Keeping The Art Of Folding Tengkolok

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ALOR SETAR – Tengkolok, also known as destar, is the traditional Malay male headgear that is made from a long songket cloth folded and tied in a particular style. The general term for the different styles is known as “solek”.

In the olden days, the solek of a tengkolok symbolises the status of the wearer in the social hierarchy. Today, it is typically worn by the groom during Malay wedding ceremonies and by royalty during royal ceremonies.

The traditional headgear is still beloved today and there are quite a few people who are skilled in the art of making different solek for tengkolok. They are called “penyolek”.

One of them is Mohd Yatim Mustaffa, 40, from Kampung Peremba, here. His love for fashioning the tengkolok into traditional and modern solek started while he was in his 20s, after joining several silat competitions across the state.


“I used to perform silat at wedding ceremonies and it was then that I noticed the appeal of the tengkolok. It was more than a headgear to me; it was a symbol of the warrior and leader in a person.

“The end product may be easy to put on, but making it requires skill and creativity. If you don’t master the technique, it won’t turn out at all,” he said.

He learned by “reverse engineering”. He bought a tengkolok in the “Dendam Tak Sudah” form for RM40, deconstructed the solek and tried to fold it again in the same fashion. It was harder than he thought it would be.

“I wanted to give up but forced myself to keep on trying till I succeeded,” he said.

He then refined his techniques by reading up books on tengkolok. Today, with 26 years of experience under his belt, he is able to even come up with his own solek which form was inspired by his observation of nature.

“I also enrolled in courses on tying and folding the tanjak and tengkolok in Taman Budaya, Pumpong, here to further learn the art.

“I also enjoy old Malay movies with characters that wear the tengkolok. I would try to recreate the tengkolok used in the movies based on their respective characters,” said Mohd Yatim, who also studied the art under Pak Mus, a well-known tengkolok maker there.

Mohd Yatim receives orders for tengkolok from the palace, wedding boutiques and individuals. His wife Mariah Shahban, a skilled seamstress, helps him deal with the volumes of orders received.

He would receive up to 500 orders during the school holidays, a popular time for weddings.

According to Mohd Yatim, there are two types of solek. The traditional one is those worn during royal ceremonies with different forms according to state, while the second one was those worn for ceremonies like Malay weddings and during silat performances.


“We can see this during royal ceremonies where the ruler of different states wear different solek. The tengkolok which solek is unique and based on the creativity of the penyolek, meanwhile, are those worn as an accessory (by commoners),” he explained.

Due to his outstanding expertise and knowlede in the art of tengkolok-making, Mohd Yatim’s name is today known among those in the trade and the palace staff handling protocols.

“I am grateful for the volume of orders coming in for my work. The largest order I had ever received was during the Sultan of Kedah, Tuanku Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Golden Jubilee celebration in 2008. I had to produce 152 tengkolok and burned the midnight oil for two nights in a row to complete the order,” he said.

Aside from the traditional tengkolok, Mohd Yatim also produces tengkolok which solek inspired by the animal and plant kingdom.

“I have created over 100 solek of tengkolok such as ‘Gagak di Rimba’, which was inspired by a bird amidst the bushes ‘Gading Laksamana’ and ‘Gading Temasek’, which were inspired by an elephant’s tusk,” he revealed.

As for the solek of traditional tengkolok, the names and the forms are not changeable. These include the Dendam Tak Sudah, Tanjak Temalong Budu, Tengkolok Putera Kayangan and Tanjak Tebang Selat.

Mohd Yatim hopes that the younger generation would learn the art form so that the knowledge could be passed on for generations to come. – BERNAMA