KUALA LUMPUR: When Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah was proclaimed as the 16th Yang Di-Pertuan Agong last January, Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah received a special request from inmates of the Penor and Bentong prisons in Pahang.
The request, delivered through a letter from the Prisons Department, was for the outfit to be worn by the Raja Permaisuri Agong at the ceremonial installation ceremony to be held in July to be tailored out of a silk fabric called Tenun Pahang Di Raja. Inmates from both prisons want to weave the fabric, which is also called Tenun Pahang, especially for her.
Moved by their special request, Tunku Azizah set out to design and choose the colour for the fabric in February, and worked closely with the prisons’ wardens and inmates on the project. It took the inmates three months to complete the project.
Today (Monday), Prisons Department director-general Datuk Seri Zulkifli Omar presented four pieces of the Tenun Pahang Di Raja to Al-Sultan Abdullah and Tunku Azizah. Also present were the Pahang Prison director Datuk Ab Basir Mohamad, Penor Prison director Datuk Abu Hasan Hussan and Bentong prison director Datuk Muhammad Zuki Muhammad.
“I am honoured that the inmates wanted to weave the fabric for me to wear at the installation ceremony. I am proud to wear the Tenun Pahang Di Raja,” Tunku Azizah said after the handing-over ceremony.
She will be the first Raja Permaisuri Agong who will wear an outfit from fabric handwoven by inmates. The outfit she will be wearing, a modern Baju Kurung Johor, will be made from the Tenun Pahang Di Raja woven by inmates at the Penor Prison. The special fabric, said to be in a light shade of golden yellow, will have motifs reminiscent of Pahang.
The Tenun Pahang Di Raja has a history which dates back 300 years. It was given royal status by Al-Sultan Abdullah, when he was the Tengku Mahkota of Pahang, in 2006.
Tunku Azizah was instrumental in introducing weaving of the Tenun Pahang Di Raja at both the Penor and Bentong prisons. There are now some 200 weavers of the Tenun Pahang Di Raja, almost all of whom are inmates, through her initiative, which is aimed at preserving the weaving tradition of Tenun Pahang and re-skilling inmates to give them a second chance at life outside the prison walls.
“These inmates had never woven in their entire lives but have done such a good job weaving the Tenun Pahang Di Raja,” she said, evidently proud of the work they have done.
Weaving is done mostly by the male inmates as it takes strength to beat up or batten the loom to push the threads together. In a day, they complete six inches of the fabric.
The inmates are trained by the prison wardens, who Tunku Azizah had taken with her on study tours to, among others, India, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia to learn the various weaving techniques.