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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dancing Queen: Sultans Legacy for '1 Malaysia'

Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter

The Sultana of Kedah made her entrance with a dozen citizens in costumes representing Malaysia’s ethnic diversity (photos, bottom of this post.) Behind her majestic shoulders, two subjects in the entourage waved giant wands shining with metallic shades of gold, silver, green, purple. In dazzling colors they paraded into the grand ballroom at Awana Spa & Resort.

A theme for the event was ethnic unity; the government’s “1Malaysia” campaign is aimed at creating unity among the country’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious people (58% Malay Muslim, 24%, Chinese origin, 8%, Indian origin; 10%, others.)

But I am getting ahead of my story. It began when I asked a waitress at the Phoenix Restaurant in Bayview Hotel why some 10 women were dressed in the same long red and black silk dresses.
She explained they were hotel staffers dressed to greet the Sultana of Kedah, who was about to arrive in Langkawi. The Sultana Haminah Hamidon was coming to tee off a golf tournament.

I braved my way to a young man sitting at a table in the lobby at Bayview, even though a hat was drooping over my face and my clothes were damp from a mix of rain and sweat on a tropical afternoon.

I asked the man a couple of questions; quickly, he said with his radiant smile, “May I extend these invitations to you?“ Later, I found out he was Nazran Bin Abdul Mutalib of Kedah state’s tourism department and an organizer for the royal events.

He gave me invitations to that evening’s Welcome Dinner and to the Gala Dinner the following evening (Sept. 18). I assumed Nazran was looking for “extras” to fill tables. Or, perhaps a white person would add variety to banquet participants. I felt privileged to have a chance to see a different slice of life.

Other participants included golfers from nearby Thailand and faraway Korea as well as staff from the Gunung Raya Golf Resort. Many of the 100 or so banquet seats were filled with government employees from national, state, and local tourism offices.

Both banquets featured speeches by high-ranking tourism officials, sometimes speaking in English. They extolled the natural beauty of Langkawi, “the jewel of Kedah,“ and they referred to its status as a UNESCO geopark.

Meanwhile, I asked Nadia Taib, assistant secretary at the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia, what her country’s royalty meant to her. She said the sultans (who perform a primarily ceremonial role ) are the ultimate representatives of her country; they represent a legacy, a national identity, the preservation of customs. Nadia is Malay Muslim, a "bumiputra" ("sons of the soil;" or, literally, "princes of land.")

She described her country‘s royalty as humble, approachable. However, the royal feasts were not humble. The first banquet featured Malaysian specialties, such as curries; the second one showcased the cuisine of the country’s largest minority. The 9-course Chinese dinner included braised shark’s fin with dried scallop, baby abalone, rice cooked in lotus leaves, prawns in bean sauce. The dishes were accompanied by multiple courses of entertainment, including traditional dances ( photo, second from top. )

The dinner fit for a queen ended with a chorus that roused the crowd, “Satu..Malaysia !” ( One Malaysia.) The ballroom seemed to vibrate with emotion. Then the sultana turned into a dancing queen ( top photo, lady in royal blue.) She has been one of the Sultan's wives for 35 years, but she became the Sultana just 7 years ago after the Sultan's first wife died.

At last I mustered the courage to ask Nazran if he invited me because he needed to fill seats. “No, not at all !“ he said , beaming as usual. “You were simply at the right place at the right time.“
Copyright, 2010, Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter


  1. Wow - that is so cool! Yet again, you confirm that it pays to ask questions. How lucky for you that you were at the right place at the right time. Sounds like a couple of fun evenings with interesting food and entertainment that you normally would not have experienced. Very cool! :-)

  2. What a treat! Both that you got to experience these wonderful events, and that you shared them with the rest of us! Thanks! I'm looking forward to more!
    -- Marsha