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.
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.
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.
The body, here hidden beneath a decorative fringing, was originally made of a coconut shell and later wood, with a piece of buffalo intestine or bladder stretched tightly over the front face.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.
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 IAMM19220.127.116.1127 (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.
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 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.
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.
In this Series
Click HERE for a list of articles in the ‘A-Z at Muzium Negara’ series.
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
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  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.
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 (war story to continue in the section on Gemas).
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  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  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.
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’.
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 , 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’.
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  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.
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 , 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.
A new township called Gemas Baru  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.
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 image below is that of the palong, installed at Gallery C. A palong is essentially an elevated sluice-box supported on wooden scaffoldings. It is an important component in opencast tin mining (both dry and gravel-pump), a mining method exploiting tin-rich alluvial soil.
Palong in Gallery C, Muzium Negara. Image credit: Maganjeet Kaur
The first step in this method is to remove the overburden, as it does not contain any tin. This used to be done manually using shovels until tractors took over; an alternate method uses water jets to strip away this layer of the soil. Next, using monitors, water is applied at high pressure to break down the tin-bearing rock, and the resultant slurry washes down to a sump (bottom of the pit). The mining pit is intentionally made steep to ease the flow of the slurry.
The slurry is then pumped up to the palong by means of a gravel pump, which is housed in an attap shed just above the sump. The gravel pump, originally used in gold mining, was adapted and improved by Australians for the mining of tin. A company based out of Victoria, Australia introduced gravel pump technology at their new tin-mining venture in Sungei Raya, Kinta Valley, in 1907. Gravel pump mining caught on rapidly and was employed by Chinese and European companies.
Role of the palong
The palong is considered the most important component of the opencast tin mine as tin is recovered here. Thus, it has to be well designed to avoid wastage. The design must account the gradient of the palong. A gentle slope may result in improper flow of the slurry while a very steep slope, where the slurry flows down fast, results in poor recovery.
The slurry forced up the palong by the gravel pump first goes through a revolving screen that removes large pieces of stones and gravel. As the slurry flows back down the palong, it is agitated by transversely placed wooden bars, which trap the heavy tin ore. The recovered tin is transported to a washing plant known as a tin shed. After washing, the ore is stored in this shed until it is ready to be transported to the smelting plant.
Khoo Salma Nasution & Abdur-Razzaq Lubis. (2005). Kinta Valley: Pioneering Malaysia’s Modern Development. Perak Academy.
Gustav Overbeck appears in Muzium Negara because of his involvement in Sabah. He was a German businessman, adventurer and diplomat. This man had ADVENTURES! Overbeck was born 1830 in Lemgo (Germany) and died in London 1894 aged 64. His father was a pharmacist and medical councillor.
As a young lad, Overbeck apprenticed with his uncle in the family business. At age 20, he immigrated to the United States. Starting a trading business in San Francisco, he undertook trade journeys to Hawaii, South Seas, Alaska, and other locations. By 1854 at age 24 Overbeck was in Hong Kong and working for the English trading house Dent & Co. In 1856, he was appointed Prussia’s Vice Consul in Hong Kong, and in 1864, he became Consul for the Austrian Empire. In 1867, Overbeck was made a Baron.
James Brooke’s success in Sarawak encouraged a number of other adventurers to attempt similar ventures, albeit for more commercial reasons. From the 1860s, Northern Borneo was caught up in the great land grab starting with the Americans in the first wave. First on the scene was American Consul Charles Lee Moses, who was more of an adventurer and less of a diplomat. In 1865, Moses convinced the Sultan of Brunei to cede him the northern end of Borneo. The Sultan of Brunei was desperate for revenue, but he also hoped that the Americans could act as a counterweight to the British and Brooke’s growing dismemberment of his sultanate.
Moses had no money to finance his venture and he sold his rights to another American, Joseph William Torrey, who established the American Trading Company of Borneo. The Sultan of Brunei proclaimed Torey the Raja of Ambong and Maruda! Unfortunately, Torrey was not a good businessman and his venture failed.
A decade later, the newly created Baron von Overbeck, the Austrian Consul General at Hong Kong, showed up. In 1877, Torey sold his interest to the Baron. The Baron entered into partnership with British businessman, Alfred Dent, to develop the resources of North Borneo. Overbeck also negotiated treaties with both the Sultans of Brunei and Sulu. The Sultan of Brunei appointed Overbeck as Raja of Gaya and Sandakan and Maharajah of Sabah! Later, the Sultan of Sulu added the title Datu Bandahara and Rajah of Sandakan.
Alfred Dent requested for a charter from the British Government and in 1881 formed the North Borneo Company to manage Sabah. Overbeck was bought out and he withdrew, transferring all his titles to Dent.
The Maharajah Mystery
Something may have been “Lost in Translation”. There is much controversy over the English translation of the Sultan’s proclamation and Agreements. The ‘Maharajah’ title flaunted by Overbeck may not have been the title of a monarch, but rather it was “maha rajah”, the job description of the chief supervisor acting as a “tax farmer” throughout Sabah! However, it is clear that the native chiefs accepted Overbeck’s use of the title whether or not it was actually bestowed by the Sultan.
A senior member of the Foreign Office in London noted that “Raja Brooke is evidently incensed with jealousy of Raja Overbeck” but apparently over land and not rank.
Overbeck had four daughters with a Chinese woman named Lam Tsat Tai in Hong Kong. I have not been able to find a photograph of Gustav Overbeck but I found a photo of one of his daughters, Oi Moon, on geni.com.
When Overbeck was 40 years old, he married Romaine Madeleine Goddard who came from a well-connected political family in America. Their wedding was a Washington DC society event and attended by President Ulysses Grant. The couple had three sons.
Not bad for a son of a pharmacist!
Baker, Jim. (2008). Crossroads: A Popular History of Malaysia and Singapore. Marshall Cavendish.
Cheah Boon Kheng. (2001). Sarawak & Sabah. In Cheah Boon Kheng (Vol. Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Malaysia. Vol. 7, Early modern history (1800-1940). Archipelago.
The Nyabor sword, one of a collection of Sarawak weapons in this vitrine, is referred to as ‘Parang Nyabor’ but also known as ‘Pedang Nyabor’. In Indonesia, the spelling ‘niabor’ is used. The nyabor is an Iban warrior sword of ancient lineage, more correctly referred to as pedang because of its length, which at 60-90 cm (2-3 feet) makes it a cutlass rather than a long dagger. The Nyabor was used by Borneo Ibans (sometimes called Sea Dayaks) and is found in Sarawak as well as West and Central Kalimantan. It was an important part of a warrior’s accoutrements, especially from 1800 to the late 19th century.
The iron blade of the Nyabor is broad and slightly curved, coming to a wedge-shaped point at the end. Many have a sharp protrusion on the cutting edge of the upper part of the blade near the hilt, the kundieng, whose purpose is both to parry (allowing a backhand slicing motion) and also to serve as a finger guard. The hilt was made either of antler or deer horn, carved in a triangular stylised shape that has been variously compared to the head of a bird, a horse or a naga, often decorated with floral motifs.
The sheath of this sword (sarung) is undecorated, which is typical of the nyabor, unlike the more colourful mandau/parang ilang daggers with which they are often confused. The Dutch in Kalimantan mostly did not distinguish between the two, referring to all such weapons as ‘mandau’. Careful comparison, however, indicates that not only were the blades of the mandau/parang ilang shorter, but their hilt and sheath were highly decorated with braiding and beadwork in traditional sacred colours. Nyabors have minimal adornment, mostly plain bands, either of plaited fibre, wood or brass, to which feathers, animal teeth and small bones are sometimes attached. These talismans, as with all Bornean weapons, imbued the owner with the strength and skills of the dead animal in battle.
The nyabor was a multi-purpose weapon. It was primarily for battle or headhunting but, unlike shorter blades, it was also useful for slashing so could serve as a tool for clearing undergrowth and forest, essential both for agricultural purposes and also for expeditions through dense jungle, either for hunting, raiding or war. Today, the nyabor is a rare collectors’ item, for this weapon was rarely used after 1900. It is possible, however, to buy reproductions that are still produced for the export and tourist market. Many authentic original nyabors have sheaths of more modern fabrication.
The notes in the vitrine state that the Pedang Nyabor was an Iban weapon used in the struggle against the British occupation of Sarawak. This is obviously a reference to indigenous attempts to oust Rajah James Brooke in the mid 19th century. The weapon would have similarly been used in Kalimantan against the Dutch colonial forces.
This weapon had a central role in the now sensitive subject of headhunting. The Iban people traditionally followed an animist belief system, in which the worship of ancestral spirits ensured the balance of the cosmos. The Iban believed that they descended from a progenitor figure, a bird-god called Sengalong Burung, who came down from the sky. Most of their traditional practices concern the placating of harmful spirits and the summoning of protective ancestors to restore the harmony of their everyday lives. The taking of heads was essential to appeasing the wandering spirit of a recently dead ancestor, assisting its passage to the afterlife and ensuring its future protection for the community. Headhunting was also part of the cycle of fertility of both crops and humans and the response to outbreaks of disease or natural disasters. The heads of enemies, displayed in their houses and around the village, was deemed necessary for their continued prosperity and unity. The spirits of these dead also strengthened the warrior who had killed them, for their abilities and life essence now passed to him. Thus, the heads were always accorded great respect and played a part in important village rituals and dances. But revenge was also a common motive for the taking of heads. If any perceived injury or harm had been inflicted on a community by a neighbour then they considered themselves honour-bound to take heads from the warriors of that village, often causing vendettas that went on for years.
Ngayau or headhunting, was still rife in 1800. It was officially ended in Sarawak during the administration of Rajah Brooke by the mid 19th century, although it is said Brooke tolerated incidences of headhunting raids when it suited him, if the attacks targeted groups hostile to his government. Since then there have been reports of sporadic outbreaks, particularly during times of conflict, e.g. World War II and during the Konfrontasi with Indonesia.
Gan, Rose. (2011). Indonesian Heritage Society Museum Nasional Training Materials: 2a Ethnography. National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta.
JMM curators. (2011). Muzium Negara Gallery Guide (Gallery C): Colonial Era. Department of Museums Malaysia.
Today, there are seven districts in the state of Negeri Sembilan, namely Seremban, Port Dickson, Rembau, Jelebu, Kuala Pilah, Jempol and Tampin. Tampin district is administered by Majlis Daerah Tampin/Tampin District Council, which was established on 1 July 1980. The area size of the district is 85,349 hectares and the following towns are located in the district: Tampin, Pekan Repah, Gemencheh, Batang Melaka, Air Kuning Selatan, Pekan Pasir Besar and Gemas. Three of the towns are border towns; Tampin and Batang Melaka at the boundary between Negeri Sembilan and Melaka; and Gemas at the border with Johor. This article will focus on the history of Tampin and its attractions.
(L) Coat of arms of Negri Sembilan (R) Original nine states of Negri Sembilan. Photo source : Wikimedia Commons
Taking a close look at the coat of arms of Negeri Sembilan, one can easily identify the nine yellow stalks of rice in the middle of the shield. These stalks mark the original nine states of Negeri Sembilan, namely Jelai, Jelebu, Johol, Kelang, Naning, Rembau, Segamat-Pasir Besar, Sungai Ujong and Ulu Pahang. The inscription, which is written in Jawi script, is the name of the state and below it is a nine-pointed star that signifies the nine states united as one. Negeri Sembilan today is smaller as parts of the state were annexed to neighbouring states in the 19th century CE. Following the Naning War in 1831-1832, the entire state of Naning was annexed to the Straits Settlement of Malacca and today, it falls under the Alor Gajah and Jasin districts. The long-standing boundary problem with Selangor was finally solved at a convention held in Singapore on 31 July 1880. Negeri Sembilan got hold of Lukut and Cape Rachado but lost some parts of Kelang and Sungai Ujong. They are now part of the Kuala Langat and Hulu Langat districts in Selangor respectively. One part of Ulu Pahang was annexed to Pahang and it became the Bera district of Pahang. Bera district is very much in the news lately because our current Prime Minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, is the Member of Parliament for Bera (P90). The other part of Ulu Pahang comes under the Jelebu district. Likewise, for Segamat-Pasir Besar, one part was annexed to Johor and the other is now part of the Tampin district.
The Minangkabaus from Sumatra arrived as early as the 14th century CE where they explored and built settlements within the west coast of the peninsula. The lowlands of Rembau were amongst the earliest sites due to its proximity to the main waterways, Sungai Linggi and Sungai Rembau. Later, they moved to the inland districts. When Melaka fell to the European colonists, these states came under the suzerainty of Johor. When the Dutch took over Melaka from the Portuguese, several treaties were drawn up. On 12 December 1757, at the Johor- Dutch Treaty, Johor ceded Rembau to its ally, the Dutch. A peace treaty between Bugis and Dutch was signed on 1 January 1758 at the newly built fort at Kuala Linggi. On 11 November 1759, Dutch made a treaty with Rembau, which gave a monopoly of its tin trade to the Dutch.
(L) Flag of Rembau (R) Flag of Tampin / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons
The founder of the royal house of Rembau and Tampin was Raja Adil. According to Dutch records, Raja Adil was installed in February 1785. He was a strong supporter of Bugis leader Daeng Kemboja who had set up his main base at the estuary of Sungai Linggi. Raja Adil died in 1798 and he was succeeded by his son, Raja Asil. He was conferred the title ‘Yam Tuan Muda’ (YTM) by the second ‘Yam Tuan Besar’ (YTB) of Negeri Sembilan, Raja Hitam. Raja Asil was also offered a personal fiefdom in Tampin and the right to collect export duties on tin shipped down Sungai Linggi. In 1812, his son’s misdemeanour (he had abducted a woman who had earlier refused his hand for marriage) led to his downfall. Raja Ali ousted Raja Asil from office and became the second YTM. In 1832, at the height of the Naning War, Raja Ali and Rembau changed sides and supported the British who came out victorious in their second invasion of Naning. With British recognition of support, Raja Ali laid claim to the then vacant office of the YTB of Sri Menanti and relinquished the YTM to his son-in-law, Syed Syaaban. These developments enraged other rulers of Negeri Sembilan citing that they had no right to the posts. In 1836, Raja Ali and Syed Syaaban were driven out of Rembau by the combined forces of Dato Klana of Sungai Ujong, Dato Muda Linggi and the Undang of Rembau. Raja Ali fled to Lukut and then to his son-in-law at Tampin. He died at Keru in 1850/1856. Syed Syaaban commuted between Tampin and Melaka, where he had a house. He made several attempts to re-establish himself as the YTM and even the YTB but all came to nought. He only managed to secure his rule over Tampin as Tunku Besar. He died in 1872 and he was buried in Tampin. Syed Hamid took over and continued to push for the establishment of the office of YTM but the British had put a stop to the claim saying that it was no longer valid. The British however recognised Tampin as an independent district and as a ruler of a part of Negeri Sembilan. Syed Hamid died in 1894. Coming to the present, the current Tunku Besar Tampin is YTM Tunku Syed Razman, who was installed on 26 December 2005. The Member of Parliament for Rembau (P131) is Khairy Jamaluddin. KJ, as he is commonly known, is now the Minister of Health. Prior to this, he was the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation and the Coordinating Minister of the National Immunisation Programme.
By the turn of the century, the development of the Malayan railway system moved to a new phase with the amalgamation of the Perak and Selangor State Railways to form the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) in 1901 with Edwin Spooner as the first FMSR General Manager. By 1903, the trunk line connected Prai in the north to Port Dickson in the south. 15 July 1905 saw the opening of the section between Seremban and Tampin. Right after, works started on the branch line linking Tampin to Melaka. The laying of the 21¼ miles (34.2 km) track was completed in good time by the Malacca Government Railway who was given the concession for this branch line. The opening of this section was on 1 December 1905 and it was reported the following day in The Malay Mail: “Yesterday was an important date in the annals of our railway system, as it marked the opening of the line from the southern boundary of Negri Sembilan to the ancient port of Malacca”. Meanwhile, The Straits Times reported that the first ticket from Melaka to Tampin was purchased by Mr Darbyshire who was the constructing engineer and a few Negeri Sembilan officers including the District Officer of Tampin, made the journey to Melaka where they had breakfast at the Residency. The following year, the main trunk line was extended from Tampin to Gemas. Gemas grew to become an important railway hub in our country, but that would be another story for another time.
During the Japanese Occupation, the entire FMSR network came under Japanese control. Some of the minor/branch lines were closed and construction materials were dismantled and transported to the Thailand and Burma (Myanmar today) border for the infamous Death Railway project. The train tracks of the Tampin-Melaka line was one of the lines that were dismantled. It was also reported that railway workers in Melaka were captured and forced to work there. The line was never rebuilt after the War.
In my last article about Pengkalan Kempas and Kuala Linggi, I wrote about megaliths found at the historical complex located at the former. The district of Tampin is one of the main areas in our country where these ancient stones are found. Further research into the megaliths culture have been lacking until a team from the Museums Department led by Adi Haji Taha and Abdul Jalil Osman started the excavation of the megalithic alignment at Kampong Ipoh, Tampin from the end of November 1981 to the first week of February 1982. Although the site did not yield any positive information, the excavation nevertheless concluded that a megalithic alignment in Peninsular Malaysia is not the site of historic or prehistoric burial, contradicting a widely held local belief.
Places of Interest
The name Tampin is a Malay word for a pouch that is woven from pandanus fronds/nipah leaves and is commonly used to store food such as ‘dodol’ (a kind of sticky sweet toffee-like confection made from coconut milk, red sugar and rice flour) and ‘belacan’ (shrimp paste).
As Tampin is located within the area with the largest distribution of megaliths in the country, a visit to one of the sites would be in order. There is none better than the nearby Megalith Datuk Nisan Tinggi  at Kampung Repah, along Jalan Tampin-Gemas. It is located inside a Muslim cemetery and the stone is recorded to be the tallest in the state, standing at a height of 3.5 metres, which is twice the height of average Malaysians. Megaliths from the old site at Kampong Ipoh were transferred elsewhere after the excavation. Some of the stones are on display at the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur.
When the Tampin-Melaka railway section was opened in 1905, Tampin station was initially known as Pulau Sebang station, named after the actual location of the station, which is in the Alor Gajah district of Melaka. Tampin, which is situated just across the border, was developing rapidly and it was decided that the station’s name be changed to Tampin. However, residents on the Melaka side continued to call it Pulau Sebang station. It was only in 2013, when the old station was demolished and a brand new station was built and also to accommodate the double tracking and electrification project, that KTM managed to resolve the dispute by naming it Pulau Sebang / Tampin station . Today, the station is served by KTM Komuter (the southern terminus of the Seremban Line), KTM ETS (Electric Train Service/Padang Besar-Gemas) and KTM Intercity (starting point of Ekspres Selatan Line to Johor Bahru Sentral station).
(L) Megalith Datuk Nisan Tinggi / Photo source : Sustainable Living Institute (SAVE). (R) Megaliths from Kampong Ipoh, Tampin at National Museum / Photo source : Eric Lim
Religious architectures are easily visible in our country and it is not uncommon to find various places of worship all in close proximity to one another, Tampin town is a very good example. Located opposite Pulau Sebang/Tampin station is Masjid Aleyah Kuala Ina .The mosque was opened on 1 January 1972 but was destroyed in a fire in 2000. The current building, which closely resembles the Al Azim Mosque in Central Melaka, was built and at the same time, its perimeter extended. It was inaugurated on 14 March 2004 by the Chief Minister of Melaka. Just next to the mosque is the Tampin Green Dragon Temple . Besides Chinese deities, the shrine of Datuk Kong is also featured in the temple. Further up along Jalan Besar on the Tampin side is the Tampin Chinese Methodist Church . Services are on Sunday mornings and conducted in English, Malay and Mandarin. Also located on Jalan Besar, at the centre of the town is Gurdwara Sahib Tampin . The land of the present site of the Gurdwara Sahib was purchased in 1967 and in the following year, the adjoining land was purchased. Construction of the Gurdwara Sahib started in 1996 and it was completed two years later. It was officially declared open on 15 November 1998. Prayers are held on Sunday mornings at 9.00 am. About one km away from Gurdwara Sahib Tampin, along Jalan Tampin-Gemas is Sri Sundara Vinayagar Temple .
Tampin may be a small town but it is not short of parks for recreation. It also offers interesting places for ecotourism and extreme sports enthusiasts. Not too far from the Tampin District Council office and just next to the boundary line is the Tampin Recreational Park . The park covers an area of nine acres and 0.8 acres of it is the existing lake area. Also within the park are the Tampin Stadium and Tampin Square. About 1.7 km away from the park, heading to Seremban via Jalan Seremban-Tampin/Federal Route 1 is Tampin Lake Gardens ,another popular spot for family recreation. It is within walking distance to the R&R (Rehat & Rawat / Rest & Recuperate) stop area for motorists coming into the district from the north. Located at the foot of Tampin forest reserve is the Tampin Water Park . This park offers four pools with depths ranging from 0.3 to 2.1 metres. Visitors to the park can also take part in jungle trekking, archery and paintball. At the Tampin Extreme Park ,visitors can try rock climbing, waterfall abseiling, flying fox and tree climbing. According to the park operator, Tampin Extreme Park is one of the most popular rock climbing venues as it offers granite climbing. Gunung Tampin  eco-forest park is located in the Tampin forest reserve, which is at the end of the Titiwangsa Range. It has two peaks, namely Gunung Tampin Utara (north) and Gunung Tampin Selatan (south). From here, a track connects Gunung Datuk, Gunung Rembau and Gunung Gagak.
According to a recent news report, the local district council is currently embarking on a beautification project of the town in the form of a mural painting. Sixteen wall blocks measuring 437 square meters would be given a fresh look. This beautification project is part of a district tourism project to attract tourists and it is expected to be completed within two months (before the end of the year).
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). Then, keep a lookout for Mydin Hypermarket. Turn left before Mydin and that will lead to Jalan Besar (Tampin) and Pulau Sebang/Tampin station, Masjid Aleyah Kuala Ina and Tampin Green Dragon Temple will be just ahead. Incidentally, A Famosa Resort and Freeport A Famosa Outlet / Melaka Premier Outlet are located along Federal Route 61 / Jalan Alor Gajah-Tampin a.k.a Jalan Dato Mohd Zin. Another option is to use the Komuter service and Tampin is the southern terminus of the Seremban Line.
In this Series
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Toward the end of Gallery D is an information board indicating the UNESCO Heritage Sites in Malaysia. One of the sites listed is Gunung Mulu National Park. The accompanying description states that it was gazetted in 2000. Situated in the north of Sarawak, it is 528 sq. km. with 17 vegetation zones and 3,500 types of plants. The 109 palm species alone are within 20 main genus. Gunung Mulu itself is a 2,377-metre sandstone pinnacle. Virgin rainforests cover an extensive network of caves and underground rivers, as well as a limestone pinnacles. However, the most attractive features of interest to an average traveller are the caves and the pinnacles.
Gunung Mulu was first referenced in 1858 by Spenser St. John, the British Consul in Brunei. However, it was only in 1932 that it was finally ‘conquered’ by Edward Shackleton in an Oxford University Expedition. The Sarawak Government gazetted Gunung Mulu and the surrounding areas as a national park in 1974. The first formal study was conducted in 1978, when the Royal Geographic Society started a scientific expedition. Over the course of the next 15 months, some 50kms of caves were discovered, among which were the Deer, Clearwater, Wonder and the Prediction caves. Beginning in 1980, another expedition discovered the Sarawak Chamber. The Clearwater Cave passage, at 102kms, is believed to be one of the largest interconnected cave systems in the world. Over the years, more passages and connections between the caves were discovered over a wider area. In 1984, the Gunung Mulu National Park was declared an ASEAN Heritage Park. Expeditions are still continuing with fascinating discoveries of caves and passages, as well as underground pools, and an immense variety of flora and fauna.
In 1985, the park was opened to the public and managed by staff located at the park headquarters. Initially, one had to fly to Miri. Then downgrade from the B737 to a Twin Otter to fly to Marudi. From there, it was a daylong journey starting in a river ferry followed by a cramped long boat to the Benarat Inn, which was the only accommodation available for a long time. Over the years, as more tourists became interested in Mulu, one could fly directly to Mulu from Miri and other airports, unfortunately, taking away some of the fun. Early trips to caves were by an engine-driven long boat up to a point after which there was a long trek to the cave entrances. There are more resorts now and the boats are better. Tours are packaged and include not just the caves but also overnight stays in a longhouse and a tough climb to the Pinnacles. But for the more adventurous spelunkers, as those who specialise in cave exploration are called, there are special trips to places where no ordinary person would go. This needs guts.
Photos from the author’s trip to Gunung Mulu National Park in 1993. Clockwise from top left: Mulu Airport in 1993 with a Twin Otter plane in the foreground; on a long boat on the serene river; arriving at the Benarat Inn jetty; Benarat Inn; local village life. Credit for all images: V. Jegatheesan
The caves are usually wide and some lead to caverns. Bats of various species inhabit the caves; the ground and rocks have years of bat dung deposits. Initially, one walked along the natural ground, but now there are well-lit wooden walkways. The Deer Cave is popular as while in it and looking out at the wide entrance, the rocky side appears to be a profile of Abraham Lincoln. The Sarawak Chamber is a gigantic cavern. It measures 600 metres long, 435 metres wide and a maximum of 115 metres high making it the largest cave in the world by area. Guides impress visitors with the fact that eight B747 Jumbo jets can be arranged in it end to end.
Every evening at about 6pm, bats will fly out of the caves for their nightly foraging. The Deer Cave is the most popular for viewing this scene. This simple statement does not come anywhere near the actual sight. Unknown numbers, hundreds of thousands, some say millions, fly out in a continuous stream for an hour at least. It seems they have groups, as one large cloud of bats will fly out, hover and when a group is formed fly off. It is as though they have a predetermined formation.
left: Bats flying out of Deer Cave (1993). Image credit: V. Jegatheesan. right: A bat from Deer Cave (1996). Image credit: Slimguy, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Going to the Pinnacles is a journey in itself. From the resorts, one starts on a riverboat trip, then on average a three-hour walk to a campsite. The next day’s climb up a pinnacle is a continuous steep climb, then a clamber and finally a crawl. However, when one reaches the top, the view of massive pinnacles on the hillsides, stretched out like cathedrals, is well worth the effort. After absorbing the view and having a packed lunch, it is back to camp. The return trek and boat trip is done the third day.
left: Steep ascent to the Pinnacles. right: Pinnacles in 1993. Credit for images: V. Jegatheesan
Despite a large tourist flow in certain caves and rivers, the National Park is preserved in its pristine form. It is continuously under study with the deeper caves and caverns not accessible to the public. It is certainly worth a trip.
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Not to be confused with the kilns in Longquan, China, some of the celadon pieces exhibited here at the Shipwreck vitrine in Gallery B were recovered from the Longquan Shipwreck. It was naval architect, historical shipwreck explorer, and salvor, Sten Sjostrand, who discovered this shipwreck in 1996, about 23 nautical miles off the coast of Terengganu. He had just begun searching a new line along the seabed when the wreck first appeared as a big, black image on his side scan sonar printer. Following that, the next step was to send divers down to investigate this black image. In Sjostrand’s own words, “The first dive revealed an enormous ceramic mound rising 1.80 metres above the seabed. It was thirty metres long and eight metres wide. We had never seen, or even heard about so much pottery being found in one place before. The volume of the mound suggested more than 100,000 antique pieces.”
A surface sample of the ceramics was collected, which revealed that it was most probably a merchant ship carrying a large assortment of pottery consisting of Chinese celadon from the Longquan kilns, white-glazed bowls from southern China, Sisatchanalai celadon, fish and flower black underglaze plates fromSukhotai and Thai Suphanburi storage jars. In terms of cargo ratio, it was estimated to be 40% Chinese, 40% celadon from Sisatchanalai and 20% underglaze ware from Sukhotai. Due to the presence of Chinese Longquan celadon ceramics in the sample survey, it was decided that the site would be named Longquan, in honour of the Longquan kilns in China. As the Chinese celadon on board were dated to early Ming and judging from the style of the Sukhotai pieces, it was concluded that the ship dated to c1400 CE.
The Longquan shipwreck lies at a depth of 63 metres (equivalent to the height of an 18-storey building), which is very dangerous dive, even for professional divers. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors, popularly known as PADI, does not recommend diving beyond 40 metres for advanced recreational divers. Understandably, there are many dangers of deep diving, which include decompression sickness (DCS or better known as the bends, which all divers fear), nitrogen narcosis (which has an intoxicating effect), and running out of air (which can be fatal) either caused by faulty equipment or encountering underwater obstacles. As for the ship, it was of a South China Sea design, built from tropical hardwood, complete with transverse compartments separated by bulkheads and joined by the use of wooden dowels. The wreck was relatively intact, and according to Sjostrand, had a “few side boards, which had never been seen before”.
The Longquan was carrying more than 100,000 pieces of pottery, which was considered a very large amount those days. For comparison, this ship was carrying at least 15 times more pottery than the TuriangShipwreck. Sjostrand discovered the Turiang shipwreck, which dates to c1370, in 1998. Unlike the Longquan, the Turiang was a Chinese-built vessel. The pottery mix carried was also slightly different. She was carrying celadon, green-glazed, and brown-glazed ware from China, Thai pottery from Sukhotai (especially fish plates) and Sisatchanalai, but unlike the Longquan, also had black underglaze Vietnamese ware on-board. Furthermore, unlike the Longquan wreck, the Turiang has been fully excavated.
Sisatchanalai celadon cup from the Longquan Shipwreck; side and bottom view. Image credit: Karen Loh
After the initial survey, the shipwreck site was left alone. Plans were being made to excavate the shipwreck properly with safety of the divers in mind. In Sjostrand’s own words again, “I had been looking forward to unravelling the secrets of this mighty ship and had spent a lot of time devising a way to fully excavate her in shallower water as there are few divers who could work safely at the depth, she was lying in. The plan was to build an ‘A’ frame with some jackets underneath, then to pull steel sheets under the wreck and tie wires to the lifting frame – like a cradle. Then the cradle containing the whole ship would be lifted and placed in a specially prepared trench in three metres of water off Pulau Tioman.” The frame, once lifted could have been a working platform for a maritime team and maybe a tourist observation deck as well, built around the wreck frame.
Unfortunately, these plans were not to be. In April 2001, Sjostrand went to check on the Longquan wreck site and, to his horror, found that the mound of pottery had been levelled, smashed, and broken. He estimated that only 10,000 out of the 100,000 pieces were left! So, what happened to this shipwreck site? Sjostrand soon found the answer. Fishing trawlers had been seen at the site, trawling the seabed with their nets with little regard for the pottery they picked up, damaged or moved. The mound of pottery would no doubt have been trawled on and flattened by their nets. That was more than twenty years ago. It is doubtful that the cargo is still there, which makes the few pieces we have on display in this gallery a limited edition.
Why is Longquan Celadon famous?
Celadon or greenware from Longquan was much sought after and exported in large quantities to many countries during the Song Dynasty (1127-1279 CE). The celadon pottery made here was famous for its greenish or grayish blue glaze, which has a jade-like resemblance, and the surface was ‘as smooth and lustrous as jade’. Though the clay body was heavy and thick initially, it was perfected by the late Song period. By then, the kilns had succeeded in producing thinner bodies, maintaining its transparency and even incorporated glaze. Other similar tones such as pale green, bean green and plum green were equally popular. During the Song Dynasty, celadon pottery such as dishes, plates, vases, jars, and bowls with this jade-like glaze were very much in demand. Carved lotus, lotus petals, or stylized floral motifs on bowls, and fish and dragon motifs on dishes and plates were favoured and were the prevalent design choices at that time. So favoured were these pieces then, that even Japan and Korea emulated the style and shapes of pottery from Longquan.
Celadon production in Longquan County began during the fifth to sixth century with its production increasing rapidly and flourishing during the Northern Song period before reaching its prime during the Southern Song dynasty. Longquan County is situated in the Lishui prefecture, along the Lishui River in southwestern Zhejiang, in the south of China. The best-known Longquan celadons have been produced here at the Dayao and Jincun kilns. Longquan kilns have been recorded to have the longest history of celadon production in China with 400-500 kilns discovered by archaeologists since the 1950s. The emergence of Jingdezhen’s blue and white porcelain during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 CE) saw declined demand for celadon pottery and hence its production.
left: Sukhotai underglaze black decorated fish plate; right: Suphanburi storage jar with stamped decoration on the shoulder; both recovered from the Longquan shipwreck. Image credit: Sten Sjostrand
Brown, Roxanna & Sjostrand, Sten. (2004). Maritime Archaeology and Shipwreck Ceramics in Malaysia. RECCEX.
Our second issue of Muzings has been published! Print copies will be made available to all volunteers shortly; in the meantime, you can download a copy or read online. Muzings is our annual magazine containing short articles related to history, heritage and culture. The inaugural issue was published in 2020; all issues can be found here.
For this issue, our primary focus is on the Seas. In Muzings 2021, you will navigate Sundaland and peek behind Wallace’s Line. You meet the pirates cruising in the area and learn why the Law of the Sea is important in settling territorial disputes. The deep unknown always attracts legends, myths and fables; those found in Muzings 2021 will leave you enthralled. Be fascinated at how the Dutch, instead of rounding the Cape of Good Hope and sailing to India like the Portuguese, braved the Roaring Forties to reach the Sunda Straits. Two charming towns, Beruas and Fraser’s Hill, wait to be explored. Understand two symbols of Malay hospitality – rosewater sprinklers and tepak sirih. Delve into Portuguese shenanigans outside Melaka, a Terengganu Al-Quran, a Malay medicinal manuscript, ancient scripts and the adat perpatih of the Minangkabau. What is the connection between the Swatow bowl exhibited in Gallery B and the maritime Sultanate of Aceh and why are there Persian ceramics at Bujang Valley? These and many other interesting revelations await you in Muzings 2021.