Visit to Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia – 16 May 2019

by Lam Lai Meng

The MV Focus Team organised a visit to the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) on Thursday 16 May 2019 for around 20 MVs. For many MVs, it was their first time at the IAM. What a fascinating visit it turned out to be. A tour of two hours was definitely not long enough to fully appreciate and absorb the beauty of the artefacts on display. IAM curator En Zulkifli and his team (Hariz, Dalia and Amin) showed us around the special exhibition on Qajar Ceramics and the main galleries.

At the end of the tour, organiser Mona Tan presented the book “The Chitties of Melaka” authored by Karen Loh and Jega (our very own MVs) to En Zulkifli.

Arabesque Design

En Zulkifli explained to us what arabesque design is all about. Arabesque is a style of decoration characterised by intertwining plants and abstract curvilinear motifs. The ‘circular’ intertwining arrangement of the motifs signifies something that has no beginning and has no end. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, arabesque was originally derived from Hellenistic craftsmen working in Asia Minor, and originally included birds in their natural setting. This style of decoration became highly formalised when Muslim artisans adapted this form around 1000 CE. The arabesque became a very essential part of the decorative tradition in Islamic cultures. While there is widespread understanding that for religious reasons, no birds, beasts nor human figurines are allowed, representations of Islamic religious figures are found in some manuscripts from cultures such as Ottoman Turkey and Mughal India. These pictures were meant to illustrate the story and not to infringe on the Islamic prohibition of idolatry, but many Muslims regard such images as forbidden. In secular art of the Muslim world, representations of human and animal forms historically flourished in nearly all Islamic cultures, although, partly because of opposing religious sentiments, figures in paintings were often stylized, giving rise to a variety of decorative figural designs.

Qajar Ceramics : Bridging Tradition and Modernity

This special exhibition is on from 21 March 2019 – 31 December 2019. The exhibition features Qadari ceramics from Iran, from the 19th to early 20th century. The Qadari dynasty saw seven Shahs ruling in the northern part of Iran (then Persia). The Qajari era saw a lot of contact with European countries, and Qajari paintings of this period exhibit some European influences. The colour blue features prominently in Qajari ceramics. Qajari ceramics are very densely decorated with figurative images of humans, fauna and flora.

The IAM – Southeast Asia’s largest museum of Islamic Art

It has 12 spacious, well lit, comfortable main galleries:

  • Architecture
  • Qur’an and Manuscript
  • India
  • China
  • Malay World
  • Jewellery
  • Textile
  • Living With Wood
  • Arms & Armour
  • Coin & Seal
  • Metalwork
  • Ceramics

Architecture Gallery

This gallery features the diverse architecture of famous mosques and mausoleums from the Islamic world. Visitors are able to see scale models of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the mud mosque in Timbuktu, the Alhambra in Granada, the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Kampung Laut Mosque in Kelantan (wooden mosque built without using nails), and many more. From these designs, it was obvious that domes are not an essential part of the architecture of mosques. En Zulkifli explained that domes were introduced more for acoustic effects in the ages before the advent of sound systems.

Whilst touring the Architecture Gallery, Lai Meng informed En Zukiflee about a unique little mosque found in Padang Rengas, Perak.  It was built in 1936 and is the only mosque in the country made of wood and woven bamboo.The colours of the woven panels were in black, yellow and white, reflecting the colours of the Perak flag. It was in use until 1976 when it fell into disrepair. The National Heritage Department restored it in 2008 and in 2017 it was turned into a gallery called Galeri Masjid Ihsaniah Iskandariah. A picture of this mosque is below.

Qur’an & Manuscript Gallery

This gallery highlights the development and emergence of different Arabic script styles.

India Gallery

The Mughal era (1526 – 1828) is considered as the most brilliant period of Islamic art in India. Many features of Mughal art diverged from mainstream Islamic art with figural representations and production of detailed miniature paintings.  The Mughal era saw the Islamic tradition of metalworking taken to extreme levels of opulence. Gilded silver, brass, enamels and jewel-inlaid gold were commonly used for objects used in the royal court.

China Gallery

This gallery displays many ceramic artefacts, which reveal Muslim influence. Traditionally, calligraphy did not play an important part in Chinese ceramics. However, Arabic Islamic calligraphy made a significant appearance in blue and white ceramics during the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644) inscribed on ceramic ware and scroll paintings.

Malay World Gallery

Subjects of Islamic expression were found in stylised plants, fruits and clouds and in a variety of media such as textiles, paintings and objects.

Textile Gallery

Textiles in the Islamic world were objects that portrayed status, wealth and religious allegiance. The richness of these textiles were much sought after beyond the borders of the Islamic empires.  Expertise in the production of textiles shifted from Arabia to the eastern end of Islam, to countries like India where the Mughals were responsible for some of the greatest advances in textile production. Textiles were used for decorative and sartorial purposes.

Arms & Armour Gallery

This gallery displays many types of weapons used in Islamic countries, mainly swords and daggers with beautifully carved or etched hilts and scabbards. The swords usually bore the name of its maker as a brand. These beautifully decorated weapons were usually used for ceremonial occasions by Islamic leaders of the era.

Jewellery Gallery

The Islamic lands produced some of the most magnificent and finest jewellery  in the world. Islamic jewellery falls into two broad groupings – the exclusive and the ethnic (among tribal groups). Lavish and opulent use was made of gold and gem stones. The Mughal period in India was an era of opulent jewellery designs.

Coin & Seal Gallery

Islamic coins were highly calligraphic with religious inscriptions. Portraiture was eventually removed in most parts of the Islamic world in keeping with religious teachings. The IAM has a wide-ranging collection of seals that date back several centuries. These seals were used for official or personal purposes.

Metalwork Gallery

Craftsmen of the Islamic world were experts in metalwork, creating beautiful a vessels in base alloys like brass and bronze. Vessels of gold are almost non-existent due to religious disapproval and destruction due to political upheavals and economic crisis. The craftsmen were exceptionally skilled in metalwork with exquisite inlays of precious metals like gold, silver and copper. Iran from the 9th and 10th century onwards became the leader in metalwork with intricate inlays. The art of metalwork with inlays spread to countries like Syria, Egypt and China. In China, copper alloys were supplemented by cloisonne.

Living with Wood Gallery

Islamic craftsmen also excelled in woodworking. Crafts of wood exhibited intricate carvings and were often inlaid with precious materials like mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell and ivory.

Ceramics Gallery

Ceramics were an outstanding component of Islamic art. Influences came from many directions, particularly China, but each Muslim region stamped its own identity on the wares produced. Islamic ceramics have in turn influenced ceramics produced in Europe.

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Becoming a Museum Volunteer

by Eric Lim

I was reading a local daily when I was attracted by something at the corner of my eye – “Want to be a Museum Volunteer”. It was December 2016 and I was recently made redundant in the workforce and the saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” may not ring true this time. I may have reached the end of the lawn.

Then drawing inspiration from the late John F. Kennedy who once said “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, it was time for my humble self to make a little contribution to my beloved country by becoming a Museum Volunteer. A total of 30 newbies registered for the training programme that was conducted from February to June of 2017. Right after, to continue the learning development, we were put through the mentorship programme. Another few more months went by and l finally completed the programme in November 2017.

Graduation Day

I can still remember vividly that at the end of my last tour with my mentor, I said “With that, I have come to the end of the tour” and my mentor immediately replied “ With that, you have completed the mentorship programme”. Yes, I have completed the full programme and now eagerly looking forward to taking my first tour.

The day of reckoning came soon enough, it was on Tuesday 19 December 2017. I had arrived early and managed to assemble a small group of visitors for the tour. And at exactly 10.00 am, I started my maiden tour. In keeping with the time limit, I had brought the group to the end of Gallery D and it was time for my signature line “With that, it’s the end of the tour”. I was very satisfied with the result and truly happy seeing the smiling faces as they head toward the exit. I took another three tours the very same month to wrap up for the year 2017.

For 2018, I had planned to take in more tours to coincide with my motto in life. When the Portuguese captured Melaka, it can be summed up in 3G – Glory, Gold and God. For me, it is 3D – Determination, Dedication and Discipline, plus the expression “the harder you practice, the luckier you get”.

School Visit on Tues 28/8/18 – University Malaya, Centre for Continuing Education, 25 pax
The group showed up unexpectedly and requested for guides. Since no tourists showed up, Josianne together with Eric helped to guide this group. The actual group was more than 40, but we only took on 25.

So the numbers just added up. I recall taking the morning and afternoon tours on a Thursday; and numerous occasions where I took tours on consecutive days. For the record, I took a total of 55 tours in 2018. And for that, I was recently awarded by JMM for my outstanding service as a Museum Volunteer. Also, getting compliments from the TripAdvisor website really made it all worthwhile and special.

Moving forward to 2019, the figures for the first quarter are still very much intact, averaging one tour per week. Here’s looking forward to my next tour tomorrow, wanna join my tour?

Batu Caves’ Hindu Temples Visit

by Tan Chuan Leng

On 9 April 2019, the MV Focus Team organised a tour to the Batu Caves complex, one of the most revered Hindu pilgrimage locations outside of India and also one of the most cherished Hindu shrines for the Thaipusam festival in Malaysia.

By 9am, 18 MVs had gathered in front of the staircase (ground level) leading to the main cave right behind the tallest Lord Murugan statue. Our guide for this visit was the knowledgeable Mr Rasianthiran Menayah (Mr Rajan) who took the group through the temples and imparted his knowledge on Hinduism. The sketch below summaries the order of places we visited.

Mr Rajan informed us that the Hindu deities take on myriad forms; they are sometimes attended by their Shakti (spouse in common parlance). They are usually identified by their specific animal mount (referred to as vahana). They can also be identified by physical characteristics and symbolic implements or weapons they hold or wear.

1. Vishnu Temple (next to KTM Komuter side exit)
2. Hanuman Statue
3. Ganesh, Siva, Shakti Temples
4. Main Temple, Lord Murugan Temple
5. Navagraha Sannathi (Temple of Nine Planets)

In Hinduism, the worship of the different gods is not mutually exclusive but in fact is complementary though often devotees would identify with one as their supreme God. The common sects are Vaishnavism (Vishnu), Saivism (Siva), and Shaktism. The most popularly worshipped by Hindus in Malaysia are Vishnu, Shiva, and the Goddess Shakti in her various aspects, and Shiva’s two sons, Ganesha and Murugan.

Mr Rajan told the MVs that one can tell exactly which school of theology a devotee is coming from by the colour and shape of the tilaka marks that is placed on their foreheads. Shaktas, followers of Shakti wear a large red dot on their foreheads.

Left: A Vaishnav Hindu with a long vertical tilaka intercepted by an elongated ‘U’.
Right: A Shaiva Hindu with a tilaka of 3 horizontal bands and one vertical band in the centre
Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilaka

The temples visited are described below in the order visited:

1. Vishnu Temple

This temple is known as Sri Venkatachalapathy Swamy Sannadhi. It is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, who is distinguished by a discus (chakra) and a conch-shell trumpet (shankha). In the picture below, we see the chakra and conch at the top of the shrine. Vishnu’s vahana (vehicle) is the eagle-like Garuda, placed in a separate niche in front of the main sanctum.

Vishnu is the deity that preserves and protects the universe and he has appeared on the earth many times through his avatars (incarnations) to save humankind from natural disasters or from tyranny. Some of Vishnu’s well-known avatars are Rama (as in the Ramayana epic)’ Krishna, who destroyed the wicked and established a new order; and Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

Vishnu’s consort is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and good fortune, who is offered special worship during Deepavali. She is also represented as the wife of each of Vishnu’s incarnations, including Sita, wife of Prince Rama, and Rukmini, wife of Krishna. Vishnu is also represented in sculpture and paintings in human form, often painted blue. According to Mr Rajan, Lord Vishnu, the preserver, is considered by his worshippers to be the greatest among the gods.

At this temple, the MVs experienced their first pooja where the priest:

  • offered a lighted flame and worshippers wave the flame towards their face,
  • next he put some scented water on our palms for us to sip and
  • he then placed a silver cap on our heads before putting pottu onto the forehead. Mr Rajan informed that the silver cap is called a shasthari and that is represents God’s feet; it is symbolically touched to the head of worshippers as a blessing. Although a red pottu is commonly worn and associated with a married woman, it can also be used to ward off bad luck.
The priest placing the shasthari on one of the volunteers’ head.

Located perpendicular to the Vishnu temple is a temple dedicated to Gajah Lakshmi, know as Sri Alarmelmanga Thayar Sannathi. In this aspect of Lakshmi, she is flanked by elephants.

2. Hanuman Statue

The second place we visited was where a large towering statue of Hanuman stood. Hanuman is a semi-god, he is regarded as the perfect symbol of selflessness and loyalty for his bravery, strength, perseverance, and devoted service to Lord Rama. During our visit, the place was undergoing major upgrading and plastic sheets were placed over the temple area.

An individual worships Hanuman to ward off /counter bad karma brought about by selfish actions and the believer seeks Hanuman to grant him/her with fortitude and strength in one’s journey through life.

3. Ganesh/Ganapathi, Sivan and Shakti Temples

We next made our way to this colourful building. In it, we find Lord Ganesha or Ganapathi, who is also popularly accepted as the first son of Siva and Parvati.


Mr Rajan informed us that the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha is worshipped at the start of any undertaking; and his vahana is the mouse.  The reason Lord Ganesha is the first deity worshipped is to help ward off obstacles that might get in our paths while worshipping other deities.

Mr Rajan highlighted that a daily ritual to Lord Ganesha should include the thoppu karanam. This requires the person to first cross their arms and holding the ear lobes between the tips of the fore and middle finger, then they bend their knees and get-up doing this three times before he/she sits down to meditate. This is now accepted as “super brain yoga” as the activity improves one’s focus and brain’s development.

Photo credit: https://padmum.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/exercise-for-memory-call-it-yoga-if-you-will/

Next, the group moved upstairs to the Sri Sivan Temple where Lord Siva shrine is located and  MV group were invited to another pooja by the priest. Here in this shrine, we see Siva’s vahana the bull.

As we circumbulate Lord Siva’s shrine clockwise, the first niche held an image of Ganesha and as we complete the circumbulation, we saw a deity that was garlanded with lime in the last niche. This Goddess Durga; she is worshipped to ward off evil spirits by her devotees. Lime is believed to help remove evil spirits, and thus the lime garland is associated to Durga and offered to her during worship. Durga is said to be able to slay demons that the other gods are unable to control. One of her most celebrated feats is the destruction of the buffalo demon Mahishasura. Her vahana is a lion and in the picture below, she is seen subduing the buffalo demon.

Next, Mr Rajan directed our attention to a Lord Nataraja (Lord of the Dance) image located in another corner of the upper floor. This particular statue shows Lord of the Dance lifting his right foot. Who is this Lord of the Dance? It is another representation of Siva and as Lord of the Dance he controls the movement of the universe. He is also associated with fertility. Sculptures of Lord Nataraja typically show him dancing in an aureole of flames, lifting his left leg and balancing on his right foot over a demon or dwarf who symbolises ignorance.

Nataraja is commonly depicted with his left leg raised; he dances while balancing on his right leg. This rare image showing his right leg raised comes from an incident when the Pandya King Rajasekhara requested him to raise his right leg as the King was afraid that Nataraja, balancing only on his right leg, may damage the said leg.

Earlier, one of the priest  had reminded us that the Batu Caves temples would be closed for lunch break at 1 pm and as such, by 11.45 am, we quickly made our way to the base of the 43 metre Lord Murugan statue to ascent the steps.

4. Sri Velayuthar Temple (Main Temple) and Lord Murugan Temple

My initial thought of the 272 steps climb up was it would be challenging. In actuality, it was not very difficult and I was delighted to achieve the journey to the top in less than 5 minutes. Visitors are reminded to be mindful of the monkeys on the journey up as the monkeys are reported to snatch items and dangling plastic bags from visitors.

As I walked into the cave at the top, I found myself standing below a massive open area with a ceiling that is said to be over 100 meters in height. After descending some steps and just on the left of the cave before entering the Main Temple (Sri Velayuthar Temples) is the Temple Cave. It was in 1890 that K Thamboosamy Pillai installed the murti (consecrated statue) of Sri Murugan Swami in this cave.

After spending some time here observing the priests performed poojas for some devotees, we ascended the next short flight of steps, and arrived at the most sacred Lord Murugan Temple.

Lord Murugan Temple

This simple  yet colourful Lord Murugan temple is illuminated with natural light from a big hole at the top.  For a token fee, visitors can seek for a personalised pooja from the priest.

There were several other shrines in this temple including one of Lord Nataraja in the usual left foot raised in dance pose together with his consort, Parvati on his left.

By 12.45pm,  we made our way down the 272 steps and rewarded ourselves with a sumptuous vegetarian set lunch at one of the many vegetarian restaurants in the complex.

5. Temple of the Nine Planets (Navagraha Sannathi)

After lunch, we made our final stop at the Temple of the Nine Planets, located towards the left of the 43-metre Lord Murugan statue. Here we find nine colourfully clothed deities or Navagrahas.  The Navagrahas comprise of five true planets that are visible to the naked eye (Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn), the Sun, the Moon, Rahu (north lunar node) and Ketu (south lunar node). In this temple, Surya (Sun) is in the centre facing east; around him are the rest of the planets facing in different directions, but not towards each other.

Positions of the Navagraha and the directions they are facing

Astronomically, Rahu and Ketu denote the points of intersection of the Sun and the Moon as the Sun and Moon move on the celestial space. Eclipses occur when the Sun and the Moon are at one of these points, thus giving rise to the myth of the swallowing of the Sun by the Moon.

We were told Hindu astrology is based upon the configuration of the Navagrahas (nine planets) and their collective influence on the world in general and on each individual in particular during our birth. They are worshipped in Hinduism either to bring good luck or to overcome adversity, bad luck or misfortune arising from past karmas.

By 2.15 pm, we had come to the end of the tour. After a group photo, we thanked Mr Rajan for his enlightening tour providing us with finer-grained details about the oldest religion in the world. Bravo too to the MV Focus team, Mona Tan and Alwin Woon, for organising this hands-on educational tour.

Visit to the Malaysian Chinese Museum (27 March 2019)

by Janet Wong and Margaret Yeo

30 Museum Volunteers from the National Museum visiting the Malaysian Chinese Museum on 27th March 2019, photo by Mona Tan.

Established by the Federation of Chinese Associations of Malaysia (Hua Zong), the Malaysian Chinese Museum at Wisma Huazong in Seri Kembangan, Kuala Lumpur opened its doors to the public in 2018. The museum tells the story of the Chinese in Malaysia through a delightful mix of text, graphics and historical reconstruction.

In the 15th century and possibly earlier, there were diplomatic relations between China and Malacca. During the Ming Dynasty, Admiral Zheng He made no less than five grand voyages to Malacca. The Malaccan rulers also travelled to China to pay tribute in the Imperial Court.

Statue of Admiral Zheng He. Photo by Margaret Yeo.
Part of a Chinese map showing the Malay Archipelago. Photo by Janet Wong.

During the late Qing Dynasty, unrest and famine in China and the promise of greener pastures abroad led the Chinese to make their way to South East Asia. However, life here after a tempestuous journey was almost always harsh (especially for those in bondage), and often migrants resorted to opium and alcohol to block out their pitiful existence.

An opium user. Photo by Margaret Yeo.

The Chinese migrants were grouped based on their place of origin in China, and many formed triads to protect their interests. The triads fought over control of resources such as the mines, and this sometimes led to wars eg. Perang Larut, fought between the Hai San Society and Ghee Hin Society.

A fight between triad members. Photo by Margaret Yeo.

There were also migrants who became successful businessmen, such as Tan Kah Kee. In 1860, Tan Kah Kee travelled from Xiamen, Fujian to Singapore (then part of the Straits Settlements) to help his father with the family business (rice trading). Eventually, he built a business empire stretching across sectors such as rubber, manufacturing, canneries, real estate and rice trading. The museum has statues of Tan Kah Kee and his son-in-law, Lee Kong Chian, also a prominent businessman.

Besides that, along with the people came their culture and naturally the industries to support that culture. In the museum, there are reconstructions of several shopfronts.

During the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945), the Chinese here suffered grave casualties and cruel treatment. Some joined the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), which fought hard against the Japanese invaders. After the war, eight MPAJA members received awards for their anti-Japanese efforts.

An MPAJA member awarded the Star of Burma by Lord Mountbatten. Photo by Margaret Yeo.

After World War II, many of the MPAJA members joined the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), which became embroiled in armed conflict against the British colonial government. This eventually led to the declaration of the Malayan Emergency, during which measures such as the introduction of identity cards and creation of New Villages were implemented. A diorama at the museum reconstructs the situation during the Emergency, which officially ended in 1960 with the victory of the Malayan forces.

After independence in 1957, the Chinese have gradually integrated into Malaysian society without sacrificing their cultural identity, as can be seen from the reconstructions of Chinese markers of culture such as the religion, cuisine and forms of entertainment.

Lion dance. Photo by Margaret Yeo.
Offerings to the Jade Emperor on his birthday. Photo by Ong Li Ling.

Furthermore, Chinese education continues to be upheld. The museum traces the development of the Chinese education system in Malaysia. It is to be noted that outside China and Taiwan, Malaysia is the only country that provides Chinese education from primary to tertiary level. The groups of Chinese educationalists responsible for this achievement, amongst them Jiao Zong and Dong Zong, are acknowledged in the museum.

Last but not least, the museum has a breathtaking miniature display of a bustling marketplace where the different races in Malaysia can be seen working together for the betterment of the nation, in a depiction of the present and hopefully, the future as well.

A bustling marketplace. Photo by Janet Wong.

All in all, while the museum occupies a mere 10,550 square feet, the space has been very cleverly used and the museum is well worth a visit.

At the conclusion of the guided tour, the museum presented our library with a book entitled “A Journey Through History: The Chinese and Nation-Building in Malaysia”. We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for the hospitality and the special gift. We would also like to thank Mona Tan for organising this trip.

Three Museums

by Eric Lim

The first quarter of 2019 was very eventful for me. I made two overseas trips, the first to Guangzhou, China, in January followed by an 18-day sojourn to the North Island of New Zealand, between February and March. Taking these excellent opportunities, I visited the local museums and I would like to share my experiences with you.

1. Archaeological Site Museum of Nanyue Palace in Guangzhou

The history of Guangzhou started more than 2,000 years ago. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Empire succeeded in unifying the Lingnan Region, which comprised 3 prefectures namely Nanhai, Guilin and Xiang.

The Qin dynasty ended when military captains staged revolts causing great upheavals in the Central Plains of China. Zhao Tuo took over and established the Nanyue Kingdom with Panyu (original name of Guangzhou) as its capital. The Nanyue Kingdom was ruled successively by 5 kings and endured 93 years until it was obliterated by Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty in 111 BC. Since then, Guangzhou was further developed by another 10 cultural strata, right up to the Republic of China.

The museum sits between shops fronting the Beijing Road and dwellings on the other side, with the main entrance located at Zhongshan 4th Road. As the name suggests, the focus is on the historic site of the palace and garden of the Nanyue Kingdom. The royal garden consists of a large stone pond and a crooked stone brook. The latter was discovered in 1997 and it meanders from the north to south, a distance of 160 metres. It is the earliest and the best-preserved royal garden discovered so far in China.

The palace of the Nanyue Kingdom

During the excavation of the pond, a large quantity of the remains of turtles was found at the bottom, implying the animals might have been kept as pets in the royal garden. Chinese authorities also found that stone structures used in the construction of the royal garden were built with materials similar to those of Western stone structures, thus testifying to the meeting of East and West in Guangzhou in ancient times.

Exchanges between the Chinese and Western cultures

Besides the site of the palace and garden of the Nanyue Kingdom, there is also the palace site of the Nanhan Kingdom, which includes the Nanhan courtyard paved with fabulous butterfly peony square bricks. At the exhibition building for Guangzhou’s ancient wells, visitors can see over 500 wells built during the different dynasties. During excavations at this site, many valuable artefacts were found. Over 100 pottery jars were unearthed from the wells constructed by the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-20 BCE).

(Left) Well of Eastern Han Dynasty 25-220 BC (Right) Well of Qing Dynasty 1644 – 1911

Towards the end of 2004, hundreds of inscribed wooden slips were excavated from the wells built during the Nanyue Kingdom. These are the very first of such artefacts ever discovered in the region that provide great value for academic research.

There is no admission fee to visit the museum but visitors must get tickets at the main entrance by showing personal ID cards or, in the case of foreigners, by showing passports.

2. Auckland War Memorial Museum in Auckland

The Auckland Domain is Auckland’s oldest park and it is located just outside Auckland’s CBD. This spacious 75 hectares park is also one of the largest parks in the city and it has been developed around the cone of the extinct Pukekawa volcano. Sitting proudly atop it is the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Auckland War Memorial Museum

The museum is housed in a large neo-classical styled building and is considered as one of the finest heritage buildings. It was opened in 1929 to commemorate the loss of 18,166 New Zealanders who died in the First World War. Today, AWMM is one of the top tourist attractions. The museum is divided into 3 levels:

Ground Level – This level examines the diversity of Maori and Pacific Island cultures. It also talks about the movement of people from South East Asia to the islands in “Near Oceania” 5,000 years ago, then progressing further to the distant island groups in “Remote Oceania” such as New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa between 3,500 – 3,000 years ago. By then, these people were known as the Lapita people, the immediate ancestors of the Polynesians. Then after “The Long Pause”, a period of over 1,000 years, they started sailing again after the development of larger ocean-going canoes reaching as far North as the Hawaiian islands and as far South as Aotearoa New Zealand 800 years ago. It was believed that the Polynesians have sailed as far as South America and brought back kumara and gourd.

Movement of people from SEA to the Pacific Islands and New Zealand

Level One – Talks about the Natural History of New Zealand, from geological origins to its ancient flora and fauna. The Moa was the tallest bird known and the female grew as tall as 3 metres, measured in an upright standing position. This level also highlights the uniqueness of many New Zealand birds, which are flightless, large, dull or dark in colour and slow breeders. Of course, there is mention of the Kiwi, national pride of New Zealand.

The Moa

Level Two – This gallery is named Scars on the Heart. It is a war memorial centered mainly on the First and Second World Wars. There is also a section that talks about Kiwis being called into action in Asia, namely in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam.

The first New Zealanders that fought in Asia were based at the Changi Air Base in Singapore from 1949 to 1951, during the time of the Malayan Emergency, and they remained in the country until 1989. Their engagement grew larger during the time of the Confrontation over Borneo in 1964. In the 1960’s, pressured by the American government, New Zealand committed resources to the Vietnam War.

We were again given the spotlight, this time on the stained glass ceiling above the main foyer, which depicts the Coat of Arms of all British Dominions and Colonies during the First World War. The Coat of Arms of Malaya and Straits Settlements are proudly displayed on this glass ceiling.

Coat of Arms of Malaya and Straits Settlements on glass ceiling (extreme left and second left)

A portrait of Sir Edmund Hillary, who was born in Auckland, is also on display. On 29 May 1953, Sir Edmund and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, became the first climbers to reach the peak of Mount Everest.

The general admission fee to this museum is NZ $25.00 and the highlights guided tour is an additional NZ $15.00.

3. Navy Museum in Devonport

Still in Auckland, I also visited the Navy Museum in the village of Devonport. Here, visitors can learn about New Zealand’s contribution at sea in the major conflicts of the 20th century and as well as during peace-time. Again, the Malayan Emergency and Confrontation are highlighted. The museum is open seven days a week, 10.00 am to 5.00 pm and admission is free.

Malaysian Medals awarded to British Commonwealth personnels who served during the Malayan Emergency and Confrontation

Invisible Bridges and Memory Lanes: Part Two of the Melaka (2019) Journey

by Muhammad Adib bin Mohd Faiz

Lunch was over, and our group had assembled at an open area near a bridge. I was catching up with my mentor, Yook Ling, when suddenly –

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!!!!

A driver attempting to cross the bridge had apparently been oblivious to the fact that he was driving in the wrong direction. The resulting commotion essentially amounted to a series of loud commands ordering him to reverse. Someone notes his licence plate: “Wilayah”. Well, that explains a great deal.

Yet our Wilayah driver was not the first one who had difficulty crossing that section of the Melaka River. Jambatan Tan Kim Seng was built by a wealthy Peranakan man, who had sought his fortune in Singapore and built monuments in Melaka thereafter. However, our guide, En. Shaukani, tells us of another bridge that was in fact destroyed by the British during the Japanese invasion of Melaka. In an attempt to slow down Japanese advancement, British troops carried out a ‘scorched earth’ policy of destroying bridges. That bridge lies alongside Jambatan Tan Kim Seng, but remains invisible to all save those with an awareness of the incident. This was a fitting point to begin the ‘intangible’ segment of our Melaka trip, a tour not of monuments, but of memories.

Memories: sometimes clear, sometimes hazy, and always bound to make their mark. My own memories of this part of the trip were affected by heat, low-blood sugar, and the fact that I did not set everything down the moment I returned. Nonetheless, I attempted at scratching away some notes whilst keeping up with my group in the midst of the Malaccan sun.

How does one map out a city’s history? Does the answer lie in the names of old streets and famous buildings? Or does history lie behind those streets, somewhere between the memories of those long dead and the commerce of those still living? As one recalls plodding through the streets of Melaka, such questions come to mind, a reminder that heritage is not merely about what we inherit, but how we choose to inherit.

En. Shaukani takes us to ‘Black Smith Street’ (Jalan Tukang Besi), so called because of the occupation of those who used to work there. The past tense can no doubt produce dismay; almost all of the craftsmen have since left the area, and their crafts have gone with them. As our guide points out, the old crafts have since been replaced by modern alternatives, with knives being bought from the supermarket rather than the local blacksmith. Tinsmiths and bucket makers have long departed the scene. Instead, one sees mural paintings, massage parlours, and the modern world in its various forms. Had we been on our own, we may have been left with disappointment. However, we were in the presence of a tour guide with experience on his hands, and En. Shaukani transformed the view before us into one filled with bullock carts, lorries, opium smoking, fights, and naked ghosts.

“NAKED GHOSTS?!” you exclaim, voicing your shock and disbelief to me from – well, from wherever you happen to be at the present moment. “If there are naked ghosts in the street, I am never going to Melaka!” Keep calm reader. Rest assured; if we had seen ghosts, we would certainly have behaved in a quintessentially Malaysian fashion (i.e. taking one picture for our relatives and then running for our lives back to KL). However, we saw none, for En. Shaukani merely made mention of ‘Coolie Street’ and the naked ghosts said to inhabit that area. From what I recall, these ghosts are apparently the coolies themselves, while the story was told to young children to prevent them from going to the area. Regardless of who or what actually resides in Coolie Street, I am personally grateful for not having gone there; I can take ‘intangible’ tours, but not supernatural ones.

The picture painted thus far can provide the impression of a dead city. Yet this is far from the truth, for Melaka is a city full of life and colour. Though most of the craftsmen have gone, we were fortunate enough to come across one man who has maintained a family tradition. Much later in the tour, we had the good fortune of meeting Mr T.S. Lim, who runs a shop making handmade shoes. Yet these are no ordinary shoes, but glass slippers. Remove that image of Cinderella’s footwear from your mind, for those transparent ‘one-size only’ high heels pale in comparison to these vibrant traditional Nyonya beaded shoes, made from potong beads. The rows of traditional shoes displayed at the front of the shop are like a cross between beautiful paintings and coloured candy, reminding one of the multi-coloured tiles that typify Peranakan culture. Inside the store, Mr. Lim is kind enough to share his knowledge with our group, showing us some work in progress contained in an embroidery hoop. As Mr. Lim explains to us, the design on one shoe must be a mirror image of the other shoe that forms the pair. On the shelves, one sees that Mr. Lim has created contemporary high heels featuring the potong beads on their straps, an ingenious and tasteful blend that combines modern styles with traditional techniques. It is an indication that the tradition is still alive, quite literally carrying on its own journey on the feet of others.

As for our own feet, we found ourselves on yet another road: Harmony Street. The road owes its name to the presence of the Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple, the Kampung Kling mosque, and the Cheng Hoon Teng temple, each of which is located beside the other. The close proximity of these historic places of worship is a reminder that peaceful co-existence and acceptance is not a new invention in Malaysia, but an established part of our country’s traditions. The Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple was built by the Chitty community on land given by the VOC (Dutch East India Trading Company), and is one of Malaysia’s oldest Hindu temples. It thus occupies a unique place in our country’s history, not least because Chitty temples are now a rarity in Malaysia. Just as historic is the Kampung Kling mosque, originally built by Indian Muslim traders. The mosque has the tiered roof that is characteristic of many traditional Malaysian and Indonesian mosques. Yet like so many Malaccan mosques, the Kampung Kling mosque also bears elements of Chinese architecture, with the main structure having a pagoda-like feel. En. Shaukani also points out to us the use of pineapple motifs on the mosque’s archway, the pineapple being a traditional Chinese symbol of prosperity. Unique to Southeast Asian Chinese culture is the use of Peranakan tiles, which adorn the mosque with a variety of colours. These elements do not merely co-exist; they work in harmony to create a new effect, one that is greater than the sum of particular artistic influences. In an age when religion often feels dry and harsh, the Kampung Kling mosque is a loving reminder of the beauty of faith.

I would return to the mosque later, but for the time being it was on to the next building: the Cheng Hoon Teng temple. Yet to refer to its current function as a temple does not reveal the complex history underlying this building. Though it is currently a house of worship for Mahayana Buddhists, the building was originally a community centre commissioned by Tay Kie Ki, a kapitan or leader of Melaka’s Chinese community in 1645. As En. Shaukani tells us, Melaka’s community had a “kapitan system”, with En. Shaukani mentioning three kapitan: kapitan Melayu, kapitan kling, and kapitan Cina. As far as I can understand – I was writing whilst standing, so the shorthand is vague – the Dutch would liase with the various kapitan in question. But the British abolished this system, and the building was subsequently converted into a temple. According to Kenny Mah, the building is a reflection of Southern Chinese architecture, and every aspect of the building is aligned with feng shui. The use of red makes this building a truly stunning sight, befitting of this beautiful Chinese monument.

We passed by many other buildings, each with some story of its own. An apparently insignificant building is really a property once owned by Tan Cheng Lock, with the house being the site of many meetings held to discuss our independence. The house of the Chi family links us unexpectedly back to home, with the Chi family helping to finance Raja Abdullah’s tin mining in Kuala Lumpur. Yet what stood out most for me was the Aik Cheong Coffee Roaster shop lot. Although it is now a location selling packaged coffee, the lot was once a coffee shop; En. Shaukani recounted how the smell of roasted coffee used to fill the air. Once again, it was not the tangible that counted but the intangible, a history not tucked away in dusty archives but written on the tablets of human memory.

We had come to the end our tour, but some time remained for us to explore the city on our own. For myself, I needed to make a trip back to the mosque to perform the canonical prayers. Though modern mosques have taps, the Kampung Kling mosque has a square-shaped pool for worshipers to perform the ritual purification (wudu), at the centre of which is a golden fountain. In the midst of the Malaccan heat, taking cool water from the pool reminds one of the desert oasis. One also thinks of the words of the Prophet (SAW): “I go before you, and I am your witness. Your tryst with me is at the Pool”. I cannot remember if these thoughts entered my head at the time. What I do remember is looking up and being calmly but clearly confronted with reality, with the gravestones of the deceased being in front of the pool. They were slightly to the left but inescapably in view, and though one can laugh at the thought of ghosts, one cannot truly behold the men and women who have gone before without thinking of what lies ahead. It is a reminder that the true bridge is an invisible one, visible only to those who remember.

REFERENCES

Lings, Martin. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/life/2018/02/11/jalan-tokong-a-stroll-down-melakas-harmony-street/1574623

http://malaysiatravelmonitor.com/tan-kim-seng-bridge-melaka/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Poyatha_Moorthi_Temple

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheng_Hoon_Tenghttps://www.thespruce.com/use-fruit-symbols-for-good-feng-shui-1274660

For Part 1, click here