Declared in 2005 by UNESCO as a “Masterpiece Of The Oral And the Intangible Heritage of Humanity” is a Southeast Asian dance form known as Mak Yong. This “traditional and theatrical” dance style is said to have originated from a state called Kelantan located in northern Malaysia. Because it has been largely untouched by outside influences, Mak Yong is regarded as the most genuine and representative of Malay perfects. Anak Raja Gondang, a tale that originated from the Buddhist Jataka tales but is now essentially unheard of in India, is one of those that were acquired from outside the Malayan-Thai region but have since disappeared elsewhere. All performers have historically been female, with the exception of clowns, who are always men. Between chapters and at the conclusion of the story, a group by the name of Jong Dongdang performs songs and dances.
Furthermore, a majority of the stories narrated through this dance have been obtained from the “Kelantan-Pattani” mythology. In addition, this dance involves paying homage to spirits known locally as “semah kumpung”. This unique theatrical dance was also banned in 1991 by the “Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party” due to its Hindu-Buddhist origins.
a. History/origin of Mak Yong:
According to the cultural history of Malaysia, this dance form was initially created as a form of folk theater which included rituals. Apparently, it was first developed in the Pattani Kingdom now a province in Thailand. A popular legend also states that this dance may also have been developed as a tribute to a rice spirit called “Mak Hiang”. However, there exists yet another folklore that suggests that this dance was created by a clown like divine being known as “Semar”. Given that it is largely untouched by outside influences, it must be at least 800 years old and almost certainly much older. There is no evidence to support the connection that some observers made between Mak Yong and the palace, particularly in Patani. All social strata used it to honor spirits, express gratitude for the harvest, or heal people of various diseases.
More than 200 years ago, Mak Yong was transported to Kelantan. It later spread to Kedah and was present there as folk theater. Mak Yong in Kelantan received some assistance beginning in the 1920s in order to improve it. Long Abdul Ghaffar, the king’s youngest son, requested Mak Yong build Kampung Temenggung, a cultural district, on the grounds of the royal palace in 1923 to show his support for the arts. Having a female lead became the norm during this time. After his passing in 1935, World War II broke out. Once more, Mak Yong was a folk custom.
In the 1970s, an effort was made to further develop Mak yong, purportedly continuing the work of Long Abdul Ghaffar. Khatijah Awang founded a group called Seri Temenggong for this reason. Major cities hosted performances, and Mak Yong also found a home in academic institutions. Furthermore, this dance is said to have been performed mainly in the royal court in Malaysia until the 1920’s, after which it became public. This dance then continued to be performed publically right until 1960’s/1970’s when the revival of Islam eventually led to it being banned from the culture.
b. Costumes used in the Mak Yong:
The costumes used in this dance form include a silk kebaya along with a gold and diamond brooch, a silk wrap tied along with a belt, and a border cloth that hangs from the shoulder. In addition, it also includes pemeles, golden hand thread, golden foot bangles, and rings.
c. Music involved in the Mak Yong:
The musical instruments mainly used in this dance style include a three stringed spiked lute, gendang (a drum), a pair of gongs, serunai i.e. a flute, and kesi i.e. small cymbals.
d. Training availability and technique involved in the Mak Yong:
In terms of technique, this dance basically involves elements belonging to acting such as improvisation in dialogues. A performance starts with an offering made in remembrance of the spirits. Acting, dancing, and improvised dialogue are then performed. Over the course of several nights, a series of three-hour performances of stories were performed. Furthermore, the lead dancer (male) is known as “Pak Yong” and dresses up like a king, while the female performer plays the role of the queen, and represents the second lead. In addition, the performers present a story for about three hours over several days. As for training centers/schools, there are none available around the world since this “traditional and theatrical” dance is mainly performed in Malaysia.