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Dive into ‘Dragonlore’

ANN/THE STAR – In the captivating world of Malaysian storytelling, where ancient tales are intricately interwoven into the cultural tapestry, Ninot Aziz, 59, has been steadily carving out her own unique space, fuelled by her passion for legends and literature.

As the co-founder of Hikayat Fandom, a Malaysian publishing house committed to preserving the heritage of the Malay Archipelago, Ninot is driven by a mission to share the enchantment of hikayat with a global audience.

For the uninitiated, hikayat translates to story, tale, or fable.

Her latest endeavour, Dragonlore From East And West, represents a broader exploration of Ninot’s literary endeavours, inviting readers on a cultural odyssey that transcends geographical boundaries.

This anthology brings together 14 writers from around the world, showcasing 24 stories in celebration of the Year of the Dragon.

“Dragons have long been associated with China, Japan and Korea. However, many do not know they are equally inherent in the Malay world,” said Ninot in a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur.

An artwork by Walid Muhammad which is featured in the ‘Dragonlore From East And West’ book, a new anthology series initiated by Ninot Aziz. PHOTO: WALID MUHAMMAD
ABOVE & BELOW: An artwork by Ariyana Ahmad, based on a Langkawi legend which is part of the ‘Dragonlore’ book; and Ninot’s motivation for this endeavour stems from her belief that legends serve as collective memories of ancient civilisations. PHOTO: ARIYANA AHMAD & THE STAR
PHOTO: ARIYANA AHMAD & THE STAR

“The legend of Tasik Chini Naga, the Dragon of Kinabalu, the Langkawi Dragon, the Bakunawa, the dragon of Mintian and the tale of the Green Dragon of the Andaman have almost been lost in time.

“The fact is, however, that from the Malay Archipelago to the Arctic, from the Sumerians, and Abbysianians to Persians and great civilisations including the Chinese and Greeks, dragons have existed in all great civilisations.”

Ninot said that she had been wanting to work on such an anthology like Dragonlore since 2012.

“And it’s finally here! I had wanted to write a book about dragons and began researching back then but when I couldn’t make it in time for that year, I began collating tales for 2024, the Year of the Dragon. The idea was to bring together dragon tales, and people, from both East and West to show that we are not so different after all,” said Ninot.

“Dragons are universal. They have a way of being both mythical and very real at the same time. Perhaps this is why they exist in our legends until today, in many layers of reality. Very often the stories of dragons are about brave heroes and adventures, of new beginnings, as well as stories of the creation of the world.”

In 2022, in preparation for the Year of the Dragon, Ninot invited writers from 10 countries to collaborate. The writers were carefully selected based on recommendations from the Frankfurt and Istanbul Book Fair Fellowship, Selangor International Book Fair, as well as from Ninot’s own network of poets from the international poetry blogosphere Dverse Poets, Poets United, and the former Magpietales.

Ninot said, “When selecting which countries the stories should come from, I felt China and our neighbouring Southeast Asian legends were a must. I also wanted writers from Europe, the Americas, Africa. Soon our publishers in Italy and Germany came on board.

“The final line-up of writers and translators include Emmy Award winner, producer and founder of the global Lunar Codex project, Samuel Peralta (Canada), together with Cora Wang Siyao (China), Anna Kordzaia S (Georgia), Helmut Kunkel (Germany), Rita Angelelli, Renato Ghezzi, and Maria Beltrami (Italy), Imam Qalyubi (Indonesia), award-winning poet Arian Tejano (Philippines), author and poet Can Yigit Tuncman (Turkiye), The Journey Man (Britain), with Malaysia being represented by Dr Minah Sintian, Ruby Yusof, as well as my very own beloved English teacher and award-winning writer, Teoh Choon Ean together with me.”

Ninot added that with encouragement from the Malaysian National Book Council and World Book Capital, she was able to initiate the project in 2022 at the Frankfurt Book Fair and had a strong vision then to reach an international audience.

“Our friends from Turkiye and Italy gave constant feedback to me and my co-editor Johnny Gillett.”

Ninot’s inspiration for this project is rooted in her belief that legends are the memories of ancient civilisations. “Legends promote confidence and pride in our heritage and culture, and greater understanding among people of different backgrounds and origins. These 24 retellings for Year of the Dragon 2024 show us how we are kindred in our greatest dreams and fears, heroes and villains, tragedies and triumphs.”

The anthology not only celebrates the universal appeal of dragon tales but also has been selected to be archived on the Moon via the Lunar Codex 2024 project, joining 3,000 other pieces of artwork and literature from 155 countries; a project founded by Peralta, one of the contributing authors of Dragonlore.

“Imagine my excitement to find out we’d been asked to join the Lunar Codex initiative. I believe that Dragonlore will help preserve our collective cultural heritage for generations to come.” – Ann Marie Chandy

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