In a world where nature provided for many of humankind’s needs, leisure was honed to an art form. Much of Malaysian leisure time is occupied by elaborate competitions. Kite-flying is a favorite among participants and spectators alike. Kites, called waus, are painstakingly designed and crafted in vibrant colors and patterns. Intricate floral cutouts are pasted on, building up the design until the kite is ready for the bright paper tassels that complete its decoration. Kite construction is an ancient art passed down from the nobles of the Melakan court. Over the dried padi fields, a wau bulan, or moon kite, catches an upcurrent of air. Its wing span is larger than that of an albatross. What used to be a post-harvest diversion among padi farmers has become an international event. Wau festivals are organized each year and draw participants from as far away as the Netherlands, Japan, Germany, Belgium, and Singapore.
The pre-harvest counterpart to the post-harvest wau-flying is top-spinning, a game requiring great strength, excellent timing, and dexterity. These are not childrens’ toys. A gasing, or spinning top, can weigh up to ten pounds and can sometimes be as large as a dinner plate. Gasing competitions are judged by the length of time each top spins. The tops are set spinning by unfurling a rope that has been wound about the top. A gasing expert can set one spinning for over an hour.
Silat is at once a fascinating, weaponless Malay art of self defense and also a dance form that has existed in the Malay Archipelago for hundreds of years. Like the best martial arts, silat is often more about the spirit than the body. The silat practitioner also develops spiritual strength, according to the tenets of Islam.
In an age when many of the martial arts are dying out, young people are especially drawn to this art–there are countless silat groups in Malaysia, each with their own style. Silat demonstrations are held during weddings, national celebrations, and of course during silat competitions.
Sepak Takraw is one of Malaysia’s most popular sports. In a game reminiscent of hackey-sack (or perhaps the source for it), players use heels, soles, in-steps, thighs, shoulders and heads–everything but hands–to keep the small rattan ball aloft.