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Baba Nyonya Culture – MV Training Tues 27 Nov

By Hani Abdullah (Batch 16)

Display at Gallery B
Display at Gallery B

Today we learnt the acronym OCBC refers not to the bank, but the way mainstream Chinese may look upon the Baba Nyonya community in Malaysia – as Orang Cina Bukan Cina (Chinese yet not Chinese).

This is because as the community took root and evolved in Malaya, slowly at first perhaps in the 12th century and flourishing from the 18th to 20th centuries, these Malay speaking descendants of Chinese immigrants to Malaya were seen as forsaking their own culture in order to assimilate.

Not only did they seemingly lose command of the Chinese language by choosing to speak in Malay, they also seemed to abandon patriotism for their homeland China, preferring to swear allegiance to the ruler of the day, be it the Dutch, British or Japanese.

To dilute their roots further, the men (Babas) began to dress more and more Western, and sound as English as the English, while the women (Nyonyas), who already spoke mostly Malay, dressed more and more, well, Malay. But all throughout this time, according to Cedric Tan who presented on the subject, the Baba-Nyonyas remained steadfastly Chinese at heart.

What may be confusing at first is that the Baba-Nyonyas celebrate every festival under the sun, regardless of race, religion or culture. As Chinese, they take part in the myriad of Chinese festivals, ancestral worship and customs practiced, which come from a mix of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. However the Baba-Nyonyas also personally participate in Hindu rituals, pray to Jesus and abstain from pork on certain days of the Muslim calendar. Because you see, “We don’t rely on Chinese deities only,” was Cedric’s rationale.

In a presentation as vibrant as the community itself, Cedric went into great detail on the quirky history and evolution of the community; the development of the Baba-Nyonya language (which really is the fusion of 4-5 different languages); the subtle differences between the terms Peranakan, Straits Chinese and Baba/Nyonya; and the intricacies of each festival celebrated, each custom practiced and the whys.

Thanks to Cedric, we know why the community produced in their heyday such a rich tapestry of cultural products from the clothing and embroidery found in the Nyonya kebaya and other linens, to jewellery, ceramics, furniture, elaborate architecture, and not least their epic cuisine.

Cedric also gave us many insider tips, for instance, “Buy the sarong first, then select the kebaya top material, but keep the colours bright!” He also said that while the community has in recent years gained more public interest and awareness, Media Corp Singapore’s production Little Nyonya makes the mistake of making the characters speak in Mandarin and not localised Hokkien, or even Malay for that matter.

Thanks Cedric, we had a great time.

The Keris – MV Training Tues 16 Oct

By Lena Koh Maltesen (Batch 16)

En Nadzrin with one of the keris’ in his collection

The presenter for the topic of keris which is a Malay weapon was En Mohd Nadzrin bin Abdul Wahab, who among  his other editing and translation credentials, is the founder of several Malay culture-themed blogs and websites. Of mixed heritage ranging from Yemeni, Iranian, Indian, Malay and Portuguese, he has studied seven silat forms (Malay art of self-defence) and trains in three of them. He has won several silat competitions in Gold, Silver and Bronze categories. He has a day job as a corporate trainer at Accenture Solutions.  En Nadzrin arrived in full Malay traditional costume complete with gold-black sarong, “songkok” (a Malay hat) and traditional sandals, a sparring partner for silat demo purposes and his personal collection of keris and books on silat.

En. Nadzrin discussed the history, origin, design rationale, ownership, care, myths and geographical implication of the keris.

There are many theories on the origin of the keris.  One of this states that it originated in AD 1361 in the Malay Archipelago of Majapahit at Nusantara on the island of Java. In 2005, UNESCO designated the Indonesian keris as the “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”. According to En Nadzrin, his silat master Guru Jamaludin Shahadan stated that the keris is the most scientifically designed weapon (2004).

Encik Nadzrin demonstrating the teratai movement of silat

Silat masters requested the blacksmiths to design a weapon that could be used as a secondary instrument at close combat and that does not need any form of training in its usage. It must be simple to use and conforms to the ergonomics and utility of the hand. En  Nadzrin demonstrated how the “teratai” (lotus) movement of the silat allows the keris to penetrate into critical organs with just one stab. The most important parts of the keris are the two last “lok”(waves) of the blade that allows it to penetrate into the nape of the neck, the lung, stomach, heart and the part between the anus and scrotum and bring immediate death to the victim with just one jab. Traditionally the blade of the keris is made of 2 metals, usually nickel and iron but now also steel. The hilt must be rough and non-slip and the sheaths can be made of wood, ivory, horn of female buffalo and bone.

The hilt of the Malay keris is pistol shaped and less ornate than that of the Indonesian kris. The Indonesians prefer to work in metal to allow for a more ornate design thus increasing the value of the keris whilst the Malay keris is commonly sheathed in wood.  Traditionally, Brunei, Singapore and Sumatra prized their keris as a form of weapon whilst Bali and Madura considered them as a magical talisman. The Bugis, being taller and bigger in physique, designed the hilt of their keris to be bigger, wider and longer. Sulu keris, being heavy, was used for slashing. In Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, the keris is either treasured by aficionados as collectors’ or heirloom pieces or preserved by silat practitioners which means there is smaller demand of keris as a whole but those being sought are specially commissioned at a higher price. These are usually made in Kelantan. A good keris sells about RM600. Some master craftsmen still have a backlog of orders by several years. By contrast, Indonesia has a demand for simple keris as it is considered more of a talisman. Only the Malay royalty still regards the keris as a symbol of prestige and power. The Sultan has a personal keris and the longer keris panjang (long) or keris kuasa (power) which are passed down through the royal generations. In the olden days, the keris panjang was used as a messenger tool by the king’s emissary and also for execution.

Legends of the keris having magical powers includes re-directing fire, killing by pointing, warning the owner of danger. Although the keris is capable of maiming its victims and causing death, ironically in Malaysia, it is not considered illegal to possess one. To-date, En Nadzrin stated there has been no case of injuries or deaths by keris in Malaysia in modern times.

The Keris can be cleaned with brasso or by the traditional method of dipping in coconut water, then rubbing the blade with lemon and smoking it with incense which does not leave  a white residue.

The presentation was very engaging as we had the chance to watch a silat demo and how the keris is used in close combat and the opportunity to touch and see the the keris up close and personal.

Early Malay Kingdoms – MV Training Tues 09 Oct

by Anne Lemetter (Batch 16)

This week, our schedule was a bit changed and we started by listening to Professor Dato’ Dr Nik Hassan Shuhaimi bin Nik Abdul Rahman, discussing the early kingdoms in Malaysia before the rise of Islam; covering topics in Gallery B of Muzium Negara.

Professor Dato’ Dr Nik Hassan discussing Early Malay Kingdoms with Batch 16 on 9 Oct 2012

Professor Dato’ Dr Nik Hassan is the President of the Association of Malaysian Archaeologists and the author of a number of books on archaeology.  He has been (in his own words) a “contractor” to the museum for the past 17 years and is an authority in the field of archaeology and pre-Islamic Malay Culture and Civilisation.

He started his talk with a short overview of the tools available for reconstructing the history of this period from various sources and highlighted the difficulty of combining archaeological evidence with evidence from literature into a coherent story that is reliably dated.

He then introduced the different Malay kingdoms, their rise as well as insights into the evidence of the existence of these kingdoms (inscriptions, statues, candi, graves …). He went through a series of pictures of artefacts and maps of this period, giving us a nice visual impression of this extensive overview.  He ended his talk with a quick overview on the current debate on the foundation of Melaka in 1262 vs 1400s.

After Dr Nik’s presentation, our team did a series of 3-minutes presentations, from the coconut tree, to the Gupta Stone, the tin animal money, the Ming export ceramics to the arrival of Islam to Melaka.

We ended our session by a Tour of Gallery B with Lee Choo Sim, an engaging story-teller.

Archaeology in Malaysia – MV Training Tues 02 Oct

By Soumya Kalyani (Batch 16)

One of the speakers on Tuesday 02 Oct was En. Ahmad Hakimi Khairuddin who is with the Department of Malay Socio-Culture / Fine Arts, Academy of Malay Studies, University of Malaya.  En. Hakimi defined the meaning of archaeology and took us through the early phases of man, the Stone Age (Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic) and the Metal Age (Copper, Bronze and Iron).  Although archaeology can mean different things to different people depending on their perspective be it a historical perspective, art history, antiquarian or anthropology, it is essentially a reconstruction of the past, to understand a way of life, to then preserve this knowledge for future generations being mindful not to do so for personal gain or for sensationalism.

Neolithic artefacts discovered at an open site at Jenderam Hilir, Selangor (photo taken from the Encyclopedia of Malaysia – Early History, pp20)

Archeology provides through the study of the material remains, how man made sense of his environment and by providing a context through the material evidence, the study of archaeology can be streamlined by providing both the sequence of events and through stratigraphy, documenting as well as dating the sequence, thus providing a detailed analysis.

In Malaysian Archeology the three main time differences are Prehistory – a time period before the existence of written documents, roughly 2.5 million years ago until 1 B.C.E, history a time period with clear documentation, roughly 1,000 C.E until yesterday and Proto-History, a time period between Prehistory and History (i.e 1 C.E until 1,000 C.E), where history of the area can be reconstructed from external writings (mostly Indian, Arabian, Greek and Chinese) but local records do not exist.

En. Ahmad Hakimi then took us through the tools that were created during these early ages and the many sites in Malaysia where such evidence can still be found.

Batch 16 trainees

MV Training – 29 Sept 2012 (Batch 17)

Two interesting presentations had been planned as part of the MV training on 29 Sept and the trainees arrived bright and early.

First off was Karen Loh with an interesting talk titled Mysteries of Malaysian Shipwrecks.  Karen is the President of Museum Volunteers as well as the Director of Nanhai Marine Archaeology, which has salvaged 10 shipwrecks off the coast of Malaysia in collaboration with the Department of Museums and Antiquities.

Karen, presenting Mysteries of Malaysian Shipwrecks

She discussed some of the shipwrecks found around Malaysian waters as well as the reasons behind the many shipwrecks found in the region.  Most of the sunken ships excavated had been carrying ceramics from China, Thailand and Vietnam and Karen discussed the importance of these ceramics as time markers.  The designs and styles of the ceramics change over time and hence can be used to ascertain the time-period of an archaeological dig.  Karen also discussed the consequences of the Ming ban which saw a decrease in the supply of chinese goods.

Encik Ahmad Hakimi bin Khairuddin then discussed Archaeology in Malaysia.  Encik Hakimi is a lecturer with Universiti Malaya (Department of Malay Culture) with a keen interest in cultural anthropology as well as archaeology.  Encik Hakimi has a Masters of Arts in Anthropology from the Wichita State University and is currently pursuing his PhD.

En Hakimi with his riveting talk on archaeology in Malaysia

En. Hakimi started off by explaining the difference between prehistory, protohistory and history. He then briefed the trainees on the stone and metal ages in Malaysia touching on possible homo erectus sites in Malaysia, the Gua Cha burial site and Kuala Selinsing, the earliest proto-historic site in the peninsula.  He rounded off with a discussion on Lembah Bujang, the earliest Malay Kingdom in the peninsula.  Throughout the presentation, En Hakimi stressed the importance of looking at a broader context to explain an archaeological find as well as the importance of not jumping to conclusions but taking the time to understand all the variables associated with a find.  En. Hakimi left the audience with some thought provoking questions.

The trainees were engaged throughout both presentations and had lots of questions for both presenters.  Next Saturday 6 October, the trainees can expect two more interesting talks – a presentation on Gallery A of Muzium Negara by Lawrence Maille, vice president of MV and a talk on presentation skills by Stuart Wakefield, secretary of MV.

MV Training – 25 Sept 2012 (Batch 16)

by Rose Gan

Batch 16 is now well settled into its course, having just enjoyed our second session of training. It was another full programme with the usual information overload. By the time 12.30 came round we were all extremely hungry (does brain work burn so many calories?) and our heads were spinning! But it had been a fun and rewarding morning’s work.

First up were Asma and Marie-Christine, who introduced the Whole Brain Principle and gave us the results of our Whole Brain questionnaires. Thankfully we all have them (brains, that is!) but unfortunately none of them are complete. Everyone tends to favour one of four aspects: Facts, Form, Future, or Feelings.  This will, of course, impact the way in which we approach research, planning and presentation. To correct this imbalance, we have now put ourselves into groups based on the results, mixing the brain types. Would that perhaps be a re-working of the old adage: ‘4 brains are better than one?’ With any luck we may now be able to put our heads together with our new partners to be more effective learners!

Rose and Hayley then gave specimen 3 minute presentations: Rose showing how not to do it by overrunning the time (hey, I had quite a task summing up the Bugis AND The Minangkabau in 3 minutes!) I promise to be more organized next time! Well done, Hayley, for being spot on 3 minutes with your interesting talk on gambier.

Our first main speaker was Encik Kamarul, the Director of Muzium Negara, who took us on a lively journey through the museums of Malaysia and the history of Muzium Negara. It was a thorough and enlightening talk. Thank you so much for giving so freely of your time – and even keeping the transport ministry officials waiting on our behalf!

The session was rounded off by Stuart with an in-depth study of the presentation skills we require for guiding. His talk was crammed with useful hints and very pertinent examples of the practical side of taking a tour, delivered in his usual charming, laid back style. There was so much that we needed to hear – thank you for preparing the notes and showing us how it’s done! By the way, I did notice that you broke one of your golden rules…’be interesting but not amusing’. Personally, I love your witty asides. It always makes it easier to learn when one is entertained as well as informed!

And now to do my homework reading….