Americas Asia-Pacific Lifestyle

Against this backdrop of global unrest, the timing was serendipitous for the celebration of Malaysia’s 60th Malaysia Day and 90th Armed Forces Day Reception at the Malaysian Embassy in Washington on October 19. The guest of honor was Daniel Kritenbrink, Assistant Secretary of State – Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs for the US Department of State. The event brought together more than 20 Ambassadors and their spouses, as well as key military personnel from around the world for an extraordinary cultural showcase.

Spiritual Healing at the Heart of Cultural Diplomacy

The event in Washington marked a significant milestone in cultural diplomacy between Malaysia and the United States. Malaysia’s new Ambassador to the US, H.E. Dato’ Seri Ambassador Nazri Aziz curated a program that showcased various aspects of Malaysian culture, including Mak Yong Theater (recognized by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity), Kelantan shadow puppetry (Wayang Kulit), Tari Inai dance, Silat Jawi martial art, and a musical performance, Dikir Barat.Most notably, it featured Main Teri, an extraordinary spiritual healing practice. Main Teri combines elements of dance, music, trance, and ritual to heal individuals suffering from emotional or spiritual distress.

Ambassador Nazri remarked, “The fact that the crescendo of the performance here in Washington was a healing ceremony comes at a rather opportune moment. We are at a time in the world when more than ever we need healing, and acts of aggression of all kinds, and from all sides, must cease.”

The Ambassador’s choice of Kelantanese performers for this event held great significance. As Malaysia’s former Minister for Tourism and Culture, Nazri is a staunch advocate for preserving core Malaysian cultural activities that are at risk of disappearing. He emphasized, “Culture plays a pivotal role in diplomacy, serving as a bridge that fosters understanding and connection between nations. Customs and traditions are powerful tools that enable us to delve deeper into the essence of different cultures, ultimately leading to a better grasp of their people.”

Daniel Kritenbrink, Assistant Secretary of State – Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs for the US Department of State (left) and Malaysia’s new Ambassador to the US, H.E. Dato’ Seri Ambassador Nazri Aziz

Strong Bonds and Future Initiatives

During the Embassy event, Mr. Krittenbrink underscored the enduring bonds between the USA and Malaysia, saying, “Malaysia has an important role to play across the world in increasing regional and global peace and security, and the United States remains committed, absolutely committed to our long-standing relationship and friendship with Malaysia and the friendship between the American and Malaysian peoples.”

He continued, “I want to thank you for what you do every day to promote the bonds of friendship between the United States and Malaysia. We’re so honored to have you here as your country’s great representative. I can’t wait to see what will be achieved in the years ahead.”

While the Mak Yong Theater is recognized by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Wayang Kulit shadow puppetry is not. Ambassador Nazri believes that the full range of Kelantanese performances should receive UNESCO protection to preserve them for future generations. The Kelantanese arts and heritage program in Washington D.C. was represented by Geng Wak Long, led by Kamrulbahri bin Hussin. Geng Wak Long is a Malaysian cultural arts group known for promoting and preserving Kelantan’s cultural heritage. This family arts company, including experts from institutions like the College of Creative Arts UITM and the National Academy of Arts and Heritage (ASWARA), has played a vital role in increasing understanding and appreciation of Kelantanese arts and culture among local and international communities.

The “Sounds and Soul of the East Coast” marked the inaugural event in a series of thematic cultural diplomacy programs during Ambassador Nazri’s tenure as the Malaysian Ambassador to the United States.

These programs aim to promote Malaysia’s arts and culture, highlight Malaysia as a tourism destination, and create momentum leading up to Visit Malaysia Year 2026. Additionally, these initiatives play a vital role in fostering Malaysian cultural literacy among the diaspora in the US and the global community.

Main Teri performance

Ambassador Nazri says the feedback from senior diplomats at the Washington event has been exceptional: “People described it as ‘hair-raising’. There’s energy. Though they may not understand the language, they felt the energy… something that was healing. While it’s something old, for them it was something new that they were learning about Malaysia. We need healing because there is so much anger in the world. We need to promote this to heal humanity.”

Mr Krittenbrink added that he thought the performance was absolutely spectacular: “I was quite moved. I’d never seen anything quite like it. It was beautiful, moving and exciting. This is a beautiful tradition and knowledge that I hope is protected and passed-down, and I’m so grateful that you shared it with us.”

Geng Wak Long will go on to perform at the Engage Malaysia Tourism event on October 25, 2023, at Rumah Malaysia (Residence); the 60th Anniversary Dinner Gala Malaysia – America Cooperation on Education Exchange (MACEE) on October 27, 2023, in Tun Hussein Hall, Embassy of Malaysia in Washington D.C., and the ASEAN Joint Cultural Program on October 30, 2023, at the U.S. State Department.

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