Diangdangan Bujang Sigandam

[I wrote this about two weeks ago and submitted it to be published last Monday on Brunei Times. Something happened, they did not receive the story and my article was not published last week. I resubmitted and got it published yesterday. Many people my age would recollect the radio drama we had in those days when we had no television sets whatsoever.]

There are times when events while being organised and in the chaos and madness of the moment, someone would come along and say, ‘Macam Bujang Sigandam’ (just like Bujang Sigandam). He or she is not giving a compliment. All he or she is saying is that with better planning and management, the event could have been better organised. In Brunei, ‘macam Bujang Sigandam’ came to be referred to as can do, no planning, all ad hoc, and always last minute.

That begs a few questions. Who is or was Bujang Sigandam? Did he actually do things that way? Does he deserve to be derided?

The name ‘Bujang Sigandam’ came into the Brunei's public attention during the mid 1960s. In 1966, one of Brunei Radio producers, Wahab Mohammad, introduced a new program called ‘Diangdangan Bujang Sigandam’ and later the next year, a radio drama serial based on the tales of Bujang Sigandam.

What is Diangdangan?

Diangdangan (epic narrative) is actually another form of story-telling or oral tradition of Brunei. Brunei Darussalam possessed a rich corpus of oral texts inherited through generations of descendants of the seven indigenous Brunei ethnic groups. Other oral texts that belong to the Brunei Malays include hikayat (epic tales of Hindu and Islamic origins), tuturan (folktales and fairytales), cerita asal usul (myth, legend), pantun (rhymed quatrains), perambahan (proverbs), mukun (sung rhymes), teka-teki (riddles), jampi (magic mantra), sihir (black magic) and rajang (almanac). The Kedayans possess labai (epic tales) and hikayat; the Tutongs, hikayat (epics tales of mystical beings), pantun (rhymed quatrains), pribasa (proverbs), parumpamaan (simile), cerita usul ni (legends), while the Dusuns and Bisayas have siram ditaan (epic tales of deities), balakuh (oratory), banding (traditional songs), batiap (traditional songs), sandait (riddle), ndudui anak (lullaby), ndudui sindir, pantun (rhymed quatrains), paumpamaan (proverbs, simile, idioms), limu (magic mantra), serita asal usul (myth, legend), tuturan or teturan (folktales and fairytales), batuai (mourning dirge), and lagu kukui (a song for praising the human skull).

According to Pudarno Bichin in his paper ‘The Survival and Revitalisation of Indigenous Oral Traditions of Brunei Darussalam’ that most of the indigenous oral traditions are characteristically Bornean that reflect the simple organizational lives of egalitarian societies that are shaped by rice cultivation activities.
Many of those oral traditions that survived are that of Brunei Islamic oral traditions. However indigenous oral traditions and non-Islamic ones not being practiced, are going to eventually disappear. So much so that their numbers have dwindled and these oral performances are not performed anymore.

Diangdangan as an art was said to have been stolen from the ‘orang Bunian’ or the fairy folks of Brunei of Pulau Sari which is an island near Labuan. One ‘orang Bunian’ was repeatedly asked by his tribe to sing the diangdangan. He refused as he said if he is overheard, their tribe will lose the capability to sing the diangdangan forever. However after much persuasion, he sang the diangdangan and it so happened that he was overheard by a mortal hiding behind a rock. This mortal listened for many nights and was eventually able to reproduce the diangdangan.

Diangdangan tales tell many stories. Abdul Rahim Sudin who sang the first diangdangan on Radio Brunei from 1966 to 1967 tells stories with titles of Bujang Sigandam, Sikandung Larai, Siampar Lari, Puteri Magindera Sakti, Sultan Muda, Sultan Indera Sakti, Putri Nilawati and many others. A latter pendiadangan, Awang Kadir Kassim tells stories entitled Tuan Pemagat, Sultan Muda Pukul Gelombang, Sultan Muda Bunga Teluput and Sheikh Abd Rahman.

Most of these stories focused on the relationship between humans and the gods, the magical powers of the kings and the gods, the bravery of knights and the beauty of the princesses and other ladies. It may not be too farfetched to assume that these tales were indeed stolen from the fairies as the names used in the stories tended to be quite dramatic. However the Hindu influences are fairly strong too. The names include Sultan Songsi Alam, Sultan Sigantar Alam, Sultan Muda Pukul Gelombang, Si Kanak Berjambul Merah, Puteri Sinaran Bulan, Puteri Rantai Amas, Tuan Pemagat and Awang Silinong. The names of places were equally magical such as Digubah, Kambang Kayapu, Bandar Tandun, Bandar Melatang and others.

Diangdangan too is very elaborate in describing things. For instance in describing the beauty of a princess, the pendiadangan would describe her as:

“elok bukan sadikit lagi
gawal bukan sadikit lagi
tubuh putih umbut disintak
kirai lantik manungkat gading
mua bujur maekong sirih
rambut labat mangating batis.”

What is the story of Bujang Sigandam?

Bujang Sigandam tells the story of a king of a country called Negeri Bandar Malatang. The king was Bujang Sigandam. His pregnant queen, Puteri Rantai Amas, who was several months pregnant, was craving for several items which can only be found in the heavens. Bujang Sigandam went out in search of these items and along the way he met a king, Raja Hitam who wanted to conquer his country. He defeated and killed Raja Hitam by doing a number of magical things such as changing himself into a young kid. However he revived the king and forgave him.

He then flew to the seventh level of heavens and met several princesses who kept those items his queen craved. He was told that he would have to marry the princesses and protect them against their betrothed, Raja Songsi Alam. Again, Bujang Sigandam and Raja Songsi Alam squared up for a magical battle and Bujang Sigandam beat Raja Songsi Alam. Again Raja Songsi Alam was spared death.

Bujang Sigandam then flew back to earth and discovered that several years had gone by. His queen had given birth and had now married Sultan Muda Balah Muka. His prince is called Si Kandung Larai. Bujang Sigandam wanted so much to meet his queen and he asked his grandmother to bring his ring named Ranta Biranta together with three of his specially woven flowers to the queen. And there the tale ended.

Reading the tale, there would have been a better argument if the name ‘Bujang Sigandam’ refers to someone who is hard working rather than one makes do. Awang bin Ahmad in his book ‘Diangdangan Bujang Sigandam’ published in 2000 argued that the morals of the story ‘Bujang Sigandam’ is the true love of a husband to a wife; a brave mortal who is able to beat the gods in heavens; a man who is kind, considerate, compassionate and loyal. But with the disappearance of public performances of Bujang Sigandam, the sense of the name ‘Bujang Sigandam’ which entered into the Brunei Malay vocabulary has indeed changed.

Nazri Yusof, one blogger who wrote about Bujang Sigandam wrote that “the spirit of Bujang Sigandam reflects the ‘can do’ spirit Bruneians have. A characteristic we all must be proud off that nothing is impossible and anything can be done … Bujang Sigandam requires amongst others high self belief, leadership, innovations, creativity, perseverance, competency, patience, passion, resilience and trust on top of that great teamwork.”

That indeed is the true spirit of Bujang Sigandam.

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