Madam Lau Weng Thye was busy at her machine, shaving 1cm strips of bamboo for her three casual workers to weave into baskets when I dropped by at her workshop in Kanthan Baru, Perak a couple of days ago.
Her stock of bamboo raw material has just arrived from Lasah that morning. After about a week of enforced break when she had used up all her bamboo stock from the last batch, Mdm. Lau had to catch up with work to fulfil all the orders that had accumulated.
The business of weaving bamboo baskets used to be a major cottage industry in this Chemor village, but that was until the 1990s.
Over time, plastic containers have replaced bamboo baskets, weavers have passed on, profit has dwindled and it is no longer viable to run such a business, hence Mdm. Lau’s modest enterprise is the only one surviving today.
Probably already into her 60s, Mdm. Lau continues to push on, even as she is facing difficulty in sourcing for raw material and securing the services of manual workers, a skilled task that comes with the risk of getting cuts despite wearing thick gloves.
In the early days, bamboo baskets were woven in three sizes; Small, Medium and Large. These days, only Medium and Large sizes are made. Despite the difference in size, they are sold for RM5.50 each.
According to Mdm. Lau, a skilled weaver can complete a number of baskets a day while a newbie may take days to wrap up one. The most difficult section to weave would be its base, she said.
It is, in fact, also the most important part of the basket as a large one can support over a hundred kilogrammes in weight.
Mdm. Lau admits that these bamboo baskets are not durable, an additional factor that has caused merchants who normally use these baskets prefer plastic containers instead.
“What more when workers who have to carry heavy loads don’t take care of them and drop the baskets hurriedly on the floor,” she added.
By the looks of it, bamboo basket weaving is a dying skill. It is just a matter of time that bamboo baskets are no longer made, especially when it appears as though Mdm. Lau’s own family members are not keen to inherit her business.
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