KUDAT, March 3 — The biggest challenge in preserving the art of traditional handicrafts is having a second liner, especially among the young generation, to inherit the skills, as being carried out in Kampung Sumangkap in Matunggong here.

The elders in the village have been passing down their skills at making the traditional gong from generation to generation to ensure the skills live on and the musical instrument does not go extinct.

There are now 30 skilled gong-makers in the village.

Third-generation gong maker Ronny Makuut, 44, said the gong-making in the village started in the 1950s following a dream by a village elderly for residents to make the gong to ensure the well-being of the village.

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“Since then, our village ancestors started making gongs which were quite rough and not as beautiful as they are now.

“Now, with the use of modern equipment, the gongs are beautiful. Making gong has also become a source of income for the villagers,” he told Bernama.

Kampung Sumangkap, known for its gong cottage industry, is located 140 kilometres north of Kota Kinabalu.

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Makuut said he has been in the industry for almost 20 years after inheriting the gong-making skills from his father.

“Initially, I learned (the art of making gong) just to help my father only, but over time, it has become an industry, providing me with an income to support my family,” he said.

He said the gong is an important musical instrument among the community in the village, with the majority of them of the Rungus ethnic group, especially during wedding ceremonies, the Kaamatan Festival and the Magahau Festival.

According to Makuut, the gong was also used at one time by a search party looking for persons lost in the forest.

He said that there are many types of gongs, from the small ones to the large ones that cost tens of thousands of ringgits, but as time progresses, with the bigger gongs only used during special occasions, small gongs are made to be given away as souvenirs.

“We make small palm-sized gongs to be used as decorations, as well as key chains, fridge magnets, pins, etc, so that tourists can buy them as souvenirs. Tourism has provided us with a new source of income,” he said.

Fifth-generation gong maker Rehan Ezri Morsinal, 26, said he learned to make the gongs when he was a child, but only started learning the skills seriously, including from his uncle, about three years ago.

“It is not easy to produce gongs. It is made of iron, brass and copper,” he said, adding that the gongs produced in the village are of various types.

“They are known as kulintangan, canang, kuritikon, and seludun which vary according to function, shape, size and material used.

“The most difficult part of making the gong is shaping it to have a melodious sound. It requires expertise and continuous adjustment, even for the small ones that are meant for souvenirs,” he said.

Meanwhile, Irena Arwish, 41, a third-generation gong maker, said the closeness of the village community allowed the gong-making skills to be passed down to the young people in the village.

“We welcome outsiders who want to learn the skills, but the ones we had before were not patient enough and they gave up. Making the gong is not easy, said the woman who has been in the industry for 10 years.

A college lecturer, Mohd Arif Zaihan Mohd Sani, 29, from Kajang, Selangor, said he came to Kampung Sumangkap to visit the gong-making industry after watching videos of the village on YouTube.

“Kampung Sumangkap is an interesting place to visit. The whole village is involved in the industry which has been passed down from generation to generation,” he said. — Bernama