A Very Rough Guide To Pengkalan Kempas and Kuala Linggi

by Eric Lim


Photo source : The Star / All quiet here – 12 July 2021

Sungai Linggi is one of the major rivers in the state of Negeri Sembilan. The river originates near the hilly purlieu of Pantai, just outside of the capital, Seremban, and it follows a southwestern path across the state to the river mouth in Melaka, an axial length of about 83 km. The name ‘Linggi’ is derived from a Bugis word, which means ‘the stem or bow of a ship’. Pengkalan Kempas and Kuala Linggi are both located along Sungai Linggi – the former is located near the confluence with Sungai Rembau while the latter is at the estuary where the river empties into the Straits of Malacca.


Sungai Linggi, circa 1834 / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

As far back as the 14th century CE, Sungai Linggi was the main route in and out of Sungai Ujong (Seremban today), flowing from the interior to the coast. It was the only means of entry and circulation for traders. It was said that Parameswara used this waterway to reach Sungai Ujong prior to the founding of Melaka. Sungai Ujong later came under the control of the Melaka Sultanate. The Minangkabau and Bugis who were the earliest settlers in Negeri Sembilan used it to transport jungle produce and tin to Melaka when it became an entrepot. In a plot to get back in Sultan Mahmud Shah’s favour, Hang Tuah made his voyage to Pahang and succeeded to ‘charm’ the beautiful Tun Teja with some help from the ‘magical love potion’ which made her agree to accompany Hang Tuah on his boat to Melaka. However, Tun Teja found out later that she was betrayed by Hang Tuah. She eventually agreed to marry Sultan Mahmud Shah. For the mission accomplished, Hang Tuah was conferred the title ‘Laksamana’ (admiral).

A painting of the beautiful Tun Teja / Photo source : Tun Teja Mausoleum: a story of love, betrayal and war

When the Johor Sultanate started to lose its grip on Negeri Sembilan, the Bugis from Riau under Daeng Kemboja, made inroads into the state and settled at Linggi.  In 1756, the Bugis laid siege to Melaka, which was then ruled by the Dutch. In retaliation, Dutch reinforcement attacked the Bugis’s base the following year. The Bugis then decided to call a truce and both warring parties agreed to build a fort at the estuary of Sungai Linggi (for more information, check section on Kuala Linggi below). After a long period of peace, in 1784, the Bugis under Sultan Ibrahim of Selangor mounted another attack on Dutch Melaka. He sailed up Sungai Linggi to Rembau and rounded up Minangkabaus fighters from Rembau and Pedas for the attack.

After the Dutch left Melaka, Negeri Sembilan was divided into two camps – Dato Kelana and Dato Bandar –that fought to control Sungai Linggi, which had become the major trade highway. The Chinese started mining around Rasah in 1828 but left the tin mines to move to Selangor because of trouble with the Malays. They returned in 1830 and by 1874, there were 15,000 Chinese in Sungai Ujong; by then, it was a major tin mining area in the country.

On 21 April 1874, Dato Kelana and Dato Muda Linggi signed an agreement with the British seeking their protection and recognition of Dato Kelana as the ruler of Sungai Ujong. In the process, Dato Bandar surrendered to the British and he was sent to exile in Singapore. After the ouster, the opposing camp was now led by Yamtuan Antah of Seri Menanti. They started a move to drive the British out of Sungai Ujong and this paved the start of the Sungai Ujong War in December 1875. By the 22nd of December, British forces captured the stockades at Bukit Putus and Ulu Bandol and reached Yamtuan Antah’s stronghold at Seri Menanti where they burned his palace, Istana Pulih, to the ground.

Police station at Rassa (Rasah today) – The Golden Chersonese And The Way Thither / Photo source – Wikimedia Commons

Five years into the British Residential system in Sungai Ujong, Isabella Lucy Bird, Victorian explorer, naturalist and writer (international traveller and adventure blogger by today’s classification) visited Sungai Ujong via Sungai Linggi. In her book ‘The Golden Chersonese and the way thither’ published in 1883, she wrote that she visited the tomb of a ‘great prophet’ who was slain in ascending the Linggi  (for more information, check section on Pengkalan Kempas below). She then visited ‘Serambang’ (Seremban) and she was shown around the town by the host, British Resident Captain Murray. She also stayed at a sanatorium located three miles away in what the Resident called ‘Plantation Hill’. Isabella also wrote of her interest to stay longer in order for her to make acquaintance with a colony of ants!

(Left) – Greater moth orchid / (Right) – Elk horn fern – The Golden Chersonese And The Way Thither. Photo source – Wikimedia Commons

Places of Interest

Photo source : Negeri Sembilan

The distance between Port Dickson town and Pengkalan Kempas is about 33 km via Federal Route 5.  Pengkalan Kempas [1] is a one-street town and just a stone’s throw from Sungai Linggi. The first attraction of the town is the jetty (see first photo), which is located just before the town. Sungai Linggi is well known for giant freshwater prawns. There are plenty of boats available for rental to catch prawns. Besides that, visitors can take eco tours exploring the river, mangrove forest and catch a glimpse of saltwater crocodiles. It is reported that the population has reached 3,000. Isabella also encountered a crocodile, which she called an alligator on her cruise up the river (incidentally, a crocodile is larger than an alligator). In the olden days, this jetty was a bustling place. Tax was collected from traders and it was a key landing point for Chinese settlers predominantly from the Fujian Province. The town folks are very proud of this history that they had erected a sign to proclaim the landing site.

Directly opposite the jetty is the Police Station, which was established in 1920. It also served as a tax collection centre. The town is flanked on either side by pre-war shophouses but most of the shops are closed. The town used to be the pit stop for motorists en-route to Melaka. At the end of the street is SJK (C) Yik Hwa, a Chinese primary school that was opened on 15 November 1923. In 2018, it had an enrolment of only 49 pupils. Further up, located on a hillock is the Chinese Methodist Church, built in 1928. The worship service is on every Sunday at 4.00 pm.

Across the road from the church is the main drawcard of the town, the Pengkalan Kempas Historical Complex. When Isabella made the visit in 1880, it was known as Keramat Sungai Udang (prawn river shrine). Today, the complex consists of the tomb, a four-sided inscription tombstone with a cylindrical shaped hole at the centre and a number of ancient stones/megaliths.

Tomb of Sheikh Ahmad Majnun / Photo source : Pengkalan Kempas

According to the epitaph, the tomb is the final resting place of a saint, Sheikh Ahmad Majnun (also spelt as Ahmat Majanu), and it is dated to the 872 Hijrah era, corresponding to the year 1467/1468. It is also written that the ‘saint’ would by no means have been a holy man but on the contrary a traitor who was executed after an unsuccessful attempt at the life of Sultan Mansur Shah. Many scholars had come to study the tomb and offered their views. However, many questions remain unanswered until today. Who was Sheikh Ahmad Majnun? Was he a saint or a traitor? If he was a traitor, why was he commemorated with a true Muslim burial? Incidentally, the word ‘Majnun’ means ‘crazy’ in Arabic. As to the hole at the centre of the tombstone, many believe it is an olden day ‘lie detector’. Anyone who dares to take the challenge, do it at your own peril. Based on the date of this tomb, it is one of the oldest Muslim tombs in the country.

The megaliths found at the site are menhirs (freestanding stones) believed to be from the 2nd/3rd century CE; the locals called them ‘batu hidup’ or living stone. The most well known is the cluster of three erected inscription stones which are nicknamed after their distinctive shapes i.e rudder, spoon and sword. The rudder shaped stone has inscriptions of a horse, tiger, barking deer (known locally as kijang) and probably an elephant’s trunk. Interestingly, the sword stone has the Arabic word ‘Allah’ that sticks out a mile. This leads to more baffling mystery as the stone predates Islam. However, J.G. de Casparis concluded that the sword stone post-dates the introduction of Islam into the Malay Peninsula and probably only dates back to the middle of the fifteenth century.

(Left) –  Inscription tombstone / Photo source : AHMAT MAJANU’S TOMBSTONE AT PENGKALAN KEMPAS AND ITS KAWI INSCRIPTION(Right) – Cluster of three erected inscription stones, namely rudder, spoon and sword respectively / Photo source : Pengkalan Kempas

Megaliths in the Malay Peninsula are mainly found within the border of Melaka and Negeri Sembilan i.e in Alor Gajah district in Melaka and in Kuala Pilah, Rembau and Tampin districts in Negeri Sembilan. These upright stones are around 2 to 8 feet in height and arranged either in a cluster of one large menhir surrounded by smaller stones or in pairs and aligned side by side with one stone larger than the other. These stones are erected on earth mounds. Excavation of the megalithic site at Kampong Ipoh in Tampin, Negeri Sembilan by the Museums Department in 1981, found no skeletal remains in the megalithic area. The excavation proved that the megalithic groupings in Malaysia were not the sites of historic or prehistoric burial as believed by the local people. Research into megaliths in our country is rather scarce. Until today, the purpose and age of the megaliths remain a mystery. Some of the megaliths from the Tampin excavation are on display at the grounds of the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur. Another place to see these ancient stones is Laman Megalit (Megalith Park) inside Taman Putra Perdana in Putrajaya. The park which was completed in 2003 has over eighty erected megaliths and these stones were discovered by Petronas during work to lay a gas pipeline at Kampung Gelanggang in Negri Sembilan in 1989. Prior, the stones were displayed at the Petronas Megalith Garden located between Dayabumi and Kuala Lumpur Railway Station in the city.

Laman Megalit at Putrajaya / Photo source : Megalith Stones at Laman Megalit, Putrajaya

The next destination is Kuala Linggi [2] in Melaka, which is about 15 km from Pengkalan Kempas using Federal Route 5 heading to Port Dickson. Upon reaching Kampung Sungai Raya, exit to join N143 Jalan Pasir Panjang-Kuala Linggi. In my article about Lukut, I have mentioned Raja Sulaiman of Sungai Raya who had wanted to be liberated from the clutches of Raja Bot at Lukut but he failed to make a breakthrough. At the 12 km point, the Kuala Linggi Bridge would be in full view. This bridge was officially opened on 10 July 1990 by Tun Dr Mahathir when he was the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia. The bridge serves as a border crossing between Negeri Sembilan and Melaka and it is currently a popular spot for fishing. A short distance from the bridge and located on top of a hill at the mouth of Sungai Linggi is Kota Bukit Supai / Sepoy Hill Fort. The word ‘supai’ may not be Malay but a Persian or Hindi word, which has the same meaning as ‘sipahi’, which means ‘sepoy’ or an infantry soldier. The sepoy guarding this fort were trained to use weapons, initially matchlock muskets and later flintlock, which was brought to the East by the Dutch. The Dutch name for the flintlock weapon was ‘snaphaan’, passed on to Malay as ‘senapang’ (rifle in English).

As mentioned earlier, the fort was built jointly by the Bugis and Dutch after the restoration of friendly relations and a peace treaty was signed on 1 January 1758 at the completion of the fort. The terms of the treaty were heavily in favour of the Dutch – first, they had full control of the fort, and second, they controlled all ship movements on Sungai Linggi and collected taxes from ships transporting tin quarried in the interior of Sungai Linggi and Sungai Rembau. The fort is rectangular, measuring 167 feet by 150 feet, fortified with bastions at every corner and the two entrances, landward and seaward. The walls were about eight feet high and a moat surrounded the fort. The Dutch named the fort, Fort Filipina, after the daughter of Jacob Mosel, the Governor General of the Dutch United East India Company (Dutch name, Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie, in short VOC) at that time. About a year later, the Dutch abandoned the fort.

Kota Bukit Supai / Sepoy Hill Fort / Fort FilipinaPhoto source : Halaman Utama Portal Rasmi Majlis Perbandaran Alor Gajah (MPAG)

Between 1974 and 1975, the Museums Department initiated some conservation works on the remains of the fort. Buildings that were built within the fort and the seaward passageway that connected the fort and the landing stage at the beach had disappeared. The fort was later gazetted as a historical monument under the Antiquities Act 1976. As one of the ways to attract visitors to the site, the Alor Gajah Town Council have built a seafood restaurant on stilts and linked the eatery to the fort by a walkway. One wonders what would be the probability that the path of this walkway, the same as the original seaward passageway that had disappeared?

Ship-to-ship cargo transfer at KLIP / Photo source : TAG MARINE SDN BHD

T.A.G Marine Sdn Bhd (TMSB) is a local company involved in the shipping and maritime industry. They are licensed port operator/service provider and operated the Kuala Linggi International Port (KLIP) when it was gazetted in July 2006. The port is situated near the river mouth of Sungai Linggi. Since then, it has been providing ship-to-ship cargo transfer services and it has attracted a host of large carriers and ships. One of its major successes was Gazprom’s first ship-to-ship transfer of LNG cargo on 6 December 2014. In 2019, the company announced a RM15 billion KLIP expansion project. The land reclamation is expected to be completed in 48 months. This raised concern by the local communities for the protection and preservation of the environment and wildlife. In a press report on 13 March 2021, the Melaka Menteri Besar has said that it will ensure that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) will be carried out prior to the construction of the KLIP.

KLIP expansion project / Photo source :  LINGGI BASE SDN. BHD.

Unknown to many, the Linggi-Rembau estuary is blessed with a firefly colony. The Negeri Sembilan Tourism started to promote it as an attraction in 2008. Since then the Pengkalan Nelayan Sungai Timun [3] jetty in Rembau district has seen an increasing number of both local and foreign tourists. An added feature of the Sungai Timun fireflies is the combination of both the species that practice synchronous flashing and the non-synchronous flashing species. The former is known as Pteroptyx tener and the latter are Pteroptyx assymmetria and Pteroptyx malaccae. Based on studies done, there are 2200 identified types worldwide and in Malaysia, there are about 100 identified types. The local name for fireflies is ‘kelip kelip’, which means to flicker. Its life cycle consists of eggs, larvae, pupae and adults. It takes about a year for it to grow to adult size of 1-2 cm and adults only live for about two months. Fireflies in the mangrove forest congregate on the Berembang trees (Sonneratia caseolaris/mangrove apple) as a source of food and protection from the sun. Other mangrove trees that support the population of fireflies are nipa palms, nibong palms and ferns. Incidentally, July is the month where World Firefly Day is celebrated and this year, it was on 3-4 July. The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Watch us, don’t catch us!’ which is to promote firefly tourism. It is hoped that the mangrove forest at Sungai Linggi and Sungai Rembau will be protected and preserved so that the giant freshwater prawns, saltwater crocodiles, fireflies, mangrove trees and the livelihood of the communities will continue.

Getting There

From Kuala Lumpur city centre, use the North South Highway (E2 South) and exit at Exit 223 Pedas Linggi. After the toll, head to Linggi. At Linggi, join Federal Route 5 to Pengkalan Kempas. From Pengkalan Kempas to Kuala Linggi, use Federal Route 5 and head to Port Dickson. Upon reaching Kampung Sungai Raya, exit to join N143 Jalan Pasir Panjang-Kuala Linggi. To go to Pengkalan Nelayan Sungai Timun from Pengkalan Kempas, join Federal Route 5 and head to Linggi and Lubok Cina. Before Lubok Cina, watch out for the turning to N116 Jalan Sungai Timun. The jetty is further ahead.

In this Series

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Tun Teja Mausoleum: a story of love, betrayal and war

Previous Post:Perjanjian Sungai Ujung 1874

A Battlefield Tour… – Sabri Zain’s Malayan History Society

The Golden Chersonese And The Way Thither


Pengkalan Kempas

The Excavation of the Megalithic Alignment at Kampong Ipoh, Tampin, Negeri Sembilan. A Note

Megalith Stones at Laman Megalit, Putrajaya.

Notes on the old Cannon found in Malaya, and known to be of Dutch origin – Footnotes 9 and 26

Halaman Utama Portal Rasmi Majlis Perbandaran Alor Gajah (MPAG)



Negeri Sembilan

Keeping the firefly magic alive


J for Jawi Peranakan

Jawi Peranakan of Penang

by Shafinaz Ahmad Shaharir

Image credit: Dennis Ong

Jawi Peranakan, or previously known as Jawi Pekan, refers to a community that originated from social amalgamation and assimilation – a product of intermarriage between local Malay women and Muslim men from Southern India. Although this community has long existed especially in Kedah, Melaka and Perak, it is believed that the Jawi Peranakan in Penang grew in number when Captain Francis Light established Penang in 1786, which attracted numerous merchants and migrants from the Malay Archipelago, China, India, Arabia and Europe. The merchants and migrants from India and Arabia established a new society in Penang known as Jawi Pekan. Many of the merchants established their businesses in George Town and settled down; some of them married local women, others brought their wives, and the sojourners eventually turned into settlers.

Weld Quay in the Port of Penang, George Town circa 1910. Image credit: Leiden University Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KITLV_-80020Kleingrothe,_C.J.MedanQuay_in_Penang-_circa_1910.tif

Back then, the term Jawi Pekan referred to the interracial marriage between Malay women and Arabians, Tamils, Bengalis, Punjabis, Gujaratis, or Afghans, leading to assimilation with Malay culture. Additionally, the term was also used for Muslim people not of local Malay descent. However, in 1871, the term Jawi Pekan was dropped by the British in the Census of Straits Settlements and replaced with Jawi Peranakan; the reason being the said term was not specific and did not use the term ‘Peranakan, which supposedly referred to locally born people with mixed local and foreign ancestries.

At first, the intermarriages only took place between wealthy merchants and aristocratic Malay women. However, a change happened in Penang when intermarriages also began to involve non-aristocrats Indian Muslims and local Malay women. This was because many Indian Muslims migrated to Penang under the British and with the opening of Georgetown as a port of call under the East India Company (EIC). Apart from mixed marriages with Indian Muslims, Malay women in Penang also married Jawi Peranakan from Kedah who migrated to Penang. In addition, the Indian Muslim migrants married local Malay women since they shared the Islamic faith. It is believed that because of the shared religious belief system, it enabled the affluent Indian Muslim tradesmen and merchants to be accepted among the locals, and this resulted in the intermarriages. The long process of amalgamation and assimilation of Malay culture experienced by this society over the years had caused most of the new generation of Jawi Peranakan to adopt many Malay customs and traditions, and no longer maintain their cultures from South India. They were also fluent in speaking the Malay dialect of Penang (Tanjong), while also being able to converse fluently in both English and Tamil languages.

A group of Tamil Muslims in Penang, early 20th century. Image credit: Penang State Museum via http://islamicartsmagazine.com/magazine/view/the_chulia_in_penang/

Jawi Peranakan was an elite group during the early decades of Penang’s establishment; they were highly educated and wealthy as well as successful merchants. They also published the first Malay newspaper in Malaysia known as Jawi Peranakkan. In fact, it is reported that Malay journalism history started in 1876 with the publication of the Jawi Peranakkan newspaper in Singapore. The newspaper was founded by Muhammad Said Dada Muhyiddin, who was of Jawi Peranakan descent. When he passed away in 1888, the management together with the printing press passed to his widow. However, the newspaper eventually ceased publication in 1895. During the time when the weekly newspaper was still in print, it was published every Monday and initially sold for 30 cents per copy. It was written in Jawi, covering local and foreign news. Jawi is derived from the Arabic script and it was used widely by the Malays before the Rumi (Romanized) alphabet was introduced.

Image of the front page of a Jawi Peranakkan newspaper at Gallery D, Muzium Negara. Note that the newspaper is spelled with double ‘k’.

In conclusion, the Jawi Peranakan in Penang is a unique society with a rich culture and heritage that reflect the vast diversity of ethnic groups in Malaysia. In fact, the people of Jawi Peranakan are now largely identified as Malay due to the social amalgamation and assimilation with Malay cultures since a long time ago. They have adopted a plethora of Malay cultures such as food, dress, rite of passage ceremonies such as wedding, and they also use the Malay language. The communal strength of this community is that they are a hybrid of Malay and Indian identities, which make them special and different from the rest of Malay community in Penang and Malaysia as a whole.

Jawi Pekan children of Tamil ethnicity. Image credit: Wade Collection via http://islamicartsmagazine.com/magazine/view/the_chulia_in_penang/


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Hong, C. (Ed.). (2015, February 16). The Other Malaysia: Straits Muslims Show Diversity Within Malays. Retrieved July 21, 2021, from The Straits Times Web site: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/straits-muslims-show-diversity-within-malays

Jasin, A. (2020, Jan 9). I’m A Malay, Therefore I’m Jawi But I Feel Malaysian. Retrieved July 21, 2021, from Malaysiakini Web site: https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/506475

Jawi Peranakkan – The First Malay Newspaper Is Published 1875. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2021, from History SG: An Online Resource Guide Web site: https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/history/events/4942ebac-41d6-4eb8-abcb-cdece539bbea

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Kwee Kim, C. (Ed.). (2005, August 22). Pioneers of Malay Journalism. Retrieved July 21, 2021, from The Star Web site: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/community/2005/08/22/pioneers-of-malay-journalism

Merican, A. (2015). Approaches Towars Theorizing Malay Journalism: History, Criticism and Context. Malaysian Journal of Media Studies, 17(1), 1-10.

Merican, A. (2018, April 25). Tanjong Identity: Who Are We? Retrieved July 19, 2021, from New Straits Times Web site: https://www.nst.com.my/education/2018/04/361447/tanjong-identity-who-are-we

Suid, N. (2020). Penerimaan Masyarakat Dusun Mukim Tenghilan Sabah Terhadap Kahwin Campur. Open University Malaysia. Retrieved from http://library.oum.edu.my/repository/1321/1/library-document-1321.pdf

Surat Khabar Jawi Peranakan. (2001). Retrieved July 19, 2021, from Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia Web site: https://www.pnm.gov.my/yangpertama/Sastera_Jawiperanakan.htm

Thulaja, N. (2021, July 19). Jawi Peranakan Community. Retrieved from Singapore Infopedia : National Library Board Web site: https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_356_2005-01-13.html

Yusoff, O., & Mohamed, N. (2010). Daripada Jawi Peranakan Kepada Melayu: Tinjauan Terhadap Komuniti Jawi Peranakan Di Pulau Pinang Pada Abad Ke-21. SARI: Jurnal Alam dan Tamadun Melayu, 28(2), 63-82.

Yusoff, O., Mohamed, N., Ramli, A., & Ahmad, Z. (2013). Pemikiran dan Falsafah Adat Resam Perkahwinan Jawi Peranakan Pulau Pinang. Journal of Human Development and Communication, 2, 141-159. Zulkiffli, Z. (2015, April 24). Jawi Peranakan Bukan Mamak. Retrieved July 19, 2021, from myMetro Web site: https://api.hmetro.com.my/node/46073

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I is for Iban

by Shafinaz Ahmad Shaharir

Image credit: Dennis Ong

Sarawak, Land of Hornbills, is the largest state in Malaysia. It is located on the northwest coast of Borneo Island. Sarawak is a stunning state with unique and diverse cultures, along with wild and ravishing rainforests. Before 1841, the Brunei Sultanate reigned over the state, before the Brooke era from 1841 to 1941 and before the Japanese Occupation from 1941 to 1945. After the Japanese sought peace in August 1945, Sarawak was placed under British Military Rule until April 1946. On July 1, 1946, Sarawak became a British Crown Colony before it eventually joined Malaysia in 1963.

Map of Borneo: This island of Borneo that consists of three different countries, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. Image source: Peter Fitzgerald, minor amendments by Joelf, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Borneo_map.png

Sarawak is a diverse state, consisting of 26 different ethnic groups including Malay, Chinese, and Iban, Bidayuh, Melanau and other indigenous tribes collectively known as Orang Ulu. Each group has its own language and unique culture. Generally, the indigenous peoples of Sarawak continue to show reverence towards their rainforests even until today. Despite the prolonged exposure to the outside world, the indigenous peoples of Sarawak retain their ancestors’ culture and traditions.

Formerly known as Sea Dayaks, the Iban is one of the most populous ethnic groups in Sarawak. They were known as Sea Dayaks by the British because they were often seen patrolling the sea to help Malays fight against pirates. Furthermore, the ancestors of Iban Sarawak are believed to have come from the Kapuas River region in western Kalimantan; their move into Sarawak was to search for new swidden land and to expand their territories. The earliest Iban migrations to the thinly populated Sarawak can be categorized as an establishment of pioneer settlements along the tributaries of the Batang Lupar and Saribas rivers. The migration during that time is the beginning of the first major movement, which took about sixteenth generations, approximately during the middle of the sixteenth century. Since then, the Iban gradually travelled northward and eastward through the Rejang Valley; today, they are present in every district and division of Sarawak, be it in the countryside or urban areas.

An Iban war perahu (bangkong) on Skerang river. Image credit: Henry Ling Roth, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iban_Prahu.jpg

The Iban have a special and unique residence namely the longhouse where the villagers live under one roof. Back then, most the Iban longhouses were situated by the river as it was their main mode of transportation. In addition, there are variations of longhouse designs between different ethnic groups However, the Iban village would normally have only one longhouse, which is in straight-line with a rectangular shape, built using heavy hardwood posts and beam structures. The floors and walls are constructed using bamboos, sometimes with wood barks and palm thatch roofs. It is almost conceptually similar to that of terrace row houses, with each compartment or home separated by walls and sharing a common street. Each family has its own personal compartment known as bilek, which is equipped with sleeping and cooking areas. The cooking area is the area where the ‘ladies of the house’ clean and cook, as well as socialize with other women. Simply said, it is an area only for the females in the house.

An illustration of an Iban Longhouse. Image credit: Henry Ling Roth, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iban_Langhaus.jpg

Additionally, the covered corridor known as ruai and located at the front of the bilek, running along the longhouse, can be considered as the men’s domain. The ruai is an area where community meetings, major ritual performances and wedding receptions are held, apart from it being a hall to entertain guests. Here, men also gather for daily chores such as mending fishnets and traps. In essence, while the bilek is a private and domestic space for the family, ruai is a public space dedicated for the longhouse members and guests; it is on the upper floor of the longhouse known as sadau in Iban. The distance between the ground and the base of the house can be several feet. It is assumed that the style of the house, gathered in one common structure, is convenient in order to protect the villagers. Furthermore, its high structure helps prevent effects of flooding and provides protection from wild beasts. In essence, the longhouse structures were developed as a defensive measure to protect the villagers from tribal ambushes, particularly during the old headhunting days, considering the longhouse is difficult to access, especially as the ladders were removed at night as a security measure.

The ruai, where people gather. Image credit: Seth Peli via https://www.expatgo.com/my/2017/01/18/headhunting-in-borneo/

The ancient Iban are well known as fearless and brave warriors, very determined in securing desirable land for swidden agriculture, They will fight enemies or other tribes that intercept their movement or during their mission in extending their lands. The way they fight is different from other Borneans since they are fearless when it comes to displaying their bravery and full-frontal attacks. They also showcase their strength through headhunting or ngayau. It was a custom of Iban warriors to cut off the heads of their enemies after their battles, which were brought back to the longhouse. During the time when ngayau was still practised, it was considered as the symbol of bravery and heroism as well as used to determine an individual’s social status or social rank in the tribe. It is believed that ngayau started when their lands were intruded upon by other tribes and because of the arrival of outsiders that occupied lands belonging to them.

Punan heads taken by the Iban. Image source: https://robinsonmike.blogspot.com/2014_08_01_archive.html

Typically, the Iban warrior possessing strong skills and effective techniques in battles will be the one appointed as the tribal chief, praised by others, as well as feared among the tribes. This explains why, the Sarawak Iban are famously known as warriors and have been called as ‘the wickedest head-hunters’ even though their headhunting days ended a very long time ago. Additionally, because of their bravery, the Iban were recruited as part of the military known as Sarawak Rangers. The Sarawak Rangers played a vital role in fighting the Japanese during Japanese Occupation (1941-1945) and against the communists during Malayan Emergency (1948-1960).

The sword used by the Iban during headhunting is known as Parang Ilang. The sword represents the symbol of courage and their excellent fighting skills. Most Iban men would usually own a Parang Ilang as it is an essential weapon used for hunting and protecting their family from enemies. Apart from that, the same sword would also be used for rituals and traditional medications, which include a cure for shingles (kayap). In the past, the hilt of the sword would be decorated with human hairs obtained through ngayau. Iban hold a strong belief that if the warrior passed away and owned the Parang Ilang, then the sword shall be inherited by the heir of his family because as it is believed that the warrior’s soul remains with the sword despite his demise. Therefore, it shall not be easily passed onto other people except their legal heir. In essence, Parang Ilang is the traditional weapon of Iban where the sword remains important in the Iban community, making it a part of tangible heritage that is still being preserved among the Iban cultures until today.

A beautifully carved hilt of a parang ilang from Muzium Negara’s collection. Image credit: Maganjeet Kaur

Like most of the indigenous people, the Iban are traditionally animists, who believe that everything, be it animate or inanimate, has a spirit that can influence the events in their life. One of the many rituals still being practiced by the Iban is Miring, an offering ceremony aimed to honour the gods, spirits and souls of dead ancestors. This belief seeks their ancestors’ help and blessing before any important event is held. According to the old faith of the Iban, it is believed that if the supernatural is not fed, they will not obtain the blessing, which will cause disasters and misfortunes. The miring ritual is still practiced whenever the Iban celebrate their annual harvest festival known as Gawai Dayak, in order to thank the rice spirits that have blessed their community with good harvests. Gawai Dayak is a major festival not only for the Iban, but also for other indigenous people in Sarawak.

Animistic rituals have been practiced by the indigenous people for a long time but over time, some communities have embraced other religions and changed their lifestyles; majority have embraced Christianity. Nowadays, the Iban have successfully adapted to the modernisation and globalization era, their longhouses are completely equipped with modern facilities and essential necessities such as electricity and water supplies, the Internet, telephone line and roads. Most of the younger generation can also be found living in the urban areas, yet they always return to their hometown especially during the festive seasons to visit families. Furthermore, they also live peacefully with other tribes and races such as Bidayuh, Malays and Chinese. Although, the Iban today have been exposed to modernization and globalisation, yet they have impressively managed to preserve their ancestors’ customs, ritual and traditional beliefs including their traditional costumes, the Ngajat dance, Pua Kumbu, Parang Ilang, traditional foods, the longhouse, Gawai Dayak festival and many more.

The boy is in traditional costume accessorised with headgear and Parang Ilang. The girl is wearing the rawai, a corset of rattan hoops secured by small brass rings stiffened around the torso, with sugu tinggi (silver headgear) and tumpa (bangles). Image credit: Charles Hose, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Young_Ibans,_or_Sea_Dayaks.jpg


About Sarawak: History. (2021, July 11). Retrieved from The Official Portal of Sarawak Government Web site: https://sarawak.gov.my/web/home/article_view/235/246/?id=228

Asri, A., & Tugang, N. (2019). Arts and Aesthetic Values Towards Parang Ilang in the Culture of the Iban. The International Journal of Inovative Design, Creativity and Social Sciences, 3(1), 1-8. Retrieved July 14, 2021, from http://ir.unimas.my/id/eprint/28700

Demograpic of Population. (2021, July 9). Retrieved from The Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit Web site: https://www.malaysia.gov.my/portal/content/30114

Gyna. (2021, May 30). Gawai Dayak Miring Explained, inviting the Gods of the Iban people of Borneo. Retrieved July 17, 2021, from https://foreignflavours.com/gawai-dayak-miring-explained-inviting-the-gods-of-the-iban-people-of-borneo/

Hudson, A. (1969). Book Reviews: The Sea Dayaks of Borneo before White Rajah Rule by Benedict Sandin. Retrieved July 10, 2021, from https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1525/aa.1969.71.5.02a00360

Indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities in Sarawak. (n.d.). Retrieved July 9, 2021, from Minority Rights Group International Web site: https://minorityrights.org/minorities/indigenous-peoples-and-ethnic-minorities-in-sarawak/

Jelani, J., & Noor Muhammad, S. (2018). The Influence of Animism on the Customs and Culture of the Iban Community. International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, 8(8), 763-774. doi:10.6007/IJARBSS/v8-i8/4631

Kiyai@Keai, G., & Tugang, N. (2020). Artifak Budaya Masyarakat Iban: Warisan Pusaka. Jurnal Kinabalu, 26(1), 59-71.

Lee, S. K. (2019). Asal Usul Masyarakat Iban Sarawak. Retrieved July 12, 2021, from https://www.academia.edu/40704338/Asal_Usul_Masyarakat_Iban_Sarawak

Mahayuddin, S., Wan Zaharuddin, W., Harun, S., & Ismail, B. (2017). Assessment of Building Typology and Construction Method of Traditional Longhouse. Procedia Engineering, 180, 1015-1023. doi:10.1016/j.proeng.2017.04.261

Mohanlall, P. (2002). Green Malaysia: Rainforest Encounters. Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Timber Council.

Nasri, N. (2015, September 13). Tradisi Ngayau Masih Diperkatakan. Retrieved July 15, 2021, from Berita Harian Online Web site: https://www.bharian.com.my/bhplus-old/2015/09/81433/tradisi-ngayau-masih-diperkatakan

News, E. (2017, May 15). Sustaining Iban Traditional Costumes in Modern Era. Retrieved July 16, 2021, from New Sarawak Tribune Web site: https://www.newsarawaktribune.com.my/sustaining-iban-traditional-costumes-in-modern-era/

Noria T., Anna, D., Yow, C.L., Hashim, A., Adilawati, A., & Bibiana, S. (2018). The Iban Folk Belief. International Journal of Academic Research in Business & Social Sciences, 8(14), 100-107. doi:10.6007/IJARBSS/v8-i14/5031

Osup, C. (2017). Social Relation Between Gender (Sexes) In The Iban Longhouse Community. International Journal for Studies on Children Women, Elderly and Disabled, 2, 2-31. Retrieved July 15, 2021, from https://www.ijcwed.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/IJCWED2_36.pdf

Padoch, C. (1982). Migration and Its Alternative Among the Iban Sarawak. Netherlands: The Hague : Martinus Nijhoff.

Radzi, H., & David, P. (2012). Unsur Eufemisme Dan Perumpamaan Dalam Teks Hikyat Iban. Jurnal Linguistik, 16, 75-87.

Rumah Panjang Identiti Sarawak. (2017, January 14). Retrieved July 2021, 14, from My Metro Web site: https://api.hmetro.com.my/node/197071

Senang, B. M., & Noria, T. (2018). The Iban Traditional Religion: Miring. Journal of Borneo-Kalimantan, 4(1). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.33736/jbk.920.2018

Shaik Hussain, S. (n.d.). Persepsi Masyarakat Iban Terhadap Fungsi Parang Ilang. Retrieved July 15, 2021, from https://www.academia.edu/19993939/Persepsi_Masyarakat_Iban_Terhadap_Fungsi_Parang_Ilang

SODA, R. (2001). Rural-Urban Migration of the Iban of Sarawak and Changes in Long-house Communities. Geographical Review of Japan, Series B. 74(1), 92-112. doi:10.4157/grj1984b.74.92

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Tales from the Malay Annals

We have a fabulous addition to our MV Booklet collection – a retelling of ten stories from the Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) by Alvin Chua. Alvin’s handpicked stories are a joy to read, made more so by the beautiful illustrations done by the talented Anissa Razali.

Three of these stories were previously published on this blog. You can now follow the link to read all the stories in Tales from the Malay Annals.

A Very Rough Guide To Lukut

by Eric Lim


Moving on with the exploration on Federal Route 5, this time we drive past the state boundary at Sepang to enter the Land of Nine States – Negeri Sembilan. The destination is only 20 kms away; it was originally a part of Selangor but in an agreement with Negri Sembilan, was given in exchange for Rekoh, a settlement on the upstream of Sungai Langat and all area in Labu which is understand to be the district of Semenyih today. Lukut is the name of this town and it became the wealthiest tin mining centre in the country between 1830 and 1860 but went into a decline after the switch to Negeri Sembilan.


During the start of the 18th century CE, the Bugis were already establishing their foothold on the west coast of the peninsula and had taken control of the coastline, starting from the mouth of Sungai Linggi in the south (Selangor’s border with Melaka), and stretching to the Bernam river valley at the border with Perak in the north. Tin had taken over from spices as the main trade commodity. The Chinese started mining (for gold and tin) in Melaka from 1793 and, by early 1800, they had ventured into neighbouring Sungai Ujong and Lukut. Records show that the Chinese were already mining for tin in Lukut from 1815. When John Anderson visited Selangor in 1818 to carry out a survey on the economy and population, he reported that Lukut had ‘lately become a great place for tin’ and the Chinese had formed a fifth of the total population of a thousand people in Lukut.

Raja Busu’s house / Photo source : Previous post Peristiwa Berdarah Di Lukut

In the 1820s, Raja Busu (full name Raja Hassan Bin Raja Nala ibni Almarhum Sultan Salehuddin), the youngest son of Sultan Salehuddin, the first Sultan of Selangor, attracted by the rich tin deposits, took control and proclaimed himself the first Malay Ruler of Lukut. Raja Busu ruled the settlement as an independent district and he brought in more Chinese from Melaka to expand the output of the mines. The Malays were already mining for tin using the ‘lampang’ (sluicing) but the Chinese mining technique of ‘lombong’ (opening  larger pits) was more effective in getting a larger yield. Lukut saw the start of tin mining using Chinese labour, technique and capital. The imposition of a ten per cent tax on the output did not go down well with the Chinese miners and merchants. On a dark rainy night in September 1834, some 300 to 400 Chinese gathered in front of Raja Busu’s house and demanded that he come out or they would set the house on fire. He refused to budge and told them that as a Muslim he was not afraid to die. The Chinese promptly took the cue and burnt the house down, killing Raja Busu and his family members. In retaliation, the Malays ambushed the Chinese as they tried to cross the border to British controlled Melaka. Thereafter, the mines were abandoned for a time.

This was during the reign of the third Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Muhammad, who took the opportunity to assert his authority and proclaimed Lukut as part of Selangor in 1836. In 1846, Sultan Muhammad announced the appointment of Raja Jumaat as Chief of Lukut. Prior to this, Raja Jumaat together with his father, Raja Jaafar and brother, Raja Abdullah, had settled in Lukut for some time. They were Bugis from Riau, Indonesia.

Tin mining in Malaya / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

The appointment of Raja Jumaat eventually turned out to be crucial and important for the town and the Sultan. Under his leadership, a well laid out township took shape with a main street and a double row of brick shophouses with tile roofs, large godowns and a customs house. He even set up a police force of twenty Malays attired in uniforms and hats with identification numbers. Chinese traders, mainly Hailam, set up their businesses in the town. As his residence, he built a fort on top of a hill overlooking the town and protected by cannons around the parameters. He had established good business relationships with Melaka businessmen and friendship with Lieutenant Colonel Ronald MacPherson who was the Resident Councillor (chief administrator) at Melaka between 1857 and 1860. Lukut reached the peak in tin production and the settlement became prosperous and flourished under Raja Jumaat.

Sultan Muhammad also tried his hand at tin mining in the Selangor and Klang river basins but without any success, instead he accumulated a large sum of debts. Raja Jumaat helped Sultan Muhammad by standing as guarantor for the royal debts on two occasions, in 1839 and 1846. For the former, the favour was reciprocated when Raja Jumaat married Raja Senai, daughter of Sultan Muhammad. For the latter, the Sultan had granted the Lukut district to Raja Jumaat and his heirs in perpetuity. Concurrently, the Sultan conferred Raja Jumaat the prestigious title of Raja Tua (royal coadjutor/assistant).

From 1846 onwards, Raja Jumaat became the most powerful man in Selangor. When Sultan Muhammad passed away in 1857, Raja Jumaat was in a position to influence the choice of a successor in place of the heir who was still a minor. Subsequently, Raja Abdul Samad became the fourth Sultan of Selangor. In the same year, Raja Jumaat and his brother, Raja Abdullah, prospected for tin at the Gombak and Ampang area with Chinese miners from Lukut and were successful two years later. When Raja Jumaat died in 1864, it was a big blow to Lukut as it began to decline and the situation was made worse with the gradual depletion of its tin deposits.

Raja Bot and his family, photo taken in 1912 / Photo source : Misteri Kehilangan Istana Kota Lukut

Raja Bot became the new Ruler of Lukut. Raja Bot was born on 4 December 1847; at the age of ten, he was sent to Malacca to study in an English school and stayed for ten months with Macpherson. He was then sent to Baba Chi Yam Chuan where he helped with reading and writing of Malay letters from and to Lukut. At thirteen, he was helping to look after his father’s business in Lukut.

During an early stage of his rule, Raja Bot had to face several disturbances. Raja Sulaiman of Sungai Raya had wanted to break away from Lukut and this prompted him to lead an attack on Lukut. Raja Bot and his men managed to stop the attack, even without the protection of his band of 30 Arab mercenaries as they had fled the scene after seeing one of them being stabbed to death. The next incident happened when Raja Yahya, adopted son of Sultan Abdul Samad, paid a visit. On the way to meeting Raja Bot, he had caught a Chinese Hailam whom he executed, without the permission of Raja Bot. When the Chinese arrived seeking an explanation, a melee ensued but Raja Yahya managed to escape. Then there was an incident where a Malay Raja set the Chinese bazaar on fire. These disturbances greatly affected the relationship between the Chinese and Malays and the prosperity of Lukut. Chinese miners started to head out to the more successful mines in Hulu Klang and Ampang in the north.

Raja Bot was not involved in the Klang War/Selangor Civil War (1867-1873) and Lukut was far away from the battlegrounds. After the war, the British started to gain stronger influence in the affairs of state with the implementation of the Residential system. In 1878, the British wanted to settle the long-standing boundary problem, brought up by Dato Kelana Sending of Sungai Ujong for a claim of the Lukut district including Cape Rachado (Tanjung Tuan today). Raja Bot, who was not consulted, protested strongly against the transfer of Lukut to Sungai Ujong.

It was finally concluded in a convention held in Singapore on 31 July 1880 where Raja Bot was compensated with a total sum of 27,000 dollars. He sought employment from the Selangor government but he was denied. In June of 1887, he applied for the post of Penghulu of Sungai Buloh and this time, Bot was successful. However, it was a short stint and his next posting was as a member of the State Council on 18 December 1888 where he stayed until his passing on 11 April 1916. He died of asthma and heart failure; he was buried at the Royal Burial Ground at Johor Bahru.

Fun Facts

(Left) – Saiyid Masyor (middle)  / Photo source : SEJARAH MELAYU DAHULU DAN SENJATA API??(Right) – Lieutenant Colonel Ronald MacPherson / Photo source : https://cathedral.org.sg/page/tour-the-cathedral

Kapitan Yap Ah Loy also came to Lukut to work as a cook at Chong Chong’s tin mine. They were both Fui Chew Hakka but ended up in different camps when theKlang War/Selangor Civil War erupted. Yap Ah Loy headed the Hai San group and Chong Chong was with Ghee Hin. When Chong Chong and Saiyid Masyor made their second attempt to capture Kuala Lumpur, they were intercepted at Rawang by Yap Ah Loy’s troops commanded by Chung Piang who managed to stop them and Chong Chong retreated to Serendah, where he is presumably killed.

Incidentally, the first Kapitan Cina of Kuala Lumpur, Hiu Siew, was a tin mine owner in Lukut. Hiu Siew and another mine owner, Ah Sze, were persuaded to relocate to Kuala Lumpur by Sutan Puasa.

The current Saint Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore was designed by Lieutenant Colonel Ronald MacPherson.

Places of Interest

Royal Tombs

There are two Selangor royal tombs in Lukut. The first one is located at a hillock at Kampung Kuala Lukut (now Chuah) [1]. This is where Raja Busu and his family members were buried. Earlier, there was a plan to upgrade it to reflect it as a Royal Tomb but this did not materialise. The other is Raja Jumaat’s tomb at the Selangor Royal Mausoleum [2] located inside the Lukut Muslim Cemetary. It is easy to find the place as it is opposite the Lukut Police Station and adjacent to a petrol station. As far back as 1855, it was designated as the final resting place of members of the Selangor royal family. The Selangor state government is still paying to the local authority for use of the land.

(Left) Raja Busu’s tomb / Photo source : https://twitter.com/zulkhairi_aziz/status/1374640165826666497?lang=en(Right) Selangor Royal Mausoleum / Photo source : Makam Raja Jumaat

Kota Lukut and Muzium Lukut Negri Sembilan

Kota Lukut/Lukut Fort [3] was the fortification that Raja Jumaat built on top of Bukit Gajah Mati in 1847. The fort is rectangular, measuring about 200 metres long and 170 metres wide, and surrounded by a 5-metre broad ditch with a wall of sharpened bamboo stakes as a first line of defence against intrusion. Cannons were mounted at the edges of the fort. At the centre lies the remains of the house that Raja Jumaat built for his daughter, Raja Wok, and located outside was a sepak raga (sepak takraw today) court. There are two wells within the fort, of which one was a poisoned well used for executions. There are also remains of several cisterns sunk in the ground.

The Muzium Lukut [4] is currently housed in a two-storey building, which reportedly was the residence of the District Officer. It was officially opened on 9 April 1999 and the museum is divided into four galleries, namely Lukut History, Nassau, Negeri Sembilan Negeri Beradat and Traditional Society Manufacturing Technology. Entrance is free and it is open from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm daily except on Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Hari Raya Haji.

(Left) – Plan of Kota Lukut / Photo source : The State of Lukut. (With text figures); (Right) – Muzium Lukut – Muzium Lukut

Lukut Town

Prior to the start of E29 Seremban-Port Dickson Highway (SPDH) [5], motorists travelling from Seremban/North South Highway to Port Dickson must pass through the town of Lukut. It is just ten kilometres away from Port Dickson and Lukut is becoming a haven for seafood. The local restaurants serve fresh fish, clams, prawns and crabs. For sea fishing enthusiasts, a popular fishing area is Kelong Mahmud, which can be reached by renting fishing boats from Kuala Lukut. Take a leisure stroll around the town and maybe visit the small theme parks located nearby. There is no shortage of accommodations along the stretch to Port Dickson.

Photo source : Lukut Town

Getting There

If you are from the coastal area, you can use Federal Route 5 to Lukut. Coming from Kuala Lumpur city centre, use the North South Highway (E2 South) and exit to the Seremban- Port Dickson Highway (E29). Then exit at Exit 2905A Lukut interchange to Lukut.


A History of Selangor (1766 – 1939) (page 34 – 48)

Raja Bot Bin Raja Jumaat (page 68 – 93)

The State of Lukut. (With text figures) (page 291 – 295)

Misteri Kehilangan Istana Kota Lukut

Previous post Peristiwa Berdarah Di Lukut


Muzium Lukut

Old Town, Lukut, Malaysia | Matthew Tan


Lukut Town

Perancangan Kerja Naiktaraf Makam Raja Busu

Makam Raja Jumaat

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H is for Hercules

by V. Jegatheesan

Image credit: Dennis Ong

“The Finest Bicycle Built Today”

… So read the advertisements for the Hercules bicycle in the newspapers of the late 1940’s.

A British Hercules bicycle can be seen in Gallery C in the section describing the rubber industry in Malaysia in the early days. The latex containers on the sides are a clear example of how this bicycle was used as a transport workhorse of various goods in estates, businesses and elsewhere, now replaced by the motorcycle. Though Raleigh was the most popular as a regular bicycle, Hercules was the utility bicycle seen in towns and villages. Other Hercules models included those for racing purposes.

One never learned to ride bicycles using a Hercules due to its size and weight. The Hercules was bigger and higher than the regular brands, had larger handlebars with a flat carrier added at the back, sometimes also with a metal basket in front. This carrier is known to have transported, among others, sacks of lallang by cowherds, milk containers or a box for various things by tradesmen and of course latex containers for the smallholding rubber tapper.

At Gallery C. Image credit: Maganjeet Kaur

How exactly were these bicycles used in the estates? The trees would have been cut at a slant in the very early morning so that it does not coagulate as it flows into the collecting cups or harden too fast on the cut. Usually about 9 or 10 am, the smallholder would make the rounds on the bicycle, pouring the latex into the metal containers fixed on the sides. Depending on the size of the estate, more trips would be made by the smallholder or collection made by a team of workers. When the containers are full, these are taken to the smallholder’s shed where the latex is coagulated with formic acid and processed to make sheet rubber or block rubber. Larger estates used bullock carts with very large metal tanks while tappers used the ‘kender’ or kandar stick on their shoulder with two containers hanging at the ends, all later replaced by trucks. Other competitor brands of bicycles would also have been used such as the Hopper, another bicycle of somewhat similar build.

Using bullock cart (left) and kandar (right) to transport latex. Credit for both images: Arabis

Old newspaper advertisements up to the mid-1950s reveal that a T. V. Mitchell and Co., of Singapore and Penang, were the representatives who imported, distributed and or sold these bicycles. They also sold through authorised agents in Malaya, Singapore and elsewhere, among which was the familiar Dunlop Rubber Company. They sold the bicycles, as well as spares and accessories via numerous dealers in Singapore and Malaya. Almost every town and village had a bicycle repair shop of some sort, as bicycles were a common mode of transport. Interestingly, a newspaper report in the Straits Times of 5th December 1952, quotes a Mr. P.J. D. Munns, the overseas representative of the Hercules Cycle and Motor Company Ltd., as saying that Muslims preferred dark green bicycles, possibly referring to the Malayan market at that time.

Advertisement in the Sunday Tribune (Singapore), 4 April 1948, page 11, col. 2

Few people remember the exact prices of bicycles; they only remember the price of a new bicycle to be in the region of 100 to 150 Dollars (of that time) in the 1940s and early 1950s. Most who bought paid by instalments usually to the bicycle shop while some saved up for theirs. Handing down used bicycles to children or relatives was also common. Newspaper advertisements in the late 1940s in Singapore reveal a healthy second-hand market with the bicycles selling for about 25 Dollars (of that time).

Hercules bicycles were manufactured by the Hercules Cycle and Motor Company and named for their robustness and durability. The company started in Birmingham in 1911. It was very successful and efficient, but, after 1946, it gradually lost out to competitors’ better-streamlined production processes. By 1960, the company was part of TI Raleigh Industries which made Hercules in its own design. In 2003, the original Hercules Company finally dissolved. However, the brand lives on in India by arrangement with TI Cycles of India.

Hercules logo on the bicycle at Muzium Negara


The Finest Bicycle Built to-day [advertisement]. (1948, 4 April). Sunday Tribune (Singapore), p. 11 col. 2.

Spore is eastern hub of bicycle market. (1952, 5 December). The Straits Times, p. 12.

British bicycles find increasing sales in Malaya. (1956, 15 June). The Straits Times, p. 14.

Personal recollections and conversations with relatives & friends.

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G is for Gawai

by Casper Kaun

Image credit: Dennis Ong; background image courtesy of JMM

“Gawai, the harvest festival was and remains like Christmas and New Year’s rolled into one.”

Anthony Bourdain, while in Entulau Sawawak, 2015.

Gawai, or Gawai Dayak, is a major social and religious festival in Sarawak that is celebrated annually on the 1st of June. The late Anthony Bourdain summed up perfectly the importance of Gawai as he remarked, “Gawai is a big deal in the Iban calendar when friends and relatives return to the longhouse”. There are many variants of Gawai, though the widely celebrated one is the ‘harvest festival’ as the word ‘Gawai’ literally means festival. For the Ibans, Gawai is called Ari Gawai while for the Bidayuhs, in the Bidayuh language, it is called Andu Gawai. In 1965, the Sarawak Government decided to make Gawai Dayak as a public holiday. Gawai Dayak is widely celebrated among the Iban and Bidayuh people or colloquially known as Sea and Land Dayaks. Although it is celebrated in Sarawak, the festival is also celebrated by the Sarawakian diaspora abroad.

Image credit: Travel Triangle

The preparation of Gawai begins days in advance as the main alcoholic beverage served for Gawai called tuak, takes days to be made. It is served during Gawai Eve and on the day itself. Tuak is a form of rice wine, unique amongst the Dayak people of Sarawak. It is sometimes prepared weeks or even a month in advance. Tuak is important during Gawai because for the Ibans, it is also known as ‘ai pengayu’ (aqua vitae), the water of longevity. Besides tuak, other snacks are prepared before the day itself, similar to how the Malays would prepare their kuih raya, weeks before Hari Raya. These snacks include kuih sarang semut, kuih sepit and even keropok (fish crackers). These snacks are kept in biscuit tins lined with newspaper to preserve them for the main day. In addition, days before Gawai, relatives from abroad would start travelling back to their hometowns. Throughout Sarawak, one can observe that the bus stations, airports and ferry terminal would be very crowded as people try to make their way back in time before Gawai.

The day before Gawai, known as Gawai Eve, is when families would host a large dinner gathering, almost similar to a Chinese New Year reunion dinner. This is a time for families to get together, have a good meal and to have a good time. The dishes served during the eve vary from family to family, though we can expect a plethora of Dayak dishes served on the table. In the rural kampongs however, there will most likely be a large gathering at the balai raya or community centre during Gawai Eve. Those attending would be dressed in their traditional attire and the sound of traditional music, played by gongs will fill the air. These gongs are usually ensembles of Engkerumong or Taboh (Iban) or Ogong (Bidayuh). These ensembles are similar to Javanese Gamelan ensembles. Tuak will be shared by the attendees and usually the celebration would be accompanied with traditional dances. This is when one can watch the Ngajat, a traditional Sarawakian Dayak dance, being performed. The celebration during this night will continue to the wee hours of the morning.

Ngajat. Image credit: Antonsurya12, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

On the morning on Gawai day itself, the kitchen will be a very busy place as the folks will be busy preparing the delectable dishes to be served to the families and friends. The traditional dishes range from manok pansoh (bamboo chicken), lemang (glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaf cooked in coconut milk in a bamboo ), kasam ikan (fermented fish), pangkang (glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk in a bamboo but without the banana leaf wrapping), linut (sago porridge), kasam dihan (fermented durian), kasam pangan (fermented pork), midin (jungle shoots) and many more.

Selection of food served during Gawai. Image credit: jacknjillscute.blogspot.com

For Christian Dayaks, a Gawai prayer service is held at church in the morning. Usually during mid-day, this is where Gawai celebration kicks in as people would start visiting their relatives or neighbours’ homes. Food and drinks will be served. Normally people would spend an hour visiting their relatives. In the spirit of ‘open house’, friends would also visit each other’s homes as well to celebrate Gawai together. They would come either in their traditional dress or in their best attire. Visiting would last all day, as people would continue seeing their friends or relatives until nightfall.

In some villages, Gawai is celebrated with a mass procession that would march throughout the entire village. The procession is led by people in traditional dresses as they make their way through the village. Bystanders are welcome to join this procession as it is meant to create a long, human train. At certain points, they would be stopped by villagers on the roadside as they pass through their houses. The human train would be served with tuak or langkau as they carry on their journey. They are also accompanied with the sound of mobile gongs being played by the ensemble crew. Often, this procession would end at the border of the village, and by then, it will already be dusk.

Yearly, during Gawai, pageant competitions would be held. These pageants are called Kumang and Keling Gawai. Kumang is for females while Keling is the male variant. This is where those competing would be dressed in their traditional attire with other accoutrements to match. These accoutrements are usually family heirloom, which is passed down from father to son or mother to daughter. The competitors would be judged based on their outfit and their traditional dancing skills. The competition varies from village to village as each different ethnicity has different traditional outfits.

Kumang & Keling, Kampung Taee 2009. Image credit: frampton panchong via flickr

Traditionally, Gawai is celebrated throughout the month. These days, the festivities normally die down after 4 to 5 days though Gawai formally ends after the Ngiling Tikar ceremony, which may take place a week to a month after Gawai (depending on the village itself).

As Gawai is a big celebration in Sarawak, those celebrating will take between one to two weeks off from work to accommodate the lengthy travel time that might be required, and some to accommodate the lengthy festivities.

Though somewhat similar to celebrating Hari Raya or Chinese New Year, Gawai is a unique celebration on its own. It is celebrated by the Dayaks of Sarawak, regardless of religion, which makes part of the colourful tapestry of Malaysia.

Gawai display at Muzium Negara. Image credit: V. Jegatheesan

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F is for Famille Rose

by Rose Gan

Image Credit: Dennis Ong

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.

Pekalongan batiks. Image credit: left and centre: Inger McCabe Elliot; right: http://www.northcoastjavanesebatik.com/2012/07/pekalongan-batik-belanda-buketan-design.html

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.

Famille Rose ‘yangcai’ plate. Image credit: Zhangzhugang taken in Guangdong Museum

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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A Very Rough Guide to Banting, Tanjung Sepat and Sungai Pelek

by Eric Lim


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.

Image Credit: Dennis Ong. Base image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanjung_Sepat,Selangor#/media/File:A_visit_to_Tanjong_Sepat(14242827477).jpg

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.

Frederick Banting on the cover of Time Magazine 27 August 1923 issue / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

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.

Dataran Pantai Morib / Photo source : Pantai Morib (Morib Beach) – Visit Selangor

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.

Image shows Sidek senior admiring the bronze medals won by Razif and Jailani at the 1992 Summer Olympic. Photo credit: The Star – 18/7/2021

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.

Monument at the Sidek family residence / Photo source : Badminton Monument to mentor restored

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.

Left – Dragon fruit / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons
Right – Pantai Cunang / Photo source : Pantai Cunang wujud selepas tsunami, MDKL komited komersialkan

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.

Left – Outdoor dining / Photo source : Tanjung Sepat – Visit Selangor; Right – Lover’s Bridge / Photo source : Wikimedia Common

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.

Ferry across Sungai Sepang / Photo source : Good to be home

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.

Photo source : Google Maps

Getting There

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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Badminton Monument to mentor restored

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.

Bygone Selangor; a souvenir(page 63 – 64)

Cover Story: WCE to spur growth in Banting

Malaysia Federal Route 5

Frederick Banting discovered insulin in 1921

Further Reading on Mohammad Zia ul-Haq

Good to be home

Nation NST175 Cup and away: Malaysia’s 1992 Thomas Cup win

New jetty paves way for development in Tg Sepat

Pantai Cunang wujud selepas tsunami, MDKL komited komersialkan

Pantai Morib (Morib Beach) – Visit Selangor

Tanjung Sepat – Visit Selangor

E is for Elephant

by Rose Gan

Image Credit: Dennis Ong

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.

left: sword; right: rudder

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 tengolok belalai 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