W is for Wickham

by Fazlin Azrimi Abu Hassan and Dennis Ong

The history of planting rubber trees or Hevea brasiliensis in the Malay Peninsula does not date back very far. We think of rubber when we talk about British botanist Sir Henry Wickham. There was a time when demand for rubber was elevated by industrialisation and the rubber business boomed when British inventors Charles Macintosh and Thomas Hancock figured out how to make good raincoats from rubberized fabric.

A photograph of Sir Henry Wickham.
Source: Library of Congress, USA

Later, due to the properties of rubber, which melted in hot weather and was stiff in the cold, an American inventor named Charles Goodyear invented the vulcanisation process by accident in 1839 after dropping some latex in sulphur. The vulcanisation process essentially allowed rubber to become more durable and elastic, thus making it more attractive for commercial use. While capitalists and inventors saw great potential, the biggest problem with rubber, however, was that there was still a scarcity of the material. At the time, the world’s rubber was mainly harvested in South America and Africa.

That was about to change in 1876 when about 70,000 rubber seeds wrapped in banana leaves arrived in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London. Collected by locals at its source in the hills and plateau in Boim, Brazil, the seeds were purchased at a price of £10 per 100. The expedition was financed by the government of (British) India, and led by Wickham who was then 30 years old.

A sketch of Wickham as a young man.
Source: http://www.bouncing-balls.com/timeline/people/nr_wickham1.htm

Bearing the responsibility to re-establish his family’s fortune after his father’s death due to a cholera epidemic, the option to become a planter during that time was one of few viable options to get rich. Finding rubber trees in the Amazon for Britain proved to be promising. Wickham had experience in the Amazon prior to Boim. At 20 years old, he embarked on an exploration in Central America and spent nine months collecting exotic birds whose feathers had been sold and appropriated for millinery use. Subsequently, he returned home and revisited the Amazon where he tapped wild rubber trees as part of his adventure. One can very much see that Wickham had an appetite for thrill and exploration.

Life happened and he married a woman named Violet. It is commonly believed that the publishing business Violet’s family ran helped make Wickham’s travels possible. Wickham’s interest in the Amazon evinced in the first book he published, which has a rather long title: Rough Notes of a Journey Through the Wilderness from Trinidad to Pará, Brazil, by way of the Great Cataracts of the Orinoco, Atabapo, and Rio Negro.

A back profile of a woman believed to be Violet, whom Wickham had sketched in some of his journals. She was in Wickham’s company to Boim whence the rubber seeds were collected. Source: http://www.bouncing-balls.com/timeline/people/nr_wickham1.htm

Britain’s intention was simple – to germinate the seeds and plant them for rubber. Soon enough, botanists at Kew successfully germinated some 2,800 seeds. Most of the lot was sent to Ceylon, Singapore, and Java. Then came H.N. Ridley (aka “Mad Ridley”), a botanist at the Singapore Botanic Gardens who zealously propounded the idea of planting rubber as a cash crop. Although there were supplies of seeds, no planters took up cultivation with the exception of Thomas Heslop Hill in Negeri Sembilan. In 1897, the price of rubber shot up. This coupled with recommendations by experts in Ceylon and elsewhere led many planters to begin planting rubber trees. Convinced by Ridley’s proposal, Tan Chay Yan started the first rubber plantation in Malaya with seven million seeds.

Despite the thriving industry in the Far East, Wickham suffered significant drawbacks in his life. This included having to pay his debts from loss of possession during his period in Queensland where he planted tobacco and coffee. He then clinched a position as a civil servant in British Honduras. Wickham’s constantly wandering mind yet again got the better of him when he was slapped with a legal problem, which forced him to sell his property, upon which, he returned to Britain. Undeterred, he ventured into other prospects but failed. During these times, Wickham continued to suggest recommendations cultivating rubber trees and even proposed several tools for rubber tapping. However, his ideas were deemed either unsuitable or as impractical failures.

H.N.Ridley with an assistant posing next to a rubber tree tapped using the herringbone method. Source: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Henry_Nicholas_Ridley

Necessity is the mother of invention. The herringbone method for tapping rubber trees was introduced by H.N. Ridley. It left V-shaped channels on the trunk, removing only a thin layer of bark each time, thus allowing a smooth flow of latex. The methods became so efficient that latex can be collected three times a day. On the flip side, this also meant that labourers in the industry were at the mercy of ensuring efficiency and productivity. They were also subject to potential risks at the workplace. To say the least, the industry was reliant on a constant stream of labour to maintain its processes.

Three photographs depicting Indian labourers who made up the majority of the manpower of the rubber industry in Malaya. These labourers were recruited based on the Kangani system and were largely subject to unfair exploitation. The subject of class and employment power structure often form the crux of the historical debate in topics relating to colonial economy.
Source: https://aliran.com/thinking-allowed-online/the-real-story-behind-those-faded-photos-of-tamil-plantation-workers-in-malaya/

At the end of 1905, there were 40,000 acres of planted rubber trees in the Federated Malay States and more than 85,000 at the close of 1906. By January 1907, there were 10,000,000 trees planted. The output of dry rubber was about 130 tons in 1905 and three times as much in 1906.

By 1910, Malaya was one of the biggest producers of rubber. Expectedly, the combined production of rubber across Britain’s colonies exceeded that of Brazil’s, causing it to lose its monopoly in the rubber industry.

A fun fact about the rubber tree cultivated for latex.
Source: Wonder Book of Rubber, 1947.

However, there has been a debate about whether Wickham’s actions qualify as an unethical act of smuggling or an act of formal exchange between governments. Laying out the facts, sources have described that Wickham had misrepresented his cargo as ‘exceedingly delicate botanical specimens specially designated for delivery to Her Britannic Majesty’s own Royal Gardens at Kew’ in order to be granted permission to export.

Notwithstanding the trials and tribulations in Wickham’s life, he was knighted for “Services in connection with the rubber plantation industry in the Far East”. Wickham passed away in 1928, regretfully perhaps, with an unfulfilled dream for enterprise.

Bust of Wickham at Muzium Negara.


Bouncing Balls. (n.d.). Sir Henry Alexander Wickham. Bouncing Balls. http://www.bouncing-balls.com/timeline/people/nr_wickham1.htm

Schurz, William Lytle; Hargis, O.D.; Manifold, Courtland Brenneman & Marbut, Curtis Fletcher. (1925). Rubber Production in the Amazon Valley (p. 169). Washington, Govt. Print. Office.

Sims, Shannon. (2015). The Rubber Thief of Brazil. OXY. https://www.ozy.com/true-and-stories/the-rubber-thief-of-brazil/60424/

Veloo Saminathan. (2020). The real story behind those faded photos of Tamil plantation workers in Malaya. Aliran. https://aliran.com/thinking-allowed-online/the-real-story-behind-those-faded-photos-of-tamil-plantation-workers-in-malaya/

Wright, ArnoldCartwright, H. A. (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. Lloyd’s Greater Britain Publishing Company, Limited.

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V is for VOC Plate

by Daniela Barrier

From Portuguese carracks to Japanese kilns, the power of a company logo

This blue and white porcelain plate is showcased in Gallery C of the National Museum, Malaysia. It sits on a marble-topped wooden table, a typical furnishing of a Dutch family home in Melaka during the Dutch occupation (1641-1795, then 1818-1825). The so called “VOC plate” itself was probably part of a complete porcelain service. These services were used by officers of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie – VOC) throughout their colonies, imparting status to the owner and contributing to the dissemination of the VOC’s brand image.

The VOC plate at Gallery C, National Museum, Malaysia.

Surrounded by flowers, fruit and deer motifs, the VOC monogram stands out in the centre – a lean capital V with a superposing O on the left and C on the right. It was perhaps the contrast of its clear, simple lines (one could say, almost contemporary) with the exuberant details of the baroque style monograms of the time, which turned the VOC logo into one of the first worldwide recognisable company labels. It was applied with no parsimony to most VOC possessions and everyday objects, from building facades and canons to swords, coins and plates such as the one in Gallery C. [1]

VOC logo on various objects
top-left: VOC logo on a sword. Musée de l’armée, Paris, France.
top-right: Façade of the Castle of Good Hope, South Africa. Image credit: Martinvl, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
bottom-left: VOC logo on a coin, circa 1760. Image credit: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
bottom-right: Canon with VOC logo, 1764, Port of Dejima, Nagasaki, Japan. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Researchers have written extensively on the VOC’s innovative business model, considering it the forbearer of modern corporations (the VOC was the world’s first formally listed public company). The VOC’s idea of producing porcelain services with its own mark on them, however, might have been borrowed from the Portuguese and from a different type of company: The Society of Jesus (or the Jesuit Order, founded in 1540).

Jesuits are thought to be at the source of the introduction of new techniques and of European scenes on Chinese porcelain, in particular under Emperor K’ang Hsi (1654-1722), who held Jesuit priests in high regard (one Father Thomas Cardosa was a personal friend of the emperor and was appointed a mandarin of the highest rank). During this period, it became more and more fashionable in Europe, amongst nobles and high-level clergy, to have their coat of arms painted on their porcelain services and to order specific designs from potters in China. Huge quantities of undecorated porcelain began to be shipped from Jingdezhen (Ching-te-chen) kilns to Canton where they were painted under the supervision of European agents and re-fired.

From left to right:

  • Pedro de Farias bowl, 1541, captain major of Melaka. Portuguese nobles had their coat-of-arms painted on Chinese porcelain.
  • Jesuit Chinese Vase with Company of Jesus monogram, circa 1800. Image credit: Nicolas Fournery.
  • Late 18th century plate in European style with VOC ships. White painted porcelain from Jingdezhen. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Kraak porcelain from Japan

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, with more and more Dutch trade ships anchoring in Asian ports, the Portuguese monopoly on porcelain trade was broken. In 1602, the Portuguese carrack Sao Tiago was captured by the Dutch and its porcelain cargo taken back to Holland for the first time. The carrack Santa Maria suffered the same fate in the Straits of Melaka a year later, its cargo being sold to European royals, including Henri IV, king of France, and King James I of England. The Dutch named them kraak porselein because the Portuguese ships in which they were found were called carracks.

Between 1602 and 1682, VOC ships delivered three million pieces of porcelain to Holland and over 12 million were distributed over the Dutch East Indies, of which approximately eighty percent were blue and white wares (kraak) [2].

Kraak blue and white porcelain were thus mostly associated with the Dutch East India Company. They were made of fine porcelain with cobalt blue decorations under a shiny and slightly bluish glaze, and had central themes which included flowers, birds, insects and deer, as well as having the well and the rim of the dish treated as one and divided into panels that were mostly filled with flowers and symbolic motifs.

Like European royals, Japanese tea masters also ordered kraak pieces (called fuyode ware in Japan) from China, which were transported to Japan on VOC ships. These ended up being copied by Japanese artisans and sold all over Europe, often for higher prices than the Chinese originals. However, there was one design the Japanese only produced for the Dutch India offices: it was overall similar to other karrak designs, only it had the VOC logo in the centre. These wares were usually small – less than twenty centimetres in diameter – but some pieces were larger and measured fifty centimetres or more across. That is very likely the provenance of the VOC plate displayed at the National Museum.

VOC plate produced in Japan, late 17th century. In the collection of Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore.

[1] In The Portuguese Porcelain Trade with China, by Jorge Graca, Arts of Asia, November-December 1977.

[2] In Porcelain and the Dutch East India Company, by T. Volker, cited in Chinese Ceramics carried by The Dutch East India Company, by Effie B. Allison, Arts of Asia, November-December 1977.

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A Very Rough Guide to Taboh Naning

by Eric Lim


Dato Dol Said Mosque Taboh Naning is a well known local landmark, located along Lebuh AMJ. Photo source : Portal Masjid v1.0

I woke up this morning to the news that Barisan Nasional had scored a landslide victory in the Melaka 15th state election. They had captured 21 seats out of the 28 seats that they had contested. So, I thought it was timely to visit Taboh Naning, a state constituency located in the northern part of Melaka, bordering Negeri Sembilan. Tampin is just 11 km away via Federal Route 19 (Jalan Kampung Taboh-Kampung Ulu Kendong) and Federal Route 1 (Jalan Seremban-Tampin) while the state capital is 37 km south via Lebuh AMJ (Alor Gajah-Sentral Melaka-Jasin Highway) a.k.a Federal Route 19. This constituency covers a large area and it includes the following mukim (sub-districts): Taboh Naning, Brisu, Sungai Buloh, Melekek and Ayer Paabas. And, Taboh Naning is within the municipal borders of Alor Gajah.


State of Naning and position of Taboh pre 1511 / Photo source : Dol Said Pahlawan Naning

Naning has existed since the time of the Melaka Sultanate and it was under kingdom’s suzerainty. Taboh was one of the main settlements in the state. When Melaka fell to foreign powers, Naning was protected by the Sultanate of Johor. Later, when Raja Melewar became the first Yamtuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan in 1773, Naning was one of the original nine states of this loose confederacy. However, due to its position as the most southerly district and its close proximity to Melaka, Naning was disunited from the other states in Negeri Sembilan during the long and distinct period of the Portuguese, Dutch and finally, the British in Melaka.

The Malacca Territory (showing Naning – spelt ‘Nani’ in the top left quadrant of the map – as part of the Malacca Territory) from ‘The Description of Malacca’, a report written by Manuel Gordinho de Eredia in 1613. This report was published in the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, volumn 8 part 1 in April 1930. / Photo source : Buku Naning in Melaka – Jonathan Cave | PDF

Immediately after the capture of Melaka by the Portuguese in 1511, Alfonso De Albuquerque sent an expedition into Naning as part of their mapping exercise to determine the circumference of Melaka; Naning was made an integral part of the Melaka’s territory. Alfonso de Albuquerque then left for Goa where he later became the Viceroy. Though obligated to the Portuguese during its long reign, Naning retained its independence and territorial integrity until the arrival of another foreign power to Melaka.

Dutch Malacca circa 1665 / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

By the start of the 17th century CE, the Dutch were already making their presence felt in the region and ready to challenge the Portuguese for control of the spice trade. In 1606, the Dutch under a corporation that was formed in 1602 named Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (VOC) and the Johor Sultanate concluded an alliance against the Portuguese and immediately after, the VOC fought the Portuguese in a naval battle at Cape Rachado (today Tanjung Tuan). However, it took the VOC another thirty-five years to break the dominance. On 14 January 1641, VOC together with the Sultanate of Johor and a new ally, the Achenese, took control of the fortress of Melaka.

Unlike the Portuguese, the Dutch did not send an expedition to Naning in the year they conquered Melaka. It was two years later, in 1643 that the Dutch invaded Naning and as a follow up action, Naning had to render tribute of one tenth of its produce to the Dutch. However, it was never enforced as the state was small and poor, and furthermore, it was not cost effective to do so. In 1701, Johor relinquished Naning to the Dutch following the conclusion of the Treaty of Protection. During the 18th century CE, the Dutch were enjoying a monopoly of the tin trade in the peninsula. Then, in 1765, the Dutch reduced the tenth to a yearly nominal tribute of 400 gantang of paddy, equivalent to 1/1000 of its total crop produce. Still, the Dutch allowed Naning self-rule.

Malacca town and fort at the time of the British takeover in 1795 
Photo source : Governor Couperus and the Surrender of Malacca, 1795

Moving forward to 1795, the French Republican armies were emerging as the new power in Europe. The Dutch was a refugee in England and while there, signed the Kew Letters, which gave Britain the right to protect Dutch possessions in the East, which included Melaka. British troops under Major Brown landed in Melaka and duly took possession of the fort from the Dutch. The British would take custody of Melaka while the war in Europe lasted, and return it to the Netherlands after the war ended.

Prior to the takeover, Melaka was facing a period of declining trade and revenue. In 1801, Naning saw a change in leadership when a 26-year old Abdul Said Bin Omar (Dol Said in short) was chosen as the new Penghulu Naning and the appointment was confirmed by the British authorities in Melaka. Both parties then inked a treaty where the British will receive one tenth of Naning’s total crop produce, similar to the Dutch treaty of 1643. This treaty was regarded by the British as proof that Naning was part of Melaka. The following year, the Treaty of Amiens ended the war in Europe and this provided for the return of Melaka to the Dutch but the resumption of war in May 1803 forestalled any British withdrawal. Dutch finally returned to Melaka in 1818 following the restitution of possessions to the Dutch by the Treaty of Vienna. The Dutch return lasted only six years. On 17 March 1824, Britain and Netherlands signed the Anglo Dutch Treaty in London, which put an end to the long period of territorial and trade disputes between the two nations in Southeast Asia. Melaka was ceded to the British and, in return, the Dutch took possession of Benkulen (Bencoolen) in Sumatra.

In 1826, the East India Company united the settlements of Penang, Melaka and Singapore into an administrative unit called Presidency of the Straits Settlements. Robert Fullerton, who was the Governor of Penang (1824-1827), was made the First Governor of Straits Settlements (1826-1829). He assumed that Naning was part of Melaka and hence subject to its land laws, judicial system and the delivery of the tribute of produce. Dol Said resisted and demanded the recognition of Naning’s autonomous status. However, Fullerton’s demands were kept on hold as it was met with counteractions from the other British officials until the final approval came from the Director in London in 1830. By this time, Fullerton had returned to Europe and he was succeeded by Robert Ibbetson (1830-1833). Ibbetson received fresh approval the following year to take action and the stage was set for an invasion of Naning.

Proclamation for the arrest of Dol Said and his supporters, written in Jawi and romanized Malay. Photo source : Buku Naning in Melaka – Jonathan Cave | PDF

In July 1831, the British moved in with a force of 150 sepoys and 2 six-pounders drawn by bullocks, led by Captain Wyllie. Dol Said managed to fend off the attack with help from the neighbouring Malay states of Rembau, Sri Menanti, Sungai Ujong, Johol and Muar. These states feared that after the capture of Naning, the British would levy the same tax on them. Furthermore, the Malays were notably better trained for jungle warfare than the British were.  Prior to the second attack, the British signed a treaty with Rembau on 30 November 1831, which marked the accession of Rembau to the British side in the Naning War. This was closely followed by another treaty on 28 January 1832 signed at Simpang. And as a final push, on 9 February 1832, the British issued a proclamation for the arrest of Dol Said and four of his supporters; the reward was $1,000 and $200 per supporter respectively. These manoeuvres duly changed the cause of the war. The second attack, started in March 1832, was led by Colonel Herbertwith far more superior weaponry. This was coupled with the arrival of Syed Syaaban, the son in law of Raja Ali of Rembau, with a force of Malays to help the British capture the stockades. On 16 June 1832, Taboh was captured and it effectively ended the conflict.

(L) Camp near Alor Gajah in March 1832 (R) Attack upon the first line at Taboh in 1832.Photo source :  Buku Naning in Melaka – Jonathan Cave | PDF

Dol Said managed to escape to Sri Menanti. Two years later, Dol Said surrendered on the promise of pardon. He was given a house, a pension and liberty to live freely in Melaka. He became a farmer, trader and a doctor/healer. He died in 1849. After the war, Naning was offered to Raja Ali but he turned it down. For his service to the British, Syed Syaaban was rewarded with a site for a house in Melaka town and given a pension. It proved to be an expensive and unprofitable venture for the British – they spent 100,000 British pounds to secure the paltry annual revenue of $100! This costly lesson discouraged British expansion in Malaya for the next four decades until the start of a new period with the signing of the Treaty of Pangkor in 1874.

Places of Interest

The most convenient and popular local landmark of Taboh Naning is Dato Dol Said Mosque Taboh Naning [1] (top photo) which is located near the Simpang Ampat toll plaza, along Lebuh AMJ toward Federal Route 1 intersection to Seremban-Tampin. The mosque was built in 1955 with public funds and was inaugurated by the 18th Penghulu/Dato Naning, Dato Mohamed Shah Mohamed Said. The significance of this mosque is the tomb of Dol Said, which is sited at the cemetery behind the mosque. He was believed buried near the graves of earlier Penghulu/Dato Naning and the site was a rice field.  (Note: A smaller mosque goes by the name of Masjid Taboh Naning at Kampung Cherana Putih)

Tomb of Dol Said / Photo source : www.mpag.gov.my (tourism)

Located further along this highway, just before reaching Kampung Cherana Putih, is the Datuk Tua Megalith [2] site. The Alor Gajah district is the major megalithic site in Melaka and there are more than 100 of these ancient stones or ‘batu hidup’ to the locals, which can be found in this district.

Datuk Tua Megalith / Photo source : https://malaysiamegalithic.blogspot.com

Coming to something more modern, located at Kampung Cherana Putih is the Cherana Putih Hot Spring [3]. It is actually a hot spring-cum-waterpark and a smaller version of the Toji Waterpark in Japan. In 2019, the park went through some repair works and as a result, it is one of the cleanest hot springs in the state. Admission fee is RM 6.50 for adults and RM 5.00 for children.

Cherana Putih Hot Spring / Photo source : Cherana Putih Hot Spring Facebook page.

On the other end of Lebuh AMJ, heading just past the Simpang Ampat police station is the Naning Heritage and History Museum / Muzium Peradaban dan Warisan Naning [4]. The museum is housed in the former Official Residency and Hall for Penghulu Naning, which was constructed in 1951. It was first used by the 18th Penghulu/Dato Naning, Dato Mohamed Shah Mohamed Said in 1953 until his death on 13 June 2004. Perbadanan Muzium Melaka took over the building on 9 April 2015 and soon after started conservation work. It was completed on 30 June 2015 and it is established as the museum today.

Naning Heritage and History Museum / Photo source : www.mpag.gov.my (tourism)

Further south from Simpang Ampat on Lebuh AMJ is the town of Alor Gajah. There are sites here that are closely linked to the Naning War. Found within the compound of Sekolah Kebangsaan Alor Gajah 1 and just beside the school canteen is a fenced enclosure containing three tombstones. The one in the centre is the grave of Ensign George Holford Walker who was killed in an attack on a stockyard on 3 May 1832 (second expedition of the Naning War). He was just 18 years old. The other two are graves of his horse and dog, which stood loyally beside his dead body until they too died of thirst and grief.

The school is located in the centre of the town, next to the Dataran Keris. Also within the vicinity is the Muzium Adatistiadat Alor Gajah / Tradition & Custom Museum. Dol Said is well remembered for his anti-colonial stance and in commemoration, there is a street in Alor Gajah named Jalan Dato Dol Said, as well as a school, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Dato Dol Said.

(L) Grave at SK Alor Gajah 1 / Photo source : www.mpag.gov.my (tourism). (R) Grave at Dutch Graveyard, Melaka / Photo source : Dutch Graveyard – St. Paul’s Hill, Melaka.

Moving on to the capital city of Melaka – located at the foot of St. Paul’s Hill is the Dutch Graveyard. This site was used in two stages, during the Dutch era from 1670 to 1682 when it was known as St. Anthony’s Kerkhof (graveyard), and the British era from 1818 to 1838. Two casualties of the Naning War are buried here, namely Lieutenant James White who was killed on 20 August 1831 and Lieutenant E.V Harding, killed on 29 March 1832. Both were in their mid-twenties when they died. Their grave is the only one marked with an obelisk.

Getting There

From Kuala Lumpur city centre, use the North South Highway (E2 South) and exit at Exit 227 Simpang Ampat. After the toll plaza, turn right to join Lebuh AMJ (Alor Gajah-Sentral Melaka-Jasin Highway) a.k.a Federal Route 19 to Taboh Naning. Dato Dol Said Mosque Taboh Naning is not too far from this junction (see the map above).


Portal Masjid v1.0 

Dol Said Pahlawan Naning

Buku Naning in Melaka – Jonathan Cave | PDF

Governor Couperus and the Surrender of Malacca, 1795

Robert Fullerton | Infopedia



www.mpag.gov.my (tourism)

The Malayan Peninsula embracing its history, manners and customs of the inhabitants, politics, natural history, etc. from its earliest records : Begbie, Peter James : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Nutmeg Books – Ensign George Holford Walker Few people… | Facebook

Dutch Graveyard – St. Paul’s Hill, Melaka

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U is for UMNO Kuala Kangsar’s Letter

by V. Jegatheesan

Achieving independence from the British was a significant moment in Malaysia’s history. The three political parties, United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC), had formed the Alliance Party and won the first General Election on 27 July 1955. This was a clear mandate given by the people to the Alliance to fulfil their commitment to gain independence within four years.

On 1 January 1956, the then Chief Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, leading a large delegation, sailed to Karachi from Singapore and then flew to London. Negotiations began on 18 January 1956 and it is remarkable that the negotiations ended after just three weeks on 8 February 1956, with Britain agreeing to independence for Malaya, as it was at that time. The agreement was signed on 11 February 1956. The delegation then flew directly to Singapore arriving on 19 February 1956.

It is common knowledge that Tunku Abdul Rahman went to Melaka the next day on 20 February 1956 to announce that Malaya had been given independence. In front of a rousing crowd on Padang Bandar Hilir, recorded as 100,000, he announced that Malaya’s Independence Day would be 31 August 1957.

Tunku Abdul Rahman at Dato’ Sir Tan Cheng Lock’s house before leaving for Padang Bandar Hilir, Malacca

But why Melaka and not Kuala Lumpur, which was the Federal Capital? The average Malaysian will assume that Tunku decided on this himself. However, this just may not be the case.

Among the various images on the information boards about Malaya’s Road to Independence in Gallery D – beside the picture of Tunku with Dato’ Sir Tan Cheng Lock’s family and just above the glass cases with newspaper clippings – is a letter from UMNO Kuala Kangsar. Dated 14 January 1956, the letter is from the UMNO Secretary of the Kuala Kangsar Branch to the Secretary General of UMNO Malaya. The subject is ‘Return of the Independence Delegation from England’.

The following is a translation of the letter.

The Working Committee had an urgent meeting on Friday 13 January 1956 and an agreement was made as follows:

This branch has resolved that the UMNO Malaya Headquarters urgently send a wire (telegram) to London, requesting that when the delegation headed by Y.A.M Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra brings along the date of independence of Malaya from England, they should arrive in Malacca.

This resolution has been made after carefully weighing considerations and taking into account the politics in respect of the history of Malacca as follows:

(a) Raise the status of the history of the Malay Empire of Malacca.
(b) The statement “Never will the Malays disappear from this world” was originated in Malacca by Laxamana Hang Tuah, a gallant and mighty Malay warrior who fought for the nation and homeland.
(c) It was in Malacca that western colonisation was enforced in our homeland on 11 July 1511. 
(d) It was on the collapse of Malacca that the soul of our independence awoke, according to a Malay leader, Dr. Burhannudin Al-Hilmy in 1946.
(e) UMNO had 100% in the General Elections resulting in Y.A.M Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra to be sent to England is also the decision of the Emergency General Meeting of UMNO Malaya in Malacca
(f) For these reasons, let the date of independence be brought to Malacca

However, UMNO Branch Kuala Kangsar is confident that this suggestion will receive support from UMNO all over Malaya.

The letter is signed by Haji Meor Samsudin, Secretary of the UMNO Kuala Kangsar Branch.

Tunku would surely have been informed of this letter by way of that telegram. But it will never be known if Tunku made this decision based on this letter or whether he had it in his mind all along. Tunku being Tunku, we will never know!

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T is for Tiles

by Farida Jamal

According to a 2003 publication, 40 Tahun Muzium Negara 1963-2003, construction of the National Museum was initiated in 1958 by the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra. It was to be a showcase of the heritage and history of the nation, incorporating Malay architectural traditions and motifs. The third Yang di Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Syed Putra Al- Haj ibni Almarhum Syed Hassan Jamalullail, officially opened the museum on 31 August 1963. Over the years, it has expanded and undergone several renovations. The single-storied original building currently comprises the entrance hall to the four main galleries. Its original tiled floor has also been preserved and is a stunning tapestry in ceramic. Although an integral part of the overall ambience of the museum, the floor tiles speak of their foreign origin.

Exquisitely hand crafted, the eggshell white tiles with azure and ink blue motifs measure 12 by 12 inches. They are laid out in repeated square motifs formed by four tiles and each motif measures 2 by 2 feet. Within the hall, there are thirty- four motifs lengthwise and twenty-four motifs along the width, covering 3264 square feet of the floor. The remaining original stretch of the floor has been incorporated in the landing platform outside of the front entrance. This is a rectangular space, which is partitioned into three sections by two latticed brick- walls. The tiles cover 240 square feet of the floor area, and each section displays twenty motifs. Beneath the two-latticed walls, one can discover the origin of the tiles through marble plaques laid out on the floor, in Bahasa Malaysia and in English. The tiles were a gift from the Government of Pakistan.

Nawabzada General Sher Ali Khan Pataudi was the first High Commissioner of Pakistan to Malaysia (1957-1962). As the construction of the museum began during the same period, it is likely that he was instrumental in facilitating the gift of floor tiles from his government. National gestures of goodwill are a part and parcel of diplomacy, but often involves special people and special relationships. A Google search on Sher Ali Khan Pataudi revealed a remarkable personality and an extraordinary life. Born an Indian prince, he had studied at Sandhurst, was in the Indian armed forces and had opted to move to Pakistan when India was partitioned in 1947. Ten years later, aged 43, Sher Ali Khan retired from the army and he was appointed Pakistan’s first High Commissioner to the newly liberated country, Malaysia.

In one of his books, The Story of Soldiering and Politics in India and Pakistan, the retired general turned scholar described his years as a diplomat. He and his family had made many friends in Malaysia and developed special friendships with YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra and members of Malaysian royalty. Sher Ali Khan does not mention the gift of museum tiles in his book, though. Documents pertaining to the construction of the National Museum at the National Archives may contain some information. In the meantime, the floor tiles of the museum foyer remain a token of this special relationship and continue to delight and surprise visitors.


Farida Jamal. (2016, 18 September). Beyond a Gift of Friendship Plush Heritage, New Sunday Times, pp. 6-7.

Jabatan Muzium dan Antikuiti. (2003). 40 Tahun Muzium Negara 1963-2003.

Nawabzada Sher Ali Khan Patuadi. (1988). The Story of Soldiering and Politics in India and Pakistan (3rd Edition). Syed Mobin Mahumud & Co.

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S is for Sukhothai & Si Satchanalai

by Karen Loh

The Cities

Location of the old cities of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai.
Image credit: Kamarul Shah B. Bakar, Maritime Archaeology and Shipwreck Ceramics in Malaysia.

The old city of Sukhothai is situated along the Yom River, one of the main tributaries of the Chao Phraya River, in the northeastern part of modern day Thailand. The city started out as a small settlement outpost under the Khmer Empire (802-1431 CE), with the design of its temples, building structures and canals very much influenced by Angkor, the capital city of the Khmer empire. The Empire began to weaken in the early 13th century, following the death of their ruler, Jayavarman VII (1181-1218 CE). Seeing a weakened regime, the people of Sukhothai soon started challenging their overlords. Under the leadership of Si Inthrahit (also known as Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao), and together with his friend and ally, Pho Khun Pha Meung, the people of Sukhotai started to gather their forces, rose up and revolted against Khmer rule. They finally succeeded in driving the Khmers out in 1250 CE, thereafter establishing the Kingdom of Sukhothai. The capital city was also called Sukhothai, meaning Dawn of Happiness, and Si Inthrahit was crowned their first king. In Thai historiography, Sukhothai is considered the first kingdom in Thailand.

Sukhothai. Image credit: © Vyacheslav Argenberg / http://www.vascoplanet.com/, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sisatchanalai or Si Satchanalai was another Khmer outpost located 55 kilometres north of Sukhothai city, along Yom River. This city was formerly called Chalieng, meaning “city of good people”. Si Satchanalai rose to importance as an associated city to Sukhothai after the people’s independence from the Khmers. However, it was not until the reign of the kingdom’s third king, Pho Khun Ram Kham Haeng (1279-1299 CE) that the society, administration, religion and arts in the kingdom of Sukhothai flourished. In addition, the invention of the Thai alphabet in 1283 marked this period as Sukhothai’s Golden Era. Si Satchanalai reached her peak prosperity during the reign of Phra Maha Dhamaraja I (1347-1374 CE).

The 13th Century Thai City of Si Satchanalai. Image credit: Gary Todd, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sukhotai & Si Satchanalai: export-oriented pottery centres

Left and centre: Si Satchanalai Celadon dish, and jarlet recovered from the Royal Nanhai shipwreck c1460 CE. Right: Si Satchanalai bowl recovered from the Nanyang shipwreck c1380 CE.
Note: Please refer to L is for Longquan to look at more Si Satchanalai ceramics

The 14th and 15th centuries saw many large potting centres producing Thai ceramics, mainly stoneware, scattered across the northern part of Thailand. During this time, the Thai kilns around the city of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai (also known as Sawankhalok) flourished, exporting ceramics in large quantities as evidence of Thai ceramics can be found across South East Asia and from shipwrecks salvaged around the region. Sukhothai kilns produced mostly underglaze black ware, which were very similar in design and decoration to the pots made in the Cizhou kilns in northern China centuries earlier. Popular designs from the Sukhothai kilns were underglaze black plates decorated with lively fish with an arched back and tail thrown upwards, flower or cakra or starburst motifs, and various upright shapes like vases, bottles, jars with underglaze black fish or flower motifs.

The Si Satchanalai kilns on the other hand produced mostly celadon ware: dishes, bowls, and ring-handled jars in various sizes. At the height of its celadon production, the Si Satchanalai potters were producing high quality celadon ware, decorated with incised lotus petals, lotus blossoms, and chrysanthemum flowers on dishes with foliated mouth rims and similar incised lotus and chrysanthemum flowers on the bigger ring-handled jars. Many of these jars were completed with beautifully carved vertical striations on the lower body.

Other famous kiln sites producing Thai ceramics, mainly storage jars, were situated at Singburi (also known as Maenam Noi) and Suphanburi.

Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai ceramics at Gallery B, Muzium Negara, recovered from the Turiang (c. 1370).
5: Si Satchanalai vase with vertical striations.
6: Sukhothai black glazed decorated flower dish.
7: Si Satchanalai black glazed ring-handled jar.
8: Sukhothai black glazed decorated jar.
9: Si Satchanalai green glazed ring-handled bottle.

The Ming Gap

Questions have been raised on why Thai ceramics only began to be exported towards the end of the 14th century. One of the reasons might be due to the first Haijìn (Ming ban or Sea ban;1371-1509 CE), a policy ordered by Ming Dynasty’s first Emperor, Hongwu in 1371 CE where all exports and private overseas trading were prohibited. The Emperor proclaimed that all merchant ships were to be destroyed and anyone caught smuggling goods out of China would be executed. It is believed that these isolationist policies caused many of the Chinese potters and Chinese shipbuilders to migrate to various cities or towns in Southeast Asia to continue their trade. In her book, The Ceramics of South-East Asia, Their Dating and Identification, Roxanna Brown wrote that the migration of the potters may have actually started earlier, i.e. during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 CE) under Mongol rule, where many Song Chinese sought refuge in the Sukhothai kingdom. Evidence of this could be found through the trade route. She wrote in her book, “It is about this time, the end of the thirteenth or by the middle of the fourteenth century, at any rate, that Sukhothai’s ceramics industry moves from being purely domestic to testing itself on international South-East Asian market. The local potters could not have done this on their own. Somehow they were linked to the Chinese Trade network; and this must have been done by the Chinese. For Thai ceramics appear at the same South-East Asian sites as Chinese wares; the Thai did not forge new trading routes”.

There is an ongoing study on whether the trading of Thai ceramics began before or after the founding the new Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya(1351-1767 CE). It is also interesting to note that there was an absence of blue and white ware from the Thai kilns. A valid explanation may be that cobalt, the blue pigment used by Chinese kilns at Jingdezhen from around the 1320s to produce blue and white porcelain, is a relatively rare mineral. Cobalt may have been difficult to acquire and was expensive, while iron, the black oxide used in underglaze black ware was common and plentiful in Sukhothai. The last of the kilns in the old kingdom of Sukhothai finally closed down after the Burmese invasion in the 1580s. It is reported in the Glass Palace Chronicle of Burma that their ruler, King Bayinnaung (1516-1581 CE) ordered all the artists, artisans, and craftsmen of Sukhothai kingdom to be relocated and settled in Pegu (today Bago).

Stylistic evolution of Si Satchanalai dishes from four shipwrecks arranged in chronological order (from the Kildegaard Galbo collection):
a) Turiang c1370 CE
b) Nanyang c1380 CE
c) Longquan c1400 CE
d) Royal Nanhai c1460 CE
Image credit: Sten Sjostrand, Maritime Archaeology and Shipwreck Ceramics in Malaysia.


Brown, Roxanna M. (2000). The Ceramics of South-East Asia: Their Dating and Identification. Art Media Resources.

Brown, Roxanna & Sjostrand, Sten. (2004). Maritime Archaeology and Shipwreck Ceramics in Malaysia. RECCEX Sdn Bhd.

Miksic, John (Ed.). Southeast Asian Ceramics, New Light on Old Pottery (pp. 27-33). Editions Didier Millet, 2009.

Siripon, Nanta (ed), Thai Heritage – World Heritage. Thailand, Graphic Format Ltd, 2000.

Tan, Heidi (Ed.). (2012). Marine Archaeology in Southeast Asia, Innovation and Adaptation (pp. 23-29). Asian Civilisations Museum.

Vecchia, Stefano. (2007). The Khmers, History and Treasures of an Ancient Civilization. WS White Star Publishers.

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Victoria Bridge, Karai

by Hani Kamal

Victoria Bridge in Karai, Perak is one of the oldest bridges in Malaysia. It was built in 1897 and completed in 1900. The Victoria Bridge was built across the Perak River linking it to the rail line in Sungai Siput and Kuala Kangsar in the north. This is a single-track railway built to transport natural resources from the interior all the way to Singapore for export.

The Victoria Bridge today. Image credit: Hani Kamal

Karai – Coal Mining Town

Karai is located 9 kilometres from the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, and about 250 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur; it takes approximately 3 hours to reach. People are often confused with the location or name of the sleepy town of Karai where Victoria Bridge is located. The bridge is situated in both the Karai and Enggor towns. The British wanted to name the entire place Enggor, fashioned after Enggor Street in Singapore.  However, the village folks wanted to retain its name Karai. So, it became Victoria Bridge in Karai and the station is called Enggor Station.

The Enggor Station to Victoria Bridge. Image credit: Hani Kamal

In the 1890s, coal was first discovered by a Chinese planter Hok Hin Hoh while planting rubber trees on a leased plot of land. The discovery of coal in this sleepy town turned it into one of the busiest towns up north. Coal was in demand at that time for locomotives and other industrial usage.

During the prosperous period of coal mining between 1905 and 1930s, and with the completion of Victoria Bridge, several shop houses were built along the railway station road. These shops were used as wholesale rubber trade, sundry shop, eateries, pawnshop, liquor outlet, places to smoke opium and gambling dents. These pre-war shop houses remain until today but minus its once boisterous activities.

The Karai shoplots today. Image credit: Hani Kamal

When coal was first discovered in Karai, the concession was awarded to the Enggor Coal Syndicate Ltd. The Enggor mine ceased operation in 1928 when coal prices and demand went down. The low demand for coal and its low price was due to the discovery of newer technology utilizing petroleum.

Newspaper article announcing the closure of Enggor Coal Syndicate Ltd Company. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 19 July 1928, Page 9. https://tinyurl.com/2p93f9p6

Construction and Launch of the Bridge

Before the completion of the Victoria Bridge rail, pontoons were used to transport coal across the Perak River. Due to several adverse floods, most of the pontoons were washed away. These big floods expedited the administration to build a bridge high enough to avoid the overflowing river. The Victoria Bridge was constructed twelve meters from the surface of the Perak River. 

The overall length of the Victoria Bridge is 351 meters with each length of the beam measuring 305 meters. Its width is 3.6 meters wide. It is completely constructed with steel beams and six meters deep concrete foundation. There are 6 columns elevated 12 meters from the level of the river surface. The cost of construction was $325,000. Construction of Victoria Bridge commenced in November 1897 and the date of completion was recorded as March 1900. This bridge was fully functional for 102 years (1900-2002). The engineers from Railway Division were G.W. Fryer (Design Engineer) and C.R. Hanson (Resident Engineer), working under the supervision of Happlestone. The bridge is said to be similar to the “Bridge on the River Kwai” and Guillemard Bridge in Kelantan.

The Victoria Bridge was designed for a single-track carriage with 500 millimetres service lanes on both sides of the line. Both pedestrian and motorbikes/bicycles can use it to cross the river. These paths are still in use until today by people to cross the river.

The Victoria Bridge. Today tourists can walk in between the rails.The pedestrian crossings on both sides of the Victoria Bridge still functional till today to cross the river. Image credit: Hani Kamal

The Victoria Bridge was officially launched on 21 March 1900 by the late Sultan Idris Murshidul Azzam Shah (28th Sultan of Perak) at a ceremony which was also attended by Sir Frank Swettenham, the Resident-General for the Federated Malay States, and Sir John Pickersgill Rodger, the acting British Resident for Perak. Sir Frank Swettenham, in his speech during the opening of the bridge, regarded Victoria Bridge as the largest bridge in the East outside of India.  This bridge was named after Queen Victoria, the ruler of the British Empire at the time.

Official opening plaque


Construction of the Victoria Bridge served the purpose of connecting this small town with other towns from Malaya and Singapore. However, when coal-mining activities discontinued, the town also loss its glory. The bridge ceased its function and it was only used to connect the two villages.

During the war, the Victoria Bridge was partly bombed by the British in order to delay the Japanese advancement from the north via Kelantan. After the war, the bridge was repaired and it functioned as usual. Added securities and barracks were built in lieu of local threats from the Malayan Communist Party.

Barracks were built to guard the Victoria Bridge during the period of Emergency. Two post guards were placed on each side of Victoria Bridge. 

By 2002, the Victoria Bridge railway track was abandoned for the new two-way rail track. Overgrowth and weeds ate into its surrounding and it was left unattended until in 2013 when the authorities cleared the area to rebuild it as a tourist attraction. By 2016, The Victoria Bridge was officially registered as a National Heritage under the Department of National Heritage Malaysia.

Sungai Perak Bike Trail to Kampung Raja Intan Suraya (25 km)

The RM2 million Living River Bike Trail Project from Chenderoh to Victoria Bridge was completed on Dec 6, 2020. The Sg Perak bike trail starts from the Victoria Bridge to Kampung Raja Intan Suraya. It was initiated by the state authority in order to maintain its beauty and cleanliness of the river and its villages. It covers 25 kilometres of cycling through fiercely independent old villages along the riverbank of the Perak River.  The starting point is from the Victoria Bridge itself.  Tourists can rent bicycles near the D’Village Resort opposite the Victoria Bridge.  The trail is surrounded by beautiful greens and you can catch people fishing on the side.  The roads are well tarred and highly conducive if you are looking for a “kampong ride”. You can almost imagine how hulubalangs who used to live in these villages jumping into river sampans at the call of das meriam* from the Kuala Kangsar Palace.   There are not many of such charming kampong surroundings left to tell their stories.

*Note:  Hulubalangs or soldiers of Sultans lived along the river banks of Sg Perak are known to be very loyal towards the monarch.  When hulubalangs are wanted at the palace in Kuala Kangsar, canon shots are made as a signal or call for their presence at the palace.  They would jumped into the boats (sampan) and row upstream towards the palace to report for duties. This was narrated by an ex hulubalang many years ago.  He lived in one of the villages and he retired as a silat (martial arts) master.


Haji Mior Haji Zawari. (2020). Karai: Teman dan Senibina. Akitek Suria, Ampang, Selangor.

Mohd Hasrol Haffiz Bin Aliasak, Mhd. Nor Bin Osman, Siti Rahayu Binti Zakaria, Mohd Farid Bin Sa’ad & Nur Lesya Firsya binti Johaimi Ling. Town of Karai : The only coal mining site in Perak and its contribution to the urban development. Academia.edu. https://www.academia.edu/9531628/Town_of_Karai_The_only_coal_mining_site_in_Perak_and_its_contribution_to_the_urban_development

SembangKuala. (2010, August 15). Victoria Bridge, Kuala Kangsar. https://sembangkuala.wordpress.com/2010/08/15/victoria-bridge-kuala-kangsar/

Victoria Bridge, Malaysia. (2021, October 15). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Victoria_Bridge,_Malaysia&action=history

Zahratulhayat Mat Arif. (2021, March 23). Living River Bike Trail along Sungai Perak now open. NST. https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2021/03/676228/living-river-bike-trail-along-sungai-perak-now-open

R is for Rebab

by Rose Gan

This colourful rebab is a stringed instrument more than eighty years old, part of the gamelan orchestra of the court of Kelantan that accompanied traditional wayang performances. In the same vitrine there are also examples of Kelantanese wayang kulit figures. A rebab is similar to the medieval lute. It originated in the Middle East by the eighth century CE, if not much earlier, where it is widespread in many regions.  From the Arab world, this early instrument travelled both east and west along Islamic trade routes, In Europe, the rebab was the ancestor of the lute, the rebec, and ultimately the guitar, having been introduced in Spain during the medieval Islamic period. In each region, the rebab developed its own particular characteristics.

Rebab at Gallery B

Left to right:
Medieval rebab player c 1250. Image credit: public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Medieval rebab by unknown artist from 13th century. Image credit: https://miguelmorateorganologia.wordpress.com/introduccion-a-los-cordofonos-compuestos-o-familia-de-los-laudes/
Persian rebab player. Image credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/436708495107772315/

The rebab reached South East Asia with the coming of Islam to Sumatra, Java and the Peninsula, and bears marked similarities to the early Persian version. It is a singularly difficult instrument to play because it has neither fingerboard nor fret, and its bow is loosely strung, unlike the taut bow of the violin. It also has a limited range of little more than one octave. In a gamelan orchestra, the rebab acts as an ornamentation to the basic melody, but it also has a function as the main accompaniment in other cultural traditions of the peninsular East coast, particularly Main Puteri, Mak Yong and Tarek Selampit.

K.P.H. Notoprojo, Javanese rebab player. Image credit: Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In South East Asia, the rebab has a distinctive and unique shape, indicating that it evolved significantly from its earliest Arabic origins. Traditionally, the structure of the rebab represents a stylised human form with triangular crowned head (kecopong), long thin neck (leher) and a round body resting on a spiked foot (kaki).   The head is adorned with a brightly painted pucuk rebung motif (bamboo shoot), a typical design found on batik and songket textiles; the top is oddly stupa-like, which may be a throwback to decorative forms of an earlier time. Three pegs (pemulas) can be observed on the upper part of the neck; these are the tuning pegs connected to the strings that are sometimes referred to as ‘ears’ (telinga).  In Java the rebab has two strings, but in Kelantan it has three.

Malay Rebab. Background Image credit: Asza, https://www.asza.com/graphics/Gallery/irebabMalay.jpeg; annotations by Rose Gan.

The body, here hidden beneath a decorative fringing, was originally made of a coconut shell and later wood, with a piece of buffalo intestine or bladder stretched tightly over the front face.  Fabric is used to cover the back.  There is a small moveable bridge on the body. A ball of beeswax (susu), attached near the bridge, mutes the sound reverberations. A wooden foot (known as the spike) protrudes at the base; rebabs of this type are sometimes known as ‘spike fiddles’ in English. The rebab is played upright (like a cello), and is secured on the ground by the ‘foot’.  The bow was originally strung with coconut fibres, but now nylon is used; the strings are coated with resin to smoothen the intricate bowing. The South East Asian rebab may also have been influenced by the Chinese erhu, a similar two-stringed spiked fiddle of very ancient origin; its sound is similar.

Main Puteri was an ancient healing tradition of Kelantan conducted by a bomoh (shaman), involving trances and other ritualistic practises accompanied by the rebab. There was a time when it was even performed in hospitals on the East coast to ensure a safe recovery!   Tarek Selampit, a traditional story telling form in Kelantan, was also accompanied by the rebab. Mak Yong, however, is perhaps one of the most notable Kelantanese traditions connected to the rebab. An ancient dance and drama theatre performed in Kelantan and the Pattani region of southern Thailand, the heyday of Mak Yong was in the 19th- early 20th centuries, although its roots probably stretch back to a much earlier time. The tales performed in Mak Yong theatre reflect very ancient myths and legends, many with roots in the Hindu-Buddhist past. In fact, some believe that Mak Yong may even have originally represented the rice goddess Dewi Sri. During a performance, the rebab is the main instrument that accompanies the dancers, singers and the spoken word, although the orchestra also includes drums and percussion. Today Mak Yong is no longer performed in Kelantan but performances are sometimes held at ASWARA (The National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage) and Istana Budaya (The National Theatre).


Hood Salleh (Vol. Ed.). (2006). The Encyclopaedia of Malaysia Volume 12: Peoples and Traditions. Archipelago Press.

Fiddling Around UK websitehttp://www.fiddlingaround.co.uk/med/Med+mid%20frame.html

JMM. (2014) Koleksi Museum Negara. OMR Press Sdn Bhd.

Matusky, Patricia. (2015). Malaysian Journal of Performing and Visual Arts Vol I:  Mak Yong Music of Malaysia: Negotiating Complex Musical Content Within Periodicity. University of Malaya.

Syed Ahmad Jamal (Vol. Ed.). (2007). The Encyclopaedia of Malaysia Volume 14: Crafts and the Visual Arts. Archipelago Press.

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Q is for Quran

Muhammad Azam Adnan (author), Afidah Rahim (translator)

This article is a translation of an essay written in Malay by Muhammad Azam Adnan and first published in Muzings 2021. You can read the original (in the Malay language) here.

Translator’s Note: There are two copies of the Quran on display in Gallery B. My previous blog article ‘The Quran and the Sunnah’ refers to these artefacts but does not examine the manuscripts in detail. Considering that the Muzings 2021 article ‘Manuskrip Al-Quran Melayu Terengganu’ written by the curator of Gallery B details one of the manuscripts, I have translated the said article below. I would like to express our sincere gratitude to En. Azam for kindly permitting this translation. and for allowing us to use his images. – Afidah Rahim

Terengganu Quran Manuscript

Al-Quran is the Muslim Holy Book, revealed by God through angel Gabriel to prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) during the 7th century CE in Arabia. The revelations occurred gradually over 23 years, since prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was chosen as the messenger of God, responsible for proselytising to his people. The writing of Al-Quran amongst his companions began when prophet Muhammad appointed them to record his revelations and continued up to the rule of Rashidun Caliphs by the followers of the prophet’s companions.

The arrival of Islam in the Malay world as early as the 13th century not only resulted in the conversion of the local population but also placed Al-Quran as an important material culture of the Malays. According to the article written by Annabel Gallop (2007), ‘The Art of the Quran in Southeast Asia’, the writing of Malay Quran manuscripts began at the end of the 13th century CE when the Sultan of Pasai of northern Sumatra embraced Islam. Most 19th century Malay Quran manuscripts are currently held in museum or library collections such as the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM), Malay Manuscripts Centre, Muzium Negara and state museums of Terengganu, Kelantan and Melaka. There are also manuscripts in personal collections.

Left: The red cover of this Terengganu Quran is made from goatskin. This cover is no longer in good condition – most of its gold leaf decorations are damaged or missing. Right: Central illuminations of the Terengganu Quran manuscript. The handwritings in black ink on both these pages are damaged. Image credits: Muhammad Azam Adnan

Muzium Negara has owned the copy of Terengganu Quran manuscript on display in gallery B: Malay Kingdoms since the National History Museum closed in 2007. It was registered in 1992 as MSN32.1992. According to Riswadi Azmi (2020) in his book ‘Manuskrip Al-Quran Emas: Warisan Kesultanan Terengganu’ (Golden Quran Manuscripts: Terengganu Sultanate Heritage), the contents of this manuscript has been repeatedly researched by Malay Quran manuscript researchers. Measuring 40cm x 30cm, this is the second largest after Terengganu Quran manuscript IAMM1998.1.3.3427 (43cm x 28cm) kept at the IAMM. Manuscript MSN32.1992 excludes a colophon i.e. a directory at the back listing the scribe, year and location of writing. This is because Quran manuscript scribes believe that these verses are revealed by God and so their role is merely to copy the holy Quranic verses.

Initial pages of the Terengganu Quran manuscript. Image credit: Muhammad Azam Adnan

Manuscript MSN32.1992 is categorised as a Terengganu Quran manuscript since its features reveal its origin. This can be seen by the illumination or decorations on its pages. According to Annabel Gallop (2012) in her article ‘The Art of the Malay Quran’, the Terengganu Quran manuscript was prized by other Malay kingdoms for its exquisite workmanship – shaped like a shining jewel, embellished with fine artwork and gold leaf. In addition, several pages contain double decorated frames, usually only found at the opening pages of Surah Al-Fatihah and initial verses of Surah Al-Baqarah. The decoration of Terengganu Quran manuscripts would also include double decorated frames at its end pages and sometimes, in the central pages. Red, blue and green on manuscript MSN32.1992 also reflect the special colours synonymous with the decorations of Terengganu Qurans.

The gunungan motif used in manuscript MSN32.1992 is also a special decorative feature of Terengganu Quran manuscripts. This motif originally has Hindu influence, symbolising the mountains of the Malay archipelago in Java, Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. Even with the arrival of Islam, the gunungan motif remains in Malay artistic culture, including in decorations of Quran manuscripts and woodcarving.

Gold leaf illumination of the gunungan motif on the manuscript. Image credit: Muhammad Azam Adnan

Gold leaf is a special element in Terengganu Quran manuscripts, considering that it is not found in any other Malay Quran manuscripts. Riswadi Azmi (2020) in ‘Manuskrip Al-Quran Emas: Warisan Kesultanan Terengganu’ says that the use of gold leaf is a special decorative feature. The golden yellow colour does not come from turmeric but instead comes from pure gold pressings, which function as ‘finishing touches’ to the beautiful Terengganu Quran manuscripts. Hasnira Hassan (2013) in ‘The Second International Archaeological Seminar, History and Culture in the Malay World’, wrote that gold symbolises the supremacy and might of the Creator.

Several surah (chapters) towards the end of the Quran manuscript. Each surah heading is written in red ink whereas gold leaf is used at the end of each verse within the surah. Image credit: Muhammad Azam Adnan

The paper of manuscript MSN32.1992 is European-made, identified by its two watermarks. The first watermark is a lotus flower symbol above the words ’N Pannekoek’, whereas the second watermark is the Roman numeral symbol ‘VI’. Jelle Samshuijzen (2017) in his book ‘A unique collection of watermarks from the Smoorenburg collection: 165 watermarks on 143 blank paper sheets’  wrote that both these symbols are watermarks from 19th century CE Dutch paper mills.

Watermarks on manuscript MSN32.1992 paper. Image credits: Muhammad Azam Adnan

The Terengganu Quran Manuscript (MSN32.1992) displayed at Muzium Negara is evidence of invaluable legacy from previous Malay society. It needs constant care so that current and future generations may continue to value the artistic legacy of Malay material culture forever more.

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A Very Rough Guide To Gemencheh and Gemas

by Eric Lim


The next town from Tampin to the east via Federal Route 1 is Gemencheh. The distance is 27.3 km, which is almost the same distance from Gemencheh to the following town of Gemas, which sits on the border between Negeri Sembilan and Johor. Both towns have a number of things in common; for starters, both towns start with the alphabets ‘G, E and M’, both are located in the district of Tampin, and the establishment of these settlements have something to do with a precious ‘gem’, in this case one of the most popular precious metals with investors, this is gold.

History and Places of Interest


Photo source : Google Map

The area was initially called Sungai Siput but was later changed to Mencheh, the name of the wife of Penghulu Supai who was a Jakun (indigenous people). According to Newbold, gold mines were in existence in Gemencheh in the 1830’s, which was entirely a Malay industry. Sites were selected by a pawang (shaman / healer) and primitive methods were used to obtain the gold dust. Small nuggets were also found. The total output was twenty kati (equivalent to twelve kilograms) per annum. In 1890, the Undang (Lawgiver) of Johol, Datuk Saeto wanted to restart gold mining in Gemencheh and to keep it in the control of Johol but residents of Gemencheh disagreed. This dispute led to several clashes at Bukit Talang (Kampung Pulau [1] today) between Datuk Muda Pilih who led the group fromJohol and Raja Husain for Gemencheh. The latter retreated but later mounted another attack. The British who were in a strong position in the state at that time told Datuk Saeto to fire Datuk Muda Pilih for his crimes against the residents of Gemencheh but was met with refusal by the latter. Much later, Datuk Muda Pilih was killed. Gold mining in Gemencheh ended in 1893 and it disappeared from record. Newbold, whose full name was Thomas John Newbold, was an officer of the East India Company’s Madras Army who served in Malacca from 1832 to 1835. During his three-year’s stay, he had collected materials for his book and other papers for publication. His book has become a valuable document of the Straits Settlements.

(Left) Sungai Kelamah War Memorial / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons(Right) Remnants of the wooden bridge and the new bridge / Photo source : Malaya at War (part 1) – Museum Volunteers, JMM

Moving forward to the period of the Japanese Occupation, after losing the Battle of Slim River to the Japanese on 7 January 1942, British and Commonwealth forces abandoned Kuala Lumpur and withdrew southward beginning on the morning of 10 January. Japanese troops secured Kuala Lumpur with relatively little difficulty at 8.00 pm on 11 January. By the afternoon of 14 January, Japanese forces had advanced past Gemencheh town and were fast approaching the Gemencheh bridge outside the town and just 12 km north of Gemas. Unbeknownst to the Japanese, the 2/30 Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force under Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Gallaghen, nicknamed Black jack, had arrived and occupied positions to the rear of the bridge along the main trunk road on 12 January. The B Company of 2/30 Battalion, which was chosen by lot to conduct the ambush, moved to the bridge area the following day. The ambush occurred at 4.20 pm. Once a large group of Japanese had reached the engagement site, the bridge was detonated and the Australian soldiers hurled grenades and started firing at the Japanese. According to records from battalion members who were present at the ambush, estimate that approximately 600 Japanese were killed. It was also recorded that the action at Gemencheh bridge was the first time that Australian and Japanese troops had met in battle. Today, a new bridge has been built. The remnants of the old wooden bridge can still be seen and not too far from here is the memorial site called Sungai Kelamah War Memorial[2] (war story to continue in the section on Gemas).

(Left) Datuk Mohd Taha (Right) Datuk Mokhtar HashimPhoto source : 3 Assassination Cases That Will Forever Remain in Malaysian History

The town continued to hog the headlines of local dailies. Two events took place that sent shockwaves to the nation. The first took place in the early hours of 14 April 1982 at Kampung Seri Asahan [4] where Datuk Mohamed Taha Talib who was then the Negeri Sembilan Legislative Assembly Speaker, was gunned down outside his home. It was eight days before the 1982 Malaysian Election (GE6). On 10 July, Datuk Mokhtar Hashim, the Member of Parliament for Tampin and Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports and four others were arrested and charged with the murder of Datuk Taha. After seventy-six days in court, which was one of the longest criminal trials in Malaysian history at that time, Datuk Mokhtar was sentenced to death by the Kuala Lumpur High Court in March 1983. It was later commuted to life imprisonment by the Pardons Board in 1984. After serving for seven years, he was released from prison following a royal pardon by the then Yang Di Pertuan Agong, Sultan Azlan Shah. A posting on Facebook on 18 November 2020 confirmed the passing of Datuk Mokhtar at Ampang Hospital at 3.10 am on the same day. He was 78.

The second event was also a scene of killing. It happened on 12 January 2010 at Kampung Batang Rokan [3] where a 34 year-old man killed his grandparents, father and younger sister. He then returned to Shah Alam with his father’s head where he buried it in a Muslim cemetery. He was caught the next day when he tried to attack an auxiliary police officer with a knife near the Masjid Jamek LRT station. In September 2010, he was acquitted of the crimes on the ground of insanity but ordered that he be held at the pleasure of the state ruler.


Photo source : Google Map

The first settlers arrived in the area around 1890’s and named the place, first, in accordance to the actual topography of the surroundings, which was literally covered with swamps with lateral roots that grow upward, as Paya Akar and then changed it to Ayer Terap (latex from the Terap tree). The Terap tree is a native flora and can grow to a height of 45 metres with buttress roots. The bark of the Terap tree is used by the locals for lining baskets and bins, making house-walls and as strings while the latex from the tree, which is very sticky, is used for bird trapping. When the British came in the early 1900’s, they found gold while digging around the district and decided to call the place ‘Goldmas’, a combination of  the word Gold in English and Malay (emas), and it eventually evolved into ‘Gemas’.

(Left) Terap tree / Photo source : Terap – Artocarpus elasticus
(Right) Railway map – connection between Malacca, Tampin and Gemas / Photo source:  http://braderdm.blogspot.com/2009/01/fmsr-tampin-melaka-line.html

When the Federated Malay States Railway was formed in 1901, the tracks were still separated between Perak and Selangor. The North to South trunk line was finally connected in 1903 between Perai and Port Dickson. The Malacca Government Railway then proceeded to link Tampin to Malacca, which was opened on 1 December 1905 and the section connecting Tampin to Gemas was opened to traffic on 1 October 1906. Upon the completion of the latter, the Malacca Government Railway was absorbed into the Federated Malay States Railway. This was followed with the opening section between Gemas and Segamat on 1 March 1908 and the whole of the railway through Johor was commissioned on 1 July 1909. With the completion of the North-South section, the next phase was to connect the railway line to the East from Gemas, which started in 1910.

The date 5 September 1931 witnessed the completion of the East Line (aka East Coast Line) connecting Gemas and Bahau (in Negeri Sembilan) through to Mentakab and Kuala Lipis (in Pahang) and finally to Gua Musang, Tumpat and Sungai Golok (in Kelantan). Today, Gemas is an important railway hub in the country. It is located at the intersection of Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) East and West Coast main lines, which is now collectively known as KTM Intercity rail service. As of now, KTM Intercity is the only train service that transports passengers from Tumpat to Johor Bharu Sentral. Meanwhile, the ETS (Electric Train Service) inter-city electric rail service is currently operating from Gemas to Padang Besar up North in Perlis. Previously, Gemas was the southern terminus of the KTM Komuter Southern sector shuttle train but since 20 June 2016, the shuttle service terminates at Pulau Sebang/Tampin station. The original Gemas station [1], which was opened sometime in 1922, is still standing, located just beside the completely new station complex that was built in 2012.

The ambush at Gemencheh bridge on 14 January 1942 and the fierce fighting in the ensuing day has become known as the Battle of Gemas. The rather lop-sided engagement at the bridge lasted for twenty minutes after which Captain Desmond Jack Duffy, Officer Commanding B Company, told his men to withdraw according to plan to the rendezvous area. Duffy wrote a report when he was held captive as a prisoner of war at Changi gaol and described the aftermath of the ambush: ‘…. the whole of the roadway was completely covered with fallen enemy and their bikes – the road was literally a complete stretch of dead and wounded enemy as there was not a move out of the whole stretch and I doubt if it would have been possible to have walked over this bit of road unless the walker walked on bodies’.

Painting by Murray Griffin depicting the ambush at Gemencheh bridge 
Photo source : Gemencheh Bridge

The Japanese advance came to a sudden halt. They immediately set out to repair the bridge using timber from a nearby sawmill and by dawn the next day, Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go tanks were rolling across the new bridge and heading up the Tampin-Gemas trunk road [2] to the vicinity of 61 mile peg, where the main 2/30 Battalion was waiting for their arrival. A roadblock made up of concrete cylinders was set up and further strengthened with the addition of four anti-tank artillery regiments. In the battle, five tanks were destroyed but Japanese forces continued the attack with reinforcements on the ground as well as taking full command of the air. Japanese aircrafts were bombing Gemas, battalion headquarters and company areas. This resulted in the withdrawal of the battalion in mid-afternoon to the Gemas River. For the Japanese troops, they have now arrived at the southernmost state of Johor, inching ever closer to their ultimate destination, Fortress Singapore.

(Left) Road block made up of concrete cylinders at Gemas
(Right) Map showing the Battalion area at Gemas
Photo source : Gemencheh Bridge

According to the article ‘Sejarah Gemas-Ruangan Lorekan Remaja’, written by students from Sekolah Menengah Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Gemas which won the first prize in a national level secondary school history writing competition, revealed that there are two memorial sites in Gemas. One of the sites is located near the KTM (Keretapi Tanah Melayu) sports club. Immediately after occupying the town, Japanese troops had constructed a monument to commemorate their colleagues who were killed at the ambush. Families of the fallen soldiers will come for the memorial service every five years. The other site is located about 100 metres from a Hindu temple and this is to commemorate Indian railway workers who were killed by Japanese soldiers.

(Left) Indian railway workers and (Right) Japanese soldiers memorial sites in GemasPhoto source : Sejarah Gemas (ruangan lorekan remaja) · Malaycivilization

When Captain Duffy, later promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, retreated with his men, they stayed the first night in the jungle. The following night, they found their way to the Gemas golf links where they found half a tin of condensed milk, a few bottles of soda and tonic water. They spent the night in the golf links and the next morning, headed through the rubber plantation and eventually made it to the battalion headquarters. Today, the golf links is known as Gemas Golf Resort [3], an 18-hole par 72 golf course. The three-storey clubhouse houses a three-star hotel with 43 guestrooms, meeting rooms, a restaurant and a swimming pool.

Gemas Golf Resort / Photo source : Gemas Golf Resort in Tampin, Tampin, Negeri Sembilan

A new township called Gemas Baru [4] is located about one kilometre from the Johor-Negeri Sembilan border and it comes under the Segamat district. Though the towns are in two different states, both towns share the same postal code 73400.

Getting There

From Kuala Lumpur city centre, use the North South Highway (E2 South) and exit at Exit 227 Simpang Ampat. After the toll plaza, turn left to join Lebuh AMJ (Alor Gajah – Central Melaka – Jasin Highway) a.k.a Federal Route 19 to Simpang Ampat. Once the Simpang Ampat Police Station is in sight on the left, turn left to join M10 – Jalan Kemus / Sempang Ampat. Upon reaching Pulau Sebang intersection, turn left to join Federal Route 61 / Jalan Alor Gajah – Tampin a.k.a Jalan Dato Mohd Zin (former Melaka Chief Minister Mohd Zin Abdul Ghani). Upon reaching the intersection in Tampin town, turn to join Federal Route 1 / Jalan Tampin – Gemas to Gemencheh and Gemas.


The Negri Sembilan Economy of the 1890’s (page 50)


Sejarah Gemencheh. · Malaycivilization

Malaya at War (part 1) – Museum Volunteers, JMM


Former minister Mokhtar Hashim dies

Gruesome killings that rocked a nation

Sejarah Gemas (ruangan lorekan remaja) · Malaycivilization.

Terap – Artocarpus elasticus

Gemas Tourism: Best of Gemas, Malaysia – Tripadvisor

Gemencheh Bridge

In this Series

Please click HERE for a list of articles in the ‘A Very Rough Guide’ series.

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