One man's quest to save traditional storytelling 'Awang Batil' from extinction


By AGENCY

Ramli Mahmud says he was only six when he started learning to perform Awang Batil from his father Muhmud Wahib, who was the famous Awang Batil of Perlis. Photos: Bernama

As long as there’s an invitation or demand for Awang Batil, I will perform.

That is the promise made by the last of Awang Batil of Perlis, Ramli Mahmud.

"The love for this heritage is the reason I continue doing this until today.

"But, of course, I will have to stop when the people are no longer interested in listening to it,” he told Bernama when met at his house in Pokok Sena, Chuping, near here recently.

Awang Batil is a traditional form of musical storytelling in Perlis. It is performed solo by the storyteller who narrates his stories as he beats the brass bowl (batil).

Ramli, 66, fondly known as Abang Li or Pak Ramli among the locals, said he was only six when he started learning to perform Awang Batil from his father Muhmud Wahib, who was the famous Awang Batil of Perlis.

"As long as there’s an invitation or demand for Awang Batil, I will perform...but a little payment wouldn’t hurt,” he said jokingly.

'The stories narrated by Awang Batil are not merely funny stories, but rather to educate the people,' says Ramli Mahmud.'The stories narrated by Awang Batil are not merely funny stories, but rather to educate the people,' says Ramli Mahmud.

Ramli said he wouldn’t be really bothered about the payment as the more important for him was the opportunity to perform and save the art of musical storytelling from extinction.

He said he would not mind sharing his knowledge and experience with the young generation as long as they have the passion to learn because it is not a trivial matter but instead requires high commitment and sacrifices.

"The art or Awang Batil is not just memorising the stories, but also requires the storyteller to have the skill to play traditional other musical instruments, such as drums, violin and flute.

"Learning this art is not a job that takes one or two days, it takes a lifetime to really love it,” he said.

"The stories narrated by Awang Batil are not merely funny stories, but rather to educate the people. Sometimes we also narrate sad stories that can make people cry,” he said.

Ramli said being the last Awang Batil of Perlis, he really hoped that there would be somebody whom he can pass on the legacy and stories to keep it alive.

"It’s kind of lonely as I’m the one left to continue the art of Awang Batil. It would be nice and lively if there are other people interested in this art,” the father of four added. – Bernama
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