Senia Jugi is an Iban woman from Sarawak, East Malaysian Borneo. She works with rattan, natural ‘bemben’ or arrowroot and dyed split bamboo. She makes unique container baskets in various sizes and shapes and traditional Iban hats and mats. Her works have received the UNESCO-World Crafts Council Award of Excellence.
For many years she has travelled to remote areas of Sarawak, Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia to conduct workshops on basketry and bag making.
Senia Jugi grew up learning all the skills of basketry and plaiting from her mother. She leant to make the topi tunjang caps. She recalled having seen the ‘Tree of Life’ tall topi tunjang in her longhouse when she was young; but now no one is making it because such festivals are rare and not performed anymore. Senia wanted to revive this ‘Tree of Life’ topi tunjang because she wants to preserve this form, and show that she is capable as a master basketry artist. She trains other younger women in making baskets and hats.
The significance of the topi tunjang is like this:
The centre and top point is a pointer to heaven from where anointing for the chief comes from; the next level has 7 points which in Iban is the perfect number; and the second level has 14 points ( double times 7) and so this tells of anointing and blessings from heaven is is continually multiplied!
The Iban ‘topi tunjang’ is an important part of the Iban man’s cultural costume traditionally. By innovating the cap into a hat by adding the brim, this has popularized the Iban topi tunjang among the young people and for everyone who is interested to wear as a ‘cool’ hat!
Senia comes from a rural farming community in Kanowit, Sarawak. She had to leave school after completing Secondary Form 3; and helped in the farm. She learned all the different types of baskets need not only for household and farming use, but also the pointed baskets used for festivals and rituals. After her mother dies, she took care of her family and father. Later she enrolled in a craft course learning how to make bags using basketry. She continued to learn more techniques. Over the years she is a recognized expert and master crafters artist who is often asked by the National Crafts Authority to conduct training course for younger artists.
Senia has moved to the city (Kuching). She has bought a small flat. Though unmarried, she is supporting her nephew and nieces in their education. Now they have finished college and have good jobs. Her sister and family still live in their rural house and she goes back every few months to check on them. Her sister also is a fine basket maker. Senia brings their works to sell in Kuching. Their family house is no longer the old wooden house, but a nice concrete and brick house with ceramic tile flooring, proper sanitation and water supply and electricity.
Senia Jugi‘s works have received the UNESCO/WCC Award of Excellence.
She has represented Malaysia in Craft Festival and Shows in Thailand, Istanbul, Japan, Manila, Jakarta, Europe and Santa Fe, Seattle.