Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 18.COM 8.A.4

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Malaysia has nominated Mek Mulung (No. 01610) for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding:

Mek Mulung is a traditional Malaysian performance involving acting, dialogue, singing and dancing. Originating in the village of Wang Tepus, it is performed by a group of fifteen to twenty people, accompanied by a music ensemble consisting of traditional percussion and wind instruments such as drums, clappers and a gong. Mek Mulung follows a set structure and is performed in an open barn, with the spectators surrounding the performers. The main characters in a Mek Mulung performance are the king and princess, both of whom wear traditional dress, as well as the shaman, maids and antagonists. Originally, the actors were all men, some of whom wore women’s clothes for the female roles; nowadays it is practised by men and women. Initially performed as a celebration and expression of gratitude following a good harvest, Mek Mulung begins with a communal feast on the day before the performance for the artists and their neighbours, friends and guests. Traditionally, the knowledge and skills related to Mek Mulung are passed down orally by practitioners to their children. Today, the practice is also transmitted in schools and universities, and through seminars, workshops, forums and cultural festivals and festivities. The celebration is viewed by practising communities as a means of promoting lively social interaction and dialogue.

  1. Considers that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding:

U.1:   Mek Mulung is a combined art form consisting of acting, dialogue, singing, dancing and music. Mek Mulung is performed by a single group of performers from the same family lineage whose ancestors originally introduced the tradition. Historically, only men performed Mek Mulung, but people of all genders participate nowadays. The knowledge and skills are passed down from generation to generation by practitioners to their children, through observation, oral communication, teaching and training. After the establishment of related government agencies, workshops and other formal methods of transmission have also been undertaken by universities and NGOs. The element is an expression of gratitude for a good harvest and facilitates social interaction during its performance.

U.2:   The element’s viability has extensively weakened and only one group of performers remains. Members of the community are declining in number, the necessary equipment and musical instruments are difficult to obtain, there is decreasing interest among youth, the dialect used is uncommon and difficult to learn, and there are insufficient funds for the reconstruction of the barns in which the performance takes place. Transmission is also at risk due to the old age and health conditions of the performers, as well as to the fact that the informal mode of transmission of the element is almost discontinued.

U.3:   The practitioner community has maintained efforts to perform and transmit the element in spite of the threats. They have also participated in publications and research. The State has given recognition to practitioners and facilitated featured performances at local art events. It has also made the element the subject of several seminars and exhibitions. A safeguarding plan with measurable results, timetable and budget is elaborated. It includes four main objectives: (a) transmitting knowledge and skills; (b) enhancing capacity building; (c) increasing visibility; and (d) providing financial support and recognition for its practitioners. The measures were elaborated and will be implemented in collaboration with community members through a series of consultative meetings.

U.4:   Efforts to safeguard the element and involve the communities were initiated in 2018 through internal meetings and discussions to identify the condition of Mek Mulung. The bearers and practitioners were consulted to identify their difficulties in practicing as well as safeguarding the element. Several meetings and field visits to the Wang Tepus village were conducted. The file also describes various workshops and meetings involving the communities concerned. The nomination contains a set of letters of consent from the communities, expressing their support for the element to be listed on the Urgent Safeguarding List. The annexed video also shows the communities’ participation and the signing of forms to express their consent.

U.5:   The element has been listed on the National Heritage Register since September 2019. It is administered by the Intangible Cultural Heritage Division, Department of National Heritage, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia. The element was identified and defined using information received from members of the concerned community as well as from published records. The element will be updated once a year. The inventory is updated based on community needs, changes to the element that have been identified and new laws and procedures.

  1. Decides to inscribe Mek Mulung on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.