Muzium Negeri Kelantan
Of all the antiquities and the relics I have seen, this particular museum holds a special position in my mind. Not that it is the greatest or the most sophisticated museum in the world. But I think I have found some of the missing bits of myself in this museum. Just think about the shepherd and his golden treasure at the pyramid. As the story always goes, I sort of discovered the treasure that I have been looking for in this rustic building, sitting so humbly next to the iconic roundabout of Medan Tuan Padang in Kota Bharu. Nothing fancy about its name. It’s simply called Muzium Negeri Kelantan.
I remember passing through this spot for so many times as I was sitting quietly behind Ayoh’s green car. I spelled out the word. M-U-Z-I-U-M. Loud and clear. But no one talked about it. Nobody cared. I couldn’t say, “Let’s go to a museum, Ayoh!” That would be the shittiest thing to say. I guess it would be an insult for a typical Kelantanese to visit his own museum, wouldn’t it? To appreciate what’s inside this building, you have to be (a) a peculiar-looking foreign tourist walking with a funnily-wrapped sarong around his waist or (b) a kepoh outsider with a strange-sounding Malay dialect or (c) a dumb Kelantanese who thinks he cares about his root but he doesn’t know a single damn thing about it. I belong to the final category.
SEMUTAR MAN & MAK YONG
So I finally put on that bold face, made that first bold step, and walked into this museum as the dumbest Kelantanese ever. So dumb I didn’t even realise that I was the only visitor in this creepy place. But the solitary journey through the past had already begun. I couldn’t reverse now. I didn’t know what happened to me, but I felt like the museum was fully crowded with hundreds of invisible Kelantanese men and women, old and cold and dead, walking next to me and showing me their heritage with pride. They spoke to me in a weird version of Kelantan Malay, but I perfectly understood what they were trying to say. Walk with us, they said. Okay, dude. I’m with you.
As those old men and women were roaming and flying freely around this haunting floor, I gazed at the intricate painting on the wall and smiled at the old man with a semutar on his head. I knew this guy, I said to myself. He could be my great great great ancestor. Suddenly, we were somehow connected through some mystical power that went against Einstein’s gravity.
“How is it going, young man?” he said.
“Not too bad. You look cool in that outfit, mate!”
“Thanks. You look lost.”
“Yes, I do. What’s this?” I pointed to the object in front of me.
“Aha. That’s kertok,” he answered with a fatherly smile. “It’s made of coconut. It is played in groups of eight or ten for pleasure in competition. Each group is given a chance to show their performance and the winner is decided by the tone and rhythm produced and the showmanship of the group players.”
“Cool. And what’s this rebana business all about?”
“Son, don’t you know that this is one of the pastime games in Kelantan since long ago? The art of playing rebana is inherited and developed from many generations. It is based on beduk but slightly improvised to suit with the purpose for entertainment.”
Hmm. I was impressed. Could this guy be the most famous kertok and rebana player during his time?
I walked past another section and saw a beautiful lady dressed in luxurious regalia. She smiled at me and said, “Excuse me. Don’t you recognize me?”
“No, I don’t. Have we met? Humour me, please.”
She laughed a little, adjusted her heavy crown and said, “Well, I’m Mak Yong. Nice to meet you, little chap.”
“Nice to meet you, too.”
“Are you here on your own?”
“As always. So tell me… what are you exactly? Are you a human or an alien?”
“Well, none of the above. I’m part of the ancient Malay dance-drama originating from Cambodia. I was introduced to the Malay Court of Pattani in the thirteenth century. This dance-drama was performed exclusively by the palace staff for the entertainment of the royalty until the end of the nineteenth century.”
“Who-hoo. That’s a lot to digest. And what about Main Puteri?”
“Hmm, she’s a good friend of mine. Main Puteri is a dramatic performance which is especially popular in Kelantan. She embodies magical and ritual elements influenced by animism, Hinduism and Islam. She was led by two men, called Tuk Peteri and Tuk Minduk, and accompanied by a band of musicians called the Panjak. The main purpose of the performance is therapeutic. To stimulate and set free the feelings within a sick person, known as angin, or wind, as you call it in English.”
“And who is Menora? Is she like you too?”
“Yes, she’s like me. I don’t like her.”
“She bears a superficial similarity to me from which she may have been copied. Menora is the Thai name of an ancient form of drama found only in South Thailand and Kelantan. All performers on both sides of the border are Thai males. Those in Kelantan being Kelantanese of Thai origin, but their dialogues are in Malay. Some female parts are taken by young men who wear long-hair wigs.”
“Hmm, sounds like the Mardi Gras version of Kelantanese art.”
“Never mind. Thanks, Mak Yong. It’s really nice talking to you.”
“My pleasure, Cekmi.”
I didn’t know how the hell she knew my name. But I was taken to some unknown pleasurable territory throughout the next few hours, walking through a lot more wonderful cultures and histories of my past generations. Wonderful feelings accompanied me as I walked out of this museum. I have yet to visit all the great museums around the world, but after this visit, I felt like I had visited all of them. No, I don’t plan to be an archeologist. I just think I’m always attracted to a museum. From the most innovative museum in Singapore to the cheapest museum in Jakarta to the most alive museum in Australia, there is always the same story being repeated through generations after generations. The inspiring story of humanity. So folks, remember to put a museum in your itinerary whenever you go to America or Europe or Africa. Because the Museum of Life is already inside you.