30 Sep Son of North Borneo: Adam Kitingan
North Bornean brass jewellery.
Now that’s something that you don’t find every day. But that is exactly what Adam Kitingan makes for a living. Previously working as a Freelance Visual Effects professional, Adam quit his job and has since dedicated his life to sharing his cultural crafts with the world.
When asked about the first piece of jewellery he made, Adam tells us that it was “a set of rings made with a sheet of brass, a point-chisel, a hammer and another large hammer as [his] anvil”. After selling his first piece at Arts for Grabs, Adam said that he wanted to do this full time. So, he quit his job and started Sang Tukang – a brand promoting traditional North Bornean art. Each piece of jewellery is intricately made, taking a long time to take shape depending on the complexity of the design. While the actual jewellery can take an hour to two hours to complete, sketching the design out is a pretty long process on its own.
As someone who takes pride in his heritage, Adam is serious about ensuring that each piece of jewellery is authentically local. He sources his brass sheets and wires from local hardware stores. Even the pigments used in his jewellery are made using charcoaled pine that comes from his family’s farm all the way in Kundasang. With each carefully crafted pieces, Adam incorporates his Bornean design heritage, which means that he is very careful about using only traditional designs that he understands.
While indigenous art is alive and well, Adam still insists that it’s important for the younger generation to cultivate it themselves so that it doesn’t get lost in time. Adam is a rare gem, and his art, even more so. It is beautiful to watch this man share his tradition with the world – one piece of jewellery at a time.
How do you hope to spread Bornean culture with the world and create awareness?
I usually ask my customers where they come from and tell them about our history. If they’re local, or have family ties here, I show them which patterns are specific to their tribe and what they mean. I also sell my journals, in which I explain my research and break down the designs. It’s been really interesting as people share their own stories as well.
Why do you think Bornean culture is being under appreciated?
I think it has to do with what we’re not being taught at schools here and the lack of exposure in the Malaysian media. Borneo is so rich with history, culture and heroes but it is often misinterpreted and romanticized.
If you could change one thing about the way people view Bornean culture, what would it be?
We’re not “savages”.