Memukun in Brunei


Sunday, April 26, 2015

IN THE early 1990s when Hj Wahab Jumat was at his peak as a pemukun providing traditional entertainment at weddings, he at one time earned almost $2,000 in one month.

“Every week we would be invited to perform at a wedding. There were so many requests we had to decline sometimes,” he says.

That was back in the day when memukun, a form of entertainment that involves the exchange of poems between a male and a female performer, was still popular in Brunei.

These days, 74-year-old veteran pemukun Hj Wahab no longer gets as many invitations and when he does, it is normally to perform at a cultural event organised by a government agency.

The pemukun, usually the elderly people who exchange pantun poems while traditional music is being played, have been pushed to extinction by modern-day forms of entertainment, including karaoke sessions at weddings.

It is not an easy feat as those exchanging pantun poems have to be spontaneous and able to think fast, and come up with poems that suit the atmosphere of the event. It can be challenging, Hj Wahab says.

“While listening to the other pemukun’s poem, you must already think of a comeback. If you are unable to reply with your own poem it would disrupt the whole performance.”

He said performers must also be familiar with their surroundings, and understand the nature of event where they perform.

Hj Wahab says he began performing at memukun in the early 1980s, and has been active in performing at memukun sessions for about 30 years. Having wit and mental sharpness are abilities pemukun must have in order to deliver an entertaining performance. He says he has no secrets as to how he keeps mentally prepared for each performance.

“I wake up early every day and I perform the Subuh prayers, and after that I make doa(supplication) to Allah SWT so that he will always bless me with good health.”

Apart from prayers, Hj Wahab says he also tries to lead a healthy lifestyle by controlling his food intake and watching what he eats to prevent high cholesterol and diabetes.

“I also do light exercises in the morning. I walk around the compound of my house or do some gardening.”

The memukun performance is slowly disappearing especially at weddings. Other forms of entertainment are taking over, such as karaoke, Hj Wahab says.

Even though sometimes people choose to have a traditional form of entertainment at weddings, it is usually a gulingtangan or traditional musical performance, he adds.

And the performers … only a few veteran pemukun get to perform when the rare opportunity comes.

Memukun is more than just entertainment. It is a Malay traditional and cultural heritage. Through art forms such as memukun, “we could preserve part of our culture, for example, the Malay language”, says Hj Wahab.

“If there is no one to continue the art of memukun, it will disappear.”

The Brunei Times


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