Storytelling is an important part of oral traditions of Malay communities. The relating of genealogies, folk tales and local history, reciting myths and chanting sacred narratives all form a valued part of people’s lives. They also express and serve to transmit social and cultural values.
In most traditional communities, folk tales are told for entertainment and sometimes to give moral instructions to the young. Folk tales are fictional, and while the range of subject matter is vast, some recurring themes with variations are found. These stories are populated with talking animals, spirits, giants and other characters. Animal tales are common in most communities. In the past, youngsters were often entrusted to the care of a grandparent, who related these tales just before children fell asleep at night.
Epic tales, too, are popular forms of storytelling. It usually involves a stylized type of recitation by a skilled performer and can take several nights to complete. Although they may contain legendary or historical materials, epics are basically fantasy. Much of the listener’s enjoyment comes from the dramatic skills of the storyteller and the beauty of the language used.
The true importance of these genres, particularly the more elaborate ones that incorporate ancient stories, lies in the preservation of legendary history, the recounting of the origin of the world or of a particular community, the remembrance of the deeds of a cultural hero or the explanation of the origins of a place. Through the narration and repetition, and use of performance as elementary theatre, such tales are kept alive, and connections with the past are maintained. Some have retained their past connections with mysticism.