Culture unites as Queen pays tribute to Prisons Dept, inmates at Asean Traditional Textile Symposium

Malaysia’s Queen today paid tribute to the Prisons Department and its inmates for playing a commendable role in preserving and reviving traditional crafts, including weaving and batik making.

The initiative, part of the Prisons Department’s rehabilitation programme, has helped revive the ancient art of tenun weaving in the country.

In her keynote address at the 8th Asean Traditional Textile Symposium at Marriott Hotel, Putrajaya this morning, Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah said she was proud of this achievement.

“When tenun weaving was dying, with only 15 weavers in 2015, it was the Prisons Department that helped revive this ancient art that had existed in Pahang for the last 1,000 years.

“Through these programmes, the inmates are given hope for a better future, and through them, I see the continuation of this legacy for future generations,” she said.

“These programmes give inmates a second chance at life outside the prison walls after they have served their sentences. I see in them the hope to continue this beautiful journey of preserving our heritage.”

The event was launched by Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah. In his speech, Al-Sultan Abdullah described his consort as a “perfectionist”.

“She (Tunku Azizah) is determined to make this (event) a success. I was informed the response was overwhelming and there will be 19 presenters from all over the world.”

Al-Sultan Abdullah beats the gong to officiate the 8th Asean Traditional Textile Symposium with Tunku Azizah by his side. Looking on is Regent of Pahang, Tengku Hassanal Ibrahim Alam Shah.

Over 300 participants, namely industry players and experts from Southeast Asia and Europe are involved in the event that started yesterday and will end on Sept 30. The theme of the event is ‘Celebrating Textiles: A Journey’.

Tunku Azizah said they were there united by a singularity of purpose – to preserve, promote, and celebrate cultural heritage.

“We can bridge our differences through arts and crafts. If politics divide us, let culture unite us all.

“I stand before you here today, not as the Queen of Malaysia, but as a custodian of every form of arts and craft, not just textiles, which form our heritage,” she said.

Tunku Azizah noted that plans to set up the Al-Sultan Abdullah Village in Pahang, on an 8ha plot of land provided by the state government, are in the works.

The village will provide former inmates, not just a place to stay, but also opportunities to rebuild their lives in an integrated and conducive environment.

“Through this village, I want to continue giving them hope – from prison to freedom – a hope that we share together for them to embark on a journey back into society,” Tunku Azizah said.

“They can use the centre to promote our traditional weaving industry, and arts and crafts, in general. We want to empower these men and women to be financially independent and contribute to the local and domestic economies.”

Tunku Azizah, whose journey to preserve and revive cultural traditions began two decades ago when she focused on the development and rebranding of Tenun Pahang to Tenun Pahang Diraja in Pulau Keladi, Pekan Pahang, said the art of weaving bridges communities around the world.

“Weavers express love and respect for heritage through the diversity of colours, texture and patterns. It conveys a wealth of histories and tales, and revered heirlooms through the passage of time.”

She said through patience, tenacity and encouragement from many quarters, including Al-Sultan Abdullah, the weaving industry has been transformed, from a long-forgotten art form, to a rejuvenated and dynamic industry.

“And I continue to undertake study tours, which I have called ‘Tawaf Tenun’. These tours have already taken me, not only to all Asean countries, but also to India, Turkiye, and London, to name a few, to see for myself all the current practices in these countries to preserve their age-old traditions, especially weaving, and to share them when I am home.

“Most recently, we participated in the London Craft Week to showcase to the world the Tenun Diraja Pahang. Prisons Department staff were also part of the entourage to study how the international arts and craft artisans undertake preservation and promotion of their respective trades.

“At the next London Craft Week, I plan to bring with me, art from Orang Asal and songket. It is my hope to bring Malaysian art to the next level.”

Tunku Azizah also noted that the monarchy has played a pivotal role in preserving tradition and heritage, be it food, arts and crafts, and the performing arts.

“Where monarchy exists, we see that the country’s rich heritage has remained.

“As consorts, we have a role to play. It is our role to continue the legacy left to us by our forefathers. I am sure that they too, hope that we will continue this and not let it die,” she said.

Also present were Sultanah of Terengganu Sultanah Nur Zahirah, Raja Permaisuri Perak Tuanku Zara Salim, Tengku Permaisuri Selangor Tengku Permaisuri Norashikin and the Sultanah of Kelantan Che Puan Nur Diana Petra Abdullah.

Al-Sultan Abdullah and Tunku Azizah are joined by other members of the royal family at the launch this morning.

She also paid tribute to prominent members of the royal households in Malaysia for preserving heritage:

  • Tengku Ampuan Jemaah of Selangor with the Telepuk
  • Tengku Ampuan Besar Meriam of Pahang with the Tenun Pahang Diraja
  • Raja Perempuan Kalsom of Perak with the Tekat
  • Tengku Ampuan Mariam of Terengganu with the Gamelan
  • Raja Perempuan Zainab of Kelantan with the Kelingkam
  • Sultanah Nur Zahirah of Terengganu with the Songket
  • The Permaisuri of Johor with the Tenun Benang Johor and batik in the Johor colours and motifs

“I have every confidence that the role of the palace in preserving our country’s rich heritage will be continued by the younger royals such as Tengku Puteri Jihan of Pahang and Tengku Nadirah of Terengganu.”

In her speech, Tunku Azizah also announced the establishment of the Royal Malaysian Society of Artisans, an association to recognise the handful of skilled artisans.

“Due recognition will be given to those who have such craftsmanship, with fellowships to be awarded to deserving artisans,” she said.

“This is my journey from the palace to the people. But I can only celebrate this journey when I am assured that it will continue for generations to come.”