The kuda kepang, an intricate dance, is an exciting spectacle to behold,
steeped in all the aura and mysticism of Malaysia's rich cultural heritage. The
dance is performed only in the district of Batu Pahat at the southern part of
The dance was brought to Malaysia by immigrants from Banjarmasin in South Borneo
and also from various parts of Java. This group of people form a closely knit
clan, content with what they are doing and very sensitive, especially towards
their ritual and taboo in the performance.
The kuda kepang dance was
originally introduced into Java by the Arab traders. The story has been told
that there used to be great conflicts between the believers and non-believers of
"One day, while the local Muslims and non-Muslims were in heat of fighting
one another, there suddenly appeared, with the Grace of God, out of nowhere a
handsome young man riding a kuda kepang. In one hand, he brandished a
sword and in the other, a whip. He then began to prance around in a dance
similar to the one performed today. The villagers were so engrossed in watching
the incredible behavior of this strange young man that they forgot what they had
been doing before his appearance. The Muslim community took this opportunity of
a lull in the fighting to fulfill their normal daily prayer and, as soon as they
had finished praying, the figure disappeared into thin air."
The intricacies of the dance have been passed down through the generations
and are performed in much the same way by the Javanese today. Special
incantations have to be said before and after the performance and these are
known only by the teacher and the leader of the group.
To make the kuda (horse), the skins of freshly slaughtered cows are specially
prepared. The leader is then supposed to wait for a particular moment when,
compelled by supernatural powers, he shapes, decorates and paints the skins.
Sometimes, a horse which has already been painted black is supposed to change,
under the influence of supernatural forces, into a red horse. When this occurs,
that particular horse must be a male and all the rest, female. If none of the
horses change color supernaturally, one of the other female horses assumes the
The nine horses are kept in a special stable, a hut specially constructed far
from any human dwelling. The horses are taboo and forbidden in the house. When
they have to be repaired it must be done outside the house. As they are supposed
to possess supernatural powers, they are not to be mishandled.
The ritual involved in the use of the horse must be observed at all times.
Each individual horse is supposed to possess a distinctive life force of its own
and it must be well guarded by the teacher. At the beginning and end of each
performance, the teacher recites a few lines of incantations to avoid mishaps.
The musical instruments used for the kuda kepang are the drum, the
gong, the hand-drums and the angklung (a bamboo instrument from Indonesia).
The performance is headed by the leader holding the whip and the red horse
with a white leg. The horses prance around in a circular motion until one of the
riders fall into a trance. He is then moved to the centre of the circle while
the others continue dancing round him.
The rider in a trance would appear to be possessed by the "spirit of the
horse", emulating the actions of a horse. He may be inclined to kick, rear,
charge, gnash his teeth and even bite someone if he feels provoked. Together
with the irresistible beat of the percussive music, the excitement of the dance
is built up until the "spirit" leaves the rider.
Kuda kepang performances usually take place from nine to twelve at
night. Today, these groups perform at weddings, on state holidays or festive