Scholarly article on topic 'The Aesthetic Morphology of Malay kukuran'

The Aesthetic Morphology of Malay kukuran Academic research paper on "Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries"

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Abstract of research paper on Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries, author of scientific article — Zulkfli bin Md Yusoff, D’zul Haimi bin Md Zain

Abstract Historically, the Malay craftsmen have created an attractive design and valuable traditional art form known as coconut graters (kukuran). The development of kukuran is closely related to its historical and Malay cultural background. The aim of this paper is to illustrate the form composition of traditional Malay kukuran, which are physical dimensions, material, shape, patterns, styles, and motifs. This study presents an analysis of twenty-five kukuran, which were gathered from the state of Terengganu and Kelantan. The discussion is focused on the formalistic aspects of the kukuran. The finding briefly shows the cultural fusion of the traditional Malay culture and religion (Islam) manifested in the kukuran design.

Academic research paper on topic "The Aesthetic Morphology of Malay kukuran"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 91 (2013) 703 - 709

PSU-USM International Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences

The aesthetic morphology of Malay kukuran

Zulkfli bin Md Yusoff D'zul Haimi bin Md Zain*

Faculty of Art and Design, Universiti Teknologi MARA, 40450, Shah Alam, Malaysia


Historically, the Malay craftsmen have created an attractive design and valuable traditional art form known as coconut graters (kukuran). The development of kukuran is closely related to its historical and Malay cultural background. The aim of this paper is to illustrate the form composition of traditional Malay kukuran, which are physical dimensions, material, shape, patterns, styles, and motifs. This study presents an analysis of twenty-five kukuran, which were gathered from the state of Terengganu and Kelantan. The discussion is focused on the formalistic aspects of the kukuran. The finding briefly shows the cultural fusion of the traditional Malay culture and religion (Islam) manifested in the kukuran design.

© 2013TheAuthors.Published by ElsevierLtd.

Selectionand peer-review under responsibility of Universiti Sains Malaysia. Keywords: coconut grater (kukuran), aesthetic, morphology, form, styles

1. Introduction

In the past, the Malay artists and craftsmen have created an attractive design and valuable traditional art form known as kukuran. For centuries, kukuran (utilitarian product) is a necessity kitchen utensil in every Malay traditional lifestyle (Che Husna Azhari, 2011). The development of the kukuran is closely related to the historical and cultural background as coconut milk was widely used as a major ingredient in most Malay cuisine. This artefact is now a dying art and due to the changing lifestyle of Malay society.

Kukuran is a utilitarian product. The word "utility" has a reflection partly of the arid doctrine of "utilitarianism" and has influence on social use. Primitive utilitarian does tend to be austere and thus, the word really means "fitness for purpose" (Morley, 1999). Utilitarian products serve to perform a practical function and

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +6-06-9875617; fax: +6-07-2612488. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Universiti Sains Malaysia.

doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.08.472

the artefacts are concerned with the aesthetic and function of a product (Aimone, 2004). Its basic purpose and function is to grate or scrape the coconut flesh. Then the design and development of the kukuran evolved in accordance to the tastes and aesthetics preference of the previous Malay community.

Traditionally, aesthetics is a branch of philosophy and related with the idea of "beauty" (Chick & Micklethwaite, 2011). The aesthetics was generally defined as "the philosophy of beauty" and demonstrate some

eternal laws of beauty in the universe. Even though, definitions of beauty have changed gradually through time, but still aesthetics is a blending of the area of philosophy, psychology and sociology. Aesthetics is not only confined to determining the beautiful of art, but the term refers to the concern with artistic qualities of form, and also attempts to discover the origins of the art experiences, the relationship between art and other aspects of culture (Ocvirk, Stinson, Wigg, Bone, and Cayton, 2006). Meanwhile, aesthetic morphology describes the nature, varities of forms ingredient in art and used to stimulate the aesthetic experience. The task of aesthetic morphology is to distinguish this variety of forms, in term of elements, details, parts, materials, ideas or other ingredient involved and also the way they are interrelated to each other (Beardsley and Schueller, 1967). Indeed, form is a mode of arrangement includes the physical and chemical structure of artefact.

Early studies on traditional art forms focused on oral tradition, folklore, folk art and folk crafts. In the context of traditional art, folk and traditional handicraft was embedded within the traditional way of life. It is a part and parcel of the cultural experience and the continuation of life style as well as history of a particular community. According to Siti Zainon Ismail (1997), some traditional Malay art forms are still being utilized daily. These art forms vividly show the existence of design concepts. It is possible to trace the development of traditional Malay art forms. Syed Ahmad Jamal (1992) claimed that the kukuran manifest the sensitivity of Malay craftmen in design, symbols and meaning. Thus, generally the creation of Malay art forms consist aspects of religion, cultural values, history, and customs (Balai Seni Lukis Negara, 1993). In the history of Malay art, there are underlying philosophical values, and aesthetics, relate to the belief in the religion which is Islam.

The search for the origin of the kukuran is still a subject for deliberation, but it significance to Malay culture is debateble. This is because the origin of the kukuran had never been well documented in our cultural history. Kukuran was a major kitchen appliance in every Malays houses, but sadly it perished due to the modern lifestyle. Even though its design had roots in the past; human needs, functions and emotions had changed overtime. Beyond the primary function of grate the coconut flesh, the kukuran symbolically house the Malay myths, proverb, poem, tale, legend and traditions. For instance, women were prohibited from riding the male kukuran. Kukuran can be classified into male kukuran and female kukuran. The male kukuran is complete forms of the male organs. It is a believed that women are not allowed to ride the kukuran which is devoted to men, especially when preparing for a big feast. There is a story about the kukuran competition in the parade to determine the most beautiful kukuran. The spirit of the kukuran will be called upon and the spirit will compete with each other like cockfighting. On another instance, according to the Malay legend, if a man finds his future wife undesireable, he will ask the shaman to bewitch the kukuran belonging to the girls so later resulted in the wedding to be called off (Farish A. Noor. & Khoo, 2003; Jabatan Muzium dan Antikuiti, 2005).

The Malay society is full of artistic elements and cultural affluence which reflect the sophisfication of the Malay civilization. The pre Islamic culture had long taken roots in the Malay society. Elements in the art forms were modified to conform to the Islamic values. Anything that is contrast with Islamic values was gradually discarded. The prohibition of human figure in the Islamic visual art has contributed to the other forms such as "vegetal ornaments, arabesques surface patterns, and geometrical designs" (Gocer, 1999). The Islamic art sees geometry, exactness proportion, repetitive patterns, symmetry as the direct expression of the divine and God's perfect paradigm. Therefore, the underlying concept of the kukuran design adhered to the concept of Islamic art

but not all of its visual forms are clearly revealed and manifested in other aspects of Malay art form and custom. In a way, this artefact offers some understanding and insight into the Malay art form as well as in the spirit of Islam. Nevertheless, evidence of pre-Islamic cultural can be form in the kukuran design. In short, the formal aspects of the kukuran are always supported by the Islamic iconolography as a whole.

2. The Genaral Characteristics of Malay Kukuran

Kukuran can be divided into three types which are kukuran duduk, kukuran silang and kukuran kotak (Zulkfli and Baharudin, 2012) and had various parts for it shapes (Fig. 1); body (badan), neck (leher), saddle (tempat duduk), legs (kaki), and tail (ekor).

Figure 1: Parts of kukuran Drawn by: Zulkfli bin Md Yusoff


1. Body

2. Neck

3. Seat Stradder

4. Legs

5. Tail

Object: Floriated animal form kukuran Year: unknown Place: Terengganu

Collection: Terengganu State Museum

Size: 59 cm x 15 cm x 25 cm Weight: 3.0 kg Material: wood (unknown) Motifs: flora

Generally, Malay craftmen prefered wood for their kukuran. However the types of wood used for the kukuran body is unknown unless the wood properties testing are done. Wood seems to be the main source for the kukuran simply because of its availability and easy to carve. Peninsular Malaysia is known for its high quality durable timber. The art of wood carving has spread throughout the Malay world probably due to the established patronage and knowledge of the art and craft. According to Ismail Said (2004), the selection of timber in architecture and craft depends on its physical properties (durability), availability of wood, and the Malay spiritual beliefs towards wood speices. The choice of woods for carving purposes depends on its availibality of the selected wood. Usually, kemuning (murraya paniculatum), kenaung (diospiros ebenum), ketengga (memillia caloxylon), chengal (neobalanocarpus heimii), angsana (pterocarpus indicus), and medang hitam (litsea myristicaefolia) were generally used for carving (Jabatan Muzium dan Antikuiti, 2005). Besides the selection of wood mentioned above, Malay craftmen also used woods from their surrounding environment such as ciku (archras zapota), nangka (artocarpus heterophyllus), rambai (baccaurea bracteata), nangka (artocarpus heterophyllus) belimbing (averhorra belimbii), bacang (mangifera foetida), kundang (bouea macrophylia), leban

(vitex spp), sena (pterocarpus indicus), penaga laut (calophyllum inophyllum) and kelat jambu laut (syzygium grande) (Ismail Said, 2004).

Traditionally, kukuran is designed in a lean-sitting posture, where a person sits slightly forward and sideward depending on the users. The kukuran design or style can be two-legged, three-legged or four-legged animals form. Kukuran have various shapes (figure 3), sizes and weight (table 1) that were influenced by local culture and the needs of the users. This lean-sitting and leg-sitting posture reflects the general sitting position of the traditional Malays.

Table 1: Twenty five sizes, weight and dimensions of the kukuran as located in museums and exhibition center.

No. Coding Length (cm) Width (cm) High (cm) Weight (kg) Seating Space (cm) Legs

1 MNKel 01 53 12 19 0.20 32 x 9 4

2 MNKel 02 60 15 28 1.00 23 x 15 2

3 MNKel 03 68 12 30 1.50 36 x 12 4

4 MNKel 04 62 12 30 2.00 16 x 12 4

5 MNKel 05 50 17 19 6.50 17 x 45 4

6 Kandis 01 44 14 25 0.10 12 x 26 4

7 Kandis 02 58 13 28 1.00 38 x 13 4

8 Kandis 03 60 12 23 0.70 26 x 11.5 4

9 Kandis 04 48 12 27 0.50 30 x 12 4

10 Kandis 05 47 13 22 2.00 32 x 13 4

11 Kandis 06 52 13 29 0.20 12 x 22 4

12 MNT 01 42 5.5 24 0.10 17 x 5.5 4

13 MNT 02 54 17 24 1.00 17 x 20 4

14 MNT 03 67 15 24 6.00 15 x 36 4

15 MNT 04 75 13 31 4.00 13 x 28 4

16 MNT 05 66 11 24 0.50 33 x 11 4

17 MNT 06 53 15 24 3.00 14 x 32 4

18 MNT 07 46 16 14 2.00 16 x 30 4

19 MNT 08 43 13 24 2.00 13 x 28 4

20 MNT 09 67 14 33 3.00 14 x 25 4

21 MNT 010 58 14 28 3.00 14 x 20 4

22 MNT 011 59 15 25 3.00 20 x 15 4

23 MNT 012 52 14 32 1.00 14 x 30 4

24 MNT 013 57 14 25 4.00 14 x 36 4

25 MNT 014 38 21 21 3.00 38 x 21 4

Sources: Kelantan State museum, Terengganu State museum andKandis Resource Centre, Kelantan.

3. The Floriated Animal form: Shape and Motifs

Initially the creation of kukuran probably began as a simple seat straddled with a sharp iron grater protruding at the end. From a simple shape of kukuran, it evolved to more complex styles. Over the years, the style of kukuran has become much more elaborate, and plays a significant role to cater as well as to influence the people needs or lifestyle. Kukuran can be said as designers' kitchen utensil of its time which manifested the level of creativity of it craftmen by adopting nature to its design. For example, by incorporating abstracted animal form either four-legged or two-legged animal form to the kukuran (see figure 2). But, because of the Islamic input, the abstracted animal form is not refering to any particular animal. Hence, it is an abstract form from nature. Kukuran from the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, mainly were derived from fauna. The fauna elements were transformed into floral form simply following the teaching of Islam. Kukuran styling is a creative endeavour where craftsmen define form that conjures certain emotion. Even though the styles in the Malay kukuran are culturally assimilated from the origin of a particular style (pre-Islamic) but the kukuran under study shows clearly a departure from its origin.

Figure 2: The design variation of kukuran found in east coast of the Peninsular Malaysia. Sources: Kelantan State museum, Terengganu State museum and Kandis Resource Centre, Kelantan. Drawing by: Zulkfli bin Md Yusoff

4. Design Motifs

The carvings on the body of the kukuran reflect the beauty, the creativity and skill of the Malays craftsmen in producing daily functional art form. The carvings for the kukuran looks simple but it actually portrays a high degree of creativity working on a limited space. The interesting here is the fusion of animal form and plant. The craftmen was able to depict plant motifs within the animal form without any contradiction of composition. The conceptual, position and motifs used in its design are balance, repetitive, and harmony in arrangement. The motifs in the kukuran can be classified into at least three different types which are flora motif, fauna motif and geometric motif.

Common source of inspiration for the Malay craftsmen is in nature. Flowers, fruits, and plants were used widely in their carvings. The most commonly carved leaf designs were ketola, janggut keli, ketamguri, bakawali, kedudut, kembek, pucuk rebung, daun pulut, ketumbit, bunga kacang, kiambang, kiambang, and others. However, the awan larat patterns can be divided into three types; awan laratMelayu, awan larat Jawa or cross pattern and awan larat Jawi (Suhaimi Hussin, 2006). Flora carvings using awan larat were ketola, bunga kacang, bunga raya, bunga teratai, bunga cengkih, bunga semantong, bunga kembong, bunga si tampuk manggis, bunga dala, bunga cempaka, bunga telipot, bunga ketam guri, pucuk paku, pepulut, kangkung, jari buaya, kerak nasi and so on (Suhaimi Hussin, 2006; Ismail Said, 2001; Evans, 1969).

5. Conclusion and discussion

The kukuran has its own identity and value that reflect the form and soul of the culture. Kukuran is intended for a utilitarian purpose but without neglecting its aesthetic value. Each and every one of this kukuran has its own unique style which is significant to the owner. The pre-Islamic motifs and carvings have also influences the development of the design of the Malay kukuran. With the coming of Islam, the Malay kukuran had manifested the teaching of Islam by achieving to the do's and don't in any creative endevour. Thus, figurative animal forms were always transformed into plant motifs and not necessary representing any particular animal or human forms. The underlying message is in the understanding concept of tawheed in Islam.


Our sincere thank and appreciation to personnel's and informants at Kelantan State Museum, Terengganu State Museum, and Kandis Resources Centre, Kelantan, Malaysia for their guidance, support, and the wealth of knowledge as well as experience.


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