Visit to the Royal Malaysian Police Museum

by Chen Poh Leng

IMG-20150131-WA0009Our very first focus event for 2015 (on 29 January) was a visit to the Royal Malaysian Police Museum which is located near the National Mosque (Masjid Negara) and many other interesting tourist spots in KL city. We were very warmly welcomed by police officers who served us a hearty breakfast of local delights consisting of rice cooked in coconut milk (nasi lemak), curry puffs and local Malay cakes (kuih) with coffee/tea.

With filled tummies we started the museum tour by listening to a short briefing about the museum. We were informed that visits were free and they open everyday during normal working hours except on Mondays. On Fridays, it is closed from 12:30pm to 2:30 pm for Friday prayers. The museum consists of 3 galleries. Gallery A focused on the early history of the police force that spanned from the Malacca Sultanate period right up to the time of the Dutch colonisation. Gallery B exhibits were based on the period of the British rule. This covered the Straits Settlement, the Federated Malay States, the Unfederated Malay States plus Sarawak and Sabah. Gallery C’s exhibits were of the Malayan Emergency era and thereafter. We were then treated to a 7 minute video on the history of the Royal Malaysian Police Force.

Enjoying our breakfast
Enjoying our breakfast

Gallery A’s tour started with exhibits of the uniforms (females inclusive) that changed over time. Arms in the early days such as the keris, the Portugese helmet and sword, the Dutch pistols and guns and even a canon ball were on display. As we entered Gallery B our attention was brought to a lockup door that was curved which was how the lockup doors were those days. Items such as handcuffs, a very old typewriter, a gong (functioned as a siren) and an old Berkefeld water filter could be seen as we moved along. There were also exhibits of the different modes of transport used by the police such as the water buffalo, bicycles and motorbikes.

IMG-20150131-WA0046Various weaponry on display included those used by the police plus those used by captured criminals. These included those that were handmade. Uniforms used specifically for pomp and splendour, ceremonial events, and by the police band were also on display. We also discovered that the wives of the police force were entitled to become a member of a special police wives association but there isn’t any association for husbands of female police.

Due recognition was awarded to the heroes of the force. The highest of which is the Supreme Gallantry Award while the second highest is the Star of the Commander of Valour. Awardees of these awards were proudly displayed. Policemen who excelled in the field of sports were also included in the exhibits.

IMG-20150131-WA0044Gallery C started off with exhibits of the paraphernalia and contrabands of the Malayan Communist Party during the emergency. These included medical tools, some used for abortion, tools to make counterfeit money as well as tools to manufacture drugs. An item of interest included handkerchiefs with pornographic paintings that could be folded tiny enough to be easily hidden and passed on without being caught. In this gallery, there were also photographs of the police tattoo shows, performance/stunts accompanied with music that engage the public, a display of the identity cards used by members of the force plus all the ranks in the force. Finally, our tour ended with a 7 minute video on the emergency period between 1940s and 1960s.

Before we said our goodbyes, we extended our gratitude to our gracious police hosts who presented us a goody bag each consisting of the museum flyer and little museum souvenirs. It was indeed a morning well spent for all of us.

Tun Abdul Razak Memorial – A trip down memory lane

by Kavitha Subaramaniam

10641206_836872183010241_6034203107118408668_nThe Museum Volunteers (MV) focus group organised a trip to the Tun Abdul Razak Memorial on Thursday, 25th September 2014 as members were curious and keen to enrich their understanding of the second Prime Minister of Malaysia, the late Tun Abdul Razak bin Hussein Al-Haj. We gathered at the main entrance of the memorial at 10 o’clock in the morning and were led by an experienced guide, Encik Saladdin Merican, from the memorial itself.

The late Tun Abdul Razak has the sobriquet ‘Father of Development’ although he only held the tenure of Prime Minister for six years, from 1970 to 1976, before he lost a battle to leukaemia. This building, which was originally his official residence when he was in office and converted to a memorial on 6th May 1982, is situated at Lake Garden, Kuala Lumpur. This iconic structure commemorates Tun Abdul Razak’s significant contribution in developing the country coupled with uniting its unique pluralistic society.

TAR 009When we stepped into his ‘house’, it was simple and yet had the atmosphere of serenity despite its location at the hub of the city. Encik Merican guided us around the house (living room, dining hall, kitchen, lounge area, bedrooms, private office, reading room, courtyard) and gave elaborate explanations on the various possessions and souvenirs that belonged to Tun Abdul Razak. The placement of the furniture, carpets, books and personal collections was preserved as when the late Tun Abdul Razak’s lived there, so that visitors could better appreciate the icon’s life. The visit not only gave us a glimpse of his personal life with his wife Tun Rahah Mohammad Noah and his five sons but it also showed us the early days of the present Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib, who is his eldest son. No doubt this tour has made us realise and appreciate the sacrifices made by the former Prime Minister for this country.

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Visit to Sri Kandaswamy Kovil

by Maganjeet Kaur

Last Sunday (20th April 2014), a bunch of Museum Volunteers visited the Sri Kandaswamy Kovil at Scotts Road, Brickfields. We were hosted by Dr. Thilaga from the temple committee and Dato’ Jega who had helped arrange the trip.

DSC_4813The word ‘Kovil’ means temple and it is composed of two syllables: ‘ko’ meaning god or king and ‘vil’ meaning abode or residence. The Sri Kandaswamy Kovil is a 110 year old Sri Lankan Tamil temple. In Hinduism, Brahman is the Supreme Being; the formless god who takes three forms: Brahma as the creator, Vishnu as the preserver and Siva as the destroyer. So, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are manifestations of Brahman in its different roles. In Saivism, Lord Shiva is revered as the Supreme Being and in a Saivite temple, Lord Shiva would be the principal deity. In Sri Kandaswamy, a Saivite temple, the residing deity is Sri Shakthi Vel Peruman, the divine spear of Lord Murugan, the second son of Lord Siva.

MuruganDr. Thilaga’s stressed that images of Hindu deities and the rituals performed in Hinduism should be taken as symbols and not at face value. For example, Lord Murugan (the son of Lord Siva and the goddess Parvati) is pictured with six heads which represent the six attributes of wisdom, strength, (and I did not catch the rest). The six heads also represent the six directions: north, south, east, west, top, bottom indicating the all-pervading nature of god. His vehicle is the peacock indicating mastery over pride and vanity. One of his hands points downwards and another one points upwards representing fear and fearlessness respectively. Duality, such as this, can be seen represented in all Hindu deities. The exterior of a Hindu temple is very ornate. This reminds the devotee that there are many distractions in the material world and to leave these behind as he/she enters the temple. The ritual of bathing the deity is actually a symbolic process for the devotee to ‘wash away’ his/her emotions of jealousy, anger, greed, etc.

DSC_4833Sri Kandaswamy Kovil is a very orthodox temple and adheres rigidly to the ancient Saiva Agama scriptures which lay out the correct procedures to erect a temple, the form and placement of deities in the temple as well as how rituals in the temple are to be performed. Dr. Thilaga explained that the temple is shaped like the human body. The Sanctum sanctorum (that houses Sri Shakthi Vel Peruman) represents the head and the Gopuram (the main gateway of the temple) represents the feet. In the central portion, which represents the body, a representation of an enlightened soul, a representation of bondage and a huge golden flagpole have been placed. The flagpole is at the end of the ‘body’, i.e where the legs start. Saiva Siddhanta philosophy recognises three eternal entities: god, soul and bondage. Bondage of the soul in pursuit of materialism prevents it from knowing god.

The image of Sri Shakthi Vel Peruman in the temple is that of a ‘Vel’ which is loosely translated as spear.

Mythology behind the Vel: The goddess Parvati embodied her power in the Vel and presented it to Lord Murugan to assist in his fight against the asura Soorapadman. To escape Lord Murugan, Soorapadman turned himself into a mango tree but the Vel split the tree into half; one becoming a peacock and the other a rooster. The peacock became Lord Murugan’s vehicle and the rooster, the emblem on his flag. The Vel would, after battle, cleanse itself in the Ganges River before returning to its owner.

Symbology behind the Vel: it show the power of wisdom and that one must not only have in-depth knowledge of a subject but also that the knowledge must be broad (multi-disciplined). Sri Shakthi Vel Peruman is thus ‘one whose knowledge is deep, broad, and sharp’.

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MV Pot Luck – 2014

by Lena Koh Maltesen

After Ian Burnet’s presentation on the spice routes, what better way to savour the tang of turmeric, the kick of cloves and sniff the aroma of cinnamon than through the dishes that the museum volunteers brought to the Annual Potluck. More than 40 trainee and graduated guides attended the lunch held on the grounds of the National Museum on 25 January 2014.

049Representative of the different races of the museum community, we were treated to French quiches, Danish rolls, Portuguese egg tarts, idaly (Indian bread made from rice flour) served with traditional Indian lentil curry and coconut, pulut panggang (glutinous rice with coconut wrapped with bananas leaf and fragrantly grilled), fish cutlets, soya chicken wings, almond cookies, sushi rolls and much more. In keeping with the forthcoming Chinese New Year, we also had a big box of Mandarin oranges. Jabatan Muzium not only generously sponsored the roti jala (a Malay pancake made of flour that has been artistically interwoven to form a lacy pattern) eaten with chicken curry, the Malay seri kaya dessert and refreshments but added a platter of delicious fried noodles.  The trainees of Batch 20 and 21 were happily exchanging notes of their experience whilst learning more from each other on the origin of the dish each had brought.

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Forging new friendships

All helped to set the table and lay the dishes in true spirit of camaraderie. Starting as strangers and after going through the trials and tribulations of 16  weeks of rehearsals and presentations, a kind of kindred spirit prevailed with some even volunteering to practise guiding with each other. Definitely, I felt that the Annual Potluck is the last of the icebreakers that undoubtedly forge new friendships.

This reminded me of the International Day that schools host to celebrate the diversity and the unity of the multi-racial community. If only we had the ronggeng dance and the national costumes. Perhaps next year, we shall come with our traditional costumes with background music to match …

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Find more photos on Facebook of both Ian Burnet’s talk and the Pot-Luck.

Mesoameric Civilization

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by Maganjeet Kaur

Last June on the 25th, Dr. Ernesto Gonzalez Licon gave a talk at Muzium Negara on the architectural and cultural development in ancient Mexico. Although it was at the height of the haze with the air quality index deemed ‘very unhealthy’, there was a good turnout and the participants listened eagerly as Dr Licon discussed the various Mesoamerican civilizations starting from the Olmec to the Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Mayan and Aztec untill the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards in 1521.

We were presented with many interesting facts. Being an impossible to reform chocoholic, I was especially fascinated by the ancient Mexican love for chocolate.  The Olmecs were the first people to process cacao beans with the earliest evidence coming from residue left in a bowl that dates to 1800 BCE.  The Mayans and Aztecs considered chocolate as the food of the gods, a heavenly concept that I can identify with.  Mixtec chocolateThe Mixtec tribe which inhabited Mitla in Oaxaca, Mexico from circa 900 CE, wrote their history as phonetic pictures on deerskin.  The picture on the left (blurry, I know.  I am still working on my photographic skills), shows a royal wedding ceremony taking place on the day 13 Snake of the year 13 Reed which works out in our uninspired calendar as 1051 CE. Lots more information can be gleaned from the drawing including that the cup of chocolate held by the happy lady represents dowry.  Not surprising as cacao, which was made into a drink, was an item of luxury.

PacalAs an impressionable teenager hooked on the writings of Erich von Daniken, I read in the ‘Chariots of the Gods’ that the picture on the right, drawn by ancient Mayans, represents an astronaut sitting in his rocket with the markings at the bottom depicting flames and gases from the propulsion unit.  Dr Licon had the more logical explanation.  The drawing is actually the sarcophagus lid of Pakal, one of the kings of Palenque which is a city in Southern Mexico and it depicts Pakal descending into the Mayan underworld.  Dr Licon pointed out the main imagery on the drawing to us.  This includes a snake located under Pakal having its mouth open and it represents the entrance to the underworld.  The ceiba tree represents the connection between the great sky, the upper-world and the underworld.

Pakal was buried wearing a jade mask and beads.  The jade was mined from Guatemala which is one of the few worldwide sources of jadeite.  Jadeite was a luxury item and played an important role in the lives of the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs.

Chichen-Itza (taken from Wikipedia)
Chichen-Itza (taken from Wikipedia)

A description of ancient Mexico is not complete without a mention of its pyramids. Unlike the Egyptian pyramids which were burial tombs, the Mayan pyramids were mostly built in honour of their gods and had temples at the top of the pyramids.  Pyramids, such as the famous Chichen-Itza pyramid located at Yucatan, Mexico, also served as astronomical observatories. Complicated through it may be, the Mayan calendar is extremely accurate with precise calculation of astronomical events including eclipses.

039The floor had lots of questions.  A number of these questions centered around some of the similarities between the ancient Mexican civilisations and the Southeast Asian civilisations.  Dr Licon explained that the perceived similarities was because all agricultural societies had to know the planting seasons and hence had to develop some level of astronomical knowledge.  All cultures faced the same elements including the moon, sun and wind resulting in similar traditions. Karen wanted to know more on blood sacrifice among the ancient Mexicans.  Human sacrifice and blood letting was mostly practiced by the Aztecs.  According to their cosmology, the first four cycles of human creation were destroyed by the gods.  In the fifth cycle, i.e the Aztecs, the gods sacrificed one of themselves to create the humans.  So blood giving was a way of saying thank-you.

046Dr Licon being presented with books on Malaysian history and archaeology at the end of the talk.

Architecture and Cultural Development in Ancient Mexico

Dr. Ernesto Licon will be giving the above talk at Muzium Negara on Tuesday 25 June at 10am. This talk is open to the public and is a free programme.  Please register at focus_mv@yahoo.com.my if you will be attending.  You can also register via our facebook page.  Seats are limited and will be on a first come first serve basis.

Details on the talk can be found below.  Please note that the venue has been changed to the Auditorium Room at Muzium Negara.

Ancient Mexico Archi 1

Ancient Mexico Archi 2

Ancient Mexico Archi 3

Nowruz

The 3,000 year old Zoroastrian festival of Nowruz is the Iranian New Year and though it is celebrated worldwide, it is relatively unknown in Malaysia.  Hence, we learned a lot when museum volunteer Jaleh Chegini gave a presentation on this festival on March 26; just a few days after this year’s Nowruz.

Nowruz, which is steeped in tradition, is celebrated at the time of the vernal equinox or the first day of spring which falls around 21 March.  This is the time when sunlight is evenly divided between the northern and southern hemispheres.  The start of the New Year is very precisely timed and Iranians celebrate Nowruz at the precise time of the arrival of spring, regardless if this is at midnight, 10am or 4am!

Jaleh in traditional Iranian costume
Jaleh in traditional Iranian costume

Preparations start a few weeks before the festival.  Iranians start by ‘shaking the house’ during which they literally clean every spot in their homes.  The phrase ‘spring cleaning’ is believed to have originated in this Iranian tradition.  During this time, Iranians would also buy new clothes and furniture as well as make donations to charity.

Fire Jumping, is celebrated on the night of the last Wednesday of the old year.  Small bonfires are lit in the streets and people jump over the flames while shouting “May my sickly pallor be yours and your red glow be mine.”   The flames symbolically take away all the unpleasantness of the previous year.

Haji Firuz
Haji Firuz

Before the arrival of Nowruz, a man dressed in red with face covered in soot takes to the streets dancing and singing and proclaiming that Nowruz is approaching.  This is Haji Firuz, the herald of Nowruz.  Haji Firuz has a side-kick, Uncle Nowruz, who is the Iranian version of Santa Claus.  Similar to Santa, Uncle Nowruz is also an old man with a white beard who brings gifts and good luck to people.

Another interesting tradition carried out before the arrival of Nowruz is similar to Halloween.  Kids in the neighbourhood would drop by in disguise and announce their presence by hitting a metal pot with a metal spoon.  This is called ‘pot hitting‘ and would earn them a treat from the house owner.

20130326_101222Preparing the Haft-Seen table is, perhaps, the most important tradition of Nowruz.  Iranians will sit around the table with friends and family while waiting for Nowruz to arrive.  Jaleh prepared a table for us which is shown on the right.  Nowruz has its traditions in Zoroastrianism, a religion that was prevalent in present day Iran around 3,000 years ago.  The table was called Haft-Chin and it had seven items on it symbolising seven elements in the universe.  Since the advent of Islam, the table is now known as Haft-Seen, or the seven ‘S’s and there are seven key items on it each starting with the letter ‘S’.  One of the items, sabzeh (wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish), is perhaps the only item that is common to both tables.

Nowruz is celebrated for 12 days during which time, schools and many offices are closed.  Visiting friends and family is the main activity.  The 13th day of Nowruz is considered to be bad luck as it is associated with the number 13.  To avoid the bad luck, people go outdoors on picnics and this day is called Sizdah Bedar meaning ‘getting rid of the 13‘.  On this day, some girls would tie the leaves of their sabzeh dish before throwing it away.  While doing so, they express their wish to get married before the next Sizdah Bedar.

Jaleh had also arranged for us to try out some Iranian food which she had ordered from an Iranian restaurant.

20130326_112819From far, this dish looks familiar and Malaysians may be forgiven for dismissing it as ice-kacang.  But this dessert, called faloodeh, is not made from shaved ice but from frozen vermicelli topped with rose syrup.  A tinge of lime juice is added giving it a zesty taste.  Apart from faloodeh, we also tried out an aubergine dish which was served with flat bread.  Only one word, ‘yummy’.  Wish all focus events would end with a treat!

Pre-Historic Skeletons in Lenggong Valley

Earlier this month, on Saturday 2 March 2013, museum volunteers were held spell-bound by Shaiful Idzwan who gave a talk to the volunteers on archaeology in Malaysia with focus on pre-historic skeletons in Lenggong Valley.

006Shaiful started the talk by discussing some of the famous pre-historic sites in Malaysia including Guar Kepar in Penang, Gua Cha in Kelantan, Lenggong in Perak and Niah in Sarawak.  He also talked about the log coffin burials in Kinabatangan, Sabah; a 2,000 year old practice by the Orang Sungai which is still on-going today.  Log burials are unique to Kinabatangan and in this type of burial, the coffin itself is not buried but placed in the cave – on the floor for ordinary people and on a specially erected wooded platform for people of higher status.  Shaiful has hands-on experience at Kinabatangan as he is researching this for his PhD.

Saiful related an interesting anecdote on the former Deputy Director of Museums in Malaya, Gale Sieveking.  Sieveking took up the post in 1953 and was responsible for the first systematic excavation of Gua Cha in which over 30 human remains were uncovered from both the Hoabinhian and Neolithic levels.  He returned to England in 1956 and after his demise in 2007, his family discovered skeletons from Gua Cha under his bed.  Jabatan Muzium was notified which repatriated the skeletons to Malaysia.  Although an amusing anecdote, it also testifies to the passion archaeologists have for their subjects.

Saiful then turned his focus to Lenggong Valley which obtained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2012.  He talked about Gua Kajang, a natural limestone tunnel which is large enough to ride a horse through.  The site is dated to around 7,000 to 11,000 year ago and some charred bones were found here indicating the presence of fire; although it is uncertain if this was a natural fire or man-made.

Perak Man and Gua Gunung Runtuh, in which this skeleton was found, were given due attention as was Gua Kelawar in which the Perak Woman was found.  Another interesting site at Lenggong Valley is Gua Harimau in which 12 prehistoric skeletons were uncovered making it the largest burial site in Lenggong.  Perhaps the most exciting site at Lenggong Valley at the moment is Bukit Bunuh, the site of a meteorite impact 1.83 million years ago.  The high temperatures and pressure of the meteorite impact transformed rocks at the impact site into suevite and a handaxe made of chert was found buried in the suevite rocks, making this handaxe more than 1.83 million years old and the oldest stone tool to be found outside Africa.

Karen presenting Saiful with a token of appreciation with Mariana looking on.
Karen presenting Saiful with a token of appreciation with Mariana looking on.

Shaiful Idzwan Shahidan holds a Masters in Field Archaeology and Masters in Applied Ethics (Archaeological Ethics).  He is currently a Research Officer and ASTS Fellow at the Centre for Global Archaeological Research, USM.  He has over 7 years of experience in archaeology and has conducted archaeological research at a number of locations in Malaysia including at Lenggong Valley (Perak), BujangValley (Kedah) and Kinabatangan Valley (Sabah).  He was a member of the expert committee for the preparation of Nomination Dossier for the Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley into the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. He was also part of the Joint Malaysian and Australian Archaeological Site Survey team for possible World War II burial sites in Parit Sulong, Johor and worked with the Penang Islamic Department on the relocation of ancient graves.

We were indeed honoured to have Shaiful with us.

Culinary Heritage of Malaysia

As Malaysians we think we know a lot about food.  Whether they are Malay, Indian or Chinese dishes, we know them all and love them all.  We are even a little arrogant as a lot of concoctions are truly Malaysian; a fusion of food from different cultures.

Harith Jamaludin giving a talk to museum volunteers
Harith Jamaludin giving a talk to museum volunteers

On 26th Jan 2013, Harith Jamaludin gave a talk to the museum volunteers on Malaysian food and it was a humbling experience to learn that there is a lot about Malaysian cuisine we don’t know.  For example, nasi pattaya does not come from Pattaya, Thailand.  Possibly a local invention?

Harith Jamaludin is the Program Manager for the School of Hospitality & Culinary Arts, Kolej PTPL Sungai Petani. He obtained a Diploma in Food Service Management and Bachelor of Science in Food Service Management from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM). Currently based in Sungai Petani, Harith is undergoing his Masters Degree in Gastronomy at the same University.

Harith started the talk by explaining how history influenced Malaysian cuisine.  It was interesting to know that the Malay words ‘ubi’ (potato), ‘keladi’ (yam) and ‘babi’ (pig) are the only food related words not linguistically influenced from elsewhere.  With 143 mouth watering pictures of heritage food and drinks, Harith went through the cooking of the Malays, Indian, Chinese, Orang Asli, natives of Sabah & Sarawak as well as Peranakan and Eurasian cooking.  He also talked about European influenced cooking.  Laksa Johor, for example, uses spaghetti.

Some dishes

Sample herbs, plants and food brought by Harith
Sample herbs, plants and food brought by Harith

Harith also brought along herbs, spices as well as cooked and uncooked food in a show-and-tell.

We got the feel of texture and smells of herbs and plants which we usually only taste in the finished product.

The volunteers also had hands-on experience in making sambal belacan and many tried this with relish.

Lawrence having a go at making sambal belacan with the other volunteers waiting their turn.
Lawrence having a go at making sambal belacan with the other volunteers waiting their turn.

The talk was a good prelude to the New Year potluck.  Appetites whetted by sights and smells of Harith’s presentation, the sumptuous lunch that followed was a good end to the morning.

An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

by Stuart Wakefield

Lecture by Paul Spencer Sochaczewski on his book “An Inordinate Fondness for
Beetles: Campfire Conversations with Alfred Russell Wallace”

The joint meeting attended by more than 50 MVM / MCG members and their guests was held at the Meritz condominium on 17-Oct-12.  The author provided a fascinating overview of Wallace’s formative years and his self funded travels, both in Brazil and in the Malay Archipelago, during the 19th Century.  It was evident that Wallace was more than an explorer cum naturalist, as he wrote many papers on subjects including ‘arrogance and the roles of ego and greed’, ‘women’s rights’, ‘why nature must be controlled which leads to its destruction’ and ‘our relationship with other species’.  He also identified what became known as ‘the Wallace Line’, which separates Asia’s fauna and flora from that of Australia and has withstood the test of time.

Paul at the joint MCG/MVM event
Paul at the joint MCG/MVM event

Notwithstanding his many significant achievements, Wallace is often best remembered for independently developing his theory of natural selection.  Wallace sent a copy of his paper to Charles Darwin who had arrived at virtually identical conclusions over a number of years, but had yet to circulate his writings beyond his close associates.  Darwin was advised to publish without further delay and thereby gained considerable fame and a not insignificant fortune, whilst Wallace graciously sat on the sidelines.  However, Darwin’s theory was by no means universally accepted by traditional Victorian thinkers, and he was subject to a degree of ridicule and contempt, which Wallace avoided.

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