Boria: A Passage through Time

Despite boria's 150 years of history, the Penang Malay-Jawi Peranakan parody is slowly losing its grip on the heritage front. Boria, the traditional parody theatre that was first originated from the ancient ta'ziyeh culture of Persia is known for their medley of traditional music and chorus singing.

As the years unfold, boria's rhythm and music have picked up a more secular and popular approach in Malaysia. Back in the days, the sounds were more traditional akin to those in P. Ramlee movies. Now, you'll hear drumming of military marches to sassy rhythms of rumba Latin with a hint of Bollywood in today's boria. 

An exhibition titled 'Boria: Passage through Time' is a follow-up to the satirical and stereotypical parody theatre 'Boria Fest' that was held during the second week of George Town Festival. The exhibition will provide visitors with a pictorial feast highlighting the people and groups that contributed to the unique socio-political and cultural history in Penang.

Brought together by Jawi House Production, the Penang Jawi-Peranakan Heritage Society (JAWI) and the Academy of Socio-Economic Research and Analysis (ASERA), this was part of a concerted effort in educating the community on boria and bringing it back to the society.

'There's a lot of dying heritage around us like mak yong (the traditional dance-drama) and all boria needs is a chance, a platform,' said Dr Mumtaz Begum Abod Backer, chairperson of Universiti Sains Malaysia's Department of Arts and Theatre. 'Probably boria needs to go out to the community because it is after all, a community theatre.'

When asked about the current state of boria in Penang, president of the Penang Jawi-Peranakan Heritage Society Dr Wazir Jahan initially thought boria was thriving until she personally went around looking for boria dance troupes in Penang herself. She found, 'It was very hard to get outstanding and accomplished groups who have mastered different styles of dancing from semi militant to latin.'

Often, Dr Wazir also found a lot of the boria dance movements diluted and uninteresting. Dr A.S. Hardy Shafii, Deputy Dean of Universiti Sains Malaysia's Research and Post Graduate Studies shared that something must be done to strengthen choreography and dance movements of boria. 'The choreography hasn't changed,' Dr Hardy explained. 'We wanted to see something sharp and energetic yet adhering to certain rules of choreography.'

Even with the given spotlight and opportunity to revitalise boria, how do we get the audiences to come back? Dr Mumtaz emphasised the need for awareness and making it educational as well as introducing boria courses in university and arts schools.

Dr Hardy also stressed the importance of the Ministry of Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage's role in rejuvenating the traditional arts and culture in our country. 'The ministry has to be very firm with (the arts and culture) guideline because boria today is not consistent. Each boria group has their own version and they'll say that's the right one.'

The ministry has to relax and let the arts move to its natural course shared Dr Wazir. 'Singapore used to ban everything. They had zero talent and no growth. Now, they have parodies and stand-up comedy shows because they realised this is what the youngsters want.'

'Let the young experiment different dance styles and let them improvise and infuse the movement of music and dance,' said Dr Wazir. 'The arts can't succeed if it's talked down. We have to let it grow.'

In conjunction with George Town Festival, catch 'Boria: Passage through Time' exhibition that will be held on 9 - 31 August 2014 at MPPP Town Hall. For more info, visit our event listing.