Tap on folklore to help build the nation

AFTER telling stories to young Malaysians, I always walk away with the feeling that I have created another group of “hikayat warriors” to help me ensure that our historical sagas (hikayat) and folklore will be remembered and loved.

As Malaysia’s best-known bilingual poet Professor Emeritus Muhammad Haji Salleh said: “The concept of an ideal, equal, caring and sustainable society lies in its folklore and here are embedded the central thoughts, psyche, and wisdom of the people. Therefore, it is crucial that we preserve them.”

During my storytelling sessions, I see the faces of my young audience lighting up especially when they hear tales from their home states. They can clearly identify with the stories. This creates a sense of belonging and builds self-confidence. That is why we need to commit to adding the A (for Art) to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in our education policy. The STEAM approach would be ideal, as everywhere we look, the battle cry is for more well-rounded “life champions”. Stories and storytelling can contribute greatly to this endeavour.

Hikayat and other historical literature give our younger generation an insight into not just well-written works but also history, geography, creative thinking and, sometimes, even science.

More than 30 years before man landed on the moon, Hergé had already illustrated in The Adventures of Tintin how the eponymous hero and his friend Captain Haddock flew to the moon in a rocket.

In Sejarah Melayu, it is related that a great king, Raja Chulan, delved into the depths of the sea in a pesawat peti kaca to arrive in Dika, an underwater kingdom.

The Malay sagas, legends and folklore are among the most popular literature preserved in our Malay manuscripts and through oral storytelling. These stories, and those from our highly-acclaimed traditional dance theatres Mak Yong and Mek Mulung, hold the key to understanding and re-visualising our ancient world.

But beyond that, they contain a wealth of Malay knowledge on topics ranging from governance, protocol, diplomacy, architecture, shipbuilding, weaponry and textiles to medicinal practices, literature, entertainment, music, dance, wisdom and creative thinking.

They reflect an advanced culture of rich literature, heritage and a cosmopolitan life practised centuries ago, and encapsulate the psyche and intrinsic values of the Malays as a people.

More often than not, historical literature allows students to experience various cultures, time periods and our predecessors’ way of life. This in turn helps to develop critical thinking skills. As such, our students would place immense value on their national culture and would be more likely to appreciate their roots in the current milieu.

Imagine how wonderful our tourist attractions would be if there is a story tied to every destination, craft and product.

Today, it is important to share with the younger generation how these old forms of knowledge remain relevant and are in fact vital in forging our future aspirations in the modern world. They are key to our moving forward from strength to strength, and building our nation one generation at a time.


Petaling Jaya

(The writer is a member of Persatuan Sastera Lisan Malaysia, author and storyteller.)

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