The art of rattan weaving has gone long past its heyday in Singapore.
Rattan is used for a variety of purposes, more notably in the making of furniture, handicraft, and as building materials or construction tools.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the rattan industry in Singapore reached its peak, driven by global trade and rapid domestic development.
However, by the time the 1990s rolled around, the rattan industry began to see a slow downward spiral as demand started to dwindle.
Now, rattan weaving is one of Singapore’s dying trades, and it is said that there is only one practising craftsman left on the island.
Singapore’s Last Rattan Weaver
Goh Kiok Seng, the founder of rattan and bamboo company Hak Sheng & Co, is believed to be the last rattan weaver in Singapore.
The company was started in 1969 by Kiok Seng’s father, which operated out of a store at Lavender Street.
The 80-year-old craftsman has been weaving since he was in his 20s.
In an interview with The National Heritage Board, he shared that the 1970s were the peak period of the rattan business, and the family even opened a factory in Chai Chee to cope with the huge demand.
In 1975, they moved to a store in Kallang Bahru and have been operating out of that store ever since.
Hak Sheng & Co is currently being run by Kok Sieng’s son, Patrick, who took over the reigns in 1994.
The younger Goh had just left the navy and was only 21, but quickly learnt the ropes of the business.
Since he took over the store, he has helped diversify the business to include the import and export of bamboo products.
Some of its top-sellers include satay skewers made of bamboo, bamboo leaves used to wrap dumplings and otah, and materials used for home decor.
Falling Demand For Hand-Weaved Rattan Goods
Kok Sieng told The National Heritage Board that the demand for hand-weaved rattan goods has fallen drastically.
This is in part due to many household products being replaced by plastic and rubber, and construction companies have also moved on to modern machinery.
In the olden days, bamboo products had a whole multitude of uses, from baskets used for marketing to trays for washing ikan bilis, and even police shields.
The father-and-son duo shared that handmade rattan products are extremely durable and long-lasting. In fact, some customers have used their products for “more than 30 years”.
Hand-woven rattan products are extremely “lasting and traditional”, and Patrick feels that it’s “a pity” that people tend to opt for more modern products these days.
Rattan’s Place In Modern Society
Even though Patrick took over the business operations of Hak Sheng & Co, he did not learn the art of rattan weaving from his father.
He said that rattan weaving is considered an “outdated skill” and the craft is likely to disappear as his family members have not indicated interest in picking the skill up.
However, the Gohs do receive commissioned requests that showcase how rattan perhaps does have a place in modern society.
Last year, Kok Sieng weaved a rattan cornucopia that was possibly the “biggest rattan horn ever made in Singapore and the world”.
The cornucopia was showcased in the Floral Fantasy dome at Gardens by the Bay for their Autumn display last year.
From designing bespoke rattan accessories to the import and export of bamboo and rattan, Hak Sheng & Co’s ability to stay agile and diversify is what helps to keep the business afloat.
In a separate interview with Beverly’s Blooms, Kok Sieng said that how Patrick chooses to develop the business further is up to him.
“This business is not about the dollars and cents. As long as everybody is happy, let’s stay as it is and work as a family,” said Patrick.
Featured Image Credit: Beverly’s Blooms