The dragon is one of many commonalities that binds the Malay Nusantara together, and that’s exactly what the ‘Dunia Naga’ exhibition aims to showcase. The temporary exhibition which runs until 30th October 2022 at Gallery 2 in Muzium Negara was curated by Encik Mohd Nasrulamiazam, who is also the deputy director of Muzium Negara.
On 22nd September 2022, En Nasrul, along with Muzium Negara curator Encik Muhammad Azam, took 14 museum volunteers on a special tour of the exhibition which features dozens of artifacts and we were delighted to learn about how this mythical creature played its part in the history of the region.
This report is a combination of the insights shared by the curators, my experience during the tour as well nuggets of information from my own research.
An age-old belief
While the Western world depicts dragons as four-legged, flying animals associated with evil and darkness, the Eastern version is a wingless, slithery creature associated with the seas and symbolises bravery, prosperity and protection.
Some etymology here – ‘naga’, the Malay word for dragon, comes from the Sanskrit word which means ‘serpent’ and is often used in Southeast Asian and Indian literature to refer to mythical beings with divine powers.
The belief of dragons in the Malay Archipelago predates the arrival of Hindu-Buddhism influence. And as Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms were established, as well as with the arrival of Islam later on, the locals’ depiction of dragons continuously evolved to incorporate religious and cultural beliefs.
As we made our way into the gallery, faint dragon roars coming from a video projection truly set the scene for our tour.
To treasure and to protect
Lining the walkway of the entrance was a row of ceramic jars, each glazed with different shades of warm, earthy colours and incised with intricate designs of serpentine dragons seemingly coiling around the vessel. These jars were often used for secondary burials in Borneo, but originated from China as most ceramics are. They are known as Martaban jars, named after the transit port of Martaban in Burma, a common stop in the trade route traveled by the ships carrying this pottery.
A final resting place is not the only purpose of these jars, though. The jars have also been used for storage of food and treasures or as a display ornament. It is also a symbol of social status, often handed down generations as family heirloom. In fact, such is the value of the jars that it can also be used as dowry and even to pay fines!
Next up in glass showcases were something akin to an artifact in Gallery B – makaras. The dragon makaras here were made in the 15th century AD in Sukhothai, which is the northeastern part of modern day Thailand. These white sculptures of wide-mouthed dragons bearing sharp teeth are a blend of Chinese and Southeast Asian cultures and made specifically for architectural decoration – to be mounted on staircase railings or the edge of rooftops, similar to gargoyles in Gothic architecture.
The art of war
Most MVs are pretty familiar with the keris, but the one in this exhibition stands out from the usual with its extraordinary length of about 2 metres. As one may guess based on its regal appearance, the Javanese Keris Besar Madura was mainly used for ceremonial purposes rather than in battles. However, the belief is that the dragon motif on the blade has mystical powers which can defeat the enemy.
There were also several other dragon spears from Majapahit kingdom and bronze swords from Ceribon, Indonesia on display. Other weapons in this exhibition that’s worth taking a closer look at is a mini cannon in the shape of an elongated dragon, as well as beautifully carved machete sheaths.
Dragons were often featured in weaponry and regalias of many Malay kingdoms as the creature symbolises power, bravery and strength. And some of the regalia still exists, such as the Perak sultanate’s ‘Pontoh Bernaga’ – a pair of golden dragon-headed armbands worn by the Sultan during official state ceremonies and believed to have existed since the days of Melaka sultanate.
All work and no play?
So we’ve seen burial jars, makaras, regalia and weaponry, and the second half of the gallery gets even more colourful. One of the first item to catch my eye because of how it glistened under the warm lights, was a gorgeous golden snake-dragon-patterned ‘blencong’ or oil lamp which is used as a light source for wayang kulit.
And as our group stood in front of several wayang kulit shadow puppets featuring dragons, we began discussing about the dying art of wayang kulit and other traditional performing arts such as Mak Yong. I must say, this is one of my favourite things about being an MV – the continuous learning that comes from information sharing and thought-provoking exchanges that take place whenever we gather… OK, now back to the exhibition!
A highlight in this area is also several carved-wood artifacts, including congkak boards shaped like a boat with dragon heads facing out from both ends and reptile-like scales carved deep into its wooden torso.
There are many fashion pieces too that feature this mythical being. From brass bangles, metal coin belts and traditional Chinese outfit to a sparkly tablecloth embroidered with beads. We also saw everyday objects such as kettles and a comb.
Looking at all the various artifacts and the amount of detail involved in its design, carvings and paintings, you can imagine how much the locals were fascinated by the dragon, be it for religious or cultural beliefs. And the fantastical nature of the subject too, was most likely a driving force for their creativity.
Loch Ness of Asia and Horn of the Dragon Princess
Somewhere in the middle of the tour, Nasrul told us about manuscripts and stories or hikayat around the region which mentioned dragons or some version of it and that reminded me of a couple of dragon-related folklore I heard as a child growing up in east coast state of Pahang.
Arguably the most famous dragon in Malaysia, is one that supposedly lurks in the state’s Tasik Chini — Malaysia’s second largest natural lake. Locals, especially the native Jakun tribe, strongly believe that a dragon named Seri Gumum resides beneath the waters. There have also been reported sightings of this creature, though none were scientifically proven.
Another story is about how the beautiful Tioman island came to be. Legend has it that a Chinese ‘dragon princess’ was flying across the South China Sea en route to present-day Singapore when she chose to rest on the waters along the way. She then fell in love with serenity of the location and decided to stay and transform her body into the island and the last remnant of the princess’ existence is her ‘dragon horn’ – twin peaks of Gunung Semukut, the island’s most striking landmark.
The legend lives on…
As we approached the end of the gallery, the spotlight was on a wide range of modern-day items in which dragons continue to feature prominently such as movie posters, video games, toy figurines and books; including one written by our fellow MV Rose Gan : ‘Dragon – (Penang Chronicles Vol 1)’.
The tour took about two hours and although time flew by, it did feel like we travelled through the ages. And the dragon, though ever evolving and ever illusive, has clearly stood the test of time.
Geiger-Ho, M. (2014). Vessels of life and death: Heirloom jars of Borneo. Malaysia – Brunei Forum Proceedings, 49-56.
Pertabalan Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Sultan Perak XXXV Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah Al-Maghfur-Lah Sultan, Yang di-Pertuan Dan Raja Pemerintah Negeri Perak Darul Ridzuan dan Jajahan Takluknya. (2017). Putrajaya: Jabatan Penerangan Malaysia.
Reger, K. (1997). Malaysia Singapore Brunei. Munich: Nelles.
Robe’ah Yusuf, Fathiah Izzati Mohamad Fadzillah, Jamilah Bebe Mohamad, & Jamal Rizal Razali. (2022). Pahang State Folklore Based On The Legend Of Chini Lake Dragon. International Journal of Humanities Technology and Civilization, 7(1), 22–25.
Tu, P.A. (2009). The Signification Of Naga In Thai Architectural And Sculptural Ornaments.
Wilson, J. K. (1990). Powerful Form and Potent Symbol: The Dragon in Asia. The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 77(8), 286–323.
Oleh Shafinaz Ahmad Shaharir Kredit gambar: Muhammad Nazirul Hakim
Bandar Taiping yang terletak di negeri Perak merupakan sebuah bandar warisan yang menyimpan seribu kenangan dan merupakan sebuah bandar permulaan bagi arus pemodenan di Tanah Melayu pada suatu ketika dahulu. Nama Taiping berasal daripada perkataan Cina “Tai-Peng” yang bermaksud aman selamanya setelah tamatnya perang Larut pada tahun 1874. Bandar Taiping wujud hasil daripada kegiatan perlombongan secara besar-besaran yang dipelopori oleh pemimpin Melayu iaitu Long Jaafar.
Asalnya bandar Taiping merupakan penempatan bagi sebilangan kecil masyarakat Melayu namun perjumpaan bijih timah yang banyak di Larut telah menarik perhatian orang asing untuk berhijrah ke bandar ini. Dahulunya sebelum penjajahan British di negeri Perak, Taiping atau nama asalnya Kelian Pauh terletak di bawah daerah Larut. Larut yang dimaksudkan bukanlah daerah Larut, Matang dan Selama yang ada pada hari ini tetapi Larut tersebut merangkumi ke utara hingga ke Sungai Kerian dan menganjur ke selatan sampai ke Sungai Beruas. Nama Larut adalah bersempena dengan nama seekor gajah yang digunakan untuk mengangkut bijih timah tetapi telah terlepas ke dalam hutan. Apabila gajah itu ditemui, kaki gajah tersebut berlumpur hitam dipenuhi dengan pasir bijih timah. Dipercayai disebabkan peristiwa gajah ini, daerah ini dinamakan sebagai Larut dan mula menjadi rebutan para pembesar negeri, penjajah dan pedagang asing termasuk pelombong Cina kerana buminya yang amat kaya dengan bijih timah.
Apabila menyentuh sejarah kegemilangan Taiping, dua tokoh terkemuka Melayu bagi bandar ini tidak harus dilupakan iaitu Long Jaafar dan Ngah Ibrahim. Kejayaan mereka mengubah Larut daripada sebuah kawasan pendalaman kepada sebuah daerah yang kaya dan terkenal tidak harus dinafikan. Ini kerana kejayaan mereka telah mendahului zaman pada waktu itu lagi dengan menjadi pembesar Melayu dan tokoh perniagaan Melayu.
Pengasas Pengembangan Bandar Taiping
Sebelum kedatangan British ke negeri Perak, Larut ditadbir oleh Long Jaafar yang telah diberi kuasa oleh Sultan Perak ketika itu. Umum mengetahui bahawa Long Jaafar yang telah membuka lombong bijih timah di Larut secara besar-besaran dan sungai-sungai dijadikan lombong bijih timah. Long Jaafar merupakan anak kepada Dato’ Paduka Setia Long Abdul Latif dan menantu kepada Datuk Panglima Bukit Gantang Alang Alaiddin. Long Jaafar berkahwin dengan sepupunya Ngah Pura, anak kepada bapa saudaranya iaitu Alang Alaiddin. Bermula dengan penemuan bijih timah secara tidak sengaja oleh Long Jaafar di Kelian Pauh (Taiping) telah membuka lembaran sejarah baharu dalam perlombongan bijih timah di Larut. Jumpaan baharu kawasan bijih timah yang dikenali sebagai Kelian Baru (Kamunting) turut meluaskan lagi kejayaan Long Jaafar dalam perusahaan bijih timah dan telah menaikkan lagi kedudukan beliau sebagai seseorang yang lebih berpengaruh dan kaya.
Kejayaan Long Jaafar membuka perlombongan bijih timah di Larut membuatkan beliau memperoleh kawasan pajakan di Larut dengan membayar sebanyak $125.00 setahun kepada Datuk Panglima Bukit Gantang. Kedudukan beliau bertambah kukuh apabila pada 28 Februari 1850, Long Jaafar menerima pengurniaan kuasa dan hak memerintah Larut daripada Sultan Perak, Sultan Shahabuddin Riayat Shah (1830-1851). Beliau meluaskan lagi daerah ini meliputi Matang, Kerian dan Selama serta menjadikan Kota Bukit Gantang sebagai pusat pentadbirannya.
Atas kebijaksanaan Long Jaafar, Larut mula berkembang pesat dengan aktiviti perlombongan bijih timah. Sebelum kedatangan pelombong Cina, penduduk tempatan telah melakukan kerja-kerja melombong secara mendulang sahaja. Namun dengan kedatangan pelombong Cina yang dibawa masuk oleh Long Jaafar pada tahun 1840, teknik melombong menjadi lebih rapi dan sistematik menyebabkan beliau membawa lebih ramai lagi pelombong Cina ke kawasan Larut untuk bekerja dengannya. Kerancakan ekonomi ini telah meletakkan Long Jaafar sebagai hartawan dan ahli perniagaan yang amat berpengaruh pada waktu itu. Ini dapat dibuktikan apabila Long Jaafar mempunyai hubungan yang erat dengan saudagar-saudagar Cina di Pulau Pinang dan hasil bijih timah Larut dijual kepada mereka. Hubungan erat antara Long Jaafar dengan orang Cina dapat dibuktikan melalui hubungannya dengan Law Sam. Law Sam merupakan ketua orang Cina bagi sukunya dan merekalah golongan pertama orang Cina yang datang ke Kelian Pauh.
Apabila Long Ja’afar meninggal dunia pada tahun 1857, kejayaan dan kekayaan beliau diwarisi kepada anak kedua beliau, Ngah Ibrahim. Ngah Ibrahim juga berjaya mendapatkan hak untuk memerintah jajahan Larut termasuk Kerian dan Bagan Tiang daripada Sultan Ja’afar Muazzam Syah (1857-1865) pada 30 November 1857. Beliau juga menempa nama sebagai seorang pemerintah dan ahli perniagaan yang amat berjaya seperti bapanya tetapi dengan corak pentadbiran yang lebih moden serta beliau memindahkan pusat pentadbiran Larut dari Bukit Gantang ke Kota Ngah Ibrahim di Permatang (Matang). Apabila berlaku pergolakan kuasa dan termeterainya Perjanjian Pangkor pada 20 Januari 1874, menjadi titik perubahan kepada kegemilangan Ngah Ibrahim yang menyebabkan beliau dan pembesar-pembesar Melayu yang menentang British kehilangan kuasa.
Apabila berlaku pergolakan kuasa antara pembesar-pembesar Melayu dan pergaduhan antara ketua-ketua kongsi gelap Cina telah membuka peluang pihak British menjajah negeri Perak. British juga mula campur tangan dalam pentadbiran Larut. Kapten Speedy, Penolong Residen British dilantik untuk mentadbir Larut dan J.W.W. Birch menjadi Residen Inggeris yang pertama di negeri Perak. Pihak British menyusun semula pentadbiran di Larut dan memberi nama baru kepada Kelian Pauh iaitu Taiping. Setelah pembunuhan Birch, Taiping dipilih sebagai pusat pentadbiran dan ibu kota negeri Perak. Kapten Speedy dipindah ke Hulu Perak. Semenjak itu, bandar ini mula berkembang pesat dengan pembangunan dan pada tahun 1883 telah wujud bangunan-bangunan baru yang digunakan sebagai mahkamah dan pejabat.
Keunikan Bandar Taiping
Pada masa kini, keunikan bandar Taiping dapat dilihat pada bangunan-bangunan dan barisan kedai-kedai lama yang menjadi ciri penting dalam membentuk identiti bandar warisan ini. Kebanyakan bangunan-bangunan konkrit ini masih kekal dan mempamerkan seni bina kolonial yang dibawa oleh penjajah-penjajah Eropah terutamanya British.
Pembangunan awal di Taiping terbahagi kepada dua era iaitu sebelum kedatangan British dan semasa pendudukan British di Tanah Melayu. Ketika pemerintahan Long Jaafar, sebuah kota dibina di Bukit Gantang sebagai sebuah pusat pentadbiran Larut dan pusat perniagaannya. Kota ini dilengkapi dengan benteng pertahanan dan gudang. Diikuti pula dengan pemerintahan Ngah Ibrahim, beliau menjadikan Matang sebagai kota pentadbiran Larut yang dilengkapi dengan kemudahan infrastruktur seperti jalan raya, balai pengawal, rumah kedai, penjara, gudang senjata, gudang menyimpan bijih timah dan lain-lain lagi kemudahan. Pada waktu ini, kebanyakaan bangunan dibina berasaskan kayu-kayan yang menyebabkan ia tidak bertahan untuk jangka tempoh yang lama.
Era kedua pembangunan Taiping adalah ketika penjajahan British. Pihak British mula membangunkan bandar ini secara terancang serta lengkap dengan kemudahan infrastruktur. Kebanyakan bangunan ini dibina rapi di sepanjang jalan-jalan utama dalam bentuk grid segi empat dan ditanami pokok-pokok. Premis perniagaan dibina dalam bentuk blok dengan sepuluh buah kedai untuk setiap blok di hadapan jalan raya yang lebih lebar. Jalan-jalan utama pada waktu itu adalah Jalan Stadium, Jalan Theatre, Jalan Kota, Jalan Barrack, Jalan Main dan Jalan Old Club. Sepanjang tahun 1880-an pembangunan dan kemajuan di Taiping dikatakan mendahului bandar-bandar lain di Tanah Melayu. Muzium Perak, muzium pertama di negara ini dibina pada tahun 1883 dan selesai pembinaannya pada tahun 1886. Sistem pengangkutan dan perhubungan menerusi jalan darat yang menghubungkan Taiping dan Parit Buntar turut dibina dan hampir selesai pembinaannya pada tahun 1883. Buat pertama kalinya, keretapi membawa penumpang dari Port Weld ke Taiping pada 12 Februari 1885.
Ketika itu, Port Weld merupakan sebuah pelabuhan yang sangat sibuk kerana hasil eksport dan import antara Taiping dan Pulau Pinang disalurkan melalui pelabuhan ini. Beberapa bangunan pentadbiran kerajaan juga turut dibina termasuklah pejabat pos dan telegraf pada tahun 1884. Penjara pertama di Malaysia juga turut dibina pada tahun 1879 yang dikenali sebagai Penjara Taiping bagi menampung penjenayah yang dihukum penjara di seluruh Negeri-negeri Melayu Bersekutu. Taiping juga mendahului dalam sistem pendidikan Inggeris di Tanah Melayu dengan terbinanya sekolah Inggeris pertama di Kamunting pada tahun 1878. Sekolah King Edward VII yang dibina pada tahun 1883 juga merupakan sebuah sekolah yang terbaik yang bukan hanya terkemuka dalam bidang pelajaran tetapi pelbagai jenis sukan seperti ragbi dan bola sepak. Malah, Taiping ketika itu juga menitik berat aktiviti riadah dan rekreasi dengan wujudnya Perak Club pada tahun 1881, eksklusif untuk warga Eropah dan Eurasian serta Taman Tasik Taiping yang merupakan taman rekreasi yang tertua di Malaysia dibina atas tapak bekas lombong bijih timah pada tahun 1884. Disebabkan kemajuan Taiping pada waktu itu menyebabkan bandar ini amat terkenal dengan jolokan “yang pertama” (first of many) kerana bandar ini mempunyai lebih daripada 30 kejayaan iaitu menjadi “yang pertama” sama ada dalam pentadbiran, pendidikan, kemudahan awam dan komunikasi, institusi keagaaman, pusat rekreasi, penerbitan dan persatuan.
Taiping menjadi simbol kebijaksanaan masyarakat dahulu dalam pentadbiran membangunkan sebuah bandar secara teratur serta sistematik yang lengkap dengan pelbagai fasiliti dan kemudahan. Bandar ini telah mencapai usia lebih 100 tahun dan telah diangkat sebagai bandar warisan yang sangat unik malah signifikan dalam perkembangan sejarah awal Malaysia. Malah, Taiping sering menjadi tumpuan para penyelidik dalam pelbagai bidang termasuklah mengkaji seni bina struktur bangunan-bangunan terawal yang terdapat di bandar ini. Pentingnya bandar warisan ini bukan sahaja menjadi tumpuan para pelancong, tetapi untuk tatapan generasi baru Malaysia yang bakal mewarisi negara ini bagi mereka mengetahui tentang asal-usul mereka dan menghayati peristiwa masa lalu negara. Malah generasi baru juga harus tahu bahawa Taiping merupakan tempat bermulanya pertumbuhan nasionalisme Melayu yang diketuai oleh Ngah Ibrahim dan sekutunya dalam menentang campur tangan penjajah British di negara ini. Oleh itu, peranan bandar ini tidak harus diabaikan dan langkah-langkah pemuliharaan bangunan-bangunan yang telah dimamah usia haruslah diberi perhatian dengan segera bagi tatapan generasi akan datang.
A. T. (2004). Old Taiping. Malaysia: Alex Teoh Eng Kean.
As we know, the Dongson drum displayed in the burial section of Gallery A is one of two found face down in a boat burial at Kampung Sungai Lang, Selangor. What about the second drum? Where is it located? It rests closer to home at the Jugra Insitu Museum in Kuala Langat.
Examining historical artefacts complements textual research and, hence, knowing what artefacts are available in museums is an important step for historians and researchers. Using Google My Maps as the database, 209 museums and galleries have been identified pertinent to the history, culture, heritage and natural history of Malaysia. Although work is still ongoing to obtain information on the collections, this database is a good starting point to understand the museum scene in Malaysia.
Each state in the country has its own museum showcasing the history and heritage of the state, generally starting from prehistoric times up to the modern era. There are also smaller museums within a state that focus on a district or a town; examples include the Petaling Jaya Museum, Rembau Museum in Negeri Sembilan, the Kemaman District Museum in Terengganu and the Baram Regional Museum in Sarawak. Museums such as the Chitty Museum in Melaka, the Murut Cultural Centre in Sabah and the Sapan Puloh Melanau Museum in Sarawak, celebrate the uniqueness of local communities. The Pogunon Community Museum in Sabah was built in-situ on an ancient megalith site to showcase the archaeological discoveries in the area.
Skimming through the list of museums, you will find that there are three museums dedicated to the kite – Muzium Wau in Kelantan as well as a Muzium Layang Layang in both Johor and Melaka – attesting to the popularity of this pastime. Previously, kites were used to establish contact with the heavens. Hence, they were beautifully shaped and decorated to find favour with the sky and wind spirits. Kites featured in the three museums have shapes and decorations unique to the state, providing valuable insight into kite research.
There are quite a number of other special-purpose museums. Museums such as the Pineapple Museum (Johor), Timber Museum (Sarawak), Petroleum Museum (Sarawak) and the Tanjung Balau Fisherman Museum (Johor) are industry specific while the Ho Yan Hor Museum (Perak) showcases the history of a company. The Bank Kerapu Second World War Memorial in Kota Bharu preserves the memory of the Japanese Occupation. The Mersing Museum, although conceived to showcase the history and culture of Mersing, also provides information on the naval engagement, popularly known as the Battle of Endau, that took place off its shores between the Allied forces and the Japanese Army. The Watercraft and Boat Gallery in Pahang would be an interesting one to visit for those interested in boats, both ancient and contemporary. Melaka is a treasure throve for speciality museums – Submarine Museum, Malaysia Prison Museum, Melaka Stamp Museum and Beauty Museum, to name a few.
Malaysian waters have its fair number of shipwrecks. While the National Museum has a large collection of shipwreck ceramics, some pieces from the Wanli Shipwreck are displayed at the Dungun District Museum while the Tanjung Balau Fisherman Museum provides information on the Desaru Shipwreck.
Tin mining machinery at the Kampar Tin Mining Museum Mural at the Paddy Museum in Alor Setar Metal bowl from the Mamluk Sultanate at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia A display at the Time Tunnel Museum in Cameron Highlands Fossils at the Geology Museum in Ipoh
The National Archives of Malaysia manages a number of galleries dedicated to honouring the contributions of selected individuals to the country, mainly political figures such as former Prime Ministers. However, local communities have also established museums to honour local heroes, such as the House of Sybil Kathigasu in Papan (Perak) and the Mat Kilau Gallery Complex in Pulau Tawar (Pahang). The Bentong Gallery in Pahang is dedicated to Loke Yew’s role in developing this tin mining town.
Big or small, elaborate or simple, each museum/gallery in the list has a story to tell. Click the button below to explore the list of museums on Google My Maps.
A perfect way to spend a Saturday morning is to take a stroll to the National Textile Museum especially with a well-informed volunteer guide, Anne. The Textile Museum gives one a good overview of not just textiles and weaving techniques but also various accessories that can also be worn. One will be surprised that the some of the patterns of the olden textiles will not lose out in terms of beauty with their modern contemporaries.
There are four permanent galleries in the National Textile Museum, viz.:
Pohon Budi Gallery (Ground Floor)
This gallery tells the story of the evolution of textiles and the techniques associated with textile weaving, beginning with the initial use of bark cloth as covering. This involved the simple art of using stone to beat the bark until it was soft. Early fibre used for weaving was from banana trunk or pineapple leaves. Exhibits include techniques of calendaring and gilding, gold thread embroidery on velvet, woven and embroidered textiles, Iban ceremonial cloth (pua kumbu), songket weaving, beading on shoes, collars, head cloth and tapestry as well as a comprehensive section on batik making.
Various looms were displayed and one is made aware that when using the back-strap loom for weaving, the size of the cloth is restricted to the body width though not the length.
Various techniques of creating patterns for example calendaring and gilding, tie and dye method, block printing, canting hand drawn technique as well as gold thread embroidery, using of gold leaf or dust were explained.
Some pieces from The Royal Pahang Weaving are also on display.
Pelangi Gallery (Ground Floor)
This gallery explores the various types of textiles. Batik making started in the 1930’s in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia (Malaya then). Before that batik cloth was imported mainly from Indonesia. The costly batik imports gave a push to the entrepreneurs in the East Coast to start their own batik making. Examples of tie and dye and hand drawn batik are exhibited. Malaysian batik is more colourful compared to its Indonesian counterpart.
It was pointed out that the square Sabah textile is usually used as headgear.
The Sarawak pua does not use gold thread as supplementary thread unlike the songket. The pattern in the Sarawak pua can weave a story. The pua can be used as a blanket or even to wrap skulls in the old days.
There is also a good display of Baba & Nyonya textile and Indian textile. The Baba & Nyonya textile carries much more vibrant colours compared to textiles used by the Chinese. Indian textiles were mainly imported from India.
Ratna Sari Gallery (First Floor)
If one is interested in having a peep at jewellery and accessories, head toward this gallery. These ornaments are made of not just precious metals like gold, silver, copper but also beads, feathers, etc. and were worn by different ethnicities in Malaysia.
A good variety of necklaces, pendants, kerongsang (brooches), earrings, rings, bracelets and anklets, belts, engraved buckles with floral designs and some inlaid with gold dating back to early 20th century. Hair pins, weapons (keris), modesty discs are also exhibited in this gallery.
A very interesting find is a wedding crown where the blue colour used was made from the feathers of the kingfisher. Some of the pendants in the necklaces can store amulets for the protection of the wearers.
Teluk Berantai Gallery (First Floor)
Fine examples of various Malay textiles covering songket, limar sarung fabric, cloth embellished with gold leaf (telepuk), limar cloth and scripted cloth can be viewed in this gallery.
The arrivals of traders from Arabia, Persia, Turkey, China, India, Siam and the islands of Sumatra and Java in the early days would influence the material used then. Over the years the materials used ranged from simple to elaborate songket in fine cotton or on silk.
Gold paper embroidery collections on display are used as covers for pillows, bridal decoration, wedding dais, etc. Probably the skills required to make them would take time to master as they involved cutting and shaping the gold paper into various designs or motifs sewing them together with coloured threads, spangles and glass-like pieces.
Development of gold thread embroidery (tekat) on textile was largely influenced by imports of gold threads, satin, silk and velvet materials from India and China into the Malayan Peninsular. In tekat the gold threads are laid on the surface of the material and stitched into place.
This last section showcases the cultural wear of the various ethnic groups in Malaysia and reminds the visitors of Gallery D of the National Museum.
The National Textile Museum building completed in 1905 was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback in the Neo-Mughal architectural style. Throughout its history it had been used to house various government departments before it was turned into the National Textile Museum, and was officially opened in 2012 although it was already opened to the public in 2010. It sits adjacent to the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and holds its own in terms of beauty and grace with its distinctive red and white bonding façade topped with onion-shaped domes.
Ticket entry to the National Textile Museum is a steal at RM2 for an adult ticket (12 years and above) and half the price for senior citizens and the disabled. Non-Malaysians are charged RM5. The National Textile Museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm except the first Monday of each month.
Magna Carta (also known as the Great Charter) was a ground-breaking document that sought to resolve injustices within the feudal system during the early thirteenth century. It was created by militant English Barons to protect their rights and property from the oppressive monarch, King John. The King reluctantly acceded to their demands in June 1215, which included the establishment of the fundamental principle that all subjects, including the King, are subject to the law, as well guaranteeing rights to justice and a fair trial. However, most of the population were peasants whose lives were irrevocably bound to their Lord who owned the land. Initially, the document did not achieve its aims although it eventually became the foundation of the English system of common law.
King John was an unpopular monarch, although he was not the first to accept a charter that granted concessions to English citizens. In 1100, King Henry I issued a Coronation Charter which committed the monarch to curtail its abuse of power as well as limiting taxes and preventing the confiscation of church revenues. Although Henry failed to fully adhere to his promises, his Barons lacked the resolve to oppose him. Barons were high ranking nobles who ruled large areas of land or ‘fiefs’, and they communicated directly with the King. Their principal function was to maintain an army that was available to serve the King.
Barons were at a lower level of the medieval hierarchy, and King John needed their support, both for the Crusades and to pay a ransom for his brother, Richard the Lionheart, who had been imprisoned by the Germans. The King was entitled to feudal rights that he often abused, which included payments to be made when his eldest daughter married or when land was inherited. He also maintained the right of wardship over heirs who were minors, and he controlled the marriage rights of his tenants’ widows and heirs.
In 1204, the King lost the Duchies of Anjou and Normandy in France, and in 1209 he became the first English King to be excommunicated after a quarrel with Pope Innocent III. In 1213, he suffered further humiliating by the French and needed to restore his standing. His coffers were almost exhausted, and he claimed ‘scutage’ tax, which was paid by Barons who had failed to provide support on the battlefield. By this time, the Pope had nominated Stephen Langton to become Archbishop of Canterbury, despite the King’s opposition, However, he was eventually forced to resolve these differences, and he accepted Langton as well as compensating the Church for revenues that he had plundered.
However, civil war erupted in early 1215, and Baron Robert FitzWalter led a force to wrest control of London. On 15 June 1215, King John was forced to submit at Runneymede, a meadow in Surrey by the River Thames, by placing his seal and thereby accepting the terms of the document laid before him. The manuscript was initially referred to as the ‘Articles of the Barons’ and four days later, after some changes, King John and the Barons issued the formal version that become known as Magna Carta. Clause 61 required the future selection of twenty-five Barons which is why their names were not listed in the document. The number of twenty-five is tied to the Bible, and such legitimisation was meaningful at the time.
The Barons realised that King John could renege on the agreement by arguing that it constituted an unlawful breach of his authority. To counter this possibility, Clause 61 was incorporated which provided a novel solution which the King had accepted that ‘… the Barons shall choose any twenty-five Barons of the realm as they wish, who with all their might are to observe, maintain and cause to be observed the peace and liberties which we have granted’. A violation by either King John or his officials of Magna Carta’s terms was to be reported to four of the committee; and if no remedy was presented within forty days, the King was to empower the full committee to ‘… distrain and distress us in every way they can, namely by seizing castles, lands and possessions …’ until amends were made. Thereby, the charter established the pioneering way of making the King sanction and organise armed action against himself. The means by which such action was to be accomplished was also indicated by use of the common law doctrine of distraint, which was the means whereby debts were collected from debtors and malefactors obliged to answer for their actions in court. The King also shrewdly accepted the Pope as feudal overlord of England, and subsequently, before many of Magna Carta’s terms were fully implemented, he petitioned the Pope to reject the document, which the Pope declared null and void on 24 August 1215.
Civil war flared up again within three months, and after King John’s death in 1216, advisors to his nine-year-old son and successor, Henry III, avoided further conflict by reissuing Magna Carta with some of its most controversial clauses removed, and the document was subsequently reissued in both 1217 and 1225. Magna Carta was written in Latin, (although French was the first language of much of the aristocracy). Many of the 63 clauses defined and limited the King’s authority over the property rights of Barons, which reflected the narrow goals of its authors, and for centuries the benefits only applied to the upper classes. Approximately 250 copies of the “final” 1225 document were produced by scribes, (which inevitably resulted in some minor mistakes), and these were dispatched to legal and religious officials throughout England. The only four original copies of Magna Carta remain in existence, of which two are in the British Museum, one is in Lincoln Cathedral and one is in Salisbury Cathedral.
It was a long awaited event. The morning of March 12 saw 8 museum volunteers waiting eagerly at the entrance of Gallery 2 for the walking tour of the taxidermy exhibition. Khairill Jemangin, Deputy Director cum curator from the Natural History Museum, greeted us at the entrance to Gallery 2. He brought along with him two taxidermists (Mohammed Ali Hj Mohaideen and Mohd Hasnor Tajur Amar).
Taxidermy…what is it? To the ordinary folks, the exhibits are just preserved and stuffed animals. Are they real? How is it different from mummification? Well, Khairill answered all our questions as he took us through the wonders of the taxidermy exhibition, otherwise known as the Eternal Life Exhibition.
The tour started with a brief explanation of the meaning of taxidermy. The word taxidermy originated from two Greek words “taxis” and “derma” meaning skin arrangement. It is a technique between art and science where only the skin is preserved and then mounted on an artificial body to make it appear lifelike as if in its natural habitat. The purpose of this preservation is for scientific research, education, exhibitions and even for references.
The tour continued with a journey down memory lane. Taxidermy started in 1400 when people got interested in the art of taxidermy. During those early years, museums all over the world started collecting fauna and flora specimens. However it was the British museum that made taxidermy important. The British museum had a huge collection of specimens and this spurred further interest in taxidermy. Taxidermy started in Malaysia as early as in the 1880s in the Perak Museum, Sarawak Museum and Selangor Museum, pioneered by foreign zoologists. The Selangor Museum at that time had a large collection of fauna and flora specimens. Unfortunately Allied Forces accidentally bombed the museum and its exhibits during the Japanese occupation of Malaya. Local taxidermists involvement was believed to have begun when the new Museum Negara was built in 1963, on the same spot as the Selangor Museum. Lack of funding and staffing have been perpetual issues facing the Museum. It was only in 1968 that the first Natural History Gallery was set up.
After the brief explanation on the history of the development of taxidermy in Malaysia, Khairill explained the main purpose of this exhibition was to create an awareness of Taxidermy and an appreciation of the animals that have were preserved as some of the animals may have been extinct. There are 126 preserved specimens in the exhibition and we were told to look out for 2 specimens that are not real! Some specimens were donated by other museums in the world and Malaysian taxidermists did most of the exhibits.
The tour continued with the showcasing of tools and materials used in the taxidermy process. Techniques have changed from olden days to modern techniques. Technology has enabled body parts to be lighter and easier to handle. Modern day taxidermists now wear protective gear as they go about their tasks. We were shocked to learn that taxidermists during those early years do not wear any protective gear at all. Perhaps during those early years, there were no dangerous viruses lurking in the bodies of the animals that they were working on?
The exhibits range from fishes, birds, frogs, rodents, reptiles and mammals. Many of the displays have their own story to tell. The preservation process sometimes takes a few years to complete. The smaller the animal, the more difficult it was to preserve, (much to our surprise). Wee Ho Cheng, a first generation local Taxidermist, lead the early Taxidermy works together with Zainal Abidin and Abdullah Abu Hassan. Taxidermy projects started as early as 1962 and animals preserved included a strutting pheasant, a sun bear, an otter, a tiger, and a saltwater crocodile, all of which are currently exhibited in the Gallery! Two animals deserve special mention! Wee Ho Cheng and Zainal Abidin stuffed the otter that is now 43 years old. The other animal is the pheasant that was stuffed by Wee Ho Cheng under the supervision of Danish taxidermist Arne Stockholm Dyhrberg. These two animals deserve special mention because they were the first preserved animals exhibited in Museum Negara.
Collection of specimens is still ongoing subject to the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. The Museum Negara’s taxidermist team animals found dead or killed. Some were donated by the public. An example was the iguana, which was donated by Jean Leong, one of our museum volunteers.
The Sumatran rhinoceros (preserved in 1902) is now extinct in Malaysia. The display is now 120 years old. Thanks to taxidermy, the younger generation can see a Sumatran rhinoceros. The Malayan tapir (endangered specie) is an icon of Malaysia, just as the panda bear is to China. There is also an Asian elephant fetus that was preserved in 1973. The fetus died while being removed from its mother that was found dead. A preserved tiger, which was donated by Datuk Mahmood had bullet wounds. . As you can see, each of the display has a story behind it.
Museum of Queensland, Australia gifted 2 preserved birds one of which is a Kookaburra. Do you know why it is called a laughing kookaburra? That is because its calls sound like a man laughing! That triggered some members of the group singing. There was a bird, the hawkeyed eagle that was preserved during the time when the country experienced haze. Apparently the bird dropped dead in front of a museum staff due to the haze. The bird was quickly taxidermized. Khairill even showed how to differentiate water birds.
Moving on, there is a section of the gallery dedicated to a video showing the taxidermy process. It was a much-needed break to rest our feet! After the video feed, we were shown a display of animal skeletons. The process is called articulation. Articulation is the technique of cleaning, degreasing, bleaching and assembling animal skeletons for preservation. We could see a lot of time and skill put in to assemble the skeletons. At the exit, there is a skull of an elephant, believed to be about 40 years old.
After about 2 hours, the guided tour ended. It was indeed an eye opener for all who joined the tour. This tour has been a very informative tour, thanks to Khairill, Ali and Hasnor.
The Exhibition has been extended to 17 April 2022 . There are plans to have a travelling museum and the first stop will be in Penang.
Pendeta Tan Sri Zainal Abidin Ahmad, also known as Za’aba, was born on 16 September 1895 in Kampung Bukit Kerdas, Negeri Sembilan. He was a writer, philosopher, linguist and politician. He is known for his pursuit for Malay independence through his writings and his works are still vividly remembered by most.
At a young age, Za’aba learned to read and write by practising on banana leaves, using twigs as his pencils. Seeing this, his father gifted him a writing slate and Za’aba learned to sharpen his writing skills further with his father’s encouragement.
At the age of 12 years, he started school at Sekolah Melayu Batu Kikir. Shortly after, his father transferred him to Sekolah Melayu Linggi so he could expand his knowledge in both the Arabic language and Islam, in hopes that his son would further his studies in Egypt or Mecca, eventually returning as an ulama.
However, in 1910, he continued his education at St. Paul’s Institution, and he was the first Malay who passed the Senior Cambridge test in 1915. Subsequently, Za’aba began his career as a teacher instead. He became a teacher’s assistant at Johor Government English College before transferring to Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) in 1918. When he was serving as a teacher in MCKK, he started collecting Malay words written in Jawi and consolidating the Malay spelling system, which at that time had various spelling systems. He also incorporated English grammar and Arabic words into the Malay language. He published Pan Malayan Malay Literary in an effort to standardise Jawi spelling.
His work, ‘Pelita Bahasa Melayu’, became a major reference book for the community who wished to learn the Malay language at the time. He also contributed to Journal of Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society (JMBRAS) in his efforts to introduce the Malay language to foreigners. Suffice to say, Za’aba was a person who devoted himself in expanding the Malay language and literature beyond Malaya and Sumatera.
As a writer, he started questioning the backwardness of the Malay community under the British colonial government. As such, Za’aba’s writings went beyond to other fields such as economics, religion, and the attitude of the Malays themselves, which was largely influenced by colonial powers. He wrote about poverty and touched on how to overcome the economy of the Malay community. Za’aba’s first article was published twice by Utusan Melayu, titled ‘Temasya Mandi Safar di Tanjung Kling’.
Following Za’aba’s expertise in language, he served as a translator to assist British officers in preparing school textbooks for Malay schools. During the Japanese Occupation, he was transferred to the Department of Information as translator for the Japanese to write books, which were used in Malaya and Sumatera. After the Japanese surrender, Za’aba returned to Kuala Lumpur and continued his work as a translator and interpreter for the Malay language dictionary.
The Malayan Union was established when the British returned to Malaya, but it was resisted by the Malay community. The resistance was led by Dato’ Onn Jaafar and subsequently, he established the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in an effort to unite the Malay community. At that time, Za’aba was elected as the first Secretary-General of UMNO, but he did not hold the position for long as his passion was in writing.
Undoubtedly, his interest in writing continued after leaving UMNO. He began to translate books from English to the Malay language such as stories written by William Shakespeare and these books were published in Singapore.
He later became a lecturer for Malay language at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in 1947; while teaching, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Malay and Arabic studies in 1953.
After returning to Malaya, he held the position as Senior Lecturer and became the first Head of the Department of Malay Studies at University of Malaya, Singapore in 1953. Together with Ungku Aziz, they established ‘Pertubuhan Bahasa Pelajar’ and ‘Persekutuan Bahasa Melayu’ Universiti Malaya, an association to uphold Malay language and literature.
Za’aba’s contribution to Malay language and literature shall not be forgotten easily. He was a teacher, a translator, and one of the individuals responsible for planning school curriculum. He was the source of inspiration that illuminated darkness of poverty in the world of Malay education.
On 17 February 2022, a small group of Museum Volunteers (MVs) had the privilege of a guided tour by the curator of “The Power of Gold” exhibition at Gallery 1, JMM. It was a great opportunity for everyone to experience the exhibition, learn about the artifacts on display and get insider information on the preparation for the exhibition.
This temporary thematic exhibition demonstrates the capacity of JMM to take risks and to venture beyond the historical narrative in the national museum. But taking risks also means having to meet challenges and make choices to offer the audience a pleasant and fruitful experience.
A golden theme for an exhibition
The attractive and ambitious title: “The Power of Gold” sounds like a promise. The viewer expects a journey through time and space that will lead him to better understand the true power of this mysterious and precious metal.
Gold is found all over the world from the earliest times until today. Thus, covering such a vast territory and such a long period of time in the restricted space of Gallery 1 is a real challenge. The main problem being that extensive research leads to so much knowledge that it is difficult to render it all in one exhibition.
The multitude of themes resulting from this two years extensive research can be found in the titles of a dozen panels arranged on the walls of the gallery. These are: “Gold the king of metal”, “Gold and history”, “Gold and conflict”, “Gold and social status”, “Gold and Governing status”, “Gold from cultural perspective”, “Emas dalam sosio budaya masyarakat melayu” (Gold in Malay socio-cultural society), “Gold in the socio-cultural Chinese society”, “Gold in the socio-cultural Indian society”, “Gold and transformation”, “Gold in expressions”, and “Did you know?”
Each theme covers a field of knowledge so large that it could form an exhibition on its own. So, it can be a little frustrating not to have more detail on each topic. However, the absence of detail can also be seen as an invitation for viewers to dig deeper on their own.
Another challenge in dealing with a subject from so many different angles is to articulate the narrative of the whole exhibition. These panels refer to various places and periods of history ranging from the time of the pharaohs in Egypt, the Inca and Aztec civilizations, the gold rush in California (1848-1855) and contemporary and historic Malaysia. Switching from one to the other can be a little confusing for some viewers. But again, it can also be a choice to let the audience wander around the room.
When gold is an eyeful
The exhibition stretches the entire gallery guiding the viewer through a U-shaped path to end up in the small viewing room, which reconnect to the departing point. Hence, the exhibition can be visited both ways – beginning or ending – with a short film featuring what is gold, how it is shaped and some extract of archival films about gold rush and gold mining.
The numerous artifacts are displayed in glass cases on pedestals, at eye level, all along the path. Labels affixed to each window provide information on the artifact. The labels (printed in black on transparent stickers) are sometimes difficult to read due to the small size of the characters and the light reflections. However, a QR code pasted on each window also allows access to this information (in Bahasa Melayu and English) via a mobile phone.
The floor covered with yellow carpet and the walls painted in a goldish yellow might recall gold and royalty, but the choice of a tone on tone for the walls and the floor does not allow gold artifacts to show their true brilliance. A more sober design with darker colours and few directional lights projected onto the objects would certainly have given a more dramatic effect to the exhibition. This would have avoided eye strain and enhanced the magnificence of the shine of gold.
When gold triggers creativity
The exhibition reveals an interesting collection of pieces, most of which are not exhibited in the museum but kept in a secure place with limited access. This exhibition is a unique opportunity to discover these artifacts and learn more about them.
The exhibition includes a wide variety of artifacts from various countries in the region such as a few beautiful keris from Sulawesi, a long sword from Java and a sword from Turkey. There are also some memorabilia. Beside two gold commemorative coins issued on 31 August 2013 for the National Museum’s Golden Jubilee celebration, there also stands a replica of a golden rubber tree produced in 1903, by the Malaysian Rubber Farmers Association.
Some exquisite royalty-owned artifacts are also on display, such as sets of betel, belt buckles, and a modesty belt (a heart-shaped piece of silver, partially gold-plated, used to protect the genitals of the daughters of kings and aristocracy on the coast east of Peninsular Malaysia).
A section is dedicated to regalia with a Tengkolok diRaja (Royal headdress), a Royal Tiara, a Keris and two sceptres. Not forgetting two replicas of Bunga Emas, one from Kedah and the second from Kelantan
Sir Franck Swettenham’s walking stick is on display. The head of his wooden stick is decorated with a gold-carved ‘awan larat’ design (traditional Malay motif recalling ‘meandering clouds’).
The show also features ornaments and jewellery such as hair combs, hair pins, a Melanau (an indigenous group of Sarawak) headdress, an amulet necklace, some dokoh (a necklace with three vertical pendants with a pin behind each pendant to fix the kebaya.), various earrings from different communities in the region and two theatre headdresses from Thailand. Also on display are glass holders, a kendi and a rebab (music instrument) from Bali.
Additionally, a tribute is paid to Paralympic Athletes Muhammad Ziyad Bin Zolkifli, Mohamad Ridzuan Bin Mohamad Puzi and Latif Bin Romly for their gold medals in their respective fields. And to Hashim Mustapha for the ‘Golden Shoes’ award in 1993 and 1994.
All the displayed objects are beautiful, but some attract attention because of their originality or because they are rarely displayed. This is notably the case of the examples in the following section.
The golden nuggets of the exhibition
A Zam-Zam water drink set. This silver and half gold-plated set with Jawi-engraved inscriptions and gold covers was finely crafted in 1786. The quality of the artwork demonstrates the value and significance of this water brought back by pilgrims from Umrah or Haj.
A beautiful bowl dated 1816 with a floral motif carved outside and inside the bowl, and with a Jawi inscription on the base – “Tuanku Ampuan Besar Selangor”. It was used by the royal family on special occasions such as weddings and berendui (a Malay ceremony to present a newly born baby in a swing along with various ceremonies to bless the infant and the mother).
Penyangkut Kelambu / Mosquito Net Hanger: This gold mosquito net hanger has the shape of a cassowary. It is used by the Royal family and the aristocracy as a tool to hang curtains or mosquito net on the head of the bed. It is also used as a luxurious decoration in the bedroom.
Penyangkut Kain / Cloth Hanger: the small sparrow-shaped gold item from Kelantan (circa 1800) was used as a sheet hanger after the circumcision ceremony to cover the body of the young boy while preventing any contact with the sheet.
Hiasan Tepi Bantal / Pillow Edge Decoration (Melaka, 19th century): made from gold pieces and used to decorate the edges of a round pillow, this piece is finely decorated with peacocks and Chinese flowers motifs.
It is the power of gold to transcend human imagination and lead to the creation of such refined and beautiful artifacts. But it is the power of the exhibition to share this important collection of the National Museum. To be accessible to a wider audience, the exhibition, which runs until March 18 at Gallery 1, will then travel to Melaka and other locations around the country.
P.S. Many thanks to Lam Lai Meng from Batch 33 for translating from Bahasa Malaysia to English during the tour.
Malaysia is unique among the countries of the world as it adopts the constitutional monarchy system through a parliamentary democracy. The Head of State in nine of its component States is a constitutional monarch, a Malay ruler, known as Sultan, Raja (Perlis), or Yang di-Pertuan Besar (Negeri Sembilan), while the other four states (Melaka, Penang, Sabah, Sarawak) are represented by a Yang di-Pertua Negeri, or Governor.
The nine royal houses of Malaysia are Kedah, Perlis, Selangor, Perak, Johor, Kelantan, Terengganu, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang. At least one of the nine royal houses can trace its lineage as far back as 800 years. Malay kingship can be traced to the pre-Islamic period when they had systematic system of governance.
The birth of the modern Malaysian Monarchy followed the inception of the Federation of Malaya in 1948. This united the nine Malay states and the former straits settlements of Penang and Melaka and was the stepping-stone to independence in 1957. It was at independence that the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA), or paramount ruler, was elected as the Head of State, from and by the Malay rulers for a five-year term.
The first YDPA was Tuanku Abdul Rahman ibni Almarhum Tuanku Muhammad of Negeri Sembilan, and the current YDPA (16th YDPA to date) is Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah ibni Almarhum Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Al-Musta’in Billah of Pahang.
This appointment is systematic and each of the nine Sultans has the opportunity to ascend the throne of YDPA based on his turn in the cycle. This arrangement has been important in playing a substantive role in forging national unity.
The Role of the King
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is a symbol of unity. His role is that of a constitutional monarch. The extent of his powers as the Federal Head of State is defined in the Federal Constitution and Parliamentary Acts.
The YDPA has the executive power to appoint the Prime Minister. With the Prime Ministers help and advice, the YDPA appoints the other members of the cabinet. He also has the power to dissolve the cabinet and elect the members of the election commission.
The YDPA also appoints the Yang di-Pertua Negeri (Governors), of the states of Penang, Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak, at his discretion, after considering the advice of the state’s Chief Minister. The YDPA also appoints the Mayor and City Council of Kuala Lumpur, which is a Federal Territory.
Head of Islam
Under the Federal and State constitutions, the YDPA and the Rulers of the Malay States are the heads of Islam, the religion of the Federation.
Safeguarding Malay and Indigenous Rights
The Rulers also have the constitutional responsibility of safeguarding the special position of the Malays and the legitimate interests of other communities. The indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak are afforded the same special position as the Malays under the guardianship of the YDPA.
Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
The YDPA is the Supreme Commander of the Federation’s Armed Forces.As Supreme Commander, the YDPA appoints the Chief of the Armed Forces Staff alongside the service heads of each of the three branches of the military forces.
The YDPA also has the power to grant pardons and appoints the Chief Justice of the Federal Court.
Appointment of the King
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is formally elected to a five-year term by and from among the nine rulers of the Malay states (nine of the thirteen states of Malaysia that have royal rulers), who form the Conference of Rulers known as Majlis Raja-raja. After a ruler had served as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, he may not stand for election until all rulers of the other states have also stood for election.
In the event of a vacancy of the office (by death, resignation, or deposition by a majority vote of the rulers), the Conference of Rulers elects a new Yang di-Pertuan Agong as if the previous term had expired. The new Yang di-Pertuan Agong is elected for a full five-year term. The position rotates among the nine Rulers. The selection of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong initially followed an order based on the seniority (calculated
Coronation of the King
During his coronation, he will be presented with a Quran, to symbolize that he is the head of Islam of the country. The Prime Minister will read a proclamation of installation whereupon the newly appointed YDPA will be given a long royal Kris as a symbol of his commitment to the protection of the Malays and to serving the interests of the nation as a whole. Then the YDPA is presented with an oath that he will read and sign in the presence of all the rulers and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will then read a message of felicitation and pledge of loyalty to the new YDPA on behalf of government and the people.
The Queen Consort is known as the Raja Permaisuri Agong. She represents Malaysian women at the highest level. According to the Federal Constitution, the Raja Permaisuri Agong shall take precedence next after the YDPA over all other persons in the Federation. Just like the YDPA, the Raja Permaisuri Agong is not allowed to hold any appointment carrying any remuneration or actively engage in any commercial enterprise.
The Deputy YDPA, also known as Timbalan Yang di-Pertuan Agong, is to assume the role of the YDPA during a vacancy in that office or under any other circumstances enumerated in the Federal Constitution. There have been a few circumstances in which the Deputy YDPA had to assume the YDPA’s office throughout the years. The Deputy YDPA holds office for five years and may resign from office by writing under his own hand addressed to the Conference of Rulers.
Conference of Rulers
The Conference of Rulers, also known as ‘Majlis Raja-Raja,’ began with the first Durbar that was first held to convene British Officers and the Rulers of the Federated Malay States (FMS). The states are Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang. The Durbar initially served as a type of consultative and advisory council; it also served to improve relations between the Malay Rulers and the British Officials. The Durbar was later replaced by the Conference of Rulers where the first meeting took place on 15th February 1948.
Today, the Conference of Rulers includes the nine Rulers of the Malay States and four Yang di-Pertua Negeri. However, the four Yang di-Pertua Negeri are not involved for matters relating to the election of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, his removal and so on. The chairmanship of the Conference of Rulers rotates among the rulers. These Rulers are each accompanied by their respective Chief Minister (Menteri Besar). On the second day of each meeting, the YDPA is accompanied by the Prime Minister.
According to the Federal Constitution, the Conference of Rulers plays an important role in the constitutional process. The main functions and power of the Conference of Rulers are: electing the YDPA and Deputy YDPA; agree and disagree to any religious Acts religious observances or ceremonies to the Federation as a whole; consenting or withholding consent to any law and giving advice on any appointments that requires the Conference of Ruler’s consent; appointing members of the Special Court (court of justice for offenses committed by the YDPA or any Malay Rulers); and granting pardons, reprieves, and respites, or remitting, suspending, or commuting sentences.
Any amendments to the constitution that affects the Ruler’s privileges, position, honour or dignities will not become law without consent of the Conference of Rulers. The Conference of Rulers provides and effective forum for consultation, participation, and in some cases sanction of the Federal-State relationship, thus reinforcing the concept of Federation.
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia plays a unique role, as he is the embodiment of the nation’s history and tradition. His Majesty not only plays an important role in national unity, but also shapes the relationship between state, people and law.
The Rulers of Malaysia, Editorial Advisory Board chaired by Tun Ahmad Sarji bin Abdul Hamid
Display at Gallery D, Muzium Negara.
FUAT GÖKÇE, A. 2013. FEDERAL PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY WITH A CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHY: MALAYSIA. The Journal of Academic Social Science Studies, Volume 6 Issue 5.
DZULKIFL, F. Z. & MOHD ZAMERI, N. D. 2010. The Functions of Constitutional Monarchy in Malaysian Political System: Th e Perceptions of Malay Community. Proceedings Seminar on Nasional Resilience (SNAR 2010) “Political Managements and Policies in Malaysia”, 353-369.
Ampun Tuanku: A Brief Guide to Constitutional Government, Zaid Ibrahim, 2012
In this Series
Click HERE for a list of articles in the ‘A-Z at Muzium Negara’ series.
On our travels around Sundanese Java to research about the art and life of Otto Djaya (1916-2002), the indigenous visual artist and folk painter from Banten, West Java, our growing awareness of the Gamelan music and the Wayang theatre increased and the two art forms became peripheral research objectives on their own. It heightened our interest that in Malaysia, where we live, the two art forms are similarly traditional and wonderful.
Gamelan and, more so, Wayang theatre may be vanishing in Malaysia. However, visual evidence produced by YouTube search suggests that currently there is some Gamelan activity in all the states in Malaysia. In fact, Gamelan seems to be attracting a keen amount of interest among the people and the scholars in several States. On the other hand, the Wayang theatre in Malaysia is threatened with imminent extinction. We wanted to know more about the big picture.
In this article, we focus on the music, the Gamelan, because recently we discovered and acquired two ink drawings by Otto Djaya of the Babar Lajar Gamelan ensemble visiting Paris. Both the Ensemble and Otto Djaya were based in Amsterdam at the time.
The signed drawings of Babar Lajar in “Parijs” enabled us to date Otto Djaya’s visit to Paris to exhibit his paintings to December 1947 and to anchor his interest in the Gamelan music.
The Gamelan would turn out to be an unparalleled Indonesian cultural treasure similar to the visual arts treasure, painting, contributed by Otto Djaya and his generation of peers. The Babar Lajar Gamelan ensemble was founded in Amsterdam in about 1943. The ensemble was unique by its founder, the local manufacture of its instruments during wartime, and its musicians, who were young and musically gifted, and none of whom were Indonesians, suggesting the almost hypnotic, cult-like, appeal of Gamelan in the aftermath of the horrors of World War II.
Indonesian President Sukarno introduced government funded Gamelan schools during the 1950s and 1960s, same as what he did for the visual arts earlier on, in order to encourage and sustain national art forms. “Some Indonesians objected to this elevation of a musical style associated primarily with Java and Bali as a “national” art form – as in a multi-ethnic, multicultural country there are no universal cultural properties”.
The indigenous music as well as the visual arts became important propaganda for internationally showing Indonesian culture in the runup to the Netherlands handing over sovereignty to Indonesia in 1949; Indonesia was no longer a colony.
Otto Djaya was a Sundanese of West Java. Besides painting Gamelan ensembles into his many paintings of folk dancing and festivals, the boats in his paintings are Sundanese and show an unmistakable resemblance to Gamelan instrument architecture. The Sundanese were captivated by water: stream, lake, ocean. Otto Djaya’s paintings imparted a union of popular culture and music.
Gamelan, an Indonesian Institution
The “Gamelan Sari Oneng Parakansalak”  of Sumedang, West Java travelled far from its birth place, a tea plantation in Sukabumi to, first, The International Exposition in Amsterdam in 1883, second, The World Exposition in Paris in 1889 and, third, The World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
In a remarkable coincidence, sixty years after Chicago, at the end December 1945, a 29 years old Otto Djaya, the artist, now a company commander with the rank of Major in the revolutionary Indonesian forces, and his troops played a key role in stopping an advancing British/Dutch tank column at the Bojong Kokasan Ridge, Sukabumi, east of the Parakan Salak area and the tea plantations, the origin of the Gamelan Sari Oneng.
Gamelan music was formally staged in Europe at the 1889 Paris Exposition. Javanese musicians performed Gamelan in the East Indies section of the Netherlands’ pavilion. In 1993, Gamelan was introduced to USA at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. Western composers and musicians were intrigued and interested to listen and to experiment with the new sound.
In 2021, Indonesian Gamelan was listed by UNESCO on its Representative List of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. In comparison, Wayang was listed in 2003, two decades earlier.
In Indonesia, particularly in Java and Bali, Gamelan is the most popular form of traditional music. A Gamelan ensemble typically consists of a variety of metal percussion instruments, usually made of bronze or brass, including gongs, xylophones, and drums. It may also be extended with bamboo flutes, stringed instruments, and vocalists, but the focus is on the percussion. Metal instruments are expensive to make, compared with those of wood or bamboo. However, they will not deteriorate or change tune in a hot, humid climate. Some scholars suggest that this may be one of the reasons that gamelan developed, with its signature metallic sound.
Gamelan was a feature of court life among the Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms of Java, Sumatra, and Bali. The Buddhist monument of Borobudur in central Java has a bas-relief depicting a Gamelan ensemble from the time of the Srivijaya Empire, 600s-1200s; the musicians play stringed instruments, metal drums, and flutes.
The Majapahit Empire (1293-1597) had a government office in charge of supervising the performing arts, including Gamelan. The Gamelan ensemble was important to court life. Inscriptions and bas-reliefs from Bali, also under the control of the Majapahit emperors, show that the same types of musical ensembles and instruments were as prevalent there as in Java. The gong made its appearance in Indonesian Gamelan during this era as did the stitched-skin drums and bowed strings, at first probably imported as trade goods.
Islam came to Java during the 1400s by Muslim traders from Arabia and south Asia. The most influential strain of Islam then introduced was Sufism that values music as one of the pathways to experiencing the divine. Had a more conservative strain of Islam been introduced, Gamelan in Java and Sumatra might not have flourished.
In keeping with Sufi teachings, Javanese Gamelan tended to be slower in tempo and more meditative or trance-like. Most of the rhythms are generally soft and reflect the harmony of life, the principles of life generally adopted by Javanese society. Gamelan has become inseparable from Javanese customs and human life and is almost always there in every Javanese ceremony, to accompany dances, dance dramas, theatre, puppets, rituals, events and festivals. In general, no two gamelan ensembles are the same, and those that originated in prestigious courts have their own style and tuning. Varieties of gamelan are distinguished by their complement of instruments and use of tunings, repertoire, style, voice, and cultural context.
There is a principal division between the styles favoured by the Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese. While Javanese Gamelan has soft and slow tones, Sundanese gamelan with its sound of flutes makes it both soft, mellow and romantic. Balinese gamelan has strong and dynamic tones with fast rhythms. Perhaps it can be said that Javanese Gamelan is played for formal dancing and ceremony, Sundanese Gamelan is played for dreamers and lovers, and Balinese for rituals.
Bali is Different
Bali remained predominantly Hindu, wherefore Java and Bali developed different forms of gamelan. Balinese Gamelan emphasizes virtuosity and quick tempos, a trend encouraged by the Dutch colonists. Balinese instruments are built in pairs tuned slightly apart to produce interference beats, ideally at a consistent pace. This concept communicates the idea of repeating rising and falling waves of music.
Bali with its Kebyar music broke away from the Javanese gamelan and the ceremonial gamelan. The Balinese refashioned their music and dance style by Kebyar, which originated in North Bali villages a century ago and spread rapidly over Bali’s music and dance landscape. Soon, ensembles in Central and South Bali were refashioning their ceremonial Gamelan orchestras of suspended gongs, bronze-keyed metallophones, tuned gong chimes, and drums to accommodate the new style, additional keys were added to extend ranges, some instruments were melted down and re-forged to respond to Kebyar requirements. Musicians wanted lighter bronze keys and more of them, and longer racks of gong chimes, to play the rapid melodies and sharp accents. Playing techniques and innovations in one realm led to innovations in the other. Kebyar dancing embodies the music’s restless energy and vice versa. It was popularly said that Kebyar is a modernist’s hallucinogenic dream, cast in bronze.
Today most Indonesians have embraced the Gamelan as their national sound and it is heard frequently on the air. Even so, stand-alone gamelan concerts are unusual.
Gamelan is said to have originated late in the Srivijaya Empire around the 900s and to have migrated to the Riau-Lingga Sultanate, a long stone throw from Johore. Gamelan instruments were brought to Pahang in the 1800s making it one of the oldest musical instruments found in Peninsular Malaysia today. Gamelan music existed primarily amongst the ruling class at the Pahang, Terengganu, and Johor palaces, as an accompaniment to the traditional dance known as Joget, usually performed for guests of the palace, at elaborate ceremonies and festivals.
Since then, Gamelan has continued to be played among the people and has spread to other states. Having little to no function in Malaysia outside of ceremonial performances, Gamelan Melayu is now largely entertainment music to practitioners, performers, and audiences/connoisseurs. We noted that there are many enthusiastic Gamelan performers in Peninsular Malaysia.
Before 1982, Gamelan instruments in the UK existed only at the Indonesian Embassy. Today, the interest in Gamelan flourishes. Today, there are some 150 Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese Gamelans in the UK. Clearly, the British did not think as much of Gamelan during colonial times as the Dutch did.
Contemporary compositions of Adrian Lee for the Rhythm in Bronze ensemble, Ng Chong Lee , Marzelan Salleh , and Junita Batubara  are immensely interesting and uplifting.
A Gamelan Symphony Festival was held in 2018 at the Sultan Alam Shah Islamic College as a showcase of Gamelan Melayu, with six local Gamelan groups from both secondary and tertiary education institutions participating. In 2019, the project called for a Gamelan competition, bringing in competitors from a total of eight secondary and tertiary education institutions, with the host emerging as the winner. In 2020, the Virtual Gamelan Symphony Festival (VGSF), aimed to make Gamelan Melayu accessible to the masses, through simple and easy-to-follow video lessons .
Gamelan travelled from Indonesia and inspired others
When western composers presented music inspired by the Gamelan they were met with both derision and enduring admiration at the premiere as, typically, within days, the confusion among audiences and critics had turned into pleasure.
Was it mere coincidence that the formation of vast stylistic ecosystems came into being simultaneously with modernists in Western music and the first Gamelan presenters coming together? The musical scale was different but the musical characteristics were similar. The Western composers and the Gamelan artists must have shared some deep cultural commonality and instinct of sounds, tuning, and timing. We shall not know, but ecosystems continue to grow. The attraction of Gamelan to Western composers and audiences resulted in both adaption and adoption .
The most significant characteristic of Asian music is the use of pentatonic scale and gong chimes, also used in western music along with other instruments. This describes the relationship between Asian and Western music. In Javanese Gamelan music, the slendro scale has five tones per octave, of which four are emphasized in classical music. The pelog scale has six or seven tones, and is generally played using one of three five-tone subsets in which certain notes are avoided while others are emphasized. 
We find in our travels that music is spanning the world across cultures. With music compositions of today, especially what suggests to be symphonic, it is difficult to tell if Eastern heritage instruments and tonal systems are inspiring Western heritage or the other way around. Either way, the output is typically capturing the ear and senses and does not give reason to reject classical Western music and/or music and composers of previous centuries and of antiquity. It is deeply satisfactory to witness by ear that music makers have tremendous ambitions and see few boundaries ahead of them.
The tonality and rhythm of Indonesian Gamelan contributed to the ‘atonal’ ideas and compositions by Western composers from around 1900 onward, for instance, Debussy, Erik Satie, Francis Poulenc, Benjamin Britten, Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok, and many others.
Erik Satie (1866-1925). The composers Satie and Debussy were the earliest to use the exotic and highly dissonant Gamelan scales. Satie’s Gnossiennes compositions for piano are among his earliest compositions and evokes ‘another world’ by its “highly original modal harmonies, pure simplicity, and monotonous repetition”. The originality and simplicity could possibly have been influenced by Debussy – or it was Satie who influenced Debussy; both were thinking in terms of Gamelan scales in the late 19th century.
Claude Debussy (1862-1918), Pagodes, 1903.
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), String Quartet in F by the Hagen Quartet.
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, with Poulenc and Jacques Février on the pianos, 1932.
Colin McPhee (1900-1964). Returning to North America from Bali end of the 1930s, he composed Tabuh Tabuhan for 2 pianos and orchestra, without a single Gamelan instrument in the orchestra.
 There are four types of wayang kulit in Malaysia, namely Wayang Kulit Jawa, Wayang Kulit Gedek, Wayang Kulit Melayu and Wayang Kulit Kelantan, http://mpunasilemak.blogspot.com/. In Malaysia, the culture of wayang kulit is slowly dying out as the younger generations are less interested in this wonderfully expressive culture.
 “In Malaysia, Wayang Kulit Kelantan is the pre-eminent form of shadow puppet theatre. However, it is threatened with imminent extinction nowadays. There were more than 300 dalangs (shadow puppeteers and narrators) in the 1960s but the number decreased tremendously to 11 in 1999.” Khor, Khengia (2011). Segi University. The Use of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) to Capture the Visual Styles of Wayang Kulit Kelantan, in International Journal of the Arts in Society, No. 4, pg 203-214. Wayang was placed on UNESCO’s Representative List of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003. In comparison, Gamelan was not listed until 2021.
 Gamelan musicians were to appear and accompany in many motifs of his paintings.
 Dr. Kallie Szczepanski, Ph.D. History, Boston University, is a history teacher specializing in Asian history and culture. She has taught at the high school and university levels in the U.S. and South Korea. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-gamelan-195131, updated on June 26, 2019.
 The first appearing at the 1899 Paris World Exhibition when the Netherlands’ exhibited of its East Indies colony. The British pavilion at the Exhibition did not have a similar Malaya element.
 On an area of approx. 700 acres at Jackson Park and Midway Plaisance. Pavilions were built by 46 countries; some 27 million people visited the expo. It was synonymous with a world’s fair celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus. The ‘Syndicate Java Chicago’, formed by two West Java tea plantations, arranged to send a Gamelan with musicians to the Expo. The Gamelan and the free servings of Java tea was enthusiastically received.
 Batubara, Junita. Story of Tjong A Fie: Programmatic Music Composition Combining Chinese, Malay and Western Music Elements, in International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, Vol. 7, No. 9, 2017.