Perak’s treasure trove of Malay cultural heritage is mainly due to its historical past being the centre of commerce. When tin, and later rubber, became a major source of revenue, its fate was sealed. From thence the migration of people from the Malay Archipelago, South China and India began in earnest, culminating in the British Intervention of the Malay states following the Pangkor Treaty of 1874.
The free mixing of the races did not, however, result in a cultural infusion, as one would have expected. Religion could be the cause of this dichotomy with the various races keeping their traditions and cultures intact. Traditional and cultural values were issues best kept within the communities and the races. Despite the need to protect and to safeguard one’s identity it did not, however, inhibit the desire to show off.
The Malays of Perak are proud keepers of their traditional dances, games, tools and weapons, but to an extent. The erosion of values comes with time. Today our connection to the past is only through performances staged by state-owned cultural troupes. The Jabatan Kebudayaan dan Kesenian Perak (Perak Department of Arts and Culture) is one such entity.
The emphasis in this instalment of Perak Tourism News is on culture peculiar to Perak. Five items of interest will be on display for all readers.
As the name suggests, Tarian Dabus could have its origins in Saudi Arabia during the time of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). Dancers will go into a trance just like when performing the kuda kepang. It was possible that dabus was used to train soldiers when battling the enemies of Islam. The dance is a combination of singing, dancing and the use of sharp instruments known as anak dabus. When performing the dabus, dancers would stab themselves with the anak dabus and have stones hurled at them. Surprisingly, none were injured. You have to see to believe.
This is a traditional court dance whose movements are accompanied by melodious music with equally matching lyrics. The song “Cempaka Sari”, incidentally, was an original composition by the late Sultan Idris Shah II of Perak. The dance attempts to highlight the astuteness of the Perak sultanate of yore. The colour of the dancers’ attires and the heavily hand-crafted fans that the female dancers carry, epitomise the grace, the beauty and gaiety of the dance, per se.
According to Malay mythology, a fisherman dreamed that his daughter was abducted by spirits when she went fishing in a river one day. The following day, the fortunate man was blessed with good fortunes. A shaman advised him to return the favour by performing a ceremony to please the jungle spirits. The dance focuses on a girl encased in a fish trap (bubu). The male dancers carry fish traps (bubu) adorned in female attires.
This dance is performed after a padi harvest. The movements of the dancers’ legs depict the harvesting of padi where the grains are being separated from the stalks, as farmer would do in the padi fields. The female dancers carry a rattan pan called nyiru to demonstrate panning actions to separate rice grains from husks. The dance is definitely ritualistic in nature done to appease the spirits for a bountiful harvest.