ParaBelle Studios: Preserving local heritage and culture through arts and storytelling

Homegrown business ParaBelle Studios aims to bridge generations and celebrate heritage through its contemporary collections of stories and illustrations.

Founded in 2020 by Tina Afiqah and Dayah Azhar, ParaBelle Studios was established by bringing together local wordsmiths and illustrators with a core objective to promote the rich tapestry of stories and heritage that are passed down through generations.

The youthpreneurs believe in the power of storytelling and will work together to provide a platform to amplify and empower local voices to be heard.

According to the founders, they first debuted ParaBelle Studios as an event company.

“Initially, we were a company that organized events where we transformed empty rooms into themed ones based on Disney, Harry Potter, Narnia and so on,” Tina shared.

“However, one day we received an email from a corporate company saying we shouldn’t be using their intellectual property so lightly, thus I decided why not we just focus on stories close to home?” she added.

Armed with a background in creative and design, Tina and Dayah wanted to do more than just planning events, they wanted to provide a platform for artists and writers to showcase and promote their stories and illustrations.

As years progressed, today, Parabelle Studios provides affordable and flexible writing, producing and publishing services for the general public.

“We want to provide everyone with the representation they probably never had before, and to offer a voice and a platform that would allow different people the opportunity to share their stories,” Tina shared.

According to the founders, the name “ParaBelle” comes from the wordplay on the word ‘Parable’ which means short stories with an emotive or moral significance.

“I learned ‘Para’ also meant a lot of things in different cultures, one involved things out of the norm, like Paranormal, another involved how it has more than one side and ‘Belle’ means beautiful,” she explained.

“The combination of words inspired our goal of wanting to write stories, no matter how strange or different they may be, they are beautiful in their ways,” she added.

For Tina, ParaBelle Studios is a personal venture. During her journey, she discovered her strong passion for folktales and storytelling was mostly inspired by her late grandfather and her roots and culture as descended from the Murut tribe.

“I think it was also because my grandfather was a vivid storyteller who told me many folklore and memories of his childhood. I felt he could have touched many people with his stories but maybe because at the time there weren’t many opportunities that offer these kinds of services, especially with his budget, his dreams of sharing stories were never met,” she shared

“Before he passed away, I made sure to write as many stories as I could and had them retold through modern retellings,” she added.

At the same time, the youthpreneurs also wanted to give a platform for the voices of the people.

“It was only upon meeting other locals that I realised there were so many others who had stories to share but nowhere to share their stories too, There were also artists who wanted to do more projects but didn’t know where to go,” Tina highlighted.

“My company wanted to be the bridge that would connect potential storytellers to local illustrators so that they could produce beautiful books together,” she added.

The company also works closely towards trying to preserve Bruneian traditional history and culture, particularly through their modern retelling of Bruneian folklore.

“Many of our members grew up deriving from traditional Bruneian tribes such as Murut, Dusun and Iban, whilst sharing the main concerns that many of the stories which we grew up with are not being passed down or appreciated as much by future generations,” she shared.

Image: ParaBelle Studios

Since then, the homegrown business has published over 10 wonderfully illustrated children’s books, novels, and short story and poetry collections.

Their first published work dubbed ‘The Bubble Princess & The Stone Heart’ is a fantasy adventure novel written by Tina, a re-adaptation loosely based on two Bruneian folklores, “Lela Mencanai” and “Jong Batu”.

Putting Bruneian voices at the heart of the story, another highlighted published work includes ‘The Bubbly Thoughts for the Stone-Hearted’, a collection of “poems, puns and peribahasa” featuring local poets and illustrators Zati Rahman, Adibah Kadir, Danish Fikri, Tara, Jordine Maxine, Nazurah Ajmy, Mu’ az and many more

The thoughtfully curated poetry book explores a diverse language and culture with an emphasis on identity and growing up in the sultanate.

Image: ParaBelle Studios

ParaBelle Studios also recently launched the Poni Parables Children book and Kanak Kitani series focusing on the diverse stories about children and their real-life issues.

However, when asked about challenging aspects of the business, she said that although she enjoys the creative and writing process, it is the social capital aspect she finds challenging.

Tina shared that for many introverts like her, networking can be a daunting and overwhelming task.

“I have social anxiety and this is often a struggle especially with running a company because networking is extremely important. Thus when I attend events, mixers, or networking events. I still struggle to connect to people and to build meaningful connections that would help my company expand further,” she expanded.

The young entrepreneurs shared that every business and creative journey presents its ups and downs; something that they are currently still learning especially when it comes to creative vision.

“I think every artist always has their own identity thus working in the creative industry can often be a challenge when you are open to collaborations but you need to find the middle ground that would appeal to different creative styles and preferences,” she said.

The founders of ParaBelle Studio, all believe the creative scene in the Sultanate is ever-changing thanks to a new generation of storytellers, who are paving the way forward.

As for plans, Tina and Dayah do not dream small. Looking forward, the founders of the organisation have big plans for their up-and-coming project including writing more novels based on Bruneian folklore.


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