N is for Nyabor

by Rose Gan

The Nyabor sword, one of a collection of Sarawak weapons in this vitrine, is referred to as ‘Parang Nyabor’ but also known as ‘Pedang Nyabor’. In Indonesia, the spelling ‘niabor’ is used. The nyabor is an Iban warrior sword of ancient lineage, more correctly referred to as pedang because of its length, which at 60-90 cm (2-3 feet) makes it a cutlass rather than a long dagger. The Nyabor was used by Borneo Ibans (sometimes called Sea Dayaks) and is found in Sarawak as well as West and Central Kalimantan. It was an important part of a warrior’s accoutrements, especially from 1800 to the late 19th century.

Parang Nyabor at Gallery C, Muzium Negara.

The iron blade of the Nyabor is broad and slightly curved, coming to a wedge-shaped point at the end. Many have a sharp protrusion on the cutting edge of the upper part of the blade near the hilt, the kundieng, whose purpose is both to parry (allowing a backhand slicing motion) and also to serve as a finger guard. The hilt was made either of antler or deer horn, carved in a triangular stylised shape that has been variously compared to the head of a bird, a horse or a naga, often decorated with floral motifs.

The sheath of this sword (sarung) is undecorated, which is typical of the nyabor, unlike the more colourful mandau/parang ilang daggers with which they are often confused. The Dutch in Kalimantan mostly did not distinguish between the two, referring to all such weapons as ‘mandau’. Careful comparison, however, indicates that not only were the blades of the mandau/parang ilang shorter, but their hilt and sheath were highly decorated with braiding and beadwork in traditional sacred colours.  Nyabors have minimal adornment, mostly plain bands, either of plaited fibre, wood or brass, to which feathers, animal teeth and small bones are sometimes attached. These talismans, as with all Bornean weapons, imbued the owner with the strength and skills of the dead animal in battle.

Nyabor. Image credit: Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, CC BY-SA 3.0

The nyabor was a multi-purpose weapon. It was primarily for battle or headhunting but, unlike shorter blades, it was also useful for slashing so could serve as a tool for clearing undergrowth and forest, essential both for agricultural purposes and also for expeditions through dense jungle, either for hunting, raiding or war. Today, the nyabor is a rare collectors’ item, for this weapon was rarely used after 1900. It is possible, however, to buy reproductions that are still produced for the export and tourist market. Many authentic original nyabors have sheaths of more modern fabrication.

The notes in the vitrine state that the Pedang Nyabor was an Iban weapon used in the struggle against the British occupation of Sarawak. This is obviously a reference to indigenous attempts to oust Rajah James Brooke in the mid 19th century. The weapon would have similarly been used in Kalimantan against the Dutch colonial forces.

This weapon had a central role in the now sensitive subject of headhunting. The Iban people traditionally followed an animist belief system, in which the worship of ancestral spirits ensured the balance of the cosmos. The Iban believed that they descended from a progenitor figure, a bird-god called Sengalong Burung, who came down from the sky. Most of their traditional practices concern the placating of harmful spirits and the summoning of protective ancestors to restore the harmony of their everyday lives. The taking of heads was essential to appeasing the wandering spirit of a recently dead ancestor, assisting its passage to the afterlife and ensuring its future protection for the community. Headhunting was also part of the cycle of fertility of both crops and humans and the response to outbreaks of disease or natural disasters. The heads of enemies, displayed in their houses and around the village, was deemed necessary for their continued prosperity and unity. The spirits of these dead also strengthened the warrior who had killed them, for their abilities and life essence now passed to him. Thus, the heads were always accorded great respect and played a part in important village rituals and dances.   But revenge was also a common motive for the taking of heads. If any perceived injury or harm had been inflicted on a community by a neighbour then they considered themselves honour-bound to take heads from the warriors of that village, often causing vendettas that went on for years.

Ngayau or headhunting, was still rife in 1800. It was officially ended in Sarawak during the administration of Rajah Brooke by the mid 19th century, although it is said Brooke tolerated incidences of headhunting raids when it suited him, if the attacks targeted groups hostile to his government. Since then there have been reports of sporadic outbreaks, particularly during times of conflict, e.g. World War II and during the Konfrontasi with Indonesia.


Gan, Rose. (2011). Indonesian Heritage Society Museum Nasional Training Materials: 2a Ethnography. National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta.

JMM curators. (2011). Muzium Negara Gallery Guide (Gallery C): Colonial Era. Department of Museums Malaysia.

Tropenmuseum Collection: https://collectie.wereldculturen.nl/default.aspx?lang=en#/query/e886074b-4ce5-4336-980d-2a267b5aa073 (accessed June 30th 2021).

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niabor (accessed July 1st 2021).

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A Very Rough Guide To Tampin

by Eric Lim


Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

Today, there are seven districts in the state of Negeri Sembilan, namely Seremban, Port Dickson, Rembau, Jelebu, Kuala Pilah, Jempol and Tampin. Tampin district is administered by Majlis Daerah Tampin/Tampin District Council, which was established on 1 July 1980. The area size of the district is 85,349 hectares and the following towns are located in the district: Tampin, Pekan Repah, Gemencheh, Batang Melaka, Air Kuning Selatan, Pekan Pasir Besar and Gemas. Three of the towns are border towns; Tampin and Batang Melaka at the boundary between Negeri Sembilan and Melaka; and Gemas at the border with Johor. This article will focus on the history of Tampin and its attractions.


(L) Coat of arms of Negri Sembilan  (R) Original nine states of Negri Sembilan. Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

Taking a close look at the coat of arms of Negeri Sembilan, one can easily identify the nine yellow stalks of rice in the middle of the shield. These stalks mark the original nine states of Negeri Sembilan, namely Jelai, Jelebu, Johol, Kelang, Naning, Rembau, Segamat-Pasir Besar, Sungai Ujong and Ulu Pahang. The inscription, which is written in Jawi script, is the name of the state and below it is a nine-pointed star that signifies the nine states united as one. Negeri Sembilan today is smaller as parts of the state were annexed to neighbouring states in the 19th century CE. Following the Naning War in 1831-1832, the entire state of Naning was annexed to the Straits Settlement of Malacca and today, it falls under the Alor Gajah and Jasin districts. The long-standing boundary problem with Selangor was finally solved at a convention held in Singapore on 31 July 1880. Negeri Sembilan got hold of Lukut and Cape Rachado but lost some parts of Kelang and Sungai Ujong. They are now part of the Kuala Langat and Hulu Langat districts in Selangor respectively. One part of Ulu Pahang was annexed to Pahang and it became the Bera district of Pahang. Bera district is very much in the news lately because our current Prime Minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, is the Member of Parliament for Bera (P90). The other part of Ulu Pahang comes under the Jelebu district. Likewise, for Segamat-Pasir Besar, one part was annexed to Johor and the other is now part of the Tampin district.

The Minangkabaus from Sumatra arrived as early as the 14th century CE where they explored and built settlements within the west coast of the peninsula. The lowlands of Rembau were amongst the earliest sites due to its proximity to the main waterways, Sungai Linggi and Sungai Rembau. Later, they moved to the inland districts. When Melaka fell to the European colonists, these states came under the suzerainty of Johor. When the Dutch took over Melaka from the Portuguese, several treaties were drawn up. On 12 December 1757, at the Johor- Dutch Treaty, Johor ceded Rembau to its ally, the Dutch. A peace treaty between Bugis and Dutch was signed on 1 January 1758 at the newly built fort at Kuala Linggi. On 11 November 1759, Dutch made a treaty with Rembau, which gave a monopoly of its tin trade to the Dutch.

(L) Flag of Rembau (R) Flag of Tampin / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

The founder of the royal house of Rembau and Tampin was Raja Adil. According to Dutch records, Raja Adil was installed in February 1785. He was a strong supporter of Bugis leader Daeng Kemboja who had set up his main base at the estuary of Sungai Linggi. Raja Adil died in 1798 and he was succeeded by his son, Raja Asil. He was conferred the title ‘Yam Tuan Muda’ (YTM) by the second ‘Yam Tuan Besar’ (YTB) of Negeri Sembilan, Raja Hitam. Raja Asil was also offered a personal fiefdom in Tampin and the right to collect export duties on tin shipped down Sungai Linggi. In 1812, his son’s misdemeanour (he had abducted a woman who had earlier refused his hand for marriage) led to his downfall. Raja Ali ousted Raja Asil from office and became the second YTM. In 1832, at the height of the Naning War, Raja Ali and Rembau changed sides and supported the British who came out victorious in their second invasion of Naning. With British recognition of support, Raja Ali laid claim to the then vacant office of the YTB of Sri Menanti and relinquished the YTM to his son-in-law, Syed Syaaban. These developments enraged other rulers of Negeri Sembilan citing that they had no right to the posts. In 1836, Raja Ali and Syed Syaaban were driven out of Rembau by the combined forces of Dato Klana of Sungai Ujong, Dato Muda Linggi and the Undang of Rembau. Raja Ali fled to Lukut and then to his son-in-law at Tampin. He died at Keru in 1850/1856. Syed Syaaban commuted between Tampin and Melaka, where he had a house. He made several attempts to re-establish himself as the YTM and even the YTB but all came to nought. He only managed to secure his rule over Tampin as Tunku Besar. He died in 1872 and he was buried in Tampin. Syed Hamid took over and continued to push for the establishment of the office of YTM but the British had put a stop to the claim saying that it was no longer valid. The British however recognised Tampin as an independent district and as a ruler of a part of Negeri Sembilan. Syed Hamid died in 1894. Coming to the present, the current Tunku Besar Tampin is YTM Tunku Syed Razman,  who was installed on 26 December 2005. The Member of Parliament for Rembau (P131) is Khairy Jamaluddin. KJ, as he is commonly known, is now the Minister of Health. Prior to this, he was the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation and the Coordinating Minister of the National Immunisation Programme.

Tampin Station on 8 August 1954 / Photo source : The Bernard Loughlin photographic collection –Keretapi Tanah Melayu

By the turn of the century, the development of the Malayan railway system moved to a new phase with the amalgamation of the Perak and Selangor State Railways to form the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) in 1901 with Edwin Spooner as the first FMSR General Manager. By 1903, the trunk line connected Prai in the north to Port Dickson in the south. 15 July 1905 saw the opening of the section between Seremban and Tampin. Right after, works started on the branch line linking Tampin to Melaka. The laying of the 21¼ miles (34.2 km) track was completed in good time by the Malacca Government Railway who was given the concession for this branch line. The opening of this section was on 1 December 1905 and it was reported the following day in The Malay Mail: “Yesterday was an important date in the annals of our railway system, as it marked the opening of the line from the southern boundary of Negri Sembilan to the ancient port of Malacca”. Meanwhile, The Straits Times reported that the first ticket from Melaka to Tampin was purchased by Mr Darbyshire who was the constructing engineer and a few Negeri Sembilan officers including the District Officer of Tampin, made the journey to Melaka where they had breakfast at the Residency. The following year, the main trunk line was extended from Tampin to Gemas. Gemas grew to become an important railway hub in our country, but that would be another story for another time.

During the Japanese Occupation, the entire FMSR network came under Japanese control. Some of the minor/branch lines were closed and construction materials were dismantled and transported to the Thailand and Burma (Myanmar today) border for the infamous Death Railway project. The train tracks of the Tampin-Melaka line was one of the lines that were dismantled. It was also reported that railway workers in Melaka were captured and forced to work there. The line was never rebuilt after the War.

In my last article about Pengkalan Kempas and Kuala Linggi, I wrote about megaliths found at the historical complex located at the former. The district of Tampin is one of the main areas in our country where these ancient stones are found. Further research into the megaliths culture have been lacking until a team from the Museums Department led by Adi Haji Taha and Abdul Jalil Osman started the excavation of the megalithic alignment at Kampong Ipoh, Tampin from the end of November 1981 to the first week of February 1982. Although the site did not yield any positive information, the excavation nevertheless concluded that a megalithic alignment in Peninsular Malaysia is not the site of historic or prehistoric burial, contradicting a widely held local belief.

Places of Interest

Tampin (container) / Photo source : Shopee Malaysia

The name Tampin is a Malay word for a pouch that is woven from pandanus fronds/nipah leaves and is commonly used to store food such as ‘dodol’ (a kind of sticky sweet toffee-like confection made from coconut milk, red sugar and rice flour) and ‘belacan’ (shrimp paste).

Photo source : Google Maps

As Tampin is located within the area with the largest distribution of megaliths in the country, a visit to one of the sites would be in order. There is none better than the nearby Megalith Datuk Nisan Tinggi [1] at Kampung Repah, along Jalan Tampin-Gemas. It is located inside a Muslim cemetery and the stone is recorded to be the tallest in the state, standing at a height of 3.5 metres, which is twice the height of average Malaysians. Megaliths from the old site at Kampong Ipoh were transferred elsewhere after the excavation. Some of the stones are on display at the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur.

When the Tampin-Melaka railway section was opened in 1905, Tampin station was initially known as Pulau Sebang station, named after the actual location of the station, which is in the Alor Gajah district of Melaka. Tampin, which is situated just across the border, was developing rapidly and it was decided that the station’s name be changed to Tampin. However, residents on the Melaka side continued to call it Pulau Sebang station. It was only in 2013, when the old station was demolished and a brand new station was built and also to accommodate the double tracking and electrification project, that KTM managed to resolve the dispute by naming it Pulau Sebang / Tampin station [2]. Today, the station is served by KTM Komuter (the southern terminus of the Seremban Line), KTM ETS (Electric Train Service/Padang Besar-Gemas) and KTM Intercity (starting point of Ekspres Selatan Line to Johor Bahru Sentral station).

(L) Megalith Datuk Nisan Tinggi / Photo source : Sustainable Living Institute (SAVE). (R) Megaliths from Kampong Ipoh, Tampin at National Museum / Photo source : Eric Lim

Religious architectures are easily visible in our country and it is not uncommon to find various places of worship all in close proximity to one another, Tampin town is a very good example. Located opposite Pulau Sebang/Tampin station is Masjid Aleyah Kuala Ina [3]. The mosque was opened on 1 January 1972 but was destroyed in a fire in 2000. The current building, which closely resembles the Al Azim Mosque in Central Melaka, was built and at the same time, its perimeter extended. It was inaugurated on 14 March 2004 by the Chief Minister of Melaka. Just next to the mosque is the Tampin Green Dragon Temple [4]. Besides Chinese deities, the shrine of Datuk Kong is also featured in the temple. Further up along Jalan Besar on the Tampin side is the Tampin Chinese Methodist Church [5]. Services are on Sunday mornings and conducted in English, Malay and Mandarin. Also located on Jalan Besar, at the centre of the town is Gurdwara Sahib Tampin [6]. The land of the present site of the Gurdwara Sahib was purchased in 1967 and in the following year, the adjoining land was purchased. Construction of the Gurdwara Sahib started in 1996 and it was completed two years later. It was officially declared open on 15 November 1998. Prayers are held on Sunday mornings at 9.00 am. About one km away from Gurdwara Sahib Tampin, along Jalan Tampin-Gemas is Sri Sundara Vinayagar Temple [7].

(L) Tampin Green Dragon Temple and Masjid Aleyah at the top right corner / Photo source : Tampin – Great Malaysian Railway Journeys(R) Gurdwara Sahib Tampin / Photo source : Gurudwara Sahib Tampin, Negeri Sembilan

Tampin may be a small town but it is not short of parks for recreation. It also offers interesting places for ecotourism and extreme sports enthusiasts. Not too far from the Tampin District Council office and just next to the boundary line is the Tampin Recreational Park [8]. The park covers an area of nine acres and 0.8 acres of it is the existing lake area. Also within the park are the Tampin Stadium and Tampin Square. About 1.7 km away from the park, heading to Seremban via Jalan Seremban-Tampin/Federal Route 1 is Tampin Lake Gardens [9], another popular spot for family recreation. It is within walking distance to the R&R (Rehat & Rawat / Rest & Recuperate) stop area for motorists coming into the district from the north. Located at the foot of Tampin forest reserve is the Tampin Water Park [10]. This park offers four pools with depths ranging from 0.3 to 2.1 metres. Visitors to the park can also take part in jungle trekking, archery and paintball. At the Tampin Extreme Park [11], visitors can try rock climbing, waterfall abseiling, flying fox and tree climbing. According to the park operator, Tampin Extreme Park is one of the most popular rock climbing venues as it offers granite climbing. Gunung Tampin [12] eco-forest park is located in the Tampin forest reserve, which is at the end of the Titiwangsa Range. It has two peaks, namely Gunung Tampin Utara (north) and Gunung Tampin Selatan (south). From here, a track connects Gunung Datuk, Gunung Rembau and Gunung Gagak.

(Top) Tampin Recreational Park / (Bottom) Tampin Lake GardenPhoto source : Recreation | Official Portal of Tampin District Council (MDT)

According to a recent news report, the local district council is currently embarking on a beautification project of the town in the form of a mural painting. Sixteen wall blocks measuring 437 square meters would be given a fresh look. This beautification project is part of a district tourism project to attract tourists and it is expected to be completed within two months (before the end of the year).

Mural painting project / Photo source : Lukisan mural jadi tarikan terbaharu di Tampin

Getting There

From Kuala Lumpur city centre, use the North South Highway (E2 South) and exit at Exit 227 Simpang Ampat. After the toll plaza, turn left to join Lebuh AMJ (Alor Gajah-Central Melaka-Jasin Highway) a.k.a Federal Route 19 to Simpang Ampat. Once the Simpang Ampat Police Station is in sight on the left, turn left to join M10 – Jalan Kemus / Sempang Ampat. Upon reaching Pulau Sebang intersection, turn left to join Federal Route 61 / Jalan Alor Gajah-Tampin a.k.a Jalan Dato Mohd Zin (former Melaka Chief Minister Mohd Zin Abdul Ghani). Then, keep a lookout for Mydin Hypermarket. Turn left before Mydin and that will lead to Jalan Besar (Tampin) and Pulau Sebang/Tampin station, Masjid Aleyah Kuala Ina and Tampin Green Dragon Temple will be just ahead. Incidentally, A Famosa Resort and Freeport A Famosa Outlet / Melaka Premier Outlet are located along Federal Route 61 / Jalan Alor Gajah-Tampin a.k.a Jalan Dato Mohd Zin. Another option is to use the Komuter service and Tampin is the southern terminus of the Seremban Line.

In this Series

Please click HERE for a list of articles in the ‘A Very Rough Guide’ series.


Flag and coat of arms of Negeri Sembilan – Wikipedia


Federated Malay States Railway – Museum Volunteers, JMM

Keretapi Tanah Melayu

The Excavation of the Megalithic Alignment at Kampong Ipoh, Tampin, Negeri Sembilan. A Note

Muzium Negara

Gurudwara Sahib Tampin, Negeri Sembilan

Lukisan mural jadi tarikan terbaharu di Tampin

North-South Expressway Southern Route (E2), Malaysia

M is for Mulu National Park

by V. Jegatheesan

Toward the end of Gallery D is an information board indicating the UNESCO Heritage Sites in Malaysia. One of the sites listed is Gunung Mulu National Park. The accompanying description states that it was gazetted in 2000. Situated in the north of Sarawak, it is 528 sq. km. with 17 vegetation zones and 3,500 types of plants. The 109 palm species alone are within 20 main genus. Gunung Mulu itself is a 2,377-metre sandstone pinnacle. Virgin rainforests cover an extensive network of caves and underground rivers, as well as a limestone pinnacles. However, the most attractive features of interest to an average traveller are the caves and the pinnacles.

Gunung Mulu National Park in 2004. Image credit: Juanita, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Gunung Mulu was first referenced in 1858 by Spenser St. John, the British Consul in Brunei. However, it was only in 1932 that it was finally ‘conquered’ by Edward Shackleton in an Oxford University Expedition. The Sarawak Government gazetted Gunung Mulu and the surrounding areas as a national park in 1974. The first formal study was conducted in 1978, when the Royal Geographic Society started a scientific expedition. Over the course of the next 15 months, some 50kms of caves were discovered, among which were the Deer, Clearwater, Wonder and the Prediction caves. Beginning in 1980, another expedition discovered the Sarawak Chamber. The Clearwater Cave passage, at 102kms, is believed to be one of the largest interconnected cave systems in the world. Over the years, more passages and connections between the caves were discovered over a wider area. In 1984, the Gunung Mulu National Park was declared an ASEAN Heritage Park. Expeditions are still continuing with fascinating discoveries of caves and passages, as well as underground pools, and an immense variety of flora and fauna.

Interior of Clearwater Cave. Image Credit: Sunrise Odyssey from Singapore, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1985, the park was opened to the public and managed by staff located at the park headquarters. Initially, one had to fly to Miri. Then downgrade from the B737 to a Twin Otter to fly to Marudi. From there, it was a daylong journey starting in a river ferry followed by a cramped long boat to the Benarat Inn, which was the only accommodation available for a long time. Over the years, as more tourists became interested in Mulu, one could fly directly to Mulu from Miri and other airports, unfortunately, taking away some of the fun. Early trips to caves were by an engine-driven long boat up to a point after which there was a long trek to the cave entrances. There are more resorts now and the boats are better. Tours are packaged and include not just the caves but also overnight stays in a longhouse and a tough climb to the Pinnacles. But for the more adventurous spelunkers, as those who specialise in cave exploration are called, there are special trips to places where no ordinary person would go. This needs guts.

Photos from the author’s trip to Gunung Mulu National Park in 1993. Clockwise from top left: Mulu Airport in 1993 with a Twin Otter plane in the foreground; on a long boat on the serene river; arriving at the Benarat Inn jetty; Benarat Inn; local village life. Credit for all images: V. Jegatheesan

The caves are usually wide and some lead to caverns. Bats of various species inhabit the caves; the ground and rocks have years of bat dung deposits. Initially, one walked along the natural ground, but now there are well-lit wooden walkways. The Deer Cave is popular as while in it and looking out at the wide entrance, the rocky side appears to be a profile of Abraham Lincoln. The Sarawak Chamber is a gigantic cavern. It measures 600 metres long, 435 metres wide and a maximum of 115 metres high making it the largest cave in the world by area. Guides impress visitors with the fact that eight B747 Jumbo jets can be arranged in it end to end.

The ‘Abraham Lincoln profile’ observed when looking out from Deer Cave’s entrance. Bats can be seen flying in the background. Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

Every evening at about 6pm, bats will fly out of the caves for their nightly foraging. The Deer Cave is the most popular for viewing this scene. This simple statement does not come anywhere near the actual sight. Unknown numbers, hundreds of thousands, some say millions, fly out in a continuous stream for an hour at least. It seems they have groups, as one large cloud of bats will fly out, hover and when a group is formed fly off. It is as though they have a predetermined formation.

left: Bats flying out of Deer Cave (1993). Image credit: V. Jegatheesan. right: A bat from Deer Cave (1996). Image credit: Slimguy, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Going to the Pinnacles is a journey in itself. From the resorts, one starts on a riverboat trip, then on average a three-hour walk to a campsite. The next day’s climb up a pinnacle is a continuous steep climb, then a clamber and finally a crawl. However, when one reaches the top, the view of massive pinnacles on the hillsides, stretched out like cathedrals, is well worth the effort. After absorbing the view and having a packed lunch, it is back to camp. The return trek and boat trip is done the third day.

left: Steep ascent to the Pinnacles. right: Pinnacles in 1993. Credit for images: V. Jegatheesan

Despite a large tourist flow in certain caves and rivers, the National Park is preserved in its pristine form. It is continuously under study with the deeper caves and caverns not accessible to the public. It is certainly worth a trip.

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L is for Longquan

by Karen Loh

Image credit: Dennis Ong

The Longquan Shipwreck c1400

Celadon bottle vase from Sisatchanalai with elaborate lotus blossoms incised around the body, recovered from the Longquan Shipwreck. Image credit: Sten Sjostrand

Not to be confused with the kilns in Longquan, China, some of the celadon pieces exhibited here at the Shipwreck vitrine in Gallery B were recovered from the Longquan Shipwreck. It was naval architect, historical shipwreck explorer, and salvor, Sten Sjostrand, who discovered this shipwreck in 1996, about 23 nautical miles off the coast of Terengganu. He had just begun searching a new line along the seabed when the wreck first appeared as a big, black image on his side scan sonar printer. Following that, the next step was to send divers down to investigate this black image. In Sjostrand’s own words, “The first dive revealed an enormous ceramic mound rising 1.80 metres above the seabed. It was thirty metres long and eight metres wide. We had never seen, or even heard about so much pottery being found in one place before. The volume of the mound suggested more than 100,000 antique pieces.”

Location of the Longquan Shipwreck site (23 nautical miles off the coast of Terengganu). Image credit: Kayla Lee

A surface sample of the ceramics was collected, which revealed that it was most probably a merchant ship carrying a large assortment of pottery consisting of Chinese celadon from the Longquan kilns, white-glazed bowls from southern China, Sisatchanalai celadon, fish and flower black underglaze plates fromSukhotai and Thai Suphanburi storage jars. In terms of cargo ratio, it was estimated to be 40% Chinese, 40% celadon from Sisatchanalai and 20% underglaze ware from Sukhotai. Due to the presence of Chinese Longquan celadon ceramics in the sample survey, it was decided that the site would be named Longquan, in honour of the Longquan kilns in China. As the Chinese celadon on board were dated to early Ming and judging from the style of the Sukhotai pieces, it was concluded that the ship dated to c1400 CE.

Photos taken during the initial surface investigation on the Longquan Shipwreck site. Image credit: Sten Sjostrand (from the book Mysteries of Malaysian Shipwrecks, 2006)

The Longquan shipwreck lies at a depth of 63 metres (equivalent to the height of an 18-storey building), which is very dangerous dive, even for professional divers. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors, popularly known as PADI, does not recommend diving beyond 40 metres for advanced recreational divers. Understandably, there are many dangers of deep diving, which include decompression sickness (DCS or better known as the bends, which all divers fear), nitrogen narcosis (which has an intoxicating effect), and running out of air (which can be fatal) either caused by faulty equipment or encountering underwater obstacles. As for the ship, it was of a South China Sea design, built from tropical hardwood, complete with transverse compartments separated by bulkheads and joined by the use of wooden dowels. The wreck was relatively intact, and according to Sjostrand, had a “few side boards, which had never been seen before”.

The Longquan was carrying more than 100,000 pieces of pottery, which was considered a very large amount those days. For comparison, this ship was carrying at least 15 times more pottery than the Turiang Shipwreck. Sjostrand discovered the Turiang shipwreck, which dates to c1370, in 1998. Unlike the Longquan, the Turiang was a Chinese-built vessel. The pottery mix carried was also slightly different. She was carrying celadon, green-glazed, and brown-glazed ware from China, Thai pottery from Sukhotai (especially fish plates) and Sisatchanalai, but unlike the Longquan, also had black underglaze Vietnamese ware on-board. Furthermore, unlike the Longquan wreck, the Turiang has been fully excavated.

Sisatchanalai celadon cup from the Longquan Shipwreck; side and bottom view. Image credit: Karen Loh

After the initial survey, the shipwreck site was left alone. Plans were being made to excavate the shipwreck properly with safety of the divers in mind. In Sjostrand’s own words again, “I had been looking forward to unravelling the secrets of this mighty ship and had spent a lot of time devising a way to fully excavate her in shallower water as there are few divers who could work safely at the depth, she was lying in. The plan was to build an ‘A’ frame with some jackets underneath, then to pull steel sheets under the wreck and tie wires to the lifting frame – like a cradle. Then the cradle containing the whole ship would be lifted and placed in a specially prepared trench in three metres of water off Pulau Tioman.” The frame, once lifted could have been a working platform for a maritime team and maybe a tourist observation deck as well, built around the wreck frame.

Unfortunately, these plans were not to be. In April 2001, Sjostrand went to check on the Longquan wreck site and, to his horror, found that the mound of pottery had been levelled, smashed, and broken. He estimated that only 10,000 out of the 100,000 pieces were left! So, what happened to this shipwreck site? Sjostrand soon found the answer. Fishing trawlers had been seen at the site, trawling the seabed with their nets with little regard for the pottery they picked up, damaged or moved. The mound of pottery would no doubt have been trawled on and flattened by their nets. That was more than twenty years ago. It is doubtful that the cargo is still there, which makes the few pieces we have on display in this gallery a limited edition.

Longquan shipwreck recovered pieces on display at Gallery B: 1. Longquan Celadon dish 2. Longquan Celadon bottle 3. Sisatchanalai celadon cup. Image credit: Karen Loh

Why is Longquan Celadon famous?

Celadon or greenware from Longquan was much sought after and exported in large quantities to many countries during the Song Dynasty (1127-1279 CE). The celadon pottery made here was famous for its greenish or grayish blue glaze, which has a jade-like resemblance, and the surface was ‘as smooth and lustrous as jade’. Though the clay body was heavy and thick initially, it was perfected by the late Song period. By then, the kilns had succeeded in producing thinner bodies, maintaining its transparency and even incorporated glaze. Other similar tones such as pale green, bean green and plum green were equally popular. During the Song Dynasty, celadon pottery such as dishes, plates, vases, jars, and bowls with this jade-like glaze were very much in demand. Carved lotus, lotus petals, or stylized floral motifs on bowls, and fish and dragon motifs on dishes and plates were favoured and were the prevalent design choices at that time. So favoured were these pieces then, that even Japan and Korea emulated the style and shapes of pottery from Longquan.

Celadon production in Longquan County began during the fifth to sixth century with its production increasing rapidly and flourishing during the Northern Song period before reaching its prime during the Southern Song dynasty. Longquan County is situated in the Lishui prefecture, along the Lishui River in southwestern Zhejiang, in the south of China. The best-known Longquan celadons have been produced here at the Dayao and Jincun kilns. Longquan kilns have been recorded to have the longest history of celadon production in China with 400-500 kilns discovered by archaeologists since the 1950s. The emergence of Jingdezhen’s blue and white porcelain during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 CE) saw declined demand for celadon pottery and hence its production.

left: Sukhotai underglaze black decorated fish plate; right: Suphanburi storage jar with stamped decoration on the shoulder; both recovered from the Longquan shipwreck. Image credit: Sten Sjostrand


Brown, Roxanna & Sjostrand, Sten. (2004). Maritime Archaeology and Shipwreck Ceramics in Malaysia. RECCEX.

Davis, Aran. Dangers of Commercial Diving and How to Stay Safe. Divers Institute of Technology http://www.diversinstitute.edu

Koh antique blog site, Late Southern Song/early Yuan (2nd quarter to end of 13th Century) Longquan wares. http://www.koh-antique.com/celadon/longquana.html

Sjostrand, Sten & Adi Haji Taha, & Samsol Sahar. (2006). Mysteries of Malaysian Shipwrecks. Pujangga Design & Communications, pp. 82-87.

Xu Naiqing, Wang Youbu & Wu Ying (editors). (2006). The Art of Chinese Ceramics. Long River Press, pp. 130-147.Becoming a Certified Scuba Diver faqs https://www.padi.com/help/scuba-certification-faq

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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.

Dragon (a novel by Rose Gan)

by Maganjeet Kaur

Francis Light is no stranger to us. We know him as a buccaneer and the founder of a British colony on Penang. But who was he really? Where did he come from? What drove him? These questions are explored in Rose Gan’s thrilling novel Dragon: Penang Chronicles 1. The book will be available at the local bookshops by the first week of November 2021 but it is possible to pre-order it online.

I have had the pleasure of reading an advance copy; as a historical novel, it satisfies both the need to have beauty of language in a book as well as the desire for historical information. Rose is adept at creating atmosphere – her description of places, people and events immerses the reader in the time-period in question and, thus, appreciate the story at a deeper level. The novel also fleshes out the many facets of Light’s personality allowing us to understand him better than through the two-dimensional character typically depicted in history books.

The story is so real and engrossing that one may forget this is a work of fiction. We must remember though that there is a lot unknown about Light especially of his early life. We don’t even know how he looks like – the statue at Fort Cornwallis is based on the likeliness of his son, William. Rose’s filling in the gaps based on the in-depth research she has undertaken seem very plausible. Overall, although the book is filled with facts, it is an easy and pleasant read.

Book Launch at Ubud Festival – 10 October, 6.30pm (GMT +8)

Rose will be sharing her journey writing the book on 10 October at the Ubud Festival (click here for details).

Her talk will be streamed live on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Do tune in; you can interact with Rose at this time and ask any questions you may have. If you are not free on the 10th, the recording will remain available online at the links above.

I have written a short summary below if you want to understand the story before the talk (no spoilers, I promise).

The Story in short

The story opens in Suffolk, England, in 1740 with the impending birth of Light, conceived through an illicit love affair. The soon- to- be father sought help to place the unwanted child in adoptive care with the directive that the child be brought up as a gentleman (or a lady, if female). Thus, upon birth, the baby became the son of Mary Light, a young widow, with Sir William Negus as his guardian. Sir William, fond of the boy, provided him with a grammar school education as befitting a gentleman.

We first meet Francis Light at Seckford School in Woodbridge, Suffolk, and quickly come to realise that even at the tender age of fourteen, Light was no pushover; his careful planning and execution to extract revenge on a bullying schoolmate shows the single-minded deviousness with which he later grabbed Penang Island from the Sultan of Kedah. He was a poor student. Although obviously clever, he could not apply attention to the likes of Greek and Roman verbs or religious education. Hence, the principal of the school felt it better if he withdrew from school and focussed on learning a trade. However, he yearned to join the Royal Navy thinking he could, through hard work, climb up the ranks and, in time, command his own ship in spite of his lowly illegitimate status in life. A war could make this a reality.

left: Seckford’s Free School, Woodbridge, a sketch by Thomas Churchyard  c. 1800; right: A small windowpane from the original school, later town library, etched with the names of Francis Light and James Lynn. It was donated to the Penang Museum. Rose has weaved the windowpane into the story in the scene where Light extracts revenge.

In October 1754, he joined the HMS Mars as a surgeon’s assistant. Although bitterly disappointed that he could not join at the rank of midshipman because of his low social status, he made the best of the situation and sought to learn quickly. Here, we catch a glimpse of life on board a warship and understand the importance of rank in eighteenth century British genteel society. We also see his character unfold further – he is observant, calculative, learns quickly and is a good judge of character. He is no fool and does not trust people easily. When the ship runs aground, Light’s singular act of bravery saves all the men on-board and earns him the friendship of Captain John Amherst, which would help his naval career over the next few years.

Example of an East Indiaman, c. 1770. This was a generic term for European ships headed to India.

An appointment with Sir John Cleveland, the First Secretary to the Admiralty, put him in high hopes of getting his name on the List and entering the ranks of an Officer. He was to be disappointed. Then, a chance meeting with James Scott, a former shipmate on the Arrogant, got him thinking of a career path outside the navy. Scott had been offered a position with the East India Company (EIC), also known as the Honourable Company, and was due to sail out shortly. He suggested Light follow his lead as there was opportunity for making lots of money out East. Being illegitimate, however, his application to the EIC was rejected and, so, he went to India as a common sailor on the Clive, an East Indiaman headed to Madras (known also as Fort St. George to the British, today Chennai). In Madras, Light landed a job with the country traders Jourdan, Sullivan and DeSouza, and he finally realised his ambition of captaining a ship.

Representative of the Speedwell type of ship, a country ship captained by Light

Rose fleshes out more of Light’s character. We see a soft side to him when he adopts a starving, orphaned child after he stumbles over him at the entrance of his lodgings. The kid was around ten years old, possibly Bugis, spoke Malay and answered to the name of Soliman. They teach each other their languages and Light’s mastery of Malay would hold him in good stead when he started trading along the Straits of Malacca. We also see that he is not averse to profiteering and smuggling when he sneaks into Dutch-controlled Ceylon. In a run-in with a Bugis ship in which not only his ship and goods were in danger of being seized, but he and his crew potentially slain, we see Light as a silver-tongued orator sweet-talking the Bugis into doing business with him and outsmarting the Dutch.

His old friend, James Scott, had left the Honourable Company and had become an entrepreneur. Light catchs up with him in Junk Ceylon (Phuket today, known previously as Thalang to the Siamese and Ujung Salang to the Malays). Scott wanted Light to partner with him but Light prevaricated. His conversations with Scott reveal his motivations – he wants to be accepted as an equal and to go back to England in glory as a gentleman. Unlike Scott, who had married a Malay and does not care for approval, Light was not willing to be cast out of genteel English society. Hence, we see the motivation behind his willingness to work hard in supporting a British settlement in the Straits.

Through his trading trips down the Straits, we get to understand the political undercurrents and the jostling for power in the region – Siam rising under a new king (Tak Sin), the Bugis-Dutch rivalry for control over the Straits, dissent among the chiefs under Sultan Alaudin of Aceh, and the courting of foreign powers to keep local enemies at bay. With Junk Ceylon taken over by Bugis Riau and Kedah beleaguered by a rebellion as well as by Bugis Selangor, Sultan Muhammed Jiwa of Kedah suggests the EIC set up a trading post at Kuala Kedah and promised that all trade would pass through British hands. He reasons that this will keep other powers at bay and he enlists Light’s help to forward the proposal to the EIC. Is this the chance Light has been seeking for so many years?

19th century Phuket

Light’s attention also turns to marriage. In his typical calculative fashion, he singles out Thong Di – her mother is a member of the Kedah royalty and her father’s family is well connected politically and economically in Thalang. Thong Di herself is a widow with two children; her deceased husband, Martim Rozells, was a good friend with whom he had previously done business. However, Thong Di throws him a curve ball when she suggests an alliance between Light and her daughter, Martinha. Light initially baulks at marrying a girl half his age but eventually comes around after weighing the advantages of the union.

The book ends with Scott suggesting the time was right to ask the Sultan to bestow on him the pearl that he had always wanted – the island of Penang, which he could develop into a settlement. His success in obtaining Penang and his relationship with Martinha is explored in Pearl: Penang Chronicles 2, which will be published next year.

left: statue of Francis Light at Fort Cornwallis; right: portrait of a Malay woman by Robert Home, c. 1790. Could this be Martinha?

K is for Kodiang

Solving the Mystery of the Pottery Cones

by Alvin Chua Sern Hao

Image credit: Dennis Ong

Kodiang is a small town situated in the Kubang Pasu district of Kedah, in the northwestern part of Peninsular Malaysia. A nearby limestone outcrop known as Bukit Kaplu has a large rock shelter called Gua Berhala (Peacock, 1959, p. 137) on its north face. The site was visited in 1929 by Ivor H. N. Evans, who found several sherds of cord-marked pottery and a few pieces of antler, including one that had been worked (Peacock, 1959, p. 137). 

Bukit Keplu, Kodiang. Image credit: Ksmuthukrishnan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gua_Kerbau_Kodiang_Kedah2(1).jpg

It was, however, only in 1951 that the conical ceramic objects that Kodiang is best known for were discovered. These were found by Peter D. R. Williams-Hunt during his visit to the site (Peacock, 1959, p. 137). Williams-Hunt published his findings the following year, describing the unusual conical artefacts as follows:

Fragments of about thirty cone-shaped objects of well fired clay each about fourteen inches in height, decorated with fine cord markings and pierced by two or three holes. At least one shows signs of having had a square foot; others are more roughly finished. The exact function of these objects, remains speculative. They are not kiln rests and it can only be suggested that they have some ritual significance possibly in association with Buddhism.

(Williams-Hunt, 1952, p. 182)

Subsequently, these pottery cones were studied by Gale de G. Sieveking and a more thorough assessment of the artefacts was made. Sieveking (1955, pp. 189, 192) elaborated on the technical aspects of the cones’ manufacture, noting, for instance, the way the cones were formed and decorated, as well as the firing conditions. Naturally, this was followed by speculations regarding the function of the cones.

Sieveking (1955, p. 192) entertained Willaims-Hunt’s idea that the cones may have had a ritual function, perhaps for the burning of incense, on the basis of local enquiry. Two counter arguments were then presented – the crude manufacture of the cones, and the absence of traces of burnt incense on the artefacts (Sieveking, 1955, pp. 192-193). It was then suggested that the cones might have been part of a potter’s toolkit. The pointed end could be stuck into the ground, whilst a newly formed vessel could be placed on its ‘rim’, to allow it to dry, or to be decorated (Sieveking, 1955, p. 193). It was further argued that the holes in the cones may have been “slots for the insertion of pieces of wood, which could be used to rotate the cone” (Sieveking, 1955, p. 193).

Fragments of pottery cones found by Sieveking at Kodiang. Labelled ‘A’ is his reconstruction of a cone. Image credit: Sieveking (1956, p. 190-191)

Williams-Hunt and Sieveking’s speculations hardly impressed B. A. V. Peacock, who considered the former a lame suggestion that was made “perhaps in despair”, and the latter “hardly more credible than the one he intended to supplant” (Peacock, 1959, p. 138). Peacock (1959, p. 139) made the significant observation that the “ends are always broken and without a trace of a finished trace”, thus associating these artefacts with the other sherds from the site. He had the fortune of finding at Gua Berhala “a fragment combining part of the base of a cone, including the upper half of one of the holes, with the carinated shoulder of a bowl”. Therefore, Peacock (1959, p. 140) was confident enough to propose that the cones belonged to a type of tripod vessel. Thus the ‘mystery’ of the Kodiang pottery cones was solved.

Fragment of cone attached to pottery vessel, found by B.A.V. Peacock at Gua Berhala. Image credit: Peacock (1959, p. 139)
Reconstruction of the tripod vessel by B.A.V. Peacock. Image credit: Peacock (1959, p. 140)

As a final note, whilst the discovery of the pottery cones at Kodiang was unique at the time, tripod vessels were subsequently discovered in other parts of Southeast Asia. These vessels were found, for instance, in 11 of the 44 Neolithic burials excavated at the Thai site of Ban Kao during the 1960s (Sorensen & Hatting, 1967, cited in Leong, 2003, p. 173); during the 1977 and 1979 excavations at Jenderam Hilir, Selangor (Leong, 2003, p. 178); and as an “isolated free find” in Satun, southern Thailand (Chaiwat, 2007, cited in Ahmad Hakimi, 2008, p. 15).

A replica of a Kodiang tripod vessel at Muzium Negara can be seen at the rightmost. On its left are shards of tripod legs uncovered at Jenderam Hilir, Selangor. Image credit: Ong Li Ling


Ahmad Hakimi, K., 2008. Tembikar Tanah Berkaki Tiga (Tripod Pottery) – Satu Catatan Ringkas Penemuan di Selatan Thailand. Jurnal Arkeologi Malaysia, Volume 21, pp. 14-20. [Online]   http://spaj.ukm.my/jurnalarkeologi/index.php/jurnalarkeologi/article/view/103/58 [Accessed: 9 June 2021]

Leong, S. H., 2003. Tripod Pottery in Mainland Southeast Asia. In: J. N. Miksic, ed. Earthenware in Southeast Asia: Proceedings of the Singapore Symposium on Premodern Southeast Asian Earthenwares. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 173-186.

Peacock, B. A. V., 1959. A Short Description of Malayan Prehistoric Pottery. Asian Perspectives, Sa-huỳnh Pottery Relationships in Southeast Asia, 3(2), pp. 121-156. [Online]  https://www.jstor.org/stable/42928913   [Accessed: 9 June 2021]

Sieveking, G. d. G., 1956. Pottery Cones from Kodiang (Kedah). Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 29(1), pp. 189-194. [Online]              https://www.jstor.org/stable/41503209   [Accessed: 9 June 2021]

Williams-Hunt, P. D. R., 1952. Recent Archaeological Discoveries in Malaya, (1951). Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 25(1), pp. 181-190. [Online]  https://www.jstor.org/stable/41502945   [Accessed: 12 May 2021]

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A Very Rough Guide To Pengkalan Kempas and Kuala Linggi

by Eric Lim


Photo source : The Star / All quiet here – 12 July 2021

Sungai Linggi is one of the major rivers in the state of Negeri Sembilan. The river originates near the hilly purlieu of Pantai, just outside of the capital, Seremban, and it follows a southwestern path across the state to the river mouth in Melaka, an axial length of about 83 km. The name ‘Linggi’ is derived from a Bugis word, which means ‘the stem or bow of a ship’. Pengkalan Kempas and Kuala Linggi are both located along Sungai Linggi – the former is located near the confluence with Sungai Rembau while the latter is at the estuary where the river empties into the Straits of Malacca.


Sungai Linggi, circa 1834 / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

As far back as the 14th century CE, Sungai Linggi was the main route in and out of Sungai Ujong (Seremban today), flowing from the interior to the coast. It was the only means of entry and circulation for traders. It was said that Parameswara used this waterway to reach Sungai Ujong prior to the founding of Melaka. Sungai Ujong later came under the control of the Melaka Sultanate. The Minangkabau and Bugis who were the earliest settlers in Negeri Sembilan used it to transport jungle produce and tin to Melaka when it became an entrepot. In a plot to get back in Sultan Mahmud Shah’s favour, Hang Tuah made his voyage to Pahang and succeeded to ‘charm’ the beautiful Tun Teja with some help from the ‘magical love potion’ which made her agree to accompany Hang Tuah on his boat to Melaka. However, Tun Teja found out later that she was betrayed by Hang Tuah. She eventually agreed to marry Sultan Mahmud Shah. For the mission accomplished, Hang Tuah was conferred the title ‘Laksamana’ (admiral).

A painting of the beautiful Tun Teja / Photo source : Tun Teja Mausoleum: a story of love, betrayal and war

When the Johor Sultanate started to lose its grip on Negeri Sembilan, the Bugis from Riau under Daeng Kemboja, made inroads into the state and settled at Linggi.  In 1756, the Bugis laid siege to Melaka, which was then ruled by the Dutch. In retaliation, Dutch reinforcement attacked the Bugis’s base the following year. The Bugis then decided to call a truce and both warring parties agreed to build a fort at the estuary of Sungai Linggi (for more information, check section on Kuala Linggi below). After a long period of peace, in 1784, the Bugis under Sultan Ibrahim of Selangor mounted another attack on Dutch Melaka. He sailed up Sungai Linggi to Rembau and rounded up Minangkabaus fighters from Rembau and Pedas for the attack.

After the Dutch left Melaka, Negeri Sembilan was divided into two camps – Dato Kelana and Dato Bandar –that fought to control Sungai Linggi, which had become the major trade highway. The Chinese started mining around Rasah in 1828 but left the tin mines to move to Selangor because of trouble with the Malays. They returned in 1830 and by 1874, there were 15,000 Chinese in Sungai Ujong; by then, it was a major tin mining area in the country.

On 21 April 1874, Dato Kelana and Dato Muda Linggi signed an agreement with the British seeking their protection and recognition of Dato Kelana as the ruler of Sungai Ujong. In the process, Dato Bandar surrendered to the British and he was sent to exile in Singapore. After the ouster, the opposing camp was now led by Yamtuan Antah of Seri Menanti. They started a move to drive the British out of Sungai Ujong and this paved the start of the Sungai Ujong War in December 1875. By the 22nd of December, British forces captured the stockades at Bukit Putus and Ulu Bandol and reached Yamtuan Antah’s stronghold at Seri Menanti where they burned his palace, Istana Pulih, to the ground.

Police station at Rassa (Rasah today) – The Golden Chersonese And The Way Thither / Photo source – Wikimedia Commons

Five years into the British Residential system in Sungai Ujong, Isabella Lucy Bird, Victorian explorer, naturalist and writer (international traveller and adventure blogger by today’s classification) visited Sungai Ujong via Sungai Linggi. In her book ‘The Golden Chersonese and the way thither’ published in 1883, she wrote that she visited the tomb of a ‘great prophet’ who was slain in ascending the Linggi  (for more information, check section on Pengkalan Kempas below). She then visited ‘Serambang’ (Seremban) and she was shown around the town by the host, British Resident Captain Murray. She also stayed at a sanatorium located three miles away in what the Resident called ‘Plantation Hill’. Isabella also wrote of her interest to stay longer in order for her to make acquaintance with a colony of ants!

(Left) – Greater moth orchid / (Right) – Elk horn fern – The Golden Chersonese And The Way Thither. Photo source – Wikimedia Commons

Places of Interest

Photo source : Negeri Sembilan

The distance between Port Dickson town and Pengkalan Kempas is about 33 km via Federal Route 5.  Pengkalan Kempas [1] is a one-street town and just a stone’s throw from Sungai Linggi. The first attraction of the town is the jetty (see first photo), which is located just before the town. Sungai Linggi is well known for giant freshwater prawns. There are plenty of boats available for rental to catch prawns. Besides that, visitors can take eco tours exploring the river, mangrove forest and catch a glimpse of saltwater crocodiles. It is reported that the population has reached 3,000. Isabella also encountered a crocodile, which she called an alligator on her cruise up the river (incidentally, a crocodile is larger than an alligator). In the olden days, this jetty was a bustling place. Tax was collected from traders and it was a key landing point for Chinese settlers predominantly from the Fujian Province. The town folks are very proud of this history that they had erected a sign to proclaim the landing site.

Directly opposite the jetty is the Police Station, which was established in 1920. It also served as a tax collection centre. The town is flanked on either side by pre-war shophouses but most of the shops are closed. The town used to be the pit stop for motorists en-route to Melaka. At the end of the street is SJK (C) Yik Hwa, a Chinese primary school that was opened on 15 November 1923. In 2018, it had an enrolment of only 49 pupils. Further up, located on a hillock is the Chinese Methodist Church, built in 1928. The worship service is on every Sunday at 4.00 pm.

Across the road from the church is the main drawcard of the town, the Pengkalan Kempas Historical Complex. When Isabella made the visit in 1880, it was known as Keramat Sungai Udang (prawn river shrine). Today, the complex consists of the tomb, a four-sided inscription tombstone with a cylindrical shaped hole at the centre and a number of ancient stones/megaliths.

Tomb of Sheikh Ahmad Majnun / Photo source : Pengkalan Kempas

According to the epitaph, the tomb is the final resting place of a saint, Sheikh Ahmad Majnun (also spelt as Ahmat Majanu), and it is dated to the 872 Hijrah era, corresponding to the year 1467/1468. It is also written that the ‘saint’ would by no means have been a holy man but on the contrary a traitor who was executed after an unsuccessful attempt at the life of Sultan Mansur Shah. Many scholars had come to study the tomb and offered their views. However, many questions remain unanswered until today. Who was Sheikh Ahmad Majnun? Was he a saint or a traitor? If he was a traitor, why was he commemorated with a true Muslim burial? Incidentally, the word ‘Majnun’ means ‘crazy’ in Arabic. As to the hole at the centre of the tombstone, many believe it is an olden day ‘lie detector’. Anyone who dares to take the challenge, do it at your own peril. Based on the date of this tomb, it is one of the oldest Muslim tombs in the country.

The megaliths found at the site are menhirs (freestanding stones) believed to be from the 2nd/3rd century CE; the locals called them ‘batu hidup’ or living stone. The most well known is the cluster of three erected inscription stones which are nicknamed after their distinctive shapes i.e rudder, spoon and sword. The rudder shaped stone has inscriptions of a horse, tiger, barking deer (known locally as kijang) and probably an elephant’s trunk. Interestingly, the sword stone has the Arabic word ‘Allah’ that sticks out a mile. This leads to more baffling mystery as the stone predates Islam. However, J.G. de Casparis concluded that the sword stone post-dates the introduction of Islam into the Malay Peninsula and probably only dates back to the middle of the fifteenth century.

(Left) –  Inscription tombstone / Photo source : AHMAT MAJANU’S TOMBSTONE AT PENGKALAN KEMPAS AND ITS KAWI INSCRIPTION(Right) – Cluster of three erected inscription stones, namely rudder, spoon and sword respectively / Photo source : Pengkalan Kempas

Megaliths in the Malay Peninsula are mainly found within the border of Melaka and Negeri Sembilan i.e in Alor Gajah district in Melaka and in Kuala Pilah, Rembau and Tampin districts in Negeri Sembilan. These upright stones are around 2 to 8 feet in height and arranged either in a cluster of one large menhir surrounded by smaller stones or in pairs and aligned side by side with one stone larger than the other. These stones are erected on earth mounds. Excavation of the megalithic site at Kampong Ipoh in Tampin, Negeri Sembilan by the Museums Department in 1981, found no skeletal remains in the megalithic area. The excavation proved that the megalithic groupings in Malaysia were not the sites of historic or prehistoric burial as believed by the local people. Research into megaliths in our country is rather scarce. Until today, the purpose and age of the megaliths remain a mystery. Some of the megaliths from the Tampin excavation are on display at the grounds of the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur. Another place to see these ancient stones is Laman Megalit (Megalith Park) inside Taman Putra Perdana in Putrajaya. The park which was completed in 2003 has over eighty erected megaliths and these stones were discovered by Petronas during work to lay a gas pipeline at Kampung Gelanggang in Negri Sembilan in 1989. Prior, the stones were displayed at the Petronas Megalith Garden located between Dayabumi and Kuala Lumpur Railway Station in the city.

Laman Megalit at Putrajaya / Photo source : Megalith Stones at Laman Megalit, Putrajaya

The next destination is Kuala Linggi [2] in Melaka, which is about 15 km from Pengkalan Kempas using Federal Route 5 heading to Port Dickson. Upon reaching Kampung Sungai Raya, exit to join N143 Jalan Pasir Panjang-Kuala Linggi. In my article about Lukut, I have mentioned Raja Sulaiman of Sungai Raya who had wanted to be liberated from the clutches of Raja Bot at Lukut but he failed to make a breakthrough. At the 12 km point, the Kuala Linggi Bridge would be in full view. This bridge was officially opened on 10 July 1990 by Tun Dr Mahathir when he was the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia. The bridge serves as a border crossing between Negeri Sembilan and Melaka and it is currently a popular spot for fishing. A short distance from the bridge and located on top of a hill at the mouth of Sungai Linggi is Kota Bukit Supai / Sepoy Hill Fort. The word ‘supai’ may not be Malay but a Persian or Hindi word, which has the same meaning as ‘sipahi’, which means ‘sepoy’ or an infantry soldier. The sepoy guarding this fort were trained to use weapons, initially matchlock muskets and later flintlock, which was brought to the East by the Dutch. The Dutch name for the flintlock weapon was ‘snaphaan’, passed on to Malay as ‘senapang’ (rifle in English).

As mentioned earlier, the fort was built jointly by the Bugis and Dutch after the restoration of friendly relations and a peace treaty was signed on 1 January 1758 at the completion of the fort. The terms of the treaty were heavily in favour of the Dutch – first, they had full control of the fort, and second, they controlled all ship movements on Sungai Linggi and collected taxes from ships transporting tin quarried in the interior of Sungai Linggi and Sungai Rembau. The fort is rectangular, measuring 167 feet by 150 feet, fortified with bastions at every corner and the two entrances, landward and seaward. The walls were about eight feet high and a moat surrounded the fort. The Dutch named the fort, Fort Filipina, after the daughter of Jacob Mosel, the Governor General of the Dutch United East India Company (Dutch name, Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie, in short VOC) at that time. About a year later, the Dutch abandoned the fort.

Kota Bukit Supai / Sepoy Hill Fort / Fort FilipinaPhoto source : Halaman Utama Portal Rasmi Majlis Perbandaran Alor Gajah (MPAG)

Between 1974 and 1975, the Museums Department initiated some conservation works on the remains of the fort. Buildings that were built within the fort and the seaward passageway that connected the fort and the landing stage at the beach had disappeared. The fort was later gazetted as a historical monument under the Antiquities Act 1976. As one of the ways to attract visitors to the site, the Alor Gajah Town Council have built a seafood restaurant on stilts and linked the eatery to the fort by a walkway. One wonders what would be the probability that the path of this walkway, the same as the original seaward passageway that had disappeared?

Ship-to-ship cargo transfer at KLIP / Photo source : TAG MARINE SDN BHD

T.A.G Marine Sdn Bhd (TMSB) is a local company involved in the shipping and maritime industry. They are licensed port operator/service provider and operated the Kuala Linggi International Port (KLIP) when it was gazetted in July 2006. The port is situated near the river mouth of Sungai Linggi. Since then, it has been providing ship-to-ship cargo transfer services and it has attracted a host of large carriers and ships. One of its major successes was Gazprom’s first ship-to-ship transfer of LNG cargo on 6 December 2014. In 2019, the company announced a RM15 billion KLIP expansion project. The land reclamation is expected to be completed in 48 months. This raised concern by the local communities for the protection and preservation of the environment and wildlife. In a press report on 13 March 2021, the Melaka Menteri Besar has said that it will ensure that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) will be carried out prior to the construction of the KLIP.

KLIP expansion project / Photo source :  LINGGI BASE SDN. BHD.

Unknown to many, the Linggi-Rembau estuary is blessed with a firefly colony. The Negeri Sembilan Tourism started to promote it as an attraction in 2008. Since then the Pengkalan Nelayan Sungai Timun [3] jetty in Rembau district has seen an increasing number of both local and foreign tourists. An added feature of the Sungai Timun fireflies is the combination of both the species that practice synchronous flashing and the non-synchronous flashing species. The former is known as Pteroptyx tener and the latter are Pteroptyx assymmetria and Pteroptyx malaccae. Based on studies done, there are 2200 identified types worldwide and in Malaysia, there are about 100 identified types. The local name for fireflies is ‘kelip kelip’, which means to flicker. Its life cycle consists of eggs, larvae, pupae and adults. It takes about a year for it to grow to adult size of 1-2 cm and adults only live for about two months. Fireflies in the mangrove forest congregate on the Berembang trees (Sonneratia caseolaris/mangrove apple) as a source of food and protection from the sun. Other mangrove trees that support the population of fireflies are nipa palms, nibong palms and ferns. Incidentally, July is the month where World Firefly Day is celebrated and this year, it was on 3-4 July. The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Watch us, don’t catch us!’ which is to promote firefly tourism. It is hoped that the mangrove forest at Sungai Linggi and Sungai Rembau will be protected and preserved so that the giant freshwater prawns, saltwater crocodiles, fireflies, mangrove trees and the livelihood of the communities will continue.

Getting There

From Kuala Lumpur city centre, use the North South Highway (E2 South) and exit at Exit 223 Pedas Linggi. After the toll, head to Linggi. At Linggi, join Federal Route 5 to Pengkalan Kempas. From Pengkalan Kempas to Kuala Linggi, use Federal Route 5 and head to Port Dickson. Upon reaching Kampung Sungai Raya, exit to join N143 Jalan Pasir Panjang-Kuala Linggi. To go to Pengkalan Nelayan Sungai Timun from Pengkalan Kempas, join Federal Route 5 and head to Linggi and Lubok Cina. Before Lubok Cina, watch out for the turning to N116 Jalan Sungai Timun. The jetty is further ahead.

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Tun Teja Mausoleum: a story of love, betrayal and war

Previous Post:Perjanjian Sungai Ujung 1874

A Battlefield Tour… – Sabri Zain’s Malayan History Society

The Golden Chersonese And The Way Thither


Pengkalan Kempas

The Excavation of the Megalithic Alignment at Kampong Ipoh, Tampin, Negeri Sembilan. A Note

Megalith Stones at Laman Megalit, Putrajaya.

Notes on the old Cannon found in Malaya, and known to be of Dutch origin – Footnotes 9 and 26

Halaman Utama Portal Rasmi Majlis Perbandaran Alor Gajah (MPAG)



Negeri Sembilan

Keeping the firefly magic alive


J for Jawi Peranakan

Jawi Peranakan of Penang

by Shafinaz Ahmad Shaharir

Image credit: Dennis Ong

Jawi Peranakan, or previously known as Jawi Pekan, refers to a community that originated from social amalgamation and assimilation – a product of intermarriage between local Malay women and Muslim men from Southern India. Although this community has long existed especially in Kedah, Melaka and Perak, it is believed that the Jawi Peranakan in Penang grew in number when Captain Francis Light established Penang in 1786, which attracted numerous merchants and migrants from the Malay Archipelago, China, India, Arabia and Europe. The merchants and migrants from India and Arabia established a new society in Penang known as Jawi Pekan. Many of the merchants established their businesses in George Town and settled down; some of them married local women, others brought their wives, and the sojourners eventually turned into settlers.

Weld Quay in the Port of Penang, George Town circa 1910. Image credit: Leiden University Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KITLV_-80020Kleingrothe,_C.J.MedanQuay_in_Penang-_circa_1910.tif

Back then, the term Jawi Pekan referred to the interracial marriage between Malay women and Arabians, Tamils, Bengalis, Punjabis, Gujaratis, or Afghans, leading to assimilation with Malay culture. Additionally, the term was also used for Muslim people not of local Malay descent. However, in 1871, the term Jawi Pekan was dropped by the British in the Census of Straits Settlements and replaced with Jawi Peranakan; the reason being the said term was not specific and did not use the term ‘Peranakan, which supposedly referred to locally born people with mixed local and foreign ancestries.

At first, the intermarriages only took place between wealthy merchants and aristocratic Malay women. However, a change happened in Penang when intermarriages also began to involve non-aristocrats Indian Muslims and local Malay women. This was because many Indian Muslims migrated to Penang under the British and with the opening of Georgetown as a port of call under the East India Company (EIC). Apart from mixed marriages with Indian Muslims, Malay women in Penang also married Jawi Peranakan from Kedah who migrated to Penang. In addition, the Indian Muslim migrants married local Malay women since they shared the Islamic faith. It is believed that because of the shared religious belief system, it enabled the affluent Indian Muslim tradesmen and merchants to be accepted among the locals, and this resulted in the intermarriages. The long process of amalgamation and assimilation of Malay culture experienced by this society over the years had caused most of the new generation of Jawi Peranakan to adopt many Malay customs and traditions, and no longer maintain their cultures from South India. They were also fluent in speaking the Malay dialect of Penang (Tanjong), while also being able to converse fluently in both English and Tamil languages.

A group of Tamil Muslims in Penang, early 20th century. Image credit: Penang State Museum via http://islamicartsmagazine.com/magazine/view/the_chulia_in_penang/

Jawi Peranakan was an elite group during the early decades of Penang’s establishment; they were highly educated and wealthy as well as successful merchants. They also published the first Malay newspaper in Malaysia known as Jawi Peranakkan. In fact, it is reported that Malay journalism history started in 1876 with the publication of the Jawi Peranakkan newspaper in Singapore. The newspaper was founded by Muhammad Said Dada Muhyiddin, who was of Jawi Peranakan descent. When he passed away in 1888, the management together with the printing press passed to his widow. However, the newspaper eventually ceased publication in 1895. During the time when the weekly newspaper was still in print, it was published every Monday and initially sold for 30 cents per copy. It was written in Jawi, covering local and foreign news. Jawi is derived from the Arabic script and it was used widely by the Malays before the Rumi (Romanized) alphabet was introduced.

Image of the front page of a Jawi Peranakkan newspaper at Gallery D, Muzium Negara. Note that the newspaper is spelled with double ‘k’.

In conclusion, the Jawi Peranakan in Penang is a unique society with a rich culture and heritage that reflect the vast diversity of ethnic groups in Malaysia. In fact, the people of Jawi Peranakan are now largely identified as Malay due to the social amalgamation and assimilation with Malay cultures since a long time ago. They have adopted a plethora of Malay cultures such as food, dress, rite of passage ceremonies such as wedding, and they also use the Malay language. The communal strength of this community is that they are a hybrid of Malay and Indian identities, which make them special and different from the rest of Malay community in Penang and Malaysia as a whole.

Jawi Pekan children of Tamil ethnicity. Image credit: Wade Collection via http://islamicartsmagazine.com/magazine/view/the_chulia_in_penang/


A. Lent, J. (1978). Malaysia’s National Language Mass Media: History and Present Status. South East Asian Studies, 15(4), 598-612.

Abdul Rahim, H. (2015). Bahasa Tanjong: The Heritage Language Of The Jawi. Kajian Malaysia, 33, 91-111.

Hong, C. (Ed.). (2015, February 16). The Other Malaysia: Straits Muslims Show Diversity Within Malays. Retrieved July 21, 2021, from The Straits Times Web site: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/straits-muslims-show-diversity-within-malays

Jasin, A. (2020, Jan 9). I’m A Malay, Therefore I’m Jawi But I Feel Malaysian. Retrieved July 21, 2021, from Malaysiakini Web site: https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/506475

Jawi Peranakkan – The First Malay Newspaper Is Published 1875. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2021, from History SG: An Online Resource Guide Web site: https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/history/events/4942ebac-41d6-4eb8-abcb-cdece539bbea

Keat Gin, O. (2015). Disparate Identities: Penang From Historical Perspective, 1780-1941. Kajian Malaysia, 33, 27-52.

Kwee Kim, C. (Ed.). (2005, August 22). Pioneers of Malay Journalism. Retrieved July 21, 2021, from The Star Web site: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/community/2005/08/22/pioneers-of-malay-journalism

Merican, A. (2015). Approaches Towars Theorizing Malay Journalism: History, Criticism and Context. Malaysian Journal of Media Studies, 17(1), 1-10.

Merican, A. (2018, April 25). Tanjong Identity: Who Are We? Retrieved July 19, 2021, from New Straits Times Web site: https://www.nst.com.my/education/2018/04/361447/tanjong-identity-who-are-we

Suid, N. (2020). Penerimaan Masyarakat Dusun Mukim Tenghilan Sabah Terhadap Kahwin Campur. Open University Malaysia. Retrieved from http://library.oum.edu.my/repository/1321/1/library-document-1321.pdf

Surat Khabar Jawi Peranakan. (2001). Retrieved July 19, 2021, from Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia Web site: https://www.pnm.gov.my/yangpertama/Sastera_Jawiperanakan.htm

Thulaja, N. (2021, July 19). Jawi Peranakan Community. Retrieved from Singapore Infopedia : National Library Board Web site: https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_356_2005-01-13.html

Yusoff, O., & Mohamed, N. (2010). Daripada Jawi Peranakan Kepada Melayu: Tinjauan Terhadap Komuniti Jawi Peranakan Di Pulau Pinang Pada Abad Ke-21. SARI: Jurnal Alam dan Tamadun Melayu, 28(2), 63-82.

Yusoff, O., Mohamed, N., Ramli, A., & Ahmad, Z. (2013). Pemikiran dan Falsafah Adat Resam Perkahwinan Jawi Peranakan Pulau Pinang. Journal of Human Development and Communication, 2, 141-159. Zulkiffli, Z. (2015, April 24). Jawi Peranakan Bukan Mamak. Retrieved July 19, 2021, from myMetro Web site: https://api.hmetro.com.my/node/46073

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I is for Iban

by Shafinaz Ahmad Shaharir

Image credit: Dennis Ong

Sarawak, Land of Hornbills, is the largest state in Malaysia. It is located on the northwest coast of Borneo Island. Sarawak is a stunning state with unique and diverse cultures, along with wild and ravishing rainforests. Before 1841, the Brunei Sultanate reigned over the state, before the Brooke era from 1841 to 1941 and before the Japanese Occupation from 1941 to 1945. After the Japanese sought peace in August 1945, Sarawak was placed under British Military Rule until April 1946. On July 1, 1946, Sarawak became a British Crown Colony before it eventually joined Malaysia in 1963.

Map of Borneo: This island of Borneo that consists of three different countries, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. Image source: Peter Fitzgerald, minor amendments by Joelf, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Borneo_map.png

Sarawak is a diverse state, consisting of 26 different ethnic groups including Malay, Chinese, and Iban, Bidayuh, Melanau and other indigenous tribes collectively known as Orang Ulu. Each group has its own language and unique culture. Generally, the indigenous peoples of Sarawak continue to show reverence towards their rainforests even until today. Despite the prolonged exposure to the outside world, the indigenous peoples of Sarawak retain their ancestors’ culture and traditions.

Formerly known as Sea Dayaks, the Iban is one of the most populous ethnic groups in Sarawak. They were known as Sea Dayaks by the British because they were often seen patrolling the sea to help Malays fight against pirates. Furthermore, the ancestors of Iban Sarawak are believed to have come from the Kapuas River region in western Kalimantan; their move into Sarawak was to search for new swidden land and to expand their territories. The earliest Iban migrations to the thinly populated Sarawak can be categorized as an establishment of pioneer settlements along the tributaries of the Batang Lupar and Saribas rivers. The migration during that time is the beginning of the first major movement, which took about sixteenth generations, approximately during the middle of the sixteenth century. Since then, the Iban gradually travelled northward and eastward through the Rejang Valley; today, they are present in every district and division of Sarawak, be it in the countryside or urban areas.

An Iban war perahu (bangkong) on Skerang river. Image credit: Henry Ling Roth, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iban_Prahu.jpg

The Iban have a special and unique residence namely the longhouse where the villagers live under one roof. Back then, most the Iban longhouses were situated by the river as it was their main mode of transportation. In addition, there are variations of longhouse designs between different ethnic groups However, the Iban village would normally have only one longhouse, which is in straight-line with a rectangular shape, built using heavy hardwood posts and beam structures. The floors and walls are constructed using bamboos, sometimes with wood barks and palm thatch roofs. It is almost conceptually similar to that of terrace row houses, with each compartment or home separated by walls and sharing a common street. Each family has its own personal compartment known as bilek, which is equipped with sleeping and cooking areas. The cooking area is the area where the ‘ladies of the house’ clean and cook, as well as socialize with other women. Simply said, it is an area only for the females in the house.

An illustration of an Iban Longhouse. Image credit: Henry Ling Roth, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iban_Langhaus.jpg

Additionally, the covered corridor known as ruai and located at the front of the bilek, running along the longhouse, can be considered as the men’s domain. The ruai is an area where community meetings, major ritual performances and wedding receptions are held, apart from it being a hall to entertain guests. Here, men also gather for daily chores such as mending fishnets and traps. In essence, while the bilek is a private and domestic space for the family, ruai is a public space dedicated for the longhouse members and guests; it is on the upper floor of the longhouse known as sadau in Iban. The distance between the ground and the base of the house can be several feet. It is assumed that the style of the house, gathered in one common structure, is convenient in order to protect the villagers. Furthermore, its high structure helps prevent effects of flooding and provides protection from wild beasts. In essence, the longhouse structures were developed as a defensive measure to protect the villagers from tribal ambushes, particularly during the old headhunting days, considering the longhouse is difficult to access, especially as the ladders were removed at night as a security measure.

The ruai, where people gather. Image credit: Seth Peli via https://www.expatgo.com/my/2017/01/18/headhunting-in-borneo/

The ancient Iban are well known as fearless and brave warriors, very determined in securing desirable land for swidden agriculture, They will fight enemies or other tribes that intercept their movement or during their mission in extending their lands. The way they fight is different from other Borneans since they are fearless when it comes to displaying their bravery and full-frontal attacks. They also showcase their strength through headhunting or ngayau. It was a custom of Iban warriors to cut off the heads of their enemies after their battles, which were brought back to the longhouse. During the time when ngayau was still practised, it was considered as the symbol of bravery and heroism as well as used to determine an individual’s social status or social rank in the tribe. It is believed that ngayau started when their lands were intruded upon by other tribes and because of the arrival of outsiders that occupied lands belonging to them.

Punan heads taken by the Iban. Image source: https://robinsonmike.blogspot.com/2014_08_01_archive.html

Typically, the Iban warrior possessing strong skills and effective techniques in battles will be the one appointed as the tribal chief, praised by others, as well as feared among the tribes. This explains why, the Sarawak Iban are famously known as warriors and have been called as ‘the wickedest head-hunters’ even though their headhunting days ended a very long time ago. Additionally, because of their bravery, the Iban were recruited as part of the military known as Sarawak Rangers. The Sarawak Rangers played a vital role in fighting the Japanese during Japanese Occupation (1941-1945) and against the communists during Malayan Emergency (1948-1960).

The sword used by the Iban during headhunting is known as Parang Ilang. The sword represents the symbol of courage and their excellent fighting skills. Most Iban men would usually own a Parang Ilang as it is an essential weapon used for hunting and protecting their family from enemies. Apart from that, the same sword would also be used for rituals and traditional medications, which include a cure for shingles (kayap). In the past, the hilt of the sword would be decorated with human hairs obtained through ngayau. Iban hold a strong belief that if the warrior passed away and owned the Parang Ilang, then the sword shall be inherited by the heir of his family because as it is believed that the warrior’s soul remains with the sword despite his demise. Therefore, it shall not be easily passed onto other people except their legal heir. In essence, Parang Ilang is the traditional weapon of Iban where the sword remains important in the Iban community, making it a part of tangible heritage that is still being preserved among the Iban cultures until today.

A beautifully carved hilt of a parang ilang from Muzium Negara’s collection. Image credit: Maganjeet Kaur

Like most of the indigenous people, the Iban are traditionally animists, who believe that everything, be it animate or inanimate, has a spirit that can influence the events in their life. One of the many rituals still being practiced by the Iban is Miring, an offering ceremony aimed to honour the gods, spirits and souls of dead ancestors. This belief seeks their ancestors’ help and blessing before any important event is held. According to the old faith of the Iban, it is believed that if the supernatural is not fed, they will not obtain the blessing, which will cause disasters and misfortunes. The miring ritual is still practiced whenever the Iban celebrate their annual harvest festival known as Gawai Dayak, in order to thank the rice spirits that have blessed their community with good harvests. Gawai Dayak is a major festival not only for the Iban, but also for other indigenous people in Sarawak.

Animistic rituals have been practiced by the indigenous people for a long time but over time, some communities have embraced other religions and changed their lifestyles; majority have embraced Christianity. Nowadays, the Iban have successfully adapted to the modernisation and globalization era, their longhouses are completely equipped with modern facilities and essential necessities such as electricity and water supplies, the Internet, telephone line and roads. Most of the younger generation can also be found living in the urban areas, yet they always return to their hometown especially during the festive seasons to visit families. Furthermore, they also live peacefully with other tribes and races such as Bidayuh, Malays and Chinese. Although, the Iban today have been exposed to modernization and globalisation, yet they have impressively managed to preserve their ancestors’ customs, ritual and traditional beliefs including their traditional costumes, the Ngajat dance, Pua Kumbu, Parang Ilang, traditional foods, the longhouse, Gawai Dayak festival and many more.

The boy is in traditional costume accessorised with headgear and Parang Ilang. The girl is wearing the rawai, a corset of rattan hoops secured by small brass rings stiffened around the torso, with sugu tinggi (silver headgear) and tumpa (bangles). Image credit: Charles Hose, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Young_Ibans,_or_Sea_Dayaks.jpg


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