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  • Mak Yong: World Heritage Theatre by Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof
  • Patricia Matusky
MAK YONG: WORLD HERITAGE THEATRE. By Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof. Penang, Malaysia: Areca Books Asia Sdn. Bhd., 2019. 9 10 in., 160 pp. Hardcover, US $22.76 (MYR95.00), ISBN: 9789675719356.

Richly illustrated with some 130 drawings and photographs of actors, actresses, costuming, staging, and musical instruments, this exceptional book features the traditional Malay dance theatre known as mak yong (also, makyung) as performed in the State of Kelantan throughout the twentieth century (and still today in some limited contexts). The book discusses and illustrates this theatrical genre within a prelude followed by eleven chapters, an appendix comprising synopses of four selected stories from the mak yong dramatic repertory, a select bibliography, and a glossary of terminology.

This story of mak yong may be seen from several different perspectives; the author details his introduction to and involvement with the mak yong theatre and focuses on the mak yong as it was known and performed throughout the twentieth century (and most likely earlier). Another perspective of mak yong is as a regional folk theatrical genre given the status of "world heritage" through the UNESCO Proclamation of the "Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity," issued in 2005.

The prelude, entitled "Journey into the Heart of Mak Yong," is a reflexive narrative by the author focusing on his introduction to and immersion in the theatrical art of mak yong. The "journey" began in 1969 while watching a performance at the International Conference and Festival on Traditional Drama and Music of Southeast Asia. Ghulam-Sarwar's subsequent involvement with mak yong included his establishment of the first performing arts program (1970) at what [End Page 306] became the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, his contact (1971) with the newly established Kumpulan Seri Temenggung (The Mak Yong Temenggung Troupe) led by the famous performer the late Khatijah Awang, his collaboration with William P. Malm in a mak yong student production (1973) and later (1974–1975) acquisition of audio tracks of Malm's 1968–1969 field video recordings of the twelve main mak yong plays, his field research in Kelantan, and his doctoral dissertation (1976) in the theatre program at the University of Hawai'i. These events document the beginning of dedicated research and documentation of this theatre form that would remain with this scholar throughout his lifetime.

The intricacy of mak yong and the deep ritual and spiritual significance of this theatre as entertainment and as an agent of healing is reflected in this book. The author notes that the "climax" of his research was the recording and study of the ritual performance known as berjamu—sembah guru ("feasting—paying homage to one's teacher") by the late Khatijah Awang in the 1970s. This three-night performance, with details of its spiritual aspects, performance structures, and other elements became embedded in the understanding of mak yong for this author, and are noted in detail in chapter 7.

Chapter 1 offers a definition of mak yong and ventures into its history and origins, noting this theatre form most likely "predates the fourteenth century arrival of Islam on the Malay Peninsula" (p. 22), with roots in Southern Thailand and the northeast Malay Peninsula, especially the state of Kelantan. The subsequent early chapters relate the main elements of performance, background concepts, and conventions of staging this folk theatrical. The brief discussion on dramatic repertoire informs the twelve basic mak yong tales, but also notes that many other stories are related to other regional theatre forms such as the wayang kulit and Thai Menora dance drama. The subsequent chapter explains the components of the mak yong troupe, the musicians, and the principal role-types. The dance and hand movements are briefly described along with the stage structure, stage properties, costumes, and make-up. The musical repertory is noted along with the basic music ensemble of rebab bowed lute, two gendang double-headed drums, and a pair of tetawak large hanging knobbed gongs. All of these topics are well illustrated with drawings and photographs, most taken by the author during his field research in the 1970s. Conceptual background important to the form is noted; the author...


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pp. 306-309
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