Bringing old dances to new audiences
THE performance is ritualistic. Dancers jab the “anak dabus,” a small mace-like baton with a pointy end and bells on its top, at their arms. Then the khalifah, or leader of the dance troupe, will enter the scene and tend to the wounds, healing them.
That is the Tarian Dabus, which has been in existence for about 300 years and is one of the most interesting cultural dances in Perak.
Initially meant as an art of self-defence, it is considered a “warrior’s dance” created by Muslims in the 18th century.
National Department For Culture and Arts Perak director Jasmi Rasit said that what made the dance unique was the usage of a pair of anak dabus.
“This dance was usually performed at gatherings in the old days,” he explained.
He said the dance would start with music and chanting, accompanied by the beat of the rebana drums and nasyid songs.
He called it an artform that combined music, singing, dance and courage.
He said the Bagan Datuk Dabus version had three styles — Hayun Tajak, Helang Sewah and Susun Sireh.
“The Helang Sewah and Hayun Tajak dance are performed by male dancers while the Susun Sireh is performed by the women,” he elaborated.
He said there were several taboos to be observed during the performance.
“The stage needs to be cleaned and the performers need to be blessed and purified.
“All those involved are prohibited from swearing or speaking obscenities or threats,” hesaid.
“The anak dabus also needs to be carefully looked after.
“It cannot be stepped over and must never be stuck to the ground,” he said.
Jasmi said that in the original dance, other sharp weapons were also used aside from the anak dabus.
“Other tools used in the performance included keris, axe, dagger and ropes.
“But without the anak dabus, the dance will lose its identity,” he reasoned.
Hesaidthe dabus troupe usually comprised about 22 members, including musicians and dancers, apart from the khalifah.
“The khalifah, who is responsible for ensuring the safety of the performers, will perform a ritual to bless the stage, performers, musicians and the anak dabus prior to any performance.”
He said that although Tarian Dabus was not currently considered a popular dance, traditional dancers continued to include it in their repertoire.
“It’s still a dance that interests art lovers,” he said, adding that the dance would be performed at official funcengagement, tions, family day, weddings and even at priz -giving ceremonies in schools.
Kumpulan Dabus Tanjung
Bidara is one troupe that still prac- tises this age-old dance.
Its khalifah, Mohd Nasaruddin Sani said there were 15 members in his troupe, performing a variety of cultural dances.
“I’ve been studying Tarian Dabus since I was 12,” said Mohd Nasaruddin, who is in his 60s.
“I am the fifth generation of my lineage to continue performing. “I took over from my father, who was the khalifah before me,” he said.
He added that the troupe was still actively performing traditional dances throughout the peninsula.
Another cultural dance from Perak is the Lotah or the Belotah Dance, a ritualistic dance performed to worship the rice spirit.
The dance is somesimilar what to the orang asli’s Sewang Dance.
Said to have started in the 19th century, the dance tells the tale of a family whose youngest daughter became a rice spirit after her father cleared away a patch of forest to grow rice.
The family attempted to get the daughter back by performing a ritual, including building a platform for dehusking rice and singing a “lotah” (from the word belotah which refers to gotong-royong) song.
The daughter’s voice could be heard briefly before dis pearing as a rice spirit. The dance was later to symbolise the harvesting of rice songs were sung for the rice spirit.
The items used in this dance include a platform, rice, mats and nylon nets. There are no specific costumes for this performance.
For official shows, performers wear the traditional baju Melayu and baju kurung. This dance is kept alive till today and can be viewed at the Pasir Salak Historical Complex in Kampung Gajah (a museum about 70km south of Ipoh), Perak. d
Dabus dancers holding the Anak Dabus used during performances.