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:

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:

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:

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:

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.

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

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:

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.

Magna Carta

By Stuart Wakefield

Magna Carta (also known as the Great Charter) was a ground-breaking document that sought to resolve injustices within the feudal system during the early thirteenth century. It was created by militant English Barons to protect their rights and property from the oppressive monarch, King John. The King reluctantly acceded to their demands in June 1215, which included the establishment of the fundamental principle that all subjects, including the King, are subject to the law, as well guaranteeing rights to justice and a fair trial. However, most of the population were peasants whose lives were irrevocably bound to their Lord who owned the land. Initially, the document did not achieve its aims although it eventually became the foundation of the English system of common law.

King John was an unpopular monarch, although he was not the first to accept a charter that granted concessions to English citizens. In 1100, King Henry I issued a Coronation Charter which committed the monarch to curtail its abuse of power as well as limiting taxes and preventing the confiscation of church revenues. Although Henry failed to fully adhere to his promises, his Barons lacked the resolve to oppose him. Barons were high ranking nobles who ruled large areas of land or ‘fiefs’, and they communicated directly with the King. Their principal function was to maintain an army that was available to serve the King.

Photographed at the Salisbury gallery where the original Carta is kept. It is kept in this special enclosure to protect it. Image source: Karen Loh
Copy of the Magna Carta in the gallery. Image source: Karen Loh

Barons were at a lower level of the medieval hierarchy, and King John needed their support, both for the Crusades and to pay a ransom for his brother, Richard the Lionheart, who had been imprisoned by the Germans. The King was entitled to feudal rights that he often abused, which included payments to be made when his eldest daughter married or when land was inherited. He also maintained the right of wardship over heirs who were minors, and he controlled the marriage rights of his tenants’ widows and heirs.

In 1204, the King lost the Duchies of Anjou and Normandy in France, and in 1209 he became the first English King to be excommunicated after a quarrel with Pope Innocent III. In 1213, he suffered further humiliating by the French and needed to restore his standing. His coffers were almost exhausted, and he claimed ‘scutage’ tax, which was paid by Barons who had failed to provide support on the battlefield. By this time, the Pope had nominated Stephen Langton to become Archbishop of Canterbury, despite the King’s opposition, However, he was eventually forced to resolve these differences, and he accepted Langton as well as compensating the Church for revenues that he had plundered.

However, civil war erupted in early 1215, and Baron Robert FitzWalter led a force to wrest control of London. On 15 June 1215, King John was forced to submit at Runneymede, a meadow in Surrey by the River Thames, by placing his seal and thereby accepting the terms of the document laid before him. The manuscript was initially referred to as the ‘Articles of the Barons’ and four days later, after some changes, King John and the Barons issued the formal version that become known as Magna Carta. Clause 61 required the future selection of twenty-five Barons which is why their names were not listed in the document. The number of twenty-five is tied to the Bible, and such legitimisation was meaningful at the time.

The Barons realised that King John could renege on the agreement by arguing that it constituted an unlawful breach of his authority. To counter this possibility, Clause 61 was incorporated which provided a novel solution which the King had accepted that ‘… the Barons shall choose any twenty-five Barons of the realm as they wish, who with all their might are to observe, maintain and cause to be observed the peace and liberties which we have granted’. A violation by either King John or his officials of Magna Carta’s terms was to be reported to four of the committee; and if no remedy was presented within forty days, the King was to empower the full committee to ‘… distrain and distress us in every way they can, namely by seizing castles, lands and possessions …’ until amends were made. Thereby, the charter established the pioneering way of making the King sanction and organise armed action against himself. The means by which such action was to be accomplished was also indicated by use of the common law doctrine of distraint, which was the means whereby debts were collected from debtors and malefactors obliged to answer for their actions in court. The King also shrewdly accepted the Pope as feudal overlord of England, and subsequently, before many of Magna Carta’s terms were fully implemented, he petitioned the Pope to reject the document, which the Pope declared null and void on 24 August 1215.

Panel depicting the four surviving original document. Image source: Karen Loh
Translation of the Carta. It was written in Latin. (Click to view) Image source: Karen Loh

Civil war flared up again within three months, and after King John’s death in 1216, advisors to his nine-year-old son and successor, Henry III, avoided further conflict by reissuing Magna Carta with some of its most controversial clauses removed, and the document was subsequently reissued in both 1217 and 1225. Magna Carta was written in Latin, (although French was the first language of much of the aristocracy). Many of the 63 clauses defined and limited the King’s authority over the property rights of Barons, which reflected the narrow goals of its authors, and for centuries the benefits only applied to the upper classes. Approximately 250 copies of the “final” 1225 document were produced by scribes, (which inevitably resulted in some minor mistakes), and these were dispatched to legal and religious officials throughout England. The only four original copies of Magna Carta remain in existence, of which two are in the British Museum, one is in Lincoln Cathedral and one is in Salisbury Cathedral.

Taxidermy “The Eternal Life Exhibition”

By Nancy Cheah

It was a long awaited event.  The morning of March 12 saw 8 museum volunteers waiting eagerly at the entrance of Gallery 2 for the walking tour of the taxidermy exhibition. Khairill Jemangin, Deputy Director cum curator from the Natural History Museum, greeted us at the entrance to Gallery 2.  He brought along with him two taxidermists (Mohammed Ali Hj Mohaideen and Mohd Hasnor Tajur Amar).

Taxidermy…what is it? To the ordinary folks, the exhibits are just preserved and stuffed animals. Are they real? How is it different from mummification? Well, Khairill answered all our questions as he took us through the wonders of the taxidermy exhibition, otherwise known as the Eternal Life Exhibition.

The tour started with a brief explanation of the meaning of taxidermy. The word taxidermy originated from two Greek words “taxis” and “derma” meaning skin arrangement. It is a technique between art and science where only the skin is preserved and then mounted on an artificial body to make it appear lifelike as if in its natural habitat. The purpose of this preservation is for scientific research, education, exhibitions and even for references.

The tour continued with a journey down memory lane. Taxidermy started in 1400 when people became interested in the art of taxidermy. During those early years, museums all over the world started collecting fauna and flora specimens.  However it was the British Museum that made taxidermy important. The British Museum had a huge collection of specimens and this spurred further interest in taxidermy. Taxidermy started in Malaysia as early as in the 1880s in the Perak Museum, Sarawak Museum and Selangor Museum, pioneered by foreign zoologists. The Selangor Museum at that time had a large collection of fauna and flora specimens. Unfortunately Allied Forces accidentally bombed the museum and its exhibits during the Japanese occupation of Malaya. Local taxidermists involvement was believed to have begun when the new Muzium Negara was built in 1963, on the same spot as the Selangor Museum. Lack of funding and staffing have been perpetual issues facing the Museum.  It was only in 1968 that the first Natural History Gallery was set up.

After the brief explanation on the history of the development of taxidermy in Malaysia, Khairill explained the main purpose of this exhibition was to create an awareness of Taxidermy and an appreciation of the animals that have were preserved as some of the animals may have become extinct. There are 126 preserved specimens in the exhibition and we were told to look out for 2 specimens that are not real!  Some specimens were donated by other museums in the world and Malaysian taxidermists did most of the exhibits.

The tour continued with the showcasing of tools and materials used in the taxidermy process. Techniques have changed from olden days to modern techniques. Technology has enabled body parts to be lighter and easier to handle. Modern day taxidermists now wear protective gear as they go about their tasks. We were shocked to learn that taxidermists during those early years did not wear any protective gear at all. Perhaps during those early years, there were no dangerous viruses lurking in the bodies of the animals that they were working on?

The exhibits range from fishes, birds, frogs, rodents, reptiles and mammals. Many of the displays have their own story to tell. The preservation process sometimes takes a few years to complete. The smaller the animal, the more difficult it was to preserve, (much to our surprise). Wee Ho Cheng, a first generation local Taxidermist, led the early Taxidermy works together with Zainal Abidin and Abdullah Abu Hassan (2nd Generation Taxidermists). Taxidermy projects started as early as 1962 and animals which were preserved included a strutting pheasant, a sun bear, an otter, a tiger, and a saltwater crocodile, all of which are currently exhibited in the Gallery! Two animals deserve special mention! Wee Ho Cheng and Zainal Abidin stuffed the otter that is now 43 years old. The other animal is the pheasant that was stuffed by a Danish taxidermist, Arne Stockholm Dyhrberg. These two animals deserved special mention because they were the first preserved animals exhibited in Muzium Negara.

Pheasant found in Malaysia, prepared by Wee Ho Cheng
Stuffed Otter.  Prepared by Wee and Zainal.

Collection of specimens is still ongoing subject to the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. Muzium Negara’s taxidermist team used animals which were found dead or killed. Some were donated by the public. An example was the iguana, which was donated by Jean Leong, one of our Museum Volunteers.

The iguana specimen.

The Sumatran rhinoceros (preserved in 1902) is now extinct in Malaysia. The display is now 120 years old. Thanks to taxidermy, the younger generation can see a Sumatran rhinoceros.  The Malayan tapir (an endangered species) is an icon of Malaysia, just as the panda is to China. There is also an Asian elephant fetus that was preserved in 1973. The fetus died while being removed from its mother which was found dead.  A preserved tiger, which was donated by Datuk Mahmood, had bullet wounds.  As you can see, each of the displays has a story behind it.

A 120-year-old taxidermied rhinoceros specimen.

The Museum of Queensland, Australia gifted 2 preserved birds one of which is a Kookaburra. Do you know why it is called a laughing kookaburra? That is because its calls sound like a man laughing! That triggered some singing from members of the group. There was a bird, the hawkeyed eagle that was preserved at the time when the country was experiencing a haze. Apparently the bird dropped dead in front of a member of the museum staff due to the haze. The bird was quickly taxidermized. Khairill even showed how to differentiate between water birds.

Moving on, there is a section of the gallery dedicated to a video showing the taxidermy process. It was a much-needed break to rest our feet! After the video feed, we were shown a display of animal skeletons. The process is called articulation. Articulation is the technique of cleaning, degreasing, bleaching and assembling animal skeletons for preservation. We could see a lot of time and skill put in to assemble the skeletons. At the exit, there is a skull of an elephant, believed to be about 40 years old.

After about 2 hours, the guided tour ended. It was indeed an eye opener for all who joined the tour. This tour has been a very informative tour, thanks to Khairill, Ali and Hasnor.

The Exhibition has been extended to 17 April 2022 . There are plans to have a travelling museum and the first stop will be in Penang.

Our group photo taken at the end of the tour.

Z is for Za’aba

by Sam Pei Ying

Pendeta Tan Sri Zainal Abidin Ahmad, also known as Za’aba, was born on 16 September 1895 in Kampung Bukit Kerdas, Negeri Sembilan. He was a writer, philosopher, linguist and politician. He is known for his pursuit for Malay independence through his writings and his works are still vividly remembered by most.

At a young age, Za’aba learned to read and write by practising on banana leaves, using twigs as his pencils. Seeing this, his father gifted him a writing slate and Za’aba learned to sharpen his writing skills further with his father’s encouragement.

At the age of 12 years, he started school at Sekolah Melayu Batu Kikir. Shortly after, his father transferred him to Sekolah Melayu Linggi so he could expand his knowledge in both the Arabic language and Islam, in hopes that his son would further his studies in Egypt or Mecca, eventually returning as an ulama.

However, in 1910, he continued his education at St. Paul’s Institution, and he was the first Malay who passed the Senior Cambridge test in 1915.  Subsequently, Za’aba began his career as a teacher instead. He became a teacher’s assistant at Johor Government English College before transferring to Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) in 1918. When he was serving as a teacher in MCKK, he started collecting Malay words written in Jawi and consolidating the Malay spelling system, which at that time had various spelling systems. He also incorporated English grammar and Arabic words into the Malay language. He published Pan Malayan Malay Literary in an effort to standardise Jawi spelling.

His work, ‘Pelita Bahasa Melayu’, became a major reference book for the community who wished to learn the Malay language at the time. He also contributed to Journal of Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society (JMBRAS) in his efforts to introduce the Malay language to foreigners. Suffice to say, Za’aba was a person who devoted himself in expanding the Malay language and literature beyond Malaya and Sumatera.

Image source: Universiti Malaya Library

As a writer, he started questioning the backwardness of the Malay community under the British colonial government. As such, Za’aba’s writings went beyond to other fields such as economics, religion, and the attitude of the Malays themselves, which was largely influenced by colonial powers. He wrote about poverty and touched on how to overcome the economy of the Malay community. Za’aba’s first article was published twice by Utusan Melayu, titled ‘Temasya Mandi Safar di Tanjung Kling’.

Following Za’aba’s expertise in language, he served as a translator to assist British officers in preparing school textbooks for Malay schools. During the Japanese Occupation, he was transferred to the Department of Information as translator for the Japanese to write books, which were used in Malaya and Sumatera. After the Japanese surrender, Za’aba returned to Kuala Lumpur and continued his work as a translator and interpreter for the Malay language dictionary.

A portrait of Za’aba at the National Museum, Malaysia.

The Malayan Union was established when the British returned to Malaya, but it was resisted by the Malay community. The resistance was led by Dato’ Onn Jaafar and subsequently, he established the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in an effort to unite the Malay community. At that time, Za’aba was elected as the first Secretary-General of UMNO, but he did not hold the position for long as his passion was in writing.

Undoubtedly, his interest in writing continued after leaving UMNO. He began to translate books from English to the Malay language such as stories written by William Shakespeare and these books were published in Singapore.

He later became a lecturer for Malay language at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in 1947; while teaching, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Malay and Arabic studies in 1953.

After returning to Malaya, he held the position as Senior Lecturer and became the first Head of the Department of Malay Studies at University of Malaya, Singapore in 1953. Together with Ungku Aziz, they established ‘Pertubuhan Bahasa Pelajar’ and ‘Persekutuan Bahasa Melayu’ Universiti Malaya, an association to uphold Malay language and literature.

Za’aba’s contribution to Malay language and literature shall not be forgotten easily. He was a teacher, a translator, and one of the individuals responsible for planning school curriculum. He was the source of inspiration that illuminated darkness of poverty in the world of Malay education.

 Za’aba died at the age of 78 on 23 October 1973.


  1. ‘Ketokohan Za’ba Bermula dari Penulisan di atas Pelepah Pisang’, Malaysiakini, 25 July 2020. Available at (Accessed 26 December 2021).
  2. ‘Zainal Abidin Bin Ahmad (Za’aba)’, Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia, 8 October 2019. Available at (Accessed 26 December 2021).
  3. Hussain (2000) Pendeta Za’ba dalam Kenangan, Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

In this Series

Click HERE for a list of articles in the ‘A-Z at Muzium Negara’ series.

“Power of Gold” Exhibition

by Josiane Reggane

On 17 February 2022, a small group of Museum Volunteers (MVs) had the privilege of a guided tour by the curator of “The Power of Gold” exhibition at Gallery 1, JMM. It was a great opportunity for everyone to experience the exhibition, learn about the artifacts on display and get insider information on the preparation for the exhibition.

This temporary thematic exhibition demonstrates the capacity of JMM to take risks and to venture beyond the historical narrative in the national museum. But taking risks also means having to meet challenges and make choices to offer the audience a pleasant and fruitful experience.

A golden theme for an exhibition

The attractive and ambitious title: “The Power of Gold” sounds like a promise. The viewer expects a journey through time and space that will lead him to better understand the true power of this mysterious and precious metal.

Gold is found all over the world from the earliest times until today. Thus, covering such a vast territory and such a long period of time in the restricted space of Gallery 1 is a real challenge. The main problem being that extensive research leads to so much knowledge that it is difficult to render it all in one exhibition.

The multitude of themes resulting from this two years extensive research can be found in the titles of a dozen panels arranged on the walls of the gallery. These are: “Gold the king of metal”, “Gold and history”, “Gold and conflict”, “Gold and social status”, “Gold and Governing status”, “Gold from cultural perspective”, “Emas dalam sosio budaya masyarakat melayu” (Gold in Malay socio-cultural society), “Gold in the socio-cultural Chinese society”, “Gold in the socio-cultural Indian society”, “Gold and transformation”, “Gold in expressions”, and “Did you know?”

Each theme covers a field of knowledge so large that it could form an exhibition on its own. So, it can be a little frustrating not to have more detail on each topic. However, the absence of detail can also be seen as an invitation for viewers to dig deeper on their own.

Another challenge in dealing with a subject from so many different angles is to articulate the narrative of the whole exhibition. These panels refer to various places and periods of history ranging from the time of the pharaohs in Egypt, the Inca and Aztec civilizations, the gold rush in California (1848-1855) and contemporary and historic Malaysia. Switching from one to the other can be a little confusing for some viewers. But again, it can also be a choice to let the audience wander around the room.

When gold is an eyeful

The exhibition stretches the entire gallery guiding the viewer through a U-shaped path to end up in the small viewing room, which reconnect to the departing point. Hence, the exhibition can be visited both ways – beginning or ending – with a short film featuring what is gold, how it is shaped and some extract of archival films about gold rush and gold mining.

The numerous artifacts are displayed in glass cases on pedestals, at eye level, all along the path. Labels affixed to each window provide information on the artifact. The labels (printed in black on transparent stickers) are sometimes difficult to read due to the small size of the characters and the light reflections. However, a QR code pasted on each window also allows access to this information (in Bahasa Melayu and English) via a mobile phone.

The floor covered with yellow carpet and the walls painted in a goldish yellow might recall gold and royalty, but the choice of a tone on tone for the walls and the floor does not allow gold artifacts to show their true brilliance. A more sober design with darker colours and few directional lights projected onto the objects would certainly have given a more dramatic effect to the exhibition. This would have avoided eye strain and enhanced the magnificence of the shine of gold.

When gold triggers creativity

The exhibition reveals an interesting collection of pieces, most of which are not exhibited in the museum but kept in a secure place with limited access. This exhibition is a unique opportunity to discover these artifacts and learn more about them.

The exhibition includes a wide variety of artifacts from various countries in the region such as a few beautiful keris from Sulawesi, a long sword from Java and a sword from Turkey. There are also some memorabilia. Beside two gold commemorative coins issued on 31 August 2013 for the National Museum’s Golden Jubilee celebration, there also stands a replica of a golden rubber tree produced in 1903, by the Malaysian Rubber Farmers Association.

Some exquisite royalty-owned artifacts are also on display, such as sets of betel, belt buckles, and a modesty belt (a heart-shaped piece of silver, partially gold-plated, used to protect the genitals of the daughters of kings and aristocracy on the coast east of Peninsular Malaysia).

A section is dedicated to regalia with a Tengkolok diRaja (Royal headdress), a Royal Tiara, a Keris and two sceptres. Not forgetting two replicas of Bunga Emas, one from Kedah and the second from Kelantan

Sir Franck Swettenham’s walking stick is on display. The head of his wooden stick is decorated with a gold-carved ‘awan larat’ design (traditional Malay motif recalling ‘meandering clouds’).

The show also features ornaments and jewellery such as hair combs, hair pins, a Melanau (an indigenous group of Sarawak) headdress, an amulet necklace, some dokoh (a necklace with three vertical pendants with a pin behind each pendant to fix the kebaya.), various earrings from different communities in the region and two theatre headdresses from Thailand. Also on display are glass holders, a kendi and a rebab (music instrument) from Bali.

Additionally, a tribute is paid to Paralympic Athletes Muhammad Ziyad Bin Zolkifli, Mohamad Ridzuan Bin Mohamad Puzi and Latif Bin Romly for their gold medals in their respective fields. And to Hashim Mustapha for the ‘Golden Shoes’ award in 1993 and 1994.

All the displayed objects are beautiful, but some attract attention because of their originality or because they are rarely displayed. This is notably the case of the examples in the following section.

Golden shoes won by Hashim Mustapha during the 1994 Dunhill Premier League

The golden nuggets of the exhibition

A Zam-Zam water drink set. This silver and half gold-plated set with Jawi-engraved inscriptions and gold covers was finely crafted in 1786. The quality of the artwork demonstrates the value and significance of this water brought back by pilgrims from Umrah or Haj.

A beautiful bowl dated 1816 with a floral motif carved outside and inside the bowl, and with a Jawi inscription on the base – “Tuanku Ampuan Besar Selangor”. It was used by the royal family on special occasions such as weddings and berendui (a Malay ceremony to present a newly born baby in a swing along with various ceremonies to bless the infant and the mother).

Penyangkut Kelambu / Mosquito Net Hanger: This gold mosquito net hanger has the shape of a cassowary. It is used by the Royal family and the aristocracy as a tool to hang curtains or mosquito net on the head of the bed. It is also used as a luxurious decoration in the bedroom.

Penyangkut Kain / Cloth Hanger: the small sparrow-shaped gold item from Kelantan (circa 1800) was used as a sheet hanger after the circumcision ceremony to cover the body of the young boy while preventing any contact with the sheet.

Hiasan Tepi Bantal / Pillow Edge Decoration (Melaka, 19th century): made from gold pieces and used to decorate the edges of a round pillow, this piece is finely decorated with peacocks and Chinese flowers motifs.

It is the power of gold to transcend human imagination and lead to the creation of such refined and beautiful artifacts. But it is the power of the exhibition to share this important collection of the National Museum. To be accessible to a wider audience, the exhibition, which runs until March 18 at Gallery 1, will then travel to Melaka and other locations around the country.

P.S. Many thanks to Lam Lai Meng from Batch 33 for translating from Bahasa Malaysia to English during the tour.

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