AS the clock strikes 8am, villagers of Kampung Sumangkap in Kudat district never fail to rise to the continuous sound of metal smacking.
This noisy small village is about three hours drive from the State capital (Kota Kinabalu).
For some, hearing the sound of metal smacking first thing in the morning can be unbearable and a nuisance, but for these “disturbers of peace”, who are gong makers from the Rungus community, they are eking out a living as well as keeping the tradition of gong making alive.
There are 20 professional gong makers operating workshops along the road lining the village.
Kampung Sumangkap’s gong-making tradition has transformed the village into a tourist destination, providing lucrative income to its people.
Gong maker Rohana Mauut, 35, said their gong workmanship had not only attracted the locals, but also people from Sarawak.
“This village is not only a tourist attraction, but has also become a business destination among Sarawak entrepreneurs seeking quality gongs.
“They come here to inquire about the price and will normally place an immediate order.
“Others will call back after a week or two to place a booking,” she said while clanging the mallets on aluminium sheet.
The mother of four started making gongs when she was 17. Her husband is also a gong maker and the couple operate a small gong factory in the village.
The gongs vary in sizes, with the large ones reaching up to 2m in diameter.
These handmade instruments are priced between RM30 and RM2,000, depending on the size and use of gongs.
“We make small gongs and sell them as souvenirs. Others are produced as traditional musical instruments that usually comes in a set.
“We also produce kulintangan, which is a set of eight to nine small brass kettle gongs.”
Prices for gong sets are between RM1,000 and RM2,000, depending on the ethnic group.
In a month, these skilled craftsmen can make up to RM6,000 and can generate more sales in May and December.
Joheka Pagayan, 45, said ever since Kampung Sumangkap was established as a gong village in the early 90s, she had been getting more orders from Sarawak.
“They buy our products because they said we produce fine gongs.
“We do have buyers from China, Europe and Australia, who are mostly tourists.
“However, not many locals come to purchase our gongs because they can get it from a third party.”
Joheka said in the olden days making gongs was once a private affair where its maker would work on his art alone.
They did not allow outsiders or prying eyes to witness their craft and would retreat deep into the jungle with their tools to continue work if they had to.
As for Ilysia Ponturu, a 43-year-old housewife, she said the loud sound of the daily metal smacking could be deafening.
“Sometimes, the noise irritates my ear, but I get used to it after few hours and slowly becomes immune of the clanking sounds.”
Like other gong makers, Ponturu’s husband, too, operates a small workshop where he makes and sells gongs.
Some of these craftsmen would wake up as early as 3am to tap rubber at nearby plantation before returning to make gongs.
The early clanking sounds indicate Kampung Sumangkap has arisen and its people busy keeping the tradition alive.
(*This write-up originally appeared on the New Straits Times)