Sarawakian is giving the basic Barbie an ethnic makeover

Wesley Anak Juntan came up with the first doll to honour the Gawai Dayak festival. (Wesley pic)

PETALING JAYA: The Movement Control Order (MCO) has brought out many hidden talents, from dishing out new creations in the kitchen like banana cake and burnt cheesecake to customising Barbie dolls.

Meet 33-year-old Wesley Anak Juntan, a Malaysia Airlines flight attendant who’s been using his time in lockdown to give the basic Barbie an East Malaysian makeover.

Wesley, who is of Iban descent, told FMT the idea came to him during the MCO period when he was unable to return home to Sarawak to celebrate the Gawai Dayak festival.

He refused to let the situation get him down and he decided to honour the celebration by using his skills to create a beautiful Kumang doll.

Kumang is a legendary character among the Iban women known for her great beauty and weaving skills, he told FMT.

The Kumang doll is the most popular with Malaysians. (R): Barbie customised in a Bidayuh ethnic outfit. (Wesley pic)

He posted a photo of his completed Kumang doll on social media and internet users inundated him with positive comments, asking him to design more dolls in other ethnic outfits from Sabah and Sarawak.

It can take up to three days to make one doll, depending on the complexity of the costume, Wesley said, adding that most materials can, fortunately, be found at his local arts and crafts shop but some materials have to be imported.

He said it was not easy to design the dolls because he had to figure out a way to create the costume in Barbie proportions without compromising on the essential details of the intricate outfits.

“Sarawakians and Sabahans take enormous pride in our heritage, especially the costumes. I wanted the Barbie costume to be as identical to the real one as possible.

“I believe, with this emphasis, I can share the uniqueness of each outfit and educate more people around the world about the beauty of our culture as well.”

Wesley has already designed 22 dolls, all decked out in beautiful outfits from Sabah and Sarawak.

(L) Ken dressed up in a standard Iban outfit. (R): Barbie in a beautiful Orang Ulu dress. (Wesley pic)

Wesley’s unique Kumang doll was not his first attempt at customising Barbie costumes. He began this hobby in 2017, when he designed a flight attendant doll in a Malaysia Airlines kebaya.

His best friend had resigned from the airline and he wanted to make something to remember her forever.

The response to his customised dolls has been amazing. “Never did I imagine I would be receiving so much support and encouragement from everyone around me.

“So many Malaysians have sent me positive messages because they are so proud to see the dolls dressed in our traditional outfits.”

Among the 22 dolls, the original Kumang doll is the favourite among Malaysians.

Wesley believes she has attracted so much attention because of the intricate details of her costume, making it almost lifelike.

A whole new world of opportunity has opened up for this flight attendant and doll designer. He has been receiving a lot of requests to produce more ethnic costumes.

“Sabah and Sarawak has a rich cultural heritage and every ethnicity has their own uniqueness.

“I would love to design more doll costumes that are probably not familiar to most Malaysians. I believe that this can not only help preserve our amazing culture, but also educate the new generation about our heritage,” Wesley said.

Check out Wesley’s creations on Instagram.