the cool temperate weather required.

Before the actual weaving of the silk thread into cloth, the imported raw silk threads need to be cleaned and boiled a few times in water with certain mixtures to bring out its pure white silky color. In the old days the mixture are made of ashes of dried coconut branches, dried durian skins and skin of the kekabu fruit. These are burnt into ashes and boiled in water, filtered and boiled a few times again until the water is clear.

Then the raw silk threads are boiled in the water to bring out its pure silky color. After boiling, the raw silk threads are dried under the sun during the day, and put under the dew at night. This process is said to be carried for four days and nights, when the silk threads are ready for the final step before weaving –-- die-coloring of the silk threads.

The traditional way to die the silk threads according the color needs of weavers is rather tedious to undertake. It involves making the colors from various natural sources, such as the skins of young coconuts, the barks and leaves of various trees, fruits and plants.

Since the traditional methods were tedious and quite a hassle to make, synthetic dies are now used in the coloring of the silk threads. The synthetic dies are all imported, and being of high quality, they also save precious time of the weavers.

The silk threads used by the Cultural Complex in Pekan are ordered from China and with monthly production of about 44 pieces of sampin and 15 pairs of cloth measuring 4 meters each, the Complex uses about 5 kilograms or 50 bundles of silk thread per month.

Brief History Of Silk Weaving in Pahang 

tenun pahang kampung soi building

Silk weaving in Pahang originated from the Bugis people. When the Dutch conquered Macassar Island, they sought refuge in the Riau Islands of Indonesia and later they migrated to Pahang to avoid the fighting and war in Riau.

A high official of the Bugis, known as Tuk Tuan Keraing Aji, was one of those refugees who came to Pahang in 1722 and he settled at Kampung Mengkasar, Pekan.

Not only was he a master weaver and fully conversant and truly knowledgeable in silk weaving, he was also a connoisseur of fine fabrics and clothing, having collected fine fabrics and clothes from various parts of Indonesia.

As a master weaver extraordinaire, he was regarded as a pioneer of new designs and patterns for kain sampin and kain sarong. He taught silk weaving and the various processes to many of the womenfolk of the village including the surrounding areas.

tenun pahang kampung soi entrance

But more importantly, he contributed towards the creations of new patterns and designs for the fabrics. In time this unique silk weaving industry flourished in Pekan and its high quality and designs especially known far and wide and "branded" as it were, as Tenun Pahang.

Tuk Tuan Keraing Aji was buried at the Islamic Cemetery in Kampung Mengkasar, (the grave can be seen there).

The students he taught in Pekan continued his work of teaching the weaving techniques and processes to their generations, and the transmission of knowledge continued until now, encouraged by the Pahang state government by the establishment of the Kompleks Budaya Pulau Keladi.

In fact even today, the kek machine, the special machine to weave the Tenun Pahang Diraja, can still be found in most homes in the village, and men and women of the village, young and old, continue to carry out weaving activities during their spare time.

Costumes And Products Made From Tenun Pahang Diraja 

In the old days, like the songket in other states of Malaysia, the Tenun Pahang Diraja was a clothing fabric only for the "rich and famous".

It was a special fabric and in the old days it was used in the special traditional Malay costumes and attires of the Sultans of Pahang and palace officials. However, this special silk fabric is now sought by many.

The Tenun Pahang Diraja fabrics are normally worn during official public ceremonies and traditional Malay weddings. 

For the gentlemen, the Tenun Pahang Diraja fabric is used in the male costume of Baju Melayu as the sampin of choice in Pahang.

It adds special elegance to the wearer, no doubt due to the intricate patterns and designs used.

For the ladies, Tenun Pahang Diraja is especially delightful and charming when worn as Baju Kebaya.

And it is no less lovely and enchanting when worn as Baju Kurung. A gown made from Tenun Pahang Diraja will definitely make heads turn.

And whatever dress or attire is worn, when a wrap or shawl made from Tenun Pahang Diraja is used, the word "charming" will be the buzz word.

Such is the enthralling and enchanting marvel of the famous woven silk fabric known as Tenun Pahang Diraja. 

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this webpage on the famous woven silk fabrics of Pahang known as Tenun Pahang Diraja.

Also in the royal town of Pekan, you can visit the Pekan State Museum and Watercraft Gallery, located centrally in the town.

Browse here for the Pahang Hotels and Resorts Directory for your stay in Kuantan.

For other adventures and pleasures in the state of Pahang, just click the Navbar of your choice.

And, as always, from me...


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