Even when one confines oneself to the performing arts, the list is still fairly impressive: Chinese opera, Chinese puppet theatre (por tay hee), bangsawan, borea, various forms of Indian dances, many kinds of music, and so on. One can, of course, see them in terms of various communities, although that would not always be the most desirable way: one should, for many a good reason, move away from such categorization, such thinking in boxes. When it comes, especially, to the single most important item of
The history of bangsawan, sketchy and incomplete as it is, has already been traced many a time, beginning from visiting Parsee theatre performers from Bombay (currently renamed Mumbai) to Penang, shifting through "imitation" Parsee theatre (wayang Parsee tiruan) into bangsawan proper, and eventually spreading far and wide beyond Penang’s sandy shores into many a neighbouring land. Almost every community in
Thus it came to take the place, at least in certain minds, in the absence of any other, as a form of urban Malay theatre. Many defined it as “classic” (a much-abused and misunderstood term in this country) Malay theatre, supposedly representing all the best in that culture, with a strong bent towards court traditions through the settings, contents and themes of scenarios. At any rate, bangsawan, through this process of natural as well as manipulated transformation, filled a serious vacuum in Malay consciousness as well as in Malayan (later Malaysian) urban culture.
The battle between Malay and non-Malay ownership of bangsawan, continues. One should not, in this process of asserting ownership, forget the spread of this form of theatre into
At the back of all this “history” and behind all this debate, stands one solid, undeniable truth: that it all began in good old Pulau Pinang. And that is the best possible reason why Penang, and more particularly,
During the first Pesta Pulau Pinang, I personally made an attempt to revive bangsawan, to bring it back out of near-oblivion for performances at the
The major achievement of the courses in traditional theatre in the early days of Universiti Sains
Bangsawan is still languishing in
What needs to be done is simple enough. First must come the firm resolve to make bangsawan live again in
And of course, where’s the money going to come from? That perennial question again; this time, hopefully, without the perennial answer, given the very special circumstances.
Over to you bangsawan enthusiasts, be you Melayu,
Surely it would not be impossible, for a start, to raise a million or two, for such a vital cause-- even in these gawat times!