Tanjak revival


Two friends reintroduce the traditional Malay male headgear as urban wear, writes Nadia Badarudin

I MET Hazriansyah Kamalsha, 28, and Ahmad Mustaqim Rodzuan, 25, at the recently concluded Tempatan Fest 2.0 in Kuala Lumpur, an event promoting local independent clothing brands.

The duo, who founded Kotak Hitam Art Studio, look just like any other young men — energetic, full-spirited and fun.

But to call Hazriansyah and Mustaqim ordinary would be an understatement. With their rugged outfits and urban upbringing, I would never have thought that they have a passion for conserving Malay heritage and its traditional wear.

Instead of a cap or a stylish fedora that most guys wear, Hazriansyah and Mustaqim (fondly known as Tok Pek and Mus, respectively) wear the traditional Malay headdress called tanjak with their T-shirts and jeans.

What makes them even more special is that they not only wear tanjak but they also make their own.

In her book Pakaian Cara Melayu (2006) writer, poet and Malay heritage expert Siti Zainon Ismail wrote that tanjak, tengkolok and destar are traditional headdresses worn by Malay men on various occasions.

According to her, the history of tanjak dates back before the Malay sultanate and was worn to protect the head and keep the hair tidy.

It evolved over time, with each folding style (called solek), materials and colours reflecting the different philosophies and social status of the wearer.

For instance, tengkolok (an elaborate version of tanjak with more layers and a long, tapering arc) had been part of the Malay Rulers’ regalia for centuries.

Made from embroidered silk or songket by skilled artisans, the tengkolok worn by the Rulers in the various States differ and has unique names such as Dendam Tak Sudah (Negri Sembilan), Ayam Patah Kepak (Perak), Setanjak Balung Raja (Selangor), Sekelunsung Bunga (Pahang) and Tengkolok Ketam Budu (Kelantan).

In modern times, tanjak and tengkolok are only worn by sultans, dignitaries at official ceremonies, cultural events or a bridegroom.

At first, I thought Hazriansyah and Mustaqim’s way of wearing fancy and funky versions of the tanjak with jeans and T-shirts, awkward and ill-fitting.

For purists, the mix-and-match may seem a little overboard or perhaps, presumptuous. It’s like matching a cowboy outfit with a keris. However, for the duo, it is a different story.

“It’s not anti-establishment or anti-convention. It’s just our way to revive traditional wear to make it fashionable and more appealing to our peers and the younger generation,” says Hazriansyah, who is also a graffiti artist and a member of the Malay cultural group called Aktivis Busana Melayu.   

“It’s also our way to re-introduce tanjak as a daily wear just like it was in those days. Rather than glorifying caps, hats or  bandanas, why not wear a tanjak instead?” asks Mustaqim.   

Hazriansyah and Mustaqim met on Facebook and eventually set up an art and printing company, Kotak Hitam Art Studio, in 2011. After thorough research and learning to make the tanjak from experts, they came up with the prototype of what they called tanjak urban early this year.

Hazriansyah says this differs slightly from the traditional piece as it does not have all the elements — tapak (base), simpulan kasih (a style of folding that reflects the wearer’s social status)  and solek — that define a true tanjak or tengkolok.

Unlike the traditional piece which must be worn according to certain protocols, tanjak urban is much simpler in terms of design and practicality.  

“Our tanjak urban is simpler and has no simpulan kasih. It has a velcro strap to make it more practical and adjustable for the wearer.

“The front part of the tanjak (also called lambaian kasih) is folded in such a way that it’s softer and can be pulled back to cover the hair and function like a skull cap,” he says, adding that they are also coming up with tanjak urban sewn with a snapback or a snap fastener on the back.  

Instead of songket, tanjak urban is made from denim, corduroy, khaki as well as with army or firefighter camouflage pattern, reflecting a trendier touch.

“We can make about 20 pieces a day and each tanjak is retailed at RM60,” says Hazriansyah.

He adds that besides printing, the company also produces its own clothing brand that comprises T-shirts printed with unique Malay history themes and a special pants called selekat (a creative combination of kain pelikat and various types of pants, including seluar potong Aceh and the Japanese hakama. The selekat was featured on TV3’s Malaysia Hari Ini recently).

Tanjak urban has been receiving positive response although it is still new in the market, says Mustaqim. Besides the Internet, they sell their product at events that promote local independent clothing brands. Their creations have been worn by a local band, Salam Musik and songwriter Loque.  

Mustaqim says the concept of tanjak urban may sound quirky to some but at least, it has triggered a sense of  curiosity, especially among the youth.

“Such a response was exactly what we aimed for when we came up with the prototype. We had hoped that curiosity would eventually spark an interest in these youths to learn more about the traditional tanjak and our heritage,” he says.

“Our ultimate aim is to make tanjak a classic streetwear accessory which can be worn with pride by the younger generation.”

Loque and tengkolok seem inseparable these days. The 35-year-old songwriter and founder of Butterfingers and MonoloQue, has been wearing the tengkolok with shirts and jeans as his newfound identity since two years ago.

Loque, whose real name is Khairil Ridzwan Annuar, says he wore the head dress as his fashion statement for the first time at MonoloQue’s acoustic concert at Istana Budaya in 2011.

“I was playing the piano when the tengkolok slowly slipped down and covered my face! It was too big and I had forgotten to adjust it. It was hilarious but it was a classic beginning,” he recalls.

Since then, he has been wearing tengkolok at events such as at the 26th Anugerah Juara Lagu finals last year where he performed his self-penned song, Kekanda Adinda (the tengkolok was actually the one he wore on his wedding in 2010). He also wore the same style when he was the judge at TV9’s reality show, Versus.

Loque says he feels proud to wear tengkolok because it is part of the Malay culture and it reflects his true identity.

“Tengkolok is ours, not something that we borrow from the West like caps or fedoras. It’s a pity if a man wears tengkolok only on his wedding day. Tengkolok has character and is a unique heritage that we should be proud of,” he says, adding that he admires designer Salikin Sidek’s work of tengkolok Pahang.

Loque’s style is a positive attempt to revive the traditional wear among urban youngsters. However, he admits that his look has been criticised by purists.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I’m doing because I still wear tengkolok the correct way. For me, it’s an evolution of fashion and it’s my contribution to help ensure tengkolok would not end up as just another museum artifact,” he says.


ACCORDING to Malay legend, the tradition of Malay rulers wearing tengkolok began after the first Sultan of Perak, Sultan Muzaffar Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Mahmud Shah (who was also a Malacca Sultanate descendant) was exiled in Johor by the Portuguese.   

During his journey, his ship was stuck in shallow waters. The only way to get it sailing again was to lighten the ship’s load, which included the Royal Crown of Malacca and other Malacca Sultanate regalia.

So one by one, many items were thrown into the sea but the ship still didn’t budge. Finally, the only item left was the Royal Crown. The sultan made an offering of the crown to the sea and immediately, the ship could sail again.   

Believing it to be a divine sign, the sultan swore that he and his descendants would never wear a crown again. That was how tengkolok became significant.

The Royal head dress (Tengkolok Diraja) worn by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong during his installation is folded in the Dendam Tak Sudah (unresolved vengeance) style (originated from Negri Sembilan). It is made from black fabric embroidered with gold thread.   

Source: www.istiadat.gov.my, Department of Museums Malaysia & Wikipedia

Hazriansyah (left) and Mustaqim sell tanjak urban to promote Malay heritage among the youth.

Songwriter Loque wore a tengkolok for TV9 reality show, Versus.

Flashmob at Kuala Lumpur City Centre and Jalan Bukit Bintang, organised by Aktivis Busana Melayu.

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