The “Siput Kepah” Dance

By Eric Chong

In Langkawi, there is a “traditional” though somewhat obscure dance called the Siput Kepah dance. This is an outdoor dance performed only seasonally on estuaries. The only musical instruments accompanying this dance is a piece of broken coconut shell scrapping the sand. The “dancers” move to the rhythm of the scraping sounds. The main movement comes from their Gluteus Maximus, in short their backsides. With their gluteus stuck out in the air, their heads stuck somewhat between their legs, and their hands armed with a broken piece of coconut shell, the Siput Kepah dance is performed by jiggling or swaying the widest and highest part of the anatomy at that moment.

The Siput Kepah dance is performed not for its artistic values but to meet the basic need of survival. These “dancers” are actually digging for the seasonal cockles – Siput Kepah. To locals, cockles are categorized in many different names. If you mention cockles people here will think that you are talking about “hum1” which is a different type of edible seashell.

Right: the "dancers" out at the banks of estuaries during low tide.
In the evenings, it is a common sight to see the estuaries around Langkawi teeming with locals of all ages – some surprisingly well dressed for digging tasks. At low tide, the banks of the estuaries stretch out into the sea for a good half kilometer. Within these three hours or so, the Siput Kepah harvesters must dig for their meals. The Siput Kepahs are found about an inch to three inches beneath the surface of the sand. Most of the harvesters use a fragment of coconut shell to dig for the cockles. They look for anything that’s slightly oval shaped. More often then not, it’s the tasty siput waiting to be picked up. The Siput Kepah is placed in the pocket, a plastic bag or a container. If you’re new at this, don’t just throw them out of their hole onto the sand. Dead as they may look, they can still burrow their way back into the sand when you’re not looking.


In search of Siput Kepah.
Once the tide starts to rise again, it’s time to go home to cook the siput. The simplest and tastiest method of cooking is to fry the siput with a bit of ginger and some thick soy sauce. You’ll be surprised to see that no matter how many siput you cook, they’re never enough.

The Siput Kepah dance is performed along most estuaries at the change of the monsoon season – May to June and October to November. The main estuaries being Kuala Melaka (close to Delima Resort), Kuah river (in town) and Tanjung Rhu.

Now that you have an understanding of the Siput Kepah dance, you may join the locals in their evening exercise. This is a beneficial way to spend your evenings as you’re sure to end up with at least a handful of cockles for dinner.

About The Writer


A closer look at the Siput Kepah cockles, freshly dug from the sand. 

A n experienced Siput Kepah harvester displays his day's catch. 

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