Traditional Malay Theatre

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"What do I know about that stuff?" "We have traditional performances?" "Do they still perform that kind of thing?" "Weddings are cultural? I thought it was just tradition." Wait, isn't that the same thing? These are remarks most commonly expressed by the locals of my very own generation when asked about local culture and theatre. More and more questions come into the mind of a typical local when you talk to them about Malaysian culture. Malaysia is known for its natural beauty, modern buildings, cheap replica goods, nightlife and friendly, multi-racial community. Unfortunately, many locals are either oblivious to the local theatre industry or just not bothered about their own cultural theatre. It is obvious that modernity has made a humungous difference in the daily lives of many, and has forced most cultures into non-existence. Today, traditional Malay theatre is nothing like it should be; it has been transformed into becoming a form of art. A form of which is now only commonly presented either at formal events or as added attractions at tourist hot spots. Why is this happening? Have Malaysian totally lost interest in their own classic form of entertainment? We'd like to think not.

There are many categories in Malay theatre from rituals to entertainment. Almost every country in the world have these forms of theatre but presented in their own cultural way but for some reason, the local Malaysians seem to be more interested in the culture of the world rather than their own. Have the westerners really taken over the globally with their common form of entertainment and culture? Where did traditional Malay theatre really come from? The more we think of it, the more we ask. The more we ask, the more we find out. The more we find out, the more we realize that in Malaysia, it really is not the peoples fault traditional theatre is in the running for extinction.

Theatre erupted thousands of years ago and has been modified millions of ways to keep in sync with time but yet still holds the exact same reason of performance; to state a point, to tell a story. Traditional Malay theatre tells us stories just like any other but in its own way, its own traditional way, with a touch of shamanism. This sort of thing would usually bring a lot more interest to a person. Magic? Spirits? Are you serious? Yes. But look on the bright side; it is curing people is it not? The problem is curing is not how everyone sees it, especially when it comes to some state governments.

For centuries, ancient traditions coexisted easily with Islam. Village girls learned dances like the Mak Yong, usually performed by an all-female cast. Village boys learned the Wayang Kulit, a shadow puppet theater that originated in Indonesia and Malaysia to tell epic tales. These performances were found mainly on the boarders of Thailand and in Kelantan. Adults and children would gather around the performance space to enjoy the adventurous narrative performances. Today, only a handful of performance groups practice these forms of traditional theatre. Since the early 1990's, the ruling party of Kelantan banned the Mak Yong, performed by women, often muslim themselves and also Wayang Kulit because it involves unislamic elements such as spiritual healing. For some reason, all of a sudden, this is a really bad thing.

"We need to purify our local theater from those alien elements. Mak Yong and Islam co-existed peacefully for so long only because Malay Muslims did not know any better," says Nik Aziz Nik Mat.

Alien elements? Malay Muslims didn't know any better? Wait a minute, is Nik Aziz saying that our ansetors were stupid? These so-called alienated performances are what a lot of our ancestors, maybe even his, use to enjoy, once upon a time. Once again, like I said, for centuries, ancient traditions coexisted with Islam.

Banning Mak Yong and Wayang Kulit has dramatically changed the perpectives of the local community towards these performances causing people to...
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