When our business partners in Malaysia LokaLocal suggested we may be interested in participating in the Indigenous Arts Festival in Selangor, I must admit, I had to ask where's Selangor? Now I know it's the state that surrounds the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur. In a taxi only 20 minutes from KL Sentral, so we are going to Kuala Lumpur, which makes it easier when coercing my TaiLeu sewers to dance, cook sticky rice and boil natural dyes. Fortunately they jumped at the chance to travel and immediately applied for passports, so here we go!
Arriving in Kuala Lumpur we were met by the Tourism Selangor representative and boarded a bus with other participants, Thai, Indonesian, Philippine, and Iranian indigenous groups were also performing. Many of these were professional dance groups and we just had the four women to perform, who had not even practised together yet. Our hotel, Acapella Suites, i Shah Alam, was fantastic. A huge 3 bedroom apartment for all of us, and even room for our interns to crash on the sofas, and the hotel was very obliging about that. There was plenty of room for us all and for the girls to practise their steps. Before the set up day, we had time for some quick sightseeing. Petronas Towers, ice cream, a train ride, Petaling Street shopping (where everyone spoke Thai to them) and Chinatown street food kept everyone happy.
This festival, primarily showcased the Malaysian indigenous tribes. The most striking was the Mahmeri tribe with their unique woven grass costumes. On the Saturday there was a visit from Tengku Amir Shah, the Raja Mudan (Crown Prince) of the State of Selangor, and many indigenous foods were prepared for him. He came to our area (we had taken over the Mahmeri house in the garden with an area for boiling the natural dyes) and spoke of the importance of crafts and keeping them alive.
The Taileu team attracted a lot of attention in the simple yet elegant costumes and especially the natural dyes. The quality of the dyeing and weaving stood out in the predominantly bamboo and grasses handicraft, as well as amongst the very bright costumes of the Indonesian, Thai and Philippine dancers. Festivals such as these, are important to showcase the variety of ASEAN culture and helps preserve the traditions by giving a legitimate reason to dance and make beyond each groups' own celebrations.