Three young girls are among the performers in the gendang performances. Photos: Mohd Alif Noni

The cultural heritage reflects various everyday activities of the Malays

Berdendang’, a traditional performing art of the Sarawak Malays, captured hearts at the Samarindok Sarawak Malay Cultural Performance 2020 held at Godown Amphitheatre, Kuching Waterfront here, last Saturday night.

Clad in traditional attire which included ‘tengkolok’, ‘keringkam’ and ‘songket’, the performers displayed various aspects of old-time village entertainment used to enliven community gatherings such as weddings.

The centrepiece of a ‘bergendang’ performance is (of course) the ‘gendang’ (hand drum) accompanied by the singing of ‘pantun’ (poems). At bigger functions or gatherings, the drum (or drums) and singing are accompanied with a violin and/ or gongs.

Traditionally ‘bergendang’ was (and still is) performed by women who vary the tones of the drum by slapping the batter head either in the middle or the edge (along the hoop) or somewhere in between. The more creative or ambitious ones even strike the wooden hoop to create sharp tapping sounds.

Women traditionally perform in the gendang performances. Photos: Mohd Alif Noni

Hitting the centre of the ‘gendang’ produces the ‘pak’ sound, and ‘pung’ is achieved along the edge. The clashing or combination of the ‘pak’ and ‘pung’ is what creates the unmistakable rhythm of ‘gendang Melayu’ Sarawak (Sarawak Malay drum) which typically accompanies hours of ‘joget’ numbers sung by the ‘Seh Gendang’. The lyrics of the songs are in the form of traditional or impromptu ‘pantun’ (poems). It is customary for celebrators to dance (‘nopeng’ or ‘bertandak’) to the songs, hence the terms ‘penopeng’ or ‘penandak’.

A verse of ‘pantun’ usually has four lines consisting of alternating, roughly rhyming lines. The first and second lines (‘barisan pembayang’) sometimes appear completely disconnected in meaning from the third and fourth (‘barisan maksud’), but there is almost invariably a link of some sort. In addition, the ‘pantun’ normally repeats the second and the fourth couplet to beautify the melodies.

The various aspects and elements of Gendang Melayu Sarawak a performance reflect the various everyday activities of the Malays.

A ‘gendang’ practitioner, 64-year-old Umar Tomik, 64, said there are eight major steps in a performance — ‘sorong tarik’, ‘tolak orak’, ‘meneter’ (lang mengendang), sendeng’, ‘pusing setempat’, ‘pusing ditengah’, and ‘sasi’.

Sorong tarik’ is where one partner in a pair of dancers goes forward while the other goes backward in back-and-forth motion. The ‘tolak orak’ is where a pair goes forward or backward in unison; ‘meneter’ (lang mengendang) refers to when a pair swings outward before moving close to each other. To do the ‘sendeng’, the pair gets closer to each other with side-to-side movements (crabbing).

When doing the ‘pusing setempat’ a dancer circles around in the same position while ‘pusing ditengah’ refers to a pair circling together, followed by ‘niti batang’ which is like crabbing down a flight of stairs, while ‘sasi’ refers to the closing steps where the partners simultaneously swing one foot forward and hops to the drum beat. These movements are repeated with the other foot until the dance ends.

These steps are definitely unlike those of the western or modern dances, which makes the dance even more meaningful in describing the identity of the Malays.

It was captivating when some old folks at the event also joined in during the open ‘tandak’ session. This showed that the tradition has not gone extinct, but it is undeniable that youth participation is important to ensure that it is preserved for future generations.

Law, State-Federal Relations and Project Monitoring Assistant Minister Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali officiate at the event that was organised by Amanah Khairat Yayasan Budaya Melayu Sarawak (AKYBMS) and attended by about 300 people.