Among the pandanus weaves of the seafaring, traditionally nomadic Bajau peoples there is a fundamental weave the Sama DiLaut call tinabid. It is a folding join which forms a spine from which patterns can be woven in different directions and colors, just as their lepa-lepa boats might change tack using the wind and their sails across the seas of Nusantara. We might think of it as working outwards from a horizon, leaning into the natural shape of things, guided by inherited, ancestral knowledge grown into instinct. This allows for the mesmerizing symmetries we see in the art of their tempo, or woven mats, its precise and rhythmic geometric expressions of their everyday. Another name for the weave is bikin, which in Malay and Tagalog means “to make”. English readers may be reminded that the word “text”, like “textile”, comes from the Latin stem taxere, from the PIE root teks – to weave, fabricate, make. We can travel understanding that to weave a path is to make something is to tell as story is to write it down.
In the North Borneo interior, a group of Dusun and Murut weavers together with Yee I-Lann have accidentally invented a new weave in bamboo pus they have called mansau-ansau, a Dusun term which means to walk and walk without knowing where you are headed. Following no set repeated pattern, it challenges its weaver to create their own path, work their own way through the maze to see where it comes out. It seems an appropriate way of proceeding in a world at a time when we can no longer trust the maps, when so much hangs in the balance and footholds are rare and precarious. So let us set out with no clear destination in mind, and be ready to make unexpected turns.
We look east, towards sunrise, and travel in this direction.
On a biographical level, this book tells the story of how the artist Yee I-Lann went east from Kuala Lumpur in Peninsular Malaysia to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, from her base of 25 years to her family and her birthplace; of what she was looking for and what she has found there. It also marks a point in a country’s biography – we publish this book in the 60th Diamond Jubilee of the formation of Malaysia. As a Peninsular Malaysian I look to our East with a little longing, with a hope that together we might yet build a braver, broader, shared perspective of a national imaginary.
From preface by Beverly Yong