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The poetry of Malay multiculturalism

Malay arts are offering multicultural communities new avenues for exploring identity and citizenship

Nick Long

   Young Riau Islander poets celebrate a successful performance
   Nick Long

Rizal is not the average Indonesian teenager. While most of his friends spend their spare time chatting by the seaside, watching TV or listening to music, Rizal has a very different hobby. It’s one that has made him famous in his home town of Tanjung Pinang the capital of Riau Islands province. Whenever he has an afternoon free, Rizal likes to dress up in traditional Malay clothes and wander through the town’s streets, serenading passers-by with poetry. His genre of choice is the pantun a traditional Malay verse made of two rhyming couplets, which are put together with comic, evocative or even romantic effect.

‘I really love writing and reciting pantun,’ he told me. ‘They’re great for telling to people on the street. They don’t take long to listen to and they always make the listener very happy. And it’s promoting my culture Malay culture. Did you know it’s the original culture of these islands? But so many people have forgotten it because they spend all their time watching VCDs or soap operas. By telling people poems I can show them all the important Malay cultural values that can help them find peace and happiness in their lives. And hopefully they’ll become interested and join in with

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