By: Michelle Liew
Despite losing the ability to see, single mother, Gayah Awang is bright enough to be able to weave songket by just using her sense of touch and remembering the weaving method she learned since childhood.
It is not easy to memorize the layout of threads and the rhythm of weaving without the sense of sight, but Gayah, 54, remains determined to continue the unique skills inherited from her ancestors, while it is also the main source of family income.
Friendly greeting Mok Su, a single mother of four children whose husband died about 20 years ago said that the pleasure of seeing clearly and vividly disappeared little by little when she reached adolescence due to neurological disease which is a genetic disease in her family.
"Five of Mok Su's seven siblings have vision problems and Mok Su can be said to be blind now... if you sit in a bright place, you can see the shadow in front of Mok Su but you don't know what.
"Weaving time is not visible, it's just groping, but children (girls) please arrange the threads and prepare the weaving equipment. Then Mok Su starts weaving by counting the thread strips and touch to ensure the woven fabric is neat and beautiful," she said.
According to Mok Su, each roll of yarn is marked with a rubber band to enable him to distinguish each color of yarn that will be used for each piece of woven fabric.
Mok Su usually weaves 'deep flower songket' which according to him is easier to produce for him who is disabled because he does not use a lot of colors, patterns and flowers.
"Usually, Mok Su doesn't take orders directly from customers because with his condition, he can only prepare one piece of songket in a week, ordinary people can have it ready in two days. Even Mok Su can't afford to do much, the sales proceeds are left for kitchen expenses.
"So Mok Su makes little by little, when the goods (in stock) are ready, then call someone (the shop owner) to come pick them up at home," she added.
She also said that the more difficult method of weaving, such as sampin 'songket bunga penuh', will be produced by her son Nurul Hajar Ismail, 26, and they still use the traditional weaving machine inherited from the family made of wood and called 'kei'.
"Mok Su does this work (weaving) because this is the only thing Mok Su is good at doing to earn money and support the children after her husband's death due to fatigue," she said. She managed to complete her studies at the Malaysian Higher Secondary Certificate (STPM) level and was accepted to the Teachers College, but had to be rejected after losing her eyesight at the age of 19.
According to her, a career as a traditional songket weaver is not easy, but the spirit of love for tradition and the heritage of her ancestors, motivates her to continue the career even though her income is not much because the products are not produced much.
"We have learned to weave since we were little (primary school), so we are very good at weaving, and even this 'kei' can be made by ourselves, so it is a pity to leave the knowledge we learned from our mothers and grandmothers.
"That's why I passed on this weaving skill to my two daughters and Hajar (daughter) is also good and she is the one who helps me full-time, her sister, even though she has other jobs, also knows how to weave," she added.
According to him, his weaving works received support from the Terengganu Branch of the Malaysian Handicrafts Development Corporation and had received assistance such as yarn supplies from the body.
In addition, he said he also received allowances for disabled people (OKU) from the Conditional Welfare Department and assistance from the Terengganu Council of Islamic Religion and Malay Customs (MAIDAM).