The evening sun hangs low over the treetops. At this time, most of the people are still out at work, the remaining few women and children sit or nap in their wooden houses, the occasional breeze offering a momentary respite from the humidity.
A scratchy, raspy sound interrupts the quiet. It stops for a while, then continues again. An old man sits on the stairway of his house, absorbed in his work. He holds a scrap of sandpaper in one hand and runs it methodically over a piece of wood, smoothening the rough edges. Sawdust clings to his weathered skin, settling into the deep lines of his face but in his focus, he does not notice. Slowly, his creation starts to take shape and satisfied, he places his completed work down carefully with a small pile of other wooden utensils.
Semoi is a 70 year old grandfather living in Kampung Pecah Bateri, Pahang. He is the patriarch of a big family, his children and grandchildren live in their own houses nearby and they form a cluster in the village named Gong A.
“Dulu saya kerja macam-macam. Sekarang saya buat kayu saja.” (I used to work all sorts of jobs back in the day. Now I only do wood crafts.)
His voice is hoarse and he coughs often when he talks, but his broad smile tells us that he is glad for the company. Semoi used to tap rubber for a living and on the side, he foraged for wild herbs and produce like akar kayu (medicinal roots), kacip Fatimah (Labisia pumila), and gaharu (agarwood).
Now, he lacks the strength and energy for heavy work. His arms and legs are thin, devoid of the vigour of youth. Even walking a short distance is tiring for him, and he needs a cane to get around. With so much time on his hands and nothing to do, he taught himself how to carve and shape spatulas, serving spoons, and cutting boards out of wood.
He is the only one in the entire village who knows how to make these tools. For him, it is both a hobby and a means to make a living. When we visited him, he told us that his woodworking tools have gone blunt and he has not been able to make any new crafts for a while. Hopefully on our next visit, we can get him a new set of tools to help him continue carving his living.
UPDATE: We went to see Semoi again a month later to pass him a new set of tools and supplies for him to continue his craft. He was very happy and told us that he will have 50 pieces of wooden utensils ready the next time we go again.
We visited Kampung Pecah Bateri, an orang asli community, on a recce trip in collaboration with Laneige’s Waterful Sharing Campaign to provide clean water to underprivileged and remote communities suffering from water poverty.
Yong Joy Anne, Storyteller