Wayang Siam: Hamzah of Kampong Laut

Wayang Siam:  Hamzah of Kampong Laut

Hamzah was the first dalang I met in Kelantan, since he was the most 'connected' to academic shadow play.  He had gone on tour to the United States, arranged by the Ministry of Culture, and believed his status had risen accordingly.  He built a new house upon his return to Kampong Laut from the US, and in it he constructed his own shadow play theater:  no longer was he dependent upon someone hiring him to perform, he could do so whenever he wanted to.  It was genius, really, and kept his…

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Wayang Siam: the Kelantan Shadow Play

Wayang Siam:  the Kelantan Shadow Play

Dollah Baju Merah was Kelantan's most popular dalang during the 70's and beyond, and a proponent of the modern style of play.  He had studied in Patani, Southern Thailand, where things were flashier and racier than they were in Kota Bharu.  Dollah's performances featured motorcycles and references to American TV shows broadcasted in Kelantan, which he incorporated in the stories of the Ramayana, on which Kelantan shadow plays are based.

Dollah made all his own puppets, as most dalang did,…

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You Have Eyes Like a Goat

You Have Eyes Like a Goat

Why was I so easily intimidated?  At a dinner not too long after I arrived in Kelantan, a Mak Cik came up to me, and with absolutely no provocation said, 'You'd be pretty if you didn't have eyes like a goat.'  And I said, 'Thank you.'  

This interchange speaks to two things, I think.  The first, is that I was cowed and didn't know what to say, and very anxious to please.  The second is, even if I had not been, and was ready to give as good as I got, what do you say to that anyway?  I wanted to…

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Kelantan Divorce and Emotional Styles

Kelantan Divorce and Emotional Styles

Divorce is endemic in Kelantan with rates of 90%.  As I have written already, part of what allows this is women working:   a woman who can support herself may not feel trapped in an unhappy relationship because she's financially dependent.  Another aspect, explained in more detail by Doug Raybeck in his writing on Kelantan (Doug was my college advisor, who introduced me to Kelantan and first taught me Malay, and who inspired me to become an anthropologist), is the emotional one, perhaps best…

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Divorce Kelantan Style

Divorce Kelantan Style

Kelantan's divorce rate is high:  at least in the late '70s it was about 90%, which means that many adults had been married more than once.  Because it was so prevalent, it also meant that divorce was not an unthinkable disaster, but an unfortunate if not always avoidable outcome of a marital mistake.

People ruminating upon Kelantanese culture have offered several explanations for it, most of which aren't mutually exclusive.  The first, or at least the first as far as my thinking goes, is that…

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