Nation without cultural heritage lacks identity, says Rais


PETALING JAYA: A nation without a strong cultural heritage will float without identity, says Rais Yatim, who is special adviser to the government on socio-cultural matters.

He was referring to the Kelantan government’s ban on the “Mak Yong” traditional dance which originated from the state more than 200 years ago. The ban had been imposed since the early 1990s, soon after PAS took over the Kelantan state government.

The Kelantan government at the time reportedly said it was banned because of its “Hindu-Buddhist origins, and the presence of aspects of polytheism, aspects of divination, and aspects of nature worship”.

Rais said the Kelantan government should recognise history and culture as part of civilization and should allow cultural arts, such as Mak Yong and Wayang Kulit to survive.

“What we were is part of history, just as much as Sanskrit has been a part of Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia since time immemorial.

“Mak Yong with its touch of old Malay-Patani influence should be appreciated for its soft beautiful art form,” said Rais, who had previously held various portfolios as a minister, including of foreign affairs and culture, arts and heritage.

United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, during her 11-day visit to Malaysia recently had urged the Kelantan government to lift its ban on public performances of the “Mak Yong” dance and other traditional artistic Malay art forms.

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

Rais said that culture content in many states now are diminishing fast and that there are no efforts to revamp or preserve these cultural art forms.

“The 2005 National Heritage Act is being tossed around like a punctured softball,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Aziz had reportedly said that under the National Heritage Act 2005 buildings, sites, objects or certain living persons and underwater cultural heritage will be gazetted.

Nazri said such measures were taken to safeguard their interest and to enhance their status as national heritage based on certain criteria.

“So far, a total of 497 heritage items have been listed as national heritage. Of these, 69 are building, archaeological and natural sites, 96 tangible objects and 21 living persons.