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Awang batil is a traditional form of musical storytelling found in the state of Perlis in Malaysia. One of the most commonly told stories in awang batil is that of Abu Nawas, a man who was known for his wit and intelligence. While originally rooted in Middle Eastern folk tales, the stories of Abu Nawas have been so popular that they have reached even the shores of Malaysia. Read on for one such famous tale and download the activity sheet at the end of this story to make your own awang batil mask!
One day, Abu Nawas had just returned home from the market when he was surprised to see several people digging his yard. There were earth, stones and dirt flying everywhere! Abu saw all the mess they were making and became upset.
Abu approached the people and asked angrily, “Hey! What are you doing here? Why are you making a mess outside my house?” They did not answer. One of them showed him a letter.
Abu took the letter and read it. In the letter, it was written that the king had ordered those men to find treasure buried in Abu’s yard.
Abu was furious but he could not do anything to disobey the king’s order.
After some time, the people stopped digging. They did not find any treasure. And to Abu’s horror, they then left the yard without cleaning up the mess.
“The king will pay for this,” Abu grumbled to himself.
The following morning, Abu went to the palace bringing a plate that he covered with a napkin. When he was in front of the king, he said, “Your majesty, these creatures have stolen my food.”
Abu then removed the napkin and a swarm of flies flew away from the plate.
“So, the flies have stolen your food,” remarked the king.
“Yes, your Majesty. Please, give me a king’s order to allow me to hunt down flies.”
Abu’s request seemed ridiculous to the king but he relented and gave Abu a letter that gave him permission to kill flies. After receiving the letter, Abu started hunting for flies in the market.
While walking around, Abu came upon a stall that sold oranges, and he saw that there were flies on the fruit. He raised his hand and smacked the flies!
The flies managed to escape but the oranges were damaged. The seller was angry with Abu, but Abu did not care and continued ahead.
Sometime later at the market, he saw another big fly land on a huge melon. Once again he raised his stick to hit the fly but missed! Abu’s stick hit the melon instead and smashed it to pieces.
The seller was most upset. But once again, Abu ignored him and left, just like that!
The fruit sellers were enraged and went to the king to report what had happened. The king ordered Abu to see him.
“Abu, you did a very crazy thing. You damaged the fruits of these sellers,” bellowed the king.
“No, I didn’t, your Majesty,” Abu answered calmly. “I just hit the flies,” Abu continued. “You gave me this letter, didn’t you, your Majesty?”
The king was about to say something in return when suddenly, a fly landed on his shoulder. Abu saw it too.
Without warning, he smacked the fly, and along with it, the king’s shoulder. The king cried out in pain and was outraged!
Yet, Abu did not feel guilty at all. He did not even apologise to the king and just produced the letter that the king had given him earlier.
Thus, it was through his wit and intelligence that Abu was able to take his revenge on the king without being punished in return.
Awang batil performers typically use two masks to tell their stories. Check out the activity sheet below for a guide on how to make your own awang batil mask!
Danial (Superduperdan) is a graphic designer by day and vigilante/illustrator by night. He takes most of his inspiration from friends, lives and stories that revolves all around him. These things are key especially to someone who visualises concepts as a creative as it helps him to understand even through his artworks that not everything has to be 100% nor perfect, as long as you did your best!
The good vibes continue
Celebrate the icons and treasures of the Malay community in its diversity and richness through the best in theatre, dance, and music from the Nusantara.