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Faridah Sahari1, Rahah Hasan2, Anna Durin3, Shahren Ahmad Zaidi Adruce 4, and Shahri Abdul Rahman5
Faculty of Applied and Creative Arts, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak
Faculty of Cognitive Sciences & Human Development, University Malaysia Sarawak


This paper analyses the basic principles of food wrapping and packaging practiced by the Saribas Malay in
Sarawak, focusing on the aspect of technology, roles, and materials of the traditional means. The main purpose
of this study is to discover how this part of the Saribas Malay’s culture, cuisine is interpreted in the form of
indigenous scientific knowledge and technology, and art. This little effort and attempt is hoped to conserve the
traditional food have been conducted in several villages in Saribas such as Betong, Pusa, Beladin, Debak and
Spaoh to gather information and identify individuals with knowledge and skills in food knowledge, the
representational of culture and identity of the Saribas Malay.

Keywords: traditional food knowledge, indigenous technology, wrapping, Saribas Malay, culture


1.1 The Place and People

Saribas region is located at the south of Sarawak, is comprised of five districts – Betong,
Spaoh, Debak, Pusa and Meludam is under the jurisdiction of the Betong Division
administration. The Malays constitute the majority of the people in Betong. According to data
released in 2013 by the Sarawak Planning Unit (SPU), 35, 917 is Malay, 62% of the total
57,730 population is Malay.

According to Sandin (1969) and Sanib Said (2012, 2013), the Malays of Saribas was
originated from two roots; Abang Gudam from Pagaruyung, Minangkabau Sumatera and
Temenggong Kadir from Brunei.

The Saribas Malay has settled along the Saribas River coastal area and its tributaries bank for
many years. According to Sabihah (1972), the Saribas Malay was already settled and barter
traded the salt and salted fish with the Dayak for rice and jungle produce since the mid of the
16th century. In the past, the people subsistence activities were mostly relying on agriculture,
fishing and activities related to sago and nipah such as sago based food and gula apong
production. Although many have chosen waged employment, but some of the minority is still
sustaining the traditional way of life.


2.1. Traditional Food Wrapping and Packaging: Why is This Research Significant?
Awang Azman (2010) in his scholarly research of the Sarawak Malay material culture has
highlighted that, there is a significant difference of culture between the Malay of the
peninsular and Sarawak, yet need to be studied and discovered. Even among the Sarawak
Malay, the differences also exist. Terminology and significance of the material culture are
varied according to the region in Sarawak (Mary Fatima Subet dan Salbia Hassan, 2014)
making more opportunity to explore on this subject matter.

Due to the lack of research and findings on the culture of Saribas Malay society, it has
become a major obstacle and challenge for researchers to obtain data. Hence, documentation
and catalogues for the indigenous knowledge and cultural technology of the Saribas Malay
society; that are seen to be drastic measures and short-term actions that can be an option to
consider. The findings of this fundamental cultural study will be a starting point for further
studies on the relationship between the Saribas Malay community and its cultural heritage in
helping to understand them in various aspects of the community's cultural, social, economic,
values, beliefs, language and wisdom.

Similarities in food wrapping and packaging from other places, within Sarawak and
Peninsular Malaysia are realized, but slight variation can also be seen in terms of materials
and methods used due to many concerning aspects. For instance, ketupat in Saribas is made of
glutinous rice and santan (coconut milk) and the wrapper is made of weaved daun mudak
(nipah young leaf) and cooked in santan. Compared to ketupat in Peninsular Malaysia, it is
made of rice. The rice is filled into a coconut leaf woven pouch and boiled in water to cook,.
Although, in Saribas, the coconut palm is equally abundantly available, but why different
material is chosen for kerubong or ketupat pouch has been yet studied empirically. The
possibilities, the Saribas Malay can choose, nypa leaf is easier to get, no need to climb as for
coconut. Or they have tried the coconut leaf before, but because ketupat is sticky and oily, the
coconut leaf is not suitable. Another delicacy kelupis, as what is known in Peninsular
Malaysia as ketupat palas, using the same leave, daun palas but different way of wrapping.

Northern part of Sarawak such as Bekenu and Lawas, the Kedayan use daun biris/nyirik,
pisang This kelupis version is wrapped as you make suman (lepat) and boiled instead of
steamed as in Saribas.

Figure 1. a) Kelupis Saribas, b) Kelupis Miri and c) Ketupat Palas

Palm sugar in Malaysia is produced from various types of palm trees. Depending by the palm
tree’s sap where the sugar is harvested from; nipah, kabong and coconut, the produce will be
called with different terms. Gula kabong and gula kelapa (better known as gula Melaka) are
cooked, poured, cooled and dried in cylindrical or disc shape after cooked. Nevertheless, gula
apong also prepared the same way as other palm sugar. Except that the consistency of gula
apong is semi liquid; not solid as other palm sugar. Thus, due to its state that is why gula

apong cannot be wrapped as gula Melaka and gula kabong. Thus, people keep gula apong in
a ceramic jar (known as runggu) with a capacity of 5-10 kg.

2.2. The Importance of Food Wrapping and Packaging

Traditional food constitutes an important element of culture, identity and heritage and it is
often recognized by people with characteristics that linked and uniquely to regional identity
and quality (Guerrero, 2009). As Normiadilah and Noriah (2012) stated, that in the Malay
world, plants and humans are so intimately related. The Malay community commonly used
plants in their dietary and for many other purposes, including for general construction,
medicinal, ritual, dyes, cosmetics and food wrapping and packaging.

Foods raw or fresh, cooked or fermented are wrapped and packaged in purpose. As Hideyuki
Oka (1975), an expert of Japanese traditional packaging in his book ‘How to wrap five more
eggs’, referred food wrapping and packaging as a basic necessity, means to preserve food and
make it easily portable, using whatever material found at hand in the rural areas of their
origin. In the olden days, the wrappers used as it is, or manipulated into rolled/cylindrical,
open box, closed box, pouch, helical, conical forms. Consequently, the study of the
relationship between materials used for traditional food wrapping and packaging, which are
mainly plants; and the Malay culture helps to preserve the identity of the cultures and at the
same time protecting the natural heritage and indigenous knowledge.


The fieldwork was done in villages in Pusa; Kampung Hulu, Kampong Abang Godam and
Kampung Tambak where some traditional food packaging and wrapping are still made and
used by the local people. The respondents are selected purposively due to their experience of
seeing, making and using the traditional food wrapping and packaging. Nonstructural, in
depth interviews and observation were done to gather information about material, method,
terminology of the traditional food wrapping and packaging.


4.1. The characteristics and properties of wrapping and packaging materials

The Malay people of Saribas’s choices of wrapping and packaging materials depend on how
the material suit the intention. The findings of the research suggest that the basic principles of
traditional food wrapping and packaging methods and design variations used by the Saribas
Malay as follow:

i. the characteristics of the content: solid, liquid or semi liquid;

ii. the purpose to enhance flavour, aroma or medicinal value; and
iii. the availability and accessibility of the material within the environment

The Saribas Malay uses plant leaves as a common food wrapping and packaging compare to
other parts of a plant. The leaf is usually used as it is, with only little work is done to the leave
when preparing for food wrapping and packaging. The selection criteria of the leave include
non-poisonous, broad and flat blade; and smooth and waxy at least on one side of the leaf’s
surface. Thus, the wrapping and packaging material will hold and not contaminate the content.
The characteristics of the leaf shape also influence the method and form of wrapping and
packaging. For example, daun melaong is one of the alternatives used to wrap tapei

(fermented rice). The triangular shape of this yam type plant folds and finishes in conical

Figure 1 Tapei in daun melaong

Table 1 is a descriptive profile of traditional food wrapping and packaging for selected
delicacies, vegetable, salt and palm sugar of the Saribas Malay.

Table 1: Saribas Malay Traditional Food Wrapping and Packaging Profile

Material: Daun mudak, Material: Daun mudak

Savoury Dish Delicacy
banana leaf (pesan)
Pais Method: Flat wrap Celorot Method: Helical roll
The content of pais can be A barter mixed of flour, gula
anything, ranging from apong and santan is poured in a
seafood, vegetables and flour helical roll and steam to cook.
dough. The seafood can be Grated coconut is added for
wrapped with a leaf such as texture. The base of the roll is
engkudu, buas and kunyit for secured neatly to avoid leakage.
tastes and aroma. Common
food: fish, bubuk, empunok,
tumpik/suman mantak.

Rice Material: Upih Pinang Delicacy Material: Daun mudak

Pais:Wrap and Grill Method: Pouch Takir Method: Open box (limas)
Upih pinang is used to wrap The box is layered with gula
cooked rice. This big easy to apong at the bottom of the box
carry package for people and topped with a mix of flour
working in humo (paddy farm) and concentrated santan and
and forest in the old days. The steam.
rice in the upih is hardly stale, Apam tapei and gula koir are
although kept for long hours. other sweet delicacies that also
Nasi manis, a sweet glutinous use limas as container and
rice and nasik aruk, simple mould.
styled fried rice, were also kept
in the upih.

Material: Daun mudak, Material: Daun mudak,

Vegetable daun buan Delicacy melaung, engkalak, kunyit,
Midin & Paku Method: Wrap/conical Tapei Method: Pouch, conical
Midin and paku are edible
ferns, a local favourite
vegetable. They are commonly
sorted and wrapped with daun
muda or daun buan for sale.

Before plastic bag,

mboyong was used
widely for many Rice, ragi and sugar are mixed

fritters such as pisang and placed into a pouch/pyramid
goreng and cucur pulut and left for one day fermentation.
among the sellers Different use of leaf for distinct
aroma and taste.

Salt Material: Daun nipah Delicacy Material: Banana leaf

Garam Apong Method: Closed box Suman Bandung Method: Closed Wrap
The production of garam Tapioca is finely grated and
apong is unique, using the mixed with gula apong, wrapped
ashes of and the saltwater. in banana leaf and steam.
Famous among the local as The banana leaf need to be
seasoning and the only salt scalded or blanch to soften so
consume during the that easy to fold and form.
confinement period.

Palm Sugar Material: Clay pot (runggu) Delicacy Material: Banana leaf
Gula apong Method: Storing Pasung Method: Open conical
For long term, gula apong is Pasung is another variation of
stored in a clay pot or ceramic celorot except that it does not
jar. contain grated coconut. In
addition, pasung uses banana leaf
which is formed into a cone.


In the past, the Saribas Malay used natural resources as these are easily available and
accessible within their environment for food packaging and wrapping. The choice of materials
for the purpose, including daun nipah (apong), daun pisang (banana leaf), upih pinang (betel
nut sheath), melaung, buas are intentionally used to keep and store the content, to enhance
flavour and aroma as well as to gain advantage of the source’s medicinal value.

The traditional food wrapping and packaging of the Saribas Malay is a representation of arts
and crafts. Ranging from simple to complex, wrapping and packaging come in various shapes
and form; cylindrical, conical, helical, boxes, wrappers and containers reflects the technology,
indigenous knowledge and skill used as a mundane object in daily basis, long before the
existence of synthetic food wrapping and packaging.

Apong leave is the natural material largely used by the community for traditional food
wrapping and packaging, imposing the preferred choice, abundant source also reminding us of
how apong tree means significantly for the Saribas Malay’s connection to their surrounding
nature and culture.

The packaging and wrapping is unique in terms of techniques and terminology to the Saribas
region. Although some of this packaging and wrapping are already superseded by the use of
multi-types of new materials such as plastic container and bags, some are still made and used.
Thus, this traditional food packaging and wrapping is an important local knowledge, needs to
preserve its sustainability.


The authors wish to acknowledge the Research Grant Provider and individuals that had been
providing support for this study in various capacities.

1. UNIMAS Special Grant SSTG, Reference No. - F03/SpSTG/1571/2017– for providing

financial and equipment support during the period of research.
2. Dayang Aminah Binti Abang Hassan, Seniah Binti Daud, Usup Baharom and Rosman
Basuni for their assistance in the field.


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No. Malay Saribas Term Description

1. buan means of grilling wrapped food on charcoal
2. buas a pouch/wrapper prepared for grilling, aromatic
and flavour source
3. daun muda, daun apong, nipah young leaf
4. engkalak leaf of local fruit tree
5. engkudu mengkudu, morinda citrifolia, herbs/medicinal
6. kerubong ketupat pouch
7. kunyit turmeric leaf, aromatic ansd flavour source
8. limas boat-like box for takir, apam tapei and gula koir
9. mboyong packaging for tapei
10. melaung leaf of wild taro
11. midin, paku’, paku’ edible ferns
12. pais means of grilling wrapped food on charcoal
13. pesan a pouch/wrapper prepared for charcoal grilling
14. ragi local yeast for rice fermentation
15. rombok creeper plant with broad leaves
16. runggu a ceramic jar to keep gula apong
17. semat a short pointed piece of wood for fastening
18. upih pinang sheath or spathe of betel nut


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