The origins of weaving in Malaysia remain wrapped in lagends and obscurity. However, it is known that there has been a long tradition of weaving. Luxury items such as silver, gold and threads with these precious metals as well as Chinese and later Indian and Thai silks for weaving were all part of trade items since at least the late 15th century.
The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals), the Chinese Ming Annals andthe Suma Oriental of Tome Pires record the use of sumptuous court costumes and textiles in the Malaccan Sultanate of the 16th century.
We are also aware that Indian traders first brought the primitive back-strap loom, and with it the use of cotton, to the Malayan region, although this was superseded by the simple frame loom, still in use today, which was probably introduced from Western Europe in the 16th century (Gibson-Hill and Hill, 1951 and Grace 1. Selvanayagan, 1990). In these early days, it had been recorded that Kelantan and Terengganu had two centres producing the fabled double ikat kain cindai under the influence of the Indian immigrants (Buhler 1959).
Woven Textiles in Malaysia is a heritage of the Malays in both Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak where the Ibans also excel, as well as some of the indigenous groups in Sabah, like the Bajaus.
Amongs the Malays, songket in sarong, samping or selendang represents today the classic brocade for ceremonial use, i.e. passage of the time rites like weddings, circumcision, celebration of Muslim new year and funerals. Beforethe 19th century, its use was almost exclusive for the courts and nobles as opulent ceremonial wraps. Royal families have been known to compete in the display of these masterpiece and heirlooms at important occassions when such displays are made of these symbols of prestige and power. These songkets are of sheer gold or silver or combination supplementary weave over mostly silk (sometimes cotton) ground material.
Prior to the 19th century, these textiles were produced under royal patronage and differing restrictions on use were often prescribed by different rulers, Generally, the yellow colored textiles were all exclusive to purely royal use. Gold and silver songkets in these early days were not allowed to be used by commoners and ‘it was only much later that they were allowed to wear it and then only on one day – their wedding day’ so much so that ‘subsequently a part of a border design created was given the name raja sehari’ (king for a day) (Grace l. Selvanayagan, 1990).
By the 19th century, these rules were more relaxed and more affluent commoners have begun woven their own songkets.