Mogah (Sabah)

Country: Malaysia
The mogah, a traditional hand woven cotton sarong made by Iranun and Bajau women, has distinctive bands patterned with supplementary weft stylized floral motifs. © Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation

Mogah is a traditional hand-woven cotton cloth used as a sarong or tubular skirt as part of the traditional dress of Iranun and Bajau women, two indigenous groups in the Kota Belud district on the Tempasuk plain. The cloth has a distinctive pattern of black bands interspersed with red or yellow bands. Each band is separated by contrasting clusters of yellow or white pin stripes. The bold bands may be unadorned or patterned with square or rectangular-shaped floral motifs derived mostly from the cotton flower or kapas (bunga gapas), wild kalingowan flower and mangosteen fruit (manggis).

The cloths are woven mainly by Iranun and Bajau weavers on the backstrap or body-tension loom using the supplementary weft technique. The black, red or orange threads are looped in a spiral around the warp and breast beams of the loom. Heddle and shed sticks are used to create the required patterns. Originally, plant fibres and homespun cotton coloured with natural dyes were used. Today, imported home-treated threads called gantian expedite the weaving process.

Although traditionally woven on a backstrap or body-tension loom, the bold bands of this mogah sarong are being woven on a pedal loom. © Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation

The cloths are narrow, rarely wider than a metre, corresponding to the width of the loom. Wider pieces are created by carefully hand stitching two lengths of cloth together. The Iranun also weave larger pieces of plain striped mogah, called malong, for costumes and blankets.  

Other indigenous groups wear mogah as part of their ceremonial attire. Rungus male performers from the north of Sabah wear mogah sarongs when performing a dance called mongigol sumandai during festivities, especially after a successful harvest. Lotud men and women, a Kadazandusun indigenous community on the Tuaran plains, wear floor-length mogah sarongs for a dance performed during the mangahau ceremony to appease the spirits of their sacred heirloom jars.

Weaving is a respected skill among rural Iranun women. As acknowledged masters of mogah and other textiles, the women contribute significantly to household income. Some innovative weavers have recently developed more contemporary forms of textiles for ceremonial attire based on the traditional striped template. Labelled according to the dominant colours used, they include maraboro (yellow), mandara sipak (green) and jail jail (red), with or without floral motifs.