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TENUN PAHANG: WEAVING HOPE

"Tenun" means to weave in the Malay language. In Malaysia, it is often used to refer to the knowledge of weaving found in Pahang, commonly known as "Tenun Pahang" or the Royal Pahang Weave.

The exhibition "Tenun Pahang: Weaving Hope" is the culmination of over two decades of Her Majesty Queen Azizah of Malaysia's efforts to revive the dying craft of the Royal Pahang Weave. The crux of this revitalisation initiative is the prison programme that began in two prisons of Pahang, Penor and Bentong.

 

The prison programme trains and employs inmates in the prisons of Penor and Bentong, two of the largest male-only prisons in Malaysia to weave silks in the 300-year old techniques found in Pekan, Pahang, the royal seat of Her Majesty. In the late 1990s when the craft of silk weaving was almost lost to Pekan, Her Majesty invested in reviving this craft that was once renowned across the region. In hopes of preserving one of Malaysia’s textile traditions, HM also had the intention of offering inmates a skilled livelihood, and one that they might continue upon the completion of their prison sentence. Prison wardens were trained in the age-old techniques of weaving silk and then imparted to the inmates. Inmates are trained in the entire process that begins with processing the raw silk, all the way through to dyeing and preparing the loom and the weaving process. They are paid a daily salary depending on the level of skill practiced.

 

HM then founded her own company, Cheminahsayang, that employs released inmates, offering them a new lease on life. For HM, the company also employs professional weavers from Pahang, allowing released inmates to assimilate into society and to rebuild their lives. Cheminahsayang now produces the finest silks in Pahang, and moreover, is an example of social inclusion and a testament to second chances.

 

HM Queen Azizah has since become the Royal Patron of all prison crafts in Malaysia, and this format of prison programmes has been adopted across Malaysia, much owing to her patronage and endorsement. A number of women-only prisons now produce batik (another Malaysian textile tradition of wax-resistant dyeing), handmade cookies, as well as a number of other craft items.

 

The history of Tenun Pahang Diraja provided by the Museum of Pahang, and exquisite examples of prison-woven fabrics will be presented at the exhibition. The exhibition is designed by curator and exhibition-maker Judith Clark and hosted at the High Commission of Malaysia in London.

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