A Jaunt to the National Textile Museum

By Chin Keat Yue

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

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

Pohon Budi Gallery
(Ground Floor)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pelangi Gallery
(Ground Floor)

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

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

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

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

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

Ratna Sari Gallery
(First Floor)

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

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

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

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

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

Teluk Berantai Gallery
(First Floor)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Information

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

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

Magna Carta

By Stuart Wakefield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gamelan: A Cultural Trace in the Malay Archipelago

by Inge-Marie and Dr. Hans Peter Holst (phD)

On our travels around Sundanese Java to research about the art and life of Otto Djaya (1916-2002), the indigenous visual artist and folk painter from Banten, West Java[1], our growing awareness of the Gamelan[2] music[3] and the Wayang theatre[4] increased and the two art forms became peripheral research objectives on their own. It heightened our interest that in Malaysia, where we live, the two art forms are similarly traditional and wonderful.

Gamelan and, more so, Wayang theatre may be vanishing in Malaysia. However, visual evidence produced by YouTube search suggests that currently there is some Gamelan activity in all the states in Malaysia. In fact, Gamelan seems to be attracting a keen amount of interest among the people and the scholars in several States. On the other hand, the Wayang theatre in Malaysia is threatened with imminent extinction. We wanted to know more about the big picture.[5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

In this article, we focus on the music, the Gamelan, because recently we discovered and acquired two ink drawings by Otto Djaya of the Babar Lajar Gamelan ensemble visiting Paris. Both the Ensemble and Otto Djaya were based in Amsterdam at the time.

The signed drawings of Babar Lajar in “Parijs” enabled us to date Otto Djaya’s visit to Paris to exhibit his paintings to December 1947 and to anchor his interest in the Gamelan music[10].

The Gamelan would turn out to be an unparalleled Indonesian cultural treasure similar to the visual arts treasure, painting, contributed by Otto Djaya and his generation of peers. The Babar Lajar Gamelan ensemble was founded in Amsterdam in about 1943. The ensemble was unique by its founder[11], the local manufacture of its instruments during wartime, and its musicians, who were young and musically gifted, and none of whom were Indonesians[12], suggesting the almost hypnotic, cult-like, appeal of Gamelan in the aftermath of the horrors of World War II.  

Indonesian President Sukarno introduced government funded Gamelan schools during the 1950s and 1960s, same as what he did for the visual arts earlier on, in order to encourage and sustain national art forms. “Some Indonesians objected to this elevation of a musical style associated primarily with Java and Bali as a “national” art form – as in a multi-ethnic, multicultural country there are no universal cultural properties”[13].

The indigenous music as well as the visual arts became important propaganda for internationally showing Indonesian culture in the runup to the Netherlands handing over sovereignty to Indonesia in 1949; Indonesia was no longer a colony.

Otto Djaya. 1986. A people inspired by the sea. Serenading water, bliss and sunset; a Sundanese flute, one of the Gamelan instruments. 27×39 cm. Gouache on paper.
Demung, a Gamelan instrument. Note the likeness with the bow and stern of the boat above.
Otto Djaya. 1986.  Fishing boats and fish vendors by the flamboyant tree. 27×39 cm. Pastel on paper.
Gambang, a Gamelan instrument. Some Gamelan designs are inspired more or less by the boat shapes.

Otto Djaya was a Sundanese of West Java. Besides painting Gamelan ensembles into his many paintings of folk dancing and festivals, the boats in his paintings are Sundanese and show an unmistakable resemblance to Gamelan instrument architecture. The Sundanese were captivated by water: stream, lake, ocean. Otto Djaya’s paintings imparted a union of popular culture and music.

Gamelan, an Indonesian Institution

The ‘Gamelan Sari Oneng Parakansalak’ ensemble of Perakan Salak

The “Gamelan Sari Oneng Parakansalak[14] of Sumedang, West Java travelled far from its birth place, a tea plantation in Sukabumi to, first, The International Exposition in Amsterdam in 1883, second, The World Exposition in Paris in 1889 and, third, The World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

In a remarkable coincidence, sixty years after Chicago, at the end December 1945, a 29 years old Otto Djaya, the artist, now a company commander with the rank of Major in the revolutionary Indonesian forces, and his troops played a key role in stopping an advancing British/Dutch tank column at the Bojong Kokasan Ridge, Sukabumi, east of the Parakan Salak area and the tea plantations, the origin of the Gamelan Sari Oneng.   

“Kampung Jawa”, the Javanese village on the Netherlands’ site at The World Exposition in Paris 1889. The Gamelan Sari Oneng performed there with Javanese musicians.

Gamelan music was formally staged in Europe at the 1889 Paris Exposition. Javanese musicians performed Gamelan in the East Indies section of the Netherlands’ pavilion[15] [16]. In 1993, Gamelan was introduced to USA at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois[17]. Western composers and musicians were intrigued and interested to listen and to experiment with the new sound.

In 2021, Indonesian Gamelan was listed by UNESCO on its Representative List of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. In comparison, Wayang was listed in 2003, two decades earlier.

In Indonesia, particularly in Java and Bali, Gamelan is the most popular form of traditional music. A Gamelan ensemble typically consists of a variety of metal percussion instruments, usually made of bronze or brass, including gongs, xylophones, and drums. It may also be extended with bamboo flutes, stringed instruments, and vocalists, but the focus is on the percussion.  Metal instruments are expensive to make, compared with those of wood or bamboo. However, they will not deteriorate or change tune in a hot, humid climate. Some scholars suggest that this may be one of the reasons that gamelan developed, with its signature metallic sound.

Gamelan was a feature of court life among the Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms of Java, Sumatra, and Bali. The Buddhist monument of Borobudur in central Java has a bas-relief depicting a Gamelan ensemble from the time of the Srivijaya Empire, 600s-1200s; the musicians play stringed instruments, metal drums, and flutes.

The Majapahit Empire (1293-1597) had a government office in charge of supervising the performing arts, including Gamelan. The Gamelan ensemble was important to court life. Inscriptions and bas-reliefs from Bali, also under the control of the Majapahit emperors, show that the same types of musical ensembles and instruments were as prevalent there as in Java. The gong made its appearance in Indonesian Gamelan during this era as did the stitched-skin drums and bowed strings, at first probably imported as trade goods.

Islam came to Java during the 1400s by Muslim traders from Arabia and south Asia. The most influential strain of Islam then introduced was Sufism that values music as one of the pathways to experiencing the divine. Had a more conservative strain of Islam been introduced, Gamelan in Java and Sumatra might not have flourished.  

In keeping with Sufi teachings, Javanese Gamelan tended to be slower in tempo and more meditative or trance-like. Most of the rhythms are generally soft and reflect the harmony of life, the principles of life generally adopted by Javanese society. Gamelan has become inseparable from Javanese customs and human life and is almost always there in every Javanese ceremony, to accompany dances, dance dramas, theatre, puppets, rituals, events and festivals. In general, no two gamelan ensembles are the same, and those that originated in prestigious courts have their own style and tuning. Varieties of gamelan are distinguished by their complement of instruments and use of tunings, repertoire, style, voice, and cultural context.

There is a principal division between the styles favoured by the Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese. While Javanese Gamelan has soft and slow tones, Sundanese gamelan with its sound of flutes makes it both soft, mellow and romantic[18]. Balinese gamelan has strong and dynamic tones with fast rhythms. Perhaps it can be said that Javanese Gamelan is played for formal dancing and ceremony, Sundanese Gamelan is played for dreamers and lovers, and Balinese for rituals.

Bali is Different

Bali remained predominantly Hindu, wherefore Java and Bali developed different forms of gamelan. Balinese Gamelan emphasizes virtuosity and quick tempos, a trend encouraged by the Dutch colonists. Balinese instruments are built in pairs tuned slightly apart to produce interference beats, ideally at a consistent pace. This concept communicates the idea of repeating rising and falling waves of music.

Bali with its Kebyar[19] music broke away from the Javanese gamelan and the ceremonial gamelan. The Balinese refashioned their music and dance style by Kebyar, which originated in North Bali villages a century ago and spread rapidly over Bali’s music and dance landscape. Soon, ensembles in Central and South Bali were refashioning their ceremonial Gamelan orchestras of suspended gongs, bronze-keyed metallophones, tuned gong chimes, and drums to accommodate the new style[20], additional keys were added to extend ranges, some instruments were melted down and re-forged to respond to Kebyar requirements. Musicians wanted lighter bronze keys and more of them, and longer racks of gong chimes, to play the rapid melodies and sharp accents. Playing techniques and innovations in one realm led to innovations in the other. Kebyar dancing embodies the music’s restless energy and vice versa. It was popularly said that Kebyar is a modernist’s hallucinogenic dream, cast in bronze.[21]

Today most Indonesians have embraced the Gamelan as their national sound and it is heard frequently on the air. Even so, stand-alone gamelan concerts are unusual.  

Gamelan Melayu

Gamelan is said to have originated late in the Srivijaya Empire around the 900s and to have migrated to the Riau-Lingga Sultanate, a long stone throw from Johore. Gamelan[22] instruments were brought to Pahang in the 1800s making it one of the oldest musical instruments found in Peninsular Malaysia today. Gamelan music existed primarily amongst the ruling class at the Pahang, Terengganu, and Johor palaces, as an accompaniment to the traditional dance known as Joget[23], usually performed for guests of the palace, at elaborate ceremonies and festivals.

Since then, Gamelan has continued to be played among the people and has spread to other states[24]. Having little to no function in Malaysia outside of ceremonial performances, Gamelan Melayu is now largely entertainment music to practitioners, performers, and audiences/connoisseurs[25]. We noted that there are many enthusiastic Gamelan performers in Peninsular Malaysia.

Before 1982, Gamelan instruments in the UK existed only at the Indonesian Embassy. Today, the interest in Gamelan flourishes. Today, there are some 150 Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese Gamelans in the UK. Clearly, the British did not think as much of Gamelan during colonial times as the Dutch did.

Contemporary compositions of Adrian Lee for the Rhythm in Bronze ensemble[26], Ng Chong Lee [27], Marzelan Salleh [28], and Junita Batubara [29] are immensely interesting and uplifting.

Adrian Lee, Hakikat Air from Arus Gangsa, performed by Rhythm in Bronze

A Gamelan Symphony Festival was held in 2018 at the Sultan Alam Shah Islamic College as a showcase of Gamelan Melayu, with six local Gamelan groups from both secondary and tertiary education institutions participating. In 2019, the project called for a Gamelan competition, bringing in competitors from a total of eight secondary and tertiary education institutions, with the host emerging as the winner. In 2020, the Virtual Gamelan Symphony Festival (VGSF), aimed to make Gamelan Melayu accessible to the masses, through simple and easy-to-follow video lessons[30] .

Gamelan travelled from Indonesia and inspired others

When western composers presented music inspired by the Gamelan they were met with both derision and enduring admiration at the premiere as, typically, within days, the confusion among audiences and critics had turned into pleasure. 

Was it mere coincidence that the formation of vast stylistic ecosystems came into being simultaneously with modernists in Western music and the first Gamelan presenters coming together? The musical scale was different but the musical characteristics were similar. The Western composers and the Gamelan artists must have shared some deep cultural commonality and instinct of sounds, tuning, and timing. We shall not know, but ecosystems continue to grow. The attraction of Gamelan to Western composers and audiences resulted in both adaption and adoption [31].

The most significant characteristic of Asian music is the use of pentatonic scale and gong chimes, also used in western music along with other instruments. This describes the relationship between Asian and Western music[32] [33]. In Javanese Gamelan music, the slendro scale has five tones per octave, of which four are emphasized in classical music. The pelog scale has six or seven tones, and is generally played using one of three five-tone subsets in which certain notes are avoided while others are emphasized. [34]

We find in our travels that music is spanning the world across cultures. With music compositions of today, especially what suggests to be symphonic, it is difficult to tell if Eastern heritage instruments and tonal systems are inspiring Western heritage or the other way around. Either way, the output is typically capturing the ear and senses and does not give reason to reject classical Western music and/or music and composers of previous centuries and of antiquity. It is deeply satisfactory to witness by ear that music makers have tremendous ambitions and see few boundaries ahead of them.

The tonality and rhythm of Indonesian Gamelan contributed to the ‘atonal’ ideas and compositions by Western composers from around 1900 onward, for instance, Debussy, Erik Satie, Francis Poulenc, Benjamin Britten, Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok, and many others.  

Erik Satie (1866-1925). The composers Satie and Debussy were the earliest to use the exotic and highly dissonant Gamelan scales. Satie’s Gnossiennes compositions for piano are among his earliest compositions and evokes ‘another world’ by its “highly original modal harmonies, pure simplicity, and monotonous repetition”[35]. The originality and simplicity could possibly have been influenced by Debussy – or it was Satie who influenced Debussy; both were thinking in terms of Gamelan scales in the late 19th century.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)[36], Pagodes[37], 1903.

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), String Quartet in F by the Hagen Quartet.

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra[38], with Poulenc and Jacques Février on the pianos, 1932.

Colin McPhee (1900-1964)[39]. Returning to North America from Bali end of the 1930s,   he composed Tabuh Tabuhan for 2 pianos and orchestra, without a single Gamelan instrument in the orchestra.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)[40]

Lou Harrison (1917-2003)[41], Concerto for Violin with Percussion Orchestra and Varied Trio (1987).

The Otto Djaya images in the article are the property of the authors and may be copied for educational purposes. The authors borrowed the pictures of the Gamelan instruments from
https://lsa.umich.edu/content/dam/cseas-assets/cseas-documents/gamelan/JavaneseGamelanMusic.pdf



Footnotes

[1] We are currently writing on our final edition of a book about Otto Djaya (1916-2002):   http://archive.ivaa-online.org/files/uploads/texts/OTTO%20DJAYA,%20THE%20CHRONICLE,%2015-06-2019.pdf

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamelan

[3] https://lsa.umich.edu/content/dam/cseas-assets/cseas-documents/gamelan/JavaneseGamelanMusic.pdf

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayang

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malay_gamelan

[6] https://www.esplanade.com/offstage/arts/joget-the-popular-ever-evolving-music-of-dance

[7] https://www.prestigeonline.com/my/people-events/people/made-in-malaysia-pak-dain-fusion-wayang-kulit/#:~:text=Malaysia%20has%20always%20identified%20with,200%20to%20250%20years%20ago.&text=The%20Ramayana%20and%20Mahabarata%20held,art%20from%20long%2C%20long%20ago.

[8] There are four types of wayang kulit in Malaysia, namely Wayang Kulit Jawa, Wayang Kulit Gedek, Wayang Kulit Melayu and Wayang Kulit Kelantan, http://mpunasilemak.blogspot.com/.   In Malaysia, the culture of wayang kulit is slowly dying out as the younger generations are less interested in this wonderfully expressive culture.

[9] “In Malaysia, Wayang Kulit Kelantan is the pre-eminent form of shadow puppet theatre. However, it is threatened with imminent extinction nowadays. There were more than 300 dalangs (shadow puppeteers and narrators) in the 1960s but the number decreased tremendously to 11 in 1999.” Khor, Khengia (2011). Segi University. The Use of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) to Capture the Visual Styles of Wayang Kulit Kelantan, in International Journal of the Arts in Society, No. 4, pg 203-214.  Wayang was placed on UNESCO’s Representative List of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003. In comparison, Gamelan was not listed until 2021.

[10] Gamelan musicians were to appear and accompany in many motifs of his paintings.

[11] https://heindegraaff-nl.translate.goog/babar-layar/?_x_tr_sl=nl&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=sc

[12] http://www.indischmuziekleven.com/index.php?lang=14&dept=95&article=203

[13] Dr. Kallie Szczepanski, Ph.D. History, Boston University, is a history teacher specializing in Asian history and culture. She has taught at the high school and university levels in the U.S. and South Korea. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-gamelan-195131, updated on June 26, 2019.

[14] The pictures of the Gamelan Sari Oneng are borrowed from https://sukabumiupdate.com/posts/83123/sari-oneng-gamelan-sukabumi-yang-tampil-di-peresmian-menara-eiffel-paris

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposition_Universelle_(1889)

[16] The first appearing at the 1899 Paris World Exhibition when the Netherlands’ exhibited of its East Indies colony.  The British pavilion at the Exhibition did not have a similar Malaya element.

[17] On an area of approx. 700 acres at Jackson Park and Midway Plaisance. Pavilions were built by 46 countries; some 27 million people visited the expo. It was synonymous with a world’s fair celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus. The ‘Syndicate Java Chicago’, formed by two West Java tea plantations, arranged to send a Gamelan with musicians to the Expo. The Gamelan and the free servings of Java tea was enthusiastically received.

[18] Encyclopedia Jakarta. December 2020.

[19] Kebyar means “to flare up or burst open”, and refers to the explosive changes in tempo and dynamics characteristic of the style. It is the most popular form of gamelan in Bali.

[20] McPhee, Colin. Music in Bali. Yale University Press; First Printing (April 1, 1966).

[21] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndnhbvBolH8

[22] https://gamelansymphonyfes.wixsite.com/vgsf

[23] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joget

[24] Kelantan:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfBn5oUMNio
Perlis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFXZm1JFxYs
    Perak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PP9wZY_Yjjo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFKMRRNmhwk
    Malacca: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_F5j7QIHJLY
Negri Sembilan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfMBFuKQzLc

[25] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Z7NxzTk2hI

[26] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bI9SU0jXkvQ

[27] Ng Chong Lim, Shadows,performed with the Gamelan trio of Kamrul, Shafic and Susan Sarah John at the ASEAN Chopin Competition 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rcfW5CH-2k
Dragonfly, piano by Celestine Yoong, ASEAN Chopin Competition 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vM8IKJGRaBk
Ng Chong Lim, piano and Ion Mazur violin, 2020, performing Claude Debussy’s Violin Sonata in g minor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onI03ahJm10
A Distant Voice of Rain Forest, piano by Nicolas Ong https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yMcdpFJqBM

[28] Marzelan Salleh, Si Pencuri Epal (A poor boy with his stolen apple). Conducted by Tazul Izan Tajuddin. Performed by UITM Student Chamber Ensemble at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU4RBUHVb08
Puteri Gunung Ledang, Piano Solo performed by pianist Jamie Tan for the 7th Malaysian Composers Concert Series 2016, at Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C89D79HeNBQ

[29] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3q19x2U-vIM&t=229s

[30] https://gamelansymphonyfes.wixsite.com/vgsf/about-vgsf

[31] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P63CpTSy7_4&t=112s

[32] Batubara, Junita. Story of Tjong A Fie: Programmatic Music Composition Combining Chinese, Malay and Western Music Elements, in International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, Vol. 7, No. 9, 2017.

[33] https://latitudes.nu/the-influence-of-gamelan-on-western-modern-music/ 2017

[34] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZG3b6aluBk.   

[35] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_Satie

[36] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8TAVT-Fvas

[37] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfYEkk9nir4   Insight!

[38] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V87wGyfUQiQ

[39] Colin McPhee and Benjamin Britten play Balinese Ceremonial Music for Two Pianos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3PacNDMneE

[40] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usztkkF8gVI

[41] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gn-GP8KUJB4

Victoria Bridge, Karai

by Hani Kamal

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

The Victoria Bridge today. Image credit: Hani Kamal

Karai – Coal Mining Town

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

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

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

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

The Karai shoplots today. Image credit: Hani Kamal

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

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

Construction and Launch of the Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

Official opening plaque

Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon (a novel by Rose Gan)

by Maganjeet Kaur

Francis Light is no stranger to us. We know him as a buccaneer and the founder of a British colony on Penang. But who was he really? Where did he come from? What drove him? These questions are explored in Rose Gan’s thrilling novel Dragon: Penang Chronicles 1. The book will be available at the local bookshops by the first week of November 2021 but it is possible to pre-order it online.

I have had the pleasure of reading an advance copy; as a historical novel, it satisfies both the need to have beauty of language in a book as well as the desire for historical information. Rose is adept at creating atmosphere – her description of places, people and events immerses the reader in the time-period in question and, thus, appreciate the story at a deeper level. The novel also fleshes out the many facets of Light’s personality allowing us to understand him better than through the two-dimensional character typically depicted in history books.

The story is so real and engrossing that one may forget this is a work of fiction. We must remember though that there is a lot unknown about Light especially of his early life. We don’t even know how he looks like – the statue at Fort Cornwallis is based on the likeliness of his son, William. Rose’s filling in the gaps based on the in-depth research she has undertaken seem very plausible. Overall, although the book is filled with facts, it is an easy and pleasant read.

Book Launch at Ubud Festival – 10 October, 6.30pm (GMT +8)

Rose will be sharing her journey writing the book on 10 October at the Ubud Festival (click here for details).

Her talk will be streamed live on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Do tune in; you can interact with Rose at this time and ask any questions you may have. If you are not free on the 10th, the recording will remain available online at the links above.

I have written a short summary below if you want to understand the story before the talk (no spoilers, I promise).

The Story in short

The story opens in Suffolk, England, in 1740 with the impending birth of Light, conceived through an illicit love affair. The soon- to- be father sought help to place the unwanted child in adoptive care with the directive that the child be brought up as a gentleman (or a lady, if female). Thus, upon birth, the baby became the son of Mary Light, a young widow, with Sir William Negus as his guardian. Sir William, fond of the boy, provided him with a grammar school education as befitting a gentleman.

We first meet Francis Light at Seckford School in Woodbridge, Suffolk, and quickly come to realise that even at the tender age of fourteen, Light was no pushover; his careful planning and execution to extract revenge on a bullying schoolmate shows the single-minded deviousness with which he later grabbed Penang Island from the Sultan of Kedah. He was a poor student. Although obviously clever, he could not apply attention to the likes of Greek and Roman verbs or religious education. Hence, the principal of the school felt it better if he withdrew from school and focussed on learning a trade. However, he yearned to join the Royal Navy thinking he could, through hard work, climb up the ranks and, in time, command his own ship in spite of his lowly illegitimate status in life. A war could make this a reality.

left: Seckford’s Free School, Woodbridge, a sketch by Thomas Churchyard  c. 1800; right: A small windowpane from the original school, later town library, etched with the names of Francis Light and James Lynn. It was donated to the Penang Museum. Rose has weaved the windowpane into the story in the scene where Light extracts revenge.

In October 1754, he joined the HMS Mars as a surgeon’s assistant. Although bitterly disappointed that he could not join at the rank of midshipman because of his low social status, he made the best of the situation and sought to learn quickly. Here, we catch a glimpse of life on board a warship and understand the importance of rank in eighteenth century British genteel society. We also see his character unfold further – he is observant, calculative, learns quickly and is a good judge of character. He is no fool and does not trust people easily. When the ship runs aground, Light’s singular act of bravery saves all the men on-board and earns him the friendship of Captain John Amherst, which would help his naval career over the next few years.

Example of an East Indiaman, c. 1770. This was a generic term for European ships headed to India.

An appointment with Sir John Cleveland, the First Secretary to the Admiralty, put him in high hopes of getting his name on the List and entering the ranks of an Officer. He was to be disappointed. Then, a chance meeting with James Scott, a former shipmate on the Arrogant, got him thinking of a career path outside the navy. Scott had been offered a position with the East India Company (EIC), also known as the Honourable Company, and was due to sail out shortly. He suggested Light follow his lead as there was opportunity for making lots of money out East. Being illegitimate, however, his application to the EIC was rejected and, so, he went to India as a common sailor on the Clive, an East Indiaman headed to Madras (known also as Fort St. George to the British, today Chennai). In Madras, Light landed a job with the country traders Jourdan, Sullivan and DeSouza, and he finally realised his ambition of captaining a ship.

Representative of the Speedwell type of ship, a country ship captained by Light

Rose fleshes out more of Light’s character. We see a soft side to him when he adopts a starving, orphaned child after he stumbles over him at the entrance of his lodgings. The kid was around ten years old, possibly Bugis, spoke Malay and answered to the name of Soliman. They teach each other their languages and Light’s mastery of Malay would hold him in good stead when he started trading along the Straits of Malacca. We also see that he is not averse to profiteering and smuggling when he sneaks into Dutch-controlled Ceylon. In a run-in with a Bugis ship in which not only his ship and goods were in danger of being seized, but he and his crew potentially slain, we see Light as a silver-tongued orator sweet-talking the Bugis into doing business with him and outsmarting the Dutch.

His old friend, James Scott, had left the Honourable Company and had become an entrepreneur. Light catchs up with him in Junk Ceylon (Phuket today, known previously as Thalang to the Siamese and Ujung Salang to the Malays). Scott wanted Light to partner with him but Light prevaricated. His conversations with Scott reveal his motivations – he wants to be accepted as an equal and to go back to England in glory as a gentleman. Unlike Scott, who had married a Malay and does not care for approval, Light was not willing to be cast out of genteel English society. Hence, we see the motivation behind his willingness to work hard in supporting a British settlement in the Straits.

Through his trading trips down the Straits, we get to understand the political undercurrents and the jostling for power in the region – Siam rising under a new king (Tak Sin), the Bugis-Dutch rivalry for control over the Straits, dissent among the chiefs under Sultan Alaudin of Aceh, and the courting of foreign powers to keep local enemies at bay. With Junk Ceylon taken over by Bugis Riau and Kedah beleaguered by a rebellion as well as by Bugis Selangor, Sultan Muhammed Jiwa of Kedah suggests the EIC set up a trading post at Kuala Kedah and promised that all trade would pass through British hands. He reasons that this will keep other powers at bay and he enlists Light’s help to forward the proposal to the EIC. Is this the chance Light has been seeking for so many years?

19th century Phuket

Light’s attention also turns to marriage. In his typical calculative fashion, he singles out Thong Di – her mother is a member of the Kedah royalty and her father’s family is well connected politically and economically in Thalang. Thong Di herself is a widow with two children; her deceased husband, Martim Rozells, was a good friend with whom he had previously done business. However, Thong Di throws him a curve ball when she suggests an alliance between Light and her daughter, Martinha. Light initially baulks at marrying a girl half his age but eventually comes around after weighing the advantages of the union.

The book ends with Scott suggesting the time was right to ask the Sultan to bestow on him the pearl that he had always wanted – the island of Penang, which he could develop into a settlement. His success in obtaining Penang and his relationship with Martinha is explored in Pearl: Penang Chronicles 2, which will be published next year.

left: statue of Francis Light at Fort Cornwallis; right: portrait of a Malay woman by Robert Home, c. 1790. Could this be Martinha?

Shooting Birds: What one Museum Volunteer does during the Covid-19 Pandemic

by V. Jegatheesan

To paraphrase Lynn Thomson:

To be standing together in a frosty field, looking up into the sky, marvelling at birds and revelling in the natural world around us, is a simple miracle. And I wonder why we are so rarely able to appreciate it.”

Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Mother’s Memoir [paraphrased]

A recent article in our blog titled ‘Volunteering at the Museum during the Covid-19 Pandemic’ by Karen Loh, touched on the Museum Volunteers’ organisation and its continuing work. It prompted me to reflect on the previous year. Museum Volunteers have largely carried on with normal life, as well as some new things in the sudden ‘time windfall’. Of course, there is the shopping, cooking, house cleaning because the house cleaner cannot come in, and the outdoor exercises. Tasks previously done on weekends are now spread out over the week. There are the unusual activities like cooking or baking foods you never did before and repairs you always wanted to do but put off. I, however, have found a way to indulge in bird photography just around my garden.

I am a keen amateur observer of birds, but I have only observed because I did not have a powerful camera. I do have powerful binoculars and used this to take notes and then refer to all the colour plates in the book I have on birds to identify them. A challenge in itself. Then, a good friend insisted I use his spare Canon EOS1 Ds Mark III, together with a 400mm and 70-200mm zoom lens. This truly opened up a completely new world nine months ago. Somehow, it seemed that the various birds knew their pictures were going to be taken, so they all appeared and posed for me. After that, some of them would not be seen for a long while or ever again.

Being near Bukit Gasing helps making a collection just by being in the garden. However, it involves hearing new sounds, keeping the camera always on the ready and with its battery charged. The first pictures I took were of the Scaly-breasted Munia. They are certainly rare, at least in my garden, as I have never seen them again. They come in pairs and move slowly around a bushy plant, pecking away at tiny insects or seeds.

Scaly-breasted Munia

Mind you, bird photography is not just point and shoot. The quick dash to capture the pictures, the excitement and shooting it quick in case it flies off, all makes one nervous with a shaky hand resulting in a few slightly blurred initial pictures. However, unlike film, with a digital you can take as many pictures as you want until your hand steadies, because it is all free! All part of the fun!

Then again, many birds sit high up a tree or they may be far away. Then, there are birds that never sit still but continuously flit about in the bushes such as this Olive-backed Sunbird. How does it feed at that speed I wonder?

Olive-backed Sunbird

The Crested Serpent Eagle is a real treat. I first sighted it in the early morning on top of a dead pinang tree. A few days later, that vain bird (or maybe another) was on the top of the telephone pole right outside my front gate like a sentinel! Was it oblivious to my clicking away? It does make an appearance now and again in the late evening, perched regally looking around for prey, which could be snakes or frogs and rats. These eagles nest up in the bukit. On some hot breezy days sometime after 10am, they spread their wings and circle, ‘riding the thermals’ as the hot air lifts them higher and higher, till they disappear from view, with a call that sounds like a baby’s cry.

Crested Serpent Eagle. Clockwise from top-left: in flight, on telephone pole, on pinang tree, up close

If you see the eagle’s crown is ruffled, it is best to make a quick exit, as this means the bird is angry.

I must qualify that the comments I make here are based on my own observations over time and not from books – so please do not challenge me lah. While I could use scientific names like birderus whateverus, I prefer the simple names. Admittedly, I am not yet familiar with the sub-species. Only for a few birds, I can distinguish between male and female. While the explanations are simple, detailed descriptions like habitats, migration patterns, range etc., are avoided as this is all about my sightings only.

Naturally, other than the exotic birds, there are the few plebeian, or ‘commoner birds’. These will be familiar to all.

Clockwise from top-left: Yellow-vented Bulbul, Eurasian tree sparrow, Magpie Robin, Javan Myna

Black-naped Oriole with small fruit

Left: Peaceful Dove, Right: Spotted Dove

Spotted Dive in flight

The Kingfisher comes by because of a monsoon drain nearby. It dives down into this drain and comes up with a guppy in its beak. A couple of wallops of the beak on the wire kills the fish, which then gets swallowed. They are also partial to worms and caterpillars.

Left: White-throated Kingfisher, Right: White-throated Kingfishers fighting for caterpillar

White-throated Kingfisher – the winner

Then there are the seasonal birds, though some have become resident. I first sighted the Koel in this area, as well as in many other parts of the country in about the late 1980s, usually between November and March. Over the years it has become resident all over the country. A very shy bird which is almost always hidden in the trees and therefore difficult to photograph. But one of the ‘gems’ if captured on film.

Left: Female Koel; Right: Male Koel

Their call is a short continuous ‘woo woo’, which gets louder and louder. On a cool evening with the setting sun and a light breeze, the call truly sounds the knell of parting day. (Note to self:  get a video camera).

The Philippine Glossy Starling is a simple black beauty in low light but is really a glossy dark-green in full light. It usually flies in a small flock, roving from one plant to another to feed, stopping long enough to be photographed.

Left: Philippine Glossy Starling; Right: Immature Philippine Glossy Starling

Another year-end bird is the Green Bee-eater, which I first saw at the Kuala Gula Sanctuary swamps ages ago. These are still year-end birds and remain so, except that there are stragglers staying on later than before. They sit on a wire, then dive or fly up and catch a bee mid-air and get back to the wire to eat. If the bee is a bit large, the bird beats its beak on the wire to kill the bee first.

Green Bee-eater, can be seen eating a bee

Some birds you hear but are difficult to see due to their size. They need some effort as they flit quickly in the bushes, pecking at unseen things on branches and twigs. Below are two examples – the Asian Brown Flycatcher and Common Tailorbird.

top: Asian Brown Flycatcher, bottom: Common Tailorbird

The Coppersmith Barbet has a strong voice. Its sound is a regular beat ‘tonk tonk tonk’ and it can go on for quite a while with short intervals, and a ‘sore throat tonk’ sometimes in between. The sound is similar to a coppersmith beating metal to shape it and hence the name of the bird.

Coppersmith Barbet

When I was shooting the Koel, along came this proud Pink-necked Green Pigeon and settled on a nearby branch.

Pink-necked Green Pigeon

Now comes another set of very rare birds for this area; I have seen each of them only once and never saw them again. It was sheer luck of being at the right place at the right time.

Banded Woodpecker

left: a pair of Greater Goldenback Woodpeckers; right: the female of the species

male Greater Goldenback Woodpecker (the redhead is the male)
Wild fowl (ayam hutan)

The Little Egret and White-breasted Waterhen do frequent the neighbourhood, but you need sharp eyes and have to be well hidden to get them.

Little Egret near the monsoon drain
White-breasted Waterhen

Other interesting creatures visited as well.

Left: Common Birdwing Butterfly; Right: Monkey

This bat used to hang from an outer ceiling all day for a few months; flying off in the evening, returning later in the night and then messing up the floor below. You can see why – it was eating a jambu air the night I took this shot.

Bat eating jambu air

Then there is the pesky tree shrew; nevertheless a beauty of its own, unless it runs into the house.

Tree Shrew

This last picture is of birds in a feeding frenzy after an evening rain – all flying so swiftly and up high.

Feeding frenzy after rain

I have yet to get a good shot of the common crow, which does fly by but up high. That is on my To Sight List, which also includes the Heron. For the Heron, I may have to make an exception and go to Taman Jaya to spot them in the ditches. Who knows what other birds I may find there!

When it is safe to travel, trips to Kuala Gula, Frasers Hill and other places are on the card. This will add variety to my personal collection, which I have titled ‘Birds Seen by Me’.

Volunteering at the Museum during the Covid-19 Pandemic

by Karen Loh

The International Museum Day’s theme this year, “The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine” is appropriate in view of the current pandemic and its uncertain future. This article is about the Museum Volunteers’ (MV) experience as we navigated the series of lockdowns, which began on 18 March, 2020.

Volunteering at the National Museum (Muzium Negara)

Having a guide whilst visiting a museum, be it a docent, audio guide or booklet enhances a visitor’s experience. For one hour or so, the visitor journeys with the guide and travels back in time to a particular period through the displays and information boards on vitrines in the gallery. The artefacts are brought to life by factual stories imparted to them as they navigate that display. For example, the visitor does not only marvel at a 560-year-old shipwrecked celadon dish but follows its journey from the time it was first fired at Sisachanalai, Thailand. It was then loaded onto a ship destined for markets in South East Asia but the ship tragically sunk during a great storm. There it lay for 540 years until a marine archaeologist recovered it and it made its way to a museum vitrine, on display, having never served its original purpose.

How then can a visitor experience this journey with their docent when the guided tours have been cancelled and the museums closed due to the pandemic? Even as museums reopen to the public, the number of visitors is limited and guided tours restricted to fewer numbers in a tour group.

New Norm – finding a suitable video-conferencing/virtual meeting platform

When we began the first MCO on 18 March 2020, many of us took the lockdown as an opportunity to rest, spring clean, read the books we had kept aside to read later and indulge in television. Muzium Negara was closed indefinitely and all of our volunteer activities at the museum with it. As the two-week lockdown became four weeks then eight and so on, it became clear to the MV committee that some changes had to be made. We could not afford to sit around and wait for the museum to reopen. The first thing the committee had to do was to learn how to hold our meetings in some alternate mode like video-conferencing platforms. We had to adapt to today’s technology. The second thing was to get the members acquainted with the new technology. We all had to learn how to join an online meeting, turning on or muting our microphone, turning our video camera on or off and screen share, all of which are done effortlessly today. Not willing to pay for any service then, we looked at different video-conferencing platforms besides Zoom (which provided only 40-minutes free service), like Microsoft Teams, Skype, Google Meet where subscription payment was not required. While many of the video-conferencing platforms provide similar service, the committee decided to subscribe to Zoom after the second lockdown (MCO 2.0).

MV Committee in a Zoom meeting

The MVs who did not stop working – Research and Focus Teams

Although all of our guided tours and school programme activities came to a halt, our Research team and Focus team continued to operate. The Research team have a deadline to produce Muzings, which is MV’s annual digest. A draft copy of Muzings has to be submitted to JMM for approval before the end of every year until 2024. Besides discussing our articles and trying to solve problems in sourcing for research material, we also held in-house presentations online. This proved to be another learning curve as those who have done this would tell you that speaking to a computer screen with everybody else muted and video camera turned off is a very lonely experience.

The Focus team rolled out their first webinar in July 2020. We hosted the presentation from the IT lab in JMM with assistance from the IT technicians, using JMM’s Skype for business platform. The talk was given in-person by the speaker along with the Focus team present at the IT lab to our attendees online. Though the lab was limited to six people due to SOP, I think this little bit of human presence boosted the speaker’s morale. We also used the extra half hour before the start of a talk to interact with our members online. MCO 2.0 prompted us to subscribe to a video-conferencing platform. All talks from then on were conducted remotely. In retrospect, using a video-conferencing platform has been beneficial to the MV, for not only online meetings and webinars but also reaching out to speakers who do not live in the Klang valley. This has been the positive side of the pandemic. The Focus team and Research team have been able to reach out to speakers from around the world (taking into account the time difference of course). Seminars or conferences, which we had to travel to, to attend previously, could now be attended virtually in the comfort of our homes. It has certainly lessened our carbon footprint.

Interactive Projects at Muzium Negara – new forms of cultural experience

There were months in between the lockdowns when the museum was reopened. MVs used this opportunity to complete their training programme, which had been put on hold since 2019. Other projects such as the following were introduced:

i)  One-hour recorded tours by volunteer guides in four languages: English, French, Japanese & Korean. The tours highlight selected artefacts in each of the four galleries in the museum. The recorded tours have been posted on Muzium Negara’s Facebook page.

ii) Shorter five-minute recorded talks on one artefact in the museum in the language of the guide’s choice. These talks are posted on Muzium Negara’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

iii) Proposed MV activities at the museum after the lockdown: cooking and paper-folding demonstrations as well as a beginner’s level language course.

Looking forward – Results and Discussion

i) Sustainability of the volunteer training programme. In order to become a museum volunteer guide, all docents have to attend the 16-week MV training programme. This programme was cancelled for 2020 and 2021; the programme for 2022 is still under consideration. The training programme involves a classroom style in-person attendance and museum walk-throughs. While online training has not been explored, another option would be lesser numbers per session.

ii) Whether the museum is able to provide MV guides with face shields, face masks and/or wireless tour guide portable audio system for group tours.

Conclusion

There is a global vaccination programme going on with governments providing Covid vaccines for free. As more people are vaccinated, will our volunteer guides resume their duties when the museum reopens? Will visitors need to produce vaccine passports? If not, will our guides feel safe conducting in-person tours? Vice-versa, will visitors join a guided tour? Is the use of audio-guided tours the best alternative? There is still much to be discussed and decided.

Taking the AstraZeneca Vaccine

by Karen Loh

As with most people, my husband and I contemplated taking the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine when it was announced that it would be available to anyone on a volunteer basis. After talking to a few friends in the UK and France who had already taken the AZ vaccine, we decided to register. Yes, we read about the risks of blood clots, etc. but trusted the scientific reports that the benefits far outweighed the risks. I think I must have been one of the first batches of volunteers who registered as I was given the 3pm time slot on the first day of vaccination at Universiti Malaya (UM) on 5 May.

Before I knew it, it was the 5th of May and it was time to take the vaccine. Using Waze, I arrived at Bangunan Peperiksaan, UM around 2:45pm. For those who are also going to UM, there is plenty of parking available on its premises. The many signage placed around the premise were also helpful. From the entrance of the building, volunteers/staff were stationed at various stops to assist. The process went something like this:

Step 1

First stop, scan MySejahtera app with my phone.

Step 2

Show the person at the counter/desk my appointment slot. Only those who have an appointment that day will be allowed to enter the hall (If you have the same date with a family member, I read that you can go together irrespective of your different time slots. Just choose one of your appointment times).

Step 3

Temperature taken and a numbered card was given.

Step 4

Take a seat and wait to be called.

Step 5

The following stop was to confirm my identity. I was asked to scan the QR code with my MySejahtera app and produce my MyKad (or passport for expats). A few general Covid questions were asked – whether I had been in close contact with a Covid patient, been out of the country, where I worked. Two health consent forms were then given; these were to be filled out and signed later at the next stop (you can fill up the forms first and leave signature part for later as it has to be signed in front of the doctor).


Health consent form is double sided with one side in English and the other side in Malay

Step 6

The next stop is a quick consultation with a doctor. The doctor asked me whether I had any allergies, pre-existing health conditions, whether I was on any medication and then proceeded to brief me on the side effects of the vaccine. The most common side effects include a sore arm where the shot was administered, slight fever, mild headache, fatigue, muscle pain and nausea. She also warned that if any of these symptoms became severe and if rash appeared, to go to the nearest hospital or report the symptoms on MySejahtera. Fortunately, other than a headache I experienced the next day, my side effects were minimal. I was advised to take paracetamol for my headache.

The consultation desks where the doctors are seated

Step 7

Taking the AstraZeneca vaccine! As soon as the consent forms were signed (the doctor takes one form while I was given the other), I was ushered to a booth for the shot. I was instructed to place my left hand over my right arm, take a deep breath and then it was done. There was no pain at all, just a pinprick feeling over within seconds.

Vaccination booths at the back of the waiting area

Step 8

After the shot, I was asked to proceed to the waiting area for observation. The observation period is usually 15 minutes. After the wait, I had to scan MySejahtera app again to update my vaccination report, which has the vaccination date, vaccine number and batch number. A vaccination card was also issued and I was informed that that the second dose would be given after 12 weeks and the date confirmed later.

In conclusion, the AZ vaccination process was quick and efficient. It took less than one hour from Step 1 to the time I took this photo!

Tribute to Cikgu Lee

by Eric Lim

When my fellow Museum Volunteer sent a message asking whether I had heard news of the passing of Cikgu Lee, I brushed her off and told her that I had met him about a week ago at his centre and he was perfectly fine. Not too long after, the official news came from other Museum Volunteers of his passing. Cikgu Lee died of a heart attack and he was only 66 years old.

Lee Kim Sin, or affectionately known as Cikgu Lee, was from Merbok, Kedah. He was a teacher at SMJK Yu Hua, Kajang, before he stood for elections during GE 12 in 2008 for the Kajang state seat. He came out victorious with a majority of 3,268 votes. I met him for the first time when he attended one of our Tai Chi events at Mewah Club in 2010. My next meeting with him came ten years later, in early 2020 when he was the Director of the Kajang Heritage Centre located at Jalan Mendaling. I wanted his permission to bring visitors to the centre and, at the same time, request him to narrate the history of Kajang and the surrounding towns. Since then, I have been a frequent visitor to the centre.

Every time I set foot in the Centre, I learnt new things from Cikgu Lee. He was ever willing to share his knowledge with us. I still recall vividly that I told him that I was writing articles about places and he would immediately mention the major events that took place in the town. For example: Broga – thermal incinerator project, Rawang – protest against the construction of high tension electric cable towers, Tanjong Malim – Battle of Slim River, Dengkil – discoveries at Jenderam Hilir and Orang Asli land issue at Bukit Tunggul.

Cikgu Lee was also a keen researcher on the Sin Sze Si Ya temples in our country. He was passionate about the preservation and conservation of the town. For one of his projects, the Taman Tasik Sungai Chua, a former tin mine, he worked closely with the Kajang Municipal Council, and this project ultimately came to fruition. It was officially opened last year to great response from residents of Kajang; I am a frequent user.

Kajang as well as the cultural and heritage community will miss you dearly. Rest in peace, Cikgu Lee.

Tales from the Malay Annals: The Wisdom of Tun Perak

by Alvin Chua

One of Melaka’s most formidable foes was the Kingdom of Siam, now known as Thailand, whose power reached as far south as the Malay Archipelago. All the kingdoms of the region, with the exception of Melaka, acknowledged Siam as their overlord and paid tribute to the Siamese king.

When Bubunnya, the King of Siam, learned that the Melakans had not accepted Siamese suzerainty, he demanded a letter of obeisance from them. At that time, the ruler of Melaka was Sultan Muzaffar Shah. He rejected Bubunnya’s demand. When the Siamese king heard of the Sultan’s refusal to submit, he was furious and ordered his army to prepare for war. The Siamese army, which was placed under the command of Awi Chakra, marched down the Malay Peninsula until they arrived in Pahang.

Frontispiece of a Jawi edition of the Malay Annals. Image: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

When Sultan Muzaffar Shah received news of the impending Siamese invasion, he assembled an army by ordering his vassals to bring their soldiers to Melaka. One of the vassals who responded to the sultan’s order was Tun Perak, a chieftain from Klang, Selangor. Unlike the rest of the Sultan’s vassals, Tun Perak brought not only his warriors, but also their wives and children. The men of Klang saw this as an inconvenience and complained about it during their audience with the Sultan.

Sultan Muzaffar Shah was intrigued by what he had heard so decided to get to the bottom of the matter. He summoned one of his heralds, Sri Imarat, who was originally from Pasai, northern Sumatra. Thanks to his wit and eloquence, he had been appointed as a herald at the court of Melaka. Sri Imarat was instructed by the Sultan to question Tun Perak about this issue when he came to present himself. A stool was then placed below the Sultan’s knees, Sri Imarat’s usual spot. When he sat on this stool, the herald carried the Sword of State and delivered the Sultan’s messages.

Once Sri Imarat had taken his seat, Tun Perak entered the court and presented himself to Sultan Muzaffar Shah. The herald addressed the chieftain, “Tun Perak, your men have complained thus to the Sultan: all the other vassals of the Sultan have brought only their warriors to Melaka, whilst we were commanded by our chief to bring our wives and children. Tun Perak, what is your explanation for this?” Tun Perak made no reply, so Sri Imarat repeated his question. Tun Perak maintained his silence.

An artists depiction of Tun Perak; photo taken at the Malacca Sultanate Palace Museum. Image credit: Orhanghazi (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Sri Imarat questioned Tun Perak a third time, and only then did he respond, “Hey Imarat! Take good care of yourself and of the Sword of State that you bear. Let not its blade rust, nor its tip lose its sharpness. What do you know about the work of us fighting men? His Majesty resides here in Melaka with his wives, his children, and all his belongings. Do you think it would be right for a vassal to bring only his warriors to defend the city? Should anything happen to Melaka, what would it matter to us? That is why I instructed my men to bring along their wives and children, so that they would fight the Siamese to the utmost. Even if they lose their resolve to do battle for the Sultan, they will continue fighting in order to protect their families.”

Sultan Muzaffar Shah was impressed by Tun Perak’s wisdom and approved of his answer. As a reward, the Sultan gave Tun Perak some betel leaves from his own betel box. The Sultan also remarked that Tun Perak should not stay in Klang anymore but move to Melaka so that his services may be put to better use.

Eventually, the Siamese army arrived, and a great battle ensued. The battle lasted for a long time and many Siamese soldiers were killed. The invaders, however, failed to capture Melaka and were forced to retreat.

When the war was over, all the vassals of the Sultan returned to their homes. The Sultan, however, did not allow Tun Perak to return to Klang, but kept him in Melaka. As one might expect, the Siamese were not at all pleased with their defeat, and planned another attack on Melaka. That, however, is another story for another time…!

In this series

The Sultan Who Went Undercover

A Brief Introduction

Reference

Cheah, B. K. (comp.), Abdul Rahman, Hj. Ismail (transcr.). 2009. Sejarah Melayu. Kuala Lumpur: The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.

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