Saturday, June 30, 2007

Borneo folk dances with modern significance

A dance of the Murut of Sabah
Modern costumes and batik are frequently used during traditional dances

Dancers performing a dance of the Lundayeh of Sabah

By Rahmat bin Haji Abdul Rahman

Colourful cultural performances have taken places in Bandar Seri Begawan since 2004 with the Malam Rumpun Budaya.

Students train and explore dances of the ethnic groups of Brunei Darussalam to celebrate the traditional festivals such as the Iban's Gawai and the Dusun's Adau Gayoh. They also learn the traditional dances of the Melayu Brunei, Melayu Kedayan and Melayu Tutong.

In Sabah, music is a vital part of nearly every social event at the village level. It symbolises the traditional harmony that exists among its inhabitants. It is played during the wedding celebrations, engagement parties, harvest festivals, first birthday of children, animistic religious ceremonies and other associated events of importance to the community.

Each ethnic group has its own distinct musical forms although several of the major instruments are common to all. Each piece of instrument is usually lovingly crafted, cut, shaped and tested.

Distinctions are often found in different combinations of instruments, varying dance styles, tempos and tunings. There are also certain instruments found only within the limits of an individual community and not shared with other communities.

The communities in Borneo Island - Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah - as well as in the Sulu Sea in the islands of Tawi-Tawi, Sulu-Jolo, Basilan and Marawi in Mindanao have made it possible for us to enjoy a captivating array of culture and art that is both unique and exquisite.

The richness of the cultures that are found in Borneo Island, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu-Jolo and Basilan is expressed in the differences between the traditional dresses, dances, music and handicrafts of the various ethnic communities.

The people of Brunei Darussalam comprise seven ethnic groups listed in the 1959 Constitution. They include the Melayu Brunei, Melayu Kedayan ("Gadaian" originally from Java) and Melayu Tutong (originally from tiny islands in the Sulu Sea).

The people of Sabah comprise 32 ethnics groups and 72 dialects. Among them are the Idahan (found on the east coast of Sabah in the District of Lahad Datu, the Kadazans (districts of Penampang and Papar), Dusun (districts of Telupid, Keningau and Tambunan) Bajau (Semporna, Kota Belud, Kota Kinabalu and Papar), Melayu Brunei, Kedayan Bisaya, Murut, Lundayeh (west coast region), Ubian, Binadan, Orang Sungai (Sandakan district) Tatana, Tagaas and Suluk (Tausug).

The use of traditional costumes can be seen from the classical and modern periods.

In the classical period, traditional costumes were worn during rituals, weddings as well as daily wear. In modern times, traditional costumes are only worn at special occasions like weddings and traditional functions.

Most ethnic groups in Brunei, Sarawak and Sabah used black as the dominant colour of their traditional costumes. The use of black stems from the belief that black is a godly colour and represents power that will protect the user from the bad spirits. Other beliefs state that the use of black is synonymous with the way of life and natural conditions at that particular time.

In the past, red gemstones, coloured glass beads, cowry shells, white buttons or disks made from shells and bronze were used to adorn the men's and women's clothes.

Today most of these ornaments have been replaced with plastic beads and other more modern materials like gold and silver threads, sequins and coloured threads.

Traditional hats/headgear or scarves are normally used by the men and women as protection from the heat as well as to absorb perspiration. The headgear used during official functions is more beautiful and colourful.

Gongs form the backbone of most musical ensembles and are used at nearly every social event. The number of instruments played together varies from one community to another. During a gong beating session, one or two drums are also played to accentuate the main rhythms.

The gongs are highly valued. They are also used as bride-wealth, for animistic religious ceremonies and during harvest festivals such as "tadaau kaamatan", "adau gayoh" and "gawai".

Gulingtangan are instruments usually played on festive occasions such as wedding and religious ceremonies where they are often accompanied by other traditional gongs.

The instruments consist of a set of about eight to nine small brass kettle gongs. The gongs are arranged horizontally in a row on a low wooden bed-like frame. The player sits down on the floor in front of the gongs and beats them with two small wooden mallets.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Weekend

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