The brand new MRT station, blocking Muzium Negara’s beautiful murals, links the MRT line with other rail lines at KL Sentral. An underground walkway links the two stations. Now, that is convenient. One small detail though – you pay 40 sen for the pleasure of taking this short walk. Dammed cheek! Therefore, a return journey to the museum (via LRT) will add 80 sen to your total fare.
At the MRT station, walk through the barriers that takes you to the trains. However, instead of taking the escalator down to the trains, keep left towards KL Sentral. The route is well sign-boarded. You will come out on the same floor as the LRT line.
You can do it on the cheap if you do not want to pay the 40 sen. Take the underground pass to the other side of the road (in front of St. Regis). From there, you can walk to NU Sentral and, then, cross over to KL Sentral. At the MRT station, head towards ‘Pintu A: St. Regis, Jln Damansara’ to take you to this side of the road. Once you are there, just walk along the road, following the signboards for vehicular traffic.
This article was originally written for and published in the Gazette of the Association of Francophones in Malaysia and is reproduced here with the gracious authorization of its President, Ms Elizabeth Galland; it also widely draws upon Anne’s 7 minutes presentation written for Batch 28 MV training course.
Islam started to spread all over the world at the end of the seventh century C.E, but the Islamization of insular Southeast Asia was achieved much later on, by the penetration of merchant networks and not by conquest.
Several factors have been put forward to explain the extension of Islam in the Malay world at this time. The Malay Archipelago was perfectly located at the crossroads of trade routes between East (China) and West (Europe, Middle East, India), at the reversal of the monsoon, and in shallow waters that fostered navigation. It stimulated international trade.
India was exporting fabrics (cotton fabrics, muslins, patola), cowries (shells used as currency collected in the Maldives and piled up in Gujarat), pearls, gemstones, and local spices.
China was exporting silk, ceramics, paper and copper.
Locally, merchants could find raw materials of great value such as precious wood, plants, resins and wax, spices (cloves from Ternate and nutmeg from Banda islands), tortoiseshell, feathers, ivory, tin, silver and gold.
The ethno-geographical group formed by the Malay archipelago and the peninsula of Malaya was, from the first centuries CE, influenced by Indian merchants whose presence favored the establishment of Malay kingdoms. These were marked by language, culture, and religion (Hinduism and Buddhism), imported from the south of India. According to Chinese texts of the 3rd century CE, nearly 100 kingdoms were known in the region. Small political entities, or often, probably, somewhat large cities of fishermen and merchants at the mouths of rivers, evolved into stronger structures and, from the 7th century, the Buddhist Srivijaya empire, based in Palembang (Sumatra), started gaining suzerainty over Sumatra and the Malayan Peninsula. From the 13th century, the decline of Srivijaya, which controlled the Straits of Malacca and Sunda, left the door open for the emergence of a new political and religious order.
The texts relating to the arrival of Islam in the region are varied, not always coherent and often written, very late, with objectives of historical and political reconstruction for the benefit of the reigning dynasties. Among these texts, the Malay Annals, Sejarah Melayu which, even today, forms the basis of much of the national story of Malaysia, was written from the 16th century and has not less than 32 different versions. The Kedah Annals or Hikayat Marong Mahawangsa, believed to have been written between the 18th and the 19th century, could have been intended to rewrite history in order to give Kedah anteriority over the Sultanate of Malacca, considered today as the founder of Islam in the Peninsula.
Islam, most likely, came from India through Muslim merchants (both Indian and Arab). Gujarat was then a very dynamic trading center. Commercial outposts were created on the coasts of Southeast Asia, and then, in the late 13th century CE, merchant sultanates arose, such as in Samudra-Pasai in northern Sumatra, in Champa in today’s central Vietnam, and finally in Malacca.
In 1292, Marco Polo signaled the presence of an important Muslim Kingdom in Aceh. Long before that, evidence of trade with the Abbasids, dating from the 9th century, was discovered in Kedah in the form of coins. A stone inscribed ‘Ibnu Sardan 213’ was also found in Bujang Valley. The Ibnu Sardan family is mentioned in different texts of the time and they were known as intellectuals, sailors and missionaries. The date 213 Hegira (Hijra) corresponds to the year 823 of our era. The Kedah Sultanate is dated to 1136 upon the conversion to Islam of the Raja who then took the name of Sultan Mudzaffar Shah.
Beyond the influence of India, one must also consider the contribution of the Chinese. Admiral Zheng Ho, himself, who led seven maritime expeditions from 1405 to 1453, of which at least 4 stopped in Malacca, was a Muslim, as was his translator Ma Huan. Ma Huan, considered as one of the artisans of the Islamization of Java, took part in three of the seven expeditions and recorded the journeys. While the number of ships and people accompanying the fleets may have been exaggerated, the fleet of Zheng Ho was huge and heavily armed; it was the official symbol of Chinese diplomacy. Following Zheng Ho’s journeys, the Sultanate of Malacca placed itself under the protection of China, against the attacks of Siam and Java.
If archaeological findings or ancient texts attest to the presence of Muslims in the Peninsula since the 9th century, the first indigenous evidence of the presence of Islam in the Malay Peninsula is a granite stele, known as the Terengganu Stone, inscribed in Malay using Arabic characters -a script known as Jawi, still used in official documents or in the Northern sultanates such as Kelantan or Terengganu (it is also used on street name plates in Melaka). The stele was discovered in 1899 in Kuala Berang in the State of Terengganu. Its date is deciphered as 1303 (702 Hegira) although there are contentions on this date.
Why is this stone so important? First of all, because it is not a tombstone. The early Muslim tombstones (Batu Aceh), many of which were discovered in Malaysia and Indonesia, only show that a Muslim person was buried and often have no personal names. But the Terengganu Stone is engraved with a set of Islamic laws. It indicates an early Islamization of the northeast coast of the Malay Peninsula and the legal character of the inscription is a sign of strong anchorage in society.
In any event, although it occurred nearly one century later than the date inscribed on the Terengganu Stone, the most important event was the conversion to Islam of the rulers of Malacca, from which they gained undeniable political and economic advantages:
Patronage of powerful Muslim traders
Legitimation against Majapahit, the largest kingdom after the demise of Srivijaya
Legitimation of sultanate authority, a new form of government
It is however rather difficult to determine who was the first Muslim ruler of Malacca as the sources vary, some being more literary than historical. Depending on the case, there are assertions between Parameswara, his son Megat Iskandar Shah, and his grandson.
Parameswara, a prince of Srivijaya, was said to have founded Malacca in 1400 (but this date itself is controversial!), then married a Muslim princess of the Pasai Sultanate in northern Sumatra and may have converted. But according to Portuguese sources, it is the son of Parameswara, Megat Iskandar Shah (1414-1424), that first converted to Islam. Finally, the Malay Annals attribute the conversion to the grandson of Parameswara, Muhammad Shah (1424-1444). Legend says that Muhammad Shah was visited one night by an angel in a dream; on waking up he could quote verses from the Quran verbatim. The next morning, his advisers told him about some Arab scholars debating at the port. He met with them. He was immediately struck by their learning, courtesy, and high character and he decided to adopt Islam. This is the version retained in Gallery B of Muzium Negara.
But whatever was the conversion timeline, Islam was attractive to Malacca:
it emphasized the individual value of each man;
with the view that the ruler was seen as “The Shadow of God on Earth”, Islamic traders would regard Malacca as a safe place;
it provided access to the learning and sophistication of the Muslim world (continuing the intellectual tradition of Palembang, from where Parameswara originated, as a center of Buddhist studies, Malacca quickly became a famous center for Islamic studies)
Altogether, it does not matter which, Kedah, Terengganu or Malacca, or even the Malay States of the archipelago, was the first to convert to Islam, the conversion of the Sultan of Malacca was a founding act by establishing, clearly and publicly, Islam as a state religion. In this sense, modern Malaysia is certainly the heir of Malacca.
The arrival of Islam in the Malay world greatly influenced the Malay lifestyle and culture and brought a vibrant influence in the archipelago, through the development of arts.
Calligraphy, Arabic script (jawi)
Decorative applied arts (calligraphy/geometric patterns/arabesques)
The replica of a panel at Borobudur on display at Gallery B, Muzium Negara depicts a scene from the Lalitavistara Sutra, a Mahayana Buddhist text. In this panel Queen Maya and King Suddhodhana, parents of the future Buddha, are shown at their palace in Kapilavastu. The trees on the panel indicate that they are most likely seated in a garden pavilion. In this scene, the Queen has approached the King and seated herself on his right. She requests permission from the King to take a pledge of self-denial and, judging by the King’s hand gesture, he has consented to this request.
In the Lalitavistara text, this scene takes place in the music hall and the royal couple are seated on a throne with jeweled latticework. The Borobudur panel, on the other hand, shows ashoka trees (Saraca asoca) indicating an outdoor scene. The text also mentions that the Queen came accompanied by 10,000 women but only five of them, shown behind the Queen, are represented in the carving.
The Lalitavistara, translated loosely as ‘The Play in Full’, provides an account of Buddha’s descent into this world and how he attained his awakening. Borobudur has 1,460 bas-reliefs depicting scenes from the Lalitavistara, Jataka, and other Buddhist texts. These bas-reliefs are found in the galleries of the first four floors. Each floor has these bas-relief panels on both sides of the walls. The first floor has four series of panels, two series on the inner wall and two on the outer wall. The other three floors have two series of panels each, one on each side of the wall. This makes a total of ten series of panels; ten is an important figure in the Buddhist cosmology as it represents the ten stages of a bodhisattva’s path to awakening.
The correct way in which to circumambulate Borobudur is to start from the east staircase, turn left on the first floor, and walk clockwise while viewing the top series of panels on the outer wall. The visitor would then do another three rounds on the first floor while viewing the remaining three series of panels. The visitor then moves to the second floor and goes around this floor twice to view the series of panels on both the inner and outer walls. Two rounds each are again made on both the third and fourth floors. In this way, the visitor would have walked ten rounds. The Lalitavistara panels are located on the inner wall (top series) of the first floor.
Lalitavistara, The Play in Full, translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee.
John Miksic (1990) Borobudur: Golden Tales of the Buddhas, Hong Kong: Periplus Editions.
The Toraja people were originally from central Sulawesi in Indonesia. They are about 1.5 million strong but less than 500,000 live in their native land, the remainder have sought work in Makassar or Jakarta. By doing this, they can send money to their family in Tanah Toraja.
Their traditional burial customs are expensive to practice, particularly for the noble caste. The caste system is still used in Toraja society; there are nobles, warriors, traders, free men and “slaves”, the last ones being well treated and respected. A “slave” can cut tie with the family he works with at his own time and will.
When someone dies, the body is quickly embalmed but it stays at home, up to one year sometimes, so family and friends can come and see the dead who is considered “very sick” until the burial ceremony takes place. For this ceremony, the family will first buy buffaloes (one animal and up to two hundred, depending on how wealthy was the dead). The price of each buffalo depends on the marks of his robe; one with the proper “white” marks on the head can fetch several tens of thousands dollars.
Then they prepare the temporary bamboo huts to welcome the guests. The enlarged family, the friends, and all the people who have been familiar with the dead are invited; the family of the dead “gives back” to every person who has helped in one way or another to enable the dead to become wealthy.
The ceremony is now ready to take place. Generally, it lasts several days. Each day, the male slaves of the family sacrifice one to several buffaloes followed by pigs (bought at the market). They prepare the meat to feed everybody while the women prepare the drinks.
Some men dance while singing the main events of the dead’s life. All the guests bring gifts. The ceremony master states the names of the guests and their gifts. When all the gifts have been given, the dead is ready to be buried. As the earth is here to give birth, corpses cannot be buried and so the Toraja entomb the bodies in cliffs or large boulders.
It takes six months for a man to chisel out the grave from a boulder.
In addition, the nobles and warriors have the right to have their effigy sculpted in wood and displayed on a “balcony” near the grave.
If they are really wealthy and have sacrificed at least 200 buffaloes, a megalith can be raised in a specific field close to their village.
When a little baby dies, he is not strong enough to reach heaven by himself, so the Toraja entomb him in a big tree trunk so the tree can help the baby to go to heaven. The tree shall be alive and if the tree dies, a part of it is transferred to another tree that becomes the next “passeur d’âme”.
I learned about the Toraja burial practices during my short stay in Tanah Toraja, a very nice part of Sulawesi surrounded by mountains. Our guide, Otto who is part of the noble cast, was very helpful in teaching us all the customs of his tribe.
“From Angkor to Bujang Valley”. That was the title of the conference which took place at Alliance Française of Kuala Lumpur on Jan 25th. And as you all know, when MVs hear the words “Bujang Valley”, they tend to flock like birds on a wire. And indeed a large audience, comprising quite a few MV docents, trainees, and trainers, gathered to listen to Dr Daniel Perret, researcher from the French School for Asian Studies. The talk was mostly oriented towards the program of research in South-east Asia and the archaeological methods employed by this unit.
The French School for Asian Studies (Ecole française d’Extrème-Orient) is a public institution under the Ministry for Higher Education and Research. It was founded in 1898 in Saigon and, therefore, started its activities mostly in what was French Indochina. Today it is established in twelve countries, with eighteen research centers, from India to Japan. In Malaysia, the Center is hosted by the Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya. It conducts research in cooperation with the University of Malaya, UKM, JMM…
A lot of research has been devoted to Indochina: it included, from 1992, the rehabilitation of many Angkor Temples, but the center has also been active in countries such as Laos (Vat Phu Temple -11th-13th century CE), Vietnam (Quang Ngai wall, a 19th century fortified wall extending for 127 km in the Champa region), and Myanmar (inventory of 2,800 monuments in Pagan (Bagan) -1044-1287 CE-).
Dr Perret himself has devoted a lot of his activities in Indonesia, mainly Sumatra, and in Malaysia, including in the Bujang Valley.
In Sumatra, research, which has now turned away from the exclusive study of temples and monuments, has been devoted to the evolution of three settlements, Barus (on the west coast), Padang Lawas (central Sumatra) and Kota Cina (on the north-east coast).
All research on human settlements, in the absence of temples, must be correlated with other types of data (archaeological findings – Chinese ceramics being often important for dating, local epigraphy, local literature and traditions, foreign written sources).
In the case of Barus, a Tamil inscription (1088 CE) indicates that the earliest known inhabitants were Tamils, a fact in accordance with local literature and tradition. Other sources include the “Sejarah Raja Raja Barus” (late text from 19th century), an Armenian maritime chart (12th century), the Archives Cairo Geniza (11th-13th century), Marco Polo’s writings (13th century), many Chinese and a few Portuguese and VOC sources. One of the difficulties conducting archaeological research in Indonesia is the concentration of layers which do not exceed 30 cm in depth and, hence, chronology is often difficult to establish between the different artifacts found. Nevertheless, interesting findings could relate the settlements to Indian presence and trading activities with many parts of Asia: for example pottery, analogous to Cambay Ghee pots still used in Southern India. A figurine, dated between 12th and 16th century, analogous to an Old Bahrein figurine (12th-14th century) was also unearthed. Stoneware was also found originating from China, and also Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Japan (in particular originating from Hizen kiln active in the first half of the 17th century).
In Padang Lawas, archaeological research had been very active in the past, about 30 Hindu-Buddhist monuments and some 1,039 inscriptions (in Malay, old Sanskrit, paleo-Sumatran) had been catalogued, but nobody was interested, until recent years, in the settlements themselves. One of the astonishing findings, related again to trade activities, was a Bukhara Dirham, dated 1003-1004 CE, from the Qarakhamid/Ilek Khan Dynasty.
In Kota Cina, where some Hindu-Buddhist images were found in the 1970’s, the site for digging had a particularity: there was a lot of water infiltrating the soil. That was a big problem because water had to be pumped out regularly, but also a big benefit as water better preserves organic remains. Hence, wooden construction pillars, animal remains (mostly turtles) and also human skeletons were found. The site also yielded some 160,000 pieces of earthenware (around 1,5 t), making it the biggest site in Sumatra, but also more than 1,000 coins, mostly Chinese. The dating of all these findings ranges from the end of the 11th century till the beginning of 14th century, but analysis is just beginning.
Dr Perret’s research in Malaysia was devoted first to the cataloguing of Batu Aceh tombstones: 450 of them were studied in Johor. In Bujang Valley, Dr Perret studied glassware. Some 6,000 shards were categorized, many of them (about 95%) coming from jarlets (a small type of vessel, about 3 cm for the rim and the base, 6 cm for the height). A recent book has been edited by Dr Perret (together with Zulkifli Jaafar) and published by JMM, “Ancient glassware in Malaysia – The Pengkalan Bujang Collection”.
Finally, Dr Perret explained how external interference can bring some kind of perturbation to academic work and spice it up a little. When he and his team found a human skeleton at Kota Cina, although it seemed clearly to be dated a few hundred years before the discovery, it appeared it could make a criminal “cold case” as the skeleton had both hands and feet bound together…so the local police claimed the skeleton for forensic investigation! Fortunately, when a second skeleton was found the police considered they had enough with one and left it to the archaeologists…
We, MVs, are very lucky to know that the Perak Man died from a tooth infection, otherwise we could have been caught in another episode of “NCIS Lenggong Valley”!!
On the first day of February, Jean-Marie, my husband and I went to a Puja Pantai (sea healing ceremony) at Pulau Carey, which is about one hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur. A Puja Pantai is a Hari Moyang (spirit day) for the fishing Mah Meri villagers.
JM joined us early at our home so we could be at Kampong Bumbun at 9am, as instructed by the young lady in charge. Actually, we had plenty of time to visit, for 3 to 4 times, the museum in this charming cultural village. Now we know plenty about the Mah Meri culture and wood carvings!
Finally we were invited to wear a nice origami headdress and instructed to keep it on our heads throughout the ceremony so the spirits could recognize us as guests.
Then we took our car to join the procession coming from Kampung Judah, another Mah Meri village. Jean-Marie and I followed the procession while my husband had to follow by car as he could not leave the car on the road side. We walked with the crowd, trying to take pictures on the way of the shaman, the musicians, the navy soldiers who were there to carry the busot jantan (a mound made of bamboo frame and plaited palms leaves).
After about 2 kms, we turned left and, there, the shaman and his helper sanctified the cross road to show the way to the spirits.
Finally we arrived at the beach where we waited about two hours while the shamans chewed betel, smoked, and ultimately came to a trance.
Then, to please the spirits, there was a Jo-oh dance. Several young ladies began to dance around the busot jantan. A male mask dancer joined them and finally the shaman entered the dance.
Following the dance, the procession went to the beach itself to join the rumah moyang now that the tide was low.
Raja Abdullah and Yap Ah Loy have been pushed centre-stage to battle it out as founders of Kuala Lumpur, relegating to the background the two entrepreneurs who had developed a trading post at the confluence of Klang and Gombak Rivers, a trading post that would grow to become Kuala Lumpur. No street names laud their contributions but Hiu Siew was the first Kapitan Cina (Chinese Captain) of Kuala Lumpur and Ah Sze could have been either the second or third Kapitan had he wanted the job.
Their story starts in Lukut where they were joint owners of a tin-mine. It was here that they contracted a friendship with Sutan Puasa, a Mandailing trader servicing the Ampang tin mines, on whose advice they moved to the future Kuala Lumpur. Lukut was, until the border treaty of 1878, a part of Selangor and under the control of Raja Jumaat, an enterprising and capable leader. In 1857, Raja Abdullah, brother of Raja Jumaat, took 87 Chinese miners from Lukut and they started mining activities at Ampang, about five kilometres inland from the confluence. Raja Abdullah’s men were by no means the first miners at Ampang; this honour belongs to the Sumatrans who were probably there from as early as the 1820s. However, the increased activity brought about by Raja Abdullah’s team saw traders from Lukut moving to Ampang where they supplied the miners with food, essential items, opium, and spirits.
Goods bound to and from Ampang were loaded/unloaded at the confluence and, in all likelihood, a settlement existed there from an early period. However, the trading post had to be expanded rapidly in order to keep pace with the increased activity at Ampang and Sutan Puasa succeeded in persuading Hiu Siew and Ah Sze to relocate there. He also paved the way for them by introducing them to the local Malays and their acceptance by the Malay community saw Hiu Siew being appointed as the first Kapitan Cina of Kuala Lumpur.
The exact location of this trading centre has not been identified. However, it is said that when Yap Ah Loy became the third Kapitan, he appropriated the property of Liu Ngim Kong, the second Kapitan, who had himself appropriated the property of Hiu Siew. We know that Yap Ah Loy’s house was located near the river, at the present site of the Pacific Express Hotel, and it is possible that Hiu Siew’s property was at this same location and that Yap Ah Loy’s ‘market’ was originally Hiu Siew’s.
The head panglima (commander) to Hiu Siew was Liu Ngim Kong. Liu had previously been panglima to the Kapitan Cina of Sungei Ujong and Yap Ah Loy had acted as his assistant during that time. When Hiu Siew passed away in 1861/62, Liu took over his role as Kapitan Cina as well as, purportedly, his private property. Liu invited Yap Ah Loy, who was Kapitan Cina at Sungei Ujong, to join him in Kuala Lumpur. The wealth of Kuala Lumpur induced Yap Ah Loy to move and he took over the position of Kapitan Cina after Liu’s death in 1868.
Ah Sze, in the meantime, had become among the wealthiest traders in Selangor. He also had mining concerns in Kanching which, together with Ampang (and Kuala Lumpur), were the only Chinese enclaves in Selangor north of Lukut at the time. Ah Sze was kingmaker. He had twice rejected offers to be Kapitan Cina: first after the death of Hiu Siew and again after the death of Liu. However, the selection of Liu Ngim Kong and Yap Ah Loy as the second and third Kapitans respectively were made in consultation with Ah Sze. The relatives of Liu Ngim Kong were unhappy with the ascension of Yap Ah Loy to the position of Kapitan and his appropriation of Liu’s property. Their attempt to redress the situation saw the murder of Ah Sze, seen as a powerful ally of Yap Ah Loy. This was done in order to weaken Yap’s position.
Kuala Lumpur was already a rich and flourishing settlement before Yap Ah Loy moved there. This was in large part due to the efforts of Hiu Siew, Ah Sze, and Liu Ngim Kong who come across as very capable leaders. However, information on them is scarce as they have largely been ignored in historical writings. One possible explanation for this is that the bulk of historical records come from the British whose official involvement in the Selangor state starts only after the treaty of 1874. They had involved interactions with Yap Ah Loy but only cursory dealings, if any, with the other three.