A Malay comedy of errors

VISITORS who turned up for one of the Malam Melayu instalments in Penang were treated to a rare performance of Mak Yong, featuring a combination of dancing, singing, acting and humour.

The staging of the endangered performing art had half the audience in stitches and the other half grinning from ear to ear.

Mak Yong is a traditional comical drama, with singing and dancing incorporated into it, originating from Pattani some 400 years ago before it heavily penetrated northern Malay-sia, particularly in Kelantan.

Last Sunday’s show was one of the cultural highlights of Malam Melayu, which is part of the George Town Festival (GTF) 2012 where different traditional performances by local and international artistes are staged every week.

With performers dressed in resplendent costumes on stage, the Mak Yong began ceremoniously with the orchestra playing music on the gendang (drum), a pair of gongs, serunai (flute), keduk drums, canang (two gongs suspended in a wooden frame) and kesi (small cymbals).

In the early act, Peran Tua was assigned to look for his acquaintance, Peran Muda, to meet with Pakyung for their assignment where they were required to assist brothers Dewa Indera and Indera Dewa to hunt in the forest.

Simultaneously, Jin Hitam Pasak Penunggul and his followers went looking for food and were frustrated at not finding any.

They stumbled upon Puteri Selindungan Daun and her maids, who were playing at Julah Bondo Phon Kekabu.

While they were playing, Jin Hitam Pasak Penunggul appeared out of nowhere, demanding Puteri Selindungan Daun to be his bride, and threatening to eat her if she did not.

She then lied that she would marry Jin Hitam Pasak Penunggul. As soon as she promised him, she sought help from her mother, who told her to hide in the trunk of Pohon Kekabu.

On the other hand, Dewa Indera and Indera Dewa continued their journey and took a sip of water from Pohon Kekabu out of thirst.

As the water tasted awful, the two searched the area and found Puteri Selindungan Daun, who had passed out. It was her tears that came from the tree.

The brothers then made an agreement that whoever was able to save the princess may take her as his bride.

Indera Dewa was able to save her but this made Dewa Indera jealous.

Out of rage, they fought each other for the princess but eventually, Indera Dewa backed out as he was just testing his brother’s love for him. On their journey home, Jin Hitam Pasak Penunggul came to claim his queen and the heated situation evolved into a duel where the djinn was subsequently defeated by Indera Dewa.

The performance was staged by the Kumpulan Makyung Sri Temeng-gung from Kuala Lumpur, directed by Fatimah Abdullah.

GTF director Joe Sidek said Mak Yong is one of the most authentic and representative Malay performing arts, and is now a dying heritage.

“Thus, it has been declared in 2005 by Unesco as the ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’,” he said.

The final Malam Melayu that will be held this Sunday at the Rumah Teh Bunga in Hutton Lane from 9pm to 11pm will feature Sufi singing performance by South African group Desert Rose, Gamelan performance by Kurnia Klasik and a gambus performance by Fauziah Gambus, Malaysia’s leading and renowned female gambus player, known throughout the country as the ‘Queen of Gambus’.

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