Di Bawoh Rang Ikang Kering
Random Ramblings of A Retired Retainer


Friday, February 04, 2005
Maharaja Rawana, one of the bota
One cough syrup, long popular with the Chinese had a TV commercial in Bahasa using wayang kulit puppets. I thought to myself that this brand is trying to win the Malay market. Later, I thought more about the commercial. As I told my students, a commercial may have more than one message. In this case, the obvious message is of course the cough medicine is effective in curing coughs. The other message (to me) is to remind me of the culture that we used to have.

Wayang kulit (shadow play) is basically a puppet show using puppets made of bovine hide painstakingly cut and painted to resemble characters from Ramayana and Mahabaratha epics like Seri Rama, Sita Dewi, Hanuman, Maharaja Rawana and other "actors". East Coast wayang kulit has two extra characters which might not be in the books. They are Wak Long (or Kusina Wak Long) and Pok Dogol. These two characters provided comic relief in the show. They also conveyed whatever public messages to the audience. Except for one arm which can be made to go up or down when the Tok Dalang (the puppeteer) pushes a bamboo stick attached to the arm, the puppets could not move. But, under the expert hands of the Tok Dalang, we can see the puppets fly left and right, swoop on the enemy, move briskly or languidly and die appropriately when supposed to.

When I was growing up, we have wayang kulit shows every time there is a celebration in town or in the villages. We enjoyed the show very much. We laughed at the antics of Wok Long and Pok Dogo. I even learnt some the dialogs and had my own wayang kulit show using cut out leaves. The heroes were Seri Rama and Laksamana while the pok sauk (villians) were Rawana and other bota (ogres). Once I ran out of ogres and asked an older relative, in the Kelantan dialect, to make me a bota.
The non-Kelantanese speaking relative took a fresh leaf and cut a perfect shape of a coke bottle.
"Ambik boto" he said as he handed me the leaf. I remembered not speaking Kelantanese to him again.