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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 peninsula.

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 Islam.

"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 male role.

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 occasions.

   
Answer the following questions using complete sentences
  1. Why did the local Muslims and non-Muslims stop fighting ?
  2. How much has the kuda kepang dance changed over time ?
  3. When does the leader start shaping, decorating and painting the skins ?
  4. Why must the horses be well taken care of ?
  5. Give two ways in which the horses are treated as taboo.
  6. Why is the music necessary in the kuda kepang dance ?
  7. According to the passage, who is the most important in the kuda kepang dance ?
  Fill in the blanks with one correct word from the passage.
  8. Parents play an important ______ in shaping the personality of their children.
  9. For some people, it is ______ to take photographs in a group of three.
  10. On Thaipusam, devotees who are in a ______ feel no pain when they are pierced with the spikes of the kavadi.
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Answers
 

1.

They were so engrossed in watching the Kuda Kepang dancer.
 

2.

It has not changed much.
 

3.

he starts when he is compelled by supernatural powers.
 

4.

They possess supernatural powers and their own life force.
 

5.

(i) They are kept in a stable far from human dwellings (ii) They cannot be brought into the house and are repaired outdoors.
  6. The music is needed to build up the excitement of the dance.
  7. The leader is the most important because: (i) he is the one who says the incantations before and after the dance (ii) he heads the dance performance.
  8. role
  9. taboo
  10. trance
 
 
 
 
 

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Comprehension 1

 

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