|Prof Ding Choo Ming delivering his keynote address|
The International Congress of Asian Folklores is held every two years and this year Jogjakarta Indonesia was host from 7th to 9th June 2013. The cultural capital of Indonesia was the perfect backdrop for the exchange of ideas and discourse by participants mainly from Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Singapore, Philippines, Japan, China, Holland, Italy and UK. Held at the Inna Garuda Hotel, academicians dominated the congress with quite a few writers like myself in attendance. Cutural highlights included cultural performances at the Sultan’s palace, the Kraton and an excellent Chinese Opera from China, all of which stimulated creative minds, spurring more folklore in time to come.
Four lessons from the conference
1. National Identity & Culture
It was established that readers of the same stories and legends share a common identity and sense of belonging. This circle of influence is strong which explains why those of the same generation behave is a certain same manner.
That is why folklore and literature is important to national identity. It creates a longing for what is the essence of our country. The ancient kingdoms, culture, music and arts - all fill in a void that would be unshakeable. This is what ancient Hikayat can do. If they do not have a place in society, this void will quickly be filled by something else.
Dr Ding Choo Ming said in his keynote address,”..the earliest history of a nation has been handed down by storytellers from generation to generation.” Thus, in our folklores and legends, we will find our inherited heritage of time immemorial.
2. Resolving conflict
It might seem strange but one of the keynote topics was on resolving conflict, delivered by none other than Prof Muhammad Hj Salleh. Conflict arises from territorial ownership, economy and resources, culture and traditions. In folklore and literature, conflicts can be resolved through marriages, judicial practice, secret societies, the king's will and there are many ambassadors of good will.
This particular topic was most heatedly debated for the question on shared cultural activities between Malaysia and indonesia came up. This Konflik Budaya is real. It was raised how 'mere beautiful words' would not be able resolve the conflict. Prof Muhammad's answer was a classic and one could really see why at this conference, he was the giant of the Malay Literature World.
He said ' If Germany, Holland and Austria did not allow classical music to be performed in USA, Australia and the rest of the world, where would classical music be today?" The wayang and various dances performed in Malaysia and indonesia is a shared culture that was brought over and vice versa. We really have to come to a stage of acceptance.
Prof Muhammad also highlighted that resolving conflicts through judiciary practice was actually a western influence on the world. We Asians resolved conflicts through negotiationa dn mutual respect which explains why Asian make good negotiators.
3. Folklore as a real study of Leadership and good moral values
Folklore is actually a study of good and bad characters with universal appeal. This should be utilized to help shape the society we want. We might not see it but folklore is actually another branch of knowledge which has powerful effect on people, especially children.
Folklore also provides a study of leadership, what makes a good or bad head of society as many folklores deals with the problems faced by kings and the likes. There are also syair and hikayat that indirectly points out societal problems and how to deal with these issues.
4. Survival of Folklore and Hikayat
My paper Reviving Ancient Folklores through Historical Fiction dealt with the issue of stopping the folklore folklore from sliding into oblivion. It was apparent that folklore had three main challenges to overcome. One was the advent of technology, next, the constraints of religion and finally new trends of thinking as the world becomes more globalized, and yet localized.
To survive, folklore and Hikayat need new retellings which take those challenges into account. In other words, it must adapt. Legends and folklore must be part of the mainstream creative content. It must be relevant to economy and tourism. We need to see new exciting retellings, and the movie industry, and theatre can pave the way to reviving legends.
Movies, youtube, podcast are how stories are told nowadays. That and books. This is the way forward for folklores and hikayat.
Note : Jogja is the cultural centre of Indonesia. In Jogja, culture is thriving, driven by the Sultan who is also the Governor of Jogja. Art, wayang, cultural music live on the streets, back lanes, on the kraton grounds. It was exhilarating.
Hikayat is the memories of ancient civilization. Embrace them before they slide into oblivion.