Performance Research of Asian Animistic & Shamanistic Rituals, May 2016 - March 2018


I grew up with Taoist trance and animistic rituals around me and in the home. Tapping into these memories and retracing my familial and shared cultural lineages has an increasing relevance to my performing artistic practice, especially in how the theatre of energies are played out.

About   t h e  s u b t l e  b e i n g s   Arts Project

Shamanistic pre-possession, in-possession and post-possession transitions are vital for performative and compositional dynamics. It affords options to conventional performance modes, explore improvisatory devices within community settings, interrogating and mutating relationships between performer and audience.

The animation of the inanimate, observed in rituals when objects seem to take on a life of their own, is an imagery device I attempt to integrate into the magical realism of my performative style. It deepens my skill in re-imagining entities and archetypes from a cultural, historical and mythological space in performances.

My practice now includes constructing phonic/abstract textures, which includes voice, the performative body and performance improvisation. How does the physical body affect the voice and vice-versa, and how can this relationship be pushed?  The research journey includes the observance of shamanic ritual singing as a gateway, revealing powerful models for extending beyond mere performance, ways of creating bodily and vocal sounds.

Animistic rituals are exemplary models where the unification of audience and performer is essential to the entire event taking place. I wish to research options in shifting perceptions of performance events where for instance, the inter-relational dynamics and structures insist on performers and audiences to be ritual assistants from the setting up of space to the unfolding of the performance event.


Imageries in response to Sabah, East Malaysia

...i asked the village head, Osewan how the footwork and arm and finger positions were conceived.  He turned around to ask his wife in the Rungus language my question.  Then he said, "...our ancestors chanced upon these beings in the deep interior of the jungles, and they were moving like so..."

Imageries in response to Hanoi



Mirrors on doors upstairs; and hung on the diagonal in corners; explore solar film                                                                   




Hanoi, Vietnam Feb-Mar 2017

It was definitely one of the better decisions that I made in my life to invite Binh Ta as an insider guide and artist-at-any-moment for this part of the research phase. 

The wonderful experience of being welcomed and living in the very house he grew up in Hang Bac street.  One of the most intimate aspect of his home was the altar on the the top floor which was the altar to his parents who have passed on. 

Binh had put in much organisation for me to witness the len dong events which he felt were the closest thing to possession or trance rituals.  I was hooked...  The first one occurred in a humble temple where the len dong ritual-performer had been practicing for forty years.  It was a sight to behold with around fifteen or more colourful costumes and ritual objects that symbolised the particular deity that was being incarnated.  Sometimes the rituals last a whole day and night with twenty or so incarnation and dance rituals.  This first one only went on for seven hours...

hanoi city

Loved my temporary living in Hanoi...

"... a quandary perhaps, that UNESCO has brought the Len Dong rituals back but the possession aspect of these rituals appear to have been curtailed..."

Sabah, Kampung Penampang Connections May 2016

Fri 29th April 2016: Arrived and was welcomed by Genevieve from Kampung Babah, whom Evelyn Masudal (Kampung Pogunan) passed me onto.  She is a Kadazan from the Papar area.  I had seen Evelyn's photo and figured that they would be about the same age... Her fourth child, Constance was also there to pick me up from the airport.  We enter the kampung via Jalan N.C. Mogunting, named after her husband's grandfather. They complained of no electricity - but when we arrived at 1130pm, the lights came on.

Genevieve was born a Catholic and her husband Sylvester Disimon was converted into Catholicism at the age eight.

Sat 30th April 2016: Susan Bansin turned up to welcome me.  Her husband is a Penang Indian who is a (judge) in KK. They met during Pesta Ka'amatan (22) years ago when she was helping out, minding the (tapai) drink stall (set up by the KadazanDusun Cultural Association). She showed me Gaya Street and talked about how the Allies had bomb-flattened KK in (the World War II), trying to oust the Japanese and one building in Gaya Street was intact. The only other significant building that I know so far, that survived, is the St Michael's church on the hill. 

We could not stop talking and I had my first banana leaf meal at Bandaran Berjaya at Sri Latha's Curry House. Susan began her career in Sabah as a quantity surveyor after graduating from England.  Meantime she has held the roles of activist, theatre practitioner, playwright and performer.  She enjoys contemporary performance discourse and improvisation, and has been appointed the role of theatre development advisor  by the Sabah Society of Performing Arts, Kota Kinabalu. 

There is a contemporary performance and art collective space that she used recently called The Asylum in KK.  The upcoming KK arts fest will use this space too. She offered a workshop and performance at the Sabah Muzium last year and an earthquake occurred on that very day.  The few participants who turned up despite the earthquake, were deeply affected by this event, changing their perspective on the forces of nature.

Sunday 1 May 2016: Found out too late that the 1st day of Ka'amatan was in Tenom and it was two and half hours away... ended up going shopping with Genevieve.  She has taken the task of giving me lifts everywhere, bless her!

Monday, 2 May 2016: I was invited by the host of my homestay (Kampung Babah, Penampang), Sylvester Disimon to the Grand Ballroom for the KSS Hontog Ka'amatan 2016 - The Launching Ceremony.  His traces back to the Mogunting line, which the road we enter is named after in Kampung Babak.  More details on the Ka'amtan blog...

Wed, 4 May 2016: Genevieve mentions that her sister-in-law used to be a practicing bobohizan...maybe she will contact her... We arrive at Evelyn's place and it is here that she informed me that one of the Ka'amatan villages is in Kudat.  The river near her place used to flow deep and carried traders on their boats right into the village. The Pogunon museum exhibits huge ceramic jars apparently bought from Chinese traders in exchange for salt, spices, etc.  These expensive jars were only bought by the rich who eventually buried their dead inside it. Many were discovered in a dig near the surrounding hills?

pogunon egrets

Thurs, 5 May 2016: Susan takes me to Penampang Proper: The house that her parents lived in when they got married; how her father and some of the other men in the village brought water supply to the village; she took a photo of her brother’s house and commented how because the kampong was on a floodplain, the water level would rise up to the roof during the rainy season towards the very end and early part of the year; her cousin’s house; her father is now frail, she takes him for dialysis every Thursday afternoon, today.

Back when life revolved around the Moyog River; how the bobohizan would do their sacrificial rites. She and her nephew are compiling documentation and gathering information for a project “Stories from the River”

At the Penampang tamu (a community market) :

Kombuongo is the stem of a shrub.  Shave a bit of into a glass of warm water and it can relieve mysterious illnesses that seem to appear from 'nowhere'.  The Bobohizans often carry a string of them in rituals as it is very effective for channeling spirits.  Kombuongo is activated in this manner only if one prays, chants or meditate over it...

Sabah, Ka'amatan May 2016

The Bobohizan is the Kadazan female ritual specialist who is also often a herbalist, therapist and consultant to the Village Head Committee.  Where once each village in the Penampang district could claim to have at least one Bobohizan in their kampung community, there has been a gap in women who are willing to devote their lives and apprentice themselves to this role from a young age. And then there has been the odd case where the willing female descendent has not been chosen to take over the lineage.

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