Brunei: Bruneian woman

Front view
Front view

General description: Woman in traditional Brunei/Malay dress called baju kurung made of the sumptuous handwoven jong sarat, a heavy brocade of silk and golden threads.

Dimensions 27 x 9 x 5 cm

Date when acquired 2006

Original Date 2006

Source Bought in hotel shop in the capital of Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan, during a 24-hour stopover on the way to Australia.

Back view
Back view



Plastic Barbie-doll type with painted features and dark black/brown straight hair wrapped tightly around the head.


Side view
Side view


The doll is wearing a two-piece baju kurung in green and gold brocade with a geometrical design. The round-necked tunic has long narrow sleeves and is tailored to the body to the waist where it flares out slightly. The hem is rounded at the back and forms a point at the front at about mid-thigh level. The tunic is closed with a row of three golden elongated buttons over the chest.

The long skirt is very narrow and goes to below the ankle. It is missing the pleats worn on the one side typical of baju kurung. The skirt is so narrow that the doll would not be able to walk.

Over her head is a draped a long piece of white tulle with a flower pattern and metallic threads running through it, shimmering in rainbow colours. The headscarf/shawl hangs below her hips and covers one side of her face. It is held in place with a flower brooch made of five pink diamante stones.

Her high-heeled black shoes are painted on.





Background information

Jong sarat brocade
Jong sarat brocade (1)

Jong sarat

Although there are many types of material woven in Brunei, the most sumptuous is the jong sarat, a brocade of silk and/or cotton interwoven with precious gold and silver thread. It is generally acknowledged to be the design that above all others reflects the skill, artistic beauty and fine workmanship which a quality cloth possesses. Most of the motifs used in Brunei are inspired by local plants and flowers that are transformed into geometrical forms. The designs have survived many centuries.

The earliest recorded mention of cloth-weaving in Brunei Darussalam can be traced to Sultan Bolkiah’s reign (1485 to 1524) as Magellan (Portuguese explorer who sailed around the world first) visited Brunei sometime during this period and his official chronicler, Antonia Pigafetta, reported seeing beautiful examples of Brunei handicrafts, in particular the woven cloth.

Jong sarat is well-known in the Asian region because it is worn on royal and state occasions, during marriage ceremonies by both the bride and groom and is also sometimes used as elaborate and decorative wall coverings. In traditional wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom exchange the jong sarat as a symbol of their love and future harmony. It is held in such high regard that is also given to visiting foreign dignitaries as souvenirs.

It is really nice to hear that hand-weaving in Brunei, as in many other parts of Southeast Asia, has undergone a revitalisation in recent years, in recognition of its deep cultural importance. Before the cloth can be produced, the thread has to be prepared first. Nowadays much of the thread comes from Japan. After selecting the base colour of the cloth, the weaver prepares ten bamboo spools of thread and then sorts it to a required length, depending upon how many pieces of cloth she intends to weave at one time (one to four). Once this has been completed, she calculates the number of strands of thread she intends to use but this is usually dependent on the size of cloth to be woven. It can be anywhere between 1200 and 1500. The process of weaving starts as soon as the thread has been affixed to the loom and the pattern or design selected. The finished standard piece of cloth measures about 2.2 meters by 0.8 meters and can take anything from 10 to 15 days and sometimes even months to finish depending on the intricacy of the design and the speed at which the woman works.

One of the sadder aspects of modernisation and development is the inevitable loss of interest in the labour-intensive craft industries in preference to working in better-paid office jobs in the capital. This has also been the case in Brunei Darussalam and had the government not taken steps to preserve the traditional arts and handicraft industry there is no doubt that very little would remain of it today. Prior to 1975, skill in weaving was certainly on the decline and the government, recognising that this most important aspect of the country’s heritage was in danger of dying out, took active steps to preserve and promote it when it set up the Brunei Arts and Handicrafts Training Centre (BAHTC) in September 1975. The centre is still functioning nowadays and provides training in many types of handicrafts not just those involving weaving.

Jong sarat brocade (2)
Jong sarat brocade (2)

See also Traditional Malay costume: baju kurung

Source(s) of information



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