Lukut Sekala Beads: A Heirloom Story
“Beads have always fascinated people. The link between human society and a material object that is small and beautiful like a bead stretch back to thousands of years. The earliest forms of beads were made from bone, stone and shells and they have been found amongst the remains of our ancestors in different ancient burial sites all over the world. Probably our ancestors were fascinated by beads not only because they are pretty to look at but also because of the aura of longevity associated with beads. Cloth will rot, metal like iron will rust, but beads seemed to last for eternity. In Sarawak, the bead connoisseurs are undoubtedly the Orang Ulu tribes especially the Kayans and the Kenyahs. Valuable heirloom or pesaka beads were obtained long ago, through raiding and barter trading. It is through the former method that the valuable Lukut Sekala pesaka beads that now belong to my family owes its unique history. Apart from the Lukut Sekala, my family also has in their possession precious beads that were obtained through marriages from the past.”
Above is the excerpt of my first international conference paper which was proudly presented by yours truly during the inaugural Borneo International Beads Conference in 2010.
In the olden days, beads play a very significant role amongst the Kayan and Kenyah tribes. Beads were not only used for barter trading purposes or for traditional costume decoration, but it was also used in religious ceremonies and also as status symbols of families in Kayan and Kenyah societies. Certain beads for example may only be owned by aristocratic families. Due to the dual tribal affiliation of my family, the beads which are in the family’s possession had been preserved as heirlooms, our pesaka or ‘barang pu’un’. In the olden days, the Lukut Sekala’s value was the equivalent to one human life.
Inherited family heirlooms bridges generations in a deep, personal way. Very often these treasured family heirlooms make the journey from one generation to the next, but the stories that help give meaning to these treasures often do not survive the trip. We love to research the past but sometimes we do little to protect the pieces of family life they find for the future.
Base on my family stratification status, back then, only the aristocrate can get their body inked hence the ‘Lukut Sekala’ motif was inked on my grandmother’s arms. Knowing these, it intrigued my sister to have the Lukut Sekala motif to be permanently inked on her back as a memoir of my late grandmother, Julan Paren. The beautiful motif was done by a local tattoo artist, Jeremy that owns a studio called ‘Monkey Tattoo and Piercing’ at Green Road, Kuching.
These are her 4 hours journey;
“Some families have real heirlooms with fascinating stories behind them –like my family’s collection of pesaka beads, which have been handed down from generation to generation. Very few people today have the family stories that are associated with their pesaka or heirlooms. In a time of such rapid modernity, we are inclined not to look to our past. We consider what “has been” as pretty much irrelevant to “what’s happening.” When we do not remember the past, we not only forget who we are, but where we are headed. When we can pass both the heirloom and stories on to our future generations, it makes them even more valuable”.
Another excerpt taken from my paper.
To me, traditional beads must not only be viewed from an aesthetic point of view, but we must also treasure the stories behind the beads especially the Lukut Sekala as the stories that made its unique. It is our responsibility to preserve our cultural and heritage coz without it, we are nobody. We have no identity.
What’s your story?