Performed mainly “to invoke the spirits of the sea” is a Southeast Asian dance form known as Ulek Mayang. This “classical” dance is said to have originated from the Malaysian state of Terengganu. Apparently, this dance style is said to have been based on popular folklore revolving around a sea princess and a fisherman’s love story. The legend is acted out in the Ulek Mayang dance, which also features scenes from the ritual. When the dance was performed in the past, it was also known to actually “awaken the spirits,” which would cause at least one audience member to become “possessed” (usually a woman). Sadly, none of this occurs today! Furthermore, this dance is accompanied by a song which explains in detail the love story involving the sea princess and the fisherman.

a. History/origin of the Ulek Mayang Dance:

Apparently, this dance style has been created using a popular folklore revolving around a sea princess and a fisherman as a template. According to this folklore, the sea princess managed to abduct the soul of the fisherman since she was madly in love. It was this abduction that led to the fisherman losing consciousness. In response, out of deep concern for his well being, a few friends of the fisherman approached a “Bomoh” (i.e. a traditional medical practitioner) to find the solution to this problem. It was while the Bomoh was trying to regain the soul of the fisherman that the sea princess and five of her siblings made an appearance, and a battle ensued between the two parties. This battle continued right until  the eldest sea princess decided to put an end to it by stating “ I know your origins, let those from the sea return to the sea, and those from the land return to the land”.  Thus the battle ended with the return of the soul of the fisherman. It was therefore to celebrate the return of the fisherman’s soul that this dance was created.

Many people are unaware of many fascinating historical details about Terengganu, and they will be surprised to learn that our history dates back thousands of years. Early human settlement fossils from the Neanderthal Age were discovered in Gua Bewah, Tasik Kenyir. That occurred between 8,000 and 20,000 years ago. Many people are also unaware that Terengganu was a very significant trading port in the 12th century when it was first mentioned as “Teng-ngan-yu” in ancient Chinese history books. Since the second century, it has been a component of the Sri Wijaya empire. It’s also interesting to note that Ptolemy, a Greek astronomer who lived during Sri Wijaya’s reign, also identified Primula and Kole, two ports on the Malay Peninsula, as being on the Terengganu coast.  

Terengganu was identified as one of the earliest recipients of Islam, even predating the Malacca Sultanate, thanks to a significant discovery known as the Batu Bersurat, or Terengganu Inscription Stone, which dates to the 14th century. Tun Zainal Abidin I laid the groundwork for the current Terengganu Sultanate in the 18th century.   

It was admirable to see how diligent the Terengganu people were in the late 19th century. The British Resident of Pahang, Hugh Clifford, traveled to Terengganu, and what he saw there truly astounded him. He noted that Terengganu was the center of many traditional industries and crafts, including the production of songket and batik, boat building, wood carving, brass, and houses built without nails. A thriving trading port was located on the Terengganu River. He was so impressed that he even referred to Terengganu as the “Birmingham of the Peninsula,” honoring the region’s industries. Terengganu was also referred to as the “cradle of Malay civilization” by cultural historians.

b. Costumes used in the Ulek Mayang Dance:

The costumes used in this dance style basically include a headdress and a flowing yellow sash.

c. Music involved in the Ulek Mayang Dance:

Before, no instruments were used. The dance was only accompanied by a song. In addition to chanting the pantun, the sharman will burn the Kemeyan. The musical instruments used in this dance style mainly include drums, gongs, violins, and accordions. In addition, the music is accompanied by a specially written song also called “Ulek Mayang” that describes the folklore related to the sea princess and the fisherman.

d. Training availability and the technique involved in the Ulek Mayang Dance:

In terms of technique, the performers make use of graceful movements to invoke the spirits of the sea. Furthermore, the performers dance to a specially written song that describes in detail the legend related to the sea princess and the fisherman. As for training centers/schools, there are none available around the world since this “classical” dance is mainly performed in the Malaysian state of Terengganu.

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