What’s a Linangkit?

Linangkit is a traditional form of embroidery made by several native tribes in Sabah, most notably the Dusun Lotuds of Tuaran. Back in the old days, cloth was woven by hand on back-strap looms, and were limited to certain dimensions. Thus, garments that required longer lengths (e.g. skirts, etc) would have to be extended using two pieces of cloth. The linangkit embroidery was an ingenious way of embellishing the attire while hiding the seams of the two joining pieces of fabric.

To the world of fashion, the embroidery technique of linangkit is similar to the European lace-knotting technique of ‘tatting’ or ‘frivolité’. The linangkit embroidery is done using a needle. A thin thread is looped into a lot of interconnecting identical knots and in doing so, produces a compact, strong fabric.

The practise of linangkit embroidery can only be found on the Northern and West Coast areas of Sabah;

• It is known as rinangkit by the Rungus people of Kudat, Northern Sabah

• It is called berangkit by the Bajaus of Kota Belud

• In the district of Papar, the Kadazans call it langkit.

However, it is believed that the origins of linangkit embroidery are from the Maranao and Magindanao people of the Philippines, who also refer to the needlecraft as langkit.

For the Dusun Lotuds of Tuaran, linangkit is used to embellish the left side of the ladies’ knee-length skirt called gonob and their traditional sashes known as kuwulu. For the men, the linangkit adorns the back area of the men’s long trousers, known as binandus – just below the waistband.

Orange and red are the main colours used in linangkit embroidery; other featured colours include purple, green, yellow, black and white. Traditionally, the wide continuous band of linangkit consists of a repetition of cross-like patterns (inspired by melon seeds) in the middle, followed by squares made up of opposing triangles done in contrasting colours. Colour arrangement within the pattern depends on the embroiderer’s sense of aesthetic, but rarely stray from the colours denoted earlier.

In this increasingly modern age, the traditional techniques of linangkit – like so many hand-made textile crafts worldwide – is facing the danger of extinction, as only the older generation of Sabahan native ladies are still interested in this ancestral artform.

What is the future of Sabah’s linangkit embroidery? Without the intervention from the Malaysian and international fashion community, the knowledge of this traditional folk craft faces a very high chance of being wiped out, lost to memory. Although the practice of wearing traditional attire still prevails in Sabah – thanks in part to the popularity of the state’s Unduk Ngadau (Harvest Queen) beauty pageant, more and more costume designers are opting for faster, cheaper ways to decorate their charge’s stage attire. These costumes are becoming more outlandish each year and the beauty of the linangkit embroidery becomes engulfed in a sea of cheap plastic beads and glitzy sequins.

Perhaps a way to make this precious textile craft from disappearing altogether is by helping it to integrate into today’s fashion. How can linangkit evolve? Could it be incorporated in parts as haute couture? Is there any designer out there willing to experiment with different motifs, shapes and forms of linangkit? Mixing linangkit with a different material? How about the use of colours? A radical colour change? Or amping up the traditional colour in a more provocative way? Let’s leave it to the fashion experts and designers out there to think this over. Any takers?

(Reference: An introduction to the traditional costumes of Sabah, Natural History Publications, 1997)

Richard Nelson Sokial reckons that a talented designer can take elements of Sabah’s traditional attires and strip them down to create functional modern clothes with a nuance of cultural identity.

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