‘Potehi’, which literally means ‘glove puppet theatre’ in Mandarin, is a living and breathing Hokkien ancient art form.

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28-year-old Jasniza Johari may not have ‘Puppeteer’ in her ambitions list growing up but fortuitously ended up becoming one of the remaining few keeping this dying art alive as part of the Ombak Potehi team. We sat down for a short interview with this interesting individual.

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RD: Tell us more about the Ombak Potehi team and what you all do.

JJ: We are a team of young people who are working to revitalise Potehi for today’s audience which started with a project to document the artform and to ensure its sustainability for future generations, spearheaded by renowned ethnomusicologist Prof Tan Sooi Beng from University Sains Malaysia.

We look to Beng Geok Hong, one of the surviving original troupes as our mentors to teach us the technical aspects. We have written new scripts based on our own original stories, including local languages and dialects which injects local flavour into the artform.

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How did you first get involved with Ombak Potehi?

I joined community arts projects lead by Prof Tan as a teen. Even after I finished high school, I was invited back to join several projects. I did solely puppetry at first, then progressed to singing and narration, as well as writing Malay parts of the script and some lyrics to our songs.

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Do you have any musical background?

I don’t have much formal background in music, only some minimal exposure. When it comes to learning the art form from the key members of Beng Geok Hong, a lot of it is informal. The Aunties do not use musical scores, all they have is really the knowledge and experience of performing for so many years resulting in a very unconventional music lesson.