Gamelan, Dikir Barat & Wayang Kulit Essay
The word ‘gamelan’ originated from the Javanese word ‘gamel’ which means to hit, or to beat. Gamelan was originally from Indonesia, and came to Tanah Melayu, specifically the town of Pekan, Pahang, from Riau-Lingga around the year 1811. It was brought as entertainment during the royal wedding of Tengku Hussain, son of Sultan Abdul Rahman from Lunnga, to Wan Esah, the sister of Bendahara Ali of Pahang. This was during the time of Sultan Ahmad Muadzam Shah’s ruling. Back then, the gamelan was played mainly as entertainment for the royal families only.
The gamelan next came to Terengganu between the years 1914 and 1914 through the inter-marriage of Pahang princess Tengku Ampuan Mariam to Sultan Sulaiman Badrul Alam Syah of Terengganu. Together, they brought the gamelan to its glory days. According to Tengku Mariam, there were originally up to 77 gamelan dances and songs, but today only around 30 of them still exist, and only around 12 of them are regularly performed. A large amount of the original gamelans songs were lost when the original players died, and World War II came.
More than 20 years later, in 1966, a man named Tan Sri Haji Mubin Sheppard, meaning to preserve Malay architecture, discovered the long abandoned gamelan instruments locked away in Istana Kolam in Terengganu. The discovery led to the rebirth of the Malay gamelan. The former musicians were reunited, and new dancers were recruited and guided by Mak Nang, a former court singer and dancer. For the first time, the gamelan was performed for public viewing when it was brought to Universti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur.
Gamelan is not just one instrument, rather it is an ensemble of several instruments. Gamelan uses tuned percussion instruments similar to xylophones and gongs. The ensemble typically include two steel xylophones called a saron: saron barong, which plays the main melody, and the saron pekin, which is smaller and higher-pitched, another steel xylophone called a gender, a set of gongs called bonang, another set of gong called kempul and gong agong, and gendang, a drum-like percussion instrument.
Among the 30 or more gamelan dances and songs that still exist today are Timang Burung, Lambang Sari, Kunang-kunang mabuk, Ayak-ayak, Galuk Merajuk, Topeng, Ketam Renjung, and many more.
There is no written history of the origins of dikir barat. Most people are divided in belief on the origins of dikir barat. Some say that dikir barat comes from the Malay regions of Thailand. Others argue that it came from Kelantan, which borders Thailand. From Kelantan, Thailand is to the west, or ‘barat’, hence its name. In Thailand, a form of dikir barat is played, known as dikir karut, referring to the main singer in the performance, called the tukang karut. In Thailand, the term ‘zikir’ is pronounced ‘dikir’. Zikir is a form of chanting and singing used by followers of Islam, and it is possible that dikir barat was inspired from this.
Dikir Barat is a folks play, performed for the entertainment of villagers after the paddy season. Originally, the performance told of things such as daily life, emphasizing comical elements. Back then, the group was formed mostly by men, and played after the Isyak prayers, sometimes lasting till past midnight. The performance of dikir barat involves a multitude of different aspects, including singing, dance, poetry and rhyme, and choir. There is no specific number of people making up a dikir barat group, although it typically consists of ten to fifteen members, sometimes even reaching up to thirty members in one group.
A dikir barat performance is divided into two parts, the first led by the tok juara. This first segment is usually more musically complex than the next, and involves the awok-awok, sitting cross-legged on the floor, singing in unison with the tok juara. The next part of the performance is led by the lead singer, the tukang karut, who makes up poems. This part involves the call and response style of singing, where the tukang karut sings his poems, and the awok-awok reply. Often, the poems sung by the tukang karut are original or improvised.
There is usually no musical instruments used to accompany a dikir barat performance, the group instead using rythmic clapping and body movements to liven the play. However, some groups may choose to use instruments such as rebana ubi, gong, gendang ibu and cerana during their performance. Originally, dikir barat competitions were limited to two neighboring villages, but today its popularity has spread nationawide. Today, dikir barat touches not only on daily life, but also issues such as politics, economic development, social issues, education, and many more.
Wayang Kulit is a traditional form of theatre that uses puppets, and the concept of light and shadow. In Javanese, the word ‘wayang’ means shadow. The origins of wayang kulit is debatable, though it seems to have heavy Javanese and Indian influences. Wayang kulit existed in Laos and Thailand from more than 300 years ago. According to history, around 250 years ago, it was performed for Kelantan royalty, where it first took root in Malaysia.
There are four varieties of wayang kulit found in Southeast Asia: wayang kulit Jawa, or wayang kulit purwo, performed in Javanese, with Malay in the local slang, by Javanese communities in Selangor and Johor; wayang kulit Siam, or wayang kulit Kelantan, performed in the Kelantanese slang; wayang kulit gedek, performed in Thai, with Malay in the local slang, by Thai communities in Kedah and Perlis; and wayang kulit Melayu, performed in Malay by the Javanese communities in Terengganu. Originally, all four of these forms had influences from Java and Patani, but were eventually altered and customized according to the local people. Today, the most popular of wayang kulit is the wayang kulit Kelantan.
Wayang kulit uses 2-dimensional puppets carved from cow or buffalo hide into stylized human shapes, and painted by hand. The puppets have jointed arms and are controlled by a single person, known as the Tok Dalang. The wayang kulit Kelantan traditionally depicts the story of Ramayana, which features the characters Maharaja Wana, Sri Rama, Siti Dewa, the Laksamana, and the court jesters called Pak Dogol and Wak Long. The performance is accompanied by music from instruments such as the serunai, drums, and various gongs, sometimes also the gamelan.
The wayang kulit performances were usually done for entertainment reasons. Traditionally, it was performed during religious festivals and occasions such as weddings and circumcisions. Wayang kulit was also used to pass on moral values and folk tales to its viewers.