Memukun - Brunei's Unique Tradition

I was staring at the computer last night raking my brain for today's topic when I heard someone being interviewed about 'memukun' on Rangkaian Nasional. Rangkaian Nasional has a program where people can actually sing through their telephones - a duet with another singer in the studio. I remembered in the 1980s when 'memukun' first appeared on national radio. A number of people who were trading at the tamu recorded the nightly programs and played their casettes at top volume. You could not escape from it if you are there. Anyway, I thought the interview is worthwhile reproducing here.

One of the unique feature of Brunei's culture is 'memukun'. It is fairly hard to describe unless one has actually listened to it. I read on BB that it has been described as 'quatrain singing to the tune of traditional hand drums'. Memukun is very Bruneian where a group of people (usually elderly) will sing accompanied by gulingtangan or a small drum and sometimes accompanied with a dance. Normally it is a duet with one gender 'selling' pantun verses to the other 'gender'. The other side is supposed to reply.

According to the interview, in the 1960s and 1970s memukun is very popular during weddings and can go on from evening until dawn the next day - memukun kesiangan or mukun menyubuh. Though there are still households especially in Kampong Ayer where memukun continued to be popular. But surprisingly memukun is not of Bruneian origin. In the 1960s, the experts of memukun were from Limbang. The good ones were invited to Brunei and paid a token sum to memukun at wedding ceremonies.

Memukun was carried out by having two groups of people. One group made up of female and the other, male though two groups of the same gender singing to each other is also not unusual. The two groups are separated by kain batik strung across the two groups. The two then take turns at selling their pantuns. If the lady is single and the male is single, normally if they are able to sell pantuns successfully, according to the interviewee, the chances of them marrying each other is very high indeed. So memukun is also part of a mating ritual of getting to know each other. To me that is not surprising. If you listen to some of the verses, they can be very suggestive indeed.

Memukun is always accompanied by a musical instrument. Sometimes the accordian or the guitar or the full guling tangan set. The simplest is just a 'gendang' or drum. The drum can be made up of goat's skin or cow's skin. I didn't quite catch this bit of the interview but it can also be made up of a certain kind of bark.

I came across someone posting a memukun mp3 in the past but I was not able to find that anymore. There is a memukun music on youtube which shows a group of our elderly folks dancing to the music but I have not seen a memukun video on its own just yet. If you want something very Bruneian, memukun it is. Nobody else have it now. Just us in Brunei.
PS. Credit to both photographs to s@s at metallichick who took the photographs when she and her officers went to Kampong Ayer during last year's Hari Raya. She wrote about memukun among other things.

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