With the modern trend towards plastic and faux-wood furniture, rattan weaving is gradually falling into oblivion. Although the rattan heritage trade is struggling to survive, a few skilled rattan weavers can still be found in Penang state of Malaysia.
Hidden amongst a row of heritage shophouses on Chulia Street, Lee Soo Kee’s rattan shop is one of the few rattan furniture places left in Penang. Rocking chairs, tables, baskets, and other rattan woven household items; these are the testimony to the glorifying past.
The traditional rattan weaver, now the elderly man, Mr. Lee used to make all kinds of furniture items. Now in his eighties, his hands have weakened, and he is no longer able to bend rattan to make large furniture. But the man still spends his days sitting at his shop with his cat, greeting the passers-by, occasionally making small rattan items and doing repairs on demand.
Before the plastic invaded the market, rattan was the material of choice in Malaysia. Rattan, or climbing palm, is abundant in South-East Asia, known for its durability and robustness, and is the most suitable material for hot and humid tropical climate. Traditional rattan weavers were numerous in Malaysia, and their products ranged from furniture to baskets.
Unfortunately, the fashion has changed the people’s preferences. Today, the number of local rattan shops in Penang is dwindling as many prefer to buy plastic, wrought iron and faux-wood furniture. But the art of rattan weaving is still alive in Penang kept by a few traditional rattan weavers. As a new trend, young furniture designers are resurrecting rattan, and hopefully, rattan furniture will be coming back.
Location: Mr. Lee Soo Kee can be found at the following address: 370 E, Chulia Street (Lebuh Chulia), Georgetown in Malaysian state of Penang.