In his budget presentation in 2021, now International Trade and Industry minister, Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz proudly held a black woven folder bag that held the Budget 2022 document . The kelarai (chequered) pattern bag made from bamboo was the delicate handiwork of a Dusun art-preneur, 42-year-old Emily Jeneble.
The bag is a collaboration between Emily, the manager of Seri Elf Enterprise and founder of Kelarai Crafts, and Sasibai Kimis, the founder of the social enterprise Earth Heir, whom Emily met during the Kuala Lumpur International Craft Festival in Putrajaya in 2017. Both Emily and Sasibai have been working together since 2018 on the design aspect of her handicrafts.
I took three days to hand weave the bag. I would usually prepare the craft based on her design sketch. – Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver
There’s no denying that seeing her creation become a media spotlight and plastered on the front pages of newspapers filled her with a sense of pride and being a part of history. Emily stands tall, joining the league of indigenous powerhouses that are putting forth their unique crafts to the larger society.
A Family Of Gifted Artisans
Emily’s foray into the world of traditional weave crafting doesn’t come as a surprise in her community.
Growing up in a small village in Kampung Batu Lunguyan, Keningau, Sabah, Emily was surrounded by weavers, led by her grandmother. They plait rattans into one thing or another to sell.
My grandmother is a traditional craftsperson, who makes all kinds of products to help our community. – Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver 
The items weaved by her family members served a broader purpose for the Dusun community, such as the nyiru, a winnowing tray to separate rice grains from hulls.
These items are practical necessities such as the sirung, a traditional cap among Dusun tribespeople, which helps people working in the rice fields to shield from the sun. – Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver 
During her teen years, Emily deftly moved her fingers to weave while many of us turned to television and the internet for entertainment.
I was really excited although I only knew how to make simple motif patterns, which were also among the items on request. – Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver 
A Community Of Weavers
In 1998, after completing her SPM examinations, Emily was roped in to assist her mother to complete a large order for woven bamboo trays.
She even paid me for my services and when I found that I could make decent earnings from this skill, I chose to focus on it instead of furthering my tertiary education. – Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver 
However, she wasn’t alone in her decision. Being in a rural area, job opportunities are scarce. Youths her age were weighing the options of moving to bigger cities or becoming farmhands with their families.
In the village, there are few career opportunities apart from farming or seeking employment from nearby shops or towns.– Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver 
The Dusun community in Lungayan saw the potential that sprung from preserving their art of traditional weaving, as it has brought lucrative income to other villagers, especially the womenfolk.
My community started to see the incentive in honing our traditional skills, not just as a fun, family bonding session that has spanned across three generations but also as a potential means to an income. – Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver 
Fuelled by her young blood and professional commitment to the trade, Emily nurtured a community of weavers consisting mostly of women and single mothers.
She has worked with 30 community members in sourcing raw materials and crafters. Through Seri Elf Enterprise, Emily carved out job opportunities for women in her village, providing them with sustainable income generation.
Stories in Every Weave
Each product made by the weave crafters of Kampung Batu Lunguyan expresses their skills and dedication to craftsmanship. The method utilised by craft weavers is known as Salingkawang bamboo weaving. It received the stamp of approval from UNESCO and received the Seal of Excellence for Handicraft Products in South East Asia in 2003 .
We are unique in that our entire process is 100% organic, from gathering plant materials from the forests near our village to each step from preparation to finished product. – Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver 
The products are made out of natural raw materials such as bamboo, rattan and pandan sourced from natural troves. Intricately, the motif is woven together highlighting age-old symbolism and representing the culture of the Dusun tribe. Some of their items would require two weeks to complete, depending on the design and size.
For example, the Nurungan motif symbolises a pearl, and the Nandus motif is based on the shape of arrowheads of Dusun warriors, and symbolises protection. The Tavaran, which means “corn” is based on the pattern of corn ears. – Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver 
To suit today’s more commercial tastes, Keningau weave crafters have also adopted modern patterns. With her guiding hands at the Handicraft Center Workshop in Kampung Batu Lunguyan, talented artisans have only bloomed.
I’m happy to share that some of my students have also gone on to make a name for themselves and receive due recognition. – Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver 
For her effort in preserving the Dusun’s tradition and culture, she was awarded the Young Handicraft Entrepreneur Award by the government in 2018.
Recovering From A Pinprick
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Emily. Previously, her business relied heavily on the throngs of tourists. With the pandemic, her craft products were at a stalemate. Together with her community, Emily had to navigate the world of e-commerce.
It was truly challenging and although some of us remained open online, we still needed to improve our online marketing know-how. – Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver 
With the remote location of her village, only a small part of the community had reliable access to the Internet and managed to launch online ventures. Even so, they had to face logistics issues in delivering ordered shipments.
Emily, however, turned challenges into opportunities and founded Kelarai Craft, aptly named, a collective of Salingkawang bamboo weavers in the village displaying a multitude of products such as bags and souvenirs.
Currently, many are relying on me to help them sell products through e-commerce, Facebook, and Instagram. – Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver 
In tough times, she is grateful that government agencies have valued the work the craftswomen are doing. They have offered their help to take their businesses to the next level.
Thankfully, we’ve received some marketing assistance from Kraftangan Malaysia in our focus online. – Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver 
More To Be Done
Today, the mother of five oversees 10 community members passing down the age-old knowledge of Salingkawang bamboo weaving from start to finish. Emily is also now supported by her apprentice Marcella Hassan . Her enterprise produces up to 2000 products monthly and receives steady orders from local agencies.
Our products have travelled far and wide and most of our bags are very popular among tourist and government agencies. – Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver 
Emily harbours an even larger dream to uplift the Dusun community in Kampung Batu Lunguyan and preserve their traditional craft.
I want to build the gallery to pay homage and preserve our heritage arts. It will also be a great source of reference for students, universities, corporate organisations, NGOs, and craft lovers. Hopefully, proceeds can also be gained from visitor footfall and this could further assist my community. – Emily Jeneble, Dusun weaver
Explore our sources:
- The Star. (2021). Traditional weaver Emily Jeneble is making waves, even in Parliament. Link
- Ista. (n.d.). Sabah Artpreneur Helps 30 Women Survive The Pandemic Through Bamboo Weaving. Eksentrika. Link
- Hello Sabah. (n.d.) Meet the Bamboo Weavers of Sabah. Link
- J.Ramli. (2023). Sabah Entrepreneurs Speak. Link