Muzings 2021

Our second issue of Muzings has been published! Print copies will be made available to all volunteers shortly; in the meantime, you can download a copy or read online. Muzings is our annual magazine containing short articles related to history, heritage and culture. The inaugural issue was published in 2020; all issues can be found here.

For this issue, our primary focus is on the Seas. In Muzings 2021, you will navigate Sundaland and peek behind Wallace’s Line. You meet the pirates cruising in the area and learn why the Law of the Sea is important in settling territorial disputes. The deep unknown always attracts legends, myths and fables; those found in Muzings 2021 will leave you enthralled. Be fascinated at how the Dutch, instead of rounding the Cape of Good Hope and sailing to India like the Portuguese, braved the Roaring Forties to reach the Sunda Straits. Two charming towns, Beruas and Fraser’s Hill, wait to be explored. Understand two symbols of Malay hospitality – rosewater sprinklers and tepak sirih. Delve into Portuguese shenanigans outside Melaka, a Terengganu Al-Quran, a Malay medicinal manuscript, ancient scripts and the adat perpatih of the Minangkabau. What is the connection between the Swatow bowl exhibited in Gallery B and the maritime Sultanate of Aceh and why are there Persian ceramics at Bujang Valley? These and many other interesting revelations await you in Muzings 2021.

Tales from the Malay Annals

We have a fabulous addition to our MV Booklet collection – a retelling of ten stories from the Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) by Alvin Chua. Alvin’s handpicked stories are a joy to read, made more so by the beautiful illustrations done by the talented Anissa Razali.

Three of these stories were previously published on this blog. You can now follow the link to read all the stories in Tales from the Malay Annals.

We Have Moved

footstepsWe apologise for the delay in getting back on our feet. Please do bookmark this site as the new MV website.

For those of you who have registered to receive an email alert when new posts are published, you will need to re-register to get this alert. Please click the ‘Folllow’ button on the right hand side and then key in your email address.

For those of you who have shared your favourite posts onto Facebook, the links will no longer work and you will have to re-share the posts.

Sorry again for all this inconvenience.

Gallery D – Reopened

by Maganjeet Kaur

The newly refurbished Galley D looks brighter, roomier and less cluttered begging the assumption that many artefacts/exhibits have been removed from the gallery. But on closer inspection, quite a few exhibits have actually been added with the only obvious exclusion being the Mah Meri carving of “Spirit of Tiger in Chains”. This has been achieved through clever use of multi-media. For example, the display board showing information on the Prime Ministers of Malaysia has been removed and this information is now available on an interactive touch screen display.

Education in MalaysiaLast week, on Tue, 17 Sep and on Sat, 21 Sep, Ms. Kiew from Muzium Negara took the Museum Volunteers on a tour of the gallery.  The first exhibit that greets the visitor is on early education in Malaysia and Kiew highlighted the salient points:

  • each community had its own education curriculum and conducted lessons in its own vernacular language.
  • The first English language school was the Penang Free School set up in 1819.
  • The first Malay school was a branch of the Penang Free School built in 1855.
  • The first Chinese school was built by the Christian missionary in Melaka in 1815.
  • Tamil vernacular schools were opened in the estates in the 1870s.

017Another new addition to the gallery is the diorama on ‘pondok’ education. This was traditional education within the Malay community where small huts were set up in peoples’ homes or in the home of the religious teacher called Tok Guru. The pondok education focused on Islamic religious teachings.  Education and especially the pondok education resulted in a spread of ideas on nationalism and this leads very well into the exhibit on the opposite wall titled “Social Consciousness and the Beginning of Nationalism”, which is not a new exhibit.  The exhibit on “Writing and Malay Consciousness” is also not new but has been revamped and now has its own little corner within a glass partition.

Exhibit on “Writing and Malay Consciousness” with an expanded section on sample newspaper writings.


The exhibit on Malayan Emergency, too, has a new look. Ms Kiew pointed out that the British used the term ’emergency’ rather than ‘war’ because their insurers, Lloyd’s, only covered damages during riots or civil wars and not international wars. The exhibit includes a diorama of a home guard next to barbed wires. One of the British response to the communists was forced relocation of Malayans into ‘New Villages’ which were under continuous guard and surrounded by barbed wire and the Home Guards played an important role in ensuring the security of these new settlements.

029This display shows the paraphernalia used during the first election that took place in 1955.

In 1956, the Chief Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, led a three week delegation to London to negotiate with the British on independence. The front page of 5 local newspapers reporting on the success of this mission is a new addition to the gallery.  The five newspapers are The Malay Mail (English daily featured on the left), The Straits Times (another English daily), Warta Negara (a Malay daily written in Jawi script), a Tamil daily (Tamil Nesan) and  a Chinese daily.

061This diorama has been added to the gallery and it shows the raising of the Malayan flag at midnight of 30 Aug 1957 at the field in front of the Selangor Club; the honour of which was given to En. Tahir Abdul Majid and witnessed by over 10,000 people. Ms. Kiew pointed out that Tunku Abdul Rahman shouted the word ‘Merdeka’ seven times. Although it is unclear why he shouted it seven times, speculations abound and Choo Sim recounted an anecdote which says that Tunku was delayed in reaching the field for seven minutes.

Ms Kiew also mentioned that the original Merdeka Table is most likely housed at the ‘Memorial Pengisytiharan Kemerdekaan’ building in Melaka.

Display boards have been added that discuss the formation of Malaysia including the Indonesian confrontation, the Philippine claim on Sabah and Singapore’s separation from Malaysia. On the recent (Feb 2013) Sulu insurgency in Sabah, Sherry added that the late Sulu King, Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, did not have any male heirs and the current claimants are descendants of his relatives. The insurgents only represent about 4% of the claimants of the late Sultan and their claim is only for the coastal areas of Sabah from Kimanis to Semporna. Sherry also quipped that the insurgents’ intention was not to rule Sabah but to get monetary compensation from the Malaysian government.  She noted that they previously had been given compensation for the coastal areas and for the islands around Sabah.


072The section on constitutional monarchy has been expanded and now includes a running video. The section also includes an exhibit of a Speaker’s Chair which is a gift from the Commons House of Parliament of the UK as a token of friendship when Malaysia joined the Commonwealth Association. Choo Sim noted that the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong is Tuanku Abdul Rahman and the first Prime Minister is Tunku Abdul Rahman, which was confusing as they were both in their respective positions during the same period. It is for this reason that ‘Putra’ was added to Tunku’s name and he was known as Abdul Rahman Putra. Valli noted that Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman is named after the first Agong and not the prime minister as many people mistakenly think.


The information boards on Jalur Gemilang, Bunga Raya, National Anthem, National Crest and Rukun Negara have been replaced by lamp like displays; one for each item.

The Tengkolok diRaja is now flanked by two documents – the Letter of Appointment of His Majesty, the 14th Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Oath of Office of His Majesty, the 14th Yang di-Pertuan Agong. These documents are new additions to the gallery and Ms Kiew noted that they are originals.

074The national and state flags are displayed on cube boxes and visitors can rotate these to read the information behind a flag. Choo Sim noted that when the flags are lined up during an official ceremony, there is a procedure in place and the flags are not randomly placed. The flag of the state with the ruling Yang di-Pertuan Agong is first in line followed by state flags according to the seniority of their Sultan; seniority defined by the length of time served by the Sultan in the position. Flags of states with no sultans are placed after states with sultans.

There is also a display board providing information on 10 public buildings which were built in the early period of independence and these are the Subang Airport, Angkasapuri, Muzium Negara, National Mosque, Parliament, Merdeka Stadium, Bank Negara, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, the Federal House and the General Hospital.

24 national icons have been identified and information on these are also placed on rotatable cube boxes. The picture below shows volunteers browsing through these.


Information boards highlight Malaysia’s international relations as well as UNESCO Heritage Sites in Malaysia and touch-screen kiosks provide further information on these.


The diorama on some of the festivals in Malaysia has been beautifully done and will attract a lot of interest from visitors.  The featured festivals are Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali and the Harvest Festivals of the Iban and Bidayuh in Sarawak as well as the Kadazan-Dusun in Sabah.

Equally arresting is the glass cabinet next to this diorama that depict the minority groups in Malaysia.  The depicted groups are the Citty, Orang Asli, Thai, Serani, Sikhs and Peranakan.



For volunteers who missed Ms. Kiew’s walkthrough of the gallery, she will be giving a lecture on Gallery D to the new trainees sometime in October (both Tues and Sat sessions). Volunteers are welcome to join these session.  Do look out for the dates in your calendar invites.

Remembering Kris

It was indeed a sad day when we heard that our fellow volunteer, Kris Kandiah, passed away after a viral infection brought on by a high diabetic condition.  Kris joined Museum Volunteers in Sept 2012 and graduated on 16 March 2013.  Stuart Wakefield, who was the secretary of MV in 2012, fondly remembers Kris:

Kris receiving his certificate during the graduation ceremony

“I was much saddened to hear of Kris’ sudden demise.  In common with all trainees, his name came up during the occasional progress reviews when he was identified as “the one who always wears a “1 Malaysia” badge”.  However, to me, he soon became known for more than his attire, as our paths crossed a number of times during the course of the training and subsequently.  I had first met Kris when I was in a hurry and he buttonholed me in the JMM Office to make absolutely sure that I had correctly registered his application to become a Volunteer Guide.  After that I spent more time with him and I soon became most pleased to listen to his firsthand and unbiased account of various post WWII events in Malaya.  There seemed to be a measure of mutual pleasure in our exchanges, whilst they also contributed significantly towards my understanding and they provided me with a number of new directions to consider.  I found Kris to be a gentle and unassuming man, and, without doubt, I shall retain fond memories of my short acquaintance with him.”

Kris was first admitted to Tawakal in April but the doctors could not identify the virus he had contracted.  His condition improved but he took a turn for the worse in June and passed away on the 26th.  He will be missed.

1 Year Birthday Celebration

The MV Book Club turned one last month (March) and we celebrated it by discussing IQ84 by Haruki Murakami.

IQ84 and 1 year celebration

This is a long novel divided into three parts with 1,318 pages but most of us managed to finish reading it before the meeting and came prepared with our opinions, prejudices and interpretations.

The discussion was led by Reiko who cleverly counteracted the various viewpoints with alternative opinions thus providing us with a perspective of the book that had more shades than what we envisioned in the first read.

Personally, I was disappointed with the book chiefly because the hype around it had raised my expectations.  Fully expecting to love the book, I started reading it with high hopes and I did enjoy the beginning but the story fizzled out in the end and so did my interest in Murakami.  I like books with a supernatural bent but will pick a Clive Barker over a Murakami.

Our birthday ‘buffet’ was made up of freshly baked madeleines, courtesy of Marie who liked the reference to Proust in IQ84 and Dutch cookies from Kokkie.  Add a card and candles from Lena and we were ready for our birthday song.  Ironically, the first book we read was Shantaram which is close to a 1,000 pages and we started our 2nd year with another long book.  Maybe we should make this our tradition thus reading only one long book a year.

We are reading two books this coming Thursday (18th April): “First They Killed My Father” by Loung Ung and “The Female Cell” by Rumaizah Abu Bakar, a fellow volunteer with MV.  I have read both books but will save my comments for the meeting.

French Language Week in Malaysia

18 – 24 March 2013

The Museum Volunteers has own program for the French Language Week which is currently on-going in Malaysia.

Every morning from Monday 18th to Thursday 21st March (between 9.00 am to 12.30 pFrench language weekm), schools children from all over Malaysia who are studying French will be participating in a special programme being organised by the French speaking volunteers of MV.  At least 250 school children are expected to participate in this programme.  The volunteers will focus on five artifacts and the history and stories behind these will be explained to the students. This year, the focus will be on Hang Tuah, Flor de la Mar, Perak Man, tin and rubber.  In addition, the French embassy team has prepared games for the children.  The entire programme will be carried out in French.

On Thursday night, there is a special program called “Nuit au Musée” that is “Night at the Museum”.  The Ambassadors of embassies who participate in this French Language Week are invited to the museum together with the french speaking community. Guests will arrive at 7.00 pm and they will be served with drinks and finger food.  The visitors will then be entertained with a Silat demonstration and are encouraged to participate in the demonstration.  They will then be invited into Gallery B of the museum to attend a talk titled “La découverte de l’esprit malais au travers du Keris”.  After the talk, which will be conducted in French, visitors  are welcome to discuss with the guides present on the link between different traditional values and some chosen artifacts.

During these four intense days new graduates, who just graduated on 16th March 2013,   will have the opportunity to share their new knowledge as well as meet and handle their first visitors.  It is a fun packed week ahead!

For more events during the French Language Week, please visit

Museum tours… in French

Museum Volunteers are in the news again.  This time NST (17 Feb 2013) published an article on guiding at Muzium Negara by French expatriates’ wives.  The article below can also be read at the NST site:

Museum tours… in French

French expatriate wives sign up as museum guides to satiate their fascination with local history and culture, writes Aneeta Sundararaj

(From left) Nathalie, Marie-Clarisse and Dany have their personal favourite exhibit at the National Museum.
(From left) Nathalie, Marie-Clarisse and Dany have their personal favourite exhibit at the National Museum.

LIKE most Malaysians, you’ve probably visited the National Museum twice in your life — as a child with your parents and as an adult with your children.

“I’ve heard many Malaysians say that,” says 60-year-old Dany Pico, a French-speaking volunteer at the museum.

While Dany leads the way to Gallery A, another volunteer, Marie-Clarisse Le Heron, 35, says: “When I first arrived, I thought there was no history in this country. I couldn’t see it. In Europe, you see it immediately. We have castles and buildings. In France, we have Versailles, of course. Here, when you get off the plane, buildings are new. Roads are new. Even the palace is new. Everything is new.”

The mother of two rolls her eyes and adds: “And everyone in Malaysia is interested in makan and shopping.”

According to 44-year-old Nathalie Moulin, another problem for French-speaking visitors is that many of the books on Malaysian history are in English. Reading in English can be painful for the French.

She says the scarcity of French books on Malaysian history is partly because the country was never a French colony. “We know more about Vietnam than we do about Malaysia,” she says.

Despite the challenges, all three expatriate wives were determined to find out something about local history. With time on their hands, they became members of a non-profit, non-political and non-religious group of volunteers at the museum.

Laurence Maille, who joins the group at the entrance of the first gallery, explains that volunteers come under the auspices of the Department Of Museums. They aim to promote public awareness of museums, thereby, building an understanding of the history and culture of the country.

“We undergo training, you know,” says Dany. After about six months, new “graduates” become volunteer guides at the museum. “If you look in Lonely Planet, you’ll see this service is listed there,” she adds.

For French-speaking families and visitors, this group of volunteers conducts free one-hour guided tours every Tuesday and Thursday, at 10am.
Relating to history

Once the tour of the museum is underway, it soon becomes obvious that each one’s favourite exhibit somehow relates to their personal histories. For instance, Nathalie, a former banker, says her favourite section is the spice trade, the emergence of Malacca as a leading entrepot and the commentary about the commercial value of spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric.

Having studied anthropology, it is no surprise that Marie-Clarisse has a penchant for the star of the museum, Perak Man. Believed to be more than 10,000 years old, this exhibit is the intact remains of a man, discovered in Perak. Dany explains: “I think he was an old man. Scientists have also discovered that he was crippled. Still, he was well looked after and that tells me that, even then, people cared for their elders.”

She hurries along and points to a jar that contains ash. “I love this,” she says. “Can you believe this is ash from a volcano?”

The volcano she speaks of is Toba in Sumatra, which last erupted some 70,000-75,000 years ago. The ash fell as far as the Lenggong Valley.

All four women are drawn to the Baba Nyonya exhibits and show enormous interest in the history of the Peranakan people. “I believe that the period of the Baba Nyonya was the highest point of expansion when everyone was open-minded,” says Laurence. “There was inter-marriage without religious restrictions. It was probably after the English arrived, when they needed to carry out a census, that the people were put into various groups.”

Another of Dany’s favourites is a bronze statue of Avalokitesvara. A National Heritage artefact, it weighs 63kg. “It was found in a tin mine in Perak,” she says. “People ask why it has so many hands. I used to say that it was because Avalokitesvara had so much work to do.”

Now, however, she understands that each hand represents a mudra, a gesture from Buddha. “I learnt this from one of the visitors. See the one with the hand pointing down?” That, she says, depicts Buddha seeking the grace of Mother Earth to bear witness to the truth of his words and the moment of his enlightenment.

Marie Clarisse adds: “Yes, I used to think that everyone wore the tengkolok. But, someone told me it’s worn maybe just at weddings.”

One practice that fascinates Dany is that some Malaysians still chew betelnut, which is why she loves the collection of betelnut boxes in the museum.

As the tour ends, Laurence points out two exhibits on agriculture which brings the tour a full circle to the locals’ passion for food — an enormous depiction of a farmer planting paddy and a gigantic coconut tree. Smiling, she says: “With rice and coconut, you can make a basic nasi lemak.”

Museum Volunteers – A welcome sight

The Star newspaper interviewed 4 museum volunteers guides and the interview was published as a center-spread on 4 Feb 2013.  This article is copied below.  You can also read the article at the following.

Museum Volunteers – A welcome sight

They come from different backgrounds and nationalities, but their love for history, culture and heritage brings them together for a good cause.

LAST year, the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur received over 500,000 visitors comprising Malaysians and tourists from all over the world.

With the constant stream of visitors, the presence of docents or volunteers who help out at the museum is a welcome sight.

These volunteers provide an hour’s guided tour for free in English, French, Japanese, Malay and Mandarin on selected days of the week, while tours in other languages are available on request.

Among the crowd, you can spot a volunteer from their black vest with the National Museum logo, guiding a tour or manning the front desk at the entrance of the museum.

The museum volunteers are made up of a group of Malaysians and expatriates from various countries. These history enthusiasts have been working relentlessly behind the scenes and in the front line to ensure that visitors enjoy their outing.

Stuart Wakefield, who has made Malaysia his temporary home, has been a museum volunteer for the past two years.
Stuart Wakefield, who has made Malaysia his temporary home, has been a museum volunteer for the past two years.

When retiree Stuart Wakefield arrived in Kuala Lumpur with his wife under the MM2H (Malaysia My Second Home) programme in 2010, he had plenty of time on his hands. Wakefield, who made a living managing contracts for the operation of helicopters, met an expat who volunteered at the National Museum.

 “She told me that the best thing she had done in Malaysia was to get involved as a museum volunteer, so I got involved, too!” says Wakefield, 69.

Wakefield, who hails from Tetbury in England, had lived in various cities around the world before he decided to settle down in Malaysia.

Asked if he had done volunteer work previously, he quips: “I’m not a serial volunteer, if that’s what you mean!”

Back home in England, Wakefield had served as a volunteer for several years, looking after children who were going to be sent to prison. His job was to ensure that these children, aged 16 and below, received fair treatment.

Wakefield, who serves as secretary and sits on the National Museum volunteers committee, is one of the few male volunteers.

“It is very interesting working with so many women.  If men led, it would be a very formal setting where it is all about rules. These women will disagree, then debate and without taking a vote, they seem to come to a consensus easily,” he points out.

Apart from guiding a tour once a month, Wakefield does just about everything: answer e-mail messages, handle visits from schoolchildren, and organise talks and training for volunteers, check captions (in English) for artifacts in the museum.

“The challenge lies in finding ways to get visitors interested and involved during a tour. It’s about understanding what the visitor wants and giving them something that matters,” Wakefield explains.

So, how does a tour begin?

“Before I start, I usually find out if there is a historian among the visitors. If there is, I will ask him or her to leave!” he says in jest. “Seriously, if I know there is a Malaysian among the visitors, I am kept on my toes as they are likely to know if I have gotten my facts wrong!”

Wakefield had the honour of leading a tour for the Fijian President in 2010.

“When I turned up that day, I had no idea that I was about to take the President of Fiji around the museum and it was amusing to see how flustered everyone at the museum was. I managed to engage the President during the 90-minute tour,” he recalls.

Wakefield is accustomed to working with heads of states and dignitaries, prior to his retirement. “They just want to be treated like normal people; you cannot afford to be over-awed.”

As a trainer, Wakefield basically provides volunteer trainees with tips gleaned from his experience.

“People are entitled to the best possible tour and we are here to enhance their experience. Whilst I do give a list of tips to the trainees, I often find that I break these rules!” he says with a laugh.

Each group that he leads requires a different type of tour and script. Wakefield fondly remembers a delegation of Danish students who were studying the export market and trade.

“I gave them a full tour of the history of trade and that provided them with a vital link of the countries some 3,000 years ago,” he says.

“Anyone who would like to come in as a volunteer needs to find out as much as possible what the commitment entails, and what they need to do. If leading a guided tour is not for you, you can always discuss with the committee and they can recommend something that you’ll enjoy doing,” he says.

Unfortunately for the museum, Wakefield will be leaving Malaysia soon to return to England to spend more time with his grandchildren.

“I will miss my role as a museum volunteer when I leave,” says Wakefield who has committed his two years in Malaysia to volunteering at the museum.

All abuzz over the past

ully involved: Museum volunteer Reiko Sato (left) does a lot of research to prepare for the guided tours that she gives visitors
Fully involved: Museum volunteer Reiko Sato (left) does a lot of research to prepare for the guided tours that she gives visitors

When Reiko Sato, 44, shows up as volunteer guide for Japanese tourists, she is always well received.

“Japanese tourists love the fact that a fellow native is leading the tour as they appreciate having a guide who speaks their language,” says Sato, in perfect English.

“Most of the Japanese tourists are amazed that the history of Malaysia goes back a long way and there is a connection between our two countries from as early as the 15th century,” says the homemaker and mother of two teenage girls.

Sato, who was born in Osaka, used to live in Johor Baru. In 2010, Sato and her husband – who works for a Japanese company in KL – returned to Malaysia for the second time.

Like Wakefield, Sato had a Japanese friend who was a museum volunteer; she was introduced to the group during a coffee session in June 2010.

“I’m fond of meeting and talking with people, and I’m interested in history, so becoming a museum volunteer really appealed to me,” says Sato.

According to Sato, some volunteers prefer a fixed script when they are guiding a tour, but she prefers to improvise along the way.

“I research on various topics and read books to keep improving. Also, it depends on the group of tourists, whether they are elderly, residents or couples with young kids. I customise the tour according to their interests,” Sato says.

Aside from meeting people, Sato says the nicest thing about volunteering is when visitors tell her that they found the tour interesting and informative.

“There are 26 Japanese volunteer guides. This year, we have 18 trainees so there will be a total of 44 members under the Japanese group,” says Sato.


Mariana Isa is an architect on weekdays and a museum volunteer on weekends.
Mariana Isa is an architect on weekdays and a museum volunteer on weekends.

“Volunteering is really good therapy for me!” says Mariana Isa, 32, who volunteers at the National Museum on Saturdays.

“There is so much negativity in the news. Leading a tour gives me a chance to say good things about my country. It’s my way of contributing to society. At the same time, it reminds me about the good things that we have,” says Mariana, an architect.

“Since young I’ve always wanted to be a guide at a museum, so when I saw the ad in the papers, I signed up in 2008,” says Mariana who returned to KL in 2008 after studying in the United States and England.

“The challenge in guiding is to present Malaysian history and culture in a more interesting format so that visitors will have a memorable experience,” says Marina, who majored in historic buildings and holds a masters in conservation of historic buildings.

Through talks by experts, the volunteers learn new things all the time. Marina says the tours are never stagnant and the script evolves along the way.

“Volunteering as a guide has helped build my confidence in talking with people. It’s great meeting tourists from around the world who are interested in Malaysia; their feedback helps open up my mind,” says Marina, who is on the Malaysian Institute of Architects heritage committee.

“I was telling a group about our nine kings who each take turns to be the King of Malaysia and how they make decisions through a council. This Arab visitor commented that it’s such a good system and pointed out that they only have one king and they cannot get rid of him!” she recalls with a laugh.

Mariana fondly remembers a group of elderly Italian women who were so impressed and grateful for her guiding that they offered her tips. It is the policy of the museum volunteers to decline tips, so Mariana refused and thanked them.

“They are so used to tipping in their country so they were shocked that I wouldn’t accept their tip! They all hugged me and asked me to visit them in Italy,” she says.

In another incident, Mariana was taking a group of Japanese tourists around when she felt awkward at the gallery that displayed the colonial period.

“I didn’t want to offend the Japanese visitors so I didn’t use my usual story about the Japanese Occupation during WWII. Sensing that they weren’t keen on hearing about this, I sped things up and moved on to the independence period!” she says.

Being a volunteer also gives them access to unusual opportunities such as a visit to the House of Parliament that Mariana proposed for the volunteers in 2009.

“It was a fascinating experience because we have foreigners and locals among the volunteers. The foreigners could follow the session through headphones which translated what was going on,” she says.

Through researching for her volunteer work, Mariana has enjoyed discovering things like why the kijang (barking deer) is included in the Malaysian currency; she has learned that there is a reason and history behind it.

According to Mariana, the legendary Kelantanese Queen Cik Siti Wan Kembang, who ruled during the 14th century, had her favourite pet, a barking deer, immortalised on her royal gold coins.

The “Kijang Emas” motif from these ancient Kelantan gold coins became the official logo of Bank Negara Malaysia.

“In the olden days, the Malays believed that every metal has its own spirit so the spirit of gold is the deer, and so the barking deer appears on our currency until today,” she says with delight.

Her parting advice for interested parties?

“Be prepared to read a lot and do a lot of research. Being a guide helps build up your knowledge, and you learn to appreciate your country more,” adds Mariana.

A Passion for Artifacts

Karen Loh, president of the museum volunteers at the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur.
Karen Loh, president of the museum volunteers at the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur.

SHIPWRECK antiques are things that Karen Loh is not only familiar with, they have become her life’s pursuit. Her interest in these artifacts and wreckage has led her to an unexpected path in volunteer work.

Noting that the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur had a gallery that featured shipwreck artifacts, Loh decided to get involved in some way.

“I wanted to share my knowledge about shipwrecks and artifacts, and decided to become a museum volunteer. As soon as I became a trainee volunteer, the museum closed the shipwreck antiques gallery!” says Loh, 43. Today, she is president of the museum volunteers under the Department of Museums Malaysia.

Loh’s interest in shipwreck anti-ques grew into a passion over time.

“In 2006, a French woman, together with a few Malaysians, approached Janet Tee, the then deputy director of the National Museum, to start a museum volunteers group,” says Loh, a director with Nanhai Marine Archaeology, a company which specialises in the search for historical shipwrecks, underwater excavations and research into the ships and cargo.

The group started with just 15 members; Loh joined in 2008 under the second batch of volunteers.

“Today we have 180 volunteers – half are Malaysians and the rest are expats from Canada, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Poland, Switzerland and Britain,” she says.

“The Malaysian volunteers are made up of retired civil servants, history teachers and college students, while homemakers make up the majority of the expat volunteers. Besides making good use of their free time, these expats get to learn more about Malaysia,” Loh explains.

She adds that they hold “coffee mornings” in English, French and Japanese to create awareness of museum volunteers and to rope in new ones.

Volunteers are also recruited through advertisements in international schools and clubs, the local media and radio, as well as their blog and Facebook page.

“There is more awareness now compared to the early days, and we are happy that more Malaysians are stepping up. When we started, I was one of only two Malaysian volunteers!” Loh points out.

Museum volunteers are not confined to giving guided tours, says Loh. “A volunteer can be involved in library duties, secretarial work, proof-reading, translation work, or even research and conservation, which has a new team that we started last year.”

Those who work full-time but would like to get involved, can also work from home.

On her own volunteering experience, Loh recalls handling a group of 350 low-performing students a year ago. They came for a tour under the Educational, Welfare and Research Foundation which was set up to improve the social, educational and economic welfare of marginalised Indians, particularly students from poor homes.

The students were introduced to the history of Malacca through a creative presentation and participated through worksheets to answer questions.

Loh dressed up as Hang Li Po, the fourth wife of Malaccan Sultan Mansur Shah, while other volunteers came as Hang Jebat and other popular historical figures.

“We were expecting a challenging bunch but to our surprise, they were very attentive and interested. I felt a big sense of accomplishment to see such positive response,” says Loh. “The joy on the children’s faces was really rewarding to see and I just got sucked into the spirit of volunteerism. If anyone is thinking of joining as a volunteer, please come and see us!”

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