by a romantic Mandaling musical tradition
which is expected to disappear within
the next two years,
writes HIMANSHU BHATT.
The thin tulila flute has produced some of the most passionate and romantic music to come out of the remote region of Mandaling on the western coast of Sumatra.
Today, the knowledge of making the flute and the technique of playing it have become endangered, as only a handful of communities still know how to do these things.
A fascination for the flute gripped ethno-musicologist Edi Nasution, a Mandaling himself, to research the origins and special features of the music the little strip of wood could produce.
Edi’s research, which he started in preparation for his student thesis at the Universitas Sumatera Utara in 1995, is now published in a book called Tulila: Muzik Bujukan Mandaling. What makes the research precious is that the tradition of making and playing the tulila is expected to become extinct by 2010.
“In this era of globalisation, a large portion of our traditional culture is on the brink of disappearing,” says Edi.
The awareness consumed Edi to travel around 18 districts in Mandaling to document and chronicle the unwritten legacy of this folk instrument.
Edi found that the tulila tradition developed a rather complex repertoire of music that was largely inspired by sounds of nature, as its music emulates the buzz of insects, the chirping of birds and the rustle of the wind.
“What makes the bamboo flute particularly distinctive is that it was, until a few decades back, commonly used by men to court women,” Edi explains.
It was common for men to play the flute while reciting improvised pantun (rhymes) in the vernacular language. Played over hundreds of years, the hand-made tulila flute is a cultural unique feature as it evolved to fuse the art of music among common people.
“There are today about 40,000 Mandalings, descendents of migrants since the 19th century, still living in Malaysia,” says Abdur-Razzaq Lubis, the Malaysia-Singapore representative of the Mandaling All Clans Assembly.
Many cultural traits, including the Mandaling dialect, have dwindled tremendously in Malaysia over the last few decades, he adds.
“The research done by Edi is significant to us in Malaysia as there is still some Mandaling music, like the gordang sambilan, being practised here".
Edi’s efforts triggered an Asian university to express interest in recording the existing repertoire of the tulila tradition before it disappears.
The story of the tulila and its impending demise as an art form and a cultural practice is a reminder to all Malaysians of how fragile and precious the cultural treasures we still have are.
IT may seem to be just a simple little instrument made out of plain bamboo, but it produces the sweetest of sounds when played.
Tulila: Muzik Bujukan Mandaling is available at major bookstores
Talk about Tulila Music