Perak’s valuable trove of Malay cultural heritage is mainly due to its historical past being the centre of commerce. When tin, and then rubber, became a crucial source of income, its destiny was certain. From thence the migration of people from the Malay Archipelago, South China and India began in earnest, culminating in the British Intervention of the Malay states succeeding the Pangkor Treaty of 1874.The Malays of Perak are glad keepers of their traditional dances, games, tools and weapons, but to an extent. The erosion of values comes with time. Today our connection to the past is only through performances produced by state-owned cultural troupes. The Jabatan Kebudayaan dan Kesenian Perak (Perak Department of Arts and Culture) is one such entity.
1. Tarian Dabus
Based on the name, Tarian Dabus could have its origins in Saudi Arabia during the time of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). Dancers will go into a trance just like when performing the kuda kepang. It was likely that dabus was used to train soldiers when battling the enemies of Islam. The dance is a combination of singing, dancing and the use of sharp instruments known as anak dabus. When performing the dabus, dancers would punch themselves with the anak dabus and have stones threw at them. Surprisingly, none were injured. You have to see to believe.
2. Cempaka Sari
It is a traditional court dance whose movements are accompanied by melodious music together with matching lyrics. The song “Cempaka Sari”, incidentally, was a local composition by the late Sultan Idris Shah II of Perak. The dance tries to highlight the astuteness of the Perak sultanate of yore. The color of the dancers’ attires and the heavily hand-crafted fans that the female dancers carry, epitomize the grace, the beauty, and gaiety of the dance.
3. Tarian Bubu
According to Malay folk tales, a fisherman dreamed that his daughter was kidnapped by spirits when she went fishing in a river one day. The following day, the lucky man was blessed with good fortunes. A shaman told him to return the favor by performing a ceremony to please the jungle spirits. The dance focuses on a girl encased in a fish trap (bubu). The male dancers carry fish traps (bubu) adorned in female outfits.
This dance is performed after a padi harvest. The movements of the dancers’ legs portray the harvesting of padi where the grains are being pulled apart from the stalks, as the farmer would do in the padi fields. The female dancers bring a rattan pan called nyiru to show panning actions to separate rice grains from husks. The dance is definitely ritualistic in nature done to satisfy the spirits for a plentiful harvest.
5. Tarian Sayong
A new dance choreographed by the group manager, Herman bin Ibrahim, who was influenced by Kuala Kangsar’s iconic labu sayong (gourd-shaped clay jars). Imitating the shapely labu, he thought that the dance was best performed by female dancers only and he was totally right, as the dance, so feminine, was captivating – particularly to the male audience.