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Keratan Akhbar NST: Bringing 'boria' back

Head of Boria Asli Pulau Pinang troupe Omar Md Hashim
GEORGE TOWN: The phrase, macam boria, is commonly used by Malays when they see two or more persons wearing similar outfits, likening them to Penang boria who don the same costume when performing one of the island's oldest form of performing arts.
But sad to say, it's a dying art.

However, this does not seem to dampen the spirit of boria enthusiast and Kumpulan Boria Omara and Kumpulan Boria Asli Pulau Pinang head Omar Md Hashim.

A ‘boria’ troupe in the 1920s.

The 56-year-old is determined to ensure the survival of the art through blogs, websites and performances. He was also involved in the production of a boria documentary produced by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. 
The boria songwriter and composer said there used to be more than 80 boria troupes in Penang in the mid-1990s, but now only five remain active.

"In fact, it used to be that every district and kampung would have troupes of their own because it was considered prestigious. The famous boria troupe in the 70s was Boria Sungai Pinang," he said.

In the early days, he said boria troupes were divided into two groups, the white and the red. Chinese triads in the late 19th Century would sponsor performances by these troupes.

"With many preferring modern music and plays, boria is rarely performed today, and I'm afraid that if it is not practised by our younger generation, it will become extinct."

Boria, which was brought to Malaya by Indian Muslim traders in the late 1700s, is an annual choral street performance in the first 10 days of the Islamic lunar month of Muharram, which commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad.

Hussein and his 72 family members and companions were murdered in the ninth century by Yazid (ruler of Iraq and Syria)'s army of 4,000 in the field of Karbala.

It is said that the word boria comes from the word "bori", a Muslim shi'ite tribe from Gujarat, India, which introduced the performing arts to Penang after settling on the island. 

A boria troupe comprised "sailors" -- male and female singers and dancers who formed the majority ofthe members in the troupe -- and a music ensemble consisting of accordion, harmonica and maracas players, and a trumpeter and violinist. 

Sailors performing a ‘boria’ number.

A boria show would usually start with a sketch before dancers join in the performance headed by the tukang karang. 

Omar said in the past boria members relived the tragic death of Hussein and expressed their sorrow by hitting their bodies with a red ball till their bodies bled.

"In the 19th Century, boria troupes were invited to perform at houses of rich merchants at weddings and on special occasions. In the first 10 days of Muharram, the performance will be held at the Tok Penghulu's house.

"Contemporary boria is performed during celebrations such as Independence Day or when launching events. It is lively with positive messages in songs and sketches conveyed by members donning colourful costumes," he said.

For Omar, whose boria group was recognised as a precious heritage by the National Heritage Department, keeping boria relevant and interesting is a challenge. 

"People were signing up -- it's just that there is a lack of invitations for troupes to perform. 

"Since setting up a blog on boria, a few groups have sought my assistance to form troupes. I get a lot of requests from students and associations, including those from government and private agencies.

"There are also troupes who sought my help to write rangkap boria or lyrics to their boria songs. 

"The government too is encouraging the formation of boria troupes by organising competitions,with the biggest yet to be held later this year," he said. 

Those who would like to know more about boria , or are interested to enter boria competitions, visit Omar's blog at http://warisan-boria.blogspot.com

Read more: Bringing 'boria' back 

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