‘Superficial thinking’ led to Mak Yong ban, says academic


PETALING JAYA: An academician says that it is an anomaly for the government to promote cultural traditions in the country while Kelantan, where the “Mak Yong” traditional dance originated more than 200 years ago, has banned it.

Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin, an emeritus professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia’s arts faculty, said what made this scenario worse was that the dance was accorded special mention by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, during her 11-day visit to Malaysia recently.

“I think it is quite superficial thinking, where you just look at the dance form as being against Islamic teachings or not,” Ghouse told FMT.

Ghouse, who was accorded the title “Karyawan Seni Teatre Kebangsaan” in 2004, called for Malaysia to be more open towards promoting its cultural heritage.

This is especially because, he said, many people were no longer watching Mak Yong or Wayang Kulit performances.

“When you institute this kind of ban, these art forms will die of neglect because it is no longer an integral part of society.

“Kelantan should promote it as part of tourism, as part of a performance structure,” he said.

However, Ghouse acknowledged the difficulty that comes with trying to revive a dying art, with most of its practitioners having passed on and there being no second echelon to carry on traditional art forms, such as Mak Yong and Wayang Kulit.

He said once the ban was imposed and people were no longer exposed to the art form, they would lose track of it.

“You will end up developing a different kind of DNA mutation, not the traditional cultural element,” he said.

Ghouse said when looking at art forms like Mak Yong or Wayang Kulit, the opening parts of the performance was a conglomeration of animism, Hinduism and Islam.

“In Islam, you cannot ask for any aid or prayer to any being or spirit except Allah, that is fine.

“But the practice, if we don’t believe in that kind of opening ceremony, is discontinued,” he said, adding that now it is just a habitual and literary element of the performance.

Bennoune had urged the Kelantan government to lift its ban on public performances of the “Mak Yong” dance and other traditional Malay art forms.

She that these cultures with rich tradition should instead be celebrated and appreciated as they were among the oldest performing arts in the world.

She said measures should also be taken to provide better understanding and explanation of the meaning of these practices and their long history in Malaysia, to overcome prejudicial views about them.

“Kelantan has a rich artistic tradition and the restrictions of other traditional art forms like Wayang Kulit, Main Puteri and Dikir Barat must also be lifted.

Mak Yong is one of Kelantan’s oldest traditions and is recognised as a world heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).