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The Rattan Weaver of Penang – Sim Chew Poh

Rattan and bamboo are used extensively in Malaysia for making furniture and household objects. The word ‘rattan’ is derived from the Malay word rotan, a species of palm. Rattan is used for making wicker baskets and furniture due to its durability and lightness. Bamboo cane is widely used as a building material, food source, and raw product in East and Southeast Asia.

Mr Sim wonders if there is a way to keep the craft of rattan weaving alive even after he retires someday. His shop has been in business since his grandfather’s time and he wants to continue to be in this field for as long as he can. A strong pair of scissors is needed to cut the cane. Sim sometimes has to use his body weight to straighten the canes. The baskets are a feat of intricate weaving. Left untreated, rattan is brittle, so it must be soaked in water to make it pliable. The rattan shrinks when it dries, making the finished baskets tighter and sturdier.