Poetry in motion

Daniel Lim

The art of mukun is a tradition that has existed across Borneo and beyond decades.

In preserving such a tradition, Kelab Budaya Mukun Selendang Sutera Brunei has strived to inspire youth to carry the artistic expression.

Featured in media across all platforms, supplemented by their tremendous feats of placing first in international mukun competitions, it is no surprise that club President Irwan Rino bin Nordin was quite fervourous as he shared his passion for the art during a recent workshop at the Language and Literature Bureau (DBP) Library Kampong Pandan in Kuala Belait.

Mukun represents a form of small and spontaneous entertainment made up of performances and acts – bepantun (reciting poetry) and betandak (dance routine) – accompanied by traditional musical instruments such as gendang, viola and accordion,” he said.

The art of mukun originated from Sarawak, he added, noting that “because Sarawak and Brunei are in close proximity, there is a history of culture exchanges between them”. He explained that mukun, being a form of entertainment in the olden days where television and Internet were non-existent, is rarely appreciated by the youth.

A mukun performance in progress. PHOTO: DANIEL LIM

However, he has noticed a revival in the art, with youth increasingly showing interest because it allows the performer to spontaneously generate poetry.

Pantun (poetry) is where one tells a story through rhythmic rhymes, which imparts motives or lessons to the listeners,” he shared, adding that a wide range of poems can be created, from urging the audience to keep the environment clean to bridge the gaps between the past and the present.

He believes that the spontaneous creation of poems requires quick wit and knowledge.

“The construction of proper sentences and phrases requires one to know about the topics that they are rhyming about, which can help broaden one’s view of the world,” Irwan Rino said.

Another aspect of mukun that makes it entertaining is the dance routine or ‘betandak’, which is carried out in pairs.

With the wide swath of knowledge and poems that exists, he said that one of the biggest challenges in inspiring youth to learn about mukun is the nudge for them to take the first step.

Among the efforts that the club has in overcoming challenges is through workshops on mukun.

The president said, “Kelab Budaya Mukun Selendang Sutera Brunei conducted workshops to disseminate information in each district.

“This year, we decided on the Belait District with cooperation from Sutera Sungai Teraban Association.” Irwan Rino said the club is always looking for new talents.

Having a club to consolidate mukun activities has also proven to be beneficial as like-minded people are able to share the passion, organise workshops, and join mukun competitions. Since 2012, the club has been actively participating in mukun competitions internationally. “We were fortunate to be placed first and second in the competitions,” said Irwan Rino, adding that the events “also provided us with an opportunity to observe our competitors to see how each performance differs as well as how it has remained the same”.

Since then, the club has managed to achieve awards in numerous prestigious competitions held across Borneo, from Sibu to Kuching and Miri.

“On stage, we may be representing our country. But we are a close-knit family that shares the same passion at the end of the day,” he said.

He hopes that the new generation will work hard to ensure that the traditional art form is maintained and passed down.”We also hope to gain more support from government agencies as well as the mukim and village consultative councils, as their support can help inspire the public through performances or workshops, as many are enamoured by mukun performances,” he added.