KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 18 — During a recent visit to Japan, I observed many tourists — mostly young women from Taiwan and Hong Kong — renting and dressing up in kimonos, the traditional attire for Japanese ladies. It made me wonder why tourists to Malaysia don’t do the same in our beautiful and elegant kebaya.
Being a Malaccan boy, there is perhaps no kebaya more beautiful than the Nyonya kebaya found in my birth town, a Straits Settlement and home to the Peranakan people.
The Nyonya kebaya pairs the classic translucent and figure-hugging embroidered blouses typical of kebaya with intricately hand-beaded shoes and batik fabric rich with Oriental motifs.
Sadly, this piece of our heritage seems in danger of disappearing as I hardly see anyone wearing it outside of festive events and ceremonies. Will the Nyonya kebaya be forgotten in the years to come? There’s hope yet though... in the form of bookmarks?
Enter Paulitical, a line of local heritage-themed paper crafts by Malaccan-born, Miri-based doctor Paul Ooi. His hand-crafted bookmarks, for example, take the form of Nyonya ladies dressed in colourful Nyonya kebaya.
“It started from a sense of nostalgia and homesickness,” he explains. “Working outstation, I’m too far from familiar things. There is hardly anything like this over here in Miri. Since I love books and bookmarks, I thought ‘Why not make them for myself?’”
Besides bookmarks, Ooi also makes paper cuts (a traditional method of making silhouettes, floral designs and Chinese characters) and dioramas. The latter are based on classic Malaccan Peranakan houses, similar to those found in Jonker Street.
He says, “I also created a diorama of a Peranakan home for Christmas. Originally I planned to make standees for the diorama. Then I decided to make bookmarks as gifts to tie on Christmas trees instead.”
Ooi’s sketches of Nyonya women in feminine Peranakan kebaya are detailed and drawn with a Malaysian’s love for our history and heritage. It’s easy to imagine the intricate lace-work in the patterns of leaves and flowers. Truly, one can’t help but be delighted by his series of bookmarks, like a row of pretty Peranakan ladies.
According to Ooi, Paulitical will begin with a standard line of bookmarks. He adds, “These are also customisable for order depending on materials available. It’s shockingly difficult to find paper with batik print here!”
Like any Malaccan, Ooi has a wry sense of humour. He explains that he chose the name Paulitical because “hardly any other words that would fit my name ‘Paul’ — surely not Paul-anakan!”
Traditional yet timeless, Paulitical’s handmade paper craft are a treasure to behold... and a fresh way to hold onto our heritage. Discovering one in between the pages of a favourite book — why, that’s like Christmas each time that happens.
For enquiries and purchase, click here.