Malaysia’s handmade incense craftwork a declining artwork

1000’s of big incense sticks, many adorned with dragon heads, line the partitions at a Malaysian enterprise the place they’re made by hand forward of the Lunar New 12 months vacation.

Within the rural city of Kubang Semang in Penang, staff spend months utilizing a conventional methodology to craft the sticks – some as tall as two metres – earlier than sending them to shops.

Enterprise is brisk forward of Lunar New 12 months celebrations this weekend, when individuals of Chinese language descent worldwide burn incense in temples and at conventional ceremonies.

Malaysia is a Muslim-majority nation however is house to a considerable ethnic Chinese language inhabitants, and the vacation is marked in lots of locations.

Ong Chin Chye, who runs the enterprise in a sequence of wooden and corrugated iron buildings, stated his vibrant handmade sticks look quite a bit higher than these churned out by machines.

“With machines, are you able to make the dragon head like this?” requested the 60-year-old, pointing to his intricately carved creations.

Ong’s sticks are primarily comprised of sawdust, utilizing a mixture of locally-grown “meranti” timber – a typical hardwood in South-East Asia – and fragrant agarwood. These are mixed with water to make a sticky paste that varieties the sticks.

The subsequent 12 months would be the 12 months of the Rat – the primary creature within the Chinese language zodiac’s 12-year cycle – however Ong stated his consumers weren’t eager on depictions of the whiskered rodent.

“Individuals don’t need rats. They steal meals, and that is not good,” he laughed.

Alternatively, dragons – additionally one of many zodiac animals – are ever-popular symbols of energy, power and good luck in Asian tradition.

Ong stated his sticks sometimes promote for between RM8 and RM80 apiece, relying on high quality and dimension. In addition to Lunar New 12 months, he makes them for different main Chinese language festivities.

He estimated there have been at most 30 incense-making companies like his throughout Malaysia, including the trade had been declining in recent times.

Younger individuals “do not wish to work these jobs, it is laborious work… there isn’t any air-conditioning”, he stated.

Many incense sticks offered these days in South-East Asia come from abroad, significantly China. – AFP

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