Songket, a fabric that belongs to the same family as brocade, means to sungkit or hook in Malay. It is hand-woven in silk or cotton by inserting decorative threads in between the wefts as they are woven into the warp, which is fixed to the loom. This technique is also known as tenun in Malay.
The Kelantanese people believe that this weaving technique came from the North, somewhere in the Cambodia-Siam region and then expanded south into Pattani and then to Kelantan and Terengganu in the 16th century. However, Terengganu weavers believe that it was the Indian traders brought songket weaving to Palembang and Jambi, where it probably originated during the time of Srivijaya. It is also most likely that songket weaving was brought to Peninsular Malaysia through intermarriages between royal families.
In Malaysia, Terengganu has the highest concentration of songket weavers, so I set up a meeting with Noriah Ashari of Atikah’s Songket, a family business originating from Terengganu, which has been around for six generations. With the rising concern that we are slowly losing a rich local heritage, Noriah, who’s the owner and managing director of Atikah’s Songket, told us that although there are fewer weavers and consumers making use of songket, the industry can never really die off. “You might not have notice this but there are still a lot of people who use the songket fabric,” says Noriah. This was especially true when songket that is woven in silk was introduced to the market; the demand for the fabric rose rapidly. It is commonly known that songket is not a cheap fabric – it can fetch up to tens of thousands of ringgit – therefore songket is usually associated with status. The clientele would include royalty, just like how it was in the days of old.