Malaysia, Travel
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A noisy village not far from the Northern Tip of Borneo

AS the clock strikes 8am, villagers of Kampung Sumangkap in Kudat district  never fail to rise to the continuous sound of metal smacking.

This noisy small village is  about three hours drive from the State capital (Kota Kinabalu).

For some, hearing the sound of metal smacking first thing in the morning can be unbearable and  a nuisance, but for  these  “disturbers of  peace”, who  are  gong makers from the Rungus community, they are eking out a living as well as keeping  the tradition of gong making alive.

There are 20 professional gong makers  operating  workshops along the  road lining the village.

Kampung Sumangkap’s  gong-making tradition has  transformed the village into a tourist destination, providing lucrative income to its people.

Gong maker Rohana Mauut, 35, said their gong workmanship had not only attracted the locals, but  also people  from Sarawak.

“This village is not only a tourist attraction, but has also become a business destination among Sarawak entrepreneurs  seeking  quality gongs.

“They come here to inquire about the price and will normally place an immediate order.

“Others will call back after a week or two to place a booking,” she said while clanging the mallets on aluminium sheet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA          Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThe mother of four started making gongs when she was 17. Her husband is also a gong maker and the couple  operate a small gong factory in the village.

The gongs vary in sizes, with the large ones  reaching up to 2m in diameter.

These handmade instruments are priced between RM30 and RM2,000, depending on the size and use of gongs.

“We make small gongs and sell them as souvenirs. Others are produced as traditional musical instruments that usually comes in a set.

“We also produce kulintangan, which is   a set of eight to nine small brass kettle gongs.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA          Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetPrices for gong sets are between RM1,000 and RM2,000, depending on the ethnic group.

In a month, these skilled craftsmen can make up to RM6,000 and can generate more sales  in May and December.

Joheka Pagayan, 45, said ever since Kampung Sumangkap was established as a gong village in the early 90s, she had been getting more orders from Sarawak.

“They buy our products because they said  we produce fine gongs.

“We do have buyers from China, Europe and Australia, who are mostly tourists.

“However, not many locals come to purchase our gongs because they can get it from a third party.”

Joheka said in the olden days making gongs was once a private affair  where its maker would work on his art alone.

They did not allow outsiders or prying eyes to witness their  craft and would retreat deep into the jungle with their tools  to continue  work if they had to.

As for Ilysia Ponturu, a 43-year-old housewife, she said the loud sound of the daily metal smacking could be deafening.

“Sometimes, the noise irritates my ear, but I get used to it after few hours and  slowly becomes immune of the clanking sounds.”

Like other gong makers, Ponturu’s husband, too, operates a small workshop where he makes and sells gongs.

Some of these craftsmen would wake up as early as 3am to tap rubber at nearby plantation before returning to make gongs.

The early clanking sounds indicate Kampung Sumangkap has arisen and its people busy keeping the tradition alive.

(*This write-up originally appeared on the New Straits Times)

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