The women of Maliangin and Banggi islands in Sabah, East Malaysia, have a long tradition of weaving with the leaves of the pandanus palm, but the skills required to harvest, prepare, dye and weave the leaves was vanishing. With the fisheries declining and food security threatened, household budgets were pinched and the women needed to help make ends meet.
When WWF—through USAID’s Coral Triangle Support Partnership (CTSP)—came to this area inside the proposed Tun Mustapha Park and talked about alternative livelihoods to help take the pressure off the sea, everyone connected the dots. Together we planned to revive and adapt a weaving program that would enable the women to earn income for household needs and sell fewer fish.
WWF brought in a weaving expert from peninsular Malaysia to teach interested women. The women knew the basics of weaving necessary for make sitting and sleeping mats, but they needed help creating designs for marketable items. At a series of three trainings held in Karakit, the area’s main town, they learned to make baskets, file folders, placemats, bracelets and other small items to supplement the mats. They also learned what color combinations and patterns might be appealing to the tourist and urban markets. New dyes in earth and pastel tones were made available to them to supplement the brighter locally available ones.
Nafsah Indami from Maliangin Island beams when talking about the income earned by her family since 2010. She specializes in woven bracelets and bangles and estimates she has earned 500 ringgits (about $170) in the past year. She can make five items a day between her other obligations and can sell these for 5 ringgit ($1.70) each, in line with the national minimum wage.
“I’ve used the money for fixing up the house, for house-keeping and food. I got a phone too,” she said with a broad smile and a laugh. The women are now recycling plastic bottles by cutting them into circlets around which they weave broader bracelets. They sell their products to ecotourists visiting the area and hope to sell more items to stores in the cities.
Recently, the weavers in Banggi got a contract to weave 1200 napkin rings for the Shangri-la Tanjung Aru resort in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capitol city. The resort is also interested in selling other pandanus products such as placemats and coasters in its shops. Skills have increased and an initial market for the products is now established, laying a solid foundation for a profitable future for the women. This is easing pressure on the fish and reefs in accordance with the local livelihood goals of Malaysia’s commitments as part of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF).
WWF is the lead implementing partner for CTSP and the USCTI Support Program in Malaysia.