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In Malaysia, only two states are truly renowned for pottery. Sarawak is, famous for its ethnic pottery that captures the beauty and the intricacies of traditional designs, which has become a must-have souvenir item. The other comes from the state of Perak and is called labu sayong. These water calabashes have been around for more than a century and have enjoyed a cherished albeit utilitarian existence.

Although the utilitarian purpose of the calabash was to keep water fresh and chilled, local folklore claims that water stored in these containers is infused with magical properties. It is said that the water stored in a labu sayong has the healing power to cure minor illnesses such as fevers and coughs. In the past, the calabash was used in rituals performed at healing ceremonies where water kept in it was blessed with incantations.

This magical aspect of calabashes is attributed to the clay that is used to make them. Labu sayong is almost exclusively made from a type of clay known to the locals as tanah busut, which translates as 'anthill earth'. This clay is found only around the riverbanks and paddy fields in Sayong and nowhere else. Although there are a few other areas in Perak involved in making these calabashes, the clay from these areas are considered inferior and do not match the quality of clay that comes from Sayong. In fact, the word sayong was affixed to these calabashes much later to distinguish the earthernware that originates from Sayong compared to other areas.

Amongst the many types of labu sayong, the black calabash is the most popular and easily identifiable. It has a smooth, black surface that is glossy and embellished with motifs of traditional flowers, spices and leaves around its top, neck and body.

It is generally believed that this famous craftsmanship was brought in from Minangkabau, Indonesia. Today, the art of making labu has been passed on from generation to generation. Safaradin Mat Noh and his wife, Maznah Sulaiman, who are known as Pak and Mak in the village, both learnt the art from their forefathers and have been involved in it since their schooldays. Pak and his fellow craftsmen source the clay from various parts of Sayong. Next, the dried clay is pounded into a fine powder using a traditional wood pounder, not dissimilar to ones used in pounding rice. To further remove impurities, the powdered clay is sieved. Water is then added and the clay is kneaded to remove any air. The 'dough' is then left alone for a day or two to dry out before it is ready to be shaped.

The moulding of the labu is done in stages beginning from the base, the body, the neck and the mouth. The process then follows the usual practice of pottery using a potter's wheel. Once the entire calabash has been shaped, the semi-dry calabash surface is polished using a smooth pebble.

The motifs are next stamped onto the calabash using stampers that have been carved out of wood. The potter carefully makes the imprint of the design on each calabash, normally allowing his own flight of fancy to dictate size, shape and design on each piece. Once complete, the calabash is left to dry for a few days, before being fired in a pit for about 12 hours.

When the yellowish brown calabash turns red from the heat, it is taken out and immediately tossed into a mixture of dried rice husks and earth that, amazingly, produces a black sheen within seconds on the calabash's surface.

Like Pak and Mak, there are many craftsmen in Sayong who are involved in the craft, trying very hard to keep it alive.

Answer the following questions using complete sentences

From paragraph 1, name the pottery found in the two states of Malaysia.


From paragraph 2, what are the special qualities of the water stored in a labu sayong ? Give two qualities.


a) From paragraph 3, what reason is provided for the special properties of the water ?

b) From paragraph 4, how is the black calabash differentiated from others ?


From paragraph 5,

a) which word in this paragraph means 'different' ?

b) after the clay is pounded, what is the next step ?

  5. From paragraph 3, why is the word 'sayong' associated to these calabashes ? Answer in your own words.
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a) Ethnic pottery

b) Calabashes



a) The water is fresh adn chilled.

b) The water is infused with magical properties.



a) The special properties are attributed to the clay 'tanah busut' that is used to make calabashes.

b) It has a smooth, black surface that is glossy and embellished with motifs of traditional flowers, spices and leaves around its top, neck and body.



a) Various

b) Water is added and the clay is kneaded to remove any air.



The 'tanah busut' used to make the calabashes is found only around the riverbanks and paddy fields of Sayong. as there are other areas in Perak involved in the making of calabashes, the word 'sayong' was added to distinguish these calabashes form sayong.


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Comprehension 1


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