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Traditional Culture Activists 'Not Yet Extinct'

Last update: 03/11/2010
News Pic
Traditional culture activities are still alive. Pic: BERNAMA
By Sakini Mohd Said

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 3 (Bernama) -- These days, arts 'adultrated' with western influence' has not only created implications on the local music scene but its impacts are being intensely felt by the traditional arts such as the mak yong and bangsawan.

This had reduced the number of traditional arts activists like those in mak yong and mek mulung to dwindle drastically as many of them are not from the younger generation but those who are in their 'twilight' years.

Does this mean that the number of traditional culture activists has really reached the bottom of the barrel due to the lack of participation from the younger generation?.

NOT EXTINCT, ONLY DECLINING

Refuting this claim, Rector of the National Arts Culture and Heritage Academy (Aswara) Datuk Dr Mohamed Najib Ahmad Dawa is in the view that there are still traditional culture activists around albeit in depleting numbers.

He compares arts activists to a riverbank which is gradually being eroded and not many among the younger generation are interested in this field.

"We cannot say that traditional arts activists have gone extinct as they are still in existence, only that their numbers are dwindling and the erosion of these traditional activities does not begin only now but has started some time ago," he told Bernama in an interview held recently.

Referring to various factors that caused the erosion of traditional cultural activities, Dr Mohamed Najib said: "The culture of the present society is the main reason why there are fewer traditional arts activists around".

MALAY FRATERNITY

The phrase "Malay fraternity", is nothing foreign but has been synonimous with the nation's society. However is there a relationship between the cultural activities to that of traditional arts?

Dr Mohamed Najib said the society's life that gives preference to individualistic status had given impacts to this "Malay fraternity", a direct result is the fewer number of youngsters being involved in traditional culture and arts activities.

"In the villages, neighbours would use the word 'our' in their daily conversations like 'how are our children doing'.

"Hence the word 'our' is being used a lot in villages and in various matters that can be shared together.

"Compare this against the life in urban areas, the word 'our' is rarely used as individualism causes the diminishing of 'Malay fraternity' because the word refers to the gathering of Malays and when the Malays no longer gather among themselves, the culture and arts traditional activities would go away gradually", he said.

He said traditional cultural activities need the involvement of a big group and not only limited to mere individuals and the lack of participation of many among the younger generation has led to this 'dwindling in numbers' phenomenon.

FAST FOOD CULTURE

As the 'fast lane' time revolution steps in, people want everything to be ready in the fastest time possible including food preparation hence the term fast food. This has some what contributed to the erosion of traditional culture among the younger generation, said the Aswara Rector.

"For example, a traditional dance starts with its opening gambit and ends with its closing performance and this is being done in sequence. However in the modern day life the society wants everything fast and this resulted in many of the sequences being done away.

"The life of the Malays, be it in the dance or everyday life, all are related in these traditional activities and if we want everything fast in order to adapt to the modern living, this would utimately erodes the traditional cultural activities gradually," he said.

When this happens, it points to the lack of enthusiasm and decreasing participation from the younger generation, said Dr Mohamed Najib.

ROLE OF ASWARA

As a higher learning institution that offers training in arts, culture and heritage, Aswara is not only acclaimed locally but also internationally. The institution is always striving to 'ignite' the spirit and enthusiasm among its students.

Aswara now offers six fields of studies - dance, music, (script) writing, fiming and video, theatre and fine arts. It has made it compulsory for its students to take up traditional culture activities such as wayang kulit, mak yong, bangsawan and mek mulung.

The institution also inculcates interest in traditional culture among school students by staging performances in schools in an effort to groom more talents in this field.

Dr Mohamed Najib also said Aswara would create a platform to be known as 'Culture Hot Spot' for its students to be able to perform their talents to important individuals in the field of arts and this would open the gateway to their career in terms of employment.

"Culture hot spot' is the stage where Aswara's students can utilise what they have learnt in their lectures and present the knowledge through performances which will be viewed by film directors, hotel managers and the likes.

"Apart from exposing them to the reality in the employment world, this platform is also geared to bring them closer to those who can offer them jobs," he said.

The Rector also said Aswara would offer the animation course from January next year in a move to reglorify and rejuvenate the arts of wayang kulit via adaptation to modern technology.

"If we want to adapt our cultural and arts activities with the modern living, then we have to refer to traditions and extricate its main features before transforming them based on their contemporary way.

"To cite an example, in Aswara its students learn to perform the wayang kulit and they must master this art so that when Aswara introduces the animation course, we would be able to transfer the wayang kulit into animation form and this would be able to attract more of the younger generation," he said.

CHANGE IN ATTITUDE

An activist in mek mulung theatre and dance, Zamzuriah Zahari, said the younger generation should change their attitude by learning the traditional cultures if they wish to be known as arts activists.

He said those from this age group prefer to be 'spoonfed' in the quest for knowledge causing them to be 'half-hearted' in the attempt to bring glory back to the nation's proud heritage.

"Students now simply wait for their teachers to arrive and teach but would they be willing for they themselves to venture into villages and meet the activists of mak yong, mek mulung?" asked the dance lecturer at Aswara.

However Aswara's lecturer in core studies and also an arts activist, Juhara Ayob, has a different view.

"There are many youngsters involved in cultural and arts activities, but lack of promotions made the public to claim that there are not many among them in such activities".

Juhara, who is also an actress, said the participation of the youth in mak yung, mek mulung and other traditional arts is on the rise. and this presents a positive outlook.

"Maybe those on the outside feel the extinct effect as they rarely see performances by the youngsters in traditional performances, like what I see in Aswara. There are actually many young traditional culture activists from various races and they are really active.

"For example apart from staging performaves at the City Hall Theatre they also joined the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) and many of these young performers have start to take over the roles of traditional culture and arts activists," said Juhara who is also an activist in mak yong.

-- BERNAMA