The silversmiths of Kelantan

kelantan silver

Kelantan is the north-eastern Malaysian state where I was born. As a state, Kelantan is known to be one of the most culturally rich in Malaysia, and it has had centuries of royal history, which shaped its traditions, arts and crafts. It was linked to the 15th century Pattani kingdom as well as the ancient 2nd century Langkasuka kingdom with ties to the Cambodian and Thai kingdoms.

The Malay traditional textile of Songket, for example, is believed to have come from the royal house of Cambodia, influenced by the silk threads of China, and the gold threads of India.

I was excited to finally have a chance to meet the artisans in Kelantan recently.

f416f4b8-0bfa-42ac-87ed-38c972fd35c3

With the kind assistance of a royal patron, Tengku Puan Temenggong Tunku Noor Hayati, I met artisans who work with silver and the traditional Malay weapon made of wood and steel, keris.

c58e934a-dcca-4d0e-a93c-40c50047de4d

Malay silverware is known for its intricate designs. Kelantan is known for silversmithing, where Malay artisans work on silver derived from ingots and bars.

We first met a group of silversmiths who were working on commissions for a royal family – they were making a mace with intricate traditional silver carvings, as well as small and detailed miniature Kelantanese music instruments. To my surprise, these artisans were still shaping the intricate details using a variety of hand tools with repeated, careful concentrated movements by the artisans. There were hardly any machines on sight. The only mechanical or industrial object was a small blowtorch that was used to weld parts together.

56196b31-624d-43a7-a9ae-06c708e39d72

Modern machines are used sparingly in Kelantanese silversmithing, as there’s a limit to what machines can accomplish in this field. The secret behind the silverware’s beauty is the patience and skill of the silversmiths, who carefully hand-craft every piece of silver into a work of art.  Despite the advancement in technology, many still prefer silver items that are produced traditionally.

847e5173-808f-45c6-badc-a42676431796

Kelantan silver is renowned for its intricacy of design and superior workmanship. Silversmiths use two kinds of techniques – filigree and repousse. Items range from the functional to the purely ornamental and include fruit bowls, tea sets, ash-trays, brooches and bracelets.

I spied an intricate gambus in the making, and at another table, a set of tableware, and a silver clutch. Ideas started rapidly forming in my head for exquisite Senijari tableware, clutches and jewellery…

e3240bfd-aa26-417a-bf02-93f86172a603.jpg

c3bb5cab-e368-42c6-8ff2-12fdce3f2491-e1523331276705.jpg

62f0d333-f684-4e14-b64f-ef7ed6b6cb42

You can visit the silvercraft factory at Kampung Sireh, Kampung Marak or at Kampung Badang on the road to Pantai Cahaya Bulan. There are very few traditional silversmiths in the society today, and one of them is Mohd Rosli Mat Tahir, also known as Pok Li, who is 54 years old.

Mohd Rosli, from Wakaf Che Yeh, said that despite the rise of gold and silversmithing shops that utilise new technology, buyers still prefer items that are made the traditional way.

“The intricate and beautiful designs produced the traditional way are fine and unique”.

“Although there is stiff competition from other precious metals, silver items like handles and sheaths of keris continue to sell”.

Most local silversmiths also inherited their silversmithing skills from older generations, and some study the craft by taking a diploma course at the National Craft Institute.

Kelantan Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation has planned several programs to help silversmiths and prevent the industry from fading. One of the programs is to recognize skillful master silversmiths who can teach their skills and techniques to the younger generation.

We met and spoke to an artisan, Mohd Ariffin Wook of Kg. Morak, or “Pok Wook” who worked alone in a small workshop near by.

8d8b07a2-2b84-4036-acf5-bb4330308400

He has been an artisan for 40 years, he told us proudly. Showing us his refined silver carvings on a sheath of a keris, a silver clutch with chains and small intricate pieces of jewellery, he beamed with pleasure when we exclaimed in wonderment at the beauty of every delicate piece.

27391ee7-8a3f-421a-9af7-c8f79ff81121443e3d98-6ff0-4ca5-b286-3abe82bfdfe86a7c52f2-fa0f-4049-91ab-c74531d2fb75

The carvings on the sheath of the keris are done in “Awan Larat” style, like stylized clouds with some geometric touches on the sides. Local plants inspire his jewellery. A brooch was shaped like the humble and ubiquitous fern, but made glamorous and delicate with tiny silver filigree curls and a touch of black horn that forms the spine of a brooch. He explained to us ruefully that when gets a lot of orders he has two assistants, but otherwise, he works alone – in a small room full of tools, two tables and two chairs. It is obvious that his work is a lifelong labour of love.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s