Pak Hamzah Awang Amat has been called a master of 'wayang kulit', shadow play of Malaysia. He continues to pass on the wayang kulit traditions that have been handed down for generations on the Malay Peninsula. In addition to improving the tradition and creating within it, he continues to enlarge the audience and earn acclaim throughout the world.
Pak Hamzah was born in 1940 in Kampung Kebakat in Kelantan, Malaysia. This area is located on the eastern coast of the Malay Peninsula and is home to a still-thriving traditional culture. While a child, Pak Hamzah received instruction from his father, a dalang (shadow puppeteer). It was then he made becoming a dalang his goal. In 1959, Pak Hamzah seriously began activities in the art by serving as a musician in the troupe of dalang Omar Yunus. At the same time, he organized the traditional musical group Kumpulan Sri Setia and began public performances. He developed this group into a wayang kulit troupe. Later, he continued studying the wayang kulit narration, which are said to contain the essence of the art, under Awang Lah Pandak, a dalang involved in imparting the traditions of Kelantan. His abilities as a dalang, both as a performer and a producer, grew substantially.
The Wayang Kulit Kelantan in Malaysia originated in Cambodia and were brought to the Malay Peninsula from southern Thailand. The performances use aspects of the Indian epic Ramayana, which is also present in the traditional arts of Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia. Central to the wayang kulit is the Hikayat Seri Rama, which has been described as the Malaysian version of the Ramayana. The Malaysian version features unique forms of expression and different musical instrumentation. Pak Hamzah has again drawn the world's attention to the important traditional arts of Malaysia and reminded it of their true value. He also has contributed to improving the standing of these arts. The Malaysian government paid tribute to his activities by sending Pak Hamzah on a 10-country tour in 1971 that took the artist to Europe and Africa. This resulted in invitations from Western and Asian countries and regions. He has often been sent abroad for performances, cementing his international standing and reputation. For his many achievements resulting from his efforts on behalf of the Malaysian wayang kulit, he was presented with the first National Arts Award, established in 1993.
Pak Hamzah also has worked tirelessly to promote the training of his successors. Moving beyond the old master-disciple system used for teaching wayang kulit techniques, he established functional methods for teaching and learning and opened his doors to large numbers of pupils. Starting in 1977, he served for 18 years as a guest lecturer at the University Science of Malaysia. As a recipient of the National Arts Award, he currently serves as a guest lecturer at The National Arts Academy, where he provides instruction to researchers and students.
Pak Hamzah has rendered significant services to the development of the wayang kulit as a valuable intangible culture asset of Malaysia and as an internationally-acclaimed folk art. He is indeed a worthy laureate of the Arts and Culture Prize of the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prizes.