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Cultural Arts and Heritage Education: Current Framework in Malaysia

By: Azhar Abdul Latiff

Pusat Pengajian Bahasa, Budaya dan Kebudayaan Melayu

Fakulti Sains Sosial dan Kemanusiaan
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

1.0 Introduction

Involvement of cultural arts and heritage in building high level civilized society and nation
are un-deniable. Content of cultural arts symbolized manifestation of a civilization of a
nation. The existence of cultural arts element such as music, theater, visual arts, dance,
choreography, literature, creative writing, and craft provided basic framework and
complementary to a quality life and society. All developed nations in the world have shown
their responsibilities in providing priority to their cultural arts training and development
whether as formal or informal training as a part of obligation in the way of developing
cultural arts and heritage in their society.

As per today, cultural arts industries have shown proof in contributing the existence of
society and generate quality life of a nation. The frequency, quality and quantity of a cultural
arts product and masterpiece can works as parameter to measure development and
achievement of a nation. Through proper cultural arts education and training, Malaysia could
produce more trained human resources in cultural arts and heritage industries, which could
serve the nation. These matters were realized by many parties in Malaysia.

As developing nation, Malaysia also did take comprehensive measure in developing

its own national cultural arts and heritage. One of the actions taken was by developing
domestic cultural arts and heritage training to society through national education system. The
framework of the system required involvement a list of government agencies, academic
institutions, and industry.

2.0 Cultural Arts and Heritage in Malaysia

Malaysia1 is as diverse as its culture with long influence of historical2 world and regional
civilization. There are two parts to the country, 11 states in the peninsula of Malaysia and two
states on the northern part of Borneo with Kuala Lumpur as capital city. Cool hideaways are
found in the highlands that roll down to warm, sandy beaches and rich, humid mangroves.
Situated between 2º and 7º to the North of the Equator line, Peninsular Malaysia is separated
from Sabah and Sarawak by the South China Sea. In the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia
lies Thailand, and in the south, neighboring Singapore. Sabah and Sarawak are bounded by
Indonesia while Sarawak also shares borders with Brunei with area of 329,758 square km.
The country experiences tropical weather year-round. Temperatures are from 21ºC (70ºF) to
32ºC (90ºF). Higher elevations are much colder with temperatures between 15°C (59° F) to
25°C (77°F). Annual rainfall varies from 2,000mm to 2,500mm.

Malays comprise 57% of 27.17 million Malaysia populations, while the Chinese,
Indian and Bumiputeras and other races make up the rest of the country's population. Malays,
Chinese, Indians and many other ethnic groups have lived together in Malaysia for
generations. All these cultures have influenced each other, creating a truly Malaysian culture.
The largest ethnic groups in Malaysia are the Malays, Chinese and Indians. In Sabah and
Sarawak, there are a myriad of indigenous ethnic groups with their own unique culture and
heritage. Ethnic in Sawarak (Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu) and ethnic in Sabah (Kadazan
Dusun, bajau and Murut). (Bahasa Melayu) Malay is the national language in use, but

The Federation of Malaysia comprises of Peninsular Malaysia, and the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the
island of Borneo (refer to appendix for details of Malaysia Map).
Prehistory - Proto-Malays came to Malaysia about 20,000 years ago originated from Yunan, China before they
being pushed to inland by the Deutero-Malays 300 B.C., an Iron Age or Bronze Age people descended partly
from the Chams of Cambodia and Vietnam. Langkasuka, Sriwijaya, Majapahit and Melaka (1400) were earlier
empire that ruling the country.1511, Melaka was conquered by Portugal followed by Dutch in 1641.1786,
British establish first settlement at Penang and gained full control of the country by the end of 19th
century.1957, Malaysia granted independent from British and reforming federation on Tanah Melayu.1963,
East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak) joined the federation and united under name of Malaysia.
English is widely spoken. The ethnic groups also converse in the various languages and
dialects. Islam is the official religion of the country, but other religions are widely practiced.
Malaysia follows the bicameral legislative system, adopting a democratic parliamentary. The
head of the country is the King or the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, a position which is changed
every five years among the Malay Sultanates. The head of government is the Prime Minister.
Manufacturing constitutes the largest single component of Malaysia's economy. Tourism and
primary commodities such as petroleum, palm oil, natural rubber and timber are major
contributors to the economy.

Malaysia government through Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture

Malaysia (MOI)3 has identified and divided Malaysia cultural arts and heritage into three
forms; 1) tangible cultural heritage, 2) intangible cultural heritage, and 3) handicraft. Through
National Heritage Act 2005, Malaysia government had defined national cultural heritage as a
form of tangible and intangible property, structure or cultural artifact and also including a
form of structural, performance, dance, singing, heritage music that important to Malaysian
culture in the aspect of history or current, above and inside the land or under the water (for
tangible form that which are not included in natural heritage).

Malaysia tangible cultural heritage consist heritage area, monument and building.
Heritage area including human works of a group of earth nature and human works, area that
including ancient area that valuable in the point of historical, aesthesis, ethnological or
anthropological view. Monument can be define as architecture work, statue work and
monument painting work, element or structure from archeology, inscription, cave occupation
and a group of character that valuable in the point of historical, arts or science view. Heritage
building is define as a building or a group of building that separated or combined due to
architecture, homogeny value, or location in landscape that valuable in the point of historical,
arts and science view. Malaysia tangible cultural heritage including jalur gemilang the
national flag, tengkolok diraja a royal regalia, and Manuskrip Sejarah Melayu a national

Ministry of Information, Communication and Cultural Malaysia (MOI), government executive component that
responsible in national cultural arts and heritage. National Heritage Department (Jabatan Warisan Negara) is
MOI agency that responsible to enforce National Heritage Act 2005. Malaysian Handicraft Development
Cooperation (Perbadanan Kraftangan Negara Malaysia) is MOI agency that responsible to enforce Handicraft
Development Cooperation act 1979.
historical manuscript. (Refer to Malaysia Tangible Cultural Heritage List in appendix for
more details)

Malaysia intangible cultural heritage was defined as expression, language, pronunciation,

aphorism, song produced by music, audible lyric, singing, folk song, oral tradition, poetry,
music, dance, theater performance, sound and music arrangement, martial arts that already
exist and connected to Malaysia heritage or any part of Malaysia or connected to Malaysian
heritage. The list of tangible cultural heritage including wayang kulit Kelantan puppet
performance, makyong dance theater, zapin dance and pantun folk poetry. (Refer to Malaysia
Tangible Cultural Heritage List in appendix more details)

Another form of cultural arts is handicraft. "Handicraft Products" through Handicraft

Development Cooperation Act 1979 was defined as any product that has artistic or traditional
cultural attractions and is the result of a process that depends solely or partly to the skill of
hand and includes any product batik and "batik product" means any article, however,
produced a batik design on or in any part of it. The list of handicraft product popular in
Malaysia are batik textile, songket, labu saying pottery, serunai dan rebab musical
instrument. (Refer to Malaysia Handicraft Product List in appendix more details)

3.0 Industrialization of Cultural Arts, and Heritage in Malaysia

Malaysia should have capability to generate industry from its diversity of cultural arts and
heritage. The industry contains many potentially develop element, from creative writing,
books and magazine publications to music material, from theater performance, singing,
handicraft, cinema, photography, television production and more others worth RM4 5.2
billion to RM 6 billion per year. Cultural arts and heritage education should be made as
realistic effort to archive the target. As per today, Malaysia still actively importing USA
creative and cultural arts products including film, music, book and publication material,

3.1928 MYR equivalent to 1 USD.
theater and television content, contributing a part of Malaysia imports from USA worth
USD 10.4 billion (RM 46.8) per year (USTR/Stern, 2006). In other hands, Malaysia cultural
arts and heritage industry products were found very difficult to be export to other countries.

Malaysia Cultural Arts and Heritage Industry term were officially used in 9th Malaysia
Planning (RMK-9) for year 2006-2010 under 4th core (improvising and strengthen quality of
life), chapter 23 – enriching national cultural arts and heritage. Total value worth RM442.4
budget has been allocated for the purpose and six prospects identified in enriching national
cultural arts and heritage;

1) Introducing positive culture value,

2) Establish cultural arts and heritage appreciation,

3) Preservation of heritage product,

4) Establish craft industry and craft promotion for world market

5) Creative in developing cultural industry, and

6) Establish development program in cultural arts and heritage.

In the planning, industrialization of national cultural arts and heritage in Malaysia will begin
with improvising national education system. Network and coordination between government
agency and private sector also will be strengthening up in developing the industry.

4.0 Cultural Arts Education in Malaysia: The Background and Challenges

Cultural arts education in Malaysia established in two forms; 1) formal cultural arts
education, and 2) informal cultural arts education. The cultural arts education already exist in
Malaysia since early history where knowledge in cultural arts were past from old to younger
generation thru oral tradition. Student learned cultural arts knowledge thru rote method
technique and time consuming practical practice under guidance of a master or ‘adiguru’ that
experience in the form of arts. The student will become expert after a number of years
training. More organized structure of informal cultural arts education exists in great traditions
that have developed in royal palace and institution of Malay Sultanates. In this form, master
of cultural arts or ‘adiguru’ was recognized by the institution or Malay Sultan (King).
Informal education in cultural arts still exists until today in sub urban Malaysia society lived
in ‘Kampung’ even through becomes unpopular for today modern Malaysia society.

Foundation of modern formal and informal cultural arts educations in Malaysia are based
on National Cultural Policy 1971. Based on 8th Malaysia Planning (year 2001-2005), the
status of Malaysia cultural arts and heritage educations by the end of 2005 as per below:

i. Government Cultural Centres (Taman Budaya) were operating in seven states with
four newly build located at Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Perlis and WP Kuala Lumpur.
The centre functions as a place to introduce culture program and to organize training
and development talent in performing arts.
ii. 220 Tunas Budaya a new youth cultural arts groups with involvement of 10,222
student in primary school and cultural arts club with 10,200 secondary school student.
The groups existed through co-operation between MOI5 and MOE6 in providing
training, facilities and guidance.
iii. National Arts Academy (ASK) providing courses in certificate and diploma level
education in theater, creative writing, dance, music and cinematography with 485 on-
going student and 157 graduates.
iv. Number of national heritage were preserved; 63 monument and 25 historical area.
v. A number of new museum and archive were build a cross the country to promote
cultural arts and heritage educations.

There are a numbers of higher learning institutions, public and private universities that
provide courses that related to creative, cultural arts and heritage industry in Malaysia. Public
universities including Universiti Malaya (UM), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UM),
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (UPM), Universiti
Teknologi Mara (UiTM), Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), Universiti Malaysia Sabah
(UMS), and Universiti Malaysia Kelantan (UMK). The private universities and learning

Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture Malaysia (MOI).
Ministry of Education Malaysia (MOE).
institutions that provide the courses are including Limkokwing University, UCSI College,
and International College of Music (ICOM). Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia
(MOHE) was responsible 1) for the establishment, organization and management of
Universities and Public University Colleges and, 2) for the establishment, registration,
management and regulation, of and the quality control of education offered by the private
institutions of higher learning. There are others government agencies including National
Cultural Arts and Heritage Academy (ASWARA), and National Handicraft Institute
(IKN) which functions as higher learning institutions that provides full courses in creative,
cultural arts under responsibilities of Ministry of Information, Communication and Cultural
Malaysia (MOI).

Malaysia cultural arts and heritage education system are facing some challenges and
issues in implementation. As we is already in 21 century, cultural arts education in Malaysia
still in primary stage, far behind other educational subject including science and technology.
An active measure should be taken to imbalance the situation. The area of challenges and
issues are:

i. Identify the direction of cultural arts and heritage education in Malaysia

ii. Identify the correct implementation to balance the theoretical and practical approach
in teaching cultural arts and heritage education
iii. Developing research and innovation thru cultural arts and heritage education
iv. Increase academic publication development in cultural arts and heritage education
v. Establish network and co-operation with Industry
a. Creative and digital media Industry
b. Film and Broadcasting Industry
c. Cultural Arts and Heritage Industry
d. Tourism Industry
e. Others (National, states and private Museum and Archive)
vi. Applying latest technology in cultural arts and heritage education
5.0 Cultural Arts and Heritage Research Framework at Center of Malay Language,
Literature and Culture Studies FSSK UKM

Mak yong7 theatre is a theatre form created by Malaysia’s Malay communities combines
acting, vocal and instrumental music, gestures and elaborate costumes. Specific to the
villages of Kelantan in east coast Malaysia, where the tradition originated, Mak Yong is
performed mainly as entertainment or for ritual purposes related to healing practices. In year
2005, the form of arts was listed by UNESCO as world intangible cultural of heritage.

One of the important elements in Mak Yong is the music instruments. The main music
instrument, rebab8 is used to provide melody in Mak Yong music ensemble accompany by a
pair of gendang, a barrel drum and a pair of tetawak, a gong. Rebab and the music ensemble
also being used to accompany other forms of Malaysia performing arts including Main
Puteri, a traditional healing process and tarik selampit, a story telling. In modern culture,
rebab has been used in Malaysia Traditional Orchestra ensemble. The rebab and its music has
been a symbol the Malaysia traditional music identity.

However, today, rebab and its music become unpopular among younger generations
in Malaysia and the heritage very potential to extinct. Realizing the important to develop
rebab as national heritage, Centre of Malay Language, Literature and Culture Studies,
Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Malaysia National University (UKM)9 was

Refer to appendix for picture of mak yong performance.
Refer to appendix for picture of rebab.
UKM established 19th May 1970. UKM main campus located in Bangi, an attractive and green valley area of
1,096 hectares. UKM also has a branch campus in Kuala Lumpur and a teaching hospital in Cheras known as
UKM Medical Centre (UKMMC). Philosophy - A combination of faith in Allah and beneficial knowledge and of
theory and practice as the basis for the advancement of knowledge, the education of society and the
development of the University. Mission - UKM is the National University that safeguards the sovereignty of the
Malay language while globalizing knowledge in the context of local culture.Vision - UKM is committed to be
ahead of society and time in leading in the development of dynamic, learned and moral society. Educational
Goals UKM - To produce graduates who are imbued with confidence, ethics, leadership and national integrity
forming a group of researchers10 from various disciplines, responsible to document and
identify technology development of rebab thru academic research on cultural arts and
heritage. The on-going research title ‘Rebab: Documentation and Technology Development’
(year 2010-2010) was funded by Fundamental Research Grant Scheme (FRGS) under
Ministry of Higher Learning Education Malaysia (MOHE) with objective;

1) Identify the culture identity of rebab

2) Document the process of rebab making
3) Record and identify the sound characteristic of rebab through musical acoustic
approach by obtaining the physical parameter and sound quality of the music
4) Discovering the technology development aspect of rebab as artifact of malay

‘Rebab: Documentation and Technology Development’ research methodology consist

library research of reading and publication material in various aspect of rebab including
cultural studies, sociology, musicology, ethnomusicology, acoustic engineering, and physics.
The field work activity will involve observations, participation, and interviews in cultural arts
centre and institutions located in Kelantan and capital city WP Kuala Lumpur. This will
follow by experimental research and lab work on rebab at UKM FKAB Acoustic Lab. Data
and information from the research work will be analyzed and a complete database on rebab
will be develop by the end of the research. Outcome from the research will be used by
cultural arts professional, law maker, society, student and others who involve directly in
preserving the national heritage and popularizing the Malay Folk Music. The research also
will produce a doctorate student.

who are able to engage internationally. A multidiscipline higher learning institution consist 13 faculties of
academics and 14 institutes and centres of excellence.
‘Rebab: Documentation and Technology Development’ research group researchers; 1) Dr. Samad Kechot
(Faculty of Sceince Social & Humanities) – sociology management, 2) Dr. Mohamed Anwar Omar Din (Faculty
of Sciences Social & Humanities) – cultural studies, 3) Dr. Mohd Zaki Nuawi ( Faculty of Engineering &
Architecture) - acoustics engineering, 4)Dr. Huda Abdullah (Faculty of Engineering & Architecture ) – physics,
and 5) Azhar Abdul Latiff (Faculty of Sciences Social & Humanities) – Phd. Student.
6.0 Conclusion

Malaysia, a nation that has a diversity of culture due to influence by outside world and
regional long historical civilization. Located in the middle of South East Asia region, the
people live with nice tropical weather, multi racial ethnic group, and riches with natural
resources. As developing nation, formal and informal education system playing a very
important role in the development of creative, cultural arts and heritage industries in
Malaysia. The framework begin with identifying national cultural arts and heritage through 3
forms; 1) tangible heritage object, 2) intangible heritage object, and 3) handicraft product.
Government executive component MOI, MOE, MOHE and their agencies are responsible in
enforcement of national acts and implementation of Malaysia Planning related to national
cultural arts and heritage and its educational system. The co-operation between public and
private sector is required to enhance the development of the RM6 billion worth industry that
potentially generate job opportunity that benefits its own people and increase country per
capita income.

The growth of programs in public and private Universities, Universities College and
learning institution in Malaysia that offering courses that related to cultural arts and heritage
industry have shown positive outcome from the framework of national cultural arts and
heritage educational system. Certain area of the framework should be improved prior to
challenges and issues that related to the system. Research and innovation component in the
education framework played an important role in the development of the Malaysia cultural
arts and heritage industry. As one of the primer institution in Malaysia, Malaysia National
University (UKM) through its Center of Malay Language, Literature and Culture Studies,
Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities continue the aspiration of 1Malaysia11 and
holding nation responsibilities by conducting research related to national cultural arts and

1Malaysia is an on-going campaign announced by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak on September
16, 2008, calling for the cabinet, government agencies, and civil servants to more strongly emphasize ethnic
harmony, national unity, and efficient governance. The ideology strongly emphasizes national unity, ethnic
tolerance, and government efficiency. The eight values of 1Malaysia as articulated by Najib Razak are
perseverance, a culture of excellence, acceptance, loyalty, education, humility, integrity, and meritocracy.
heritage industry with on-going project, ‘Rebab: Documentation and Technology


Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof. 2004 (editor). The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Performing

Arts.Archipelago Press, Kuala Lumpur.

Hasmah Zainuddin. 2006. Polisi Perdagangan Bebas Dunia dan Industri Budaya: Cabaran
Kepada Maruah Bangsa. Jurnal Aswara Bil. 3/2006. Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan
Kebangsaan Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.

ICCROM. Definition of Cultural Heritage. ICCROM Working Group ‘Heritage and Soceity’
1990 (Revised 2005).

Jabatan Warisan Negara. Senarai Warisan Kebangsaan 2007.

(18 May 2010).

Jabatan Warisan Negara. Senarai Warisan Kebangsaan 2009.

(18 May 2010).

Malaysia. Akta Perbadanan Kemajuan Kraftangan 1979. (Act 222).

Malaysia. National Heritage Act 2005. (Act 645).

Malaysia. Akta Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan 2006. (Act 653).

Malaysia. 2006. Rancangan Malaysia Kesembilan 2006-2010.

Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia (MOHE). University Act. (18 May 2010).

Malaysian Handicraft Development Corpration. Craft Information. (18 May 2010).

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Warisan Di Abad 21: Teori dan Praktis”. Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan
Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.

Rais Yatim. 2006. Hala Tuju Pendidikan Seni Budaya dan Warisan. Jurnal Aswara Bil.
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Unesco. The Intangible Herritage List. (18 May 2010)

Unesco. Makyung Theatre. May 2010).


List 1: Malaysia Tangible Cultural Heritage

1. Jalur Gemilang
2. Jata Negara
3. Panji-panji Diraja
4. Keris Panjang Diraja
5. Tengkolok Diraja
6. Gandik Diraja
7. Pending Diraja
8. Keris Pendek Diraja
9. Kalung Diraja
10. Cogan Agama
11. Cogan Alam
12. Cokmar
13. Cokmar Dewan Rakyat
14. Cokmar Dewan Negara
15. Bunga Raya
16. Manuskrip Sejarah Melayu
17. Hukum Kanun Melaka
18. Manuskrip Hikayat Hang Tuah
19. Watikah Perisytiharan Kemerdekaan
20. Perak Man

List 2: Malaysia Intangible Cultural Heritage

1. Mak Yong
2. Wayang Kulit
3. Bangsawan
4. Joget Melayu
5. Ngajat
6. Sumazau
7. Sewang
8. Rumah Terbuka Malaysia
9. Dondang Sayang
10. Lagu Negaraku
11. Seni Persilatan Melayu
12. Tarian Singa Atas Tiang

List 3: Malaysia Handicraft Product

1. Pasu Iban
2. Tembikar Labu SayongAnyaman
3. Rinago
4. Rombong
5. Songket
6. Sulaman Nyonya
7. Tenuan Pua
8. Kompang
9. Serunai
10. Sumpit Sarawak

Figure 1: Malaysia Map

Figure 2: Rebab of Mak yong

Figure 3: Mak yong performance