Mek Mulung, a Malay traditional performance involving acting, dialogue, singing and dancing, has been declared by Unesco as part of humanity's intangible cultural heritage.
Originating from the village of Wang Tepus, Jitra in Kedah, the traditional theatre (unique to the Malaysian northern state) is performed by a group of 15 to 20 people, accompanied by a music ensemble consisting of traditional percussion and wind instruments such as drums, clappers and a gong.
Mek Mulung has been performed from generation to generation for more than 400 years in Kedah.
The 18th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, convening in Kasane, Botswana since Monday, approved Mek Mulung's inscription on Wednesday.
Mek Mulung, which was also listed as Kedah Performing Arts Heritage (Seni Warisan Kedah) in 2014, follows a set structure and is performed in an open (kampung) setting, with the spectators surrounding the performers. The main characters in a Mek Mulung performance are the king and princess, both of whom wear traditional dress, as well as the shaman, maids and antagonists.
It features several main stories and one of the well-known ones is Puteri Cahaya Bulan.
"Originally, the actors were all men, some of whom wore women’s clothes for the female roles; nowadays Mek Mulung is practised by men and women. Initially performed as a celebration and expression of gratitude following a good harvest, Mek Mulung begins with a communal feast on the day before the performance for the artists and their neighbours, friends and guests," reads a Unesco description of Mek Mulung.
Traditionally, the knowledge and skills related to Mek Mulung are passed down orally by practitioners to their children.
Today, the practice is also transmitted in schools and universities, and through seminars, workshops, forums and cultural festivals and festivities. The celebration is viewed by practising communities as a means of promoting lively social interaction and dialogue.