Margrit Linder

Dayak Agabag Women – Rattan Plaitwork

Dayak Agabag Women Rattan Plaitwork

Sembakung River, North Kalimantan, Indonesia, 2010–2012, 2015
10 Documentary films made by Margrit Linder, Switzerland

While working as a consultant and documentarist in North Kalimantan from 2010 to 2012 for a handicraft development program of the women's department of the native Church GKPI (Gereja Kristen Pemancar Injil) and mission21, I discovered the rich plaiting tradition of Agabag women on the Sembakung River.
The films show the production process from the harvesting of the raw material rattan until the finished products, elaborate mats, baskets and bags, as they are plaited in training workshop sessions.
After 6 months of working with some plaiters in Tanjung Langsat, the well-known plaiter Ibu Theodora Hangin Bang Donggo from Samarinda was engaged to train a group of plaiters, setting quality standards for local as well for possible international markets. These trainees then became trainers for other plaiter groups in the villages of Tanjung Langsat, Tanjung Harapan, Pagar, Ubol, Binter, Sukamaju in North Kalimantan and Pagalungan in Sabah (Malaysia).
The films are also made for the plaiters, in memory of time spent working together and to help them remembering the discussions we had about quality standards for marketing the products.
The Dayak Agabag represent a branch of the large Murutic language family, together with their Muslim Tidung neighbors and some local groups in Southern Sabah (Malaysia).

1 Harvesting rattan

short film, Owoi sogo; Calamus caesius, 04:57

Owoi sogo, Agabag language for rattan sega
2010 at the first encounter with the plaiters in Tanjung Langsat I recorded Ibu Martina Sindata and Ibu Poulena Marten harvesting rattan near the village.

2 Harvesting rattan

long film, Owoi sogo; Calamus caesius, 20:15

Two years later I had the opportunity to go one morning on a boat trip with Ibu Mince Tikung and Ibu Rita Yuntoi to harvest rattan in the nearby secondary forest where rattan had been planted for commercial use before. It is a longer film, to give a feeling how time consuming it all is.

3 Scraping rattan

to take off the inner skin, 05:17

The rattan still has a hard, shiny skin that needs to be taken off straight after the harvesting. After scraping the rattan it needs to dry in the sun and must be straightened if necessary.

4 Forging plaiting tools


In Sukamaju on the Sembakung River bank is the little forgery of Pak Kalo. He forges iron tools out of chainsaw blades for the village people as well as the calibrating knives called Dalis and other tools for the plaiters.

5 Splitting and shaving rattan


The plaiters split the rattan with knives and cut the rattan strips into the required width and thickness with a pair of calibrating tools, called Dalis.
The rattan scraps are dumped in the fields. According to belief, burning them would cause the plaiters to lose their plaiting skills.

6 Dyeing rattan strips black

with leaves from the Tibangu tree
and iron-rich mud or iron filings, 07:18

Before the trainer, Ibu Hangin Bang, had showed to a group of plaiters how to boil iron filings together with Tibangu leaves, the dyeing could take up to three days or more. With the iron filings the rattan turns into a deep black colour in two to three hours.
For plaiting traditional patterns in baskets and bags, half of the length of the rattan strips is packed in plastic to keep them white, while the other half is immersed into the broth and turns black.

7 Ayam Mamatik

Plaiting decorated rattan mats, 11:10

A sleeping mat measures ca. 90 x 150 cm, a mat for the living room 3 to 5 meters in length. A beautiful mat is made by or for a daughter for her marriage and after her death it may accompany a woman to her grave.
In a community hall a mat can measure 10 meters or more. There are many patterns, some are old traditional Agabag or Murut patterns (see the film Sinumandak & Agigimpong), some come from other areas and the plaiters have taken them into their repertoire.
In the first part of the film the plaiters start a mat from the middle in the traditional way.
In the second part Ibu Hangin Bang introduces a new method starting a mat from the border.

8 Budui

Training workshops plaiting Budui baskets, 10:16

The Budui is a traditional Agabag rattan basket. Together with mats it is given to the daughters when they are getting married. For an international market the plaiters had to replace plastic borders with more traditional rattan and make the bottom straight so the basket would stay flat on the ground without shaking. Wooden model boxes were introduced to make 3 standardized sizes.

9 Tas

Plaiting rattan bags, 10:01

In one of the training sessions the trainers introduced a new commercial product to a group of plaiters using traditional materials, techniques, and motifs. Wooden model boxes made 5 standardized sizes. The bags are designed for local as well as foreign markets.

10 Preparing Ilui

Cassava staple food, 13:37

In 2015 I privately visited the plaiters again and documented Ibu Haini Guan preparing Ilui, the staple dish of Agabag people. The starch is washed out of the grated roots of Cassava, Ubi Singkong or Maniok (Manihot esculenta). It is stored away and lasts for months. It is also a gift to take to weddings and funerals. When boiled it turns into a transparent sticky paste without much taste. It is eaten every day out of a communal pan and goes together with vegetable, meat or fish soups.