Hidden Gems: Prehistoric Burials

by Marie-Andree Abt

The Dong Son Burial

This burial,  dating from the  South East Asian Bronze Age (around 600 BCE to 200 CE),  was discovered in Kampung Sungai Lang in Selangor in the 1960s. It is the only one of its type in Peninsular Malaysia although others of the same kind have been found in other locations around South East Asia. The  grave was situated under a mound which had later been covered by mangrove and peat swamp. Eleven earthenware bowls lay between the drums, possibly vessels for food and water. Glass beads were scattered around one cluster of shards. No human remains were uncovered in this burial, probably due to the ravages of animals and the tropical climate.

On display at Gallery A, Muzium Negara

It is generally thought that this grave represents a boat burial because planks of wood at the site are consistent with the same species of wood usually used in boat building. Two drums lay upside down on these planks. In the museum, one has been placed the right way up to   reveal the design of geometric shapes, animals and  weapons,  drawn within concentric circles around a star or a sun motif (depending on the source). This important central design comprises a circle of triangular motifs, possibly representing bamboo shoots, worked in low relief, creating the points of a star that stand out in high relief. The drums originate from the Dong Son people of North Vietnam.

The drums were used to communicate with the spirits in religious ceremonies such as to ask for rain. They belonged to high-ranking people, whose remains were sometimes buried inside, so that they could keep their status in the afterlife. It is thought that the drums were arranged upside down either to show that they were not used as containers for food or suchlike, or maybe to protect the power of the surface (and that is the only thing which still remains intact!). The boat connection suggests that this might be the burial of the head of a riverine village.

The fact that we find these drums all over South East Asia  indicates that trade was already widespread in the region at this time. The drums were probably also used to play music for dancers. These drums were still being  made in Thailand at the beginning of the 20th century, and are still in use amongst a few tribes of North Vietnam today.

The motifs on Dong Son drums can also still be found from this time on traditional pottery, jewellery and textile designs. It seems that these motifs have retained their power into the modern age. In Indonesia, the Sultan of Yogyakarta  was traditionally the only one allowed to wear batik sarongs with large bands of motifs similar to the ones on Dong Son drums.

Slab Burials

On display at Gallery A, Muzium Negara

This kind of burial has been found along Perak coastal areas. The slabs are arranged on top of each other with the head area larger than the foot. Although no human remains  were found during excavation, the archaeologists did uncover glass beads, earthenware pottery and iron tools. This shows that these burials were used during the Iron Age from around 300CE until the end of the proto-history era, around 1400CE.

The Trunk Coffin

On display at Gallery A, Muzium Negara

Gallery A shows us that the forest played an essential place in prehistoric daily life. In the past, trees were also important. More than 1000 trunk burials  of this type have been found in  large limestone caves in Sabah. Carbon 14 dating has revealed that they are 1100 years old. Some similar burials have been found in Thailand, but they are 1000 years older.

The coffin in the museum measures about 2 meters, but coffins of this type may be up to 4 meters in length.  The trunks, made of local hardwoods such as iron wood, were  cut in half and hollowed out. The handles were simple and were used to carry the coffin into the cave. Some handles were decorated with snake, buffalo, crocodile or bird heads. The coffin was carried up to the cave by slaves who could win their freedom if they arrived safely.

This coffin was probably intended for a person of high status in the community. Weapons and food remains have been found scattered around the coffins. Some indigenous groups of Sabah still use this kind of coffin.

Jar Burials

Skeletal remains can be seen in this jar to illustrate secondary burials. On display at Gallery A, Muzium Negara.

Jar burials, the interment of secondary remains in locally-made terracotta urns, date back to the Metal Age, as can be seen from the discoveries made in the Gua Niah limestone caves in Sarawak by Tom Harrisson (former curator of the Sarawak Museum 1947-66) and his wife in the late 1950s. Other similar jars have been found in Sabah and Terengganu.  In Sabah and Sarawak secondary burials in jars with the bones of several people have been uncovered.

Until modern times in Borneo amongst indigenous animist communities, it was the custom to keep the deceased within the house (usually in the upper area) so that family members could pray and meditate around the remains for a period of time, sometimes as long as a year or more. At a later date, when the body had completely decayed, the bones were gathered and put into a jar which was taken either to a high burial platform (salong) deep in the forest or interred in the ground. In some cases the body was originally buried until the family had enough money to carry out the proper rites, when the remains were dug up and transferred to a jar for traditional interment.

Later burials made use of Chinese jars, often referred to as martabans or tajau (in the local language), which have been be found widespread throughout South East Asia, and also in Korea and Japan. Jars like those featured in Gallery A, would have originated in China or Indo-China. Some tribes from Sarawak left the jars in the forest near megaliths or encased them within klirieng totem poles. Amongst some indigenous groups of Borneo, these jars represent the maternal womb; the bones are the foetus waiting for reincarnation or rebirth.

The Kuching museum contains a fascinating example of one such jar that unusually contained an entire body originally placed in a primary burial.  It was found by Harrisson in the 1960s in the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak at a burial site known as Budak Butal,  and has been dated to the 2nd century BCE.  An entire corpse was interred in the jar, which had been carefully bisected around the middle to hold the complete body. It was then resealed probably with resin, or local rubber. After a period of time by which time the body would have decomposed completely, the jar was opened so that the ritual for secondary burial could take place. The remains were then re-interred in the burial ground, either in the same vessel, or in another intact jar or coffin. This elaborate- and expensive- practice would have been the preserve of high status members of the community. The rattan casing was added later, most likely for transportation / display purposes – or to protect the fragile vase.

Jar burials of this type do not seem to have occurred elsewhere. The tradition was probably discontinued at least by the 1940s; the Kelabit  people have now mostly embraced Christianity.

Martaban jar found by Tom Harrison at Budak Butal. On display at the Sarawak Museum.

A big thank-you to Dr. Borbala Nyiri for details on the Budak Butal burial jar.

Bibliography

A dictionary of archaeology edited by Jan Shaw& Robert Jameson.

The Oxford companion to archaeology edited by Brian M. Fagan.

The encyclopaedia of Malaysian 4: The early history

A guide of the collection national museum Singapore: Archaeology

Co Vat Phu Tho. Edition: the culture & information.

L`art de l`Asie du Sud -Est edited by Citadelles

http://www.persee.fr/doc/arasi_0004-3958_1991_num_46_1_1300

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Hidden Gems: Gene Ang and his Hawaiian Crackers

by Karen Loh

One night in the early ‘70s. It is past midnight. The stage is set. The crowd waits in anticipation. Gene Ang and his Hawaiian Crackers are playing popular Hawaiian music of the day, performing for one night only at the Chinese New village in Taiping for the legendary striptease artiste, Rose Chan. Suddenly she appears from behind the curtains. The band works hard to keep their music in tempo to Rose’s moves as she gyrates and teases her audience. Unbeknownst to the audience, Rose is wearing three pairs of undergarments. Excitement builds as Rose takes off the first of three of her brassieres and swings it to the audience. She then takes off her second brassiere and again throws it to the crowd. And just as Rose is removing her third brassiere, Gene snaps a string of his lap steel guitar. It was all too much for him.

Gene Ang (2nd from the right) and his Hawaiian Crackers in the late ‘50s.

1958: What do a postman, surveyor, storekeeper, optical shop assistant and bank teller have in common? Nothing much, except that they all were all once members of the same band! Gene Ang and his Hawaiian Crackers was the only performing band in Taiping from the late ‘50s up to 1976. The band comprised of Gene’s neighbour, Zain, who was a postman; Poh Kee who worked in Chartered Bank (now known as Standard Chartered Bank after the 1969 merger with Standard Bank); Singgam, an Army storekeeper; ‘T.A.’ who worked in an optician’s; and Gene whose day job was with the Government Survey Department.

Hawaiian songs and the hits of Elvis Presley were very popular back then so the band concentrated on playing these songs. Most of the music was learnt by ear after listening to vinyl records. They did not have the luxury of music sheets. As the only band around, Gene Ang and his Hawaiian Crackers was in high demand performing at weddings, private evening functions and birthday parties. And during the weekends, they sometimes performed for doctors’ private functions, the police inspectors’ mess, nurses’ dances, and in private clubs. The band even played at the cinema before showings of Elvis Presley movies. One of Gene’s fondest memories is performing in the band which was chosen to play during the opening of Parliament in 1962. Gene’s instrument of choice was the lap steel guitar (a.k.a. Hawaiian guitar), but he could play almost all stringed instruments including the guitar, ukulele, double bass, mandolin, and violin, as well as the gendang (double-headed drum). How and when did Gene develop this passion for playing and performing?

Here is his story…

1929: Ang Leong Tooi was born in Ipoh to a Baba family from Medan. He would later adopt the name Gene after Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy who was popular in the 1940s. Gene’s father worked as a Chief Customs Officer while his mother tended to their six children. Even from the early age of five, Gene was drawn to music. His first instrument was the violin, which he learnt to play from a Ronggeng (Javanese dance) troupe. His family moved to Teluk Intan when he was 7 years old where he was introduced to a friend of his father who played for a Chinese Opera troupe in Taiwan. From him, Gene learned to play the big drum and also observed how to lead a band. But life took a different turn in 1942 during the Japanese Occupation when most of the schools and shops were closed, a period where Gene also stopped playing music.  In 1943, his family moved to Taiping. After the war, Gene resumed his studies at the King Edward School there (now SMK King Edward VII), starting Standard 4 at the age of 17 years old. He would later complete his education at the age of 20 years in Penang in 1949. Sadly, Gene’s father fell ill in December the same year and passed away at the beginning of 1952. With no means of supporting himself through further education, Gene joined the Government Survey Department in Taiping and worked his way up to be a land surveyor.

Photo taken at Town Hall in Taiping during a party for the Survey Sports Club. It was popular then to hire girls from Kampung Pinang as dance partners for joget and ronggeng. The dancers were paid RM15 per person and the band would get RM200. Gene is playing the lap steel guitar in this photo.

As luck would have it, soon after the war, while Gene was still at school in Taiping, he met Emile Nicholas who later became a Major (then Colonel) in the army. The duo played guitar at weekly Saturday campfires and sing-a-longs. It was also during these weekly campfires that Gene met his future wife, Judy Foo, who was only 15 years old when they met. She was his sister’s classmate. They dated for 7 years before getting married in 1954.

In the early ‘50s, Gene was invited to play for the British at the Military Club, the Australian and New Zealand clubs in Kamunting, the Customs Recreational Club, and the New Club near Lake Gardens in Taiping. When Nicholas was transferred to Ipoh, he invited Gene to play the double bass in his band at St. John’s Red Cross Hall and at joget (traditional Malay dance) dances in Perak. After his experiences in Nicholas’ band, Gene finally formed his own troupe in 1958, calling themselves The Hawaiian Crackers with Gene Ang as the band leader. The band performed together until 1976 when Gene had to move to Pahang as the land surveyor for a Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) scheme.

Photo taken in 1965 at the Town Hall in Taiping for Perak Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) with Gene (2nd from the right) playing the double bass, Sultan Idris’ brother on guitar and Nicholas playing the lap steel guitar.

Gene still remains sprightly and full of energy to this day. He does his daily exercises by walking every morning and evening. After he stopped playing music, his passion turned to cooking and baking.

Gene Ang today with the author

Experiencing Cultural Heritage at Batang Kali

by Ong Li Ling

Batang Kali is located along the route to Genting Highlands. It has a dark past being the place where the Seventh Platoon, G Company, 2nd Scots Guard shot dead 24 unarmed villagers. This incident took place in 1948 during the Malayan Emergency at a rubber estate in Sungei Rimoh, Batang Kali.

Today, Batang Kali is a quiet place but this predominantly Hokkien town has a unique cultural experience to offer its visitors. I participated in a tour recently through Lokalocal. The tour guide was Tek Eng Seng, a local resident of Batang Kali who is passionate about promoting the town.

The group met at KL Sentral before 10am and we made our way to Batang Kali. After an hour on the road, Eng Seng greeted us at Econsave and he gave us some local cucur udang (prawn fritters) to try. We had a fun-filled educational trip that is best told in photos.

Our first stop was at Five Q Brothers Enterprise where we learned how to make loh mee from scratch. These noodles are a signature dish of Batang Kali and are traditionally cooked in a thick and starchy broth with a touch of black vinegar to give it a zing. Our noodle-making session was followed by a sumptuous lunch of Loh Mee (of course), Hokkien Mee and Lor Bak at the Hokken Town restaurant.

We then made our way to the organic Guava Fruit Farm. There is also a bee farm on the premises and we tried out various types of honey. I bought a box of wax honey.

We then went to Kuil Siam Buddha Sakya Tharig Centre, which is actually a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. This was followed by a coffee break at Zhen Zhen Restaurant. Eng Seng bought various type of pau for us to sample.

Our next stop was at the World of Phalaenopsis where we took lots of pictures of the orchids. Phalaenopsis is the scientific name for a genus of orchids, known commonly as the moth orchid. Many species of multi colours are grown at the World of Phalaenopsis.

We then soaked our feet in the sulfur ponds at Cholo Cholo Hot Spring. Some of us had lobster feet but it was a good rejuvenation session even though the sulfur gas made my eyes smart. Eng Seng is such a gentleman that he bought me some eye drops.

Next, we visited the Fu Quan temple, which is located on a hill. This is the main temple of Batang Kali. We had quite an adventure here having been got locked out of our van. Luckily a local mechanic came to our rescue.

We ended the day with a sumptuous dinner at Hock Lay Restaurant. Eng Seng treated us to a delicious meal of Boned Pork, Fried Tofu, Tom Yum Prawns and Claypot Veggy.

 

 

Bersih, Cekap, Amanah

The Practical Side of Melaka’s “Golden Age”

by Muhammad Adib bin Mohd Faiz

Although other ports on the Malayan Peninsula and in Sumatra existed along the Straits of Malacca, none of these ports could rival Melaka itself in its heyday, with the entrepôt attracting traders from all over the world.[1] Those who look back upon this period often express nostalgia for a “Golden Age”, with Melaka’s power, wealth, and cultural refinement evoking the image of a distant kingdom, imbibed with majesty and magic. But nostalgia can often cast too strong a spell, and Melaka’s legendary status can obscure the actual reasons for the empire’s success. Though Melaka’s success was partly due to its strategic location, it was largely Melaka’s efficient administration that was central to its success as an international trading hub. The term “administration” does not merely refer to a group of officials, but to “the process or activity of running a business, organization, etc.”.[2] Melaka’s efficient administration was the result of two things: a clear system of law and an efficient system of governance. The region also benefited from effective communication and mutual cooperation, points that will be touched on toward the end of this article.

Spices – a source of wealth for the Melaka Sultanate. Photo taken at the Hang Tuah Centre in Melaka

Melaka had an effective legal justice system, which provided a clear framework for the facilitation of trade. Melaka has a clear legal system, with the region having two important legal codes that governed the affairs of the region. The first was the “Laws of Melaka” (Undang-Undang Melaka), a combination of customary and Islamic law that covered the special rights of the ruling family, dignitaries’ duties, government protocol, and both criminal and civil offences. This meant that there was a clear system that determined the state’s internal affairs, providing a stable basis for the day-to-day activities that took place in the area. But Melaka’s system also encompassed matters of trade, with the “Maritime Laws of Melaka” (Undang-Undang Laut Melaka) providing “rules for the proper conduct of trade, rules governing accidents at sea and regulations for boats and ships”. A clear system of taxation, import duties, customs duties, and gifts was outlined, with the details “varying according to the trader’s country of origin”. These laws provided a clear framework for the functioning of trade, minimizing the potential for large disputes with regards to transactions. The laws also applied the same principles governing affairs on land to those at sea, with captains “possessing power and authority akin to that of the ruler on land”.[3] In a world where so much human activity took place aboard ships, these laws greatly reduced the potential for chaos that could disrupt trade. The laws also covered safety regulations, covering “regulations for the safety of a prahu while at sea”. The law even detailed how sailors should deal with cargo in the midst of “a violent storm”, stating that the nakhodah must hold “a general consultation” of the crewmembers and not “indiscriminately” dispose of the cargo.[4] The clarity and detail of these codes meant that traders “understood what kinds of laws governed their trade”, with the “element of arbitrariness” being “removed” from commercial activity.[5] This provided a sense of security that encouraged traders from all over the world to bring their merchandise to Melaka.

However, a legal system is useless without an executive body to implement it, and Melaka possessed a clear system of governance to implement the region’s laws. Melaka had a clear bureaucratic system that managed the affairs of the region. Authority was centred on the sultan, whose sovereignty was not to be challenged. This notion of sovereignty or daulat was the cornerstone of Melaka’s social order: “without a king there could be no kingdom; without a kingdom there could not be ordered social life”. However, the king was at the summit of a larger governmental system, with the task of managing the country being regulated by a larger bureaucratic structure. Beneath the king were four principal officials:

  • The Bendahara – The Prime Minister or vizier
  • The Penghulu Bendahari – The state treasurer
  • The Temenggong – Head of Security and Law and Order
  • The Laksamana – Admiral of the Navy and chief emissary of the Sultan[6]
Diorama showing the seating positions of the various officials when paying homage to the Sultan. Positions of the four principal officials: Bendahara (5), Penghulu Bendahari (8), Temenggong (9), Laksamana (4 – seated, next to 7). Photo taken at the Melaka Sultanate Palace museum.

These officials existed with the framework of a larger governmental system called “The Fourfold System of Officials” (Sistem Pembesar Empat Lipatan). Beneath the four principal officials were eight lower-ranking officials, beneath these eight were another sixteen officials, and beneath these sixteen another thirty-two. This created a chain of command for the execution of orders, distributing power across a system akin to a civil service.[7]

The regulation of the traders themselves fell to four harbour masters (shahbandars), each of whom regulated the traders from a particular region such as Gujerat or the Malay Archipelago. The shahbandar was “often a foreign merchant who had acquired the trust of the ruler” who would “mediate between merchants of his home area and the ruler”. They also were responsible for many tasks, such as managing transport and making sure that the weights and measures were accurate. But the Malay rulers along the Straits of Malacca also understood the need for cooperation with the more nomadic elements in the society, who possessed skills important to the region as a whole. For instance, the Malay rulers established an alliance with the Orang Laut, “nomadic boat dwellers” that were a large percentage of the population. By establishing alliances with this group, the Malay rulers were able to maintain the safety of Melaka, with the Orang Laut using their seafaring skills to help “keep piracy within limits”. Similarly, the Malay rulers formed alliances with the hinterland dwellers, “gatherers of forest products” who were the “ancestors of the … Orang Asli”. The “bonds of personal loyalty” forged between these two groups resulted in “commercial and military benefits”.[8]

Justice, efficiency, and a willingness to work with others: these three components were ultimately the underlying factors that determined the overall administration of Melaka. It was this form of administration that ultimately brought about Melaka’s success as an entrepôt, making it a meeting place between cultures and civilizations. As we look back upon this “Golden Age”, the centrality of these principles in the proper functioning of Melaka are worth bearing in mind. For after visiting the kingdoms of the past, we must ultimately return to the shores of the present. And what good is a journey if you don’t return home with something useful?

Melaka Sultanate Palace museum. Photo taken from https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g306997-d451317-i63893106-Malacca_Sultanate_Palace-Melaka_Central_Melaka_District_Melaka_State.html

[1] Osman, 114.

[2] Oxford Living Dictionaries, s.v. “administration,” accessed November 3, 2017, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/administration.

[3] Osman, 115.

[4] Raffles’ translation, as quoted in Reddie, 483 & 486.

[5] Syed Farid Al-Attas. “Prof Farid Alatas on Islam and Democracy.” Lecture, Liber TV, Malaysia, July 18, 2014, 2:57, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fe6mEbKnMRs (accessed November 3, 2017).

[6] Osman, 115; Velupillay, 106.

[7] Ismail, 8.

[8] Osman, 114-5; Miksic, 116.

 

REFERENCE LIST:

Al-Attas, Syed Farid. “Prof Farid Alatas on Islam and Democracy.” Lecture, Liber TV, Malaysia, July 18, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fe6mEbKnMRs (accessed November 3, 2017).

Ismail, Akashah. Visual Pelangi Sejarah Tingkatan Lima. Bangi: Pelangi ePublishing, 2010. https://books.google.com.my/books?id=TPkGCgAAQBAJ&pg=PA8&dq=melaka+lipatan&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjW_u-90ZzXAhVKpY8KHXWOB6AQ6AEIMDAB#v=onepage&q=melaka%20lipatan&f=false

Miksic, John. “Entrepôts along the Melaka Strait.” In The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early History, edited by Prof. Dato’ Dr Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman, 116–7. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 1998.

Osman, Mohd Taib. “Trade and administration.” In The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: The Rulers of Malaysia, editorial advisory board chaired by Tun Ahmad Sarji bin Abdul Hamid, 114–5. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2011.

Oxford Living Dictionaries, s.v. “administration,” accessed November 3, 2017, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/administration.

Raffles, Stamford. As quoted in James Reddie, An historical view of the law of maritime commerce. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1935. https://books.google.com.my/books?id=3CE1AAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

Velupillay, Jegatheesan. “The Golden Age of Melaka.” In A Malaysian Tapestry: Rich Heritage at the National Museum, edited by Rose Gan and Maganjeet Kaur, 99–109. Kuala Lumpur: Department of Museums Malaysia, 2015.

Hidden Gems: The Mystery of the Missing Bunga Mas

by Jean-Marie Metzger

This may sound more like a ‘Conan Doyle’ story than an article by a Museum Volunteer; so, let’s find out what’s behind this ‘Mystery of the Bunga Mas’.

Everybody will probably be familiar with the Bunga Mas, a reproduction of which is on display in Gallery C of the National Museum.  The correct name of this artefact is actually Bunga Mas dan Perak, which, rather than ‘Golden Flower’ means ‘Gold and Silver Flower’. Indeed, it is very likely that such an imposing artefact, weighing several pounds, with a height of about 1.5 m1, would be very fragile had it been made of solid gold. But as the actual name seems to indicate, it was probably made of gold-plated silver.

The gifts of the Bunga Mas were sent to the King of Siam every three years, by the Sultans of the Northern Malay States (Kedah, Terengganu, Kelantan, Patani,…) accompanied with other gifts, such as shields and spears.

Bunga Mas at Gallery C Muzium Negara. From http://www.muziumnegara.gov.my/gallery/items/Bunga_Mas_61

These gifts from the Sultans to the King, were probably laden with deep political misunderstanding: while the King of Siam would consider them as a recognition of suzerainty over the Malay Sultanates, the Sultans would simply regard them as a token of friendship. The relationship between the northern Sultanates and the Kingdom of Siam had never been an easy one, as can be seen by the various appeals for ‘protection’ to the different occupying powers, be it the Dutch or later the British. There could occasionally even be exchanges of concealed insults. According to a note found in the Cambridge University Library2 (Archives of the British Association of Malaysia and Singapore), the author mentions that he had seen a letter which was sent to the Sultan of Terengganu by the King of Siam in which the latter reversed the traditional courteous formula: ‘sending a gift from the Head of the Sultan to the feet of the King’, into the insulting reply: ‘from beneath the King’s feet to the crown of the Sultan’s head’.

The last Bunga Mas from Kedah to the King of Siam was sent in 1906. Three years later, another Bunga Mas was ready to be sent. In March 1909, however, before it could be send to Siam, Britain and Siam signed a treaty in which the sovereignty over the northern sultanates of Malaya (with the exception of Patani and Setul) was to be transferred to Britain.

According to the above-mentioned note, the Sultan of Kedah sent this Bunga Mas to King Edward VII instead. In the first report of the British advisor to Kedah, Mr. Maxwell, he noted that during the meeting of the State Council on August 23rd 1909, the question arose whether sending the Bunga Mas to Edward VII was to be regarded as ‘the last of a series relating to a remote past’. The offer was indeed accepted, and Tunku Muhammad Jiwa, who had conveyed the previous Bunga Mas to Bangkok, set off to Singapore. Two Bunga Mas, together with forty-two spears and twenty-four shields, as well as a Bunga Mas from Perlis, and ‘other offerings from Terengganu’, were sent to the Colonial Office, and were personally presented to the King by the Secretary of States to the Colonies.

This is where the mystery begins. Although the Archives of Windsor Castle mention that the gift had been received by King Edward, all of the artefacts have subsequently disappeared. There is no mention of them whatsoever in the Royal Collections. A few months ago, the curator for the Royal Gifts, when questioned by me about these artefacts, told me that they had never been heard of. They are certainly not registered in the current inventory.

Furthermore, it seems that another final gift of Bunga Mas was sent in 1911 to King George V by the Sultan of Kedah on the occasion of the King’s coronation. This too seems to have disappeared!

Now there is food for further research: Kedah Archives, Malaysian National Archives, British Colonial Office Archives…MVs! Get ready!

Notes:

1  https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2010/12/07/museum-dept-to-have-a-closer-look-at-bunga-emas-in-bangkok/

2 University of Cambridge Library – RCS/RCMS 103/2/12 ; the author is identified as Hugh Patterson Bryson, and is referenced as having written the note in 1965 see : https://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/db/node.xsp?id=EAD%2FGBR%2F0115%2FRCMS%20103%2F2%2F12

Graduation – Batches 28 and 29

The graduation ceremony for Batches 28 and 29 took place on 10 March. Karen, in her opening speech, was happy to note that a high percentage of trainees graduated this year – 27 out of 30 from Batch 28 and 8 out of 9 from Batch 29. In addition, 16 out of 18 trainees  from Batch 30 received their certificate of completion. She also noted that Batches 28 and 29 were the only batches to have trained in February and that the training programme will revert to September this year with Batches 31, 32, and 33. Karen highlighted that the current two-tier graduation will no longer be practised and that Batch 30 will be the last batch to receive course completion certificates. Moving forward, trainees will only receive graduation certificates. Moving forward, JMM has requested more Mandarin-speaking guides. In addition, Karen is looking at the MV extending tours to Muzium Tekstil and Muzium DiRaja.

Karen

Representatives of the various batches shared their experiences. Below are the speeches made by Rama and Afidah, both from Batch 28.


Ramanathan L Manickavasagan (Batch 28)

Rama

About 14 months ago, on the 21st of January, 2017, the group known as “Batch 28 volunteers” met together for the first time. We were shown the schedule of training which we must attend and we were told what we must fulfil in order to qualify as guides.

We gasped when we heard that we would have to submit written texts and give oral presentations lasting 3 minutes for one artefact, 5 minutes for two artefacts and 15 minutes for a whole gallery. We shuddered when told we had to present without notes.

We were pleased when we learned that we would have mentors who would teach and encourage us. Our pleasure grew over the weeks as we realised how capable our trainers were, just as our anxiety grew because we saw they exhibited such high standards.

On 20th June 2017 we completed our formal training. By then

  • We had written 3 papers, varying in length from 500 words to 3,000 words
  • We had communicated often through WhatsApp messages.
  • We had accompanied at least 3 guides as they conducted public tours.
  • We had read much both in books and through online research.
  • We had completed our single gallery, 15 minute presentations and received feedback from our classmates as well as our trainers.
  • We felt like “maybe we can do this.”

Then we scheduled time with our trainer-mentors for us to do solo guides of the whole museum so they could watch us, give us feedback and decide when we would be ready to be rostered as museum guides.

Today each of us from Batch 28 has conducted at least 3 tours on our own. We have guided visitors from across a wide spectrum of humanity: young, old, eager, passive, aggressive, silent, interrogative, patient, impatient, well-read and unread.

We’ve often had the interaction I again had yesterday when I was guiding:

  • 10 am
    • Guide: What made you come to the museum?
    • Visitor: Reading about how much visitors enjoyed the free guided tours.
  • 12 noon (it usually takes 2 hours, not the hoped for 1 hr 20 minutes)
    • Guide: Did the tour meet your expectations?
    • Visitor: Oh, it’s even better than I expected.

We reverberate with joy when that happens. The joy comes not only from personal satisfaction. It comes also from the fact that each guide is a member of a community of guides who strive to excel in knowledge, presentation and service.

As I lay in bed last night thinking about the discourse during the morning’s guided tour, I recalled this passages from a book I read some years ago:

History is the study of humans and time, indeed, of humans changing over time. Furthermore, history is the memory of the stories about people changing over a time span. In a certain sense, history would not be possible if it were not for the telling of it. … History untold is not history at all. History … is vital to our human existence. To have no story is, almost, to have no life. People suffering from amnesia can live and function, but they lead pitiable lives because they have lost contact with their own story. (Wells, History Through the Eyes of Faith, page 2)

A year on, I realise we are story tellers, our subject matter is history and our goal is the removal of amnesia.

Becoming a museum guide has made us more thoughtful persons, more careful in what we say and driven to study. This is a day to be celebrated. I thank all of you, trainers and trainees alike, who have made it possible for us to join the ranks of amnesia-removers.


Afidah Zuliana bt Abdul Rahim (Batch 28)

Afidah

It has been my secret ambition to be a museum volunteer for about 22 years now. In 1996, the President of Korea Gas Corporation, Mr. Han Kap-Soo requested a visit to Muzium Negara. As a young Petronas executive, I was assigned to show Mr. Han around the museum. It was a daunting task as I had to rely on my Form 3 Malaysian history to inform this distinguished gentleman. Thankfully, I managed to pull through and surprisingly enjoyed myself, so much so that I secretly wished to be able to do more museum tours. Of course, the MV did not exist then. It was only last year that I finally had the opportunity to sign up as an MV trainee.  Thank you Karen and team for making my dream a reality.

It has been a challenging journey for Batch 28 but I am sure you would agree that it has been well worth the effort. Thanks to our inspiring lecturers, MV trainers and librarians, our knowledge of Malaysian history has improved tremendously. Also, our presentation skills have been honed over the past year.  Special thanks to my mentor, Jega. Thank you Poh Leng, Jean-Marie and Douglas for your dedication and patience in training us. Thank you to En. Jamil, Fiza & Jane of JMM for hosting us.

This MV training has certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone. Notably, when one of my visitors, having been on my tour, decided to introduce me to a Harvard-trained anthropologist so that we can talk shop! With nerves of steel, I drew upon my MV training to get through our lunch and I am happy to say that we are still in touch. The training also gave me the confidence to seek out a curator from the Asian Civilisations Museum and engage in conversations with Singapore docents.

My world has expanded with this experience. I joined the MV trips to Sin Sze Si Ya temple and Royal Museum – places I had not visited, even as a local. Above all, the MV training has given me a deeper appreciation of Malaysian history and culture. As a Malaysian, I am proud of our rich heritage.

So far, I feel that I have gained more than I have given. Now, it’s payback time! I tell almost everyone I meet about our free guided tours. I look forward to my monthly guiding duty and to future MV events. There is still so much more to learn.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

Sama-sama, kita berkhidmat untuk negara.

The three batches together with their trainers

 

Hidden Gems: The Magic Square Bowl

by Marianne Khor

Amidst a number of examples of the Islamic influence on metal and ceramic wares in a showcase in Gallery B, a small bowl can be found with the intriguing description ‘Magic Square Bowl’. It looks like a small Chinese rice bowl but is decorated with Islamic script. On the inside of the bowl is a square consisting of sixteen smaller squares, also containing Islamic writing. Was it used to perform magic, or was it magical in itself?

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) Chinese ceramics with Islamic script were already produced in China and transported along the maritime trade routes by Arab and Persian traders. After the Tang Dynasty, ceramics with Islamic inscriptions were no longer produced. Only in the early 16th Century did they appear again. The Magic Square Bowl in Gallery B is from the 18th Century Qing Dynasty.

The Magic Square, or Buduh tradition, predates Islam. The early Magic Square is thought to be of Chinese origin and consisted of a 3×3 square with 9 smaller squares. The numbers 1-9, with the number 5 in the centre, add up to 15 in each row, column and the two diagonals. An early version of Sudoku? A Magic Square was used to find love, prevent fears, attacks and poisoning. It helped during childbirth and also in finding lost objects. In short, it could be quite helpful for many occasions. Later, there were Magic Squares of 4×4, 6×6, 7×7, and 10×10, and even 100×100 squares with an arrangement of letters and numerals.

Islamic mathematicians in the Arab world already knew about the Magic Square as early as the 7th Century. This knowledge may have come from India through the study of Indian astronomy and mathematics, or from China. The earliest Magic Squares were written in ‘abjad’ letter-numerals. The four corners of the square were marked with the letters ba’, dal, waw (or u) and ha. Therefore, this particular square was known as the ‘Buduh’ square.

The name ‘Buduh’ itself was so powerful that it was regarded as a most effective talisman, and so was the letter B with its numerical equivalents 2,4,6,8. This arrangement of letters and its corresponding numbers is believed to protect travellers, babies, postal letters and packages. Even today in some Islamic countries, one can find packages marked with the numbers 2,4,6 or 8 in the corners, or just the letter B added under the address to ensure that the items arrive safely. This might be something worth trying out!

Magic Squares were used by Muslims as religious mandalas, meditation devices, talisman, and amulets. They were drawn on a variety of objects, even on skin.

The Arabic letters and numerals in the Magic Square can also be read as one of the ninety-nine names or attributes of God. The numerical value with a certain specific meaning can be obtained by adding the corresponding letters of any of the columns of the Magic Square in a horizontal, vertical or diagonal way.

One wonders what the inscriptions in the Magic Square Bowl in Gallery B represent…

Do they have a religious meaning?

Or are they just meant to bring good luck in any situation?

Bibliography:

Invulnerability, Federation Museum Journal, Volume XVI new series 1971

Arts and Crafts Company, Global Arts and Crafts, Antiques, Design and Art, Kho- antiques ( Singapore)

Islamic Medical Manuscripts at the US National Library of Medicine, Catalogue: Astrology/Divination/Magic, Author: Emilie Savage-Smith PH.D. Senior Associate, The Oriental Institute University of Oxford

Hypernumber Buduh: hypernumber.blogspot.my