Intangible Heritage: Makyong
Makyong is an ancient Malay theatre form estimated to be at least 800 years old, combining acting, vocal and instrumental music, gestures and elaborate costumes which is specific to the villages of Kelantan, where the tradition originated. Makyong is considered the most authentic and representative of Malay performing arts because it is mostly untouched by external sources.
Although most traditional Malay dances were influenced by India, Java and other parts of South East Asia, Makyong’s singing and musical repertoire are unique. Of the major stories performed in Makyong, most are derived from Kelantan- Pattani mythology.
These ancient Malay folk tales are peopled with royal characters, divinities and clowns. Even the few Makyong influences obtained from outside the Malayan-Thai region have now died out elsewhere such as Anak Raja Gondang, a story originally from the Jataka tales but now almost unknown in India.
Mak Yong was performed as royal theatre under the direct patronage of the Kelantan Sultanate until the 1920s. Hence, the tradition was perpetuated in a rural context without forsaking the numerous refinements acquired at court, such as sophisticated costume design.
A typical Mak Yong performance opens with an offering followed by dances, acting and music as well as improvised monologues and dialogues. A single story can be presented over several consecutive nights in a series of three-hour performances.
In the traditional village setting, the performances are held on a temporary open stage built of wood and palm leaves. The audience sits on three sides of the stage, the fourth side being reserved for the orchestra consisting of a three-stringed spiked fiddle (rebab), a pair of doubleheaded barrel drums (gendang) and hanging knobbed gongs (tetawak). Most roles are performed by women, and. Traditionally, all performers were female except for the clowns who are always male.
Mak Yong is also associated with rituals in which shamans attempt to heal through song, trance-dance and spirit possession.
Mak Yong requires long years of training and has been preserved until the present largely through oral transmission. In today’s society, few young people are willing to commit to such rigorous apprenticeships. As a result, this important tradition is undergoing steady decline, as attested by reduced dramatic and musical repertories and a shortage of seasoned performers. Today, there believed to be are less than ten veteran mak yong performers.
In 2005, UNESCO declared Makyong a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”. The award is given in recognition of the value of the non-material component of culture, as well as to encourage local communities to promote and safeguard these “Masterpieces”.
This year, we are pleased to be collaborating with the National Department for Culture and Art to present “Anak Raja Tangkai Hati”.