PETALING JAYA: From the majestic Sultan Abdul Samad building to the lush greenery of our national parks, Malaysians know the country is not short of places that display our national heritage.
However, not many are aware national heritage does not only refer to a physical space – it could also be a living, breathing human being.
Under the National Heritage Act 2005, the Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister can declare a living person a national heritage, or a National Heritage Living Person, or Warisan Kebangsaan Orang Hidup (Wakoh).
Since the initiative started in 2005, the title has only been granted to 27 individuals.
Cartoonist Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid, or popularly known as Lat, is on the list for his humorous and even poignant comics which depict Malaysian life.
The title has also been granted to renowned Kenyah musician Mathew Ngau Jau for his skill in playing lilting melodies on the sape.
Indian classical dancer and choreographer Datuk Ramli Ibrahim and 24 Festive Drums co-founder Tan Chai Puan were also acknowledged as Wakoh.
Eyo Hock Seng, who hails from Pasir Mas, is also recognised for his work as a non-Malay wayang kulit puppet master and storyteller.
Another living national heritage is Maznah Unyan, from the Mah Meri community, who weaves handicraft items.
Abu Bakar Jaafar is also on the list for his performance of boria, a form of Malay theatre popular in the northern states, especially in Penang.
Others include Mohd Bahroodin Ahmad (boria performer), Tan Hooi Song (Chinese drum musician), Ali Badron Sabor (penglipur lara or storyteller), Losimin Majanil (bobohizan or Kadazandusun shaman), Vatsala G. R. Kurup (Bharathanatyam and Katakali dancer), Tan Sri Ahmad Othman Merican (musician), Mek Jah Deris (mak yong dancer), Jati Ju (pua kumbu or Iban cotton cloth weaver), Intan Sulga Kk Tiring (Bajau Laut traditional dancer), Nyonya Tan Abdullah (Dondang Sayang singer – traditional Malay love ballad), Datuk Mohd Baharim Mohd Sharip (Dondang Sayang singer), Norhaiza Noordin (Malay wood carving), Kumaresan Karthigesu (sitar musician), Siri Neng Buah (various cultural arts), Romli Mahmud (Awang Batil or storyteller), Datuk Aripin Said (national folk song writer), Saad Taib (Mek Mulung or traditional Malay theatre performer), Omar Md Hashim (boria performer), Datuk Prof Dr Mohd Rosli Saludin (teromba storyteller) and Razak Senik (rodat or Malay folk dance performer).
Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi said any figure or “local genius” in the cultural art field can be nominated as Wakoh.
Calling it a “special acknowledgement”, Mohamaddin said the title was to preserve the heritage embodied in the traditional creative arts upheld by these figures.
“The idea to give recognition to these figures sparked from the realisation that there are now fewer and fewer of these cultural art practitioners.
“It would be such a loss if these figures, who possess such a high level of creative genius, who are knowledgeable and skilled in the culture and traditions of society, are not appreciated or given their due place,” he said in a statement.
The Wakoh, he added, will also become the point of reference in their respective fields and would receive financial assistance to enable them to pass down their knowledge.
The rewards given to the Wakoh for the years of hard work and effort poured into developing their art are also substantial.
Besides other gifts, each Wakoh is given RM20,000 and can also enjoy first class medical facilities at government hospitals.
To nominate someone for the Wakoh title, Mohammadin said any individual, government agency or NGO can submit a person’s name to the National Heritage Department.