Singgora Roof Tiles ~ Bachok, Kelantan Malaysia

A recent posting on a Malaysian History group , jolted my memory of a visit to a family owned business back in 2008. I am so very happy to see that this traditional craft is still in existence albeit only one is left in an area that was once the main supplier of …. Singghora tiles in Malaysia.

Bachok, August 2011. Meeting with pak jusoh hussin and family at their factory nestled somewhere in the tranquil surroundings of Kampung Pengkalan Baru, Taman Syafiqah, Bachok, Kelantan. Not to worry if you can’t find the place on your GPS, just get yourself to Kampung Pengkalan Baru and ask the locals for directions. After all, there’s only one such factory left in Kelantan.

Pak Jusoh’s father started the business in 1945. His business steadily grew with demand coming from villages rebuilding their homes after the war. At the peak of production, they had 40 ovens fired to bake thousands of tiles. In 1965, Pak Jusoh took over the business from his father. As new materials started to flood the market and fewer families building traditional Malay wooden stilt houses in the 1970’s, many of the other tile producers closed their businesses and moved on. Pak Jusoh vowed to continue the business despite bleaker economic outlook in the later decades. His passion and dedication to the traditions of the Malay culture and heritage still hold strong.

There seems to be a renewed interest on the tiles and private homeowners are sourcing for their projects, having heard and read about the advantages of using singgora tiles above moliere tiles.

From the recent video posting, it seems that Pak Jusoh’s eldest daughter, Noraini has taken overseeing and also participating in producing the singgora tile namely kneading, folding, slicing, drying, baking. With years of practice, Noraini can make up to 35 pieces of tiles per hour.

The clay is brought in from a river nearby. But not any clay will do. To ensure the tiles turn a beautiful brick colour when fired in the kiln, the clay must be sourced from a swampy salt water area. This is a finding from a research done on the chemical composition of the clay from Bachok that contributes to its colour once baked.

“ The result showed that the most highly ingredient does have in Bachok local clay is Silica and Alumina. Both of the material is represented of body of clay Singgora which become strengthen while fired into kiln. The reddish colors in Singgora body of clay appear from the material called Ferum/ion (Fe2O3) which approaches the clay body as a hold. After several experiment doing on adding Grog as an agent to make the clay more strength, the result showed that by added 2% of grog, the clay is stronger than original clay” -

The recent youtube video records that each tile costs 80sen, it seems a lot of work and back pains put into the production of the tile. If you watch the video right through, you can see the process. What you may not see is the prep work. The heap of heavy grey clay tucked under the low hanging roof of the factory clogs up and hardens over time. So what is required is some water and a lot of foot kneading to soften, mix the different layers and levels of clay and allow a more pliable material to work with. This, they get the younger members of the family to work on.

Then the craftswoman will sprinkle rice or padi husk into the mold and slaps a chunk onto the mold, proceeding to stomp the malleable clay into the mold with one foot.

The access clay will be shaved off using a wire cutter and then the freshly pressed tile is gently removed from the mold. This is done almost effortlessly and once a stack is ready, the tiles are dried for an hour in the scorching sun. The tiles are then stored and more are made until a total of 40,000 are collected in which the clay oven will then be fired up using firewood. This oven will be kept burning for 10days – day and night. A vigil is kept 24hours to ensure that the fire doesn’t die out or the temperature doesn’t exceed a certain limit for fear of cracking. Everyone takes his turn to keep the fire stoked and alive for those long,long nights. Once the firing is done, the tiles are left to acclimatize for the next 10 days before it is ready for packing and shipping. Yes, Pak Jusoh’s family also arranges packaging and transportation to your destination. Handy isn’t it? Makes one think again about using these tiles in one’s next dream project. If you’re interested in reading more about the Jusoh family and their dedication to retaining this age-old method of making roof tiles which dates back to the Cambodian and Siamese Kingdoms, go here

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