Muzium Negara is only a short walk from KL Sentral. Check out the route using the map drawn by Janet Besançon.
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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.
Last 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.
Another 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.
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.
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.
This 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.
The 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.
The 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.
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:
“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.
The MV Book Club turned one last month (March) and we celebrated it by discussing IQ84 by Haruki Murakami.
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.
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 pm), 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 http://flwmalaysia.com/calendar.php
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: http://www.nst.com.my/life-times/sunday-life-times/people-museum-tours-in-french-1.219524
Museum tours… in French
French expatriate wives sign up as museum guides to satiate their fascination with local history and culture, writes Aneeta Sundararaj
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.”