View Panggung Rahim, Kota Bharu, Kelantan, Malaysia in a larger map
Last weekend, Pat and I headed out for an overnight trip to the state of Kelantan, Malaysia. This was where Pat did her Ph.D. field research back in the mid- to late 1970's, and where I was sent as a Peace Corps Volunteer right out of college.
Kelantan shadow play was the subject of Pat's research and Ph.D. dissertation in the 1970's. Pat's teacher, the master shadow play puppeteer (dalang) Hamzah Awang (pictured on the left ca. 1976 with drummer Mohammed Ali) passed away in 2001, and his son Rahim is now trying to carry on the tradition.
By the way, play around with the map at the top to see where Kota Bharu is in relation to Kuala Lumpur. Use the zoom (+) and unzoom (-) buttons with the arrow keys to get a feel for the geography of Peninsular Malaysia!
ATR 72-500 short-haul turboprop plane on Firefly, a low cost domestic carrier. It was the Malaysian low-cost airline Air Asia that started the no-frills revolution in this part of world, shouting the slogan "Now Everyone Can Fly!" How prophetic!
We rent a car at the Kota Bharu airport and drive into town to check in at the Crystal Lodge Hotel, a nice, modest little hotel on Jalan (street) Che' Su, almost right next door to the place that Pat used to rent when she was a grad student from U of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Pat was doing field research work, studying the music of the wayang kulit for her Ph.D. The house that Pat lived in is long gone, a "victim" of urban re-development.
A short walk from the hotel, along the banks of Sungai (river) Kelantan, is a beautiful riverwalk recently completed. When Pat was doing her research, she would bicycle
Prof. Kathy Foley (left), a theatre arts professor from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Kathy is in Malaysia most of this year on a Fulbright grant to research Malaysian theatre. She is a specialist in the Indonesian puppet theatre. Pat is sharing her office at the University of Malaya with Kathy this year.
When we arrive, we briefly stop inside Rahim's house to say hello to Aini and the kids. The kids are now teenagers and are scurrying around getting the place ready for an expected influx of design and photography students from the MARA Institute of Technology near Kuala Lumpur, who are on a field trip to Kelantan. The students' lecturer is a friend of Rahim's, and the MARA Institute has underwritten the performance. While waiting for the students to show up, we look into the panggung and find the percussion players lounging around in the panggung waiting for the students to arrive.
Bye and bye, the students arrive. The bus drivers had gotten lost trying to navigate the dark streets in an unfamiliar area. The students immediately set up their photographic gear and start snapping pictures as Rahim welcomes them and briefs them on what they will be seeing tonight.
With the symbolic forces of good and evil battling in the skies, the story can now proceed!
As the story proceeds, Rahim is working hard inside the panggung. Take one minute to see what it looks like from the inside:
Take another short minute to see what the audience is seeing; here two of the heroes, who've been transformed into demon shapes for their naughty deeds, tearfully beg forgiveness from their liege lord:
The performance finally comes to an end way after midnight. The students troop back groggily to their buses, and the few remaining kids and neighbors go home chatting and laughing. Pat has spent the entire evening entrenched with her video camera in front of the screen, recording the performance. Kathy Foley spent the whole time inside the panggung with the performers, recording their activities. We stay to talk with the performers and Rahim after the show. Kathy orders some puppets from the local puppet-maker for her to take back to UC Santa Cruz for their museum. We finally drive back across Sungai Kelantan back to our hotel. We'll sleep well tonight!
We sleep in some, then walk around town a bit the next morning before heading to the airport for the flight back to Kuala Lumpur. I have a feeling that Pat and I will be back to Kota Bharu to see Rahim and other performers from time to time. Pat's audio and video recordings of Rahim's father's performances and musical pieces will be invaluable for Rahim and his troupe to learn the pieces that he never had a chance to pick in bye-gone years... it'll be fun !