C I K G U ..B A H R O O D I N 


A tribute to Cikgu Bahroodin,
our Living Heritage Treasure

Friday, 2 March 2007
Dinner at Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

By Dato' Datin Prof Wazir Jahan Karim
Executive Director, Intersocietal and Scientific (INAS)

Cik Gu Baharoodin Ahmad (Cik Gu Baha as he was fondly called) passed away in the early hours of the morning on June 28 2008 at the General Hospital, Penang. He had been suffering from kidney disease and failure for several years before finally succumbing to his illness. With his death, Malaysia has lost yet another artist of great repute and dedication to the Malay art world. Very few noticed that in July 2009, Cik Gu Baha was awarded the D.S.P.N. by the State government of Penang, posthumously which carries the title of Dato' for his wondrous contribution to multicultural theatre and dance. He united Jawi Peranakan and Cina Peranakan Theater through productions of the bangsawan- historic narratives, songs and dances of the Malay royalty in the Nusantara.

Cik Gu Baharoodin Ahmad was born in Singapore in 1944 at the High Street Police Station where the Museum of Singapore is now located. His father, Ahmad bin Hj. Saad was born in Parit Buntar and served in the Malayan police force as a constable. He married Cik Puteh bte. Y. Ismail who raised four children under difficult circumstances. When the Japanese bombed Singapore in 1945, his father escaped to Parit Buntar. In 1945, he was transferred to the Penang Road Central Police Station and then to Armenian Street, Central market and Beach Street. Cik Gu Baharoodin grew up on the streets of Penang and imagined he was part of a local mafia as he took mock shots passer-bys going to work 'Berhenti tidak aku tembak hang!! ('Stop or I will shoot!') Just like every police child who opts for the other side of midnight, Cik Gu was no different but this launched his astounding career as an actor, singer, dancer, director, producer, choreographer, and scriptwriter in indigenous theatre and dance or the performing arts, most significantly, in the bangsawaan, citrawara and ronggeng.

He had a dream to be a station-master, envious of their rambling bungalow houses and gleaming white uniforms with shiny brass buttons. In 1953, he was enrolled in the Sekolah Kebangsaan Glugor and in 1953 in Balik Pulau.When his father was transferred to Kota Bahru, he was enrolled in the Special Malay Class at Sultan Ismail College .Although he was still in primary school, he participated in a secondary school puppet theatre production, a Kelantanese adaptation of Tok Janggut who emerged as a Malay hero rather than a villain and destroyed the British with a blow of his wicked kris much to the dismay of Mr Cartwright the drama teacher who had advised them that Tok Janggut was a "rebel without a cause" He was further exposed to Kelantanese séance dances of Main Puteri, Mak Yong and wayang kulit (shadow play) and soon became a favourite child actor in school.

His first Shakespearean play was "A Mid Summer Night's Dream" where he played the naughty foolish and sometimes wise Puck who agreed with the other wise fool Bottom, 'That Man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream"

Cik Gu eventually studied in the prestigious English College in Johor Bahru where he painted props for the play, "The Importance of Being Earnest".and it was here that he discovered his real talents in acting. He took part in several plays, among which were "Midsummer Nights Dream",'The Importance of Being Earnest", "Hamlet", "Merchant of Venice", "Kejatuhan Tumasik" and "Sultan Mahmud Mangkat di Julang". He also picked up Javanese dancing, the zapin and ronggeng but his mother was constantly ill and he was forced to give up his interests to take care of her. These were hard times, when his family had to ponder on where to get their next meal, despite times when a piece of roti canai (flat bread) was ten cents.

This was the era of the jive, rock and roll, teddy boy walk and Cik Gu Baharoodin absorbed most of these new influences from America and adapted them into his walk. He started a trend doing the teddy boy walk and fast became the most popular student in the school. After completing his Cambridge O Levels, he enrolled in the Language Institute and trained as a language teacher. Here he met Datuk Sri Utama Rais Yatim, the current Malaysian Minister for Culture, Arts and Heritage, who became his roommate for a year. His first posting was Sekolah Kebangsaan Bukit Mertajam and in 1965 was transferred to Westlands Secondary School to teach Bahasa Melayu.

At Wetlands, Ms Perera the dance teacher engaged his help to train the girls at St Georges to master indigenous dances, He was spotted by N.A. Ogle, a member of the Board of Governors of St. Georges who asked him to train the students at the Universiti Sains Malaysia where he held the post of Registrar. Eventually, all cultural dances at the university were performed by the girls at St George rather than undergraduates from the university. As a teacher with a diploma, Cik Gu was able to enroll as an undergraduate in the University and chose to specialise in the Fine Arts. In his life time, Cik Gu has staged numerous bangsawans and may be said to be the prodigy of the famed Arwah Mak Minah and Arwah Pak Alias, who were bangsawan veterans and were hired as instructors in USM .They took Cik Gu under their wing. His early 1970's production of Dandan Setia, Si Bongkok Tanjung Puteri, Gul Bakawali and his later 1980's production of Laksama Mati dibunuh, Sayang Laksama in the Panggung Sasaran USM enhanced his reputation as a producer, director and choreographer and he moved on to do productions for the Penang State.

As an undergraduate, Cik Gu was without a scholarship or loan and gave art tuition to the children of now famous men and women to make ends meet. He became a household name among the pampered children of the famed Jawi Peranakan of George Town. Artist, dancer, and singer he became a member of the hip bohemian Malay art set in Penang appealing to both men and women, young and old.

When he graduated in 1989, he was invited to become the cultural officer of USM. He later produced Raden Mas based on his own script, Sri Tanjung, Sam Pek Eng Tai, or Butterfly Lovers a Chinese version of the Persian tale of Laila Majnun from a "Thousand and One Nights" and more recently Puteri Sadong with his favourite dancing troupe from the Prince of Songhkala University to a full house at Panggung P Ramlee in 2006 including "Dandan Setia," and "Si Bongkok Tanjung Puteri."

This period marked his warmest relations with the Prince of Songkla University, where in 2006, student dancers performed Thai court dances in his bangsawan production of Puteri Sadong the last queen of Kelantan. His production of "Butterfly Lovers" or "Sam Pek Eng Tai" in 2000 met with luke warm response, mainly due to financial problems, but it showed the bangsawan as a Malaysian melting mot with a multi-ethnic cast, fluently conversant in Malay and Chinese. The same can be said of "Rama and Sita" staged in 2003 by a cast of Malays, Chinese and Indian actors. Cik Gu's latest production of "Raden Mas" was based on an entirely new script which he had solely written and was staged in August 2007 in Panggung P. Ramlee as a preview to the national celebrations of Malaysia's 50th anniversary.

Baha was a gifted artist and was famous for his Bibik Itam performance launched by Khoo Salma Nasution in synergising the ethno-cultural traditions of the Jawi and Cina Peranakan and in reviving the ronggeng with the Straits Chinese Associations in Melaka and Penang. He was a multicultural, exuberant performer, much loved by everyone and guarded jealously by his fans. He was declared a Living Treasure in March 2005 by the Penang Heritage Trust. One may pine with his bangsawan lovers, "Tak lena tidur tak lalu makan, ibarat pungguk merindukan bulan"; die with his Bendahari Sang Rajunatapa "Memakan Sumpah Raja Iskandar, Suami-isteri menjadi batu, Kedalam laut batu di lontar ,menjadi Pulau Bukum diwaktu, or live with his Bibik, "Hitam manis hitam manis, yang hitam manis, pandang tak jemu".

Now the young Puck transformed into a Courtly Laksama builds the golden bridge of love from Tumasek to Melaka and Tanjung and joins myth and history in a stage of cultural innovation. "Alls the world a stage and all the men and women merely players". They have their exists and entrances Cik Gu Baha made a grand entrance As Algernon said in 'The Importance of Being Earnest", 'I don't play accurately, anyone can play accurately but I play with wonderful expression". His 'exist' however will be a reminder of the fragile connection between actor and man, the stage and the real world we live in.

Al Fatihah Dato' Baha, May You Rest in Peace.

An earlier version of this citation by Prof Wazir Jahan Karim on Cik Gu Baharoodin Ahma was made on, March2, 2007 at the Cheong Fatt Tse Mansion,George Town,,Penang "Malam Kenangan Mesra", sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage and Art Lovers of Penang.

Click here for programme of the evening

Click here for photo gallery

Organised by Friends of Cikgu Bahroodin
Supported by Penang Heritage Trust
With special thanks to the Kementerian Kebudayaan, Kesenian
dan Warisan Malaysia




Bibik Hitam

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A Tribute to Cikgu Bahroodin,
Our Living Heritage

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