When I tell stories to young Malaysians, I walk away feeling here is another group of Hikayat Warriors to help me ensure  our Hikayat and folklores will be remembered and loved. Prof Emeritus Muhammad Hj Salleh tells us, “The concept of an ideal, equal, caring and sustainable society lies in its folklore and here are embedded the central thoughts, psyche and wisdom of the people. Therefore, it is crucial that we preserve them.”

As we celebrate Hari Merdeka, we need to take a step back and reassess our national integration. I find when I write or tell stories, and have stories from Sarawak and Sabah, from Johore to Perlis, the kids light up with enjoyment especially if these are their home states. They can clearly identify with the stories and this builds self belonging and confidence. That is why we need to relook and commit to adding the A in our country’s focus on STEM in education. We are moving in this holistic approach STEAM which is great - as everywhere we look, there is a battle-cry for more well rounded ‘Life Champions’.

Stories and storytelling can help greatly.

Hikayat and historical literature provides our younger generation with an insight not just into well written works, but also history, geography, creative thinking and sometimes, even science. More than 30 years before men landed on the moon, Herge illustrated how Tin Tin and Captain Haddock flew to the moon. Author Nisah Haron shared in her paper the evidence of science fiction in our legends and folklores. This is so true. Long before Jules Verne wrote 20000 Leagues Under The Sea, our Sejarah Melayu related the story of a great king Raja Chulan delved the depths of the sea in a ‘pesawat peti kaca’ to arrive in Dika, an underwater kingdom.
The Malay Hikayat, legends and folklores are among the most popular literature preserved in our Malay manuscripts and through oral storytelling. These legends, including those from our highly acclaimed dance theatres Makyung and Mek Mulung, hold the key to understanding and revisualising our ancient world, and thus possess immense value to the development of our national culture and pride, in particular to nation-building.
But beyond that, Hikayat, legends and folklores contain a wealth of Malay knowledge on topics ranging from governance, protocol, diplomacy, architecture, shipbuilding, weaponry and textiles to medicinal practices, literature, entertainment, music, dance, wisdom and creative thinking. They are proof that ancient societies in our land had highly conceptualized ideas and creativity especially evident before colonization. They represent an advanced culture of rich literature, heritage and cosmopolitan life practised centuries ago, and encapsulate the psyche and intrinsic values of the Malays as a people.

Since education today is aimed at prepping students for taking on the world around them, historical literature has never been more important! Historical literature helps students learn, understand and examine the way language has evolved. Being made aware of the way language has developed over time, makes it more likely for them to appreciate our roots  in the current milieu.

More often than not, Hikayat or historical literature allows the students to experience various cultures, time periods and our predecessors’ way of life. This in turn helps develop critical thinking skills, a quality that can help them to learn other subjects well. I often add Chinese, Indian, Japanese and other stories to my repertoire of legends.

This adds to the depth of stories we tell AS A PEOPLE. Imagine how wonderful our tourism attractions would be when there is a story tied to every destination, every craft and every tourism product we offer. Imagine how authentic and genuine when we tell these stories with depth in a voice that is confident and proud.
Today, it is vital to share with current generations how these old forms of knowledge evidenced in the Hikayat, historical literature, legends and folklores of the past remain relevant and are in fact vital to our future aspirations in the modern world.

The Malay Hikayat, legends and folklores are truly the memories of our ancient civilisation. They are key to our moving forward, from strength, to strength. 

Rebuilding our Nation, one generation at a time.

* Ninot Aziz from the Persatuan Sastera Lisan Malaysia,  is an author, storyteller and Public Relations Consultant with bzBee Consult.

** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.