Facts, Form, Feelings and Future in Museum Guiding

by Asma Abdullah

As volunteers we have to remember a lot of facts on the various artefacts, events, personalities and exhibits displayed in the four galleries of Muzium Negara, Malaysia.  So, how do we organise our presentation in an interesting (not amusing), informative (not teaching), stimulating (not astonishing), and convincing (not influencing) manner when we take our visitors through the museum?

One structured approach that I want to recommend is to use the whole brain thinking model based on the left and right brain research done by Ned Hermann.  This model states that we can segment our delivery by using the 4Fs of Facts, Form, Feelings and Future to sieve through the voluminous information that we have gathered from various sources.


In the first segment, FACTS, we can include dates, numbers, and anything quantifiable relating to the specific artefact or event. It has to be logical and technically accurate as dates are important especially when we are describing a particular event. These facts are processed in the left hemisphere of our “thinking” brain.

For the second segment, FORM, we can describe the features, fixtures, format and if there is a  particular sequence on how and when the artefact was constructed.  It would also be useful to highlight the planning process, procedures involved and how the tasks were completed in giving shape to the object/event we are describing. These are processes in our left brain which likes order, system and sequence.

In the third segment, FEELINGS, we highlight the personalities involved in the construction of the artefact and the people involved in order to give it a human perspective. After all, there is always a personal attachment of a person to the artefact if we care to look for it. This takes place in our right emotional brain.

For the last segment, FUTURE, we can use a big picture or overview about the artefact/event and its meaning and significance to people who are associated with it. At this stage we can begin to draw some implications that the artefact may have in modern times. This is our “abstract” right thinking brain.

These 4Fs can be remembered through color coding: Blue for Facts, Green for Form, Red for Expressed emotions and Yellow for Future.

To illustrate the use of the 4Fs the national heritage artefact, Avalokiteswara, located in Gallery B will be used.

12-1 AvalokiteshwaraFACT: It is a Boddhisatva which is a Buddha-to-be.  Ava means down, Lokita means to notice/observe and Isvara means lord/master.  Avalokitesvara means the lord that looks down to observe in compassion those who are suffering. Avalokitesvara first appeared in Indian Buddhism as one of a number of Bodhisattvas who are personifications of various attributes of the Buddha relating to compassion. It was found in a tin mine belonging to Anglo Oriental at Bidor, Perak in 1936 and dated to being between the  7 – 12th centuries when the culture of the region was Hindu-Buddhist.

FORM:  The statue is made of bronze and has 8 arms, each arm representing a different aspect of his compassionate nature. One of its arms has broken off.

FEELINGS:  Avalokiteswara is shown as a female Boddhisatva, seen as a light for the blind, shade for those hot and weary, a stream for the thirsty, a remedy for the ill, father and mother to those who suffer and a guide for the beings in Hell. It has a mantra Om mani padme hum which translated means jewel (compassion) in the lotus (wisdom). This mantra is widely chanted in Tibet and carved onto stones, printed on flags and embossed onto prayer wheels.

FUTURE:  If you go to Ayer Itam in Penang there is a big statue of the Goddess of Mercy or Kuan Yin – an important deity to Buddhists on the island.  This deity is also found in the homes of Malaysian Chinese of Buddhist faith. Kuan Yin is a manifestation of Avalokiteswara.

So, the next time when you have to take visitors through the galleries in Muzium Negara, try using the 4Fs to remember your historical facts and information and to make your one hour guiding an easy task.  Good luck!

Hubback Walk

by Rose Chin with photos by Eunice Moss

The National Textile Museum
The National Textile Museum

Last Saturday (14 June 2014), we participated in a walk that was organised as part of the ongoing Hubback Exhibition. The walk was led by Ar. Ahmad Najib Ariffin and Ar. Rosli Mohd. Ali and covered three heritage buildings designed by A. B. Hubback who was then an assistant architect at the Public Works Department. We started at the National Textile Museum (1905), then went on to the Sultan Abdul Samad building (1896) and ended at the Jamek Mosque (1907).

The purpose of the walk was to sensitise the lay-person to the unique architectural styles and construction techniques employed by Hubback and the state engineer he worked with, C. E. Spooner.

The highlights of the walk were:

1. Past Lives

The Sultan Abdul Samad building
The Sultan Abdul Samad building

The National Textile Museum (2007) started life as the Headquarters of the Federated Malay States Railways Service, then housed the FMS Public Works Department. From 1959-1971 it served as the Headquarters of Bank Negara Malaysia.

The Sultan Abdul Samad building was built as a Government building to house the FMS. Administrative Office. From 1957 it housed the High Court and the Supreme Court and today, since 2007, it houses the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture.

2. Mughal Architectural Style

This is a north Indian Islamic style characterised by onion-shaped domes and chatris (spires). The domes of the Sultan Abdul Samad building are unique in that they are made of copper, the original ones having been donated by the Australian government.

3. ‘Blood and Bandages’

This is a term used to refer to the red and white banding pattern of the exterior walls, the result of alternating fair-faced bricks with plastered ones, so typical of Hubback.

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4. Thick ‘load-bearing’ brick walls and columns

A good example are the ones used to support the 40 metre tall clock tower of the Sultan Abdul Samad building.

5. Cast iron columns

These are filled with concrete for added weight bearing strength.

6. Arches

Inside the Sultan Abdul Samad building
Inside the Sultan Abdul Samad building

Pointed arches and horseshoe arches are predominant features.

7. Towers

All three buildings are characterized by their onion domed towers with their functionary purposes, one as a clock tower, four as watch towers and the two at the Jamek Mosque for the muadhins to call the people to prayer.

From halfway up one of the towers in the Jamek Mosque-note the many little chatris and the tower to the right
From halfway up one of the towers in the Jamek Mosque-note the many little chatris and the tower to the right

We came away from the walk a little wiser and very much more appreciative of the architectural legacy left by the British and, in particular, Arthur Benison Hubback.



The Cinnamon Route

by Maganjeet Kaur

The Museum Volunteers hosted a talk by Ian Burnet on 25 January 2014 on his two books, The Spice Islands and The East Indies. Spices, native to islands in the Malay-Indonesian archipelago found their way to Africa, the Middle East, India and China through trade voyages made by the intrepid, sea-faring Indonesians. The earliest proof comes from the journey made by cloves from its homeland in the Maluka Islands in Eastern Indonesia to Syria where cloves buds dated to 1721 BC were found preserved in a ceramic jar in the ancient city of Terqa.

Bas-relief of Borobudur Boat
Bas-relief of Borobudur Boat

One of the routes taken by these Malay-Indonesian traders was the direct sea-route from Indonesia to the island of Madagascar off Eastern Africa. The Malagasy people of Madagascar are descended from these Indonesian traders as shown by their language as well as DNA analysis which places their nearest living ancestors on the island of Kalimantan.

This ancient sea-route has been dubbed the ‘Cinnamon Route’ by modern researchers.  Although the term is a bit of a misnomer as cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka and the correct term would have been ‘cassia’ which grows in South-east Asia, these journeys saw spices from the Indonesian islands reach Africa and the Middle East millennia ago.

replica of Majapahit Boat, on display at Muzium Negara
Replica of Majapahit Boat, on display at Muzium Negara

How did they make the journey across open seas? The Greeks have described Malay vessels plying the Indian Ocean as early as the first century AD. Further clues as to the design of the vessels comes from the five bas-reliefs of ships on the walls of Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist monument. This design survived through the centuries as evidenced by Majapahit boats of the 14 century; a replica of which can be found at Muzium Negara.

How best to determine if the ships on the bas-reliefs at Borobudur were really capable of making this open sea journey than by building an actual life-size ship and sailing it along the Cinnamon Route. This is exactly what Philip Beale did with the help of Indonesian shipwrights under the leadership of Assad Abdullah.

The Samudra Raksa
The Samudra Raksa, now housed at the Borobudur Museum

The Samudra Raksa (Defender of the Seas) set sail from Jakarta on 15 August 2003 and reached Seychelles on 12 September 2003. From here, it sailed south passing the Comoros to Madagascar. The journey did not end at Madagascar and the ship sailed further south rounding the Cape of Good Hope to reach Cape Town on 5 January 2004. On 23 February 2004 Samudra Raksa reached Accra in Ghana and the journey terminated here.

Communications equipment on the Samudra Raksa
Communications equipment on the Samudra Raksa (at Borobudur Museum)

This journey led by Philip Beale not only showed that it was feasible for Borobudur ships to made open-sea voyages across the Indian Ocean from Indonesia to Africa but that there was also the possibility that these ships rounded the Cape of Good Hope to western Africa, making the Indonesian seafarers the first to achieve this feat. There is circumstantial evidence pointing to this by the presence of yams, taro, bananas and Asian rice in West Africa in the first millennium AD.

The Samudra Raksa is now housed at the Borobudur Museum.

A day in Melaka

by Magan

Last Wed (16 Oct), Ashok, Karen and I headed to Melaka. Ashok was going there to get more information on the Chitty community for his article for the MV Coffee Table Book and Karen and I begged a ride and tagged along.

The Chitty Museum
At the Chitty Museum

The Chitty are Tamil Peranakan who have been in Melaka since the time of the Melaka Sultanate. Similar to the Chinese Peranakan, the men married into Malay families and adopted Malay culture while retaining the Hindu religion and practices associated with the religion.

Read more about the Chitty community in the MV Coffee Table Book which will, hopefully, be published in the middle of next year.

047After visiting the Chitty Museum and being given a good briefing on the Chitty community, we headed for the Sri Poyyatha Vinayaga Moorthy temple which was built in 1781 by the Chitty leader of the time and it has the distinction of being the oldest functioning Hindu temple in Malaysia. It is situated at a street informally known as “Harmony Street”.

We quickly found out why the street was known as “Harmony Street”. A few doors away from the temple is the Kampung Kling Mosque and a few doors away from that is the Cheng Hoon Teng temple.

058The Kampung Kling Mosque was built in 1748 by Indian Muslim traders. It was originally a wooden structure which was re-built in brick in 1872 with the original design intact. It is a beautiful mosque with a very unique design – the adjective ‘eclectic’ would probably best describe it. The minaret looks like a pagoda and inside, Corinthian columns and a Victorian chandelier compete for attention with Chinese styled windows as well as Sumatran, Indian and Chinese carvings.

067The Cheng Hoon Teng temple was built in 1645 making it the oldest functioning Chinese temple in Malaysia. It is a blend of Buddhism and Taoism with Kuan Yin being the main deity. The picture on the left shows part of the roof. My untutored eyes noticed nothing but Karen pointed out that broken pieces of ceramics have been included in the design.

Coincidentally, a few days before our trip, Effa had emailed Karen on an interesting place in Melaka – The Royal Press – and we went to check that out. The Royal Press is a printing press company that was set up in 1938 and 75 years later, the company is still in operation; printing mostly invoices and labels for long-standing customers.


This complicated looking machine is a Linotype. It was invented by a German, Ottmar Mergenthaler, and its introduction revolutionised the printing industry especially the publication of newspapers. The Royal Press purchased this machine in 1961 and it can still be used. Unfortunately though, none remain who have the knowledge to operate it and it is used as a showpiece in the semi-museum that The Royal Press has setup 076within its printing house. With this setup, not only are the paraphernalia of a bygone printing age on display, but visitors also get to see workers going about their daily job using some of the antiquated machinery still in use for production.

In the past, The Royal Press not only printed in Mandarin, but also in English, Tamil and Arabic. If you squint hard enough and look closely at the picture on the left, you would notice Jawi characters above the Roman alphabet on this ancient gizmo.

The Royal Press occupies an old colonial shop-house off Jonkers Street and the old world shutters and window carvings in the building charmingly reflect the character of the museum.079

We were in Melaka. Cendol was must and we had this next to the Melaka River while imagining how The Battle must have been fought.

Melaka seems to have many gems little explored by the typical tourist. Do share if you know of any quaint places in Melaka with an interesting history.


by Jane Chan

Just like the United Kingdom’s Stonehenge, we too have megalithic structures in Malaysia.   The most common type of megalith found here is the menhir which is basically a standing stone.  Known locally as ‘batu hidup’, they come is varying heights ranging from 2 to 8 feet.

Megaliths 2In general, there are two configurations of menhirs.  The first type comes in clusters with one large menhir known as the ‘ibu’ or mother surrounded by smaller menhirs.  The second type comes in pairs – aligned side-by-side either in a North-South or East-West orientation, with one usually larger than the other.  In Northern Melaka and Negeri Sembilan, the menhirs have been erected on earth mounds.  Over time, the earth mound gets eroded thus exposing more of the menhir and giving the illusion that the menhir has grown longer.  This is the reason the locals refer to the menhirs as ‘batu hidup’ or living stones.

These sites are believed to be sacred or ‘keramat’ by locals as they believe that the megaliths are erected on grave sites.  However, excavations have not yielded any skeletal remains.

Replicas of the 'Sword' and the 'Rudder' at Muzium Negara
Replicas of the ‘Sword’ and the ‘Rudder’ at Muzium Negara

Megaliths in Malaysia are mostly plain and hence the three sculptured menhirs found at Pengkalan Kempas in Negeri Sembilan have drawn a lot of attention.  These have been nicknamed Sword, Rudder and Spoon after their distinctive shapes.  Carvings on the Sword and the Rudder include mythical creatures prompting the belief that these menhirs date to the Hindu period.  The Sword also has the word ‘Allah’ on it inscribed in Jawi characters and this is believed to have been added much later.  The Spoon does not have any carvings but has been sculptured into an arched top.  Replicas of the Sword and the Rudder can be found at Muzium Negara.

Petronas came across a group of menhirs in Negeri Sembilan during excavations to lay a gas pipeline.  These were excavated and re-erected in a stretch of land between Dayabumi and the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station and the area was named the Petronas Megalith Garden.  The megaliths have now been relocated to a permanent home at the Laman Megalit in Taman Putra Perdana in Putrajaya.  Here, the visitor is presented with over 80 megaliths including replicas of the Sword, Rudder and Spoon.  This is a place worthy of visit.

The Man behind the House

by Maganjeet Kaur

Tin, a silvery metal that is non-corrosive and non-toxic, was ideally suited for the food canning industry and its great demand in America and Britain spawned an industry that saw thousands of Chinese coming to Malaya with the hopes of leaving poverty behind. Many died in malarial swamps and many more were exploited by unscrupulous employers and agents. But many millionaires were also born and success stories like Yap Ah Loy and Loke Yew made it into the history books and onto road signs.

Chan Wing was one of the millionaires born in the heydays of the tin mining industry. Reticent in public with a preference to stay in the background, Chan Wing may well have been forgotten if not for the house he built. The Big House, as it was called then, has an interesting history of its own culminating as the abode for kings.

Chan Wing (1933). Taken from the book “From Poor Migrant to Millionaire” by Chan King Nui

Chan Wing’s was a typical rags to riches story. Born to poverty in China in 1873, he was the fourth son among six boys and two girls. With a father that squandered his money, time and energy on opium, it fell on their mother to provide for the family. The family lived at subsistence level and school was a luxury that they could ill-afford.

An opportunity to better their lot came with the arrival of agents to their village with stories about a land called Nanyang and a metal called tin around which tales of great riches were spun. Fourteen year old Chan Wing and his younger brother, Loong, were dispatched to this fabled land with the hopes and dreams of the whole family riding on them.  While Loong would return home a year later ridden with malaria and unable to cope with the harsh working conditions in the tin-mines, Chan Wing would go on to make their wildest dreams come true. But this dream had its roots in tears and sorrow as the only way the family was able to raise the money to send Chan Wing and Loong to Malaya was by selling the youngest son, who was still a babe in arms. Their mother was devastated but did not stand in the way.

On arrival in Malaya, the brothers got jobs at a tin mine in Sungai Besi but Chan Wing would change jobs many times including being a shopkeeper for two of Loke Yew’s shops in Sungai Besi. At the age of 24, he joined forces with four of his clansmen to form a ‘kongsi’ (syndicate) to mine for tin ore next to the tin rich Sungai Besi Mine. A European group and at least two other Chinese kongsi had previously mined on this plot of land with no success.  The kongsi formed by Chan Wing and friends operated for 9 months without finding any ore.  Savings dwindled and hopes plummeted but they dug deeper and their perseverance paid off when Chan Wing saw a darkish patch in one of the boxes of sand that he was washing. The kongsi had struck very big as the place was subsequently found to be littered in tin and the rest, as they say, is history.

With the years of scrimping and saving behind him and money no longer a major concern, Chan Wing’s attention turned to marriage and he requested his mother to find a bride for him. Low Ming Ching, simple, pleasant, timid and barely sixteen, would become the first in a line of wives to come.

Chan Wing would go on to venture into other businesses including banking (he sat on the board of Kwong Yik Bank), rice and rubber.  He became a respected and accepted member in Malayan society and now had an important decision to make – where to make his permanent home.

At the time of Chan Wing’s birth, China was under the rule of the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1912). This was not the rule of the majority Han Chinese but the dynasty was founded by the Jurchen Aisin Gioro clan, a Manchu tribe from northeastern China which usurped power from the Ming emperor. The Manchu had a unique hairstyle where the hair on the front of the head until the temples were shaved off every ten days and the rest braided into a long pigtail. This pigtail is also known as a ‘queue’. During the Qing Dynasty, the Manchus imposed this hairstyle on the Han Chinese and cutting off the queue was considered an act of treason. Chan Wing took the decision to live permanently in Malaya and as an act of defiance against the Manchu government, he cut off his queue.

Meanwhile, his family had grown into 8 wives with 21 children living at different locations. Chan Wing bought 13 acres of land and commissioned Swan and Maclaren to design a house that will bring his whole family under one roof and in 1929, the family moved into what would become known as The Big House. It might have been the biggest house in Malaya at that time, but for the family it was not big enough. As his daugher Chan King Nui recalls in her book ‘From Poor Migrant to Millionaire’, although the mothers had a room each, the children had to share rooms – four to a room. The number of children by now had swelled to 25. Chan Wing and his family stayed at the Big House until 1941 when war came to Malaya.

Chan Wing got separated from his family during the war and he stayed out the war in Australia while his family was evacuated to India where his twenty-sixth and last child, a boy, was born. He reunited with his family when they returned to Malaya after the war but was diagnosed with cancer and in spite of the best treatment succumbed to his illness in 1947 at the age of 74.

During the Japanese Occupation (1942 – 1945), the Big House became the residence of the Japanese Governor and after the war, it was commandeered by the British. In 1950, the Selangor state government rented it from the owners and it became the palace of the Sultan of Selangor until 1957 when the federal government bought the property from the owners. It was renovated and extended to become Istana Negara, the official residence of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (king of Malaysia). In Dec 2011, Istana Negara moved to its new location at Jalan Duta and the Istana Negara Lama, as the property is now called, has been turned over to the Department of Museums, Malaysia.

Most of the information on Chan Wing in this article comes from the book ‘From Poor Migrant to Millionaire’, written by Chan King Nui; one of Chan Wing’s daughters.

Flor de la Mar

by Eriko Shima-Tsuno

Flor de la Mar_gallery C
A replica of the Flor de la Mar at Gallery C in Muzium Negara

Flor de la Mar, laden with treasures stolen from the Melaka kingdom, sank in 1512 in the Aru Strait in the region of North Eastern Sumatera.  Although marine archaeologists and treasure hunters have made numerous attempts to recover the ship, its location remains a mystery.

Flor de la Mar is entwined in the history of the Portuguese endeavor to control the maritime trade in the East and as such, is also part of the history of Melaka.

Melaka was founded around the year 1400 and its strategic location between the maritime trade routes of East and West enabled it to grow into an internationally known port city. The economic power of Melaka depended on trade and the most important commodity traded was spices. At that time spices were very much needed, not only to add flavors in cooking, but also for preserving raw food such as meat, especially for winter. As such, spices fetched a very high price in Europe; for example, 1kg of pepper had the same value as 1kg of gold, and 1 ounce of nutmeg was equivalent to 7 oxen.

In those days, the Portuguese bought spices from the Venetians, who bought spices from Muslim traders in Egypt and Syria. The tight control that the Venetians had over the flow of spices into Europe was the reason for the high prices making the Portuguese determined to find a direct route to the source of the spices.  Thus in the 15th century, Portuguese rulers initiated voyages of discovery.

In 1498 Vasco da Gama reached the Malabar Coast of India – the source of pepper.  Here, he heard about Melaka and of the spice islands further east.  In 1511, Portugal attacked Melaka with 18 ships; one of which was the Flor de la Mar.  The Portuguese made their first attack on the port of Melaka on 25 July 1511 but failed.  On 10 August 1511, they tried again and on 24 August 1511, the Portuguese finally captured Melaka. At this time, the armada was led by Alfonso de Albuquerque.

A replica of the Flor de la Mar which houses the Maritime Museum in Melaka
A replica of the Flor de la Mar which houses the Maritime Museum in Melaka

After looting Melaka, Albuquerque wanted to send the looted treasure to the court of the Portuguese king, King Manuel 1.  The Flor de la Mar, at 400 tons, was the largest ship in the fleet and hence it was chosen to transport the treasure back to Portugal.  The treasure included bronze lions, jewelry, gold-plated palanquins, precious stones, Melakan embroidery as well as young slaves. The Flor de la Mar, along with 3 other ships, namely the Enxobregas, Trinidade and Jong Jawa sailed for Goa, India on 20 January 1512 with Albuquerque at the helm. It never made it to Goa. After 6 days at sea, it was caught in a storm and sank just off Sumatra, taking down with it the riches of the Melaka kingdom.

Till today the location of the ship remains a mystery. Some maritime archaeologists say that their team’s ultimate challenge would be to embark on the recovery of the Flor de la Mar. I really hope that this shipwreck would be found and the treasures restored to the Malaysian people someday.