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Mak yong, the ancient Malay dance theatre form, is associated
principally with the southern Thai Patani province and the
Malaysian state of Kelantan on the east coast of the Malay
Peninsula. It is also active in Terengganu and in the Riau
islands of Indonesia where it is staged in a significantly variant form. Mak
yong comprises the elements of story, formal and informal spoken text,
stylized dance and acting, vocal and instrumental music, as well as ritual. It
is performed both for entertainment as well as for healing specific types of
emotional and psychological ailments.
Mak yong is undoubtedly the most important of all traditional Malay
theatre forms in terms of its content as well as performance style. Following
an effort to revive this near- extinct art from 1969 onwards, it went through
considerable changes as it shifted away from its rural base to urban
centres, particularly Kuala Lumpur. The changes essentially attempted to
“cleanse” Mak yong of some of the objectionable folk elements with a view
to transform it into a sophisticated one intended for modern audiences,
including tourists.
Mak yong, was designated by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and
Intangible Heritage of Mankind in 2005. The listing was based on the
Candidature File prepared by the present author, Ghulam–Sarwar Yousof,
a leading specialist in traditional Southeast Asian theatre. He was the first
person in the world to work on a doctorate on traditional Malay theatre with
a dissertation on Mak yong submitted to the University of Hawaii in 1976.
The present volume comprise a selection of his essays on various
aspects of Mak yong presented at local and international seminars as
well as published in several journals. The papers provide original and vital
insghts into the history, aesthetics and functions of Mak yong as well as
controversies surrounding it. The papers also touch upon issues connected
with the survival of mak yong and the need for efforts to preserve what the
author regards as the most unique of traditional Malay performing arts.

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