Sarong Diplomacy: Unity in Cultural Diversity

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Sarong Diplomacy: Unity in Cultural Diversity
Prof. Ts. Dr. Ruslan Abdul Rahim
Rector, National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage (ASWARA)
Fiori Rizki Djuwita
Officer, Culture and Information Division, ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Department
23 Mar 2023
ASEAN Identity and Community Building, Culture, Youth

The 20th century saw the gradual waning of the popularity of the traditional clothing, such as the sarong, in ASEAN metropolitan cities.

Long before the colonial era, sarong was worn by men and women at all levels of society in Southeast Asia. Hence, we can say that the sarong is much more than just a fashion piece; it is a cultural element shared by the people of ASEAN. Each pattern, colour, and texture of the sarong tells its own story, reflecting customs, ethnic backgrounds, and cultural affiliations.

Sarong is called by many names in different parts of the ASEAN region, such as, sarong or sarung in Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore; sampot in Cambodia; phaa sinh in the Lao PDR; longyi in Myanmar; malong, tapis, or patadyong in the Philippines; xà-rông in Viet Nam; and pha kao ma (for males) and pha tung (for females) in Thailand.

The convening of Sarong Diplomacy: Unity in Cultural Diversity

In the spirit of preserving sarong as our region’s shared cultural heritage, the National Academy of Arts, Culture, and Heritage (ASWARA)—a higher educational institution under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture, Malaysia—organised the event, “Sarong Diplomacy: Unity in Cultural Diversity,” from 2 to 6 October 2022 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The sarong symbolises the unity and harmonious co-existence that ASEAN can achieve despite the diverse cultures in the region.

The three-day programme aimed to raise awareness on the importance of sustaining our living and cultural heritage and enhancing the creativity and diverse artistic and cultural expression of the participants.

It is timely and relevant since ASEAN’s rapid modernisation has resulted in an increasingly globalised and homogenised culture.

The programme gathered 26 delegates from ASEAN Member States composed of dancers, musicians, and multimedia artists. On the first day, the Malaysia Tourism Centre (MaTiC) conducted dedicated workshops and masterclasses where participants exchanged knowledge on and were able to appreciate the similarities and differences of each other’s sarong. These workshops were divided into different tracks. For example, delegates in the dance and music tracks went through an artistic skills sharing session. Multimedia delegates, meanwhile, attended specially-curated bootcamp cultural mapping workshop series that exposed participants to case studies on Extended Reality (XR), later honing in on Augmented Reality (AR). These workshops prepared the delegates for the Gala Night. Delegates who joined the dance and music tracks gave an original performance at the Gala Night, while multimedia delegates showcased their Augmented Reality (AR) output.

The second day started with a cultural mapping visit to Sekolah Seni Malaysia Kuala Lumpur or SSeMKL (Malaysia Art School) where the dance and music participants performed their traditional music and dances and learned about how the youth appreciate performances as an artistic cultural expression. The multimedia delegates worked on the development of a mobile AR app and further compiled into an e-catalogue that can be assessed anywhere. They then proceeded with sightseeing activities that included a trip to the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) and Central Market.

On day three, workshops on Mastery of Sarong ASEAN Arts–Transmission of Knowledge, Techniques and New Product of “Sarong ASEAN” – Inspiring Originality and the Gala Night performance were held.

The Gala Night, which showcased the workshops’ artistic outcomes, was led by Dato’ Sri Hajah Nancy Shukri, Minister of Tourism, Arts, and Culture of Malaysia. “Sarong diplomacy is a platform to create a network of new experiences, talent, and development cooperation…The programme provides many opportunities for ASEAN delegates comprised students, experts, and professionals to bond over shared artistic interest,” says Minister Shukri. The final programme was also attended by Prof. Ts. Dr. Ruslan bin Abdul Rahim, Rector of ASWARA; Dato’ Shahira Ahmed Bazari, Trustee and Managing Director of Yayasan Hasanah; Rudy Irwan Shukaime, Director of MaTiC; and the ambassadors of ASEAN Member States to Malaysia.

The three-day programme included workshops and masterclasses on performing arts and multimedia design, culminating in a Gala Night | Photo Credit: © ASWARA, Malaysia

Weaving a stronger shared identity

“Sarong Diplomacy: Unity in Cultural Diversity” surfaced a sense of shared history and destiny among the participants, which bodes well for ongoing efforts to instil a sense of ASEAN identity among the people of ASEAN. The programme also led to a better appreciation of sarong weavers across ASEAN and their craftmanship. This could translate to stronger support and better lives and livelihoods for sarong weavers, a majority of whom are women. The programme likewise highlighted the export potential of the sarong, bringing into focus the socio-economic value of culture. This could potentially bolster Member States’ cultural and creative industries.

The feedback from the participants was generally positive. For example, Surisak Ponpaipal, a 3D modeler and artist from Thailand, shared that the programme for upskilling and sharing of knowledge and expertise has been eye-opening for him. Ummu Hani Yusof, programme head/lecturer from Selayang Community College, was also favourable: “The organiser planned the workshop perfectly from how to choose a project, planning, develop and how to manage a team using Agile method. Although the duration of the course is too tight for developing artworks, the trainer managed to sync everyone’s work to make a final output which is superb. I will use this process for my art students. The e-catalogue idea is brilliant to document everyone’s project.”

Most ASEAN delegates expressed hope that similar interdisciplinary programmes will be convened to promote closer people-to-people interaction within ASEAN, while also raising awareness on ASEAN identity and diversity.

Gala Night Performance

Augmented Reality (AR) Showcase:

Download AR App

View e-Catalogue