Time for ‘boria’ to be recognised as a Unesco intangible cultural heritage

A ‘boria’ party at Hutton Lane in 1920. — Picture courtesy of the Penang State Museum
A ‘boria’ party at Hutton Lane in 1920. — Picture courtesy of the Penang State Museum

GEORGE TOWN, Jan 10 — The Jawi Peranakan Heritage Society will submit a proposal to the National Heritage Department to recognise boria as an intangible cultural heritage.

Society president Datuk Wazir Jahan Karim said they are preparing the documentation and dossier on boria.

“We will submit our proposal to the National Heritage Department next month,” she said in an interview recently.

She said boria has long been a part of Penang’s intangible heritage so it should be accorded recognition as a Unesco intangible cultural heritage.

The economic anthropologist said the dossier on boria will include a book she had written on this unique art form that combines skits, dance, music and songs.

This ancient art form, which evolved from being a passion play into parody theatre, survived a blanket ban by the British back in the 1930s.

Wazir said boria was banned throughout the Straits Settlement — except Penang — at that time.

“It was banned in Singapore and Malacca for its anti-colonial stance but it survived and continued to be performed in Penang,” she said.

A ‘boria’ theatre troupe in 1920. — Picture courtesy of Yusoff Azmi Merican
A ‘boria’ theatre troupe in 1920. — Picture courtesy of Yusoff Azmi Merican

She said the rich cultural history of the boria is unique in Penang and should be recognised as a contribution to the state’s intangible cultural heritage.

She added that since Mak Yong has been accorded Unesco recognition as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, boria too should be given the same recognition.

Boria needs to be conserved as an intangible Jawi Peranakan urban Malay heritage which is unique to Penang’s cosmopolitan entrepot history,” she said.

She said the art form which combines truth with fiction deserves to be a genre on its own as a Malay parody theatre.

In her book, Wazir wrote that boria was part of a broader political culture that was presented as the day-to-day experiences of the common person.

She said a discourse on the dominant and the oppressed was presented through boria in a humorous manner.

“Boria has a rich history, it’s more than just mere fun parody theatre, which was why I decided to write a book on it,” she said.

The book, titled simply Boria: From Passion Play to Malay-Jawi Peranakan Parody, is sponsored by Yayasan Hasanah and will be officially launched on January 19.

It will be available for sale at major bookstores.