Scarcity of rattan, price hikes wipe out livelihood of blind basket weavers

Fish baskets costing RM60 are ready for buyers.

SIBU, Sept 29: Once a hive of activity, the Sarawak Society for the Blind Sibu chapter is now quiet.

Some 10 years ago, the centre was well populated with 17 blind inmates who were working and residing there as basket weavers.

The lack of rattan, however, has left the blind inmates out of work and all that are left behind today are a driver and a caretaker.

According to caretaker, Ngu Hieng Ming, prior to the March 18 Movement Control Order, there were still five inmates weaving baskets almost every day.

“Before the MCO, we received three bundles of rattan sent from Kuching by lorry. All these rattan has been used up to make fish baskets and also dusk baskets,” he said.

With no more source of materials, the basket weavers have stopped coming to the centre to work, only coming to the centre once a month to collect their monthly RM100 food coupon.

They would also go to the centre to collect rice donated by private donors or associations.

The Sarawak Society for the Blind Sibu chapter premises.

“It serves them no purpose if they come here as they could not make baskets when there is no rattan,” he said.

Ngu said rattan are only found deep in the jungle but due to the high transportation cost, it is uneconomical to buy them from the collectors.

“A collector can go deep in the jungle to get them. But the high cost of transporting them by vehicle will push up the price of the rattan. If we buy them, we will need to increase the price of the basket. Not many will want to buy them if the price is too steep,” he said.

A decade ago, a fish basket cost just RM12 but the price tag is now RM60 each while duck baskets fetch RM22 now.

The baskets weavers under Sarawak Society for the Blind have been reputed for their basket weaving skills, which they learnt from instructors engaged by the centre and took two to three years to perfect.

During its heyday when rattan was plentiful, local councils and fishermen were their main customers. The council once relied heavily on the centre for scavenging baskets for the daily collection of domestic waste while fishermen used the fish baskets for transporting their daily catch. — DayakDaily