Only three Ring Ladies from Kampung Semban remain

By Emma Victoria

ONLY three Ring Ladies of Kampung Semban in Ulu Padawan, aged between 69 and 94 remain, after one died and the other stopped wearing the rings.

“There were actually five of us but one has stopped wearing the rings and another ring lady (Ranyu Daiee, 83) passed away due to old age on Oct 3 this year,” said Peluk Abeh, 69.

She was among the five ring ladies featured in a giant mural painted at Padawan, which was launched by Chief Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Abang Openg in conjunction with the 24th Padawan Municipal Council (MPP) anniversary celebration yesterday, Bernama reported.

The women were originally from Kampung Semban in Ulu Padawan but moved down to Bengoh Resettlement Scheme (BRS) in 2010 after their village was resettled to give way to the now Bengoh Dam.

They became popular members of Kampung Semban Cultural Troupe and displayed Sarawak’s cultural heritage to global audience during their performance at the Lo Spirito Del Pianeta, an international festival of indigenous people and tribal groups, in Milan, Italy in 2016.

Sarawak Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said the ring ladies were invited to perform at ITB (Internationale Tourismus-Borse) Berlin, the largest International Tourism Mart in the world, last year besides being frequently invited to perform at state and national events.

The idea of a mural piece followed the premiere of a Sarawakian-made documentary “The Last Ring Ladies” on international broadcasting channels such as NHK (Japan), KBS (Korea), and PTS (Taiwan) since August 2019.

The documentary was also shown on TVS Sarawak on Nov 4, 2020.

With the support of the state tourism ministry, Padawan Municipal Council, NG Picture and Dian Kiara Sdn Bhd, the 13.7 metres by 36.5 metres mural project was completed on Sept 30 to become the largest mural in Kuching.

It features the Ring Ladies of Kampung Semban dressed in their traditional attire with their Ruyank’ng and Rasunk’ng which embody the distinctive culture of the Bi’embhan (a sub-ethnic Bidayuh tribe from Ulu Bengoh) in Sarawak.

Ruyank’ng and Rasunk’ng are the copper coiled rings worn respectively on the forearms and calves.

The rings were once prized and desirable among Bidayuh women, who put them on starting from a very young age.

In time, it became become part of their daily attire and also came to symbolise beauty and nobility.

The wearers are not supposed to take off the rings when they are doing their daily chores.

The origin of this unique practice can be traced back to travelling Chinese traders who brought copper to Borneo.

The Ring Ladies’ traditional attire comprises Bulang Sebi (headgear), Tumbih (necklace), Kain Ngumban (red sash), Sisink’ng and Wi (belts), Baju Putang (blouse), and Jemuh Sulam (skirt/sarong).

Together, they are known as the unique tradition of “Dayung Hmuai Semban”.

Local artist Leonard Siaw who was commissioned to paint the mural, titled “Dayung Hmuai Semban” or “The beautiful ladies of Semban” spent about 13 weeks to complete the mural.

Abdul Karim said the mural will help to promote tourism in Padawan as it is strategically located on the wall of a building facing the main Kuching-Serian road to serve as a welcoming sign and gateway to several popular tourism attractions in the area.