Once worn by royalty and dignitaries, the dokoh is now a popular accessory. Zuhaila Sedek delves into its history
WHEN Indian traders visited the country in the 18th and 19th Centuries, among the items they brought with them was the dokoh.
The dokoh can be described as a brooch with a chain that can be worn around the neck. It was used for both aesthetic and superstitious reasons.
The National Textile Museum is currently featuring the dokoh as part of its exhibition items. The dokoh collections are from the 18th and 19th Centuries.
According to its curator Rosidah Abdullah, dokoh was created based on the Indian flower garland.
“Because of the difficulty in getting fresh flowers and maintaining it, the Indian people invented a version that is practical and long-lasting,” she says.
In the old days, dokoh was made of pure gold or silver. There are three types of dokoh — single piece, two-tier and three-tier.
The single piece dokoh is made of pure gold and very heavy. The two and three-tier designs are lighter and were made later to make it easier on the wearer.
Rosidah says the dokoh used to be exclusive to royalty and dignitaries. This was because it was extremely expensive.
“It is a status symbol. The more elaborate and heavy the dokoh, the higher the status of the wearer.”
For example, a Sultan’s dokoh is the ultimate version. It is often a single piece with elaborate carvings. Gemstones such as emeralds, diamonds and rubies were used to enhance it.
“Back then, only the Sultans could wear the most beautiful dokoh. The people, including the dignitaries, could not overshadow the Sultan so their dokoh had to look inferior,” says Rosidah.
In the past, dokoh was worn by the Malays, Chinese and Indians. Each dokoh was differentiated by the design.
The Indian dokoh features minimal carving but is big. Stones are also included in the design. The shape of the Indian dokoh is in the form of a leaf, specifically in the shape of the Sukun Leaf (Breadfruit leaf).
This Sukun Leaf shape is also used for the Malay dokoh. Another shape available for the Malay dokoh is the moon crest design.
“The dokoh for Malays has more details such as carvings,” says Rosidah, adding that dokoh for Malays can be worn by both men and women. The carvings on a Malay dokoh include the Pahat Silat, Pintalan, Ukir Timbul, Tebuk Tembus and Bulatan Manik.
The Chinese dokoh carries motifs of mythical creatures such as dragon, tortoise and gold fish. These signify good luck and prosperity.
They are also decorated with more precious stones and are, sometimes, in the shape of a bell. The Chinese believe that the bell symbolises long life.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Peranakan community used dokoh which combined the styles of both Malay and Chinese dokoh.
For any type of dokoh, little charms are sometimes used on the chain to complete the look. These can be in the shape of a leaf or amulet. The amulet charms can be seen in both Malay and Indian dokoh. They are meant to offer protection to the wearer.
“People in the olden days were very superstitious. They believed that amulets could protect them from voodoo spells or bad energy,” says Rosidah.
Similarly, the Chinese dokoh was also worn with the idea of protecting the wearer from bad things.
Rosidah explains that it used to take time to make a dokoh because of the status accorded to it. It could take up to three months to make a piece.
“Sultans wore it daily but dignitaries only put it on on special occasions. There were also dokoh for children.”
Over the years, dokoh has changed in many ways. Despite the change, it is still very significant in the country. The current dokoh is made of silver. Some are plated with gold to add style and glamour.
“The look may be similar but it can never compare to the traditional dokoh,” says Rosidah. “Those days, there were not many skilled craftsmen to make dokoh. They were found mainly in Kota Baru, Kuala Terengganu and Kuala Kangsar. But these days, the dokoh is made by many people in various states. The process is made easier with the use of machines,” she adds.
Nowadays, dokoh can be used by anyone. It can be paired with kebaya, baju kurung, cheongsam and sari and is worn on special occasions and festive celebrations.
The design of the modern dokoh is more contemporary and highlights various design elements. The next time you are flaunting a piece of dokoh around your neck, do reflect on the history and tradition behind it.