Malaysian Cultural Night 2024 – Desa Dendam – Barger Leadership Institute Student Voices

Malaysian Cultural Night 2024 – Desa Dendam

By Natasha Norman

Those who are familiar with Malaysia or consider it their home would envision its rich culture,
art, food, and the comforting sense of belonging and community. That’s what the Michigan
Malaysian Students Association (MiMSA) aims to bring forward with Malaysian Cultural Night
(MCN) – to evoke that familiar sense of thought that draws you in, encouraging you to see
Malaysia not merely as a country in Southeast Asia but beyond that.

Malaysian Cultural Night (MCN) is a project that features a comprehensive play and exhibition,
highlighting differences in religious values, social identity, and social issues in Malaysia. MCN
encapsulates our perceptions of our homeland into a night’s worth of unique cultural experiences.
The aim of our play is to raise awareness of the cultural richness of Malaysia, particularly within
the university, where Southeast Asian stories are still underrepresented.

For the past decade, MiMSA hosts MCN annually, but it came to a halt for three years due to the
COVID-19 pandemic. MCN made a comeback in 2023 with a play titled ‘Rojak,’ addressing
multiculturalism, marriage, and cultural prejudice in Malaysia. We continued the MCN streak to
2024; the play this year was titled “Desa Dendam,” held at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre recently
on January 18, 2024.

“Desa Dendam” follows a journalist, Juni, who, while investigating an old case, found herself
tangled in a cobweb of deceit and black magic. The play incorporates diverse religious and
cultural elements from Malaysia, including local folklore, superstition, religious practices,
traditional dances, and traditional fashion, all packaged into a murder-mystery-style dramedy.
This year’s MCN shines a spotlight on the superstitions commonly held in Malaysia. Superstition
is a prevalent occurrence in Malaysia due to its multicultural and multireligious nature. With
various ethnicities present, superstitions span across them.

The play is entirely student-led, funded by the institutes here at the University of Michigan
(shout out to BLI!), and originally crafted by us, the Malaysian students in University of
Michigan. I’d like to highlight that most of us involved in this play are not Art majors; we come
from various majors such as Data Science, Computer Science, Economics, Sociology,
Engineering, Mathematics, Actuarial Science, and more. MCN truly embodies that it takes a
village; we have teams such as the funding, multimedia, publicity, logistics, creative,
scriptwriters, stage management, props, and food. All overseen with their own directors and
members. Despite our busy student schedules, we nevertheless invested our time, effort, and love
into MCN. Executing a play from scratch at the University of Michigan truly requires a
collective effort, and I believe MCN reflects that. Behind the curtains of MCN, there are only
about 50 people managing an event with over 600 attendees. Therefore most took on more than
one role, such as our MCN 2024 Director, Shiryn Anissa, who not only directed and oversaw all
aspects of MCN but also acted and danced in the play.

MCN also drew Malaysians from across the States. Some made the effort to embark on a long
journey, whether by driving or taking a flight or train, to reach and attend our show. There are
those who have traveled from states like Minnesota, Wisconsin-Madison, Illinois, Ohio, and
New York. I would like to emphasize that we also received broad support in spreading the word
of our event, including student associations such as BSA, FASA, VSA, JSA, PERMIAS, and La
Casa. This reflects the diverse communities and the support we received from people of different
backgrounds and origins. MCN was not just an event for Malaysian representation; it was a night
filled with love and support, fostering a sense of community.

We successfully managed to showcase our vision of “Desa Dendam” to life on stage on January
18, 2024 from 6 to 9pm at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Throughout the play, many different
dances were presented as well, including a modern dance, the Chinese funeral dance, and a
traditional Malay dance (Ulek Mayang) in traditional clothing. This highlights the true
intercultural nature of Malaysia, where the unity shown through dances juxtaposes with the
conflicts presented in the story of the play.

After the play concluded, attendees were ushered to the Chemistry building or East hall for their
free dinner. The MCN dinner consists of goat curry, vegetables, rice catered by Madras Masala,
and chai tea catered by Cups n Chai.

On behalf of MiMSA we would like to extend our huge thanks to BLI for sponsoring our night
filled with excitement and entertainment, and bringing our hard work and vision to life. We hope
to continue the legacy of MCNs in University of Michigan with ongoing support from BLI.

We would also like to express our gratitude to all who watched our play and supported MCN 2024.

Truly, we hope Malaysian Cultural Night offers you a glimpse into Malaysia’s uniqueness
and the warmth of our Malaysian community, bringing Malaysia to mind and reflecting our love
and effort for our homeland—much like what MCN does for us.

Terima kasih (Thank you).

If you would like to check out more MCN 2024 photos and videos (e.g. teaser, trailer), feel free to
check out our Instagram: @michiganmalaysian
All stage photos credit to Alif, @alifnorz

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