A Very Rough Guide To Jempol and Bahau

By Eric Lim


The Clock Tower is an iconic landmark of Bahau / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

Moving back to Negeri Sembilan, this time to the district of Jempol. It is the largest district in the state which covers approximately 22% of the total land area of Negeri Sembilan. It shares boundaries with the district of Jelebu, Kuala Pilah, Tampin, Bera in Pahang and Segamat in Johor. Prior to becoming the Jempol district, it was known as Bahau Kecil, under the administration of the Kuala Pilah district. Jempol was declared a district on 1 January 1980. Then on 29 January 2019, the status was upgraded to a municipal council, the fourth municipal council in Negeri Sembilan. The two principal towns in the district are Bandar Seri Jempol (previously known as Bandar Baru Serting, and the current district capital) and Bahau. This article will focus on the history of the district, Jempol and the town of Bahau.


Map of districts and mukims of Negeri Sembilan today.

Map of towns in the district of Jempol / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

Jempol was not in the original Malay federation that consisted of nine states when Raja Melewar became the Yam Tuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan in 1773. However, when the British arrived in the state, Jempol was very much in the picture where a series of treaties were signed between the 1870’s to the 1890’s. Sungai Ujong was the first state in Negeri Sembilan that had requested for British protection in 1874. On 23 November 1876, a treaty was signed between Tengku Antah and the minor states of Johol, Inas, Ulu Muar, Terachi, Gunung Pasir and Jempol; witnessed by British officials from the Straits Settlements which recognized Tengku Antah as the Yamtuan of Sri Menanti. This treaty effectively ended the civil war in the state where the warring states were divided into two, the East region came under Sri Menanti and the West consisting of Sungai Ujong, Jelebu and Rembau. On 13 July 1889, the rulers of Tampin and Rembau joined Sri Menanti and agreed to a confederation known as ‘The Old Negri Sembilan’ and placed themselves under the protection of the British government. The states were then separated into two districts namely Kuala Pilah which administered the minor states of Sri Menanti and Johol; and Tampin which took care of Rembau, Tampin and Gemencheh.

Charles Mitchell / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

Martin Lister / Photo source : Sejarah-ahmadyaakob.com: PENUBUHAN KONFIDERASI NEGERI SEMBILAN

When Charles Mitchell (full name Charles Bullen Hugh Mitchell) succeeded William Edward Maxwell as the 14th Governor of the Straits Settlements in 1894, he had proposed that Sungai Ujong and Jelebu be amalgamated with ‘The Old Negri Sembilan’ faction. He commented that ‘the Negri Sembilan are a small confederation in which Sungai Ujong was in old days included, so that their combination under one Resident is historically sound as well as politically convenient’. It was initially met with resistance but later, both states agreed to the proposal. On 8 August 1895, a treaty was signed and a larger and modern Negeri Sembilan was constituted and Martin Lister was appointed as the first Resident. The following year, Negeri Sembilan joined the other three protected states in the Malay Peninsula namely Perak, Selangor and Pahang, in the formation of the Federated Malay States (FMS). The first Resident General of FMS was Frank Athelstane Swettenham. Finally, in a treaty on 29 April 1898, the Yamtuan of Sri Menanti was elected the official ruler of Negeri Sembilan.

The history of Jempol long precedes the formation of Negeri Sembilan, and some believed it was even earlier than the Malacca Sultanate. The district was first settled by people from Pasai, a Muslim kingdom on the north coast of Sumatra (Acheh today).This kingdom was the first to convert to Islam, believed to be in the second half of the 13th century. The settlers started the cultivation of paddy in the state and due to the fertility of its soil, enjoyed a bountiful harvest every year. This prompted them to name the area ‘Jempol’ which roughly translated to mean ‘beautiful and the best place’.

Jempol continued to thrive when the locals discovered two navigable waterways that proved to be invaluable assets. These two rivers flowed in opposite directions from the interior, one to the direction of the Straits of Malacca and the other drains to the South China Sea, creating a shortcut for traveling from the west coast to east coast without having to go through the arduous journey round the southern tip. This led to the start of the trans peninsula trade route used by both local Malay and foreign traders. And the key factor that attracted foreign traders to this trade route was gold. This waterway was marked on early mapping of South-East Asia compiled by cartographers of the West from the 16th century. However, the waterway is depicted as a continuous river or canal as roughly bisecting the peninsula. This glaring error was corrected by Emanuel Godinho de Eredia in a map drawn in 1602.

16th century maps showing the waterway. / Photo source : https://www.jstor.org/stable/1150179

Emanuel Godinho de Eredia was born at Malacca on 15th July 1563. He was of Bugis – Portuguese descent and had his early education at College of the Company of Jesus, Malacca. When he reached thirteen, he was sent to Goa where he completed his studies in astronomy, cartography and mathematics. In 1594, he was ranked ‘Descobridor e Adelantado da Nova India Meridional’ by King Philip I of Portugal. ‘Descobridor’ means ‘officer commissioned to organize the work of exploration and discovery’ and the rest of the title supposedly means ‘the southern land’. He did not see action for six years and only in 1600, he was given the green light. He returned to Malacca to make preparations for the exploration but local wars intervened and he was forced to stay back to see action for the next four years. During this time, he was made the commanding officer of the southern squadron of 70 armed ships. In 1604, he founded the Fortaleza de Muar (Fortress of Muar) located at the mouth of Muar river and joined General Andre Furtado de Mendoca in the conquest of Kota Batu, the capital of Johore at that time. Then he was met with some health issues that kept him away from starting his exploration. He then turned to writing books until his last book in 1620. He died in 1623. His books were never published in his lifetime. Declaracam de Malaca e da Índia Meridional com Cathay (Description of Malacca, Meridional India and Cathay in English) written in 1613, first translated to French in 1880 and later to English by JV Mills in April 1930, contains valuable information on Malacca and the surrounding region when it came under the control of the Portuguese. It also included maps and illustrations, including the location of the two rivers that formed the trans peninsula trade route as mentioned above.

Map by Emanuel de Godinho Eredia showing the location of the Panarican (in box)
/ Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

Self portrait of Emanuel de Godinho Eredia / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

Emanuel de Godinho Eredia discovered that the two main rivers, Pahang river (Rio de Pan in the map) and Muar river (Rio de Muar), are separated by land about 600 meters apart. He also pointed out two points, namely Sartin (Serting today) and Jompol (Jempol), and these are names of tributaries of Pahang river and Muar river respectively. He also named the place ‘Panarican’, from the Malay word ‘penarikan’ which is from the root word ‘tarik’, meaning to pull / drag. The overland portage of vessels and goods were carried out by the locals, elephants and buffalos. Later, in 1614, he appended an explanatory note in the map that ‘Por panarican passao de Malaca a Pam em 6 dias de caminbo’ meaning ‘By the Panarican, one travels from Malacca to Pahang in 6 days’ journey’. It was believed that the journey using the open sea south route would take up to six months and traders also face the risks of rough waters and pirates.

According to local text references, the Panarican / Jalan Penarikan in Malay, was used by merchants from Arab to spread Islam in the interior during the 11th century. The route was also frequented by the Sultanate of Malacca, Pahang and Negeri Sembilan. In the 14th century, at the height of power of the Srivijaya and Majapahit Kingdom, Jalan Penarikan was an active trade route between the interior and the cities along the shores of the Malay Peninsula. Sultan Mahmud also used the route to escape from the Portuguese. Earlier, Hang Tuah had used it to accompany the beautiful Tun Teja from Pahang to Malacca. At the start of the 17th century, the newly formed Dutch V.O.C was a threat to the Portuguese’s monopoly in the region. On 25 February 1603, the Dutch managed to capture Portuguese’s treasure ship, Santa Catarina, at the Strait of Singapore. The ship and its cargo were taken back to Europe as booty of war. After that incident, the Portuguese diverted to use Jalan Penarikan to return to Muar. It also cited the journey through the portage taken by Charles Gray in early January 1827, and in his journal, he noted that he made an overnight stop in a small village called Bahru, which is believed to be Bahau today. Coincidentally, the next part of this article would be on Bahau.

The first railway line built by the British linked Taiping in the Larut Valley to Port Weld, covering a distance of about 8 miles (13 kilometers) , was officially opened for traffic on 1 June 1885. By the turn of the new century, saw the formation of the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) and in 1903, the railway track was extended from Prai in Province Wellesley (Penang) in the North, running across Perak and Selangor to reach Port Dickson in Negeri Sembilan in the South. The next phase of construction was in the state of Johore, starting in 1904. And in 1910, saw the start of the East Coast Line connecting the West to the East coast states of Pahang and Kelantan.

The first stretch of the East Coast Line between Gemas and Bahau was opened on 4 April 1910. Also on the same day, was the opening of the branch line from Bahau to Kuala Pilah in the interior. The opening of this branch line was to serve the tin mining industry at Parit Tinggi which is situated north of Kuala Pilah. This line was in operation until 1930 when it was dismantled due to stiff competition with road transport. On 1 October 1910, the East Coast Line was extended from Bahau to Pahang, reaching Triang located in the south west of the state. The line was completed with the opening section of the last stretch between Gua Musang and Kuala Gris in Kelantan on 5 September 1931.

1929 FMSR map showing the branch line between Bahau and Kuala Pilah and Bahau – Triang.
Photo source : FMSR 1929 railway map

The next significant record of Bahau in the history archive came during the Japanese Occupation. Japanese forces landed in Kota Bharu on 8 December 1941 and in just two months, they had steamrolled the peninsula and were fighting the British in Singapore. On 15 February 1942, Lieutenant General Arthur Percival surrendered the island to the Japanese. The loss came as a great shock to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. With an impending chronic food shortage, Japanese authorities immediately embarked on a Grow More Food Campaign in the city state. However, the campaign did not produce the desired results. The next course of action by the Japanese was to set up agricultural settlements outside of Singapore. The Chinese were the first group to be coaxed into the resettlement project and Endau in Johor was the venue for the project. The pioneer settlers arrived in September 1943 and by the end of that year, 12,000 Chinese had made Endau their new home.

Settlers building the rudimentary road from the train station to the settlement
Photo source : Bahau: A Utopia That Went Awry

The next group to join the project were the Eurasians and the new venue was Bahau. The first settlers consisting of mainly young, single men and led by Catholic Bishop of Singapore, Adrien Devals arrived in late December 1943. They took the overnight train from Singapore to Gemas, followed by a local train to Bahau town and walked the last five miles (8 km) to the site of the settlement. Prior, the site had been cleared and rejected by the Japanese for use as an airfield and by the Chinese group who had wanted Endau instead. The Japanese name for the settlement was ‘Fuji Go’ which means ‘Fuji Village or beautiful village’. These men were tasked to clear the land of dense forest, build a rudimentary road from the train station to the settlement and set up the basic infrastructure for the arriving families. By April 1944, the population had risen to 2,000, of which about half were Chinese Catholics and it also included European Protestants families and neutrals from countries like Denmark, Switzerland, Romania and Russia. Each family was given three acres of land to build their own home with whatever that they could find from the jungle and to grow crops.Though they had enjoyed some measure of freedom from the Japanese, many of them suffered from malnutrition and diseases such as malaria which eventually led to a high death toll. Japanese Occupation came to an end in August 1945, and immediately after, the MPAJA (Malayan People’s Anti Japanese Army) guerilla movement took over control of the country for a brief spell. Bahau was finally liberated with the arrival of Force 136 on 3 September 1945. The settlement was abandoned and settlers returned to Singapore. (In total, Japanese authorities had created three agricultural settlements outside of Singapore, namely Endau, Johor for the Chinese, Bahau, Negeri Sembilan for the Eurasian community and Pulau Bintan in Indonesia for the Indians).

Photo source : Google Maps

According to the 2020 survey, the population of Bahau stands at 32,018. Federal Route 13 (FR13 in the map) that links Juasseh to Bahau, cuts across the town to connect to Federal Route 10 (FR10) to Rompin and Gemas. In essence, the straight stretch of FR13 is built over the old railway track that used to run from Kuala Pilah to Bahau. Remnants of the old tracks like stone foundations can still be seen underneath the road. There are two popular trails that are open all year-round and are beautiful to visit at any time of the day in Bahau. The elevation of Bukit Penarikan (1) is 1364 ft / 416 meters and the 3.2 km out-and-back trail takes an average of 1 hour 28 minutes to complete. It is regarded as a moderately challenging route. Bukit Taisho (2) is shorter than Bukit Penarikan, and it takes a slightly shorter time to complete. However, it attracts more hikers / visitors as they can enjoy a spectacular sky mirror and breathtaking sea of clouds view from the peak of the hill. The modestly built Bahau train station (3) is located at the center of town. Today, Bahau has the distinction as the only town in the west coast to be served by the East Coast Line instead of the west coast main line. The name Bahau is believed to come from a Chinese / Cantonese phrase ‘Makou / Mahou’ meaning ‘horse’s mouth’ and there is a nearby Chinese village by the name of ‘Mahsan’ which means ‘horse’s body’.

View from the peak of Bukit Taisho
Photo source : Bukit Taisho: 116 Reviews, Map – Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia | AllTrails

Getting there

From Cheras, use the Cheras – Kajang Expressway (E7) that would link to Kajang Dispersal Link Expressway / SILK (E18). Look out for Exit 1804 Kajang Perdana, then link to LEKAS (E21) Lebuhraya Kajang Seremban. Exit at Paroi interchange and link Federal Route 51 (Seremban to Kuala Pilah). At Kuala Pilah, join Federal Route 13 to Bahau.


Negeri Sembilan was historically spelt as Negri Sembilan.


1. Info Jempol | Portal Rasmi Majlis Perbandaran Jempol (MPJL): http://www.mdjl.gov.my/ms/pelawat/info-jempol

2. Penubuhan Konfederasi Negeri Sembilan – PeKhabar: https://pekhabar.com/h-i-d-s-penubuhan-konfiderasi-negeri-sembilan/

3. bab 4: negeri sembilan sebagai sebuah persekutuan: http://studentsrepo.um.edu.my/722/5/BAB4.pdf

4. Sejarah-ahmadyaakob.com: PENUBUHAN KONFIDERASI NEGERI SEMBILANhttp://matsejarah.blogspot.com/2014/07/penubuhan-konfiderasi-negeri-sembilan.html

5. A Curious Feature on Early Maps of Malaya: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1150179

6. EREDIA’S DESCRIPTION OF MALACA, MERIDIONAL INDIA, and CATHAY: https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/41560454.pdf

7. Three of Eredia’s illustrations: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41587427?searchText=&searchUri=&ab_segments=&searchKey=&refreqid=fastly-default%3A7f53f5e82f747c062c72613a4a30c736

8. Analysis Of Alternative Trade Route Based On Earliest Cartography And Textual Data: https://www.europeanproceedings.com/article/10.15405/epsbs.2018.05.43/image/3

9. The Capture of the Santa Catarina (1603) | Peace Palace Library: https://peacepalacelibrary.nl/blog/2018/capture-santa-catarina-1603

10. Federated Malay States Railway – Museum Volunteers, JMM: https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/2020/12/07/federated-malay-states-railway/

11. Mamoru Shinozaki in Syonan-To: https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/2020/04/23/mamoru-shinozaki-in-syonan-to/

12. Bukit Taisho: 116 Reviews, Map – Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia | AllTrails: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/malaysia/negeri-sembilan/bukit-taisho

Professor Gary Lit Ying Loong on his book “If the Sky Were to Fall…”

By Hani Kamal

It was a warm morning on May 20th 2023 when Professor Gary shared with us the stories from his book. They were his father’s stories from the past, of wartime sufferings and post-war endeavours in the 1940s to 1950s. He started off by telling us why he named the book as such. The title of his book was taken from a Chinese/Cantonese saying (the Professor used a lot of Cantonese throughout the talk):

Shuō rúguǒ tiān yào tā xiàlái yòng zuò tǎnzi

This literally means if the sky falls, just use it as a blanket to cover. Meaning, whatever happens, take it easy as there are no hardships or problems that one cannot solve.

He explained the picture shown on the cover of the book: the family running towards Kampar Hill, away from the advancing Japanese troops.

Gary just retired as an academician from Nanyang Technological University Singapore and is presently a Visiting Professor at some universities in Asia and Europe. It was during the Covid pandemic lockdown that he started to write this book. He also waited until his father’s passing to record and share his memoirs of those tumultuous years. “I had to wait for three events to come to pass before I could publish my father’s memoirs,” confides Lit, elaborating: “The first was that the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) laid down its arms, and the second, the death of its leader, Chin Peng. The third was the passing of my father.”

It was not just an oral account of his late father, but he also went on to conduct extensive interviews and he documented the events that took place. He spoke about two difficult periods – during the Japanese Occupation and the post-war aftermath by the British Administration. Gary wanted history to be seen from the view of common folks and not “top-down” accounts as written by the British administrators. In doing so, hidden truths about the past can be reviewed.

He went on to share with us the importance of Kampar Hill, which was strategic for the retreating British soldiers fighting the advancing Japanese troops. Kampar Hill was the last line of defence for the British. Each and every time he passes by Kampar Hill, he can feel the hills coming alive with fighter jets flying past, roaring tigers and the droppings of bombs. When the Japanese occupied Malaya, schools in Kinta Valley such as ACS in Kampar and SMI in Ipoh were used as detention/torture centres. Up until now, students claim some classrooms are haunted, “ada hantu” (there are ghosts).

Gary also shared with us his interviews with a few war survivors who were brutally tortured. What took part were gruesome tortures and murders among the Chinese in Malaya also called Sook Ching (ethnic cleansing) as the Chinese were anti-Japanese and supported the fights that took place in mainland China. At this point, I noticed one or two MVs left the room as the events and details depicted were too intense to bear.

His account of the New Villages was not short of more suffering. Prof broke into his Cantonese again when he spoke about what happened to the villages. How women folks called the village security guards “牛头马脸 Niútóu mǎ liǎn”. Meaning the head of an ox and the face of a horse. For the Chinese, these are equivalent to the guards of hell.

Prof spoke for almost one and a half hours, the signs to stop were raised, and with permission from the audience, he spoke about his late brother, Kapt. Lit Ying Wai. The late Kapt Lit was a fighter pilot with RMAF (Royal Military Arm Force of Malaya). It was hard for Senior Lit to allow Kapt Lit to join the RMAF as he may have to fight his own relatives such as Ah Keong, was their cousin who joined the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). Tragically, Ah Keong died during a power struggle within the Party, a case of false ideology and broken dreams. Kapt Lit succumbed to his injuries in a road accident after the war. He was only 31 years old.

An article was written by Gary Lit and published in the Sunday Times.

M & M – Museums and MRT

By Eric Lim

Saturday 25 March 2023 was to be an eventful day for me. I woke up early and off I went to the Sungai Chua Recreation Park for my 3 kilometers run, followed by a set of Taoist Tai Chi. I then went for breakfast and hurried back home to shower, put on my comfortable pair of walking shoes, and I was all set for my to-dos of the day!

First stop was none other than our National Museum. I had wanted to join the scheduled tour but arrived late, so I decided to go solo. To my surprise, when I went into Gallery A, the place was a hive of activity. The usual English tour group had just ‘landed’ at the Neolithic showcase. Past the Perak Man, cave paintings, and metal age displays, was the next highlight of Gallery A – the Bujang Valley, and it was here where I found the first Japanese group. The second Japanese group was already looking at the bronze statue of Avalokitesvara at Gallery B. Just a mere distance away, I could see a mentoring programme in session, and they were just about to start learning about ‘the Melaka story’. Without wanting to interrupt the proceedings, I made my way to Gallery C on the second floor. Here, it was peaceful and quiet, except for some young lads who came charging from the opposite direction. When I arrived at the Penang showcase, it struck me that I had not been inside Fort Cornwallis despite having guided a good number of museum tours! The fort was built by Francis Light when he first set foot on the island in 1786. It was named in honour of Lord Cornwallis, who was then the Governor General of Bengal. It was initially constructed using trunks of the nibong palm but was later changed to brickwork after learning of a threat from the French in the region. In recent times, four cannons were discovered at Fort Cornwallis, two in 2018 and another two in 2019.

Replica of Fort Cornwallis at Gallery C, National Museum / Photo source : Eric Lim

It was just past midnight on 8 December 1941, Japanese forces had landed at Kota Bharu. This attack marked the start of World War II in Asia. In front of me, a replica of a pillbox. These concrete cement structures served as barricades during the war. Again, I have to confess that I have not been inside the pillbox. As I peeked through the hole, lo and behold, I saw a Japanese soldier standing at the far right corner! I have to make a dash to Malaysia Today, i.e. Gallery D. The first Malayan general elections were held on Wednesday 27 July 1955 and out of the 52 seats offered for contest, the Alliance Party won 51 and Pan-Malayan Islamic Party (PMIP) took the one and only seat i.e the constituency of Krian, Perak, won by its member, Ahmad Tuan Hussain with a majority of 450 votes. And out of the 52 who won, there was just one successful woman candidate and she was Halimahton Abdul Majid from UMNO / Alliance who took the Ulu Selangor constituency.

Replica of a pillbox / Photo source : Eric Lim

Information on the 1955 general elections at Gallery D / Photo source : Eric Lim

A look into the world of sports. Kuala Lumpur played host to two international events, one of it being the 16th Commonwealth Games which were held from 11 September 1998 to 21st September 1998. Malaysia became the first Asian country to hold this multi-sport event. Our country ended the campaign with a total gold medal haul of ten to be placed in fourth position, the best ever result that still stands until today. By the way, I had the pleasure to be a volunteer at the KL Games.

Next, the following year from 18th – 21st November, was the World Cup of Golf which was held at The Mines Resort & Golf Club. The golf course sits on what was once the world’s largest open cast tin mines which ceased operation in 1982. The team from the USA composed of Mark O’Meara and Tiger Woods who became the team champion, and the latter also went on to take the individual title with a comfortable nine-stroke margin. The Malaysian team was represented by the late P. Gunasegaran and M. Ramayah, who also passed on 6th March 2023. Ramayah had represented the country a record thirteen times in this competition.

Accreditation card for the 16th Commonwealth Games. Photo source: Eric Lim

M. Ramayah. Photo source: Pargolf Magazine

From one museum to another new history museum in the city. The Sin Sze Si Ya Temple Pioneers of Kuala Lumpur Museum (SSSYTPOKLM) is located on the top floors of four double-storey shophouses in front of the said temple, facing Lebuh Pudu and Jalan Tun H S Lee. When I reached the museum, I was immediately told to join the group that had just started the tour upstairs. And to my surprise (for the second time), I met fellow Museum Volunteers – VP Dennis Ong, Manjeet from Batch 39 and the SSSYTPOKLM museum docent, Lim Ken who had graduated from the National Museum programme a few years prior. Lim joined the SSSYTPOKLM curatorial team in 2018. After five years in the making, SSSYTPOKLM held its official opening on 5 March 2023. YB Nga Kor Ming, Minister of Local Government Development and H.E Tang Rui, Deputy Chief of Mission & Minister, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China were the dignitaries that attended the opening ceremony. The museum is separated into three sections – Kuala Lumpur, Trustees and Sin Sze Si Sze Ya Temple. The first section starts with ‘The Birth of KL’ that highlights the role of the early pioneers like Sultan Abdul Samad, Frank Swettenham, Yap Ah Loy and Sutan Puasa. Followed by ‘Establishment of Sin Sze Si Sze Ya Temple’, ‘Story of Yap Ah Loy’, ‘Era of Trustees’ and ends with panoramic views of ‘Transformation of KL’ over the decades. Along the passage to the third section, are photographs of ‘The Board of Trustees’ since its inception until today. The third section puts its focus on the temple, highlighting ‘Deities Worshiped in the Temple’, ‘Temple Artifacts’ and ‘History & Architecture of the Temple’. This section provides all the relevant information for the visit to the Sin Sze Si Sze Ya Temple. The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday, from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm.

The official opening of SSSYTPOKLM. Photo source: SSSYTPOKLM Facebook

SSSYTPOKLM operating hours. Photo source: SSSYTPOKLM Facebook

Next stop on my ‘to-do’ list for the day is to ride on the latest train service in the Klang Valley, the MRT Putrajaya Line. It is the second line of the Klang Valley MRT Project, the first being the MRT Kajang Line. Both these lines form part of the Klang Valley Integrated Transit System. Phase 1 of the Putrajaya Line connecting Damansara Damai to Kampung Batu began operations on 16 June 2022 and with the completion of Phase 2 linking Kantonment to Putrajaya Sentral, the line is officially running full service as of 16 March 2023. This alignment which stretches from Kwasa Damansara in Sungai Buloh to Putrajaya Sentral covers a length of 57.7 km, and of which 44.2 km are above street level and 13.5 km passing through underground tunnels. In all, there are 36 stations, with 27 elevated and 9 subways. The full journey is estimated to take 84 minutes. Some of the places of interest or popular attractions to visit around some of these stations are the National Art Gallery, Istana Budaya and Hospital Kuala Lumpur from the Hospital Kuala Lumpur station; the KLCC park, Asy-Shakirin mosque and Ilham Gallery are within 300m from the Persiaran KLCC station; Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex that consists of the Craft Museum, Gift & Souvenir Shop and Craft Village is just five minutes walk from the Conlay station and the Putrajaya Sentral station also serves as interchange stop for the ERL KLIA Transit Line.

The Klang Valley Intergrated Transit Map. Photo source: MRT Corp

A brand new MRT train on the MRT Putrajaya Line. Photo source: Rapid KL

For my return to Kajang, I had to switch trains from the Putrajaya Line to Kajang Line at Kwasa Damansara station. Thus far, I had been sitting on the trains for almost two hours, and it would take another sixty minutes to reach home! It was all about walking and more walking while doing the museums round and just sitting tight and sitting right on the Mass Rapid Transit trains. And for the rest of the day, in the comfort of my living room, I watched a Japanese series that was released last November in Japan.

1. Fort Cornwallis – Heritage Sixteen
2. Two 200-year-old cannons found at Fort Cornwallis | Free Malaysia Today (FMT)
3. The Mines Resort & Golf Club | Malaysia | (minesgolf.com.my)
4. Tributes pour in for late Ramayah (nst.com.my)
5. MRT Putrajaya Line – MyRapid

MV President’s Message

For the period January 2023 – March 2023

It has been a busy start to the year – firstly, in January, with our MV Breakfast Party and, with the introduction of new Muzium Negara curators, Puan Shenna and Cik Aesya. MVs are also supported by Cik Prema, Assistant Curator BKK (Corporate Communications) JMM, who came into her new role early this year. Monthly focus talks resumed in February and the MV research team met physically for the first time post pandemic in the same month.

MV guiding and mentoring are currently ongoing. So far, we are happy to welcome 13 new MVs to the team. VIP tours this quarter were led by MVs Ee Lin, Alfred and Li Ling. In addition, our focus speaker Mr. Yap Keam Min was impressed by MV Emna’s first public tour of Muzium Negara.

The Kelantan Art and Culture festival at Muzium Negara was well-attended. MVs were made to feel very welcome. It was also a celebration of diversity since the event was JMM’s first under the Ministry of National Unity. We look forward to participating in similar events at the museum.

On March 6, the MV Committee organized an appreciation lunch for Jega and May, both of whom were long-standing committee members and who are now regular MVs. On behalf of MVs, we treated them to a delicious Korean meal and fancy chocolates. These are just tokens of appreciation for their many contributions over the years. Once again, thank you Jega and May!

Recently, MV Executive Secretary, Poh Leng had the pleasure of sharing our experience as a voluntary organization with 4 representatives from PNB Merdeka Ventures. Stadium Merdeka and Stadium Negara heritage sites under their management are about to reopen their doors to the public after extensive renovation. We are happy for these sites to benefit from our own experience with the public. These sharing sessions indicate that MVs have a reputation for providing quality service.

MVs, we are gearing up for an exciting 2023. This year marks the 60th anniversary of Muzium Negara. We are honored to play a part in sharing Malaysia’s landmark with the public. Together and with the support of JMM, we aim to improve our service further. Here’s to a productive year!

Welcome to our new MVs!

  1. Emna Esseghir
  2. Swee Fun @ Lobsang Wong
  3. Lai Yin Tze
  4. Noor Hazera Sohri
  5. Freida Mohd. Pilus (Dato’)
  6. Tee Mei Ling, Diana
  7. Wong Yun Teng
  8. Martina Ziesse
  9. Kim Mijeoung (Alice)
  10. Kulwant Kaur a/p Tara Singh
  11. Subramaniam AV Shankar
  12. Yeo Suyin
  13. Rueben Daniel

Roots Living Heritage

Article by Lim Ee Lin

As Museum Volunteers, we try to “take the mystery out of history” and very often to do this, we not only share the facts behind the artefacts we chose to talk about during the tours. Many of us have personal memories of the museum (building), connections to events we highlight on the nation’s history, the multicultural elements in the artefacts, the places mentioned, and people showcased. It is in this personal telling of stories that brings out the passion in our storytelling.

On reading the narratives in Roots Living Heritage, I recognise the personal pride and passion in the 18 accounts shared.  In their introduction, the editors brought up that history writing in Malaysia is presented largely based on official records. However, personal memory is also no less an important source of historical information, capturing the lived experiences which include the more personal experiences, emotions felt, cultures and values practised. It was clear that all the writers were proud to have had the opportunity to formally record their recollections of subjects through a mix of their own personal recollections, memories of friends and family they interviewed, formal reports, and other sources. It is through their interpretation that we now have these 18 vivid insights into our shared history.

Dr Asma Abdullah and Masnoon Bujang already captured the essence of the book’s contents in their review for the Star newspaper. I also concur with their summary that “[a]ll in all, it was a delight getting to know in close proximity the unforgettable events that have taken place in our multicultural setting and their impact on our forefathers. This is our national strength that we must acknowledge, celebrate, and defend.”  All the more when I discovered my own connections with some of the people and places after finding one in the first narrative. The six degrees of separation social distance popularised by Hungarian writer Karinthy is real! Many readers will undoubtedly find their own connections to people and places mentioned in the narratives, and not only to the primary subject.  After all, these narratives were anchored on personal memory. Some of my connections are as follows:

• Colonel Dara Singh was Uncle Dara. I was introduced to him when my late father’s childhood friend Uncle Mindo returned from the UK for a visit and wanted to pay him a visit. I remember visiting the house in Rasah Jaya, the manner in which he shared some stories from his past in both Hokkien and English, how he towered over auntie, the elephant’s foot in the corner of his living room, which was made into a receptacle for canes, etc. One time, he gave us a souvenir to remember him by – if I am not wrong, it was an enlarged reproduction of a US100 dollar note with his face instead of Benjamin Franklin’s. I have kept it all these years but will need to unearth it from one of many souvenir boxes. I am sure that someone else might remember this and have a copy too.

• Rogayah Hanim’s grandson Royal Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz was Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Malaya when I enrolled. Many of us will have a memory of him jogging around campus most evenings in his singlet, short shorts and headband!

• My grandparents started their family in Taiping. My late grandfather worked in a tin mine in Kamunting and I wonder if he was acquainted with Marimuthu Ammal and descendants whether through business or otherwise. Another blast from the past was in the reference to historian Mr D.M. Ponnusamy. I remember him fondly as he used to send me letters and historical accounts written in longhand when I worked at a heritage NGO. I was fortunate to have met him a few times before he passed away.

• A Headmaster’s Journey is an account written by our own MV President Afidah Zuliana Abdul Rahim, about her late father. I also have been taught by teachers like the esteemed Abdul Rahim Che Teh, who took pride in the profession and whose patriotism drove him to always give more than his best.

In addition to the book’s Introduction which introduced a variety of themes found in this collection, I wish to add another – that of the values held by many of the subjects. Whether because of age or interest, these values resonated with me. While I did not have to live through many of the hard times of the era, the growing (pains) years of the nation, being a 3rd and 4th generation descendant of immigrants on both sides of my family means that I have heard a version of the maxims mentioned/held by the subjects. Whatever their background and origins, it is apparent that all the subjects were willing to give it their all, and work together for the greater good.  I hope other readers will also make it a treasure hunt to compile a list of values they pick up from the narratives!

Another element from the book that resonated with me is the idea of interpretation – these narratives of people, places and events are a mix of fact and records with the memory of people. The writers have provided us with their interpretation and readers, especially those who find their personal connections to them add another layer to the interpretation and possibly, emotional connection.  As MVs, we are interpreters of history as displayed in Muzium Negara – a history of this nation of immigrants who have laid down roots and continue to grow the nation. We help each other and visitors to make sense of the displays exhibited, so that they may develop understanding, appreciation and enhance their knowledge of Malaysia. Let us not lose our pride and passion for this!

There will be a Book Discussion Event on “Roots Living Heritage” organised by Arkib Negara Malaysia on Saturday 11 March 2023 at 2.30p.m. Venue is the Main Hall, Memorial Tun Hussein Onn, Kuala Lumpur.

*MVs may peruse a copy of the book at the MV Library.

The Leaves of a Vine

By Chuah Siew Yen

Royalty to Peasantry, Weddings to Funerals: A Millennia-old Habit

The leaves of a vine, the nut of a palm, with a slather of calcium hydroxide paste – this magical combination of the betel quid has excited and intoxicated royalty and peasantry since antiquity.

Image source: Betel Chewing in South-East Asia by Dawn F. Rooney; accessible at: http://rooneyarchive.net/lectures/betel_chewing_in_south-east_asia.htm

The relaxing and alerting effects of the quid exudes a general sense of heightened well-being more intense than caffeine or nicotine. Is it any wonder then that the chewing habit spread to the western Pacific, across the Indian subcontinent, reaching as far as the fringes of East Africa to Madagascar in the west; Melanesia to the Santa Cruz Islands in the east; southern China in the north, and Papua New Guinea in the south?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that globally 600 million people today still indulge in betel chewing, also known as chewing betel quid. This translates to one-tenth of the human race, and is recognisable by the ubiquitous red-stained lips and reddish-blackened teeth of the users. The custom pervades Asia, has no gender barriers and embraces all ages and classes.

The essential ingredients of the quid are the betel leaf which has a fresh, peppery taste (though some varieties may be bitter-sweet), the areca nut with its tannin, oil gum and nicotine/arecoline properties, and slated lime which increases the alkalinity in the mouth of the chewer to release the alkaloids, the active ingredients in the nut. Tobacco and other spices such as clove, cumin, and cinnamon, may be added for flavour. Chewing the quid thus produces the signature red spittle.

A betel nut chewer in Papua New Guinea. Image source: Photograph by David Longstreath for the Associated Press (AP)

The chewed preparation is not swallowed. Profuse spittle is produced during the chewing and the excess has to be spat out. This constant spitting is an inevitable part of quid-chewing. Spitting the excess juices in public spaces is not only repulsive and nauseating, but unhygienic. The near permanent red stains left on floors, roads and walls are an eyesore and defaces the environment.

Paan (betel quid) made with areca nut, betel leaves and lime, with or without tobacco, causes profuse red coloured salivation. This saliva is spat, yielding stains and biological waste pollution in public spaces. Many countries and municipalities now have laws to prevent paan spit. Image source: Photograph by Anna Frodesiak; CC0.

When quid chewing spread and was elevated to a higher social practice, the spittle was disposed of into special receptacles now known as spittoons. This later gave rise to an entire artistic genre that included implements for preparing, serving, transporting, and storing betel ingredients. Boxes of various sizes to hold smaller containers of the areca nut, lime and spices were made from wood or lacquer which were initially plain but later decorated. For the aristocrats and royalty these containers could be of silver or gold. As the practice grew in sophistication, a small knife, spatula, and scissors/cutter were added in the box. To complete the kit the tray of containers is placed on a matching spittoon. See picture below. In the Malay language it is ‘tempat/tepak sirih’.

Ingredients found in the individual vessels called cembul of the tepak sirih. Traditionally, each item is positioned according to a particular order. Image source: Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia (PNM); accessible at: https://www.pnm.gov.my/sirihpinang/sp-tepak%20sirih%201.htm

Tepak sirih > Betel quid set
Kepala tepak > Front of tray/set
Ekor tepak > Back of tray/set
Pinang > Areca nut
Kapur > Lime
Gambir > Gambier
Tembakau > Tobacco
Cengkih > Clove
Daun sirih > Betel leaf
Kacip > Cutter/slicer for areca nut

Peranakan tempat sirih, wood, mother of pearl, silver and gold plating, early 20th century, Intan Museum. Image source: Photograph by Haa900; CC0.

The materials and craftsmanship of a betel nut set (tepak sirih) indicates a person’s wealth and status. Only royalty and elites possessed quality metal or porcelain sets and tools while a commoner had access to only wooden ones.

In the past in India and Sri Lanka, it was a custom of the royalty to chew area nut with betel leaf. Kings had special attendants whose duty it was to carry the betel box wherever the king went, and to ensure the ingredients made for a good chewing session.

The origins of betel chewing are unknown although it has long been held that betel chewing is native to India, dating back to Vedic times. According to ancient books of Ayurveda, the practice of chewing betel leaves (not the quid) after meals was common between 75 and 300 CE, for its curative properties.

In Chinese folk medicine betel leaves have been used for detoxification and anti-mutation. There are research experiments where the leaf extract and purified compounds are anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory. The various Ayurvedic medicine uses for the leaf are as a diuretic, for intestinal ailments and protection from infections.

Despite the widespread use of betel leaves in ancient times, there has not been strong evidence of incidence of oral cancer. Various experiments evaluating the effects of betel leaves suggested no harmful effect when consumed alone. (Bhide et al.)

On its own, betel leaves were used as a stimulant, antiseptic and breath-freshener whereas the areca nut was considered as aphrodisiac. It is again not known when and where these two different stimulants were first put together, but there is archaeological evidence that the leaves and nut were chewed together from very ancient times. References to betel chewing appeared in ancient Greek, Sanskrit and Chinese literature as early as 100 BCE.

It is believed the practice of betel nut chewing originated from Island Southeast Asia where the plant ingredients are native. The oldest evidence of betel nut chewing is found in a burial pit in the Duyong Cave site in Pahlawan, Philippines. The dentition of several skeletons in the pit is stained, typical of betel chewers. One of the anadara shells used as lime containers still had traces of lime. Burial sites in Bohol dated around first millennium CE also had skulls with the distinctive reddish stain characteristic of betel chewing, in the oral cavity.

Areca catechu illustrated by Francisco Manuel Blanco in Flora de Filipinas (1880-1883). It is originally native to the Philippines. Image source: Plate from book; accessible at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betel_nut_chewing#/media/File:Areca_catechu_Blanco2.350.png

The Areca palm and the heart-shaped betel leaf from the vine of the sub-tropical pan plant were endemic in these areas from where betel chewing probably spread during the Austronesian expansion. The most concentrated areas for betel chewing were the areas where the climate and soil are suitable for the cultivation of the nut and leaf, and where there is an adequate source of lime.

The habitual usage of the betel leaf-nut-lime combination spread from the Philippines to Taiwan and onwards to the rest of Austronesia and neighbouring cultures through trade and migration. Its use was documented by ancient historians in Ceylon and Persia around 600 BCE and parts of the Arab world by the 8th and 9th centuries. It is believed that betel was brought to Europe by Marco Polo around 1300 CE.

Even though the narcotic and stimulating effects of betel chewing had been noticed by travellers and botanists of the 16th century, it was not until the 19th century that attempts were made to study them scientifically.

Through maritime trade through the centuries, the leaf, nut and use of sirih (leaf) and pinang (areca nut) spread from east to west, influencing daily life and rituals from marriages to funerals… and it isn’t limited to ordinary folk; even royalty was in on it! The use of this humble quid eventually became embedded in social convention and court ceremony. The quid became the token of favour in village courtships as well as in royal courts.

Tepak sirih set from Hani’s personal collection. This is a typical presentation to offer guests. Fresh flowers and cinnamon sticks are used to decorate the tray. Photograph by author.

The habit caught on naturally as ingredients were freely traded, available, affordable and … addictive! Synonymous in Myanmar with hospitality and social enjoyment, almost everyone during the past century used to own a betel box as men, women and monks of all ages and ranks chewed betel.

This is clear indication of man’s innate desire to seek temporal solace in stimulants, be they royalty, peasantry, or clergy. Kings, emperors, sultans, emirs – all display hedonistic behaviour, their wealth allowing them to indulge insatiable hunger for things pleasurable.

In 990 CE, a Chinese envoy recorded cultural uses of betel chewing by a Vietnamese king, and by the 17th century, western travellers recorded the phenomenon as a deep-rooted social ritual. Since the 11th century, the royal use of betel in Southeast Asia is described in written records which provide details about the protocol of sharing a quid with a king and the use of betel in royal ceremonies. From the 16th century when Europeans reached the East, they viewed this alien foreign custom as ‘…unhygienic, vile and disgusting…’

Chewing habits of people may have changed, but having been around so long it remains an inalienable part of cultural and religious rituals. Whether medicinal, magical, symbolic, or social, the betel serves a purpose in many cultures, encompassing more than just ritual chewing. From its historical use as medicine, it has evolved to feature symbolically in many important social and religious ceremonies.

Across the Asian region, betel has a strong association with engagements and marriages. In mainland Southeast Asia, the betel nut symbolises love and faithfulness. A decorated betel nut set is featured at traditional weddings and betel nuts are offered as dowries. Sirih, the Malay word for betel leaf, means ‘a young girl who is of marriageable age’, while the word for the areca nut, pinang, can mean ‘to court’ or ‘to propose’. In Sumatra, a Batak man will offer a betel quid to start a conversation with his potential wife, while an Iban woman will take betel from a man if she accepts his marriage proposal.
There was a custom for lovers to chew the areca nut and betel leaf together for its breath-freshening and relaxant properties. Thus, a sexual symbolism came to be attached to the chewing of the nut and leaf, the nut representing the male, and the leaf the female.

On the other end of the spectrum, betel is featured in funeral rites as it is believed to pave the way to a better incarnation. Cambodian-Khmer cultures place a betel leaf together with an inscribed Buddhist verse between the lips of the deceased. In northern India relatives offer their final farewells by placing betel on the dead body. In Luzon Island, betel juice was used to embalm the dead as far back as the 16th century. Because of cross-cultural interactions, many of these rituals overlap across communities.

In between life and death ceremonies, the betel is a significant item in childbirth in several Asian communities. After childbirth, mothers undergo a ritual ‘lying by the fire’ to dry out the womb while offering protective spirits a platter of betel, flowers, candles, and incense. The areca flower is added to the mother’s bath for curative effects on the womb. The baby is laid on a bed of areca nut palms, to symbolise prosperity.

Considered an auspicious ingredient in Hinduism and some schools of Buddhism, the areca nut and betel leaf is still used in religious ceremonies, and honouring individuals at festivals.

Preparing betel quid for sale in Calcutta. Image source: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/kolkatas-famous-paanwallahs-spread-sweetness-amid-odds/articleshow/81675758.cms

The practice lives on today in Oceania, many South, East and West Asian countries, and India. In some parts of Asia these psychoactive parcels are still used as a herbal remedy for anything from toothache, indigestion to acne, as well as in veterinary and ayurvedic medicine. Some others believe they have aphrodisiac properties.

Today, the betel habit has declined in popularity, especially in urban areas where quid chewing is frowned upon because of the unsightly splashes of crimson on walls and roadside left by indiscriminate chewers. Modernisation with education has taken over. To many urban youths it is a memory of the past.

But to agrarian communities and rural areas where socio-cultural traditions are so strong the habit is hard to break. Low health literacy is another contributing factor. Quid chewing remains an ingrained habit among working-age men who chew to stay awake during the long hours at work at construction sites, fishing at sea or long-distance driving. The stubborn users seem oblivious that the habit is a deadly addiction as the ingredients in a betel quid are cancer-causing agents and stimulants, and a major cause of oral and laryngeal cancers.

Ni Ni Wah puts a betel quid in her mouth. She dismisses the risks of cancer saying “mouth cancer happens to people who keep betel quids in their mouth all night while they sleep.” Image source: Photograph by Dave Grunebaum for VOA.

Taiwan has made progress toward reducing quid use by implementing numerous government-funded programmes. Nation-wide educational outreach, cessation courses and incentives for cultivating alternative cash crops adopted since the 1990s has resulted in a notable reduction in the number of quid users, but the issue is far from resolved. The betel-nut trade in Taiwan has been widely sexualised: young scantily-clad maidens still hawk the product from transparent cubicles along highways.

Half of Papua New Guinea’s 9 million people are quid chewers – that’s big betel business! This country has the world’s highest oral cancer mortality. In 2013 physicians and public health officials managed to get lawmakers to pass an outright ban on selling and chewing quid in Port Moresby but the success was short-lived. Those protecting their trade protested strongly… and the sale was subsequently allowed in designated areas. Local experts predict that the burden of oral cancer will continue to worsen.

It remains legal to sell an addictive carcinogen without a warning label in much of the world. Policy makers in these regions have continually neglected to adopt public health initiatives to address production and use of betel quid.     

The medical community is stuck on the outside, looking in, as an unregulated industry fuels a health disaster. It is a reminder of how little progress has been made towards addressing health disparities between privileged and marginalised populations.

Note: This article is inspired by the presentation on Betel Chewing – Mythology, Legend, Fable & Folk Tale by Krishnan Karruppan to Museum Volunteers on 2 November 2022.

Edited by Meredith Tomkovitch


1. Dawn, F. Rooney, Betel Chewing Traditions in South-East Asia (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1993), 1. (Call no. RSEA 394.14 ROO-[CUS])
2. “The Epicurean, Palliative Pleasures of Paan,” Himalayan Academy. Publications, published 1 February 1994.
3. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/complexity/2020/3457068/.
4. https://www.zebregsroell.com/post/sirih-boxes-betel-boxes.

Enter the World of Dragon

By Pamella Lim

The dragon is one of many commonalities that binds the Malay Nusantara together, and that’s exactly what the ‘Dunia Naga’ exhibition aims to showcase. The temporary exhibition which runs until 30th October 2022 at Gallery 2 in Muzium Negara was curated by Encik Mohd Nasrulamiazam, who is also the deputy director of Muzium Negara.

On 22nd September 2022, En Nasrul, along with Muzium Negara curator Encik Muhammad Azam, took 14 museum volunteers on a special tour of the exhibition which features dozens of artifacts and we were delighted to learn about how this mythical creature played its part in the history of the region.

This report is a combination of the insights shared by the curators, my experience during the tour as well nuggets of information from my own research.

The Dunia Naga exhibition is ongoing at Gallery 2, Muzium Negara till 30th October 2022.

An age-old belief

While the Western world depicts dragons as four-legged, flying animals associated with evil and darkness, the Eastern version is a wingless, slithery creature associated with the seas and symbolises bravery, prosperity and protection.

Some etymology here – ‘naga’, the Malay word for dragon, comes from the Sanskrit word which means ‘serpent’ and is often used in Southeast Asian and Indian literature to refer to mythical beings with divine powers.

The belief of dragons in the Malay Archipelago predates the arrival of Hindu-Buddhism influence. And as Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms were established, as well as with the arrival of Islam later on, the locals’ depiction of dragons continuously evolved to incorporate religious and cultural beliefs.

As we made our way into the gallery, faint dragon roars coming from a video projection truly set the scene for our tour.

To treasure and to protect

Lining the walkway of the entrance was a row of ceramic jars, each glazed with different shades of warm, earthy colours and incised with intricate designs of serpentine dragons seemingly coiling around the vessel. These jars were often used for secondary burials in Borneo, but originated from China as most ceramics are. They are known as Martaban jars, named after the transit port of Martaban in Burma, a common stop in the trade route traveled by the ships carrying this pottery.

These Martaban jars were used for various purposes including secondary burial as well as for storage.

A final resting place is not the only purpose of these jars, though. The jars have also been used for storage of food and treasures or as a display ornament. It is also a symbol of social status, often handed down generations as family heirloom. In fact, such is the value of the jars that it can also be used as dowry and even to pay fines!

Next up in glass showcases were something akin to an artifact in Gallery B – makaras. The dragon makaras here were made in the 15th century AD in Sukhothai, which is the northeastern part of modern day Thailand. These white sculptures of wide-mouthed dragons bearing sharp teeth are a blend of Chinese and Southeast Asian cultures and made specifically for architectural decoration – to be mounted on staircase railings or the edge of rooftops, similar to gargoyles in Gothic architecture.

Dragon makara from Sukhothai Kingdom.

The art of war

Most MVs are pretty familiar with the keris, but the one in this exhibition stands out from the usual with its extraordinary length of about 2 metres. As one may guess based on its regal appearance, the Javanese Keris Besar Madura was mainly used for ceremonial purposes rather than in battles. However, the belief is that the dragon motif on the blade has mystical powers which can defeat the enemy.

En Nasrul standing next to the Keris Madura Besar.

There were also several other dragon spears from Majapahit kingdom and bronze swords from Ceribon, Indonesia on display. Other weapons in this exhibition that’s worth taking a closer look at is a mini cannon in the shape of an elongated dragon, as well as beautifully carved machete sheaths.

Daggers and swords featuring dragon-shaped handles.

Dragons were often featured in weaponry and regalias of many Malay kingdoms as the creature symbolises power, bravery and strength. And some of the regalia still exists, such as the Perak sultanate’s ‘Pontoh Bernaga’ – a pair of golden dragon-headed armbands worn by the Sultan during official state ceremonies and believed to have existed since the days of Melaka sultanate.

The Sultan of Perak donning a pair of ‘Pontoh Bernaga’ during his installation ceremony. Photo credit: Jabatan Penerangan Malaysia.

All work and no play?

So we’ve seen burial jars, makaras, regalia and weaponry, and the second half of the gallery gets even more colourful. One of the first item to catch my eye because of how it glistened under the warm lights, was a gorgeous golden snake-dragon-patterned ‘blencong’ or oil lamp which is used as a light source for wayang kulit.

The pit-stop at the wayang kulit section as MVs discussed dying traditional performing arts.

And as our group stood in front of several wayang kulit shadow puppets featuring dragons, we began discussing about the dying art of wayang kulit and other traditional performing arts such as Mak Yong. I must say, this is one of my favourite things about being an MV – the continuous learning that comes from information sharing and thought-provoking exchanges that take place whenever we gather… OK, now back to the exhibition!

A highlight in this area is also several carved-wood artifacts, including congkak boards shaped like a boat with dragon heads facing out from both ends and reptile-like scales carved deep into its wooden torso.

A boat with dragon head in the foreground and behind it is a bird cage as well as elaborate congkak boards.

There are many fashion pieces too that feature this mythical being. From brass bangles, metal coin belts and traditional Chinese outfit to a sparkly tablecloth embroidered with beads. We also saw everyday objects such as kettles and a comb.

Looking at all the various artifacts and the amount of detail involved in its design, carvings and paintings, you can imagine how much the locals were fascinated by the dragon, be it for religious or cultural beliefs. And the fantastical nature of the subject too, was most likely a driving force for their creativity.

Copper and brass kettles.

Loch Ness of Asia and Horn of the Dragon Princess

Somewhere in the middle of the tour, Nasrul told us about manuscripts and stories or hikayat around the region which mentioned dragons or some version of it and that reminded me of a couple of dragon-related folklore I heard as a child growing up in east coast state of Pahang.

Arguably the most famous dragon in Malaysia, is one that supposedly lurks in the state’s Tasik Chini — Malaysia’s second largest natural lake. Locals, especially the native Jakun tribe, strongly believe that a dragon named Seri Gumum resides beneath the waters. There have also been reported sightings of this creature, though none were scientifically proven.

Locals believe that the twin peaks of Gunung Semukut of Tioman Island are the horns of the dragon princess. Photo credit: Tourism Malaysia.

Another story is about how the beautiful Tioman island came to be. Legend has it that a Chinese ‘dragon princess’ was flying across the South China Sea en route to present-day Singapore when she chose to rest on the waters along the way. She then fell in love with serenity of the location and decided to stay and transform her body into the island and the last remnant of the princess’ existence is her ‘dragon horn’ – twin peaks of Gunung Semukut, the island’s most striking landmark.

The legend lives on…

As we approached the end of the gallery, the spotlight was on a wide range of modern-day items in which dragons continue to feature prominently such as movie posters, video games, toy figurines and books; including one written by our fellow MV Rose Gan : ‘Dragon – (Penang Chronicles Vol 1)’.  

The tour took about two hours and although time flew by, it did feel like we travelled through the ages. And the dragon, though ever evolving and ever illusive, has clearly stood the test of time.

Various versions of dragons have made their way into popular culture.


Geiger-Ho, M. (2014). Vessels of life and death: Heirloom jars of Borneo. Malaysia – Brunei Forum Proceedings, 49-56.

Pertabalan Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Sultan Perak XXXV Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah Al-Maghfur-Lah Sultan, Yang di-Pertuan Dan Raja Pemerintah Negeri Perak Darul Ridzuan dan Jajahan Takluknya. (2017). Putrajaya: Jabatan Penerangan Malaysia.

Reger, K. (1997). Malaysia Singapore Brunei. Munich: Nelles.

Robe’ah Yusuf, Fathiah Izzati Mohamad Fadzillah, Jamilah Bebe Mohamad, & Jamal Rizal Razali. (2022). Pahang State Folklore Based On The Legend Of Chini Lake Dragon. International Journal of Humanities Technology and Civilization, 7(1), 22–25.

Tu, P.A. (2009). The Signification Of Naga In Thai Architectural And Sculptural Ornaments.

Wilson, J. K. (1990). Powerful Form and Potent Symbol: The Dragon in Asia. The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 77(8), 286–323.

Bandar Warisan: Taiping

Oleh Shafinaz Ahmad Shaharir
Kredit gambar: Muhammad Nazirul Hakim

Bandar Taiping yang terletak di negeri Perak merupakan sebuah bandar warisan yang menyimpan seribu kenangan dan merupakan sebuah bandar permulaan bagi arus pemodenan di Tanah Melayu pada suatu ketika dahulu. Nama Taiping berasal daripada perkataan Cina “Tai-Peng” yang bermaksud aman selamanya setelah tamatnya perang Larut pada tahun 1874. Bandar Taiping wujud hasil daripada kegiatan perlombongan secara besar-besaran yang dipelopori oleh pemimpin Melayu iaitu Long Jaafar.

Asalnya bandar Taiping merupakan penempatan bagi sebilangan kecil masyarakat Melayu namun perjumpaan bijih timah yang banyak di Larut telah menarik perhatian orang asing untuk berhijrah ke bandar ini. Dahulunya sebelum penjajahan British di negeri Perak, Taiping atau nama asalnya Kelian Pauh terletak di bawah daerah Larut. Larut yang dimaksudkan bukanlah daerah Larut, Matang dan Selama yang ada pada hari ini tetapi Larut tersebut merangkumi ke utara hingga ke Sungai Kerian dan menganjur ke selatan sampai ke Sungai Beruas. Nama Larut adalah bersempena dengan nama seekor gajah yang digunakan untuk mengangkut bijih timah tetapi telah terlepas ke dalam hutan. Apabila gajah itu ditemui, kaki gajah tersebut berlumpur hitam dipenuhi dengan pasir bijih timah. Dipercayai disebabkan peristiwa gajah ini, daerah ini dinamakan sebagai Larut dan mula menjadi rebutan para pembesar negeri, penjajah dan pedagang asing termasuk pelombong Cina kerana buminya yang amat kaya dengan bijih timah.

Apabila menyentuh sejarah kegemilangan Taiping, dua tokoh terkemuka Melayu bagi bandar ini tidak harus dilupakan iaitu Long Jaafar dan Ngah Ibrahim. Kejayaan mereka mengubah Larut daripada sebuah kawasan pendalaman kepada sebuah daerah yang kaya dan terkenal tidak harus dinafikan. Ini kerana kejayaan mereka telah mendahului zaman pada waktu itu lagi dengan menjadi pembesar Melayu dan tokoh perniagaan Melayu.

Pemandangan senja di Kuala Sepetang, Taiping.
Kilang arang merupakan industri paling tua di Kuala Sepetang, Taiping.

Pengasas Pengembangan Bandar Taiping

Sebelum kedatangan British ke negeri Perak, Larut ditadbir oleh Long Jaafar yang telah diberi kuasa oleh Sultan Perak ketika itu. Umum mengetahui bahawa Long Jaafar yang telah membuka lombong bijih timah di Larut secara besar-besaran dan sungai-sungai dijadikan lombong bijih timah. Long Jaafar merupakan anak kepada Dato’ Paduka Setia Long Abdul Latif dan menantu kepada Datuk Panglima Bukit Gantang Alang Alaiddin. Long Jaafar berkahwin dengan sepupunya Ngah Pura, anak kepada bapa saudaranya iaitu Alang Alaiddin. Bermula dengan penemuan bijih timah secara tidak sengaja oleh Long Jaafar di Kelian Pauh (Taiping) telah membuka lembaran sejarah baharu dalam perlombongan bijih timah di Larut. Jumpaan baharu kawasan bijih timah yang dikenali sebagai Kelian Baru (Kamunting) turut meluaskan lagi kejayaan Long Jaafar dalam perusahaan bijih timah dan telah menaikkan lagi kedudukan beliau sebagai seseorang yang lebih berpengaruh dan kaya.

Kejayaan Long Jaafar membuka perlombongan bijih timah di Larut membuatkan beliau memperoleh kawasan pajakan di Larut dengan membayar sebanyak $125.00 setahun kepada Datuk Panglima Bukit Gantang. Kedudukan beliau bertambah kukuh apabila pada 28 Februari 1850, Long Jaafar menerima pengurniaan kuasa dan hak memerintah Larut daripada Sultan Perak, Sultan Shahabuddin Riayat Shah (1830-1851). Beliau meluaskan lagi daerah ini meliputi Matang, Kerian dan Selama serta menjadikan Kota Bukit Gantang sebagai pusat pentadbirannya.

Atas kebijaksanaan Long Jaafar, Larut mula berkembang pesat dengan aktiviti perlombongan bijih timah. Sebelum kedatangan pelombong Cina, penduduk tempatan telah melakukan kerja-kerja melombong secara mendulang sahaja. Namun dengan kedatangan pelombong Cina yang dibawa masuk oleh Long Jaafar pada tahun 1840, teknik melombong menjadi lebih rapi dan sistematik menyebabkan beliau membawa lebih ramai lagi pelombong Cina ke kawasan Larut untuk bekerja dengannya. Kerancakan ekonomi ini telah meletakkan Long Jaafar sebagai hartawan dan ahli perniagaan yang amat berpengaruh pada waktu itu. Ini dapat dibuktikan apabila Long Jaafar mempunyai hubungan yang erat dengan saudagar-saudagar Cina di Pulau Pinang dan hasil bijih timah Larut dijual kepada mereka. Hubungan erat antara Long Jaafar dengan orang Cina dapat dibuktikan melalui hubungannya dengan Law Sam. Law Sam merupakan ketua orang Cina bagi sukunya dan merekalah golongan pertama orang Cina yang datang ke Kelian Pauh.

Apabila Long Ja’afar meninggal dunia pada tahun 1857, kejayaan dan kekayaan beliau diwarisi kepada anak kedua beliau, Ngah Ibrahim. Ngah Ibrahim juga berjaya mendapatkan hak untuk memerintah jajahan Larut termasuk Kerian dan Bagan Tiang daripada Sultan Ja’afar Muazzam Syah (1857-1865) pada 30 November 1857. Beliau juga menempa nama sebagai seorang pemerintah dan ahli perniagaan yang amat berjaya seperti bapanya tetapi dengan corak pentadbiran yang lebih moden serta beliau memindahkan pusat pentadbiran Larut dari Bukit Gantang ke Kota Ngah Ibrahim di Permatang (Matang). Apabila berlaku pergolakan kuasa dan termeterainya Perjanjian Pangkor pada 20 Januari 1874, menjadi titik perubahan kepada kegemilangan Ngah Ibrahim yang menyebabkan beliau dan pembesar-pembesar Melayu yang menentang British kehilangan kuasa.

Apabila berlaku pergolakan kuasa antara pembesar-pembesar Melayu dan pergaduhan antara ketua-ketua kongsi gelap Cina telah membuka peluang pihak British menjajah negeri Perak. British juga mula campur tangan dalam pentadbiran Larut. Kapten Speedy, Penolong Residen British dilantik untuk mentadbir Larut dan J.W.W. Birch menjadi Residen Inggeris yang pertama di negeri Perak.  Pihak British menyusun semula pentadbiran di Larut dan memberi nama baru kepada Kelian Pauh iaitu Taiping. Setelah pembunuhan Birch, Taiping dipilih sebagai pusat pentadbiran dan ibu kota negeri Perak. Kapten Speedy dipindah ke Hulu Perak. Semenjak itu, bandar ini mula berkembang pesat dengan pembangunan dan pada tahun 1883 telah wujud bangunan-bangunan baru yang digunakan sebagai mahkamah dan pejabat.

Keunikan Bandar Taiping

Pada masa kini, keunikan bandar Taiping dapat dilihat pada bangunan-bangunan dan barisan kedai-kedai lama yang menjadi ciri penting dalam membentuk identiti bandar warisan ini. Kebanyakan bangunan-bangunan konkrit ini masih kekal dan mempamerkan seni bina kolonial yang dibawa oleh penjajah-penjajah Eropah terutamanya British.

Pembangunan awal di Taiping terbahagi kepada dua era iaitu sebelum kedatangan British dan semasa pendudukan British di Tanah Melayu. Ketika pemerintahan Long Jaafar, sebuah kota dibina di Bukit Gantang sebagai sebuah pusat pentadbiran Larut dan pusat perniagaannya. Kota ini dilengkapi dengan benteng pertahanan dan gudang. Diikuti pula dengan pemerintahan Ngah Ibrahim, beliau menjadikan Matang sebagai kota pentadbiran Larut yang dilengkapi dengan kemudahan infrastruktur seperti jalan raya, balai pengawal, rumah kedai, penjara, gudang senjata, gudang menyimpan bijih timah dan lain-lain lagi kemudahan. Pada waktu ini, kebanyakaan bangunan dibina berasaskan kayu-kayan yang menyebabkan ia tidak bertahan untuk jangka tempoh yang lama.

Menara jam Taiping.
Antara bangunan bersejarah yang telah usang di Taiping.

Era kedua pembangunan Taiping adalah ketika penjajahan British. Pihak British mula membangunkan bandar ini secara terancang serta lengkap dengan kemudahan infrastruktur. Kebanyakan bangunan ini dibina rapi di sepanjang jalan-jalan utama dalam bentuk grid segi empat dan ditanami pokok-pokok. Premis perniagaan dibina dalam bentuk blok dengan sepuluh buah kedai untuk setiap blok di hadapan jalan raya yang lebih lebar. Jalan-jalan utama pada waktu itu adalah Jalan Stadium, Jalan Theatre, Jalan Kota, Jalan Barrack, Jalan Main dan Jalan Old Club. Sepanjang tahun 1880-an pembangunan dan kemajuan di Taiping dikatakan mendahului bandar-bandar lain di Tanah Melayu. Muzium Perak, muzium pertama di negara ini dibina pada tahun 1883 dan selesai pembinaannya pada tahun 1886. Sistem pengangkutan dan perhubungan menerusi jalan darat yang menghubungkan Taiping dan Parit Buntar turut dibina dan hampir selesai pembinaannya pada tahun 1883. Buat pertama kalinya, keretapi membawa penumpang dari Port Weld ke Taiping pada 12 Februari 1885.

Bukti sejarah pembinaan landasan keretapi pertama di negara ini.
Seni bina bangunan lama di Taiping adalah campuran Melayu dan kolonial kesan daripada penjajahan British.

Ketika itu, Port Weld merupakan sebuah pelabuhan yang sangat sibuk kerana hasil eksport dan import antara Taiping dan Pulau Pinang disalurkan melalui pelabuhan ini. Beberapa bangunan pentadbiran kerajaan juga turut dibina termasuklah pejabat pos dan telegraf pada tahun 1884. Penjara pertama di Malaysia juga turut dibina pada tahun 1879 yang dikenali sebagai Penjara Taiping bagi menampung penjenayah yang dihukum penjara di seluruh Negeri-negeri Melayu Bersekutu. Taiping juga mendahului dalam sistem pendidikan Inggeris di Tanah Melayu dengan terbinanya sekolah Inggeris pertama di Kamunting pada tahun 1878. Sekolah King Edward VII yang dibina pada tahun 1883 juga merupakan sebuah sekolah yang terbaik yang bukan hanya terkemuka dalam bidang pelajaran tetapi pelbagai jenis sukan seperti ragbi dan bola sepak. Malah, Taiping ketika itu juga menitik berat aktiviti riadah dan rekreasi dengan wujudnya Perak Club pada tahun 1881, eksklusif untuk warga Eropah dan Eurasian serta Taman Tasik Taiping yang merupakan taman rekreasi yang tertua di Malaysia dibina atas tapak bekas lombong bijih timah pada tahun 1884. Disebabkan kemajuan Taiping pada waktu itu menyebabkan bandar ini amat terkenal dengan jolokan “yang pertama” (first of many) kerana bandar ini mempunyai lebih daripada 30 kejayaan iaitu menjadi “yang pertama” sama ada dalam pentadbiran, pendidikan, kemudahan awam dan komunikasi, institusi keagaaman, pusat rekreasi, penerbitan dan persatuan.

Sekolah Kebangsaan King Edward VII (1883)
Rumah ‘Assistant Resident’ (1884)


Taiping menjadi simbol kebijaksanaan masyarakat dahulu dalam pentadbiran membangunkan sebuah bandar secara teratur serta sistematik yang lengkap dengan pelbagai fasiliti dan kemudahan. Bandar ini telah mencapai usia lebih 100 tahun dan telah diangkat sebagai bandar warisan yang sangat unik malah signifikan dalam perkembangan sejarah awal Malaysia. Malah, Taiping sering menjadi tumpuan para penyelidik dalam pelbagai bidang termasuklah mengkaji seni bina struktur bangunan-bangunan terawal yang terdapat di bandar ini. Pentingnya bandar warisan ini bukan sahaja menjadi tumpuan para pelancong, tetapi untuk tatapan generasi baru Malaysia yang bakal mewarisi negara ini bagi mereka mengetahui tentang asal-usul mereka dan menghayati peristiwa masa lalu negara. Malah generasi baru juga harus tahu bahawa Taiping merupakan tempat bermulanya pertumbuhan nasionalisme Melayu yang diketuai oleh Ngah Ibrahim dan sekutunya dalam menentang campur tangan penjajah British di negara ini. Oleh itu, peranan bandar ini tidak harus diabaikan dan langkah-langkah pemuliharaan bangunan-bangunan yang telah dimamah usia haruslah diberi perhatian dengan segera bagi tatapan generasi akan datang.

Peace Hotel (1928)
Taiping terkenal dengan pelbagai jenis makanan termasuk makanan Hainan.
Ruang depan Hotel Peking (1929)


A. T. (2004). Old Taiping. Malaysia: Alex Teoh Eng Kean.

Azmi , N., Shamsul Harumain, Y., Ali , A., Zaini, S., & Abdullah, M. (2017). Character-Defining Elements of Shophouses Buildings in Taiping, Perak. Journal of Design and Built Environment, Special Issue, 139-149. Retrieved August 23, 2022, from https://ejournal.um.edu.my/index.php/jdbe/article/view/10151/7197

Khoo Kay Kim. (1994). Taiping: Ibu Kota Perak. Kuala Lumpur: Persatuan Muzium Malaysia.

Mohd Zamberi, A. (2001). Larut Daerah Terkaya. Bangi: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Muzium Matang (2022). Pameran Khas: Menelusuri Jejak Tengku Menteri Ngah Ibrahim. Taiping: Jabatan Muzium Malaysia

Zainol, R. (2017). Pelancongan Bandar Di Taiping. Sejarah: Jurnal Jabatan Sejarah Universiti Malaya, 15(15), 129-141. doi:https://doi.org/10.22452/sejarah.vol15no15.7

Museums in Malaysia

by Maganjeet Kaur

As we know, the Dongson drum displayed in the burial section of Gallery A is one of two found face down in a boat burial at Kampung Sungai Lang, Selangor. What about the second drum? Where is it located? It rests closer to home at the Jugra Insitu Museum in Kuala Langat.

Examining historical artefacts complements textual research and, hence, knowing what artefacts are available in museums is an important step for historians and researchers. Using Google My Maps as the database, 209 museums and galleries have been identified pertinent to the history, culture, heritage and natural history of Malaysia. Although work is still ongoing to obtain information on the collections, this database is a good starting point to understand the museum scene in Malaysia.

List of 209 museums pertinent to history, culture, heritage and natural history of Malaysia

Each state in the country has its own museum showcasing the history and heritage of the state, generally starting from prehistoric times up to the modern era. There are also smaller museums within a state that focus on a district or a town; examples include the Petaling Jaya Museum, Rembau Museum in Negeri Sembilan, the Kemaman District Museum in Terengganu and the Baram Regional Museum in Sarawak. Museums such as the Chitty Museum in Melaka, the Murut Cultural Centre in Sabah and the Sapan Puloh Melanau Museum in Sarawak, celebrate the uniqueness of local communities. The Pogunon Community Museum in Sabah was built in-situ on an ancient megalith site to showcase the archaeological discoveries in the area.

Megaliths fronting the Pogunon Community Museum. Image credit: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, via Wikimedia Commons.

Skimming through the list of museums, you will find that there are three museums dedicated to the kite – Muzium Wau in Kelantan as well as a Muzium Layang Layang in both Johor and Melaka – attesting to the popularity of this pastime. Previously, kites were used to establish contact with the heavens. Hence, they were beautifully shaped and decorated to find favour with the sky and wind spirits. Kites featured in the three museums have shapes and decorations unique to the state, providing valuable insight into kite research.

A diorama on making a wau (kite in Kelantan) at the Malay World Ethnology Museum

There are quite a number of other special-purpose museums. Museums such as the Pineapple Museum (Johor), Timber Museum (Sarawak), Petroleum Museum (Sarawak) and the Tanjung Balau Fisherman Museum (Johor) are industry specific while the Ho Yan Hor Museum (Perak) showcases the history of a company. The Bank Kerapu Second World War Memorial in Kota Bharu preserves the memory of the Japanese Occupation. The Mersing Museum, although conceived to showcase the history and culture of Mersing, also provides information on the naval engagement, popularly known as the Battle of Endau, that took place off its shores between the Allied forces and the Japanese Army. The Watercraft and Boat Gallery in Pahang would be an interesting one to visit for those interested in boats, both ancient and contemporary. Melaka is a treasure throve for speciality museums – Submarine Museum, Malaysia Prison Museum, Melaka Stamp Museum and Beauty Museum, to name a few.

Malaysian waters have its fair number of shipwrecks. While the National Museum has a large collection of shipwreck ceramics, some pieces from the Wanli Shipwreck are displayed at the Dungun District Museum while the Tanjung Balau Fisherman Museum provides information on the Desaru Shipwreck.

Tin mining machinery at the Kampar Tin Mining Museum
Mural at the Paddy Museum in Alor Setar
Metal bowl from the Mamluk Sultanate at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia
A display at the Time Tunnel Museum in Cameron Highlands
Fossils at the Geology Museum in Ipoh

The National Archives of Malaysia manages a number of galleries dedicated to honouring the contributions of selected individuals to the country, mainly political figures such as former Prime Ministers. However, local communities have also established museums to honour local heroes, such as the House of Sybil Kathigasu in Papan (Perak) and the Mat Kilau Gallery Complex in Pulau Tawar (Pahang). The Bentong Gallery in Pahang is dedicated to Loke Yew’s role in developing this tin mining town.

Big or small, elaborate or simple, each museum/gallery in the list has a story to tell. Click the button below to explore the list of museums on Google My Maps.

A Jaunt to the National Textile Museum

By Chin Keat Yue

A perfect way to spend a Saturday morning is to take a stroll to the National Textile Museum especially with a well-informed volunteer guide, Anne.  The Textile Museum gives one a good overview of not just textiles and weaving techniques but also various accessories that can also be worn. One will be surprised that the some of the patterns of the olden textiles will not lose out in terms of beauty with their modern contemporaries.

 There are four permanent galleries in the National Textile Museum, viz.:

Pohon Budi Gallery
(Ground Floor)

This gallery tells the story of the evolution of textiles and the techniques associated with textile weaving, beginning with the initial use of bark cloth as covering. This involved the simple art of using stone to beat the bark until it was soft. Early fibre used for weaving was from banana trunk or pineapple leaves. Exhibits include techniques of calendaring and gilding, gold thread embroidery on velvet, woven and embroidered textiles, Iban ceremonial cloth (pua kumbu), songket weaving, beading on shoes, collars, head cloth and tapestry as well as a comprehensive section on batik making.

Examples of beaded articles. Image source: Author’s own.

Various looms were displayed and one is made aware that when using the back-strap loom for weaving, the size of the cloth is restricted to the body width though not the length.

Display of weaving technique. Image source: Author’s own.

Various techniques of creating patterns for example calendaring and gilding, tie and dye method, block printing, canting hand drawn technique as well as gold thread embroidery, using of gold leaf or dust were explained.

Some pieces from The Royal Pahang Weaving are also on display.   

Pelangi Gallery
(Ground Floor)

This gallery explores the various types of textiles. Batik making started in the 1930’s in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia (Malaya then). Before that batik cloth was imported mainly from Indonesia. The costly batik imports gave a push to the entrepreneurs in the East Coast to start their own batik making. Examples of tie and dye and hand drawn batik are exhibited. Malaysian batik is more colourful compared to its Indonesian counterpart.

Beautiful pattern of the limar songket fabric. Image source: Author’s own.

It was pointed out that the square Sabah textile is usually used as headgear.

The Sarawak pua does not use gold thread as supplementary thread unlike the songket. The pattern in the Sarawak pua can weave a story. The pua can be used as a blanket or even to wrap skulls in the old days.

There is also a good display of Baba & Nyonya textile and Indian textile. The Baba & Nyonya textile carries much more vibrant colours compared to textiles used by the Chinese. Indian textiles were mainly imported from India.    

Ratna Sari Gallery
(First Floor)

If one is interested in having a peep at jewellery and accessories, head toward this gallery. These ornaments are made of not just precious metals like gold, silver, copper but also beads, feathers, etc. and were worn by different ethnicities in Malaysia.  

A good variety of necklaces, pendants, kerongsang (brooches), earrings, rings, bracelets and anklets, belts, engraved buckles with floral designs and some inlaid with gold dating back to early 20th century. Hair pins, weapons (keris), modesty discs are also exhibited in this gallery.

A wedding crown. Image source: Author’s own.

A very interesting find is a wedding crown where the blue colour used was made from the feathers of the kingfisher. Some of the pendants in the necklaces can store amulets for the protection of the wearers.

An example of a necklace with amulets stored in its pendants. Image source: Author’s own.

Teluk Berantai Gallery
(First Floor)

Fine examples of various Malay textiles covering songket, limar sarung fabric, cloth embellished with gold leaf (telepuk), limar cloth and scripted cloth can be viewed in this gallery.

The arrivals of traders from Arabia, Persia, Turkey, China, India, Siam and the islands of Sumatra and Java in the early days would influence the material used then. Over the years the materials used ranged from simple to elaborate songket in fine cotton or on silk.  

Gold paper embroidery collections on display are used as covers for pillows, bridal decoration, wedding dais, etc. Probably the skills required to make them would take time to master as they involved cutting and shaping the gold paper into various designs or motifs sewing them together with coloured threads, spangles and glass-like pieces.

Development of gold thread embroidery (tekat) on textile was largely influenced by imports of gold threads, satin, silk and velvet materials from India and China into the Malayan Peninsular. In tekat the gold threads are laid on the surface of the material and stitched into place.

Examples of gold thread embroidery. Image source: Author’s own.

This last section showcases the cultural wear of the various ethnic groups in Malaysia and reminds the visitors of Gallery D of the National Museum.

Additional Information

The National Textile Museum building completed in 1905 was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback in the Neo-Mughal architectural style. Throughout its history it had been used to house various government departments before it was turned into the National Textile Museum, and was officially opened in 2012 although it was already opened to the public in 2010. It sits adjacent to the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and holds its own in terms of beauty and grace with its distinctive red and white bonding façade topped with onion-shaped domes.  

Ticket entry to the National Textile Museum is a steal at RM2 for an adult ticket (12 years and above) and half the price for senior citizens and the disabled. Non-Malaysians are charged RM5. The National Textile Museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm except the first Monday of each month.

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