tribute to Cikgu Bahroodin,
our Living Heritage Treasure
2 March 2007
Dinner at Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
PASSING OF AN ARTIST
Dato' Datin Prof Wazir Jahan Karim
Executive Director, Intersocietal and Scientific (INAS)
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.
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
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"
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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".
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.
Fatihah Dato' Baha, May You Rest in Peace.
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.