Ring Ladies credited with bringing Sarawak to world stage

In front: Abang Johari (third left), Abdul Karim (third right), Dr Sim (first left) and Wee (first right) pose for a photo-op with the Ring Ladies of Kg Semban and others in front of the Ring Ladies mural.

By Chris Bishop

PADAWAN, Dec 14: The Ring Ladies of Kampung Semban have brought Sarawak to the attention of a global audience thanks to their performances at international festivals in Milan, Italy and Berlin, Germany.

“In 2016, the group was invited to perform at the Lo Spirito Del Pianeta, an international festival of indigenous people and tribal groups, in Milan, Italy. In 2019, they were invited by my Ministry to ITB (Internationale Tourismus-Borse) Berlin, the largest International Tourism Mart in the world,” revealed Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah.

He noted there are now only a handful of Ring Ladies left, comprising Peluk Abeh, Tawud Luhan, Nyukan Genyai, Nyadi Dolah and Singai Nekan who are also members of the Kampung Semban cultural troupe and who are often invited to perform at state and national events.

“They range in age from 69 to 94 years in age. In 2010, there were eight of them. In 2015, (there were) only six left. Now, there are only five of them,” said Abdul Karim at the event to mark Padawan Municipal Council (MPP)’s 24th Anniversary-cum-launch of the Rings Ladies mural here today today.

He said the idea for the mural art came about following the premiere of the Sarawakian-made documentary “The Last Ring Ladies” on international broadcasting channels NHK (Japan), KBS (Korea), and PTS (Taiwan) since August 2019. This documentary also premiered on TVS Sarawak on Nov 4, 2020.

The mural art project is supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Sarawak, Padawan Municipal Council, NG Picture and Dian Kiara Sdn Bhd.

“Measuring 13.7m x 36.5m, this is the largest mural art in Kuching. The painting started on June 30, 2020 and was completed on Sept 30, this year,” Abdul Karim added.

The Ring Ladies of Kg Semban standing in front of the giant mural which portrays them.

The mural features the Ring Ladies of Kampung Semban dressed in their traditional attire and their Ruyank’ng and Rasunk’ng which embody the distinctive culture of the Bi’embhan (a sub-ethnic Bidayuh tribe from Ulu Bengoh) in Sarawak.

Ruyank’ng and Rasunk’ng are the copper coiled rings worn respectively on the forearms and calves. The rings were once prized and desirable among Bidayuh women, who put them on starting from a very young age. In time, it became become part of their daily attire and also came to symbolise beauty and nobility.

The wearers were not supposed to take off the rings when they did daily chores. The origins of this unique practice can be traced back to travelling Chinese traders who brought copper to Borneo.

The Ring Ladies’ traditional attire comprise Bulang Sebi (headgear), Tumbih (necklace), Kain Ngumban (red sash), Sisink’ng and Wi (belts), Baju Putang (blouse), and Jemuh Sulam (skirt/sarong). Together, they are known as the unique tradition of “Dayung Hmuai Semban”.

“We are very proud that our local muralist, Leonard Siaw was commissioned to paint the mural, titled “Dayung Hmuai Semban” or “The beautiful ladies of Semban”. Leonard spent about 13 weeks to complete the mural. It was real hard work at the mercy of tropical weather but I believe it was a satisfying job,” said Abdul Karim.

He also opined that the mural will help to promote tourism in Padawan as it is strategically located on the wall of a building facing the main Kuching-Serian road. As Kota Padawan is the gateway to the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, Annah Rais Bidayuh Longhouse, Semadang kayaking site, Ulu Bengoh tourism site, and other popular tourism attractions, the mural can be thought of as the Bidayuh Ring Ladies welcoming visitors to the area.

Siaw’s art works in Kuching include “Thank You, Frontliners 2020” at Siburan, Kuching; “History on The Wall: Sunset Business” series (2019) at downtown Kuching; “Jazz Up The Night” for the Kuching Waterfront Jazz Festival (2019) at Riverside Hotel, Kuching; and Giant Orang Utan Street Art “Wild About Kuching” (2017) at Wayang Street, Kuching.

Meanwhile, Siaw’s work “The Joy of Harvest” is found in Penang. He also painted “Fishing Fun 鱼乐” at Benalla, Victoria, Australia during the Wall to Wall Festival in 2018.

“We hope that Leonard will continue to create more murals which will add colours to our skyline in major towns in Sarawak,” said Abdul Karim.

Also present at the function were Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg, Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Seri Dr Sim Kui Hian, MPP chairman Lo Khere Chiang and Kuching South City Commission (MBKS) chairman Datuk Wee Hong Seng. — DayakDaily