23 August 2010

Attap roofs back in fashion

In Malaysia, demand for attap roofing has surged. By classy resorts for their rustic ambience, and by ordinary villagers as these are cheaper and protect better from the sun than zinc roofs.
Nipah palms at the Chek Jawa boardwalk, during a guided walk by the Naked Hermit Crabs.

Nipah palms (Nypa fruticans) can grow profusely along calm riverbanks, near mangroves and in calm estuaries. The leaf can be 5-9m long! So it's not surprising that they are used in many ways.

Nipah roofs now back in fashion
Satiman Jamin New Straits Times 23 Aug 10;
MARANG: The traditional thatched roof, or attap made of nipah palm leaves, has made a comeback in recent years and 20 senior citizens in Kampung Jenang here have their hands full with orders that go into the thousands from all over Peninsular Malaysia.

Chosen for its ability to insulate homes and buildings against the scorching heat of the sun, the nipah roofing was once an integral part of Malay traditional houses.

Now it adorns classy resorts that want to portray the rustic ambience of relaxed kampung life.

It has even become the preferred alternative to corrugated iron roofing for small- to medium-scale poultry farmers, who wanted to cut the cost of building their farm.

The nipah roof revival provided a lifeline for Wok Taib, 80, of Kampung Jenang here, whose income is solely derived from making attap since the death of her husband 10 years ago.

She does not look her age as she deftly arranges freshly-cut nipah leaves on a length of bamboo before bending them.

"The bamboo is the spine of the attap. The leaves are bound together by these long strips of rattan," she explained as she pierced the leaves and guided the rattan strip through the tiny holes, sewing the individual leaves together.

The octogenarian had seen the heyday of attap as she started making them even before the country gained independence.

"I learned the skill of making attap more than 60 years ago as it has been my family's vocation for generations."

Mansor Embong, 70, and his wife, Wan Teh Wan Embong, 65, only have about half the experience in turning nipah fronds into attap, but the couple had seen the price jump 40 times.

"I have been making attap from the time it was sold for two sen apiece. Now, the price for an attap measuring two metres long and half a metre wide is 80 sen," said Mansor.

He said orders varied from 1,000 to 8,000 pieces, and whoever received the orders would usually call in other attap makers to ensure customers were not kept waiting for too long.

"We need to share the orders as even the best attap maker among us can only manage to do about 50 pieces a day and that does not include the time needed to collect the leaves, bamboo and rattan."

Understandably, none of their children is showing interest in continuing the tedious job and it is very likely that nobody will harvest the nipah fronds that grows by the riverside in the village after they retire.

More about attap roofing

Here's what I found out about attap roofing. Do share if you know of any other stories about attap roofing.

In Singapore, there are still a few places where attap roofing can be found. Nipah also has a wide variety of uses in Indonesia.
Collecting Nipah palm leaves in Indonesia from A Nipah story.

Weaving Nipha palm leaves in Malaysia by Rabani HMA in Trek Earth.

Attap roofing from Turbineman's Log.

Besides Nipah, other palms are also used in roofing wherever palms are found. Often forming beautiful natural roofs.
Palm patterns in the roof
Palm roof from Asmart42 shared on the PALASPAS PALM LEAF ART flickr group.


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