Bring­ing old dances to new au­di­ences

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Malaysia Day - By IVAN LOH ivan­loh@th­es­

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.

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