The word ‘chicks’ can refer to baby chickens, but in this case, we are referring to bamboo chicks – the rolling bamboo blinds that are an essential accessory to the classic shophouse, especially in Malaysia.
Since the term is also used in India, possibly of Urdu origin, it is likely that the word chick came over with the British East India Company or with earlier Indian traders.
Chicks are used as a screen or curtain, made of thin strips of bamboo which allow air and light to enter, while keeping the interior cooler and preventing people outside from seeing in.
They are far more environmentally friendly than using air-conditioning. Extremely practical, they keep out the rain and provide shade during the heat of the day.
Small businesses in Malaysia use them as advertising billboards as well. It is encouraging that major brands such as Bata, Coca Cola and Milo advertise their products in this way.
Even so, this traditional art-form however may be on the decline so buy these future collectables now.
It’s a far-fetched idea, but the Ministry of Tourism should allocate some of their budget to provide a monthly allowance to craftsmen engaged in the manufacture of bamboo chicks (and other living heritage crafts such as kite making, silversmiths, beaded-slipper makers etc).
This will not only help to preserve the skill of chick-making, but will also indirectly encourage the younger generation to continue this work.
Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world to use chicks and the country’s towns would not look the same without them.