SINCE THE DAWN of early mankind, from the early days of hunting and gathering for his livelihood and the provision of shelter and clothing, and procreating to continue his brood, man has searched for ways and means to improve his ‘quality of life’. The urge to create and to make beautiful things has motivated him to search, discover and make use of whatever materials he can garner, pluck or harvest from the natural world to enhance and beautify the world around him.
Today, as he continues this perpetual search one of the many quests has been for natural dyes for his clothing, his items of utility and his food – all simply to enhance his living experience as well as an added measure of some value for him to barter and to trade.
Edric Ong, resident of Kuching, a fifth-generation Malaysian Chinese who was formerly an architect and has now became a highly regarded and world-renowned expert as well as a UNESCO- accredited international crafts curator, speaker and competition judge, has been involved in doing his own personal research in furthering the search for the perfect natural dyes for well over thirty years.
He has been singularly responsible for creating and introducing to the arts world at large myriad different items in fabrics, textile, wood, and ceramics as well as experimenting on new colours from local and natural ingredients.
Leaves, flowers, fruits, plants, nuts, ferns, trees, shrubs, roots – an amazing array of nature’s gifts – he has found out - can all be used for producing superlative natural dyes for many products.
Today he travels the world from the United Kingdom, to Europe, the United States, Japan, India and Thailand just to promote his exclusive discoveries and creations.
8 COlOURS FROM COMMON PLANTS AND ROOTS PINK
PINK: Sappan Wood / BrazilWood Caesalpinia Sappan
Boiling pieces of the sappan wood in a dye pot for the extraction of pink, yellow, deep orange to dark red.
TOPI TUNJANG HATS typically carry an array of natural dye colours available at the private studios of Edric Ong Gallery in Kuching.
YEllOW: Waar Birar Vines
(akar penawar landak) Fibraurea tinctoria
RED-BROWN:Bakau - Mangrove Rhizophora mucronata
Sappan wood Caesalpinia sappan (pg.28)PINK, yELLOW, DEEP ORANGE TO DARK RED
The sapang tree is small, only 3 to 5 meters in height and the colour of the wood is yellow to deep orange and dark red. Heartwood yields a valuable red crystalline dye, brazilin, chiefly used as a dyewood, popular for colouring cotton, silk, and wool fabrics.
Akar penawar landak Fibraurea tinctoria (pg.29)
This is a creeper, with spear shaped leaves, which climbs up big trees, seeking sunlight in the deep jungle. The freshly cut wood is porous, bright yellow and can be found in the Ba’Kelalan highlands as well as in Ulu Kapit. The colour extracted gives yellow, wood and bark natural hues. The plant also has medicinal properties and is valued by the locals.
Bakau - Mangrove Rhizophora Mucronata (pg.29) PALE TO DARK REDDISH BROWN
Bakau or mangrove is a tree or shrub that grows in chiefly tropical coastal swamps that are flooded at high tide. Mangroves typically have numerous tangled roots above ground and form dense thickets.Most plants contain some tannin, but require them to be in sufficient amounts to be commercially viable. Mangrove is a good source with 22-33%, especially the red mangrove.
Natural Indigo - Marsdenia tinctoria BLUENatural indigo is perhaps the oldest dye known to man. It is obtained from a number of different plants; the indigo dye from the Indigofera tinctoria plant is the most significant – it is native to Asia, India and China.This is a perennial shrub with big, dark green, spear-shaped leaves, 3” to 4” long – only the mature green leaves are selected for the dyeing process. Natural indigo is fermented, then dyed in a mordant that affixes the Indigo as it oxidizes in the air. The extracted colour is blue, used since 1289 as a colour. Its most popular use in modern times is in the famous Levis’ denim blue jeans.
Engkudu Morinder citrifolia BROWNThe root skin of this big tree, identified by its big, oval, yellow green to dark green leaves, bearing fruits similar to mulberry but green and bigger in size; it’s used for the range of colours starting from brown to coral pink, red, orange and garnet. It can be found in the upper reaches of the Rejang River in the 3rd division of Sarawak, beyond Kapit.
Ketapang- tropical almond Terminalia catappa OLIVE GREEN
An evergreen tree, pagoda-shaped, the leaves of which turn red and fall into the water, leaving a strong brown dye as its colour comes off. The green leaves can be used for an olive green dye.The leaves are big, usually 6-10 inches in length and 4-6 inches in breadth, and the tree grows as tall as 115 ft. Elsewhere, it’s used for colouring leather, silk, batik, calico printing, furniture and handicrafts. It is also used for colouring wines and meats and considered safe for food products and pharmaceuticals.
Engkudu Morinder citrifolia
Natural Indigo Marsdenia tinctoria
Ketapang- tropical almond Terminalia catappa
Bunga telang Clitoria ternatea
Bunga telang Clitoria ternatea BLUE
It is a perennial herbaceous plant, with elliptic, obtuse leaves. It grows as a vine or creeper, and its most striking feature is the colour of its flowers, a vivid deep blue; solitary, with light yellow markings. They are about 4 cm long by 3 cm wide. Some varieties yield white flowers.In local cooking it is extensively used to colour rice and in making nyonya kuihs (cakes) giving them a very vibrant and appetising bluish tinge.
Kepayang Pangium edule BLACK OR DARK GREY
Large poisonous fruit (full of cyanide) but after preparation – boiled then buried in ash, banana leaves and earth for 40 days - can be used for making delicacies in meat stews and other ethnic dishes. The dye is derived from the kernel of the nut after it has been prepared. The trees grow wild and are not commercially planted. The seeds are much valued for Peranakan cooking and can be found in many specialist nyonya restaurants throughout Malaysia and Singapore.
Kepayang (dye mordant) Pangium edule
Under the EO label, silk, ikat, backstrap loom weaving, wood block hand printed scarves and wraps are inspired by Sarawakian ethnic designs and tinted with natural dyes.
Edgar Ong was born in Kuching, has worked and traveled throughout Sarawak and Sabah during his early career with British, Japanese and German conglomerates, and now as a fixer for his own company Borneo Film Locations. A social activist he also writes and co-produces films.