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Malay Contributions to English, pt.6: The Gong Show

Drummers perform near Jalan Masjid India

Drummers perform near Jalan Masjid India

While wandering around the Jalan Masjid India area last December during my sisters’ brief visit, we stumbled on a live performance in a small plaza. The show was of traditional Malay song and dance. There was a large squad of men sitting crosslegged, some with drums, some clapping, some singing lead, some chorus. The dancers were men too, with a few playing female roles in full female attire. Whether they were real-life pondans or skilled actors I don’t know, but they were very convincing. My sisters and I went back and forth a bit before deciding they really must all be guys.

Gongs, drums and props

Gongs, drums and props

Laying nearby were the props and instruments waiting to be used. Among them was an enormous brass gong. The gong is a popular component of traditional music around here, perhaps the best known of which is Gamelan, the percussion orchestra. “Gong” itself is an English word taken directly from the Malaysian language. It comes from the Malay word gaung which means “echo”. I wonder if the object itself originates in Malaysia. It may very well have come from China, since the Chinese also use gongs and are a relatively older culture.