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Press & Reviews

The Star , Sunday October 29, 2006

Keeping traditions alive for younger generation
By Nik Khusairi Ibrahim

WHEN he was a young boy, Mohd Bahroodin Ahmad would stake out the Youth Club in Jalan Gertak Merah in Johor to watch a dance instructor, Mohi, conduct lessons.

“Whenever Encik Mohi saw me peeping through the door, he would chase me away. He did not want to teach me because he thought I was too young,” he recalled.

TICKLISH PERFORMANCE: Cikgu Baha is captivating in his role as Bibik Hitam, which he is currently performing at 120 Armenian Street. — STARpic BY K. E. OOI

But Mohd Bahroodin, or Cikgu Baba as he is fondly known, had a burning desire to learn and would come back over and over again.

He observed the steps from afar and practised till he got them right.

“I learnt hard and I practised hard,” said the 62-year-old cultural activist who was last year named a “Living Heritage Treasure” by the Penang Heritage Trust.

Although his parents objected to his involvement in cultural activities, Cikgu Baha grew up learning the Bangsawan, boria and other forms of traditional entertainment.

His late parents (policeman Ahmad Saad and housewife Puteh Yope) did not look favourably upon their son’s interest in the performing arts because they were not comfortable whenever he took on feminine roles at school stage shows.

His mother, especially, reminded him that entertainers did not earn enough and that acting was not a noble profession.

But the young Cikgu Baha, who was born in Singapore but raised in various states including Penang, Kelantan and Johor, persisted.

His father was in the police force and was constantly being transferred, and so he took the opportunity to learn the cultural performances of the various states where they went.

He had his first formal lesson in the performing arts while studying at an English College (Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar). It was there that a teacher by the name of Cikgu Mohamad taught him Javanese and other traditional dances.

It was also in Johor that he was first introduced to stage performance.

He remembered the first role he played, as a fairy in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Cikgu Baha later took comprehensive lessons in the performing arts under the tutelage of Normah Salim when he was at Maktab Perguruan Bahasa in Kuala Lumpur in 1963 and 1964.

He soon became an expert in boria, bangsawan, ronggeng, and other forms of traditional entertainment.

“Time flew but I learnt everything I wanted, from dancing to singing to producing bangsawan plays,” he said.

Cikgu Baha started his teaching career in 1965 at SMK Bukit Mertajam. Twenty years later, he was seconded to Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) as a culture officer.

He was also actively involved in boria groups in Penang. Cikgu Baha, who is also a boria master, used to stage boria shows for RTMs’ Dendang Rakyat slot in the 1960s.


METAMORPHOSIS: Cikgu Baha in stage costume (left) and in real life (right).
These days, Cikgu Baha is more passionate about bangsawan.

“After staging Puteri Saadung in Penang early this year, I plan to stage this Kelantan epic in Kelantan itself,” he said.

“My interest in Puteri Saadung started when I was in Kelantan many years ago. But it took me many years to finally put the play together.

“It is my fervent wish to stage the Puteri Saadung play in Kelantan where the legendary princess used to live,” he said.

Cikgu Baha said it was Kelantan’s rich cultural traditions that inspired him to become a cultural activist.

“It was in Kelantan where I learnt dikir barat and makyong. I used to play the character of comedian Peran in the makyong performances,” he said.

Cikgu Baha confessed that his love for the performing arts gave him little time to pursue any serious relationship.

“We must keep the traditions alive so that our younger generations appreciate our cultural heritage,” he said.

Among his more famous students are Zaibo or Zainal Abidin Abdul Hamid and dramatist Mubarak Majid.

Many have come under his charge and Cikgu Baha would take good care of them.

“I treated them like my own children. They stayed with me. I cooked for them, and prepared their school uniforms. I even paid their school examination fees.

“People think that Cikgu Baha is alone. But I am not alone. I have hundreds of children who care about me. They still visit me from time to time,” he said.

Cikgu Baha had a kidney removed in May. Six years ago, he had a heart bypass operation.

But despite his health, he carries on with passion.

He is now playing the role of Bibik Hitam in the eponymous monologue that tells of the life and tales of a Nyonya from the days of yore.

His positive outlook in life is also reflected in the way he jokes about his now “extra slim” figure.

“To play the role of Bibik Hitam, I must have a slim figure because Bibik Hitam advocates the need to jaga badan (keep the shape) to jaga suami (take care of husband),” he said.

“Bibik Hitam” is on every Saturday at 120 Armenian Street (show time: 9.30am and 11am). Admission fee of RM20 per person includes light refreshment. Bookings can be made through Adeline (012-317 5498 or 04-262 0123).
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