Free East-West Center Concert

Sunday, April 10, 2016
4:00 – 5:30 p.m.

EWC Imin Center-Jefferson Hall
1777 East-West Rd.

Free Admission

Reserve seats at or call (808) 944-7177.

Donations are welcome and will be accepted at the event.


Seven top faculty and instructors from Kuala Lumpur’s Centre for Traditional Arts (PuTRA) at the National Academy of Arts, Culture, and Heritage (ASWARA) will perform the treasured Malay theatre forms of mak yong (dance drama) and wayang kelantan (shadow puppetry), accompanied by live music. Both forms originated in the culturally rich state of Kelantan. In 2005, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared mak yong a masterpiece of intangible cultural heritage.

This performance is presented in connection with the current EWC Gallery exhibition Malay Theatre: Intangible Cultural Heritage and Islam. Seating is general admission – first come, first served. Doors open 30 minutes before show time. UH campus parking is free on Sundays.

EWC Arts Programs are supported by the Hawai’i Pacific Rim Society, Richard H. Cox, Jean E. Rolles, Jackie Chan Foundation USA, EWC Arts ‘Ohana members, and other generous donors.

About Mak Yong

This ancient theatre form created by Malaysia’s Malay communities combines acting, vocal and instrumental music, gestures and elaborate costumes.  Specific to the villages of Kelantan in northwest Malaysia, where the tradition originated, Mak Yong is performed mainly as entertainment or for ritual purposes related to healing practices. Experts believe that Mak Yong appeared well before the Islamization of the country. It was performed as a royal theatre under the direct patronage of the Kelantan Sultanate until the 1920s. Henceforth the tradition was perpetuated in its original rural context without forsaking the numerous refinements acquired at the court, such as sophisticated costume design.

A typical Mak Yong performance opens with an offering followed by dances, acting and music as well as improvised monologues and dialogues. A single story can be presented over several consecutive nights in a series of three-hour performances. In the traditional village setting, the performances are held on a temporary open-walled stage constructed of wood and palm leaves. The audience sits on three sides of the stage, the fourth side being reserved for the orchestra consisting of a three-stringed spiked fiddle (rebab), a pair of double-headed barrel drums (gendang) and hanging knobbed gongs (tetawak). Most roles are performed by women and the stories are based on ancient Malay folk tales peopled with royal characters, divinities and clowns.

Mak Yong is also associated with rituals in which shamans attempt to heal through song, trance-dance and spirit possession. Mak Yong has been preserved until the present day thanks largely to oral transmission, which requires long years of training. In today’s society, few young people are willing to commit to such rigorous apprenticeships. As a result this important tradition is undergoing steady decline, as attested by reduced dramatic and musical repertories and a shortage of seasoned performers.

[Text from UNESCO Third Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity:]

About Wayang Kulit Kelantan

Shadow theatre traditions are practiced throughout Southeast Asia. Wayang Kelantan is said to have been brought to Malaysia from Java nine dalang (puppeteer) generations ago by a Thai Chinese woman, Mak Erak. The opening mantra in wayang kelantan originally used Thai incantations and, as late as the 1970s, the Malaysian genre was referred to as wayang siam (Siamese shadow puppetry).

Malaysian cultural heritage officials began calling it wayang kelantan in the 1980s. Wayang kelantan is primarily a rural entertainment of commoners that traditionally had ritual implications. Differing from the palace traditions of mainland Southeast Asia (Thailand and Cambodia) that use large puppets moved by multiple manipulator-dancers, the small puppet genres, seen in both Indonesia and mainland Southeast Asia including Malaysia, use modest-

sized puppets and are largely performed by a single manipulator (dalang). It seems likely that wayang kelantan is part of a united tradition of Muslim-Malay-influenced puppetry that evolved through trade and cultural influences in coastal areas of Southeast Asia.

At the beginning of each traditional performance of wayang kelantan is the apprentice puppeteer episode. The episode features two “dewa” (minor gods/spirits) that fight one another and are admonished by the Hermit. The episode represents the eternal and complementary struggle of positive and negative forces in the universe, but raises controversy in contemporary Islamic fundamentalist circles. The Pohon Beringan is a Malay version of the “tree of life” image found throughout Indonesia and Malaysia. It represents the unified cosmos and begins, ends, and signals transitions in the play.

Southeast Asian puppetry features the concept of a “god-clown,” and often presents traditional narratives that may stem from Hindu epics, such as the Ramayana or in Indonesia the Mahabharata. In Malaysia today, emphasis is more on clowning, music and invented stories rather than the Hindu Ramayana. While these performances retain many aspects of traditional practice, they also continue to undergo modifications as a result of a developing religious, political, and societal context.