Captain Speedy

by Eric Lim

Early this month, after a round of golf, a friend invited us to his farm for lunch. In the midst of enjoying the food, another friend arrived bringing a bottle of whisky and immediately announced that it is a product of Malaysia!

Indeed the whisky is distilled, blended and bottled in our country. The only difference is the spelling of whisky, which in this case is spelt ‘whiskey’. It carries a name ‘Timah’, Malay for tin, and, on the bottle, there is a picture and a brief write up on Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy. In August this year, ‘Timah’ won a silver award at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition 2020. Intrigued, I decided to do a search on Captain Speedy, in short, and barely twenty-four hours later, there was a news article about a plea to restore a colonial structure in Taiping, and that structure was none other than the former residence of the man!

James Speedy was 17 when he joined the Bengal army in 1828 where he stayed until 1835. In October that year, James married Sarah Squire, daughter of a Lieutenant Colonel, in Agra and he re-joined his regiment, which had moved to Meerut near Delhi in 1836. It was here that Captain Speedy was born on 26 November 1836. 

1854 – 1871 (India, Abyssinia, Sudan, New Zealand)

Captain Speedy had his education in England and following his father’s footsteps, he joined the army at seventeen. He was sent to join the regiment in Meerut in 1854. He served in India until 1860, and during this time, he was awarded two medals for his regiment’s involvement in the Indian Mutiny in Punjab and Eusoffian Expedition. Here, he learned to speak Urdu.

He then left the army and moved to Africa where he was employed by King Theodore of Abyssinia (Ethiopia today) to train his army. He was given the Amharic name of ‘Basha Felika’ (meaning ‘speedy’). He worked here for eighteen months and he picked up Amharic. After a falling out with the King, he fled the country in autumn of 1861. He reappeared in 1863 in Kassala, a city in neighbouring Sudan, where he met Captain Cameron who was then the British Consul at Massawa, a port on the Red Sea coast (today Massawa is also known as Mitsiwa, and is in Eritrea). Captain Speedy was offered the post of Vice Consul and he worked until January 1864.

Next, he travelled to New Zealand where his parents had emigrated eight years ago and he was a member of the Waikato militia that fought in the New Zealand Wars. He was promoted to Captain and was awarded a medal for his service and land grant in the Waikato of confiscated lands. He later sold the land to Bill Cowan.

Speedy in New Zealand. Image Credit: Wikitree Free Family

Meantime, the relationship between Britain and Abyssinia had worsened. King Theodore had captured some Europeans and diplomacy had failed to release the prisoners. This led Britain to arrange a military mission to be headed by General Sir Robert Napier. Captain Speedy was found in Australia in 1867 and he was recruited into the mission in Abyssinia. Captain Speedy made a return to Africa in 1868 but this time as acivilian interpreter where his knowledge of the country and languages proved valuable. On 13 April 1868, British forces stormed through the stronghold of King Theodore at Magdala and discovered that the King had committed suicide. Empress Tiruwork Wube died a month later on the way to the coast, leaving behind an eight- year-old son, Dejatch Alamayou (Prince Alamayou) under the care of Napier. Having been friends with the late King during his service in 1860, Captain Speedy offered to look after Alamayou and Napier agreed. The Abyssinian War gained the fourth medal for Captain Speedy.

Upon his return to Britain, Captain Speedy was appointed as Guardian of the young Abyssinian prince by Queen Victoria. On 15 December 1868, Captain Speedy married Cornelia Mary, daughter of Benjamin Tennyson Cotton, a wealthy Isle of Wight landowner, at Freshwater and Alamayou was a groom. A few months later, in 1869, Captain Speedy returned to India with his wife and Alamayou. He was appointed the District Superintendent of the Oudh Police from 1869 to 1871. Captain Speedy had accompanied the Duke of Edinburgh who was the second son of Queen Victoria, on a shooting trip in Nepal. Captain Speedy had big game shooting experience in Sudan, when he fled from Abyssinia in 1861. He was given a kukri with an ivory handle by the Chief Minister of Nepal. Kukri is a type of machete with a distinct recurve in the blade and originates from the Indian subcontinent.

1871 – 1877 (British Malaya)

After his two years in India, it was time to move again. In 1871, Captain Speedy arrived at Penang to work as the Superintendent of Police. His first contribution to Penang was the planting of a baobab tree. This is regarded as the oldest non-indigenous tree planted in our country. When Frank Swettenham met them, he said ‘the boy (Alamayou) was in good hands, for Speedy and his wife were very fond of him’.

In December, Speedy escorted Alamayou to England where he was sent to Cheltenham College in the care of its headmaster, Dr. Jex Blake. Captain Speedy then returned to Penang while Alamayou continued his studies in England. In 1874, when Dr. Jex Blake moved to Rugby School, Alamayou followed him. Alamayou left in 1878 to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and after a year, he left to Leeds to study under Cyril Ransome, a master whom Alamayou had met at Rugby School. He then contracted pleurisy and died on 14 November of 1879. He was eighteen years of age. The funeral took place a week later at the St. George’s Chapel, Windsor and Captain Speedy were present at the funeral. By the order of Queen Victoria, a brass plaque to his memory was installed and it bears the words ‘I was a stranger and ye took me in’.

Prince Alamayou and Captain Speedy. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Long Jaafar was a tax collector in Larut. It was here that he accidentally discovered tin ore, first, while bathing in a stream and second, when he found his elephant! In 1848, Long Jaafar encouraged Chinese to mine in his land and, subsequently, Chinese capitalists from the Straits Settlements invested in these mines, bringing an influx of Chinese immigrants to Larut. Long Jaafar prospered and the Sultan made him the administrator of the district of Larut, Matang and Selama in 1850. He died in 1857 and he was succeeded by his son, Ngah Ibrahim, who was granted even more powers by the Sultan; he was installed as the Orang Kaya Mantri and given control over Larut.

At its peak before 1872, there were 40 000 Chinese working on the mines in Larut. The Chinese were divided into two rival clans – Hai San, comprising mostly Hakka and Hokkien, and Ghee Hin, predominantly Cantonese. They vied for control over the tin mines. The Malays were also fighting among themselves over collection of taxes and, like the Chinese, they were also divided into two groups, Ulu (up-river); and Hilir (down river). When Sultan Ali died in 1871, they also fought for the throne of Perak. The two Chinese groups allied with different Malay factions and the conflicts between the factions resulted in the Larut War.

With the situation getting out of control, Ngah Ibrahim went to Penang to offer an appointment to Captain Speedy to restore order in Larut. He was made an offer of a salary and one-third of the revenues of Larut. Captain Speedy immediately resigned from his police post and left for India on 27 July 1873 on a mission to recruit sepoys for his troop in Larut. He returned with a force of 110 sepoys in late September. The frequent clashes of the Chinese caused the disruption of the supply of tin and this led to the British intervention in January 1874. Organized by the then Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Andrew Clarke, the Pangkor Treaty was signed on board the HMS Pluto, near Pangkor Island. It managed to solve the Chinese tin mining conflict and the Perak succession dispute. The treaty also marked the start of the Resident programme in the Peninsular. 

Captain Speedy in Larut. Image Credit: Wikitree Free Family

James Wheeler Woodford Birch was appointed the Resident of Perak and Captain Speedy as the Assistant Resident at Larut. Speedy’s top priority was to restore mining production. Next, he divided Larut into two – North (Klian Bahru) was awarded to Ghee Hin and the town was known as ‘Kamunting’; while the more prosperous South (Klian Pauh) was given to Hai San and Captain Speedy named the town ‘Thai Peng’ (Chinese for Everlasting Peace, it is Taiping today). Next, Captain Speedy started construction of roads and erected Government buildings and quarters, which also included the new government headquarters-cum-residence completed in early 1875. Sir William Jervois who took over from Sir Andrew Clarke in 1875 commented that the residence was ‘a large and very comfortable house’ and Birch said it was ‘a very commodious residence’.

Cornelia arrived in the middle of 1874 to join her husband, as did Speedy’s younger brother James Havelock Speedy who spent about 18 months in Larut. At the end of May 1876, Captain Speedy took 6 months leave to return to England to settle the inheritance left behind by Cornelia’s father who had recently died. The Speedy’s were now ‘very comfortable off’. They returned to Larut in early December 1876 by which time, the post of Assistant Resident of Larut was held by W.E. Maxwell. Captain Speedy was then moved to Durian Sebatang in Lower Perak where he stayed until he resigned at the end of 1877. The Speedys left British Malaya for good in January 1878 – his superiors were happy to see him leave!

Captain Speedy’s residence, 9 October 2004. Image credit: www.penang-traveltips.com

1878 – 1910 (Sudan, Abyssinia)

They arrived in Sudan where they stayed until July 1878. It was during this trip that Cornelia wrote letters back home to her mother, and shared with family and friends, and was later published into a book titled My wanderings in the Soudan in 1884. They also met some Germans and within a week, Captain Speedy could speak with them fluently in German, showing he had the gift of languages. In December of 1883, he was again called upon to join a diplomatic mission to Abyssinia (for the third time) as an interpreter, which he was ‘most happy to offer my services’, this time under the command of Vice Admiral Hewett. He was paid until January 1885. In March 1897, Captain Speedy took his final mission to Abyssinia under Rennell Rodd. The mission was over by the end of May. Cornelia had bought a house in the picturesque village of Chatsworth in Shropshire where they stayed until Captain Speedy died in August 1910 at the age of 73. Cornelia died seven years later at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.

References

John M. Gullick / Captain Speedy of Larut / Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society / Vol.26 No.3 (163) Captain Speedy of Larut (November 1953) / https://www.jstor.org/stable/41503024

Plea to restore colonial structure in Taiping by Ivan Loh / Page 4, Starmetro – The Star / 8 October 2020

Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy (1836 – 1910) / Wikitree Free Family /wikitree.com

Captain Speedy’s bungalow, Matang, Perak, Malaysia / www.penang-traveltips.com

Malaysian whisky ‘Timah’ wins medal at San Francisco World Spirits Competition / Entertainment and Lifestyle – The Sun Daily / 13 August 2020

Gunung Kawi of Indonesia

by Annie Chuah Siew Yen

What’s a name?

A name may be just a term used for identification of a person, object or place, but studies have questioned the psychological effect names have on the bearer. To some, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, while to others a name defines a place or person’s life. So vital is the significance of a name that many communities have traditions surrounding its selection.

There must be a reason why there are at least three different places in Indonesia named Gunung Kawi (Mount Kawi). It may be an eponym for ‘Kawi’, the ancient sacred language of Java, which existed in the 8th century CE, and still used to some extent as a literary language. The word, in Sanskrit-derived forms can mean ‘poetry, wisdom or sculpture’, leading to the surmise that it may mean ‘Mountain of Wisdom/Poets’ or ‘carved out of mountain’.

Gunung Kawi, East Java

My first encounter with Gunung Kawi was when I was on a round island tour of Java in 1991. My co-travellers were mainly Indonesian Chinese from different parts of Java and as far as Medan in north Sumatra, who had joined the tour because Gunung Kawi was on the itinerary. They related (to me) the hagiasmos or sanctification ritual of this mist-shrouded mountain, which is the resting place of two of Indonesia’s legendary figures.

Purple sweet potatoes are abundant in Mount Kawi. It is the main commodity for the locals.  This tuber is sweet and rich in antioxidants; the people eat it steamed or fried. Image credit: Annie Chuah, taken in 1991.

Gunung Kawi, located in the administrative area of Wonosari Village in the Malang Regency of East Java, is a stratovolcano with no eruption in recorded history. It gained fame because of matters relating to pesugihan often held there. Many do so because of the quest for infinite wealth. Pesugihan is derived from the Javanese word ‘sugih’ meaning ‘rich’. It is a ritual performed as a means to get rich instantly. In exchange, the seekers must sacrifice something.

Main Street, Wonosari village in 1991. Entry to the sacred sites is through the arched gateway. Image credit: Annie Chuah

At 2500 metres above sea level on the slope of Gunung Kawi is Pesarean Gunung Kawi – a cemetery containing the sacred twin tombs of Mbah Djoego and Iman Soedjono, revered historical figures in Indonesia. Iman Soedjono was one of the seventy noblemen who took arms against the Dutch occupation led by Prince Diponegoro from 1825 to 1830. Next to his grave is the tomb of Mbah Djoego or Kiai Zakaria II, a local figure who pioneered a new technology in farming at that time. He was a brave fighter and spiritual adviser to Diponegoro. Both were descendants of the kingdom of Mataram, loyal to Pangeran Diponegoro. Though the tombs are of Muslim deceased, this place has a magical appeal to Chinese, Madurese and indigenous communities of Indonesia who are in search of spiritual blessings.

These ancient urns beside the left tomb belonged to Djoego and have been used for the storage of holy water for healing. It is believed that drinking water from this urn will keep people young. Image credit: http://gunungkawi.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/guci-kuno.jpg?

The cemetery is located at the top of the village and along the way are several gates with reliefs that tell the story of how Mbah Djoego fought the war with Prince Diponegoro. The reliefs were carved by his followers in 1871 to commemorate his heroic deeds.  Near the cemetery is the holy sian tho (sacred fruit) tree, also known as the dewandaru tree, believed to have sprung from Djoego’s stick, which was stuck to the ground for protection of the Wonosari area. Pilgrims wait around the tree for the fruit, leaves or even twigs to fall to be kept as a wealth-giving talisman.

Adjacent to the tomb house is a mosque. Within the pesarean complex is also a Confucian/Buddhist temple with Kwan Im as the main lord. In years past, some people from the local Chinese community who conducted the rituals here were believed to have become fabulously rich or healed from their sickness after the rituals. News spread, and more Chinese resettled at Mount Kawi. In time, the village became known to other Chinese communities and the Buddhist temple was built near the pesarean.

Some distance away is a building, once the hermitage belonging to Prabu Kameswara, a prince from the Kingdom of Kediri who was Hindu. He was a deeply religious person who preferred to live in meditative seclusion. It was said that after the prabu finished meditating in that place, he succeeded in resolving the political turmoil in his kingdom. This is now a place for worship and the practice of pesugihan

This lady sells flowers, joss and incense paper to pilgrims on Gunung Kawi. Image credit: Annie Chuah, 1991

On this mountain refuge, the sanctuaries of three different faiths exist harmoniously side-by-side, which is not unusual among Indonesians. Though this is a good place for photography, its uniqueness as well has attracted many to Gunung Kawi; they come not only for a vacation but also, for believers of animism, this is a pilgrimage site. Visitors believe that the pilgrimage will bring them success in their careers, good health and prosperity. The best time to visit the sacred sepulchres is on Thursday evening, Jumaat Legi according to the Javanese Calendar. Gunung Kawi is one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations for Indonesian Chinese, with the Jumat Legi before the Lunar New Year being especially busy.

The smell of incense pervades the air; patrons come to have their fortunes revealed through the ancient Confucian/Taoist ritual known as kau ciam si (roughly translated from the Hokkien dialect to mean ‘seek/consult bamboo oracle’), a method of fortune revealing. It involves shaking a cylindrical container filled with oracle sticks made of bamboo, numbered 1 – 100, in such a manner that an oracle stick will mysteriously jump out. The number on the stick will be matched with the interpretation of the oracle on the divination slip of the same number, and therein lays the fortune you seek. The divination message may be an aphorism, epigram or proverb; it is cryptic and enigmatic. It is usually deciphered by a temple staff, its accuracy dependent on the knowledge of the interpreter. The practice of kau ciam si dates back to the Jin Dynasty, and is still prevalent in Taoist temples in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.

Performing the Kau Ciam Si ritual. Image credit: Getty Images.  

In recent years, Mount Kawi not only functions as a sacred space (the pesarean) for pilgrims and visitors, but it also has a ‘profane space’ for other visitors who come to enjoy the natural beauty and the cultural and inter-faith performances of the region. These are initiatives of the government of Malang Regency in its attempt to change the image of Gunung Kawi and erase the stigma of Mount Kawi as a Pesarean.

Pura Gunung Kawi, Bali

Down in a valley through which runs a stream near Tampaksiring in Ubud, Bali, is an interesting archaeological complex – an antiquated sanctuary of edifices – Pura Gunung Kawi.

This valley with its lush vegetation and terraced rice fields houses the 11th century funerary complex dedicated to the kings and queens of the Warmadewa Dynasty at Gunung Kawi. Image credit: Michael Gunther, 2008 (Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike other temples in Bali, this mist and mystery-shrouded one is rather laid-back with few foreign visitors, but was on former President Obama’s itinerary when he and his family holidayed in Bali in 2017. I visited in August 2019 on the suggestion of the manager of the Ubud resort where I was spending a week. The complex radiates a certain mystique; legends of long-forgotten gods, kings and heroes have been told about its origin. But then, isn’t Bali a land of legends?

As you make your way down to the temple, a descent of 270 steps, you are met with beautiful vistas of luxuriant paddy fields, and finally welcomed by the sound of running water. Where the stairs end, there is an archway with pillars holding basins of holy water, which visitors sprinkle to cleanse themselves before entering the complex.

A steep, stone stairway leads to the temple complex, at one point cutting through an embankment of solid rock. Image credit: NaidNdeso (Wikimedia Commons)

Pura Gunung Kawi’s setting among rice terraces and natural jungle makes its location quite stunning. The ancient artwork carved onto the cliff are of four candi or shrines on the west side and another five on the eastern side of the river, while another is hidden to the south across the valley. Evidence suggests that these candi were probably once protected between two massive rock-hewn cloisters. Each candi is believed to be a memorial to a member of the 11th-century Balinese royalty, but little is known of this. Legends relate that the whole group of memorials was carved out of the rock face in a single night by the mighty fingernails of the mythical giant Kebo Iwo.

Shrines in sheltered niches at Pura Gunung Kawi. Image credit: Bernard Gagnon (Wikimedia Commons)

The five candi on the eastern side are dedicated to King Udaya, Queen Mahendradatta and their sons Airlangga, Anak Wangsu and Marakata. When Anak Wangsu was ruler of Bali, Airlangga ruled eastern Java and became the legendary king of Singhasari (Singosari). The other four are for Anak Wangsu’s chief concubines and the remote tenth candi is for a royal minister. Another theory states that the whole complex is dedicated to Anak Wangsu, his wives and concubines, and a royal minister.

As the temple is held sacred, proper attire consisting of a sarong tied around the waist is required for all visitors. Image credit: Annie Chuah

These candi (niches) are not tombs and they have never contained any human remains, but their function has not been ascertained. Their shape resembles small buildings with three-tiered roofs bearing nine stylised lingam-yoni symbols. The doorway seems to be going nowhere. There is a small chamber beneath each candi for offerings of food and metal objects representing earthly necessities.

Within the complex are small stone caves and cells hewn out of rock that serve as meditation sites to complement shrines where Buddhist monks used to sit and contemplate. In Bali, Hinduism and Buddhism have coexisted and fused in harmony since ancient times. As you wander between monuments, shrines, fountains and streams, there is a feeling of ancient majesty.

Caves in which to retreat and meditate. Image credit: Annie Chuah

Gunung Kawi Sebatu, Bali

About 10km away in Gianyar, is another sacred temple – Gunung Kawi Sebatu, a Hindu water temple dedicated to Vishnu. This 11th century temple complex, built on a natural spring, comprises a collection of ancient shrines, bathing pools and fountains. The architectural interest is in its split gates, richly carved walls and the variety of shrines and pavilions.

Entry into the main temple is reserved for Hindu devotees but other pavilions and shrines for ancestral spirits can be explored. Artisans in the mountain village of Sebatu were skilled wood carvers and sculptors. Carved beams and depictions of deities and demons in stone can be seen throughout the temple.

There is a shrine dedicated to the Javanese sage Mpu Kuturan, a priest instrumental in the establishment of Balinese Hinduism. To the right of the central court is the temple of the Pasek Gelgel clan where the ancestral deities are honoured in nine shrines.

The reflecting pool with a floating pavilion is in the outer courtyard; further beyond is the performance pavilion. Some pools are for purification ritual baths while shoals of carps are reared in others. Fowls roam around the jungle setting. The Gunung Kawi Sebatu temple is a gem, one of the prettiest temples in Bali, so visit before the crowds come to know about it!

Gunung Kawi Sebatu Temple – pools, shrines, sculpture amidst natural surroundings. Image credit: https://balisuntours.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/sebatu-temple.jpg

Elaborate ceremonies are held to celebrate the temple anniversary, Purnama Sasih Kasa, on the first full moon of the Balinese calendar and attended by Balinese Hindu pilgrims from all over the island.

The Balinese are expected to participate in the temple anniversaries of their clan temples to reinforce their clan identities. This is the time their ancestors come down for visits to be welcomed with dance and food.

Throughout the world people look up to mountains as sources of blessings and healing, as in these spiritual Gunung Kawi sites in Java and Bali. Sacred mountains incite reverence and are the subject of legends. Spirituality provides a sense of peace and helps us understand why these Gunung Kawi remote locations are held in such mystical regard by the natives of the land.

References

https://jatimplus.id/gunung-kawi-kisah-tentang-pelarian-dan-harapan/

Culture Tourism to Pesarean Kawi Mountain as A Culture of Cultural Products

http://pesugihangunugkawi.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

https://malang.kompas.com/read/2019/05/15/09540861/pesarean-gunung-kawi-jejak-perjuangan-pengawal-diponegoro-serta-wujud?page=all

https://trip101.com/article/witness-the-culture-and-religious-harmony-at-mount-kawi-malang-indonesia

http://www.baligoldentour.com/gunung-kawi-temple.php

           

Federal Route 55

by Eric Lim

Recently, a reader of this blog wrote in asking for the actual site of Sir Henry Gurney’s assassination. Prior to this, I had been asked the same question by my ex-classmate’s husband while doing a guided tour at the National Museum last year. In addition, recently there was a news report on the development of a new multi-storey hotel resort in Fraser’s Hill and Badan Warisan Malaysia, a national heritage NGO, had initiated a petition to stop the demolition of heritage buildings on Fraser’s Hill.

These events are closely related to Federal Route 55. Sir Henry Gurney was assassinated on 6 October 1951 by communist terrorists (CT) at Mile 56 ½, Kuala Kubu Road (90.91 km, distance measured from Kuala Lumpur), about 8 miles (12.87 km) from Fraser’s Hill and about 2 miles (3.22 km) before The Gap. Federal Route 55 is the main access route to Fraser’s Hill, whether from Pahang or Selangor.

This stretch of road was the first federal route constructed in Pahang, thus putting the final jigsaw in linking all four states in the Federal Malay States (FMS). It was opened on 13 January 1899, and it initially connected Kuala Kubu to Kuala Lipis, the then capital of Pahang. Today, Federal Route 55 starts at the intersection of Federal Route 1, the main North-South trunk road, with Kuala Kubu Bharu and ends at Teranum in Raub district.

With these two issues on my mind, I decided to drive up to Fraser’s Hill using Federal Route 55 from the Selangor side. My last trip to our country’s third hill station was for a tai chi retreat many years ago. The drive was a breeze on a Saturday early morning except for the occasional braking and overtaking of cyclists. On weekends, particularly, Federal Route 55 is a favourite with cyclists, who challenge themselves on its uphill, downhill and winding circuit.

Photo source : Eric Lim

I do recall seeing on the internet, a photo of a signboard that was erected at the site of Gurney’s assassination. Hence, as I approached The Gap, I slowed down to look for it but alas, I could not locate it even though I went back and forth several times. Since it was still early, I decided to pull over at The Gap, to check the old Rest House. Incidentally, The Gap is still in the state of Selangor. What once used to be a fine stone Tudor style rest house where visitors could drop by for scones and tea, relax and admire the flowers and as well as enjoy the mountain fresh air before continuing their journey to Fraser’s Hill, it is now in decrepit condition. In 2008, it underwent refurbishment with a budget of RM 500,000. A second phase costing RM 1.5 million was planned for 2011 but the project was cancelled. Since then, the building has been left untouched and is under threat from the elements and vandalism. Looks like the glory days of the Rest House would not be making a return for a long time to come.

The trend of losing heritage buildings continued to rear its ugly head when I reached the site of the proposed 15-storey resort and spa in Fraser’s Hill. Two colonial bungalows, Maybank Lodge and Jelai Resort, had been completely demolished two weeks earlier as part of the project. The project is expected to be completed in 2026. When the Silver Park Resort was built, another two bungalows namely Mentakab Bungalow and Bishop House (earlier called The Retreat) were destroyed to make way for that project. Another important landmark in Fraser’s Hill is the Jeriau Waterfall. It is now a pale shadow of its former glory after the development of an 18-hole golf course nearby. The golf course did not survive for long and it has been abandoned for many years now.

The proposed 15-storey resort and spa. Photo source : Eric Lim

Moving away from the news of destruction to a more positive note, I have succeeded in locating the photograph of the memorial signboard. In addition, I also found photographs of Gurney’s Rolls Royce that was riddled by bullet holes (a total of 35 bullet holes were counted), Gurney’s funeral procession held on 8 October 1951 and the news headline of the killing. I discovered these at the Shahzan Inn on Fraser’s Hill.

Photographs at Shahzan Inn Fraser’s Hill. Photo source : Eric Lim

In retaliation for the killing of the highest ranking British officer in the country, the entire population of the village of Tras near Fraser’s Hill, almost all Chinese, was rounded up onto lorries and sent to a detention camp in Ipoh. They were suspected of supporting the CTs. Thirty seven of them were arrested for possible involvement and the rest were released in batches but they were not allowed to return to Tras. They were finally permitted to return home in 1958, by which time, Tras looked more like a ghost town! Tras is also located on Federal Route 55, near Teranum.

Again, it looked like an easy and quiet ride leaving Fraser’s Hill. However, not for long as I could see a chasing pack of cyclists behind me. I stepped on the accelerator and I went speeding down the hill and round the hairpin bends but they were still close on my tail. It was like in the movies. When I finally broke free, it was close to the Sungai Selangor Dam and I decided to stop at the Lookout Point to view the massive lake. Treated water from the dam is supplied to Selangor and Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya. 

As I was about to return to my car, I saw the cyclists speeding by and soon they were out of sight. It was a good race for them and a good day for my adventure on Federal Route 55.

References

Book / The Towns of Malaya : An illustrated urban history of the Peninsula up to 1957. By Dr Neil Khor, Mariana Isa and Maganjeet Kaur.

Henry Gurney’s final flight by Alan Teh Lean Seng / 7 October 2018 New Straits Time. www.nst.com > lifestyle >sunday-vibes

freemalaysiatoday.com/category/leisure/2018/10/09/page-out-of-history-gurney’s-killing-and-the-village-of-tras

On the trail of the Chams

by Annie Chuah Siew Yen

Once lords over a great empire known as Champa, the Chams have been relegated to ethnic minority status in the very lands over which they once lorded. Today, they inhabit parts of southern Vietnam and Cambodia.

The Chams are an Austronesian group and the history of Champa begins with their migration to mainland South East Asia. Patterns and chronology of migration suggest that the Cham arrived via Borneo (this assumption is still being debated) in the early centuries CE. What is today the South China Sea was known to ancient navigators as the Champa Sea, named for the great empire that controlled the seas off central and south Vietnam. Existing between the 2nd and 15th century CE, Champa was actually a collection of polities; at the peak of its power, Champa lands included parts of eastern Cambodia and Laos.

Champa and its neighbours around c. 1100 CE. Champa is shaded in green, the Khmer Empire in violet, and Dai-Viet in yellow. Major polities are marked. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Their culture was heavily influenced by Hinduism, mainly Shaivism, represented by a linga with temple carvings depicting Hindu deities. Later, Hindu doctrines were blended with local beliefs and Buddhism.

The Chams have left traces of their existence in the lands they occupied. Archaeologists have identified Cham citadels and temple sites along Vietnam’s coast. Recent explorations suggest that hundreds of ruined sites may line rivers leading into the Central Highlands and beyond, to eastern Cambodia.

I have always been fascinated by lost kingdoms and ancient civilisations. I first came across the Chams when I was travelling in central Vietnam in 2006, and again in 2007. Although most Chams now live in Cambodia, the kingdom of Champa flourished in southern Vietnam and this is where the architectural legacy of the Cham people is located.

A tower at the Champa complex at My Son. Image credit: http://architecturalmoleskine.blogspot.com/2012/01/my-son-in-vietnam.html

The Chams were greatly influenced by Funan (precursor to the Khmer Empire) from whom they adopted the Hindu religion and art. Sandstone pillars and red brick flooring of temples and royal burial sites are features of Cham architecture. The oldest artefacts with these distinct characteristics found together with pottery in Tra Kieu, date to the 2nd century CE.

The people of Champa kept written records in Sanskrit and the old Cham language. They wrote on palm leaves and inscribed on stone steles. Their records on perishable materials are all gone but numerous stone inscriptions have been preserved and transcribed.

Cham culture is believed to have started thriving from the 4th century CE. Its spiritual centre was at My Son, which was established by King Bhadravarman. Over 70 temples – red brick structures – have been excavated here. The buildings within the My Son temple complex were constructed over a period of 1000 years, from the 4th to 14th century CE, making this complex one of the longest-occupied archaeological sites in the world. My Son is located about 70 kilometres southwest of Da Nang and close to Champa’s ancient capitals Simhapura (Tra Kieu) and Indrapura (close to Dong Duong). Within these three locations, more than 30 stelas dated between the 5th to 12th centuries CE have been discovered. The stele inscriptions focus mainly on political and religious topics, written from the perspective of kings to affirm their legitimacy and their relationship with the divine.

My Son complex – the largest collection of Cham ruins are located here. Image credit: https://kyotoreview.org/wp-content/uploads/ChamRemains.jpg

My Son was discovered during the construction of telegraph lines in Central Vietnam in 1889 when Camille Paris stumbled upon its ruins. Decades of research revealed it as the religious centre of the long-forgotten Champa Kingdom. Sadly, much of this site was devastated by B52 bombing from 1969 to 1972 during the Vietnam War as the Viet Cong had set up base there. What is left was saved when President Nixon declared the area off-limits on the advice and urging of a Chan art expert, Philippe Stern. Bomb craters still punctuate the monument grounds, and land mines lurk beneath the surrounding jungle. However, many structures have been restored, giving visitors a glimpse into the spiritual life of the ancient Chams.

2006 – crumbled structures awaiting restoration. Image: from author’s collection

My Son Sanctuary, the ancient architectural ruins in the middle of a forest near Hoi An, is preserved as a World Cultural Heritage site. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999, it is worth visiting for those seeking the exotic, away from mainstream Asian tourist destinations. During my visit in 2006, a ride in an archaic military vehicle, a war relic left behind by the Americans after the Vietnam War, took us through rough terrain to the lush valley, overshadowed by the holy mountain, Mount Mahaparvata (known to the locals as Cat’s Tooth Mountain). Visitors today can now expect easier access – it has been more than a decade since my visit. ­

During my visit in 2006, the ride in an archaic military vehicle brought me to the entrance of the complex; the ruins were about 1.5 km from this entrance. Images: from author’s collection

Several international organisations have backed restoration projects, painstakingly re-assembling the bombed-out monuments and planning for increased on-site security. Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient (EFEO) of which Henri Parmentier, a prominent archaeologist was a member, was responsible for the establishment of the Danang Museum of Champa Sculpture, which opened in 1919. This museum, though small, has the best collection of Cham art that survived looting and decay. These masterpieces are a wonderful complement to My Son and Po Nager.

Inside the Museum of Cham Sculpture at Da Nang. Image: from author’s collection

My travels in 2007 across Indo-China, approximately along the 18th parallel, took me from Nong Khai in northeast Thailand to Hue in Central Vietnam and back to Thailand, to Mukdahan in Nakhon Phanom, crossing the then completed Thai-Laos Friendship Bridges across the Mekong. Along the journey were pockets of Cham villages and ruins, the most significant being Wat Phu in Champasak in southern Laos.

Between the first and ninth centuries CE, Champasak Province was part of Funan (which influenced early Champa) and then the Chenla Kingdoms before falling to the Khmers. Archaeological research has identified the ancient city as Shrestrapura, a 5th-century CE, pre-Khmer site. The city was at one time the capital of the Chenla and Champa Kingdoms.

Aerial view of Wat Phu as seen from mid-level. Image: from author’s collection

Although Wat Phu is considered Khmer, elements of Champa art, culture and architecture are recognisable within the temple complex. The UNESCO site includes Phu Kao mountain and the remains of the ancient cities of Lingapura and Shrestrapura. Wat Phu, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 was an important Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. During the 13th century CE, it became a centre of Theravada Buddhism and remains so until today.

The final annihilation of Champa by Minh Mang’s troops in 1835 marked the end of two millennia of continuous Champ existence. The remnants of Champa in Kauthara (Nha Trang) and nearby Panduranga were fully incorporated into the Vietnamese realm. The marginalised Cham communities of Indo-China today are the last vestiges of Champa.

During the purge by Minh Mang, large groups of mainly Muslim Chams fled to Cambodia where they were given refuge. They settled around the area now known as Kampong/Kompong Cham and along the shores of the Tonle Sap. However, they struggled to retain their culture and language. The Chams were again severely persecuted, this time by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. It is estimated that as many as half a million Chams were murdered to ‘ethnically cleanse Cambodia’.

Kampong Cham market, French colonial architecture. Photo credit: flickr (Keith Kelly) https://www.flickr.com/photos/keithkelly/4529785741/in/photostream/

In Phnom Penh, a small community of Chams still live on boats and stilted houses but with rapid land development in Cambodia’s capital, they are under constant threat of eviction. Today, there is a small Cham Muslim (some practising a blend of Hindu-Buddhist practices) community in Thailand and in Laos as well.

Cambodian Chams. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, attribution: Sorinchan Suzana

The majority of the 120,000 Chams who remained in Vietnam retained their Hindu faith but those who later converted to Islam still worship their gods at Po Nagar Cham Towers in Nha Trang during the religious festival of Thap Ba, which falls around April/May. The two major enclaves of Chams in Vietnam are in Nha Trang (ancient Cham city of Kauthara) and the highlands around Da Nang.

In the 8th century CE, the political centre of Champa moved from My Son south to Kauthara. At the site of modern Nha Trang, a temple was built in honour of Po Nagar, the indigenous Earth Goddess whom the Chams believed was the ‘Mother of the Country’ who taught agricultural and weaving skills to the Chams. Later historians identified Po Nagar with the Hindu goddesses Bhagavati, wife of Shiva, and with Durga, the buffalo-demon slayer.

Central stairway, for monks only, on mandapa leading to the main shrine of Po Nagar Temple

Pirates from Java burned the temple of Po Nagar and carried off the image of Shiva. Cham king Satyavarman pursued the raiders and defeated them in a naval battle in 781. This victory over the ‘dark-skinned savages who feed on cadavers’ was recorded on a stele erected by Satyavarman at Po Nagar. The Chams continued building – the tallest tower was completed in 817 CE. Further expansion continued until the 17th century CE when the Chams were gradually displaced by the Viets.

The building techniques from 8th century to 13th century remain a mystery. Scholars still do not understand how the Cham people placed 20×20 cm bricks in close proximity without any adhesive. This unique feature attracts interest in the towers. My guide drew my attention to the Chams’ ingenuous use of red bricks without any binding mortar in the construction of these octagonal pillars, a technique that still baffles engineers and archaeologists.

Free standing red brick columns in artistic arrangement on the mandapa

The kalan was the brick sanctuary, typically in the form of a tower, used to house the deity. The religious life of the Chams is evident from these extant monuments, which have syncretized elements of Shaivism, Buddhism and indigenous religious practices.

There were once ten towers, each dedicated to a different deity, but today only four remain to provide a fascinating glimpse into the region’s past and the locals’ present-day spiritual beliefs as pilgrims still come here to pray and offer incense.

I spent half a day at this site in December 2019, admiring the temples, wandering around and finally sitting in the shadows of the soaring temple towers. I felt the serenity of the hillock   and the greatness of antiquity while pondering over the past splendour of the Cham culture, much of it long lost to the world … but comforted by the thought that I had ventured on the trail of the Chams.

References

https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-asia/ancient-kingdom-champa-enduring-power-lasted-over-1500-years-southern-vietnam-020598

https://etc.ancient.eu/interviews/deciphering-ancient-cham-art/

https://cm.sicham.org/index.php/en/blog/a-glimpse-into-the-lost-kingdom-of-champa-po-nagar-cham-temples-of-nah-trang-vietnam-1

Hidden Gems: the Jinrickshaw

by V. Jegatheesan

Jin – Man

Riki – Power

Sha – Vehicle

Man powered vehicle

Nestled almost out of sight with attention diverted to the tin dredge in Gallery C, is a Jinrickshaw. Today, it may get passing mention during a guided tour but this solitary artefact used to be an institution in early Malaya. Known also as Jinricksha or simply as rickshaw, it was a key mode of transportation for many decades until it was literally ‘overtaken’ and ‘driven off the road’ by faster vehicles.

The rickshaw was a two-wheeled buggy-like cart pulled by a runner with the passenger seated in the cart. It was ubiquitous in Kuala Lumpur up to the late fifties, as it was cheap, easily available and comfortable. They could be seen plying the streets of old central Kuala Lumpur rain or shine, day and night catering to many users throughout the day.

A jinrickshaw on display at Gallery C, National Museum, Malaysia. The backdrop features a number of rickshaws, some being pulled and some (on the right) awaiting fares. The photographer has managed to capture the energy and the effort of the rickshaw pullers. Image source: https://www.planetware.com/malaysia/top-rated-tourist-attractions-in-kuala-lumpur-mal-1-2.htm

It seems that a form of the rickshaw was actually developed in France as far back as the 17th century. However, it is generally accepted that around 1869, the Japanese developed the rickshaw, giving it the name through which we know it today. Others have also laid claim to having invented it. After all, it is not a complicated vehicle and specific needs would have led a simple handcart evolving to this type of vehicle. Nevertheless, the form that we know today is from Japan.

Outside of Japan, the rickshaw was used in many parts of the world including China and parts of Africa. It could be seen in India and it became iconic in Kolkata. Over the years, the rickshaw were either motorised or just phased out, with pockets remaining particularly for tourism. This article focuses on Kuala Lumpur although it was common in many of the other larger towns in Malaysia as well.

Source: Cheah Jin Seng (2011) Selangor: 300 Early Postcards, Singapore: EDM.

The rickshaw consists of a buggy-like cart with a seat resting on two thin wheels. Two long shafts, of around 1.5 metres, extended from the sides of the cart. The ends of the shafts were connected by a bar, used as a handle. The puller, or Rickshaw man, stood between the shafts and ran pushing the bar and therefore pulling the cart. The wheels were thin and made originally of iron; rubber-tyres came later.

The seat itself could have either been a simple wooden one or cushioned and it seated two at a time. It extended down to form a footrest, on which packages could also be placed. Some rickshaws had a cubbyhole under the seat that was used as storage. Attached to the back of the seat was an adjustable hood that could be lifted to provide protection against the scorching sun or rain; it lay collapsed otherwise. In addition, if it rained, a canvas sheet would be used to cover the front. Although simple and basic, some rickshaws were highly decorated with designs on the sides of the cart. They were generally clean and comfortable.

A rickshaw puller posing with his fare. Note the shoes worn by the puller. These were pieces of rubber tied with strings. The rickshaw has its hood expanded. Image source: https://twitter.com/potretlawas/status/928500368253730816/photo/1

Before World War 1, the rickshaws were imported from Japan. After the war, with the advent of Depression, they were locally made. Cost of these rickshaws is not found. In most cases, an individual owned the rickshaws and hired them out to pullers. Rates of hire are available for Singapore – it was 35 cents per day in 1938. Well-to-do people are said to have owed their own rickshaws with hired pullers if they did not keep a carriage.

It is uncertain when the rickshaw was first imported into Malaya but by 1912, the rubber-tyre rickshaw was reported to be in use in Kuala Lumpur together with the iron-wheeled type. However, by the mid-1920s only the former was in common use. These operated in what was known as central Kuala Lumpur, which covered Petaling Street, Sultan Street, Central Market and extended around three kilometres outward. This is a flat area, easy for the puller to navigate. Many people lived within the city in those days.

Anyone and almost everyone used the rickshaw. Ladies and men used it to get around town. Children went to school on a contracted rickshaw, much like school buses today. Women went to the market and back in these. Even the British officers would use them, perhaps more as a novelty. Later in the evening, rickshaw pullers had certain ladies as customers who would sit in the rickshaw in certain parts of town, waiting for their own customers. In fact I was told that ladies and young girls never used the rickshaw alone at night. If they had to, they were accompanied by a male, even a young boy if need be.

The fare paid, of course, varied by distance but the figures for Kuala Lumpur are not known – it is simply stated as a few cents for short trips. A 1914 schedule of jinrikisha fares for the Straits Settlements, show fares of 3 cents for every half mile, 20 cents for an hour and detention (waiting) fee of 5 cents per hour. These fees are for the second class. First class fares were double. These first class rickshaws had superior ‘English wooden seating’ and rubber tyres. First class rickshaws also had a runner trotting behind the rickshaw for the safety of passengers. These runners were rare, if any, in Kuala Lumpur.

Fares of course went up in time. For comparison, the fare in 1920 in Singapore was set at 15 cents a mile (1.6 km.). The industry in Singapore was regulated – there was a Registrar of Rickshaws as well as a union.

The rickshaw pullers were a breed apart. They were mostly immigrants from China and they lived in lodging houses, which were popular then as many immigrants came alone. Most, if not all, smoked opium supplied by the lodging houses or in opium dens. Opium was made illegal after World War II but hard-core addicts still managed to get their supply. Some pullers only wore shorts while others wore dark shin-length shorts with, perhaps, a shirt. Almost all wore a hat made of matted straw or palm leaf. Some did not wear shoes. For those who did, old rubber tyres were cut to fit and tied to the feet with string. While waiting for fares, they would squat between the shafts or sit on the footrest.

This rickshaw has its hood collapsed. Note that the rickshaw puller is bare-footed and bare-chested. Image source: https://twitter.com/potretlawas/status/928597899524444160/photo/1

In their day, rickshaws ruled the roads. They would weave in and out of traffic, pulling out to the centre of the road when they felt necessary; the passengers sat coolly in their seats, being used to this. When looking for passengers, they would dash from one side of the road to the other to grab the passenger before another rickshaw did. Other vehicles had to look out for them.

They faced many risks – being scolded by passengers, arguments on the fare, accidents, drunken night passengers and passengers running off without paying. Many suffered bad health; there are reported cases of some collapsing and dying on the road while pulling. Despite the rickshaw being looked back on as a novelty, the pullers led a hard life for meagre earnings. They did not seem to be able to break out of rickshaw pulling, unlike some Chinese mining coolies who managed to move out into starting small businesses.

In our younger days, it was common for parents or teachers to scold us when we sat sloppily “sit up straight, don’t sit like a rickshaw puller!” Or, “you better study hard or you will end up being a rickshaw puller.”

The rickshaw pullers drew some sympathy and attention from travellers to Malaya as can be seen with the below two references.

“The jinricksha, pulled by Chinese coolies, is the conveyance usually hired for short runs in and around the neighbourhood of the towns. They are comfortable, and usually fairly clean, but as the coolie who pulls it seldom understands any language but his own dialect, and is as a rule supremely ignorant of the rule of the road, it is well to keep a wary eye on his movements.”

The Handbook of the Federated Malay States, compiled by H. Conway Belfield

“Chinese coolies toiling in the shafts of jinrickshas occupied by fares sitting inside, and quite unconcerned at the efforts of these human horses, who are often sickly, and always striving to reach the end of their journey as quickly as possible, mopping their faces as they run along, and audibly panting from their exertions.”

Ambrose B. Rathborne in Camping and Tramping in Malaya
In the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Image source: https://collections.lib.uwm.edu/digital/collection/agsphoto/id/29436/

By the mid-1950s, trishaws started replacing the rickshaws. The trishaw is a tricycle with the passenger cart placed on its side. Some, particularly in Penang, had the passenger cart in front. The advent of buses, as well as growing affluence that afforded people cars and taxis sounded the death knell for both the rickshaw and the trishaw. By the mid-sixties, both had almost disappeared, although the Penang trishaws ruled the roads until the eighties.

While trishaws can still be seen on the streets today in places like Melaka, catering to the tourist industry, the jinrickshas are only found in museums. However, they are a part of our history and the stories they tell should not be forgotten.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulled_rickshaw

https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_932_2005-01-24.html

Jan van der Putten and Mary Kilcline Cody (2009) Lost Times and Untold Tales from the Malay World, First Edition. Singapore: NUS Press.

https://great-railway-journeys-malaysia.weebly.com/jinrikisha-station.html

H. Conway Belfield. Handbook of the Federated Malay States. London. Edward Stanford, 12-14 Long Acre W. C.

Ambrose B. Rathborne F. R. G. S. (1898). Camping and Tramping in Malaya, Fifteen Years Pioneering in the Native States of the Malay Peninsula. London. Swan Sonnenschein and Co.

Jim Warren (1984) Living on the Razor’s Edge: The Rickshawmen Of Singapore Between Two Wars, 1919–1939. Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, 16:4, 38-51, DOI: 10.1080/14672715.1984.10412623

Warren, James Francis. (2003/05). Rickshaw Coolie: A People’s History of Singapore 1880 -1940 [Paperback]. Singapore University Press (US).

Relatives and friends – too many to name individually

How Explorers Communicated with Locals

by V. Jegatheesan

Now and then, I get questions from visitors to the Museum on how, in the past, explorers, travellers, and others communicated with the peoples of the places they visited. Going to a country with a different language in today’s world is not a problem – with dictionaries available literally at your fingertips, with Google Translate, or even with applications on smartphones that translate one language to another on the fly. In any case, English is the universal language these days.

However, how about Christopher Columbus, Magellan, Vasco da Gama, and so many others during earlier times – how did they communicate with the locals they encountered? …………. read more

Time Pieces at the National Planetarium

by Maganjeet Kaur

The simplest method to study the heavens is to stick a stick into the ground and observe its shadow at different times of day. This is the basis of sundials and the ‘stick’ is known as a gnomon. Apart from telling time of day, the resulting sun angles can also be used to tell the time of year.

Residing in a serene corner on the grounds of the National Planetarium are miniaturised replicas of three famous astronomical observatories from different parts of the world together with Malaysia’s own iconic timepiece. These are more sophisticated than the stick but they function essentially as gnomons. The four timepieces tell different stories, each compelling in its own way. The mysterious Stonehenge continues to hide its secrets, defying the hundreds of researchers bent on probing its depths. As you walk the grounds, gaze at the Guo Shou Jing Observatory and be amazed at the astronomer that conceived this marvel. Imagine the intellectual discourses that would have taken place at the Jai Singh Observatory, not only among local astronomers but also among those from afar as Bavaria, France, and Portugal. Recapture the excitement of Merdeka at the Merdeka Sun Clock.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge replica at the National Planetarium, Malaysia

Stonehenge, one of England’s most visited sites, was once sold at an auction for £6600! On 21 September 1915, Cecil Chubb, a barrister, was sent to an auction by his wife, Mary, to buy dining chairs; he returned home, instead, as the proud owner of a few acres of ruins, much to Mary’s chagrin. Fortunately, Chubb’s intentions were to protect the monument and, three years later, he donated Stonehenge to the nation, receiving a knighthood in exchange.

While the experts agree that Stonehenge was built in different phases by different groups of people, possibly for different functions, there is no common consensus on the constitution of the phases and the functions of the stones. The structure dates to around 3000 BCE, reaching its present shape around 1800-1500 BCE. The original structure was a henge, a circular flat area surrounded by a ditch, with the only difference from other henges being in its size – a whopping 100 metres across. Outer and inner banks surrounded the ditch and 56 circular cavities ran along the inner bank. Named Aubrey holes after the person who first noticed them, the cavities were believed to have initially contained bluestones but were used in a later period for cremation burials.

Stonehenge Phase 1 (around 3000 BCE). Image credit: http://arthistoryresources.net/stonehenge/stonehenge.html

The stones at the centre of the circle started being erected in different phases from around 2500 BCE, possibly beginning with the five trilithons. These were followed by the other stones including the bluestones, sarsen circle, heel stone, slaughter stone, and the four station stones. Attempts to link Stonehenge with observations of the heavenly bodies have mostly been refuted. It has been pointed out that it was not necessary to build a huge stone structure in order to make astronomical observations that could easily have be done using simpler tools. However, researchers acknowledge that Stonehenge is aligned on its northeast to southwest axis with the occurrences of solstices. There is also an interesting link between the heel stone and the midsummer solstice. There are a number of other connections with astronomy but a detailed discussion on the astronomical functions of the various stones, while fascinating, is outside the scope of this article.

The heel stone with Stonehenge in the background. This is a solitary piece of stone 4.7 metres tall with a tapered top. It sits outside the Stonehenge circle, at the start of an avenue that leads to Stonehenge. Image credit: Flicker (attribution: diamond geezer)

Guo Shou Jing Observatory

Replica of the Guo Shou Jing Observatory (Dengfeng Observatory) at the National Planetarium, Malaysia

This observatory was built in 1276 under orders by Kublai Khan, the founder of the Yuan dynasty in China. The observatory measures the sun’s shadow at noon and its variation throughout the year. It was named after the observatory’s creator, the renowned astronomer Guo Shoujing. The observatory lies near Gaocheng town, southeast of Dengfeng city in the Henan Province in China. Today, it is known as the Gaocheng Observatory or, more popularly, as the Dengfeng Observatory.

The observatory has two components: a platform formed by a truncated pyramid and a horizontal scale known as shigui.

The observatory at Gaocheng. Note the two components of the observatory: the large truncated platform and the horizontal scale in front of it. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons (attribution: Siyuwj, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The platform is 9.45 metres above ground level. Two staircases run up to the platform, on which has been built two rooms, joined by a single roof. The rooms raise the height of the structure to 12.62 metres. Each room has a window facing north and overlooking the horizontal scale below. The rooms also have a second window facing each other; a horizontal rod connects the two rooms through these windows. This rod acts as the gnomon. The height of the structure from the base to this horizontal rod is 9.75 metres, which is exactly 40 chi, a standard unit of measure in ancient China. A typical Chinese gnomon at the time was 8-chi tall (1.98 metres) – an example is the Tang period gnomon close to the vicinity of the Dengfeng Observatory. However, Guo Shoujing recognised a link between the height of the gnomon and the accuracy of the measurements; the resultant 40-chi gnomon at Gaocheng was thus innovative. It is said that Guo Shoujing’s move to a 40-chi gnomon was inspired by Middle Eastern astronomy, which had innovated large instruments, e.g. the Maragheh Observatory (1259 CE) in Iran.

The horizontal scale extended to the north of the large platform. The horizontal rod (gnomon) installed on the platform cast a shadow on the scale and this was the basis of the astronomical measurements. The horizontal scale, poetically known as the ‘sky-measuring ruler’, measures 31.19 metres in length or 128 chi. Two parallel troughs, linked at the ends, would have held water to check its level.

The two rooms above the platform. Their windows look out to the north. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons (attribution: Siyuwj, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Dengfeng Observatory became the first of 27 observatories built by Guo Shoujing in various places in China. He used his observatories to develop a new Shoushi (season-granting) calendar. However, most of the information on the length of the sun’s shadow for this calendar came from another 40-chi gnomon he built in Dadu. The calendar, which started in 1281, would continue to be used for 364 years – until the end of the Ming dynasty.

Jai Singh Observatory

Replica of the Samrat Yantra (from the Jai Singh Observatory) at the National Planetarium, Malaysia

Pur means ‘city’ in Sanskrit and hence Jaipur, the breath-taking ‘pink city’, capital of Rajasthan, can be translated as the ‘City of Jai’. More specifically, it is the city of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who founded the city in 1726. Maharaja Jai Singh was an avid astronomer and he made a detailed study of Indian astronomical treatises. These go as far back as the Vedic texts (c. 1500-900 BCE), in which the study of stars and planets was known as Nakstravidya. He also studied Aryabhata’s famous treatise, Aryabhatiya (c. 476 CE), Varahmihira (c. 500 CE) and Brahmagupta (c. 598 CE). During the time that Jai Singh was carrying out his research, Middle Eastern and European knowledge of astronomy was very advanced and Jai Singh had their treatises translated into Sanskrit for his studies.

Sawar Jai Singh’s studies led him to recognise errors in the ephemerides, i.e. the trajectory of astronomical objects, used to calculate the imperial calendar and the astronomical tables. However, his existing brass instruments were not good enough for him to carry out the recalculations needed to correct the errors. Hence, he commissioned the construction of a jantar mantar (astronomical observatory) in Delhi. This would become the first of five observatories he would establish between circa 1721 and 1743. The others were at Jaipur, Ujjain, Varanasi, and Mathura. The observatory at Jaipur was the largest, in keeping with Jai Singh’s vision of his capital city having state-of-the-art architectural and astronomical edifices. With the exception of the observatory at Mathura, these observatories still exist and are heritage sites.

The information board at the planetarium specifies that the replica on its grounds is the Samrat Yantra (King of Instruments) from the Delhi Observatory. A Samrat Yantra is essentially a sundial usually with a triangular pyramid as its gnomon. It is flanked by two quadrants and the shadow of the gnomon on these quadrants measures the sun’s movement.

This drawing of the Delhi Samrat Yantra provides a good indication of its size. Illustrated by Thomas Daniell in 1815, currently in the collection of Wellcome Collection (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0)

The Samrat Yantra in Delhi has a colossal pyramid, measuring 21.3 metres in height. The hypotenuse of this right-angled triangular pyramid is parallel to the Earth’s rotation axis and the angle made by the hypotenuse and the horizontal is equal to the latitude of Delhi. The gnomon is flanked by two large quadrants, which lie on the plane of the equator. Their scales are graduated in a manner that allows the instrument to measure local time, right ascension, and declination. The Samrat Yantra allows measurements to a very high level of precision; both the Samrat Yantra at Delhi and Jaipur can measure time to an accuracy of two seconds.

Apart from the Samrat Yantra, the Observatory at Delhi has three other key instruments, each measuring different aspects of the movements of the heavenly bodies. These are: Misra Yantra, Jaya Prakasa Yantra and Rama Yantra. The Misra Yantra was built by Madho Singh, Jai Singh’s son. It is a compendium of five instruments including a Samrat Yantra.

Jantar Mantar at Delhi. Image credit: https://twitter.com/meissatech/status/481380967018287104 (modified to include labels)

Merdeka Sun Clock

Originally installed at Merdeka Park, the Merdeka Sun Clock was moved to the National Planetarium in 1997. The Merdeka Park, a public park opened on 20 April 1958, was located outside Merdeka Stadium, venue of the declaration of Independence on 21 August 1957.

The Sun Clock at its original location at Merdeka Park. Image credit: https://reclaimmerdekapark.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/memories-of-merdeka-park-part-2/

This sundial was the brainchild of Dato’ Stanley E. Jewkes, who had designed the Merdeka Stadium, Merdeka Park and, later, the National Stadium. His decision to include a sundial in the park was inspired by the solar clocks in India and by Stonehenge.

Malayan symbols have been weaved into both the gnomon and the bowl onto which the gnomon’s shadow is cast – the bowl is in the shape of a crescent and the pointer of the gnomon is an 11-pointed gold star representing the 11 states of Malaya (Sabah and Sarawak were not part of Malaya at that time). The clock measures time of year with zodiac signs used to represent months. Hour lines on a sundial are normally straight. However, the shape of the crescent bowl made this difficult and Jewkes compensated by building an equation of time into the lines. Two intersecting lines were drawn, differentiated by colour – one followed the sun as it moved north and the other as it moved south. An information board provides detailed instructions on measuring time using this solar clock.

Bibliography

Castleden, Rodney (2004) The Making of Stonehenge, Taylor & Francis e-Library.

Johnson-Roehr, Susan N. (2015) Observatories of Sawai Jai Singh II in C.L.N. Ruggles (ed.) Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy, New York: Springer, pp. 2018-2028.

Lai Chee Kien and Ang Chee Cheong (2018) The Merdeka Interviews: Architects, Engineers and Artists of Malaysia’s Independence, Kuala Lumpur: Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia.

Pearson, Mike Parker (2013) Stonehenge – A New Understanding: Solving the Mysteries of the Greatest Stone Age Monument, New York: The Experiment.

Powell, Jonathan (2019) From Cave Art to Hubble: A History of Astronomical Record Keeping, Springer ebook: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-31688-4

Pramod Kumar (1981) Sawai Jai Singh’s Observatories, Arts of Asia, Vol. 11 (5), pp. 127-134.

Xu Fengxian (2015) Dengfeng Large Gnomon in C.L.N. Ruggles (ed.) Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy, New York: Springer, pp. 2111-2116.

Mamoru Shinozaki in Syonan-To

by Eric Lim

It was December 1941. The British in Malaya knew that the Japanese invasion was imminent. However, they had a secret plan in place, known as Operation Matador.The plan was to destroy the landing bays at Songkhla and Pattani in Thailand so that the Japanese could not land there. However, that plan failed to be activated.

On ‘Blue Monday’ 8 December 1941, just after midnight, the Japanese army landed at Kota Bharu and two other towns in Thailand, namely Pattani and Singora (a.k.a Songkhla). Approximately seventy minutes after the landing in Kota Bharu, Japanese warplanes attacked Pearl Harbour. These two attacks marked the start of the Pacific War and World War II in Asia.

Source: The Star Online

Japanese forces took two routes – one from the north at Jitra, making their way down the west coast, and the other from Kota Bharu, taking the east coast. They fought Allied Forces, comprising British, Indian and Australian armies, all the way down to the south, to their final destination ‘Fortress Singapore’, also nicknamed ‘Gibraltar of the East’.

In less than two months, Japanese forces had invaded the whole of the Malay Peninsula and made landfall in Singapore on 7 February 1942. The Battle of Singapore came to a halt after a week of fighting when British Lieutenant General Arthur Percival surrendered the island to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. It came as a great shock to PM Winston Churchill as it is recorded to be the largest British surrender in its history.

Immediately, Japanese Military Administration took over control and, on the very next day, Singapore was renamed Syonan-To (Light of the South). Less than a week later, Japanese forces started Operation Sook Ching (Chinese term meaning ‘purge through cleansing’). The Japanese term for the operation was ‘Dai Kensho’ meaning ‘great inspection’. Chinese males aged 18 to 50 were rounded up and brought to screening centres set up around the island. They were inspected by the Kempeitai (Japanese military police) and Imperial Guards Division; those suspected of being anti-Japanese were taken away to killing sites and executed, their bodies thrown into the sea. The operation was initially planned from 21 to 23 February 1942 but it was extended to 4 March 1942.

Mamoru Shinozaki

Source: Wikipedia

Mamoru Shinozaki started work in a Japanese news agency and was posted to Shanghai in 1934. Two years later, he joined the Japanese Foreign Office as press attaché. In 1938, he was transferred to the Japanese Consulate General in Singapore and his job was to report on local conditions and British military defence. In September of 1940, he brought two Japanese military officers to various locations on the island as well as in Malaya to survey military installations and study British defence capability.

His activities did not escape the eyes of the Special Branch and he was put on surveillance. On 21 September 1940, Shinozaki was arrested and convicted of espionage and sentenced to three and a half years of rigorous imprisonment. He was incarcerated in Changi prison. With the fall of Singapore, Shinozaki was released and he was appointed Adviser of Defence Headquarters. He was tasked to reassemble the documents of the Japanese Consulate and issue protection cards to diplomats and other foreigners from neutral countries.

It was during the Sook Ching massacre that Shinozaki used his good connection with the Japanese chief and his position to issue personal protection cards to thousands of Chinese thus sparing their lives from execution. One of the men that he saved was Lim Boon Keng. Lim was a medical doctor and a strong advocate of social and educational reforms in Singapore. He was the president of the Xiamen University in China. He co-founded the first locally owned insurance firm in Singapore and the Oversea Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) Bank. He was well known in the Chinese community.

In the midst of the Sook Ching operation, Shinozaki had asked Lim to be the leader of the Overseas Chinese Association (OCA). The OCA was the brainchild of Shinozaki; its function was to mediate between the Japanese Military administration and the local Chinese community. After much persuasion, Lim finally accepted the post and, at the same time, Shinozaki became its Adviser. It was formed on 2 March 1942. As soon as OCA was formed, Shinozaki was removed from his post and replaced by Toru Takase who used the Association to demand 50 Million dollars from the Chinese community. It was extremely difficult to meet the demand, even after two extensions. This prompted the Japanese administration to include Chinese communities from the states of Malaya into the Association. After another three extensions, the Association only managed to collect 28 Million dollars. Eventually, Takase allowed the Association to take a loan of 22 Million dollars from the Yokohama Specie Bank. The cheque of 50 Million dollars was presented to the Japanese by Lim and 57 Chinese leaders on 25 June 1942.

With that episode over, Shinozaki returned to OCA in August and again took the post as Adviser. In the same month, he was appointed as the Chief Welfare Officer and he helped in the setting up of the Eurasian Welfare Association (EWA). Similar to the OCA, EWA was the representative of the Eurasian community to the Japanese administration. A prominent surgeon in Singapore at that time, Charles Joseph Pemberton Paglar, was appointed as the President of EWA.

Japanese authorities foresee an eventual shortage of food to feed the island’s population of a million people. Hence, they immediately embarked on the promotion of the Grow More Food Campaign. People from all walks of life including school children and Government servants, were encouraged to grow their own food and be self-sufficient. However, the campaign failed to produce results. Moving forward, Japanese authorities took a tougher stance and one of the plans was the setting up of agricultural settlements outside the city. Again, the services of Shinozaki were required and he was tasked to oversee the resettlement project.

Shinozaki turned to the OCA and persuaded them to take up the offer. OCA was coaxed into the plan when Shinozaki made several promises to them – the settlement would be self-governing, the Japanese would not interfere, and the settlement was assured of constant rice supply until they become self-sufficient. With that assurance, a committee was formed and headed by Lim. A team was dispatched to survey a suitable site in Malaya. After much consideration, Endau in Johor was selected as the site for the new settlement. Endau was the choice because of the accessible supply of fresh water and arable land that was ideal for agriculture.

Endau

Endau is located on the northern tip of east Johor and close to the border with Pahang. The location of the town was already in the maps published by the British as early as 1793 and 1805. However, it was then known as Blair’s Harbour, named after Archibald Blair who was working for the Bombay Marine (Bombay Marine evolved into the Royal Indian Navy of today). He came to the South China Sea, did a survey, and reported that the site of Endau was potentially a ‘good harbour’. He did a similar survey of the Andaman Islands during that time and, today, the capital city of Andaman and Nicobar Islands is named after him, Port Blair.

The Endau settlement was also known as the New Syonan Model Farm and it was entirely for the Chinese community. Japanese authorities had targeted to evacuate 300,000 Chinese to the settlement. As the next step, OCA made efforts to raise money for the project and managed to raise one million dollars. This was followed by construction work – clearing the jungle, and building roads and houses. OCA also assigned suitable candidates to head the various departments set up to help the settlers. The departments were agricultural, medical and health, supply, public works, timber mill, and public peace and order. With all these in place, the pioneer settlers arrived in September 1943. The population grew and by the end of the first year, Endau attracted 12,000 settlers. Progressively, the settlement saw the establishment of a bank, school, paper factory, sawmill, and several restaurants. It was becoming a successful self-sufficient scheme and it attracted the attention of anti-Japanese guerrillas in Malaya, the Malayan People Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA). They attacked the settlement and claimed the lives of several settlers. Again, Shinozaki came to the rescue when he managed to enter into a secret pact with the MPAJA guerrillas by offering rice in exchange for peace. The Endau settlement continued until 1945 when the Japanese Occupation ended.

Bahau

The Eurasian community also wanted to participate in the voluntary migration scheme primarily because the community felt that they were constantly being monitored by the Japanese Military Police and this created fear and insecurity. This prompted the Roman Catholic Bishop, Adrian Devals, and Herman De Souza Sr, a representative of the Eurasian community, to make the trip to Bahau in Negeri Sembilan to assess its suitability. The Eurasian community gave their thumbs up and it was reported to Shinozaki. However, Shinozaki had reservations about the new settlement. It was further away from Singapore and sending support from the island would be difficult – they would have to count on support from the Negeri Sembilan government. Furthermore, it was difficult to clear the vegetation and the land was unsuitable for agriculture.

The plan went ahead and the Japanese named the new settlement Fuji-go, which means Fuji village or ‘beautiful village’. The first group to arrive consisted mainly of bachelors. They were selected by the Japanese to help lay the foundation of the new settlement as well as to set up a model farm and transfer farming techniques to the settlers. Between December 1943 and April 1944, some 2,000 Eurasians arrived at Bahau, and they brought with them curtains and pianos to furnish their new homes. Shinozaki and Paglar made frequent visits to Bahau, bringing with them food and medicines for the settlers. Life in the new settlement was no bed of roses, as most of them did have farming knowledge. Many suffered from malnutrition and diseases such as malaria. At the end of the Japanese Occupation, it was reported that the number of settlers was estimated to be around 3,000. Besides the main groups of Eurasian and Chinese Roman Catholics, there were also a small group of European Protestants and neutrals from countries such as Switzerland, Denmark, Romania, and Russia.

Piano brought to Bahau (Photo from The heartlander tourist / Lioncityboyzach)

At the end of Japanese Occupation in August 1945, the settlements were abandoned and the settlers returned to Singapore. Besides Endau and Bahau, the Japanese also created a settlement in Pulau Bintan (largest island in the Riau Province, Indonesia) for the Indians.

When the British returned to Singapore, Mamoru Shinozaki was interned in a Jurong camp but he was freed when the Chinese and Catholic communities petitioned the British for his release. He acted as a witness in a number of post-war trials in Singapore. He died in 1991.

Bibliography

Invasion of Malaya: First shot in the Pacific War – Rouwen Lin / The Star 8 Dec.2016. [https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/people/2016/12/08/invasion-of-malaya-the-japanese-arrive/]

The occupation of Singapore Part 3: The Bahau and Endau Settlements, The Heartlander Tourist, posted by Lioncityboyzach on 18 Feb 2014. [https://heartlandertourist.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/the-occupation-of-singapore-part-3-the-bahau-and-endau-settlements/]

Singapore Infopedia [https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/]:

  • Mamoru Shinozaki – Chua, Alvin
  • Operation Sook Ching – Ho, Stephanie
  • Oversea Chinese Association – Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia
  • Grow More Food Campaign – Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia
  • Endau Settlement – Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia
  • Bahau Settlement – Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia

Tales from the Malay Annals: A Brief Introduction

by Alvin Chua

The Malay Annals (known in Malay as Sejarah Melayu) is one of the most important works of traditional Malay literature. This work is known also as Sulalatus Salatin, which translates as Genealogy of Kings. This is an indication of the primary concern of the Malay Annals, i.e. the rulers of Melaka, the most famous kingdom in Malaysia’s history.

The extent of the Melakan Sultanate during the fifteenth century. Image: Wikimedia Commons, Gunawan Kartapranata (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A fairly large number of manuscripts of the Malay Annals have survived till this day. Some of these are found in Malaysia, under the custodianship of either the Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia (National Library of Malaysia) or the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (Institute of Language and Literature). The majority of manuscripts, however, are kept in libraries or institutions outside Malaysia. According to a 1967 article by Roolvink, 11 manuscripts are held by the United Kingdom, 12 by the Netherlands, five by Indonesia, and one by Russia. Although the majority of the manuscripts are late copies dating to the nineteenth century, the fact that so many manuscripts were produced reflects the high regard in which the Malay Annals was held.

The Malay Annals was originally written in Classical Malay in the Old Jawi script (a script adapted from Arabic for the writing of the Malay language). Subsequently, the work has been Romanised, and translated. The first English translation of the Malay Annals, for example, was made by John Leyden, and was published posthumously in 1821. It may be mentioned that in addition to the better-known English translations of the Malay Annals, there is also an incomplete French one. It’s lengthy title, Le Sadjarah malayou (l’arbre généalogique malais), ou, Histoire des radjas et sultans malais : depuis les origines jusqu’à la conquête de Malaka par Alphonse d’Albuquerque, en 1511 translates as The Sejarah Melayu (The Malay Family Tree), Or, History of the Malay Rajas and Sultans: From the Origins to the Conquest of Melaka by Afonso de Albuquerque, in 1511.


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

There are a number of questions surrounding the Malay Annals that have yet to be fully answered. For instance, the exact date of the text’s composition is unknown. According to Winstedt, the oldest copy of the Malay Annals is the Raffles MS No. 18, dating to 1612. Winstedt goes on to argue that the Raffles MS No. 18 was rewritten and compiled from an older manuscript, which he believes dates to before 1536. This manuscript is also believed to be the one closest to the original version of the text. Incidentally, the Raffles MS No. 18 resides today in London, at the Library of the Royal Asiatic Society.

The identity of the author of the Malay Annals is another unsolved mystery. Winstedt believes that the author of the original text was a Melakan at the court of Sultan Mahmud Shah, who ruled Melaka when it was conquered by the Portuguese in 1511. Winstedt is of the opinion that the writer survived the fall of the city, and that he continued writing until 1535. It is generally agreed that in 1612, the Bendahara Paduka Raja of Johor, Tun Muhammad bin Tun Ahmad, better-known as Tun Sri Lanang, was commissioned by Raja Bongsu (the future Sultan Abdullah Ma’ayat Shah of Johor) to rewrite, revise, and edit the Malay Annals.

The Malay Annals (Raffles MS No. 18) contains 31 chapters, beginning with a brief preface praising Allah, the Prophet, and his companions, as well as detailing the circumstances in which the manuscript was written. The story proper begins with Iskandar Zulqarnain (commonly identified as Alexander the Great), to whom the rulers of Melaka trace their ancestry, and ends with ‘Alauddin Ri’ayat Shah, the first Sultan of Johor. Apart from the rulers of Melaka, the pages of the Malay Annals are filled with many colourful characters, some of whom have become household names in Malaysia.

An artist’s impression of Sultan Mansur Shah’s palace, displayed at Gallery B, National Museum, Malaysia. © Museum Volunteers, JMM. Photographed by Cheong Weng Onn.

Despite its focus on the Melakan rulers, the Malay Annals is much more than a mere royal genealogy. This work sheds light on various aspects of the Melakan Sultanate, including its administration, foreign relations, economy, as well as social norms and customs. Having said that, it should also be noted that the Malay Annals was not meant to be a faithful record of historical events, and that many of its stories ought to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Still, the Malay Annals is a significant piece of work, not only as a work of Malay literature, but also for the information about the Melakan Sultanate it contains, and the strong influence it has exerted on the development of the Malay civilisation. Therefore, in 2001, the Malay Annals, following its nomination by Dato’ Haji A. Aziz Deraman, the former Director-General of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka,was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

The ‘Tales from the Malay Annals‘ series on this blog will look at some of the stories contained within this manuscript. Do look out for these articles.

References

Raslin, A. B. & Effah, I. Z. (2013) ‘Sulalatus Salatin: Karya Agung Melayu di Institusi Simpanan Dunia’ in Seminar 400 Tahun Sulalatus Salatin. Kuala Lumpur, 29-30 October 2013.

Roolvink, R. (1967) The Variant Versions of the Malay Annals. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 123(3), pp. 301-324.

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

UNESCO, Memory of the World, n.d.. Sejarah Melayu (The Malay Annals). [Online]
Available at: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/memory-of-the-world/register/full-list-of-registered-heritage/registered-heritage-page-8/sejarah-melayu-the-malay-annals/
[Accessed 24 March 2020].

UNESCO, 2012. Memory of the World. Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd..

Winstedt, R. O. (1938) The Malay Annals Or Sejarah Melayu. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 16(3), pp. 1-226.

Historical Societies in our Country

by Eric Lim

Historical societies in our country have existed since the time of the Straits Settlements. The earliest was the Straits Asiatic Society formed at a meeting on 4 November 1877 at the Raffles Library and Museum in Singapore with its parent organisation, the Asiatic Society of Bengal.

The Asiatic Society of Bengal was founded on 15 January 1784 by Sir William Jones who was a lawyer and Orientalist. When he came to Calcutta (now Kolkata) on 25 September 1783, he took up the post as a Supreme Court judge and five months later, he formed the society, receiving strong support and encouragement from the Governor General of Bengal at that time, Warren Hasting. The setting of the society was to encourage Oriental studies.

The meeting on the formation of the Straits Asiatic Society was chaired by Archdeacon George Frederick Hose, who later became Bishop. It was attended by prominent members from the  expatriate communities in the three Straits Settlements states including D.F.A. Hervey (Resident Councillor of Malacca), Charles John Irving (Lieutenant General of Penang), and William A. Pickering (first Protector of Chinese of the Chinese Protectorate based in Singapore). The society started with an enrolment of 150 members. The Society’s mission was ‘to produce the collection and record of information relating to the Straits Settlements and the neighbouring countries’. Its other aims included producing a journal and establishment of a library.

The following year, the society was renamed Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society when its affiliation with the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland or commonly known as Royal Asiatic Society, was confirmed on 6 May 1878. Bishop Hope was appointed as the first President of the Society and he went on to become one of the longest serving Presidents, from 1878 to 1908. The other founding members also took up appointments in the Society and contributed actively to its journal. The first journal was named Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society; it was dated July 1878 but it was published in September 1878.

The society then went through name-change on two occasions in accordance to the political situation of the time. In 1923, it was renamed Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society when the British influence went beyond the Straits Settlements; and in 1964, it was renamed Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, after the formation of Malaysia. The name remains until today. Its office was moved from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. The name of the journal also changed in accordance to the renaming of the society. Some of its past illustrious members were Sir Hugh Clifford, Sir Frank Swettenham, Sir Ernest Woodford Birch, Alfred Dent, and Henry Nicholas Ridley to name just a few. 

In 1930, of two more organisations were formed, namely the Malacca Historical Society and the Penang Historical Society. This was no coincidence as both states were under the Straits Settlements and had strong Western influence. Twenty-three years on, in 1953, the Malayan Historical Society (MHS) was formed, based in Kuala Lumpur. It was officially formed on 30 April 1953 at its first meeting held at the Kuala Lumpur Town Hall on Jalan Raja (the old City Hall). It was a grand inauguration attended by the British High Commissioner in Malaya, General Sir Gerald Templer, and the Malay Rulers – Sultan of Pahang, Yang DiPertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan, Sultan of Kedah, Sultan of Terengganu, Tengku Mahkota of Johor, Regent of Perak, and Deputy Raja of Perlis. Also in attendance were 200 local dignitaries – Datuk Onn Jaafar, Datuk Thuraisingam, Datuk Nik Ahmad Kamil, Datuk Tan Cheng Loke, and Tuan Za’aba, to name a few.

General Sir Gerald Templer in his speech emphasized that the Society is an effort to bring all the people of Malaya together to become a unified nation in the face of time and destiny of independence. He said ‘a nation which does not look back with pride upon its past, can never look forward with confidence towards its future’. He also tasked the Society ‘to ensure that things of beauty and historic value, old and new, find their way to a place where they’ll be properly cared for, and are not allowed to moulder, forgotten and unappreciated’. He also wanted the Society to work together with other organisations and the knowledge gathered about the history to be widely disseminated to the people: ‘This is not a Society for the Government, for the educated or for any class or section of the populations, it is for everybody, and everybody has something to contribute to it’.

At the end of the meeting, a Council was formed and it was headed by the first President, Datuk Mahmood Bin Mat. Its office was initially housed at the National Museum, but it was later moved to Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. In 1976, the Government provided a Government house located at No.958, Jalan Hose, Kuala Lumpur to be utilised as MHS’s headquarters. Tun Hussein Onn, the then Prime Minister, officially opened the building on 31 August 1976. Later, Tun Hussein Onn managed to secure a plot of prime land in Kuala Lumpur and awarded it to MHS. On 1 December 2003, MHS officially relocated to its new headquarters at Wisma Sejarah, No.203, Jalan Tun Razak, opposite the Institut Jantung Negara/National Heart Institute. 

The first publication by MHS was entitled The Malayan Historical Journal; it was published in May 1954 and the editor was J.C. Bottoms. The annual subscription was twelve dollars and a single number (per issue) was priced at three dollars. In 1957, Tan Sri Mubin Sheppard took over from J.C. Bottoms and the journal was renamed Malaya in History. This journal went on for 15 years until April 1972, when Prof. Zainal Abidin Wahid took over, but from this time on (until today), the journal is produced in the Malay language and given a new name Malaysia dari segi Sejarah (Malaysia in History, in English). The late Prof. Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim was next in line to hold the editorial chair when he came on board in 1978 until 1989; he was then replaced by Prof. Dr. Nik Hassan Shuhaimi.

In addition to the journals, MHS also publishes books and monographs. Some of the bestsellers include Lembah Bujang (published in 1980), Historia (1984), Changi, the lost years (1989), Duri dalam daging (2001) and The Malay Civilization (2007). Today, the Malaysian Historical Society (Persatuan Sejarah Malaysia in Malay) maintains branch offices in all the states.

References

Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society official website  [https://www.mbras.org.my/]

Persatuan Sejarah Malaysia / Malaysian Historical Society official website [http://www.psm.org.my/]

Singapore Infopedia website [https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/]

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