Historical records show that the palace of Pahang maintained the products of Tenun Pahang, not only for its beauty and luxury, but even more so for its cultural significance. Tenun Pahang was used for official court attire and signified both Royal status and the identity of Pahang. Archived images of the Sultans of Pahang show them wearing Tenun Pahang.
As such, Tenun Pahang has been part of the formal clothing attire for the ruling monarchs for over 300 years and the tradition of wearing Tenun Pahang remains the pride of the Pahang court to this day. Tenun Pahang was given away as special gifts when the ruler travelled abroad.
How did they wear Tenun Pahang?
Male aristocrats wore the baju Melayu (the traditional Malay suits designed by Sultan Abu Bakar( and the shorter kain samping (body sash), woven in Tenun Pahang and adorned with a gold or silver belt, complete with pending (an ornamental buckle) and a keris (a ceremonial dagger crafted with a straight or wavy blade) that is then inserted into the folds of the kain samping at the waist.
Women of the Royal court on the other hand, wore variations of the ladies suit, known as baju that were complemented by accessories such as the kerongsang (a three-piece brooch necklace), hairpins or bangles made of gold and silver.
In 1986, after a serendipitous encounter on the polo grounds and a long courtship, two young Royals of the houses of the Pahang and Johor lived one Malaysia's great love stories. The wedding of HRH the Crown Prince Tengku Abdullah of Pahang, and HRH Princess Azizah, daughter of Sultan Iskandar of Johor was a ceremony replete with tradition.
The marriage mirrored another historical union between Pahang and Johor in 1914, when HRH Crown Prince Mahmud married his consort, HRH Princess Meriam.
Both marriages had important consequences for Pahang, as both princesses played an invaluable role in the development and revival of the weaving industry that is based in Pekan, Pahang.
During her time, Her Majesty Queen Meriam of Pahang (now having ascended the throne as Queen Consort of Pahang), was focused on reviving the Tenun industry and provided her unwavering support and ideas to ensure that Tenun Pahang continued to flourish and become an important craft livelihood for the women of Pekan. Her efforts were so significant that by the 1920s, that almost every house in the villages of Kampung Jambu, Benta and Pulau Keladi had a weaving loom.
Following the footsteps of HM Queen Meriam, HRH Crown Princess Consort Azizah revitalised the Tenun industry that in the 1980s was in decline to begin a new, vibrant and distinguished chapter in history. She began experimenting with her own patterns and motifs, marrying old with new. What began as gifts for friends, became presentable gifts to visiting local and foreign dignitaries. Wearing Tenun Pahang at official functions, HRH became a walking endorsement for the craft itself. The once-dwindling industry has now grown to serve the local luxury industry.
In the early 2000s, HRH began scheduling visits to the weaving centres in the Pekan villages on a weekly basis. Her visits began early in the morning and only concluded in the early evening. HRH would sit with the weavers to discuss and create new patterns and colours ways, always encouraging the weavers to systematically record them.
Under her aegis, the industry of Tenun has again flourished in Pahang. Pulau Keladi, a local area in the Royal town of Pekan with an old tradition of silk weaving, has again become the epicentre of Tenun Pahang Diraja. The area now houses the small weaving company Cheminahsayang, founded by Her Majesty with intention to employ both released prisoners trained in the skill of weaving, as well as professional weavers. The company has since become a space for social inclusion and reintegration. Pulau Keladi also boasts a large weaving school, a Tenun gallery, with plans to expand further in 2023.
The crux of her revival efforts has been the prison programme which she initiated, which trains wardens in the craft of silk weaving, which is then imparted to the prisons of Penor and Bentong in Pahang. The programme has taken over 20 years to come to fruition, and is now a growing initiative amongst other prisons in Malaysia. HM Queen Azizah has now become the Royal Patron of all prison crafts in Malaysia.