The Singing Storyteller
Adrian Jo Milang

In the #MalaysianHeroes series, we feature #YSDAF2018 partners who have been making a change in bridging the gap between the arts and the community.

Adrian Jo Milang is a full-time practitioner of traditional Kayan art forms called “Parap” and “Takna’”. The former are impromptu songs, while the latter are epics about traditional heroes.

In conjunction with the Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival (YSDAF), Adrian will be conducting a talk and demonstration during the festival finale weekend this 18 & 19 August 2018 at The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac).

 What are the “Parap” and “Takna'”?

“Parap” and “Takna’” are traditional art forms of the Kayan people, an indigineous tribe originating from central Borneo. They are often referred to as the Orang Ulu, or up-river dwellers.

“Parap” songs don’t have any rehearsals, lyrics and instruments. They’re sung by a leader, called the “Tukang Parap”, who is backed by a choir known as “habe”.

“Takna’” epics, meanwhile, can last for days. According to folk stories, a spirit created these songs and drifted them through rivers to the many tribes around the world.

These art forms carry traditional metaphors and formulaic phrases that are heavily inspired by the environment. When you listen to “Parap” and “Takna’”, you’ll learn about the Kayan elders’ way of life and even how they look.


“We get to know how our ancestors lived, (even) from a thousand or two thousand years ago.”

Adrian Jo Milang


What inspired Adrian to learn “Parap” and “Takna'”?

When Adrian was 12 years old, he dreamt that he was watching his tribe’s elders singing “Parap” and “Takna’” on the veranda of his home. When he woke up, he rushed to repeat the songs to his grandmother.

She then explained how “Parap” and “Takna’” are traditional songs of their ancestors. When Adrian heard the songs again during a live performance, he was hooked. So his grandmother began teaching him, and he also travelled to other Kayan areas, such as Baram and Balui, to learn more about “Parap” and “Takna’”.

Kayan poetic tales told in songs

The takna’ sung in this video draws its themes from tales sung by Kayans in Tubau, Balui, Baram and the Mendalam with the advises and help of Adrian’s grandmother.

Is it challenging to preserve “Parap” and “Takna'”?

Adrian says religion has sometimes been a personal challenge. Because “Parap” and “Takna’” are from his ancestors, their beliefs are vastly different from his. The ancient language of living with and being assisted by the spirits are central features, so it’s widely assumed that all “Tukang Parap” and “Tukang Takna’” worship those spirits too.

As such, Adrian urges everybody to appreciate both religion and culture without bundling them together. He warns that culture is lost if we make it seem less relevant than our religious beliefs. Instead, he encourages us to replicate the good things, and not to feel guilty about past cultural beliefs.


“I myself am Catholic, but that has never made me any less of a Kayan. If we lose our cultural identity, especially an indigenous person, who are we then?”

Adrian Jo Milang


Is there anything I can do to help preserve these traditions?

Adrian’s advice is simple: learn from our elders now. They’re the gateway to our roots, and we should spend time with them to learn where we came from.

You could also try being a “Tukang Parap” or a “Tukang Habe’” yourself. Simply attend his talk and demonstration during the YSDAF finale weekend on 18 & 19 August, and you’ll learn plenty about Kayan culture and its language.


To find out more about Adrian and the work he does, visit

Adrian is represented by The Tuyang Initiative, a social enterprise that works closely with Dayak (indigenous) communities with focus on inclusive development and promotion of cultural heritage talents, products & services for their chance at sustainable alternative income and preservation of tradition, arts and culture. For more info, visit