Bengkung Belly Binding History

Bengkung Belly Binding History

When I searched for bengkung belly binding in the English language, I commonly come across vague descriptions or inaccuracies where individuals or companies describe the origins of bengkung belly binding.  It usually goes along the lines of ancient Asian postpartum techniques or lost traditional practices of Southeast Asia. I couldn’t find much about belly binding history per se. While many don’t give credit or mention its origins, there are many who attempt to give a description of the origins of bengkung belly bind. Granted they are more often than not ambiguous, still, I truly appreciate those who try their best to attribute it to either the Malaysian or Indonesian tradition. 

Firstly let me mention how much I love the idea of how far bengkung belly bind has traveled far and wide across the world. The fact that it is being talked about and mentioned outside of the *Malay world makes me excited! And I wish for it to keep spreading so more women can benefit from it. And I’m sure too those women who are benefitting from this practice would appreciate learning and crediting the culture that has brought forth the bengkung belly binding to them. So allow me to set the records straight, and share with you the origins and bengkung belly binding history. 

Ancient Lost Tradition?

Contrary to many of the articles, descriptions, or blogs I have come across, although bengkung belly binding is an ancient tradition, it is definitely not lost. And it doesn’t need a revival. It is also inaccurate to say that it is a postpartum ritual that is merely practiced by the rural villagers. The practice of bengkung belly binding is as much alive today as it was generations ago. 

Bengkung belly binding is part of a comprehensive Malay postpartum care practice that is a thriving industry in the *Malay land. It is not only popular in the villages but just as popular with city dwellers. Celebrities, royalties, and elites are using the very same bengkung belly bind as any other woman in the city. 

Even if it is correct to say that bengkung belly binding is part of or originated from the Malaysian or Indonesian tradition, it is not ‘exactly’ accurate. Malaysian is technically the nationality of the people of Malaysia and Indonesia is the nationality of the people of Indonesia. Both Malaysia & Indonesia are multi-ethnic and multi-racial countries comprising of Malays, Chinese, and Indians. To be precise the practice of bengkung belly binding is the tradition of the Malay people

Who are the Malay People?

Malay people, orang Melayu, are an Austronesian ethnic group native to Southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago. Today, they can be found in modern-day Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Southern Thailand, the Philippines and Cocos Island, and Brunei. There are over 540 million Malays in the world. You can even find ethnic Malays all the way from East Timor to Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Madagascar. This is due to Malays being seafaring traders, or because they were recruited by the British and Dutch colonial army in the 19th century and ended up in those countries.

Malay Bengkung Belly Binding

Map of Malay World by J. Hondius Circa 1606

When talking about the history and origins of bengkung belly binding, the Malays here refers to the Malays of predominantly Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei; and possibly Southern Thailand. This is because these regions at one point carry the same lineage, hence has similar practices, cultures, and traditions until country borders are drawn separating them into different countries with different identities. (*For the sake of all my future posts, I decided to call this region the ‘Malay world’ so I don’t have to continually list down these 5 countries each time I speak of this region. Note that there is no official geographical term called ‘Malay world’.)

Countries in 'Malay World'

Countries in ‘Malay World’
From Left: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and Thailand

The popularity of Bengkung Belly Binding

Although it is part of the Malay tradition, it is not just practiced by the Malays in the Malay world. Bengkung belly bind has become a common postpartum practice for women in that region regardless of racial identity or heritage. There are also many non-Malay-run companies providing these services. From my experience running a postpartum care service, Mummy’s Massage in Singapore for over 10 years, I can safely say that most of my clients are non-Malays. Not only are they popular among the local Chinese and Indians, but many expats who give birth in Singapore would also take up the service as well! 

There are many different styles and variations of bengkung belly bind. In the Malay world, I would say that the different styles of bengkung have equal standing on its popularity. However, outside of the Malay world, different styles of bengkung belly bind are more popular than others. While Hong Kong, China, and other Asian countries prefer the bengkung tali, westerners such as Europe, Australia, the U.S., and Canada seem to prefer the bengkung panjang. Particularly using the bengkung ikat technique. You can read more about the different types of bengkung belly binding here.

Regardless of the styles of bengkung belly binding, the benefits of bengkung belly binding remain largely the same. And now you know bengkung belly binding originates from the traditional postpartum practices of the Malay people in Southeast Asia! As long as you are benefiting from the bengkung belly bind, regardless as a user or a practitioner, do share a little about our history, where it originates, and about Malay people. We (I speak for all Malays here) would love to have you share about our culture and traditions!

Terima Kasih!

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I hope you have learned something new about bengkung belly binding. If you have a comment or have any questions, I will be happy to personally answer any questions.

With Love & Light, 
Salwa Salim

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