After call for Mak Yong’s return, Kelantan says reviewing its Shariah-compliance

Rohana Abdul Kadir in the lead role of Pak Yong, during the opening sequence of Menghadap Rebab. — Picture by Wong Horngyih, courtesy of Pusaka
Rohana Abdul Kadir in the lead role of Pak Yong, during the opening sequence of Menghadap Rebab. — Picture by Wong Horngyih, courtesy of Pusaka

KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 — A Kelantan state executive councillor (exco) said today that a special committee has been formed to study whether the traditional dance theatre called Mak Yong is Shariah-compliant, following a call to lift a ban against it.

State Culture, Tourism and Heritage Committee chairman Datuk Md Anizam Abd Rahman was quoted saying that Mak Yong show organisers will have to first be reviewed whether their shows follow Kelantan’s regulations.

“From there, we [the state government] will decide whether to allow the organiser to proceed with their plans.

“At the moment, no Mak Yong show is allowed in the state but the committee members are in the final stages of assessing the matter,” he told New Straits Times after the state exco meeting in Kota Baru, Kelantan.

Yesterday, a United Nations (UN) special rapporteur had urged the Kelantan state government to lift the ban on Mak Yong, shadow puppet theatre wayang kulit, and other traditional Malay art forms.

Karima Bennoune, who is UN’s special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, said it will be a shame if these arts forms were left to die, for with its death, Malaysians especially the Kelantanese would lose a part of their culture.

She had made the same call back in 2017.

Mak Yong was previously proclaimed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 2005, as a last-ditch bid to save it.

Mak Yong had been performed in the region for nearly a millennium, and historians believe it was brought to Kelantan around 200 years ago.

A performance entails dancing, acting, and singing ― telling stories dating back to the Srivijaya Empire in the 7th century, and the times of the legendary Kelantan queen Che Siti Wan Kembang who was believed to have ruled between the 14th and 16th century.

The ban was officially codified in 1998 with the Entertainment and Places of Entertainment Control Enactment passed by the state assembly that year, which also prohibits other local traditional performances such as Menora, Wayang Kulit, and Main Puteri which were deemed “un-Islamic.”.

Mak Yong had traditionally been performed by troupes specific to each localities, but is now mostly performed in a more puritan version by state-sanctioned arts groups.

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