The Peranakan vitrine in Gallery B is dominated by a charming collection of Straits porcelain. This distinctive type of pottery, unique to South East Asia, typifies the blended culture of the Chinese Peranakan communities in Penang, Melaka and Singapore. Once underrated by ceramics experts for its inferior quality and over-gaudy style, Nyonya ware has finally come into its own and is now considered highly collectible – with a hefty price tag to boot!
Nyonyaware uses the famille rose enamelling technique, although its decorative features are exclusive to the Straits and are quite distinct from other examples of Chinese ceramics of this style, which were usually more ornamental pieces. Straits Ceramics were intended for use at the family dining table on special occasions, and the pieces are entirely functional: bowls, teacups, teapots, spoons, plates, and lidded containers such as the kamcheng and katmau. They were commissioned from China by wealthy Peranakan families on the occasion of their daughters’ weddings; many contain specifically requested motifs or incorporate the family name, making them unique pieces of family history. Although blue and white Swatow ware was used for everyday purposes, the highly decorated famille rose ware took pride of place for fine dining.
Examples of fine Straits ceramics from Datin Seri Kee Ming-Yuet collection; left: Teacup and saucer, right: Phoenix and peony detail
Most ascribe Jingdezhen as the place of production for Straits Ceramics because that was where the finest examples of Famille Rose pottery were made, but experts have challenged this view. Shards of Straits-style crockery have never been found in the area. It is more likely that Peranakan families ordered their porcelain wedding sets from humbler kilns in Fukien province, and that these are actually examples of coloured Swatow ware (now usually referred to as Zhangzhou ware) using the enamel famille rose technique, but of inferior production. Many of the oldest surviving examples of this pottery contain reign marks and stamps comparable to those of Jingdezhen, but they may not be reliable; it has been suggested that they may have been forged to suggest an earlier date and place of origin to increase the price. As many overseas Chinese in the Straits originated from Hokkien-speaking Fukien province, this theory is likely.
Some Straits porcelain was even Japanese made, for there was a time when Japan supplied these colourful ceramics to South East Asia. Japanese potters made exact copies, even down to Chinese stamps, and are difficult to distinguish other than by their softer shades of pastel. It is unclear whether Japan was trying to break into the overseas ceramics market or whether they were filling in the demand when wars in China disrupted production. No doubt it was probably a little bit of both!
But that is immaterial. Even if the quality of these wonderful ceramics does not match the finest examples of Chinese porcelain, they are now regarded as an artform in themselves. Richly coloured in vivid shades of pink, green, yellow and purple, Straits ceramics reflect the vibrant mixed heritage of the archipelago: bright colours, abundant flora and fauna, and the hybrid cultural traditions of the Malay peninsula syncretised with Chinese mythological symbols.
There are many similarities between the colours and motifs of these ceramics and the north coast Pekalongan batiks of Java, so favoured by Nyonya ladies for their sarongs. Interestingly these vibrant, busy batiks were themselves a departure from the earthy tones of traditional Javanese batiks and were inspired by Dutch decorative designs of flowers and birds. It seems that influences constantly pass east to west and back again! Such porcelain was even once referred to as ‘batik crockery’. Peranakan homes were similarly crammed with ornaments and decorative pieces with scarcely a space left empty in the desire of upwardly-mobile families to proclaim their success and prosperity in the richness and excess of their décor. The heyday of Pekalongan batiks was from the 1890s- 1930s, interestingly the same period in which Peranakan ceramics reached their peak.
The decorations on Straits ceramics are unfailingly jolly and bright, like the colours. As they were designed for young brides at the beginning of their married life, the motifs are full of auspicious blessings wishing love, long-life, fertility and happiness. The most popular motifs – from a very long list – are peony (female beauty), the phoenix (yin and the perfect female qualities), the crane (longevity), the chrysanthemum (immortality), lotus (purity), double happiness etc. The eight Buddhist emblems often ornament the borders, including the paired fish and the endless knot, both particularly connected to lovers.
Colour is always highly symbolic in Chinese art. Red – the colour of the Phoenix – represents warmth, joy and the south; green stands for new life and growth and is connected to fertility; yellow is the earth and the sun, while light blue is the sky and the east. Pink – the most ubiquitous colour on Straits pottery – above all is the dedicated shade of women; it represents femininity and youthfulness.
This colourful pottery belongs to the Famille Rose category that uses coloured enamels to apply decoration to previously-fired white porcelain as an overglaze, which is then fired a second time at lower temperatures. The technique originated in Europe, where it was first used on glass. When the technology reached China in the late 17th century, this method of enamel finishing was introduced in metalwork (e.g. cloisonné). It is said that Jesuit priests at the imperial court of the Kangxi Emperor (1654-1722) first suggested its use in porcelain production around 1720, although the method was not perfected until the 1740s, during the Yongzhen era. The general term for such porcelain in China is yangcai or ‘foreign colours’, indicating its European roots. Yangcai ware is particularly connected to the great porcelain production centre of Jingdezhen.
Chinese potters used a limited variety of colours in their porcelain because of the difficulty of working with minerals other than cobalt blue. Thus, a tradition of green (celadon), white (qingbai) and blue and white became the accepted Chinese aesthetic. The new foreign technique of applying colour in an enamel overglaze opened up a range of Chinaware that became very popular overseas, particularly in Europe and US. In China, however, it was regarded as inferior to the more acclaimed Ming and Qing blue and whites but it flourished as export-ware. The name ‘Famille Rose’ was coined in 1865 when Albert Jacquement, a French art historian and ceramic expert, categorised Qing ceramics according to their colour palette.
Chan Suan Choo. (2011). The Pinang Peranakan Mansion: A Museum of Straits Chinese Cultural Heritage. Eastern Printers.
Datin Seri Kee Ming-Yuet. (2004). Straits Chinese Porcelain. Cross-Time Matrix.
Elliot, Inger McCabe. (2004). Batik: Fabled Cloth of Java. Periplus.
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Still staying in the southern part of Selangor, this article will take us on a road trip to a combo of places – first to Banting, followed by Tanjung Sepat, both in the Kuala Langat district, and then make a turn back to the Sepang district as we head on to Sungai Pelek. These towns are connected by Federal Route 5, which is one of the three north-south backbone federal highways in Peninsular Malaysia; Federal Route 1 and 3 are the other two highways. The Kilometre Zero of Federal Route 5 is located at Skudai, Johor in the south and it runs mostly along the west coast of the peninsular and ends at its northern terminus at Jelapang near Ipoh.
Banting – History and Places of Interest
While researching Banting, this name kept popping up on the screen but of a different nature. It was the name of Frederick Banting, who made one of the most influential discoveries in medical history. He discovered insulin, the first available medicine for the treatment of diabetes. Banting and his fellow researchers were awarded US patents on insulin in 1923 and later the same year, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for the discovery of insulin. He died in World War II, in a plane crash on 21 February 1941 during one of the transatlantic trips to Britain.
Banting originates from the Malay word ‘banteng’, which is buffalo in English. Banting’s moment in history also came during World War II at Morib beach, which lies to the southwest of Banting. On 9 September 1945, the 46th Indian Beach Group comprising 42,651 personnel and 3,968 vehicles landed at the beach in an operation to retake Malaya from the Japanese army. It was reported that one of the soldiers who came on that day was Muhammad Zia ul-had. He returned to India and joined the Pakistani army in 1947 after partition. On 5 July 1977, the military, headed by Zia, took over the government, imposed martial law and deposed Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a bloodless coup. Zia was sworn in as the sixth President of Pakistan on 16 September 1978. He was killed in an air crash on 17 August 1988, possibly sabotage. Today, part of the beachfront has been converted into a recreational park called Dataran Pantai Morib [A] and it is becoming a popular destination during weekends and public holidays.
Banting is the hometown of Malaysia’s most famous badminton siblings, the Sidek brothers. Misbun, Razif, Jailani, Rahman and Rashid began competing internationally from the early 1980’s. History was made in 1985 when all five of them were selected to represent the country in a competition in Hong Kong. On 16 May 1992, the final of the Thomas Cup that was held at Stadium Negara and Malaysia was pitted against arch rival and top favourite, Indonesia. Rashid gave us a winning start but it was all level when Razif and Jailani lost the first doubles match. Foo Kok Keong regained the lead and the second doubles match turned out to be a titanic battle and, finally, the pair Cheah Soon Kit and Soo Beng Kiang gave us the winning point. The Thomas Cup, which had eluded us for twenty-five years, was finally won. Razif, Jailni, Rashid and Rahman were in the winning team. Razif and Jailani went on to become the first Malaysians to win a medal at the Summer Olympics when they won the bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona games. Four years later, Rashid brought home the bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.
A monument was erected at the Sidek Family Residence [B] in Kanchong Darat in 1992 when Malaysia recaptured the Thomas Cup. Last year, restoration work on the monument was carried out and a wall was added. Visitors can have photographs taken at the monument free of charge.
Today, Banting is the administrative-cum-commercial centre of the Kuala Langat district. Further growth in and around Banting can be expected when the long awaited West Coast Expressway (WCE) [C] is scheduled for full completion by the end of 2022. The 233 km highway that runs from Banting to Taiping, when completed, would be the third longest highway in the country, after North South Expressway and East Coast Expressway.
Tanjung Sepat – History and Places of Interest
Moving on to the next destination, Tanjung Sepat is about 29 km from Banting. Tanjung is cape in English and Sepat is the name of a freshwater fish from the Osphronemidae family, which is commonly found in tropical countries. It is predominantly a fishing town and the locals also engage in agriculture, initially planting coconut and rubber trees, but have since moved on to oil palm and dragon fruit. The latter is also known as pitaya, pitahaya, strawberry pear and thang. It is a member of the Cactaceae family and is native to the tropical forest regions of Mexico, Central and South America. There are many dragon fruit farms [A] located outside the town, along Federal Route 5, up to the Sepang district.
Tanjung Sepat is a popular tourist destination in the Kuala Langat district. The first site is Kuan Wellness Ecopark [B]. It is primarily a bird’s nest ecology park established by a local, Guan Jian Qi, in November 2010. In 2011, the company was awarded the international ISO 22000 food safety management system and in 2014, it was one of eight companies in Malaysia given approval to export bird’s nest to China. The eco park comprises an exhibition hall, natural organic pavilion, childhood pavilion, eco farm with bird park and aquarium and a restaurant. They are looking into adding a theme resort, durian orchard and outdoor team building area.
The next site is one that not many people know of. Pantai Cunang [C] is hidden behind a mangrove forest and is adjacent to a Mah Meri Orang Asli village. Pantai Cunang offers a stretch of white sandy beach and is an ideal spot to watch the sunset. It was once an isolated beach but the Mah Meri community and the district authorities transformed it into a tourist attraction. Cunang is in fact a Mah Meri word meaning calm and peaceful. It was first developed in 2010 and by the end of 2013, they had built 22 rest huts. In 2015, it won the best beach management and care title awarded by the state government. Kuala Langat District Council is committed to improving the economy of the Mah Meri community, and to making Pantai Cunang a major tourist destination in the state.
Kampung Baru Tanjung Sepat (today Tanjung Sepat Indah) [D] was established in 1950 and the settlers are composed of Chinese communities from neighbouring Tanjung Layang, Batu Laut, Kanchong Darat, Tumbuk and Sungai Belankan. It started with a population of 4,150 and reached 15,000 in 1995; today, the figure stands at 22,340. It has grown to become the commercial heartbeat of the town. SRJK (C) Tanjung Sepat, which was established in 1951, and most of the popular eateries and souvenir shops are located here.
The star attraction of the town is the Lover’s Bridge/Qing Ren Qiao [E].Originally, it was a long wooden jetty built before our country’s independence. It was a favourite haunt for couples to enjoy the scenery and sunset. In 2013, part of the bridge collapsed and it took the state government five years and RM 3.2 million to rebuild it. The new concrete jetty is 306 metres in length and it stretches into the Straits of Melaka. Besides the reconstruction, new amenities like food stalls, gazebos, kiosks, car park and toilets have been added to the site.
Sungai Pelek – History and Places of Interest
Selangor used to be covered by dense virgin jungle. The district of Sepang was notorious for tigers roaming the jungle. It was reported that 35 men, mostly Chinese rubber tappers from Chee Woh Estate, were killed by tigers. As a follow up action, the government raised the reward to catch/kill a tiger from 25 to 50 dollars. Still, the man-eater claimed another victim immediately after this announcement. On the other hand, it was reported that a resident of Salak, Lui Jing Tong, had killed a tiger with his bare hands!
Sungai Pelek is not the name of a river; it is the name of the town. ‘Sungai’ means river in English and ‘Pelek’ is strange/unusual/odd. There are two versions of how the name came about: 1) the unusual formation of a temporary river when the Sungai Sepang overflows its banks during high tide and disappears during low tide; 2) it happened during a flood where the water strangely flowed upstream rather than downstream! During the reign of Sultan Abdul Samad, Lukut (near Port Dickson) was part of Selangor but in 1880, it was ceded to Negri Sembilan in exchange for Semenyih. Since then, Sungai Sepang [A] serves as part of the boundary between the two states. Interestingly, there is a ferry service plying the route across Sungai Sepang, from Sungai Pelek to Bukit Pelandok on the Negri Sembilan side. It has been in service since 1930 and the ferry transports pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles only. The Sungai Pelek Jetty [B] is located near the town.
Kampung Baru Sungai Pelek [C] was set up by the British in 1952, settling Chinese communities from Bukit Bangkong, Bagan Lalang, Jalan Lapis and Ladang Tai Long; and a few Indian families. It started with a population of 1,750. According to an estimate in 2012, the settlement has grown to more than 6,000 residents with 536 residences. Today, there are two Chinese primary schools in its immediate vicinity, namely SRJK (C) Wah Lian and SRJK (C) Tche Ming.
Trivia – Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah spent his younger days in Sungai Pelek before moving to Kuala Lumpur with his mother and elder sister.
From Kuala Lumpur, use Plus Highway (E2) southbound. Exit at Exit 209 UPM to join Jalan Sungai Besi and continue on to join South Klang Valley Expressway (SKVE) at Ayer Hitam toll plaza. Continue on, and exit at Teluk Panglima Garang toll plaza and after the toll plaza, keep left to Jenjarom. Drive past Jenjarom and head towards Banting. Take Federal Route 5 to Tanjung Sepat and Sungai Pelek. From Sungai Pelek, continue using Federal Route 5 to Sepang, then head towards KLIA using B48 and turn to Jalan Kuarters KLIA and to Jalan Pekeliling. This will lead to E6 (Elite) and AH2 to Shah Alam or E608, E609, E611 to join E2 North South Highway.
In this Series
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Bumi Satu Kampung Dalam 2 Negeri – i Kampung Baru . Imbasan Sejarah Kampung Baru Cina Selangor – Published by Jawatankuasa Tetap Pembangunan Kampung Baru Kerajaan Selangor -First edition 2012 – pp 134 – 135 and 144 – 147.
Elephants in the museum? Are you sure? Fascinating details are often hidden in plain sight in the galleries of any museum, frequently overlooked. The elephant, the largest animal of the Peninsula, turns up in some unexpected places at Muzium Negara, if you look carefully enough. This great beast, a vital part of the economy of the region since the earliest times, has had many functions: as a beast of burden, a method of transport through thick forest, a farm animal, a vehicle for the nobility, a valuable trade item, and even a war mount in battle. It also has a particular link to South East Asia’s Hindu-Buddhist past, representing Ganesha, the Remover of Obstacles, the particular deity of merchants and travellers for his connections with trade and travel.
So, let us take a quick tour of the galleries and look for elephants! Such quests can be a handy trick to keep in your back pocket when your tour includes children or bored teenagers. ‘How many elephants can you find? Let’s see if you can get more than four…’
The most obvious elephant in Gallery A is a terracotta sculpture, part of the Bujang Valley collection. It may, of course, have a religious significance as a reference to Ganesha, but as it is in no way anthropomorphic, it may simply be a representation of an indigenous creature. Tigers and monkeys, snakes and crocodiles are often found on such pieces, just as on cave paintings, reflecting the animal world of the forest. The elephant was also, of course, important source of everyday labour and transport. This temple decoration came from Candi 21/22, which were Buddhist.
Another elephant example may be represented on the menhirs from Pengkalan Kempas, known colloquially as The Rudder and The Sword. Although there is little certainty about the many complex motifs on these megaliths, there have been suggestions that the animal on the mid left of ‘The Rudder’ is an elephant, whilst the ridge along the top of ‘The Sword’ that rises to a bulbous end may depict an elephant’s trunk. These megaliths are thought to represent several eras: the figures may have been carved at different times, explaining the unusual mix of animist, Hindu-Buddhist and Islamic elements. Pengkalan Kempas was probably a small jetty on a river where goods were exchanged. Ganesha would have been an important votive deity for the merchants who landed there in the hope of a good bargain.
The Makara is an impressive sight at the entry of Gallery B. In Hindu-Buddhist iconography, the makara represents the two opposing forces of the earth, the land and the sea. This highly stylised figure noticeably has a fish tail but also displays a furled trunk as well as tusks, clearly elephant motifs. The makara originated in India where it has a completely different appearance: a hybrid of a dog, a crocodile and a fish. The unique makara of this region, however, draws upon the local elephant and a large fish. It is quite a different chimaera from its Indic origins.
The most interesting elephant in Gallery B, however, is extremely hard to spot unless you are very observant. On the Riau Bugis keris in one of the central cases before the Perak throne, at the very top of the blade where it forms a triangular shape to meet the crosspiece, there is a finely wrought filigree feature. Careful scrutiny – and the help of a laser pointer or torch – reveals this to be a tiny unfurled Ganesha trunk, a trace of the Hindu-Buddhist origins of this archetypal Malay weapon.
Gallery C contains a colourful reference to elephants in one of the pictures at the back of a vitrine in the Portuguese section. During the terrible fighting from June-July 1511 that culminated in the Portuguese capture of Melaka, Sultan Mahmud commanded a huge army of 20,000, gathered from the many vassal states of the Melakan Empire, including Pahang, Sumatra and Java. Amongst this host were 20 war elephants. The image in Gallery C depicts the thick of battle with Melaka town burning in the distance. Centre stage is a furious bull elephant, ridden by Malay warriors armed with spears, charging into a melee of Portuguese infantry and Indian troops, all fleeing in terror. Two other war-elephants bring up the rear. Sadly, despite the superior local forces – and the fearsome elephants – after a battle lasting 40 days, the Portuguese eventually triumphed. The rest is history.
There is another elephant reference in the same gallery, in the pictorial display of Transportation towards the end of the room. Three working elephants, two with open rattan howdahs, the other with a woven covered canopy stand proudly facing the camera with their mahouts. They remind us of the vital role the elephant played in negotiating the narrow paths through the forest in an earlier time as transportation, beast of burden, and a valuable dragging and lifting machine before the invention of modern tractors and forklifts!
Even Gallery D has an elephant reference, although only those very well-informed about royal costume might notice it. Amongst the collection of the tengkoloks of the sultans of Malaysia, is the ceremonial Tanjak diRaja of the Sultans of Terengganu. It has a distinctive high folded front-piece that curves outwards, known as the tengolokbelalai gajah (the elephant trunk).
I found seven elephants – have I missed any?
Ahmad Sarji bin Abdul Hamid (Chairman, Editorial Board). (2011) The Encyclopaedia of Malaysia: Vol. 16 – The Rulers of Malaysia. Editions Didier Millet.
Gan, Rose. & Maganjeet Kaur (Eds.). (2017). A Malaysian Tapestry: Rich Heritage at the National Museum. JMM. MPH Group Printing.
National Museum Curators. (2011). Muzium Negara Kuala Lumpur Gallery Guide. JMM.
Salina Abdul Manan, Hamdzun Haron, Mohammed Jamal Mat Isa, Daeng Haliza Daeng Jamal, Narimah Abd. Mutalib. (2020). Tengkolok as a Traditional Work of Art in Malaysia: An Analysis of Design. Journal of Critical Reviews, 7(19). http://www.jcreview.com/fulltext/197-1598175690.pdf
The Dennis Fire Engine on the grounds of Muzium Negara bearing registration BE 3842 was donated by the Fire Service Department of the Federal Territory on 6 January 1982.
The pleasure of digging through archival documents to get more information on BE 3842 will have to wait until the pandemic is over. However, one can picture this vehicle tearing down the streets of Kuala Lumpur, sirens wailing, in a race against time to save lives and properties. We do not know how many fire incidences it participated in but it was in service for a good 22 years and we do know that the Dennis engine is a good workhorse. Please do share with us any photos you may have of the BE 3842 in action at a fire site, racing down the streets or simply at rest.
The engine was purchased on 24 December 1958 from Dennis Brothers Limited, a manufacturer of commercial vehicles based in Guilford, Surrey, England. Established in 1895 by brothers John Cawsey Dennis and Herbert Raymond Dennis, they started the business producing bicycles and later made motorcars. They subsequently moved to manufacturing heavy-duty commercial vehicles including buses, trucks and dustcarts; fire engines were first produced in 1908. The commercial vehicles manufactured by the company were made-to-order based on customers’ requirements and were stronger than the mass-produced vehicles of their competitors. An example of their hardiness comes from Singapore where a Dennis fire engine is said to have worked non-stop for 87 hours to put out a huge fire at a copra godown on Havelock Road in February 1929; this surely must have been a record of sorts!
Loyal fans of Dennis vehicles have established their own society. Made up of owners and enthusiasts, they provide useful advice for anyone wanting to restore a Dennis vehicle. Their website has a page listing Dennis fire engines that are being preserved and Muzium Negara’s fire engine is on this list, specified as having an F2 body type with chassis number 4416. The museum’s display board identifies it as Dennis RR B80-50A, thus indicating it has a Rolls Royce (petrol) engine.
During the time it was in service, BE 3842 was likely housed at the Central Fire Station at Shaw Road (today Jalan Hang Tuah). This fire station was built in 1955 to the tune of $750,000 and it replaced the old fire station on Church Street (Jalan Gereja). Designed by Eric Taylor, Municipal architect, it had push-button doors that opened instantly. The new station accommodated married firemen in self-contained two-room flats. It was equipped with two Dennis engines, BE 3842 undoubtedly one of them.
“Most Powerful in the East”
The first Dennis fire engine in Kuala Lumpur was purchased in 1911, arriving in October on the steamship Benavon. This petrol vehicle had a 500-gallon capacity, and, with a horsepower of 70, it was claimed to be the most powerful engine in the East. However, there is no pleasing everyone. Alexander Simpson, Engineer of the Selangor Fire Brigade, considered the horsepower “a little in excess of the needs of Kuala Lumpur and District under prevailing circumstances”. Simpson had the task of putting the engine together, which was done at the Works of the Federated Engineering Company. He had other minor grouses as well, albeit valid. Nevertheless, a test done at half power on 30 October showed the engine worked well and was ready to be put in action.
It kind of saw action very soon. On the night of Saturday 11 November, a prankster, probably very eager to see the new fire engine, pulled the fire alarm on nearby Weld Hill (Bukit Kewangan). The fire brigade was out the door in their new Dennis fire engine in just five minutes (with one member of the team still in pyjamas). Although they saw no signs of fire, just a smashed fire alarm, the incident showed that the Dennis fire engine was quicker compared to the 15-20 minutes required to get the old steam engine ready.
History of the Fire Brigade in Kuala Lumpur dates to 28 May 1884 when Captain Harry Syers was tasked by the British Resident to round up members for a Volunteer Fire Brigade. Thirty-odd people signed up and they became the founders of the brigade. The members comprised government officials and residents of Kuala Lumpur, Thamboosamy Pillai and Yap Ah Loy were among the prominent locals. H.F. Bellamy, the Superintendent of the Public Works Department, was appointed Chief Officer. His passion was the driving force behind the brigade, which came to be known as Bellamy’s Brigade.
The Fire Brigade was headquartered at the Central Police Station, which at the time was located on Cross Street (Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin). The Brigade only had a manual engine, which they dragged by hand. They later obtained Merryweather’s Greenwich Gum steam pump, also dragged by hand. It must have been quite a sight to see the pillars of society – brigade members included the likes of H. Conway Belfield, Magistrate & Revenue Collector; A.R. Venning, the State Treasurer; and A.C. Norman, the government architect – racing down the street, dragging a steam pump!
In 1893, Kuala Lumpur’s first fire station was built on Church Street (Jalan Gereja), and officiated on 30 November. In the same year, Shire horses were imported from Britain for the onerous task of pulling the steam pump. The horses were stabled in stalls on either side of the station’s central bay. They were trained to move to their place in front of the engine at the sound of the fire alarm. Bellamy himself drove the horses. In 1895, the Volunteer Fire Brigade was disbanded and the Fire Brigade became a paid unit.
By 1902, the Brigade had purchased their very first motor fire engine – the earliest model of Merryweather’s Fire King. They were the first in the East to have such an engine. When Penang purchased their Fire King in 1906, Kuala Lumpur showed off, “They move slowly in the northern settlement, and sometimes a good deal slower in the southern.” Perhaps they should have waited for the next model because their Fire King did not perform as well as the later model obtained by Singapore.
The Fire King was a steam engine and it was replaced by the Dennis petrol engine in 1911. By this time, Bellamy had returned to Britain (in around the around the mid-1910s).
Gullick, J.M. (2017). A History of Kuala Lumpur: 1856-1939. MBRAS.
Simpson, Alexander. (1911, December 14). Letter from Alexander Simpson to E.G. Broadrick. ‘Report on Dennis Motor Fire Engine, K. Lumpur’. Arkib Negara 1957/0159945.
I write about King Chulalongkorn with some trepidation. Thailand’s Lese-Majeste Law prosecutes for slights against both living and dead royals. I do want to visit Thailand again after the pandemic!
Chulalongkorn appears in Muzium Negara in the old photograph below.
Chulalongkorn has the epithet “Phra Piya Maharat”, the Great Beloved King. He is Rama V, 5th monarch of the reigning Chakri dynasty of Siam (now Thailand). The Chakri dynasty has ruled since 1782. He is the great-grandfather of the current King of Thailand.
A Glimpse of Chulalongkorn’s family life
Chulalongkorn was the 9th son of King Mongkut (Rama IV), but since he was the first to be born to a royal queen, he was recognized as heir to the throne. His mother was Queen Debsirindra and she was Mongkut’s grandniece.
Chulalongkorn was only 15 years old when his father died in 1868. He succeeded the throne under the regency of Somdet Chao Phraya Si Suriyawong. Over the next 5 years, he prepared to assume duties by observing court business and by travels to British Malaya, Dutch East Indies, Burma and India.
Chulalongkorn had at least five royal consorts who were his half-sisters (Mongkut’s daughters) and about 92 consorts and concubines in total. Nothing to raise your eyebrows about. Royal intermarriage used to be very prevalent in Europe and other parts of the world as well. (For Lese-Majeste reasons, note this is a statement and not a criticism!) Once when he visited Italy, he was asked by the Queen of Italy how many wives he had and his reply to her was, “Had I met you first perhaps I would have had only one.” The King of course knew how many he had because each wife was given a sum of money for personal expenses every year.
In theory, the King could make any of his wives a queen. However, in practice, his queens were the daughters of kings. They were called Somdet Phra Raja Devi. From these he promoted the mother of the Crown Prince who was the eldest son. The Crown Prince’s mother was called Somdet Phra Boroma Rajinee.
Chulalongkorn was a prolific producer of children. He had 77 children. Not as many as his father, King Mongkut, who had at least 82 children! (For Lese-Majeste reasons, note this is a statement and not a criticism!)
Why is Chulalongkorn one of Thailand’s most loved and revered Kings?
King Chulalongkorn is considered one of the greatest kings of Thailand. His reign was characterized by extensive social and economic reforms and development.
Chulalongkorn matured into a shrewd politician and managed to fend off very skilfully the threat of European colonialism. Large tracts of Siam were ceded to the Europeans during the period, but Thailand remains the only country in Southeast Asia to have never been colonized.
His abolition of slavery made him the Beloved Great King of all people of Siam. In the beginning of his reign, more than a third of the population were slaves.
Chulalongkorn was the first Siamese King to send the Royal Princes to be educated in Europe. He nurtured a corps of bright Western-educated royal relatives who helped him carry out reforms and to conduct diplomacy.
Dummies’ Quick Guide to What Was Happening In and Around Siam during Chulalongkorn’s Reign
In 1782, Rama I, the first king of the Chakri dynasty, founded a new capital city across the Chao Phraya River in an area known as Rattanakosin Island, now called Bangkok.
From the middle of the 16th century, there were many Burmese-Siamese wars and repeated attacks on Siam. In the 1790s, Burma was defeated and driven out and Siam reached its greatest extent around 1809.
Left: Greatest extent of Rattanakosin’s orbit (c. 1809). Image credit: Wikipedia Right: Territorial cessation of Siamese protectorates in 19th to 20th centuries. Purple to France. Red to Britain. Image credit: Wikipedia
Two kings, Mongkut and Chulalongkorn, witnessed the expansion of both France and Britain to increase their colonial territories in Southeast Asia and encircle Siam. From the west, the British “conquered” India (mid-18th century), Burma (1826-1885) and Malaya (1874), and from the east, the French “conquered” Vietnam (1859), Cambodia (1863) and Laos (1893).
The French takeover of Cambodia and Vietnam led to keen French interest in the Lao territories. They saw (wrongly) the Mekong as a potentially major trade route with China. They feared Thai interests in the territories would be championed by their imperial rival, Britain (also wrong!). The loss of Laos to France in 1893 was a prime example of gunboat diplomacy practiced by western powers. With French gunboats menacing Bangkok, Siam reluctantly signed the Franco-Siamese treaty, which transferred to the French Lao territories east of the Mekong.
After the Franco-Siamese War of 1893, King Chulalongkorn realised the threat of western colonial powers, and accelerated extensive reforms in the administration, military, economy and society of Siam.
In 1896, British and French concluded the Anglo-French Declaration, which made a border between their colonies, with Siam defined as a buffer state. The negotiations for this started around 1887 and the exceedingly subtle and active role that Siamese diplomats played must be appreciated.
This was quickly followed by the Anglo-Siamese Secret Convention 1897 whereby, in return for a Siamese undertaking not to grant any concession or cede any part of the Malay Peninsula without prior British approval, Britain pledged itself to come to the defence of Siamese rights in that region if they were threatened by any third power.
The Entente Cordiale of 8 April 1904 ended the rivalry between Great Britain and France over Siam. As far as Siam was concerned, what the two Powers did in 1904 was nothing more than a reaffirmation of their previous agreement of 1896.
The Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 defined the modern border between Siam and British Malaya. The treaty stated that Siam transfer all rights of suzerainty over its four Malay dependencies – Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis – to Britain. In return, Britain agreed to relinquish its extraterritorial rights over British subjects in Siam. Britain also agreed to abrogate the 1897 Secret Convention and loan Siam £4 million for the construction of a railway to the Malay Peninsula.
When King Chulalongkorn died in 1910, Siam had achieved the borders of today’s Thailand. In 1910, he was peacefully succeeded by his son Vajiravudh, who reigned as Rama VI.
Was Anna Leonowans real?
My first memory of the King of Siam was from the musical “The King & I”. The source material for this musical was a 1944 novel “Anna and the King of Siam” by Margaret Landon, a missionary to Thailand. Anna Leonowans herself did write her own commercially successful memoirs, “The English Governess at the Siamese Court” (1870) and “The Romance of the Harem”(1873), to which King Chulalongkorn responded with the statement that she “has supplied by her invention that which is deficient in her memory.”
Many movie and musical versions have been made of Anna’s story – all highly sensationalized and fictionalized. One was even filmed in Malaysia – “Anna & the King” (1999) starring Jodie Foster & Chow Yun Fat. These movies are banned in Thailand and considered to be lèse majesté because of their disrespectful treatment of King Mongkut.
A World Without A Sun
King Chulalongkorn died in 1910 of kidney disease. He was nursed by Queen Saovabha and his favourites. Princess Chongchitra said, ”It was very sad in the Palace after King Chulalongkorn’s death because his successor was unmarried and would not live Inside. So for us Inside, it was like a world without a sun. Life was all monotony. No King’s meals to prepare; nothing to do for him. We, who had talked about what the King did, what he said, what he liked and what he disliked, now had nothing to talk about.”
Aldrich, Robert (Ed.). (2007). The Age of Empires. Thames & Hudson.
Moore, Wendy Khadijah. (2007). Malaysia: A Pictorial History 1400 – 2004. Editions Didier Millet.
Nik Mohd bin Nik Mohd Salleh. (2011). Kelantan Sultanate. In Ahmad Sarji bin Abdul Hamid (Chairman, Editorial Board), Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Vol 16 – The Rulers of Malaysia (pp. 97-107). Editions Didier Millet.
The starting point of Sungai Langat is at Gunung Nuang on the Titiwangsa Range. The river flows westward across the state of Selangor covering a total distance of 190 km, passing through Kajang, Dengkil, Jenjarom and Jugra before it drains into the Straits of Melaka,. This article focuses on the town of Jugra, which was the royal town and administrative centre of Selangor during the reign of Sultan Abdul Samad and the period of the British intervention in the state. Sadly, today, the town has been left out of the state economic activity and it has slid into obscurity.
History, Tales and Remnants
The discoveries of large quantities of pottery shards, legs/stands of tripod pots and stone adzes at Kampung Jenderam Hilir near Dengkil proved that the Sungai Langat basin had been inhabited since the Neolithic times, believed to be between 3,000 – 4,000 years ago. The area later became a feeder point and regularly supplied local produce to the entrepot at Bujang Valley. At the height of the Melaka Sultanate in the middle of the 15th century CE, Sultan Mansur Shah made his son, Paduka Sri China, the Raja of Jeram near Langat. When the Sultanate of Selangor was set up following the installation of Raja Lumu as Sultan Salehuddin by Sultan Mahmud of Perak, the state was divided into five semi-autonomous districts based on the five major rivers in the state, namely Sungai Bernam, Sungai Selangor, Sungai Klang, Sungai Langat and Sungai Lukut. The settlements were at the estuaries, namely Sabak Bernam, Kuala Selangor, Klang, Bandar Langat (aka Bandar Temasya) and Lukut respectively.
Up until the third Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Mohamed (1826-1857), Kuala Selangor was the main administrative town and capital of Selangor and Raja Abdul Samad was assigned the charge of Kuala Selangor while his father, Raja Abdullah, ruled the Langat Valley. When Raja Abdul Samad took over the reign as the fourth Sultan of Selangor in 1857, he retired from Kuala Selangor and chose to reside in his ancestral fief of Langat, thus moving the capital to Bandar Langat. His eldest son, Raja Musa, who assumed the title of Raja Muda was put in-charge of Kuala Selangor. During the turbulent time of the Klang War/Selangor Civil War from 1867 to 1874, Sultan Abdul Samad issued a letter dated 26 June 1868 that delegated wide executive powers to his son in-law, Tunku Dhiauddin Zainal Rashid or Tengku Kudin in short, and Langat given as a gift to him.
The war was initially fought at Klang and it then spread to Kuala Selangor, Ulu Selangor and finally landed at Kuala Lumpur. After seven long years of fighting, in March of 1873, Tengku Kudin and his allies Yap Ah Loy and Pahang forces recaptured Kuala Lumpur. In November the same year, Kudin’s forces and a Pahang contingent retook Kuala Selangor, the last stronghold of Raja Mahadi in Selangor and it signalled the end of the war. In the middle of 1878, Tengku Kudin relinquished his position as Viceroy of Selangor and returned to his home state of Kedah.
After the war, and after a court trial at (1) Kuala Jugra to settle a piracy case that happened in November 1873 in Selangor waters, Colonial rule in Selangor was established. John Guthrie Davidson became the adviser and aide to Tengku Kudin in Klang and a young Frank Swettenham of the Straits Settlements Civil Service was appointed the Assistant Resident in August 1874. He was to reside atthe (2) Sultan’s fortified stockade by the river which according to him, was flooded twice daily! During his incumbency, Swettenham made many field trips, travelling the length and breadth of the state, including the key mining towns of Hulu Langat, which took him extra days to arrive and Kuala Kubu, where he commented on the gigantic dam that the locals had constructed. Davidson’s position as the first Resident of Selangor was confirmed the following year and at the same time, Swettenham left Bandar Langat and moved to Perak.
The next phase was the development of the royal capital, which was shifted to Jugra, a Malay village south of Bandar Langat. The hill at Jugra was already a known spot and had served as a natural guiding beacon for seafarers in the Straits of Malacca for centuries. The earliest record came from the Chinese source through the sailing charts that recorded the expeditions of Admiral Zheng He in the early 15th century CE. They were published in a book in 1628 and it showed the location of Bukit Jugra, which the Chinese called Mian Hua Yu (綿花嶼) or Cotton Islet in English. Legend has it that when the Malacca Kingdom was ousted by the Portuguese in 1511, Puteri Gunung Ledang escaped and arrived at Bukit Jugra with her husband. One day, she killed her husband and buried him at the foot of the hill and their two cats turned into ‘rimau keramat/ghost tigers’ guarding the grave ever since. ‘Even to this day she pays periodical visits to Jugra Hill’. The hill was also mentioned in ‘The Oriental Navigator, Or, New Directions for Sailing to and from the East Indies’, an important guide to navigating the seas to the far reaches of Asia, which was first published in 1794. Bukit Jugra was known as Parcelar Hill, and the book mentions another hill of with a similar name i.e False Parcelar Hill, which is Bukit Jeram today, located at Kuala Selangor. The name ‘Parcelar’ derives from the Arabic word ‘balasar’, which literally means above the head.
In the 1850’s, some Americans opened a tin mine upstream of Sungai Langat at Sungai Tangkas near Rekoh but was later met by altercations from the locals as they did not possess any consent and the mine was soon abandoned. They travelled down to Bandar Langat and while there, made a significant contribution by improving the communications in the area. They succeeded in making a (3) canal to provide a shortcut from Sungai Langat and the Straits of Malacca at the Jugra inlet (see the top/first photo). The canal later turned into a channel and a reference was made in 1877 that Emily Innes, wife of District Officer James Innes, had used the channel to transport her goods and chattels including a piano, which was a wedding present from her parents, in a big cargo boat from Bandar Langat to Bukit Jugra. At the summit of Bukit Jugra, the British had built a lighthouseto guide ships approaching Jugra. The locals said that during the construction, the waters in the area had turned red for thirty days and at the expiry, cockles, which were abundant, suddenly disappeared. In 1976, another concrete tower was built, this time equipped with the state-of-the-art navigational equipment. Today, there are (4) two lighthouses at Bukit Jugra; the taller was built during the colonial era.
The British started developing Bukit Jugra between 1875 and 1876 and probably the first building constructed was the police station. It was said that Tengku Kudin had initiated the construction. It was to be the first police station in Selangor. A twenty-two year old Harry Charles Syers arrived in March 1875 to set up the police force and he recruited Malays from rural districts of Malacca. One of his early accomplishments was the crushing of Sutan Puasa’s suspected uprising in Ulu Langat in October 1875. H.C. Syers moved on to become the first Federal Commissioner of Police. The ruins of ‘Rumah Pasung’, name given by the locals for the police station, were discovered by the state archaeology team in 2001 and restoration work was carried out the following year and since 2013, it has served as the (5) In-Situ Museum. Some parts of the old police station are preserved, such as the granite walls, flooring, two pillars and the jail cell.
Next to be built was the (6) Jugra District Office. Similar to the police station, the District Office was a two-storey granite and brick building and it also housed a bank and a court. It was by no coincidence that the building housed a bank and a court. The District Officer was indeed a Tax collector and Magistrate! The building has disintegrated and, today, only its ruins can be seen. It is located on the same road that leads to the lighthouses and next to the Chinese cemetery. When the (7) District Officer Residence was ready in 1877, James Innes and Emily moved in immediately. Those days, sightings of tigers in the open were quite common and particularly so in the Kuala Langat district. There was also news of people being killed by tigers. James reported an encounter with a tiger in his garden when he was reading the newspaper. Luckily, nothing bad happened to him. Today, it would be difficult to locate the building, as it may have been completely demolished. The photo below, taken before 1985, showed only one upright pillar.
Located about 300 metres from the Jugra District Office is the (8) Bukit Jugra Ammunition Store. This bunker-like structure with only one entrance was used to store ammunition for the police force and it is strategically located facing Sungai Langat to facilitate the movement of ammunition to and from the store. There is another similar ammunition store albeit a larger one located near Kota Raja Mahadi in Klang.
In 1876, Sultan Abdul Samad felt secure enough to move away from his stockade to his new residence, (9) Jugra Palace/Istana Jugra, which was also known as Istana Sedang Masa, located at Bukit Jugra. His stockade at Bandar Langat was destroyed and he told Swettenham that ‘he very much prefers his house and garden at the hill’. The palace went on to become his main residence for the rest of his life. When he passed away, the palace was abandoned and left to deteriorate. However, one item was left behind i.e. an iron chest. In 1968, Dato Shahrom Yeop who was then the Director of the National Museum had obtained special permission from Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman to move the item to the museum for an exhibition. Incidentally, Tunku was once the District Officer of Kuala Langat. Since its arrival at the museum, strange noises could be heard from the empty chest! In less than a week, it was returned to Jugra, even then the strange phenomena continued – the journey to Jugra took seven hours, a crane was needed to lift the chest and finally, it took just the caretaker and an assistant to carry it up to the room on top of the stairs! The chest is now being kept by one of the descendants in Kampung Permatang Pasir.
Within walking distance from Jugra Palace is the site of what used to be (10) Long Puteri Palace, the official residence of Sultan Abdul Samad’s granddaughter, Raja Long Puteri. In the 1930’s, the place was inhabited by Raja Sakiah Raja Mustar. Today, both buildings have almost ‘disappeared’ except for some tall pillars that stood out at Jugra Palace and the remains of the stone staircase of fourteen steps at the latter. Visiting these two buildings would be quite impossible as both are now within private property.
Sultan Abdul Samad passed away on 6 February 1898 at the age of 93. During his reign, the Resident and the state government was moved from Klang to Kuala Lumpur in 1880 while Jugra remained the royal town. In 1886, Sultan Abdul Samad attended theopening of the railway from Klang to Kuala Lumpur and spent three weeks in Kuala Lumpur. In 1897, after the British had established the Federated Malay States, Sultan Abdul Samad attended the first Durbar, meeting of the Malay Rulers of the four member states at Kuala Kangsar. As the most senior Sultan, he delivered the speech of welcome to the Governor. British officials also noted Sultan Abdul Samad preferred tin ingots rather than silver dollars as his personal reserves and he was reputed to have a hoard of tin worth $100,000. He was buried at (11) Jugra Royal Mausoleum, the Selangor royal family mausoleum since 1886. The mausoleum complex also contained the graves of his children, Raja Muda Musa who died in 1884, Raja Kahar and Tunku Alfiah. The mausoleum is open to visitors.
When Raja Musa died, his son Raja Suleiman was made the heir apparent to the throne when he was appointed as the new Raja Muda in 1887. Thus, when Sultan Abdul Samad passed away, Raja Sulaiman became the fifth Sultan of Selangor and he took the name Sultan Alaeddin Sulaiman Shah, ruling for 40 years, from 1898 to 1938. He was a pious Sultan and was very close to Islamic scholars. One of them, Shaykh Tengku Mahmud Zuhdi, was appointed as the Religious Advisor of the state of Selangor with the title of Shaykh al-Islam Setia DiRaja Selangor. Sultan Alaeddin had written at least three religious books in Jawi and one of the books was once used as a textbook for religious schools in Selangor. In July 1903, Sultan Alaeddin attended the Second Durbar, which was held at the Federal capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Sultan Alaeddin commissioned the construction of two buildings at Kampung Bandar, which is situated away from Bukit Jugra. Both constructions were funded entirely by Sultan Alaeddin. The (12) Bandar Palace/Istana Bandar was built in stages starting from 1899 and finally completed in 1905. It was said that the palace was designed by the Sultan who was inspired by the Sultan Abdul Samad building in Kuala Lumpur. The entire building is constructed of bricks and covered by lime plaster while the staircases and doors are carved from local hardwood. It underwent two renovations i.e in 1914, the rear facade was added with ornaments and inclusion of a fence, then a front entrance was added in 1925. His grandson, Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah who later became the eighth Sultan of Selangor, was born here on 8 March 1926. Sultan Alaeddin lived in this palace for 33 years until his death in 1938. It then went into disuse when the sixth Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Hisamuddin Alam Shah moved to Istana Mahkota Puri in Klang. It was used as a Japanese base during the Japanese Occupation.
At the end of 1980’s, the palace went through major restoration work undertaken by the Selangor state government who turned it into a District Handicraft Centre, which did not last long. It was used as a Maahad Tahfiz school by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department from 1997 to 1999 then left vacant until 2008 when it was certified as a National Heritage building. Upon completion of rehabilitation works, it was handed over to the Malay Customs and National Heritage Corporation of Selangor (PADAT) in December 2010 and was made a tourist attraction in the district. It underwent conservation work in 2015 and there was a plan to turn it into a Living Museum or Royal Gallery to preserve and educate future generations of this national heritage.
The (13) Sultan Alaeddin Royal Mosque/Istana DiRaja Sultan Alaeddin, also known as Masjid Bandar, Masjid Alauddin, Masjid Sultan Suleiman, is situated close to Bandar Palace. It was inaugurated on 18 June 1924 and the design was believed to have originated from the Deli Kingdom in Medan, Sumatra. It was earlier known for its yellow or mustard colour; today the mosque is painted white. Sultan Alaeddin used to deliver sermons here even on Aidilfitri and Aidiladha. This century-old mosque is still being used and maintained by the residents. Prior to this mosque, there was another mosque, (14) Raja Muda Musa Mosque/Masjid Raja Muda Musa located next to the Kampung Bandar Royal Tomb/Makam DiRaja Kampung Bandar. It was built in 1875 and was the first mosque built in Kampung Bandar. The mosque was badly damaged in 1920 and a temporary one was built just outside the mosque. The congregation moved over to Sultan Alaeddin Royal Mosque when it was opened.
(15) Sekolah Kebangsaan Bandar located on the same street as Bandar Palace and Sultan Alaeddin Royal Mosque is the first school in Kuala Langat district and one of the oldest in the state. It was originally known as Sekolah Melayu Bandar Dandan Bakti Raja and was established on 13 March 1898. It started with an enrolment of 53, all boys. The first headmaster was Burok Bin Haji Ahmad who worked until 31 December 1922. In 1952, the school moved to the current site, which is close to the mosque.
From Kuala Lumpur, use Plus Highway (E2) southbound. Exit at Exit 209 UPM to join Jalan Sungai Besi and continue on to join South Klang Valley Expressway (SKVE) at Ayer Hitam toll plaza. Continue and exit at Teluk Panglima Garang toll plaza and after the toll plaza, keep left to Jenjarom. Drive past Jenjarom and head towards Banting. When approaching Banting, watch out for signage to Kampung Bandar and Bukit Jugra.
In this Series
Please click HERE for a list of articles in the ‘A Very Rough Guide’ series.
Mahanavika1 Buddhagupta was a mariner who lived possibly in the second half of the fifth century CE. The title ‘Mahanavika’ bestowed on him implies he was a skilled navigator while his given name, Buddhagupta2, identifies his religious affiliation. Hailing from Raktamṛttika, his visit to the northern Malay Peninsula has entered into the annals of history though a stone stele he donated to a local shrine.
Only the upper part of this stele has survived; it measures 66 centimetres in height, between 29 to 34 centimetres in width and 8 to 9 centimetres in depth. The main feature on this slab is the representation of a stupa with an almost spherical dome, in itself unusual given that they are typically semi-hemispherical.
A balcony can be seen on top of the dome and rising from this is a staff carrying seven parasols of diminishing sizes ending in two semi circles. The dome sits within the upturned petals of a lotus blossom while downward petals of the lotus frame the base. This base is decorated by three pilasters – the pilaster in the centre is shown complete while the two side pilasters are in halves. Alternatively, these could have been pillars. The stone is broken off under the pilasters/pillars – the base could have been resting on a plinth as in the case of the Kampung Sungai Mas inscription.
Inscriptions run along the sides of the stupa as well as along the sides of the slab. The language is Sanskrit and the script Pallava. There are two parts to this inscription. The inscription that runs along the right side of the stupa is a karma verse that can be translated as:
Through ignorance, karma is accumulated. The cause of birth is karma. Through knowledge karma is not accumulated. Through absence of karma one is not reborn.3
This verse has also been found on inscriptions at two locations in southern Kedah – Kampung Sungai Mas and Bukit Meriam – in both cases coupled with the Buddhist Ye Dharma Hetu credo. The coupling of the karma and the Ye Dharma Hetu verses has not been found in India or Sri Lanka and, hence, could have been a local blending of philosophies.
The second part of the inscription mentions a Mahanavika Buddhagupta from Raktamṛttika giving thanks for a successful voyage. The inscription likely continues onto the broken-off piece of the stele and hence this inscription is not complete. The translation by Kern4 of the surviving inscription is below.
Right-hand side of stele: ‘Of the eminent shipowner Buddhagupta resident at Raktamrttika…’
Left-hand side of stele: ‘In every way, from everything, in every respect, all… who has performed a successful journey’
Raktamṛttika translates to ‘red earth’. This location was initially identified with the Chitu mentioned in Chinese records, which also translates to ‘red earth’; it is believed to have been located in Kelantan. Another possibility is the Raktamṛttika Mahavihara mentioned in the writings of Hiuen-Tsang (Xuanzang), a Chinese traveller to India in the seventh century CE. He wrote that the most learned men in the kingdom congregated at this vihara. Its location has been identified with the archaeological site at Rajbaridanga in West Bengal, India.
And… just for fun… an attempt to transliterate one line of the Pallava script.
The stele was discovered in 1834 by Captain James Low while he was excavating some ruins at a sandy site in Seberang Perai (at its border with Kedah). Low did not leave behind any further details of the location but later researchers speculate it to be Guar Kepah, a sandy site at Penaga on the southern bank of Muda River.
Guar Kepah has other calls to fame. At one time coastal, it lies on an old beach ridge and it was previously made up of shell middens, i.e. mounds made up mainly from remains of edible molluscs and other kitchen waste. The shell midden at Guar Kepah was recorded in 1860 by G.W. Earl as being six metres high; by 1936, this had been reduced to less than two metres due to quarrying activities for lime. Shell middens signal the presence of prehistoric settlements and the Guar Kepah site was in occupation during the Hoabinhian and the Neolithic. Excavations during the colonial period had unearthed 41 skeletons and the discovery in 2017 of ‘Penang Woman’, a 5,710 year-old skeleton, puts the focus back on Guar Kepah.
With such a long history, it is thrilling to think that the shell mounds may have back dropped a stupa of the design shown on the stele. Guar Kepah is not done revealing its secrets and we can only hope that future discoveries will illuminate the Buddhagupta period, shedding light on the community that resided in the area at the time.
1 ‘Navika’ is a Sanskrit word translated initially as ‘sea-captain’. However, present-day scholarship leans towards ‘navigator’ as the more accurate meaning. ‘Mahanavika’ thus translates to ‘Great Navigator’.
2 Names identifying religious affiliation were common. As an example, among the 193 Indic inscriptions discovered at Hoc Cave on Socotra Island in Yemen, many were personal names indicating religious affiliation with Vishnu, Siva, Kartikeya or Surya. Incidentally, Budhagupta was also the name of an emperor of the Gupta Dynasty, reigning between c. 476 and 495 CE. The navigator who arrived on the shores of Kedah may have been named after him.
3Jacq-Hergoualc’h (2002, 216)
4Kern (1907, 96)
Allen, Jane. (1986-87). An Inscribed Tablet from Kedah, Malaysia: Comparison with Earlier Finds. Asian Perspectives, 27(1), 35-57.
Muzium Negara has on display a few personal items that belonged to Haji Abdul Rahman bin Abdul Hamid, a religious scholar and freedom fighter from Kuala Terengganu. Born in 1868, Abdul Rahman was a successful entrepreneur with business dealings as far as Menara (today Narathiwat) in southern Thailand. His frequent visits to Limbong in Kemaman to trade as well as to preach earned him the moniker ‘Limbong’, which was tacked to the end of his given name. Some simply called him ‘Tok Limbong’. In spite of his wealth, he was down to earth, generous and ready to help; this made him well known especially along the middle part of the Terengganu River. He was very versatile; apart from trade, he had agricultural concerns, practised silat and was a religious teacher.
History remembers him for the role he played in protesting against the land and forest management laws introduced by the British. Forest produce, such as timber, attap, rattan and eaglewood, was an important source of revenue for the state. Taxation on these products had been in place even before British intervention – Malay district chiefs, through royal grants, exercised monopoly over their purchase. However, the rates were flexible and, importantly, transactions were mainly through barter. The British introduced a much higher tax rate for jungle products and included many additional items into the taxable list. Their tax collection process was also more efficient as they completely replaced the barter system with cash. In addition, permits were required before trees could be felled preparatory to dry-rice cultivation. All these measures put a huge burden on the peasantry.
In 1921, in an effort to end shifting cultivation, the government introduced a license to cultivate land on a temporary basis, with a hefty fine for non-compliance. The following year, a group of farmers disregarded the law and worked the land in Beladau without permit, supported by Haji Abdul Rahman. When 43 of these farmers were served with warrants for their rebellion, Haji Abdul Rahman applied for a special attorney’s license to defend them during their trial. However, too many supporters turned up in court, some bearing weapons, and Haji Abdul Rahman’s refusal to cooperate with the authorities saw him lose his special license. His license as a religious teacher and permit to hold circumcisions were also revoked. He was viewed with concern as his ability to garner support and rile up a crowd pegged him as a powerful and dangerous leader.
Discontent over the land duties and royalty over jungle produce continued to mount. The Malay chiefs were also unhappy losing their customary claims over land. On 20 May 1928, with a conviction that the land belonged to God and that the State had no right over it, around 2,000 people marched to Kuala Berang. The District Officer and the police, made up of a sergeant and four men, made a prudent retreat and summoned help. A team of 25 policemen later caught up with the dissidents in Kuala Telemong. Here, after failing to disperse the crowd in spite of repeated warnings, the police fired one volley, killing eleven men including one of the key leaders of the rebellion, i.e. Lebai Deraman, better known as To’ Janggut (not be to confused with the Kelantanese rebel leader). Further reinforcements arrived the next day from the Federated Malay States and the dissidents finally dispersed.
Twelve other ringleaders were arrested and given long prison sentences coupled with hard labour. Haji Abdul Rahman, though he did not take part in the actual disturbance, was identified as the leader behind the incident and he was exiled to Mecca.
Berhanundin bin Abdullah, Kamaruzaman bin Yusoff & Mansoureh Ebrahimi (2015). Haji Abdul Rahman Limbong (1868-1928): Fighter against the Colonialist. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 6(6), 281-289.
Kathirithamby-Wells, Jeyamalar (2005). Nature and Nation: Forests and Development in Peninsular Malaysia. NIAS Press and NUS Press.
In my last article (on Dengkil), I wrote about the discovery of Neolithic and later historical period artefacts at the confluence of Sungai Langat and Sungai Semenyih near Jenderam Hilir. Sungai Langat is one of the main sources of water supply for the state of Selangor. In this article, I shall follow the path of Sungai Langat further west, from Dengkil to Jenjarom. Located in the district of Kuala Langat, Jenjarom is about 54 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur and 24 kilometres from Klang town. Since its early days, it has been an agricultural town and today, it is turning into a popular tourist spot.
The origin of the town’s name has two potential sources – from a river/stream and a plant. Sungai Jarom, which is a tributary of Sungai Langat, has a distinctive feature that looks like a needle (jarum in Malay) and thus the name. The Ixora is a flowering shrub that grows well in tropical Asia. The plants produce large clusters of tiny flowers and they flower all year round. In Malaysia, it is known by the following names – jarum jarum, jejarum, jenjarum, siantan, tabung jarum and pecah periuk.
The Banjar, an ethnic group native to South Kalimantan in the island of Borneo, were the earliest inhabitants in the area. They arrived in the 1920’s and at about the same time or slightly later, Chinese immigrants arrived. They were mostly Hokkiens from Nan Tian village, Anxi in the Fujian Province and they called their new residence Chap Si Gi, which means 14 miles, the distance to Klang. They were given land by the British for the cultivation of rubber trees. Besides rubber trees, they also cultivated coffee plants, tea and coconut.
Coffee growing in our country started as early as in the 1870’s and Selangor was historically the peninsula’s largest coffee producer. The estates were located around Klang and Kuala Lumpur. However, the industry did not last long due to the fluctuation in coffee prices, coffee leaf rust (disease) attacking the farms and the switch to rubber, which became the dominant cash crop. On the other hand, tea growing at Bukit Cheeding has survived until today (more information below).
The earliest school in Jenjarom was the Aik Kuan Chinese School, which was established in 1924. During the Emergency, its name was changed to Sekolah Rendah Cina Jenjarom and today, it is Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan Cina (SJKC) Jenjarom. Kampung Baru Jenjarom was set up in 1950 behind the town. From an initial population of 4,500, it grew to 18,000 in 1995 and by 2012, it went up to 25,000; it was then, one of the largest Chinese New Villages in Selangor. Today, it is known as Kampung Seri Jarum.
Jenjarom was under the Telok Datoh state constituency from 1959 to 1974. This constituency was abolished and re-created as Teluk Datuk in 1995 and, following a re-delineation exercise, it was renamed Banting in 2018. Four-term state assemblyman, Dato Seri Haji Hormat Bin Rafei became Selangor Menteri Besar from 1976 to 1982. He took over from Dato Seri Haji Harun Bin Haji Idris who resigned in 1976. At the Federal level, Jenjarom comes under the Kuala Langat federal constituency. The Member of Parliament (MP) for three-terms, from 1974 to 1986, was Aishah Ghani, who was then the head of Wanita UMNO. Aishah’s early involvement in politics was in 1945, as a leading member of AWAS (Angkatan Wanita Sedar, the women’s wing of PKMM (Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya or Malay Nationalist Party). She was appointed as the Minister of Social Welfare in 1973 and served until 1984. She then became the Permanent Chairman of Wanita UMNO from 1984 until 19 April 2013 when she passed away at the age of 89. The current state assemblyman is Lau Weng San (PH-DAP) and the MP is Xavier Jayakumar Arulanandam (formerly PH-PKR, now Independent).
Moving forward to the beginning of 2018, residents of Jenjarom were having sleepless nights as they had difficulty breathing due to the putrid scent. They soon found out that it was the smell of burning plastic and it came from the illegal plastic recycling factories that were mushrooming in the township. Due to the town’s proximity to Port Klang, it became an ideal dumping ground. Greenpeace reported that plastic waste exported from the US to Malaysia in the first seven month of that year had doubled from the previous year. The Minister in-charge at that time, Yeo Bee Yin, took action by closing down the illegal factories, agreed to add plastic to the Basel Convention to combat the dangerous effects of plastic pollution worldwide and sent back the plastic waste to the exporting countries. The Government also suspended the operations of the 114 permitted factories and told them to re-apply under stricter criteria. One year after the discovery, residents of Jenjarom ‘can breathe normally and there are no more health problems. Jenjarom has been given a new lease of life’.
Places of Interest
The tea plantation at Bukit Cheeding, just outside Jenjarom town is owned by (1) BOH Plantations Sdn. Bhd. This is where lowland tea is grown and BOH is one of two companies that grow lowland tea in our country. Here, specially designed vehicular harvesters are utilized to pluck the green leaves. Bukit Cheeding is BOH’s only packaging plant. BOH’s other tea gardens are all located at Cameron Highlands, namely the first garden at Habu which was established in 1929, Sungai Palas and Fairlie. The current CEO is Caroline Russell who is the granddaughter of the founder, John ‘Archie’ Archibald Russell. In a news report on 6 December 2019, BOH is offering 651 acres of its Bukit Cheeding plantation for sale. It also mentioned that the land has been zoned for housing. BOH Bukit Cheeding is not open for walk-in visitors and prior permission must be obtained from Majlis Daerah Kuala Langat (MDKL/Kuala Langat District Council).
Photo source : BOH Tea Facebook
The (2) Wanshou Palace (仁嘉隆萬壽宮) located at Jalan Sungai Buaya is a unique temple. It is a unification of four temples, namely Shizhu Temple, Tongluo Temple, Guanyin Pavilion and Yufu Palace. The construction of the first temple was completed on 14 June 1965 on a piece of land given by the Government. In moving with the times, Wanshou Palace was registered as an official organization on 28 March 2000. They were also successful in getting the adjacent land from the government and the reconstruction of the temple went ahead in 2012 with a budget of six million ringgit.
Further down Jalan Sungai Buaya is the location of (3)馬來西亞佛光山東禪寺 Fo Guang Shan Dong Zen Temple which is a must-visit site in Jenjarom. FGS Dong Zen is one of the many branches of FGS, which was founded by Venerable Master Hsing Yun in 1967. FGS Dong Zen was built in 1994 and it occupies an area of 16 acres. The temple complex comprises a main shrine with a large seated Buddha, Lumbini garden, Zen garden, Waterdrop Teahouse, Sutra calligraphy hall, Dong Zen Institute of Buddhist Studies, Fo Guang Yuan art gallery, exhibition halls, meditation halls and more. Every Chinese New Year, the temple grounds will be transformed into a glittering wonderland of red lanterns, illuminated gardens, flotillas and colourful displays. This Lantern and Flora Festival will be on display throughout the Chinese New Year celebrations.
Next, to shift focus to some food and beverage outlets that have appeared in Jenjarom in recent times. Starting with (5) Mansion 1969, this cafe-cum-heritage gallery started business in 2016. Incidentally, the building was built in 1969. Besides the many antiques that are on display, the wooden walls are filled with historical information taken from the pages of ‘Moving Mountains : A Pictorial History of the Chinese in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur’ published by the Centre for Malaysian Chinese Studies; one of the partners of the cafe was involved in the editing of the book. The cafe serves local and Western dishes. Two years later, they started another F&B outlet at the car park outside of Mansion 1969, which they called (6)NightBus 127. Bus 127 used to be the only public transportation between Banting and Klang and it operated in the evenings. An old bus that has been renovated and brought back to life, now serving as the main dining area, is proving to be a crowd puller. The cafe serves western food and operates from 5.00 pm to midnight. And last but not least, one of the partners started another outlet at Kampung Sungai Jarom which he called (4) Pak Teh Kopitiam. The cafe is housed in a 1950’s built village house and started operations in 2019. They serve breakfast and lunch, plus many vegetarian foods and is pork-free.
To get to Jenjarom from Kuala Lumpur, use Plus Highway (E2) southbound. Exit at Exit 209 UPM to join Jalan Sungai Besi and continue on to join South Klang Valley Expressway (SKVE) at Ayer Hitam toll plaza. Continue driving and exit at Teluk Panglima Garang toll plaza and, after the toll plaza, keep left to Jenjarom.
In this Series
Please click HERE for a list of articles in the ‘A Very Rough Guide’ series.
“To be standing together in a frosty field, looking up into the sky, marvelling at birds and revelling in the natural world around us, is a simple miracle. And I wonder why we are so rarely able to appreciate it.”
– Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Mother’s Memoir [paraphrased]
A recent article in our blog titled ‘Volunteering at the Museum during the Covid-19 Pandemic’ by Karen Loh, touched on the Museum Volunteers’ organisation and its continuing work. It prompted me to reflect on the previous year. Museum Volunteers have largely carried on with normal life, as well as some new things in the sudden ‘time windfall’. Of course, there is the shopping, cooking, house cleaning because the house cleaner cannot come in, and the outdoor exercises. Tasks previously done on weekends are now spread out over the week. There are the unusual activities like cooking or baking foods you never did before and repairs you always wanted to do but put off. I, however, have found a way to indulge in bird photography just around my garden.
I am a keen amateur observer of birds, but I have only observed because I did not have a powerful camera. I do have powerful binoculars and used this to take notes and then refer to all the colour plates in the book I have on birds to identify them. A challenge in itself. Then, a good friend insisted I use his spare Canon EOS1 Ds Mark III, together with a 400mm and 70-200mm zoom lens. This truly opened up a completely new world nine months ago. Somehow, it seemed that the various birds knew their pictures were going to be taken, so they all appeared and posed for me. After that, some of them would not be seen for a long while or ever again.
Being near Bukit Gasing helps making a collection just by being in the garden. However, it involves hearing new sounds, keeping the camera always on the ready and with its battery charged. The first pictures I took were of the Scaly-breasted Munia. They are certainly rare, at least in my garden, as I have never seen them again. They come in pairs and move slowly around a bushy plant, pecking away at tiny insects or seeds.
Mind you, bird photography is not just point and shoot. The quick dash to capture the pictures, the excitement and shooting it quick in case it flies off, all makes one nervous with a shaky hand resulting in a few slightly blurred initial pictures. However, unlike film, with a digital you can take as many pictures as you want until your hand steadies, because it is all free! All part of the fun!
Then again, many birds sit high up a tree or they may be far away. Then, there are birds that never sit still but continuously flit about in the bushes such as this Olive-backed Sunbird. How does it feed at that speed I wonder?
The Crested Serpent Eagle is a real treat. I first sighted it in the early morning on top of a dead pinang tree. A few days later, that vain bird (or maybe another) was on the top of the telephone pole right outside my front gate like a sentinel! Was it oblivious to my clicking away? It does make an appearance now and again in the late evening, perched regally looking around for prey, which could be snakes or frogs and rats. These eagles nest up in the bukit. On some hot breezy days sometime after 10am, they spread their wings and circle, ‘riding the thermals’ as the hot air lifts them higher and higher, till they disappear from view, with a call that sounds like a baby’s cry.
Crested Serpent Eagle. Clockwise from top-left: in flight, on telephone pole, on pinang tree, up close
If you see the eagle’s crown is ruffled, it is best to make a quick exit, as this means the bird is angry.
I must qualify that the comments I make here are based on my own observations over time and not from books – so please do not challenge me lah. While I could use scientific names like birderus whateverus, I prefer the simple names. Admittedly, I am not yet familiar with the sub-species. Only for a few birds, I can distinguish between male and female. While the explanations are simple, detailed descriptions like habitats, migration patterns, range etc., are avoided as this is all about my sightings only.
Naturally, other than the exotic birds, there are the few plebeian, or ‘commoner birds’. These will be familiar to all.
Clockwise from top-left: Yellow-vented Bulbul, Eurasian tree sparrow, Magpie Robin, Javan Myna
Left: Peaceful Dove, Right: Spotted Dove
The Kingfisher comes by because of a monsoon drain nearby. It dives down into this drain and comes up with a guppy in its beak. A couple of wallops of the beak on the wire kills the fish, which then gets swallowed. They are also partial to worms and caterpillars.
Left: White-throated Kingfisher, Right: White-throated Kingfishers fighting for caterpillar
Then there are the seasonal birds, though some have become resident. I first sighted the Koel in this area, as well as in many other parts of the country in about the late 1980s, usually between November and March. Over the years it has become resident all over the country. A very shy bird which is almost always hidden in the trees and therefore difficult to photograph. But one of the ‘gems’ if captured on film.
Left: Female Koel; Right: Male Koel
Their call is a short continuous ‘woo woo’, which gets louder and louder. On a cool evening with the setting sun and a light breeze, the call truly sounds the knell of parting day. (Note to self: get a video camera).
The Philippine Glossy Starling is a simple black beauty in low light but is really a glossy dark-green in full light. It usually flies in a small flock, roving from one plant to another to feed, stopping long enough to be photographed.
Another year-end bird is the Green Bee-eater, which I first saw at the Kuala Gula Sanctuary swamps ages ago. These are still year-end birds and remain so, except that there are stragglers staying on later than before. They sit on a wire, then dive or fly up and catch a bee mid-air and get back to the wire to eat. If the bee is a bit large, the bird beats its beak on the wire to kill the bee first.
Green Bee-eater, can be seen eating a bee
Some birds you hear but are difficult to see due to their size. They need some effort as they flit quickly in the bushes, pecking at unseen things on branches and twigs. Below are two examples – the Asian Brown Flycatcher and Common Tailorbird.
top: Asian Brown Flycatcher, bottom: Common Tailorbird
The Coppersmith Barbet has a strong voice. Its sound is a regular beat ‘tonk tonk tonk’ and it can go on for quite a while with short intervals, and a ‘sore throat tonk’ sometimes in between. The sound is similar to a coppersmith beating metal to shape it and hence the name of the bird.
When I was shooting the Koel, along came this proud Pink-necked Green Pigeon and settled on a nearby branch.
Pink-necked Green Pigeon
Now comes another set of very rare birds for this area; I have seen each of them only once and never saw them again. It was sheer luck of being at the right place at the right time.
left: a pair of Greater Goldenback Woodpeckers; right: the female of the species
The Little Egret and White-breasted Waterhen do frequent the neighbourhood, but you need sharp eyes and have to be well hidden to get them.
Other interesting creatures visited as well.
Left: Common Birdwing Butterfly; Right: Monkey
This bat used to hang from an outer ceiling all day for a few months; flying off in the evening, returning later in the night and then messing up the floor below. You can see why – it was eating a jambu air the night I took this shot.
Then there is the pesky tree shrew; nevertheless a beauty of its own, unless it runs into the house.
This last picture is of birds in a feeding frenzy after an evening rain – all flying so swiftly and up high.
I have yet to get a good shot of the common crow, which does fly by but up high. That is on my To Sight List, which also includes the Heron. For the Heron, I may have to make an exception and go to Taman Jaya to spot them in the ditches. Who knows what other birds I may find there!
When it is safe to travel, trips to Kuala Gula, Frasers Hill and other places are on the card. This will add variety to my personal collection, which I have titled ‘Birds Seen by Me’.