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Relaying News Through 'Wayang Pacak'

Last update: 14/09/2018

Retired teacher Yusof Mohd Yatim showing a picture of him and his friends at an event after completing his studies at the Al-Azhar University in Egypt. --fotoBERNAMA (2018) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
By Kamaliza Kamaruddin

KEMAMAN (Bernama) -- It happened over 61 years ago, but Yusof Mohd Yatim can still recall the excitement of ‘wayang pacak’ (outdoor movie screening) night.

The 73-year-old former retired teacher said that wayang pacak used to be an important medium for disseminating information to the public, back in the day.

He remembers how it was used to address national concerns in 1957.

“I was only 12 at the time, but I was already aware about the worry of those around me over Malaya’s ability to form a new government once we gain independence from the British,” he said.

Yusof was born in Kampung Kemasik, some 29km away from Chukai, the capital of Kemaman district.

The then Alliance Party leader Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj, who later became the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, managed to allay their fears by using several information dissemination media such as radio, newspapers as well as wayang pacak.




Wayang pacak is usually screened in an open field. A white makeshift screen would be put up and a film would play on it with the help of a projector, powered by a portable generator.

This free film screening would ‘move’ from place to place, not only to provide entertainment to the people but to relay information as well, especially to those in the rural areas.

The person in charge would usually also disseminate information on current issues before the movie screening, which takes place at 8pm.

He would also announce upcoming screenings using a loudspeaker as the vehicle carrying the film equipment is driven around the area.

“Those who can read can get the information they need about the nation’s (negotiation for) independence in the newspapers but for the illiterate, the only way they would learn such information was to come down to the wayang pacak screening. And come down they did, in droves.

“To me, it was an excellent way to ensure that the necessary information reaches all levels of Malayan society back then,” he said.

Tunku Abdul Rahman beefed up such efforts by going down to the ground to meet Malayans from all walks of life and to explain to them in detail the vision of independence that the nation was striving for.

After Malaya achieved its independence in 1957, the Information Department took over the screening of wayang pacak . From the 1960s through the 1980s, the department officers would use the medium to disseminate information on communist activities, the Bumi Hijau farming programme and the importance of working the land.




“The roles of the wayang pacak , newspapers and radio became increasingly important as the country approached the formation of (the Federation of) Malaysia in 1963. We already had black and white television in the country at the time, but only a small number of people could afford to own it.

“I have to admit that as a teenager living in that time, I was highly susceptible to the influence of the media and I remember how it helped rouse the spirit of nationalism among students back then,” he said.

He recalled how newspaper commentaries and intellectual discussions on the radio would fan the embers of patriotism in him. These two information media were among the main sources of information for youths in the 1960s.

His thirst for knowledge and affinity for intellectual discourse eventually earned him a Terengganu state scholarship to further his education at the Al-Azhar University in Egypt in 1969. He was one of the first two in the state to receive the honour.

He said the changing times have posed greater challenges in the dissemination of information.

“Information travels very fast today but there must be an effort to rein it in so that don’t unwittingly become complicit in spreading false information,” he said.

As a person who has witnessed the independence and formation of Malaysia, he hoped that the newer generations would strive to strengthen their identity and appreciate the struggles of their forefathers as well as the resulting peace enjoyed by the nation today.


Translated by Sakina Mohamed





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