Malaya at War (part 1)

by V. Jegatheesan

‘Malaya at War’ was the title of a conference held in Kuala Lumpur on 10th and 11th August 2019. It was organised by the War History Institute, Holiday Tours & Travel Sdn. Bhd. and the Malaysian British Society. As the Research Director of the War History Institute, Mr. Seumas Tan, mentioned, there should be more stories about local war heroes as this would lead to more interest in Malaysia’s war history and consequently more visits to places associated with it. This will, in turn, generate military history tourism.

The Conference

The Keynote Address was by our first Royal Malaysian Navy Chief, Rear Admiral Tan Sri Dato’ Seri (Dr) K. Thanabalasingam. This was followed by Professor Brian P. Farrell of the National University of Singapore on the Defence of Malaya 1941-1942. An interesting first person account of the sinking of the Repulse was given by a survivor – Rear Admiral Guy Richmond Griffiths AO DSO DSC RAN (Rtd.). He is currently the Patron of the HMS Repulse Survivors Association. Kuala Lumpur at War 1939-1945 was covered by Andrew Barber, a Military History Researcher.

Most distinguished (looks belie their age):                                                      
L- R: Tan Sri J. J. Raj Jr,
Rear Admiral Tan Sri Dato’ Seri (Dr) K. Thanabalasingam
Rear Admiral Guy Richmond Griffiths AO DSO DSC RAN (Rtd.
The participants

Malaysian speakers were next starting with Mr. Harchand Singh Bedi, a Military History Researcher, who spoke on the Battle of Kampar 1941-1942. The story of Sybil Karthigasu was presented by Mr. Law Siak Hong, President Ipoh Heritage Society. War leaves behind a trail of wreckages and relics and Encik Shaharom Ahmad, a Malaysian Military Historian and Researcher, gave an illustrated description of airplane wreckages, bridges and pillboxes. A panel of speakers then gave their viewpoints on battlefield tourism and their involvement in promoting this. The panel comprised of Seumas Tan, Research Director War History Institute Sydney Australia, who acted as the moderator; George Yong and Zafrani Arifin, Malaysian Battlefield Guides; Henry Ong, Head Business Development Holiday Tours & Travel Sdn. Bhd.; and Dennis Weatherall, Australian Military Historian and Accredited Battlefield Guide.

The next day began with the topic on the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) which was very much a war but for various reasons called an emergency. This was covered by Mr. Christopher Hale who is a documentary producer and non-fiction writer. The famous Bukit Kepong Incident was described by Tan Sri J. J. Raj Jr., a Retired Commissioner of Royal Malaysian Police. He was the Officer in Charge of the Police District and was involved in the incident. From the Nanyang Technological University Singapore, Associated Professor Dr. Kumar Ramakrishna spoke on the Role of British Propaganda during the Emergency. The Conference was closed with a skit describing how a couple of Communists pressured a local couple for food. However, they were ambushed and killed. This skit was by the Malaya Historical Group all in period dress and uniform.

Tan Sri J. J. Raj Jr

The Tour

The Conference was followed immediately by a 6-day tour of the battle sites and memorials as well as a few other places of interest. The group comprised organisers Seumas Tan and Henry Ong, guide Zafrani Arifin and 2 officers from Tourism Malaysia. There were fourteen other participants, of which five were Malaysians. The remainder nine participants were Australians including one who had been here during the Emergency and another during the Confrontation.

The following is a description of the tour and a brief explanation of the battlefields, the battles and memorials. It is not meant to be a detailed description of the various battles as this will be too lengthy. The description also follows the tour route and not the specific battle routes as this involved a lot of criss-crossing and backtracking; it was not a straightforward fall back. These intricate details can be read from numerous books and the internet.

The route for the first day follows the start of the Australian forces’ involvement against the advancing Japanese army. As Australian Lieutenant General Gordon Bennet wrote in his book Why Singapore Fell, “Australians go in to bat”, a cricketing term. Their objective was to stop this advance and even drive the Japanese back, if not to delay the onslaught. The Japanese had been rapidly advancing down south largely on the west coast road with forces spread out on the fringes of the road, in the rubber estates and in the jungle, in fact everywhere in a broad sweep. They also had air cover in many places operating from occupied airports. Surprisingly, they also seized boats in Penang and Muar to get ahead and behind the British lines. The Forces, i.e. British Army, may have delayed the Japanese slightly and caused some losses, inflicted heavy damage, but they ultimately had to retreat into Singapore.

While this is where the Australian forces joined the war, the entire army here comprised of Australian, Indian and British units. Many units have been retreating from up north and were exhausted. Units had to be regrouped as each suffered losses.

Tour – Day 1

On the first day, we set off for Sungai Kelamah War Memorial in Gemencheh. This is along the old road south and close to Gemas. The Japanese, who had rumbled down at speed, arrived here on 14 January 1942. An Australian ambush party had already laid explosives under the bridge and awaited the Japanese. Bridges were routinely destroyed in war to stop or delay the advancing enemy forces.

The memorial at Gemencheh

At 4.10 pm, after some 300 Japanese troops had crossed, the Australians blew up the bridge killing about 30 Japanese on the bridge. Australians were also ranged along hillsides further back and fired on Japanese who had crossed. It is estimated that nearly 500 to 700 were killed with minimal losses for the allied troops. As far as they were concerned, the ambush was a success.

Remnants of the bridge. A new bridge can be seen in the background.

Nevertheless, in due course, the Japanese had gotten ahead behind them as the Australian ambush party withdrew towards Gemas, continuously avoiding Japanese advance parties who got behind Australian lines. Generally, withdrawal was not a simple matter in war as they were constantly harassed and fought with by the Japanese behind the lines and by heavy aerial bombings. Many units or soldiers become lost or trapped and had to find their way to their units or other units. The bridge was quickly rebuilt by the Japanese using timber from a local sawmill. Retreating forces destroyed the machinery but did not think the timber would be useful. In war, fuel, machinery, vehicles even street signs or anything that will give an advantage to the enemy is removed or destroyed.

Today we see a memorial site and the remnants of the bridge. Further away we also saw anti-tank cylindrical concrete blocks intended to halt advancing tanks.

Anti-tank blocks and us

A local enthusiast, Rizal, showed us around dressed in the Commonwealth Forces uniform. This uniform was worn by Australian soldiers on the way to the Middle East and when they were diverted to Malaya, they fought in this uniform. Over time Rizal has collected many artefacts, all rusted with time.

Today, the road has been realigned and a new bridge built.

We proceeded to the Gemas Railway Station. We were shown a photo of Japanese troops crawling along the lines anticipating enemy attacks.

The Gemas Railway Station – then and now

The next stop was the Gemas Broken Bridge. Today you can still see the remnants as seen in the photo below while a new bridge has been built nearby.

Gemas Broken Bridge

Next was the Buloh Kasap Bridge, which shared the same fate as the other bridges. A then and now photo shows how the bridge was rebuilt at speed by the Japanese. The ends of the bridge are still intact today. On one side damage from artillery shells can be seen. Markings on the concrete pillars below show that the bridge was built in March 1926.

Photo of the Japanese rebuilding Buloh Kasap Bridge

Both these unusable bridges seem to be painted and maintained by the local Council, but attempts to contact the Council to confirm this is still ongoing. Before the next bridge, we stopped for lunch at the VIP Hotel, a small yet beautiful hotel.

The Segamat Railway Bridge was also blasted and quickly rebuilt. Any advancing army will expect bridges to be blown up and are therefore prepared to rebuild them. It is a matter of speed to get it up and let the forces cross onward. Materials are usually sourced locally as in Gemencheh.

The photo shows the Japanese rebuilding the Segamat Railway Bridge

It is fortunate to have the then and now photos as it helps in imagining the various happenings. Unlike other bridges that have been replaced with realigned roads and new bridges, the Segamat Railway Bridge was repaired after the war and it is still in use. Our night stop was at the Ramada in Melaka.

Tour – Day 2

The second day saw us in Muar town. The local Tourism Officer boarded the bus and gave us a tour of the town. Of interest was the remains of the bombed out building behind the present Streetview Hotel.

We then got on the road, headed southeast and after 5kms arrived outside of Bakri. This is the location of the famous photo of 2 gunners with the anti-tank gun. They managed to do damage to the advancing tanks. Below I quote the caption to the photo from the Australian War Memorial website. (https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/040367/). This caption and the photo say it all.

BAKRI, MALAYA, 1942-01-15 (actually 1942-01-18). GUNNERS OF 13TH AUSTRALIAN ANTI-TANK BATTERY USING A 2 PDR (pounder) ANTI-TANK GUN ACTION AGAINST JAPANESE TYPE 94 LIGHT TANKS AT A ROAD BLOCK. THE FORWARD TANK HAS BEEN SET ON FIRE WHILST OTHER TANKS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF ROAD BLOCK, WHICH IS A FELLED RUBBER TREE, HAVE BEEN DISABLED.

The caption to this photo in Wikipedia reads “Australian 2 pounder gun of 13th Battery, 4th Anti-Tank Regiment, firing on Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks of the 14th Tank Regiment on the Muar-Parit Sulong road on 18 January 1942. [1] Sergeant Charles Parsons and his crew were credited with destroying six of the nine tanks in this engagement.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Muar).

The hillock on the right is all that remains of the original as in the photo. A huge swath of land has been cleared behind this for a large industrial estate. We hope this location will at least be marked. This was the purpose of having the two officers from the Tourism Malaysia so they will appreciate the locations and provide feedback on the importance of this and other locations and place a memorial or a plaque.

Interestingly, the gunner, Sergeant Charlie Parsons, mentioned is connected to the family of the daughter-in-law of one of our participants on tour. He found this out when he posted pictures of the tour in his Facebook and she informed him!!

Further south at Parit Sulong, which was taken by the Japanese on the 21st January 1942, we stopped at the Parit Sulong Memorial. A memorial ceremony was held and the following oath recited by Colonel Dr. Robert Likeman, who was one of our group. This is always recited at Australian memorial services.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.

Lest we forget.

(A Verse from For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon)

Small Australian flags were placed on the memorial. We then crossed the road to an area that contained abandoned JKR quarters. It was in this area that some 150 prisoners and wounded Australian and Indian soldiers were held captive and then massacred. The Japanese General Takuma Nishimura was later sentenced to death for this.

The Oath by Colonel Dr. Robert Likeman
Placing of flags

After Parit Sulong and many other small battles, the British forces had to withdraw to Singapore.

The plaque on the bridge at Parit Sulong

It is a simple to read about battle sites. It can be another matter to visit them and see the actual spots where it all happened. War is a terrible thing in itself. Being at the sites can evoke emotions though it all happened in the past. We see and we move away.

Parit Sulong – how many know the past of this town

Then we made a “Quantum Leap” (refer old TV series) from the War to the Emergency – to Bukit Kepong, the scene of the annihilation of the wooden riverside police station by the communists on 23rd February 1950. Bukit Kepong is about 60km from Muar town. From the hillside across the station about 180 communists led by Muhammad Indera, looked down on the police station. In the police station were 25 policemen led by Sergeant Jamil Mohd. Shah. At 4.15am, the firing started. The police stood their ground, refusing surrender despite their families being killed as well. The station was set on fire and through all this the police defended the station. After 5 hours, it was over and the communists left leaving only four policemen and nine family members as survivors. This story as with the others is overwhelming.

Today, unfortunately the station has not been rebuilt. However, a gallery has been set up – Galeri Darurat Bukit Kepong or Emergency Gallery Bukit Kepong. On display are pictures and videos not just about the incident but also a lot more about the emergency, the independence, guns etc. There are also personal artefacts of the policemen and their families on display such as the household items of cups and saucers etc. etc.

The police at Bukit Kepong before the attack. Sergeant Jamil Mohd. Shah is seated third from left.

The day finished with our travel back to the Ramada and a good night’s rest before the next day’s events.

This report continues to Part 2 covering days 3-6. It can be viewed at https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/2019/09/02/malaya-at-war-part-2/

Visiting Sapporo Beer Museum

by Eric Lim

Tourists visiting Japan have been increasing on a yearly basis. Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) in an earlier posting mentioned that approximately 2.7 million foreigners visited Japan in January 2019, an increase of 7.5% year on year. Come 2020, one can expect a record number of tourists to Japan as Tokyo will play host to the summer Olympics.

July is the start of summer time in Japan and they have a full line up of events around the country like the Kyoto Gion Festival held at the Gion area in Kyoto; the Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival a.k.a Star Festival at Kanagawa Prefecture, outside Tokyo and Tenjin Festival in Osaka. There are also numerous Music Festivals, Fireworks Festivals and beer gardens. It is also time to hit the beaches and to go hiking.

Over in Hokkaido, the second largest island in Japan, tourists congregate at Furano City, situated in the central part of the island, to enjoy the scenic rolling hills of colourful flowers, especially the lavender flowers. Then off to Hokuryu, to see the Sunflower field before reaching the capital city of Sapporo. I have mentioned earlier of the coming summer Olympics in Tokyo, so it is fair for me to inform that Sapporo was the venue for the winter Olympics in 1972. My family of four visited these popular destinations plus a few more, during our recent holiday here in Hokkaido.

The popular attractions in Sapporo include Nijo Market (a seafood market), Tanukikoji Shopping Street (walk from Street 1 to Street 7; full of game arcades, F&B outlets, hotels, drug stores that open for 24 hours); Sapporo TV Tower (height of 147.2 metres / 483 ft) and Odori Park, which is right in the heart of the city and when we arrived here, it was the first day of Sapporo Odori Beer Garden Festival. It is dubbed as the nation’s largest beer garden as it stretches for a distance of 1 km and has a capacity to provide 13,000 seats! And talking about beer, I looked forward to visiting the Sapporo Beer Museum on day two of our stay in the city.

Sapporo Beer Museum (SBM) or Sapporo Biru Hakubutsukan is located at Sapporo Garden Park. Besides the museum, the park also encompasses several dining halls and restaurants, a shopping complex and an indoor practice field for the city’s baseball team. SBM was officially opened in July 1987 and was registered as one of the Hokkaido Heritage sites on October 22, 2004.

The history of brewing of beer in Japan began at a time when Japan was embarking on its modernisation journey. It was at the start of the Meiji Empire and Edo was renamed as Tokyo, which became Japan’s new capital. Japan opened its doors to Western cultures and customs. The Hokkaido Development Commission, Kaitakushi, initially wanted to build a new brewery facility in Tokyo in 1875 but the plan was shelved and instead moved to Sapporo. Two key personnel were given the credits for the move to Sapporo – 1) Seibei Nakagawa who was appointed as the Chief Engineer. He left Japan at a tender age of 17 and studied the brewing of beer in Germany. Upon his return to Japan and through a recommendation from a high ranking Government officer whom he met in Germany, he was appointed to the post. He made it known that ice was required for the fermentation and aging of beer. 2) Hisanari Murahashi was employed as the manager and he petitioned for the move to Sapporo where ice and snow were readily available. The petition was approved.

At the inauguration of Kaitakushi Beer Brewery. Beer barrels stacked up on the right.

A two-storey wooden brewery was completed within three months and it was to be the first brewery in Hokkaido. It was named Kaitakushi Beer Brewery and the year was 1876. At its inauguration, piles of beer barrels were stacked up in front of the brewery and the following words were written in white text “Ceremony : combining barley and hops yields a spirit called beer”. The replica beer barrels are now stacked next to SBM. This marked the start of Sapporo Beer and it went on sale in September 1877 in Tokyo. The Kaitakushi logo of the North Star was featured in the label and it became the logo of Sapporo Beer until today. The North Star symbol was also used on the Clock Tower and the former Hokkaido Government office building which the local called Akarenga which mean “red brick”, two landmarks in Sapporo. Today, the Sapporo Museum is housed in Akarenga.

In 1886, the brewery turned from state-owned to private enterprise when Kihachiro Okura took over and called it Okuragumi Sapporo Beer Brewery. Shortly after, it was transferred to two entrepreneurs namely Eiichi Shibuzawa and Soichiro Asano – Sapporo Beer Company (Sapporo Bakushu Kaisha) was established and later, it became known as Sapporo Breweries. From then on, the company started modernizing beer brewing and further boosted manufacturing capacity to deal with intense price wars between the major players: Nippon Beer, Japan Brewery Company (Kirin Beer) and Osaka Beer (Asahi Beer). In 1903, Sapporo Breweries made its foray into Tokyo and became the biggest brewery in Japan. In the month of May the same year, it acquired the Sapporo Sugar Company (Sapporo Seito Kaisha), a sugar mill and converted it into a plant for the malting of barley used in beer; it used the building until 1965. The current SBM is housed in this building.

Today, SBM is the one and only beer museum in Japan. Upon entry into the red brick building, visitors are greeted by a sign on how to approach the facility. For the Premium Tour, a Brand Communicator will guide your through in Japanese and the duration is about 50 minutes. The fee is Yen 500, inclusive of premium theater and special beer tasting at the end of the tour. We had no choice but to explore the museum on our own, on our own pace and of course, it’s free-of-charge but we have to buy our own beer at the end of the tour.

Both tour starts at the third floor. As we were walking down the slope, we could see a huge copper kettle for boiling beer wort which was still in use until 2003. The gallery is on the second floor. There are altogether 12 panels displaying the history of the beer industry in Japan. Information is in Japanese but they do provide translation sheets in Chinese, English and Korean, placed at the side of the panel. The panels are well placed and allows for plenty of walking space. As we approached the centre of the gallery, we could see an additional long panel on the left side, and this highlights the collection of advertisements and original posters of Sapporo Beer, used over the years. This panel also provides an opportunity for visitors to learn about the fashion and design that was popular in Japan during those days. A collection of advertisements and original posters are shown below.

We are then led to a staircase to the first floor, to the Star Hall. And there is no better way to end the tour than by tasting freshly brewed beer shipped directly from the brewery. For me, this part of the tour was definitely the highlight. Back home, l would call it “Happy Hour” but since we are in The Land of the Rising Sun, it’s “Kanpai time”. For a fee of Yen 800, we could get a 3-variety Beer Flight, consisting of Sapporo Draft Beer Black Label, Sapporo Classic and Sapporo Kaitakushi Brewery Pilsner. Meantime, for the Premium Tour, participant is given Sapporo Beer, brewed by strictly following the original recipe used way back in 1881. As in any good museums, there is a Museum Shop. Here, one could buy unique and original merchandise, also Kaitakushi Beer which is only available in Sapporo.

The Star Hall

It was a wonderful family trip and more so for yours truly as it was my first time visiting a beer museum and also my first time tasting fresh Japanese beer. It was a wonderful experience. How I wish to be drinking Sapporo Beer now, on a hot and hazy afternoon in Kajang.

Visit to the Malaysian Chinese Museum (27 March 2019)

by Janet Wong and Margaret Yeo

30 Museum Volunteers from the National Museum visiting the Malaysian Chinese Museum on 27th March 2019, photo by Mona Tan.

Established by the Federation of Chinese Associations of Malaysia (Hua Zong), the Malaysian Chinese Museum at Wisma Huazong in Seri Kembangan, Kuala Lumpur opened its doors to the public in 2018. The museum tells the story of the Chinese in Malaysia through a delightful mix of text, graphics and historical reconstruction.

In the 15th century and possibly earlier, there were diplomatic relations between China and Malacca. During the Ming Dynasty, Admiral Zheng He made no less than five grand voyages to Malacca. The Malaccan rulers also travelled to China to pay tribute in the Imperial Court.

Statue of Admiral Zheng He. Photo by Margaret Yeo.
Part of a Chinese map showing the Malay Archipelago. Photo by Janet Wong.

During the late Qing Dynasty, unrest and famine in China and the promise of greener pastures abroad led the Chinese to make their way to South East Asia. However, life here after a tempestuous journey was almost always harsh (especially for those in bondage), and often migrants resorted to opium and alcohol to block out their pitiful existence.

An opium user. Photo by Margaret Yeo.

The Chinese migrants were grouped based on their place of origin in China, and many formed triads to protect their interests. The triads fought over control of resources such as the mines, and this sometimes led to wars eg. Perang Larut, fought between the Hai San Society and Ghee Hin Society.

A fight between triad members. Photo by Margaret Yeo.

There were also migrants who became successful businessmen, such as Tan Kah Kee. In 1860, Tan Kah Kee travelled from Xiamen, Fujian to Singapore (then part of the Straits Settlements) to help his father with the family business (rice trading). Eventually, he built a business empire stretching across sectors such as rubber, manufacturing, canneries, real estate and rice trading. The museum has statues of Tan Kah Kee and his son-in-law, Lee Kong Chian, also a prominent businessman.

Besides that, along with the people came their culture and naturally the industries to support that culture. In the museum, there are reconstructions of several shopfronts.

During the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945), the Chinese here suffered grave casualties and cruel treatment. Some joined the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), which fought hard against the Japanese invaders. After the war, eight MPAJA members received awards for their anti-Japanese efforts.

An MPAJA member awarded the Star of Burma by Lord Mountbatten. Photo by Margaret Yeo.

After World War II, many of the MPAJA members joined the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), which became embroiled in armed conflict against the British colonial government. This eventually led to the declaration of the Malayan Emergency, during which measures such as the introduction of identity cards and creation of New Villages were implemented. A diorama at the museum reconstructs the situation during the Emergency, which officially ended in 1960 with the victory of the Malayan forces.

After independence in 1957, the Chinese have gradually integrated into Malaysian society without sacrificing their cultural identity, as can be seen from the reconstructions of Chinese markers of culture such as the religion, cuisine and forms of entertainment.

Lion dance. Photo by Margaret Yeo.
Offerings to the Jade Emperor on his birthday. Photo by Ong Li Ling.

Furthermore, Chinese education continues to be upheld. The museum traces the development of the Chinese education system in Malaysia. It is to be noted that outside China and Taiwan, Malaysia is the only country that provides Chinese education from primary to tertiary level. The groups of Chinese educationalists responsible for this achievement, amongst them Jiao Zong and Dong Zong, are acknowledged in the museum.

Last but not least, the museum has a breathtaking miniature display of a bustling marketplace where the different races in Malaysia can be seen working together for the betterment of the nation, in a depiction of the present and hopefully, the future as well.

A bustling marketplace. Photo by Janet Wong.

All in all, while the museum occupies a mere 10,550 square feet, the space has been very cleverly used and the museum is well worth a visit.

At the conclusion of the guided tour, the museum presented our library with a book entitled “A Journey Through History: The Chinese and Nation-Building in Malaysia”. We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for the hospitality and the special gift. We would also like to thank Mona Tan for organising this trip.

Three Museums

by Eric Lim

The first quarter of 2019 was very eventful for me. I made two overseas trips, the first to Guangzhou, China, in January followed by an 18-day sojourn to the North Island of New Zealand, between February and March. Taking these excellent opportunities, I visited the local museums and I would like to share my experiences with you.

1. Archaeological Site Museum of Nanyue Palace in Guangzhou

The history of Guangzhou started more than 2,000 years ago. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Empire succeeded in unifying the Lingnan Region, which comprised 3 prefectures namely Nanhai, Guilin and Xiang.

The Qin dynasty ended when military captains staged revolts causing great upheavals in the Central Plains of China. Zhao Tuo took over and established the Nanyue Kingdom with Panyu (original name of Guangzhou) as its capital. The Nanyue Kingdom was ruled successively by 5 kings and endured 93 years until it was obliterated by Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty in 111 BC. Since then, Guangzhou was further developed by another 10 cultural strata, right up to the Republic of China.

The museum sits between shops fronting the Beijing Road and dwellings on the other side, with the main entrance located at Zhongshan 4th Road. As the name suggests, the focus is on the historic site of the palace and garden of the Nanyue Kingdom. The royal garden consists of a large stone pond and a crooked stone brook. The latter was discovered in 1997 and it meanders from the north to south, a distance of 160 metres. It is the earliest and the best-preserved royal garden discovered so far in China.

The palace of the Nanyue Kingdom

During the excavation of the pond, a large quantity of the remains of turtles was found at the bottom, implying the animals might have been kept as pets in the royal garden. Chinese authorities also found that stone structures used in the construction of the royal garden were built with materials similar to those of Western stone structures, thus testifying to the meeting of East and West in Guangzhou in ancient times.

Exchanges between the Chinese and Western cultures

Besides the site of the palace and garden of the Nanyue Kingdom, there is also the palace site of the Nanhan Kingdom, which includes the Nanhan courtyard paved with fabulous butterfly peony square bricks. At the exhibition building for Guangzhou’s ancient wells, visitors can see over 500 wells built during the different dynasties. During excavations at this site, many valuable artefacts were found. Over 100 pottery jars were unearthed from the wells constructed by the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-20 BCE).

(Left) Well of Eastern Han Dynasty 25-220 BC (Right) Well of Qing Dynasty 1644 – 1911

Towards the end of 2004, hundreds of inscribed wooden slips were excavated from the wells built during the Nanyue Kingdom. These are the very first of such artefacts ever discovered in the region that provide great value for academic research.

There is no admission fee to visit the museum but visitors must get tickets at the main entrance by showing personal ID cards or, in the case of foreigners, by showing passports.

2. Auckland War Memorial Museum in Auckland

The Auckland Domain is Auckland’s oldest park and it is located just outside Auckland’s CBD. This spacious 75 hectares park is also one of the largest parks in the city and it has been developed around the cone of the extinct Pukekawa volcano. Sitting proudly atop it is the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Auckland War Memorial Museum

The museum is housed in a large neo-classical styled building and is considered as one of the finest heritage buildings. It was opened in 1929 to commemorate the loss of 18,166 New Zealanders who died in the First World War. Today, AWMM is one of the top tourist attractions. The museum is divided into 3 levels:

Ground Level – This level examines the diversity of Maori and Pacific Island cultures. It also talks about the movement of people from South East Asia to the islands in “Near Oceania” 5,000 years ago, then progressing further to the distant island groups in “Remote Oceania” such as New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa between 3,500 – 3,000 years ago. By then, these people were known as the Lapita people, the immediate ancestors of the Polynesians. Then after “The Long Pause”, a period of over 1,000 years, they started sailing again after the development of larger ocean-going canoes reaching as far North as the Hawaiian islands and as far South as Aotearoa New Zealand 800 years ago. It was believed that the Polynesians have sailed as far as South America and brought back kumara and gourd.

Movement of people from SEA to the Pacific Islands and New Zealand

Level One – Talks about the Natural History of New Zealand, from geological origins to its ancient flora and fauna. The Moa was the tallest bird known and the female grew as tall as 3 metres, measured in an upright standing position. This level also highlights the uniqueness of many New Zealand birds, which are flightless, large, dull or dark in colour and slow breeders. Of course, there is mention of the Kiwi, national pride of New Zealand.

The Moa

Level Two – This gallery is named Scars on the Heart. It is a war memorial centered mainly on the First and Second World Wars. There is also a section that talks about Kiwis being called into action in Asia, namely in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam.

The first New Zealanders that fought in Asia were based at the Changi Air Base in Singapore from 1949 to 1951, during the time of the Malayan Emergency, and they remained in the country until 1989. Their engagement grew larger during the time of the Confrontation over Borneo in 1964. In the 1960’s, pressured by the American government, New Zealand committed resources to the Vietnam War.

We were again given the spotlight, this time on the stained glass ceiling above the main foyer, which depicts the Coat of Arms of all British Dominions and Colonies during the First World War. The Coat of Arms of Malaya and Straits Settlements are proudly displayed on this glass ceiling.

Coat of Arms of Malaya and Straits Settlements on glass ceiling (extreme left and second left)

A portrait of Sir Edmund Hillary, who was born in Auckland, is also on display. On 29 May 1953, Sir Edmund and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, became the first climbers to reach the peak of Mount Everest.

The general admission fee to this museum is NZ $25.00 and the highlights guided tour is an additional NZ $15.00.

3. Navy Museum in Devonport

Still in Auckland, I also visited the Navy Museum in the village of Devonport. Here, visitors can learn about New Zealand’s contribution at sea in the major conflicts of the 20th century and as well as during peace-time. Again, the Malayan Emergency and Confrontation are highlighted. The museum is open seven days a week, 10.00 am to 5.00 pm and admission is free.

Malaysian Medals awarded to British Commonwealth personnels who served during the Malayan Emergency and Confrontation

Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions

The exhibition at the Islamic Arts Museum, Malaysia (IAMM) titled ‘Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions in Islamic Medical Manuscripts’ has been extended until end of January this year. If you were planning a visit to IAMM, this month would be a good time to go.

‘Tibb’ is the Arabic word for medicine and this exhibition displays IAMM’s collections of manuscripts and objects related to the science of medicine in the Islamic world. The collections are from across the Islamic world and cover a number of areas including prophetic medicine, pharmacy and dietetics, bimaristan (hospital), anatomy, Malay medicine, and traditional medicine.

Knowledge of healing from around the Malay Archipelago is encapsulated in a number Kitab Tibb Melayu, the first of which was written in 1638 CE by Sheik Nuruddin al-Raniri, an ulama in the Aceh Sultanate. IAMM has a number of Kitab Tibb in its collection; samples from a few pieces are shown below.

A 19th century Kitab Tibb Melayu from the Malay Peninsula written in Jawi script. This manuscript is dedicated to the tropical disease puru (yaw), a disease that infects the skin, bones, and joints leaving scars and deformities. It was widespread in the Malay Archipelago and this manuscript provides information on its development, symptoms, and treatment.

The 2-page spread in the photograph provide illustrations of the human body labelled with the various types of puru at the different locations on the body. The manuscript also provides illustrations on the shapes of pustule clusters. For example, the keri getah (sickle used in cutting rubber trees) shaped cluster appears between 1-7 days while the buaya laut (sea crocodile) shaped cluster would indicate the person has been infected for 15 days.
This Kitab Tibb is written on the leaves of the nipa palm. As can be seen in the photograph, the leaves are stitched together. The page on the left is the colophon page, which attributes the authorship of the book to Haji Abdullah bin Wan who completed the work in May 1936 CE. The treatise describes herbal remedies for a large number of common maladies from sore throat to snake bites and to tuberculosis. Some treatments prescribed for new mothers continue to be practised today, for example bertangas, a herbal steam bath. The herbs used in the remedies were easily obtained locally.
This medical treatise from the Malay Peninsula (19th century CE) is a training guide on becoming a bomoh (medicine man). It includes knowledge on obtaining assistance from the Rijal al-Ghaib (invisible beings), traditional healing ceremonies, and predicting the patient’s future well-being though calculations using the Lawh al-Hayat (Board of Life) and Lawh al-Mamat (Board of Death). It also includes treatment for various diseases.

The page in the photograph contains an illustration of the front (right) and back (left) of a human body. Puru (yaw) clusters are marked on the right image while the puru names are labelled on the left image. The puru on the right foot is named Gajah Mata (Elephant Eye), the right knee Anjing Basah (Wet Dog), and right shoulder is Batu Tengah Laut (Stone in Middle of Ocean). The inclusion of this page shows the prevalence of this disease and the effort spent in documenting it.
A Kitab Tibb from Patani, dated to either 1786 CE or 1883 CE. It is written on 12 pieces of wood tied together with white thread. This medical treatise describes remedies for a number of skin diseases, vascular diseases, and diabetes. The remedies make use of plants, especially their leaves and roots. Cautionary advice to stop taking the medication if headaches occur is included. Dietary advice is also given – for example a diabetic patient is advised not be consume certain types of meat and seafood.
A Kitab Ramalan (Book on Divination) from the Malay Peninsula dated to the 19th century CE. It describes a number of different divination methods to determine the auspicious and inauspicious start dates for a wide range of activities, for example the right time to prepare medicine, build a house, make a boat, and travel.

The left page in the photograph is a guideline for building houses. The right page has an illustration of the Naga Hari (Daily Rotating Naga). This serpent moves across the cardinal directions (N, S, E, W) on different days. Another serpent (not shown in the photograph) known as the Naga Tahun (Yearly Rotating Naga) moves across the cardinal directions every three months.

Reference

Harun Mat Piah (2018) ‘The Malay Knowledge of Healing’, in Lucien de Guise (editor) Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions in Islamic Medical Manuscripts, Kuala Lumpur: IAMM.

‘Amek Gambar’ Exhibition

@ Peranakan Museum, Singapore

by Lim Ee Lin

After a lovely tour of the permanent galleries by volunteer docent Marjon de Winter and visiting the various other parts of the museum, I just had enough time for a whirlwind walk through the Amek Gambar exhibition. According to the write up, it “presents over a century of photographs, tracing the emergence, adoption and evolution of photography in Southeast Asia.”

I was fortunate enough to catch the tail end of a private, informal tour and this experience truly drove home the point that museum docents play an important role in helping visitors on their journey of discovery. For me, having the dots connected, deepened my appreciation of the images on display and the insight they afforded into the world of the Peranakans. More so, when the guide has first-hand knowledge on the subjects of the photographs and shares a bit a local gossip here and there!

The photographs range from the earliest photo of Singapore to crowd sourced digital images – capturing people, places and events to tell a story of the scene captured. A majority of photographs were donated by Mr and Mrs Lee Kip Lee. The tools of the trade – cameras, negatives, photo albums – are also given prominence. Visitors are given the opportunity to see the photographs as they would have been kept, used or displayed in their time – framed for hanging or displayed on table tops, in albums, within official documents as well as with their negatives, transparencies or slides.

Mr. Lee Kip Lee

Camera wall

Walking through the exhibition, you can also see the evolution from sepia to black and white; from colour prints to colour painted photographs.  The change in photography techniques is paralleled by the variety of ways the Peranakans were captured by Western and Asian photographers as well as how they chose to depict/capture themselves.

With the portraits, you get to see the poses evolve from the formal pose to the more casual; locations shift from the studio to a formal setting in the subject’s home and later to a more casual outdoor setting. In some of the early photos, the costumes range from formal Peranakan wear to western costume to fashion of the day.

Oei Tiong Nam

Herbert Lim

The use of camera “tricks” or creative development of the print from more than one negative appeared to be popular innovations. I rather enjoyed these photos that were in the exhibition. The gentleman in the photograph below, taken in Java in the 1930s, decided to portray himself in 3 poses.

A baba in three poses

The following photo that was taken in Ipoh in the 1920s features a woman in both traditional women’s wear as well as in the male colonial costume complete with cane and pith helmet! What were they trying to portray of themselves?

Same woman, in two different poses

It appears cross dressing does not seem to be an issue with the Peranakans. The guide mentioned that these pictures were mainly for the promotion of a theatre show but who knows if they also are a manifestion of the baba’s interest in cross dressing! The photo of the baba in a kebaya shows him in impeccable form – reminding me of my grandmother who always said that it is important to ensure that one must always be properly turned out and present one’s best angle in pictures.

Baba in heels

Baba in a sarong kebaya

Given a chance, I would revisit Amek Gambar and spend more time going through the photos. They presented a people and culture that were familiar to me yet offered a refreshing at look the Peranakans.

Amek Gambar – Taking Pictures: Peranakans and Photography runs until 3 February 2019.

A Visit to the National Museum of Singapore

by Ching Yook Ling and Mariko Maruyama

After a chatty and delicious lunch at Equilibrium Restaurant Capitol Plaza, a group of us museum volunteers made our way in the rain to the National Museum of Singapore. The gloomy weather could not dampen our excitement of the special tour organized for us, courtesy of the Friends of Museums. After being warmly greeted by two volunteer guides we were split into two groups; group was led by Sally McHale and she proceeded to guide us to the Singapore History Gallery at Level 1. This gallery narrated the development of our neighbouring country through 4 distinct eras: Singapura, Crown Colony, Shonan-to, and Post-War Singapore including the struggles in the road to self-government and independence, challenges of the future and the successful development of the country.

The Building

Before we entered the gallery, Sally, our guide, gave us a brief account of the building. Opened in 1887, the National Museum of Singapore, originally known as the Raffle’s Library and Museum, is the nation’s oldest museum and it celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2017.

Singapura (1299-1818)

First, we stood in front of a huge digital map the original of which was compiled by a Flemish cartographer, Abraham Ortelius, in 1570. Singapore was already on this map and known as “the land below the winds”. It was strategically located on the trade routes and was part of the Maritime Silk Road from before the British colonisers. Ships from China sailed here, traded and returned home blown by the monsoon winds. Right on cue, the image and sound effect of the seasonal monsoons came on to highlight the significance of the trade winds that were so vital for bringing the merchants to trade in the region.

It is believed the island was already a substantially inhabited trading post even earlier than the 16th century as evidenced by the 3 metres wide and 3 metres high Singapore Stone. This is part of a sandstone boulder, dated between the 10th and 14th centuries, which once stood at the mouth of the Singapore River, near where the present day Fullerton and Merlion are located. Inscription on the boulder is written in Kawi script with some Sanskrit words but it has never been fully deciphered. Even Sir Stamford Raffles made rubbings of the inscription to decode its meaning but to no avail!

The earliest written record said Singapore was called Tamasik or Temasek in the late 14th century before it was called Singapura (City of the Lion in Sanskrit). Tales from Sejarah Melayu told of the first ruler Sang Nila Utama who landed on shores white as a sheet of cloth, spotted a strange lion-like animal, took it as an auspicious sign and named the island Singapura. Exhibits of Chinese coins and fishing hooks placed on the white sands of the 14th century (dug out from the Padang in front of the National Gallery where the first settlement was believed to be) brought to life the legend of Sang Nila Utama stepping on the fine white sand.

Five kings ruled here for 100 years and the last king, Iskandar Shah, fled from Singapura to Melaka and founded the Kingdom of Melaka. Exhibits uncovered on the forbidden hills where royalties resided included gold armlet and earrings, uncovered during the building of a reservoir in the 1920s. On the clasp of the amulet is the head of Kala, a protective deity. Alas, it did not offer much protection to the last king of Singapura as Iskandar Shah had to flee the island. Other trading exhibits displayed show that even after the disappearance of the royal families, trades still flourished along the Singapore River with the existence of Temenggong of Johor Sultanate.

Crown Colony (1819-1941)

Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, was already familiar with this region before he arrived in Singapore in 1819 through his previous postings to Penang and Java. He signed a treaty with his handpicked Sultan of Johor to allow the British East India Company to establish a trade base here and, subsequently, Major William Farquhar opened the port to all nations free of duty thus making the island a springboard to be developed by 1850 into the centre of trade in South East Asia. We were also briefed on how Raffles managed to eliminate the Dutch influence from Singapore and helped to form the new Johor Sultanate in 1819. The first immigrants arrived in Singapore in 1850’s landing near today’s Lau Pa Sat Food Court (we dined there!), where many temples and mosques were built next to each other, giving diversity to the country’s culture. Many immigrants of various ethnicities (the Chinese, Indians and Malays) arrived here particularly after Singapore became a Crown Colony in 1867. Schools, churches and residential areas were built and segregated in accordance with the Jackson Plan promulgated by Raffles to bring order to the city of Singapore. Much of the Jackson Plan still exists today.


The population grew from 1,000 in the 1820’s to 60,000 in the 1850’s. The ratio of men to women was 14 to 1. Most men came alone, resulting in marriage with local women. One community arising from the interracial marriage was the Peranakan. From India, many Sepoy soldiers came in as the workforce of the British government and from 1826 onwards when it became the Straits Settlement, even convicts from the jails of Calcutta were brought in. Today Singapore’s population is composed of 70% Chinese, 15% Indians, and 15% Malays.

Stopping in front of a painting of Abu Bakar, the descendent of Temenggong–derived Sultan of Johor who made his fortune from rubber products, we were told of his interesting life. In England he was known as Albert Baker and was even a good friend of Queen Victoria!

During the 1860’s, huge changes took place with the opening of the Suez Canal and the appearance of steam ships which docked in Singapore. Changes included the increase in the number of Chinese opium addicts who sought temporary comfort to escape from daily hardships and backbreaking jobs. Even newspapers warned and illustrated how even industrious men fell victims to opium addiction. The British government was appealed to make the opium trade illegal, but to no avail, as it was the major source of income for them. It was not until the Japanese occupation that opium was outlawed completely.

Education also became a forefront of the country’s development. Locals began to influence the social and economic development of the country. A major benefactor of education was Tan Kah Kee, a billionaire who made his fortunes from rubber and pineapple trading. Eunos Abdullah, one of the few Malays educated at the Raffles Institution and the only Malay representative on the Straits Settlements Legislative Council, was an editor of Utusan Melayu, an influential Malay Paper.

A sense of nationalism was beginning to rise in the 1920s/30’s.The Malays started to question the right of the British rule as did the Chinese. The “Singapore Mutiny” led by Bengali-Muslim regiments showed that cracks were beginning to appear in the British Administration. The all-Muslim unit feared being sent to fight against their fellow Muslim Turks during World War I. 39 mutineers were executed in public, watched by 15,000 residents. However no one knew that an even worse “winter was coming”.

Shonan-to (“Island of the Light of the South” 1942-945)

In December 1941, Singapore was bombed by the Japanese and that was the start of World War II in Asia Pacific. After landing on the Peninsular of Malaya on 8th December 1941, they came down to Singapore by bicycles and defeated the British capturing Singapore and the Peninsular within 70 days. The British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill called the stunning defeat “the biggest calamity the British Empire has ever seen”. Japan is a country with scarce important resources such as oil, gold and coal, all of which however were abundant in Malaysia and Indonesia. The main purpose of their invasion was to take over the huge British naval base in Singapore and get access to these natural resources.

The chart comparing the might of the Japanese armed forces and artillery and that of the British brought home how well prepared and equipped the Japanese were. In terms of army planes, tank regiments and soldiers, the British were outnumbered completely. The pride of the British navy battle ships, the Prince of Wales and the Repulse, were sunk at early stage of the war. The British resources were stretched due to the war in Europe. Airplanes were obsolete and not suitable to tropical conditions. Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival was forced to surrender in February 1942 faced with the fact that 1 million people, soldiers and civilians were crammed in the heart of the island with the Japanese having taken control of the water and food supply.

After capturing the island, the Japanese immediately started the Sook Ching (Cleansing) Massacre. Chinese aged between 18-50 suspected of being involved in anti-Japanese activities, boycotting Japanese goods, sabotaging Japanese companies and sending money to the Chinese in China to support their fight against the Japanese were all screened. Once they were identified to be involved, confirmed or otherwise, they were sent to remote areas such as Changi Beach where they were never seen again. It was poignant seeing one of the blue doors of Changi prison behind where soldiers were held, rail man’s whistle, watches, doctor’s stethoscope, eye glasses, pens of the victims of Sook Ching which were uncovered during the 1960s when there were lots of building works in the city outskirts. The belongings suggested women were victims as well as men. The Japanese admitted to 5,000 deaths but excavations suggest 25,000 victims.

Post-war Singapore (1946-Present)

The British returned in 1945 after the war. The 1940’s and the early 1950’s were tough days because of shortage of food, necessities, jobs, schools, etc. There were also natural disasters such as floods. Many were left homeless. Trade unions were formed and riots occurred all of which were threats to the British government. To deal with these problems, David Marshall, the first Chief Minister and a lawyer, sought for more freedom and subsequently self-government for the people of Singapore. Although his goal was not successful in early stages, Singapore gradually attained full self-government, which was finally granted in 1958. In the 1959 election, the Peoples’ Action Party led by Lee Kuan Yew won the polls in a landslide victory and he became the first prime minister. In 1963, Singapore joined Malaysia to form the Federation of Malaysia. However, the merger was an uneasy one. We watched a video of an emotional Lee in tears when Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia in 1965 due to the conflict of policies adopted by two countries. Singapore became independent on 9 August of the same year, now celebrated as National Day.

Many things such as new bank notes, national anthem and national service had to be created for the new nation to establish the identity of the Singaporeans. Economic and educational plans were also implemented, from establishing the Jurong Industrial Estate where multinational companies could invest in, to sending Singaporeans abroad for higher education. Our attention was drawn to an old Setron television set which stood as a symbol of success in transforming old industries to modern ones. The factory manufacturing the TV set was originally processing coffee beans from Indonesia. Supply was cut short due to Indonesia’s “unhappiness” with Singapore joining the Federation, thus forcing the factory to take a gamble to switch to manufacturing of electrical goods. An impressive feat was the social welfare systems such as house ownership scheme by the Housing Development Board, which built 10,000 units for the population within 5 years and improvement of infrastructures. Today Singapore is known as the City in a Garden with strong green policies of planting trees within specified distances contributing to the creation of images of a green city. Assisted by many capable men, Lee brought great success to the Singapore we see today.

We expressed our sincere gratitude to the two guides after the one and a half hour tour, which ended all too soon. The visit to the museum indeed gave us an insight to our neighbour country, Singapore.

References:

National Museum of Singapore Guide

The Encyclopedia of Malaysia, Vol 16, The Rulers of Malaysia

もっと知りたいシンガポールー弘文社 History of Singapore https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Singapore

Visit to Asian Civilisations Museum – Part 3

Faith and Belief (Level 2)

by Hani Kamal

Level 2 has five galleries: Ancient Religion housed in two separate areas, Christian Art Gallery, Scholar Gallery, Islamic Art Gallery and Ancestors & Rituals Gallery. Both the Islamic Art and Ancestors & Rituals Galleries are under renovation, opening in December and early 2019 respectively.  In addition, there are two galleries on Level 2 for event space and as a special exhibition gallery.

The Ancient Religion Galleries hold a large collection of Hindu and Buddhist sculptures from Asia.  The displays found are from the second century up until the early twentieth century.  It also features art objects from Jainism, the third great religion of India.

ACM caption : Head of bodhisattva (Gandhara, around 4th century , Terracotta) The face and curly hair show the powerful influence of the West on the development of Buddhist art. Ancient Greece and Rome played a significant role in the development of Gandhara (in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan). Bodhisattvas wear jewellery, and have beards and moustaches, which distinguishes them from figures of the Buddha. The jewellery seen here is typical of the Gandhara period. A circular indent on his forehead, called an urna, is a mark of nobility and illumination: it would originally have been inlaid with a precious stone. The sculpture was modelled with wet clay that was then fired. This technique allowed deep indentations and free forms, as evident in the beard and hair. Terracotta (literally, baked clay) allowed large statues to be assembled from several pieces.

Hinduism and Buddhism from India spread widely outside India including to Southeast Asia. The development of Hinduism and Buddhism then evolved combining localized features and animistic beliefs.  The concepts of the original religions took many forms. – some human, some divine with supernatural powers and some abstract. By the 7th century, the form of the images moved away from those found in India as sculptors started reflecting local characteristics. Hinduism and Buddhism were widely practiced at the royal courts. Kingships even took the form of Vishnu, adding merits to their power.  The Srivijayan era in the 7th century saw beautiful objects created depicting kings and their gods.  At the height of the Majapahit Empire, Java (13-15th century) developed its own traditions in art, merging two religions into one.

ACM caption: Buddha teaching (Gandhara, 3rd or 4th century, Schist) The hand gesture signifies the turning of the wheel of Buddhist law, and therefore indicates the Buddha teaching.The halo behind his head denotes his spirituality. Two small donor figures below stand in an attitude of adoration. Remnants of pigment indicate that the stone was originally painted. The drapery, strong muscular form, and facial features show influence from Western classical styles. But his yogic pose and eyes downcast in contemplation show the deep spirituality of the Buddhist religion.

Buddhism became popular between the 8th to 15th century in Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  This influence lasts until today.

ACM caption : Walking Buddha ( Thailand Sukhothai, 15th or 16th century, Bronze) This image, full of fluidity and movement, was an innovation of the Sukhothai period. The dynamic posture, curvaceous arms with tapering fingers, and flowing hemline of the robe accentuate the sense of movement. He has a flamed top-knot (cintamani) and raises one hand in abhaya mudra (gestures of fearlessness). The sculpture embodies ideal features attributed to the Buddha – lotus petal-shaped eyelids, parrot beak nose, chin in the shape of the mango seed, and so on. This image probably refers to Buddha ‘s return from Tavatimsa Heaven, when he preached to his mother. It could represent the Buddha’s walking meditation in the garden after his enlightenment.

In China, Buddhism grew out of Indian beliefs and was practised alongside Confucius and Taoism.  Here, the famous male Avalokitesvara was personified in the form of Goddess of Mercy or Guan Yin, and became a female.  The virtue of a compassionate Guan Yin was more suited to a female than a male.

ACM caption: Shi Hou Guanyin China , 14th or 15th century Bronze. Acquired with funds from the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple.

The Christian Art Gallery features collections of art from China, Japan, Middle East, Southeast Asia and other countries.  Christianity was introduced by Catholic missionaries from Portugal and Spain, and later Dutch Protestants.  The art objects took a different form merging western ideologies with Asian techniques and materials.

ACM caption: Cross with the figure of Amitabha Nagoya, Japan, 1945-50 Iron –copper alloy

ACM caption: Virgin and Child Timor-Leste, 19th century Wood

The Scholars Gallery showcases Chinese beliefs and philosophy, strongly depicting Confucius teachings and Taoism practiced by scholastic officials. Here are collections of paintings, furniture and objects used by Chinese scholars depicting their lifestyles and their education.

ACM Caption: Ritual Food Vessel. This vessel was used to hold food offerings in ceremonies to honour ancestors and gods. An inscription identifies it as property of the duke of Rui, a region in present-day Shaanxi province. The circular bowl rising above a square platform recalls the symbols of heaven and earth in Chinese cosmology

For Part 1 of the ACM visit write-up, please see ‘Worth Visiting Again and Again’ 

For Part 2 of the ACM visit write-up, please see ‘Tang Shipwreck Gallery’

Visit to Asian Civilisations Museum – Part 2

Tang Shipwreck Gallery

by Saida Dasser

This Gallery, on the First Level of ACM (Asian Civilisations Museum), tells the story of trade through the Tang shipwreck. The story begins in the 9th century when it was already a part of an earlier era of globalization. So let’s learn more about this shipwreck.

The Tang Shipwreck, discovered off Belitung Island in Indonesia in 1998 has revolutionized the way we see the world in the 9th century. It provides an early evidence for the bulk trade between China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East during that period.

Trade was over land and sea, linking diverse parts of Asia. As ships could carry a much greater load than camels could, the maritime route from East Asia through Southeast Asia to South and West Asia became more important, with the Gulf serving as an important hub.

The sea trade made mass exports of heavy, fragile Chinese ceramics possible for the first time.

The ninth-century was dominated by two great powers: The Arab Abbasid (750 -1258) (covering Iran, Iraq, and surrounding regions) and the Chinese Tang (618–907) dynasties.

The ship

The ship itself was Arab by construction – an Arab dhow.  It consisted of wooden planks sewn together with rope. The construction technique indicated that the ship may have been built on the Arabian Peninsula, in a Gulf port, or perhaps on the coast of Oman, where similar vessels were still being built in the twentieth century. It had sailed all the way from the Middle East to China and was on its way home when it sank in the Java Sea.

What  was traded ?

Glass was brought from the Middle East, cotton from India, spices and wood from Southeast Asia, and ceramics and silk from China.

In the shipwreck, more than 60,000 glazed bowls, ewers, and other ceramic items were discovered – most from Changsha, as well as luxury objects made of gold and silver, bronze mirrors and ordinary objects belonging to the crew. Its contents were protected from erosion as they were packed in jars.

So let’s see some of these wares:

Green-Splashed Ware

The ewer below was made in China, probably in the Gongxian kilns, around the 830s. It is, perhaps, the grandest ceramic piece found in the Tang Shipwreck. The lozenge with flowers is a design developed in the Abbasid Empire. Chinese artists adopted the pattern, probably to export to Middle East customers. The overall form of the ewer is based on objects made in metal, as is evident from the upturned rim of the base, and the thinness of the handle.

Ewer – Stoneware, height 104 cm

Changsha Ware

The vast majority of the Tang ship’s ceramic wares came from the kilns of Changsha, in the central southern province of Hunan: 55,000 Changsha bowls and 2,500 other wares.

These wares seem to have been popular in markets overseas as well as in China itself. The motifs were painted in brown, green, using iron and copper oxide based pigments. One of the bowls had an inscription mentioning a summer’s day in 826. Drinking tea was very popular during the Tang dynasty and, instead of cups, these bowls were used to drink tea.

Changsha wares

Blue-and-White Plates

Three white dishes with a blue design were found in the shipwreck. These are among the earliest known Chinese blue-and-white ware. The cobalt used was most likely an import from Arabia-Persia and the motifs – one or two lozenges surrounded by foliage – were of Abbasid design.

left: made in China; right: made in Basra (Iraq)

Bronze Mirrors

Thirty-nine Chinese bronze mirrors, designed for trade, were found in the shipwreck. Many of them had blackened but were originally silvery. One side was polished smooth to provide a reflective surface, the other side was decorated with different motifs, such as flowers or auspicious animals.

An interesting piece among the mirrors was one that was almost a thousand years old by the time the ship sailed; it dates from the Han era (206 BCE – 220 CE). Another  antique piece dates from the Six Dynasties period (220–589 CE).

Bronze mirror

For Part 1 of the ACM visit write-up, please see ‘Worth Visiting Again and Again’ 

For Part 3, please see ‘Faith and Belief’

Visit to Asian Civilisations Museum – Part 1

Worth Visiting Again and Again

by Diana Daymond

Many of us have already visited ACM once, twice, a half dozen times. NO MATTER!!!. It’s time to head down to Singapore to enjoy the newly renovated treasure trove whose freshly curated galleries are bursting with artifacts you probably have not seen before.  Virtually all of ACM’s galleries tell stories shared by Malaysia and are sure to inspire our guiding.

This is the oldest part of Empress Place, the building housing ACM. It is its middle section, built between 1864-67. The building was constructed to house offices of the British Colonial Government and, hence, the building was simply known then as “Government Offices”.

In 2014 ACM announced an ambitious plan to build a modern new wing, develop a light filled entrance upon the Singapore River and create larger spaces where stories about artifacts and culture can flow into one another like the rivers and trade routes of South East Asia.  These large and lovely new galleries opened in 2017.

For museum docents, the curatorial ambitions of the new spaces are even more exciting.  In 2014 the initial vision was explained by Director Alan Chong:

“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to present Asian art and culture in an interesting, new way. We thought it would be more interesting to reflect Singapore’s multiculturalism by looking at how these cultures connected, not only in the great port cities of Asia, but also how they interacted and blended, and communicated with each other, engaging in a cultural dialogue over thousands of year.” 1

The latest director Kennie Ting further developed the integrated approach and explained that the Museum is sifting from an ethnographic focus to one that pays more attention to art.

“What this means is not that we forget the cultural and historical significance of each object… but in the curation of the pieces here, we are also now focusing on the aesthetics, the elements of craftsmanship, design and tradition. In presenting only masterpieces from Asia, we say that in Asia, we have a very long tradition of excellent innovation and craftsmanship. We should be extremely proud of this heritage we have, particularly here in South-east Asia.”2

ACM Volunteer, Dr. Vidya Schalk, describing an ewer found on the Belitung Shipwreck, a shipwreck discovered off the coast of Belitung island laden with Tang Dynasty ceramics.

The practical realization of these curatorial visions are immediately apparent on each floor which are filled with artifacts and stories shared with Malaysia. The ground level flows through with the history and culture of South East Asian trade. The second floor shows how systems of faith and belief spread across South East Asia, with resulting cultural and aesthetic adaptions of religious art. In 2019 the third level will open focusing on the textile traditions of South East Asia, another shared focus.  Subsequent write ups will share details of the treasures to be viewed.

Muzium Negara is filled with far more artifacts and displays than can be shared in one tour. It can be energizing to re think your route through the museum using new threads of emphasis.  A few ideas: How might you structure a tour based on the ACM focus of aesthetics?  Trade focus?  Craftsmanship? Cultural and or religious adaption? Migrations of peoples?

If you are looking for some inspiration to change your tour, every corner of The Asian Civilizations Museum should provide enlightenment. The guides who visited just last month are already out of date. Since our tour the Islamic Galleries have opened and feature a magnificent Hornbill sculpture from Sarawak that the Docents of Muzium Negara are sure to appreciate.

1https://www.todayonline.com/entertainment/arts/asian-civilisations-museum-undergo-extensive-renovations April 18, 2014:

2The Straits Times: November 27, 2018: Asian Civilisations Museum to open 3 new galleries for Christian Art, Islamic Art, and Ancestors and Rituals

At the Ancient Religions Gallery on Level 2

For Part 2, please see ‘Tang Shipwreck Gallery’

For Part 3, please see ‘Faith and Belief’