“Rebana Kercing” is a form of traditional performing arts that had popularized in Kelantan. Historically, there are various opinions about the origin of Rebana Kercing that mentioned about the interaction of local people and traders. Some said that this traditional performance was initially performed by the Arab merchants who came to Kampung Laut village for trading. They performed this activity as entertainment to fulfil their leisure time. Another opinion from Encik Harun Hassan, the Rebana Kercing activist, stated that the dance was introduced to the local by the Persian Arab traders who came to Kelantan for almost 200 years ago by sea. In his opinion, this dance was initiated at Kampung Laut, Kelantan because this area is geographically close to the sea, and the traders stopped at this place for resting. He further pointed out that because of the Islamic element of the dance, it is usually played during the royal coronation, weddings, and Islamic holidays such as Maulidul Rasul” (Ismail, 2010).
With the interaction between the outsiders and the locals that happened simultaneously, this dance later functioned significantly as a ‘traditional media’ that strengthen their relationships. The Malay villagers and the Arab traders gathered and Rebana Kercing became part of this cultural activity where Islamic belief and culture were disseminated and cultivated in the form of performing arts. From this point, Rebana Kercing was not only the folk dance for the entertainment purposes but also the ‘community activity’ that represent the significance of a shared-culture among Arabic and Malay that interweaved music, songs and dance components.
Generally, Rebana Kercing is a kind of Malay musical instrument which belongs to the ‘membranophone’ category. It is a single-headed frame drum with small metal disks inserted into a frame. (Matusky & Tan Sooi Beng, 2017, p. 243) To perform this, the performers will wear a unique costume that represents the Islamic and a mixed of Malay and Arabic elements. The performance consists of between 10 to 12 adults and children. The adults will act as “pemalu rebana” who play the rhythmic music, while the children will act as “penari” or dancers who perform the simple steps and hand movements together with the vocalization of Zikir formthat narrates the history of Islamic religion and teaching.
While dancing, the dancers will harmoniously chant some verses or lyrics in Malay and Arabic, depicting religous principles and at some point praising Allah, Prophet Muhamad and his comrades for all the good deeds that they have rendered to the welfare of Islam and the world. It is believed that all the lyrics were originally from Hadratul Maut in Yemen, brought by the Muslim priests (dakwah) cum traders. The lyrics are as old as 300 years and it has not changed since then.These lyrics are traditionally passed down from one generation to the other by oral tradition. As a result, many of the lyrics were lost due to the lack of documentation. It was recorded that there were about 50 lyrics initially, however the number started to decline in the 80s’ and currently, the group has only 26 lyrics in kept. Even though Rebana Kercing has a significance contribution to the community in historical and socio-cultural perspectives, it cannot be denied that this performance is facing the problem of dying out due to the art itself and the external factors. Culturally, the decrease of performers, the lack of well-trained practitioners and supportive audiences are the main factors that disrupt the cycle of this art. From the economic perspective, the limitation of the chance for stage-performance, the lack of sponsors and funds have notably threatened the life of this art. Besides, globalization, modernization and even digitalization will continue to contribute to the dying of this intangible heritage unless it is able to adapt or reproduce a new form that suit with the contemporary society.