X is for Xing Bao

by Dennis Ong

A star was born on Saint Valentine’s feast day in 1890 – the Xing Bao (also Sing Pau, Sing Po or Sing Poh), literally Star Newspaper, or Xing Newspaper – “Xing” as in Xing Jia Po or Xing Zhou (variations of the word for Singapore in Chinese). The first issue of this eight-page spread came hot off the press at the Koh Yew Hean Press located at Nos. 100, 101 and 102 Teluk Ayer Street, Singapore.

Published daily, except on Sundays and public holidays, the newspaper’s political agenda has been described as either vague or unclear, although it did take on a pro-China political stance while retaining its commercial interests as a business. Politically strategic and functional at the same time, it displayed three dating systems on its front page – the imperial calendar showing the regnal calendar of the Chinese emperor, the lunar calendar, and the Gregorian calendar. From this, we are able to take a learned guess of the composition of its target market and the general cosmopolitanism of the area in which the newspaper was circulated.

Layout and components of the newspaper’s front page.
Source: NUS Digital Libraries, https://libportal.nus.edu.sg/frontend/ms/sing-po/index

Through Huang Nai Siang’s contribution as chief writer of Xing Bao, readers had for themselves a medium through which they could be informed and ponder about the current affairs in China while better understand their civic roles within the local Chinese community. Alongside him was Lin Hengnan (a.k.a Lim Kong Chuan), founder and editor of the newspaper. Lin, who was also the father-in-law of Dr Wu Lien-Teh and Dr Lim Boon Keng, both distinguished personalities in Malaya-Singapore, likely envisioned Xing Bao to share the same entrepreneurial optimism he had for Koh Yew Hean Press. This press had been well known for its respected printing and publishing repertoire, such as the Tong Yi Xin Yu, a Chinese-Malay dictionary published in 1877, which secured a reprint in 1883 as Hua Yi Tong Yu; the first volume of the Straits Chinese Magazine in 1897; and the second edition of Hikayat Abdullah in 1880.

A spread of the Xing Bao newspaper dated 4 November 1890.
Source: NUS Digital Libraries, https://libportal.nus.edu.sg/frontend/ms/sing-po/index

From the song ti font of the individual Chinese characters and the meticulous, strict typesetting in the content, we can very certainly tell that Xing Bao was printed using the letterpress printing technique – a technique that although was mechanised still relied on the skilful and tedious attention of the printer to align the letterpresses, to say the least. On the other hand, a striking visual contrast is conjured in its branding where a thicker kai ti font is used for the newspaper’s masthead. Content wise, it was evidently written in relatively modern classical Chinese style. Characteristic of classical Chinese literature, Xing Bao’s contents boasted no punctuation marks albeit with sparring section breaks between titles and sections, with vertical and horizontal lines, white spaces or with advertising visuals. Helpful to one while navigating the pages, the newspaper came with a simple table of contents.

The story of Xing Bao cannot be disassociated from Koh Yew Hean Press, which remained in business for over a century until 2006. The last reported owner of the Koh Yew Hean Press was Zhang Gensong, who revealed that the 70-80 year-old business had been managed by his family – his father and grandfather. Over the course of over a century, the business had put up its book press, hand press, lithographing machines, cutting, perforating and rolling machines, and English and Chinese type for auction at least two to three times. By comparison, Xing Bao was short-lived, being in circulation for roughly nine years until 1898 and succeeded by Rixin Bao of the same Press, for just four years. While the peak of its daily circulation at 970 in 1896, beating Lat Pau, it was Lat Pau (founded in 1881 by See Ewe Lay) that fared better at the endurance category, having lasted in business for 52 years. Be it Xing Bao or Lat Pau, these newspapers played a crucial role as a source of information and a vehicle to transport ideas, not only for those in the past but also those in the present, in a way, they are our time-machines.

Koh Yew Hean Press when it was located at No. 18 North Bridge Road, Singapore. Source: PictureSG, https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/pictures/Details/0f0f51b9-c15c-4ed4-9355-c097eaa4b711

You can access digitised copies of Xing Bao in the digital realm here: https://digitalgems.nus.edu.sg/collection/1524

References

Jaime Koh, Koh Yew Hean Press, https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_2016-04-06_161840.html

Bonny Tan, Lat Pau (Le Bao), https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_33_2005-01-11.html

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Malay Architecture & Traditional Houses

On 22nd January 2022, Ar. Ahmad Najib Ariffin (Nadge) hosted a talk on “Malay Architecture and Traditional Houses” for MVJMM. Following the talk, he gave a detailed tour of Istana Satu, located on Muzium Negara’s grounds.

Below are writeups on the talk and the tour
Evocations of Serenity – by Annie Chuah
Istana Satu – by Aishah Nadirah

Attribution: K. Kamal, Lilawati Abdul Wahab, A. Ahmad. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Climatic-design-of-the-traditional-Malay-house-to-Kamal-Wahab/7d2b00a22070e3090fa592dbc50bae8559c4454e

Evocations of Serenity

by Annie Chuah

In our haste to embrace the ‘modern’ and the ‘progressive’, Malay houses in rural areas have been and are being abandoned in favour of modern structures in the city. However, some scholars and traditionalists have come to appreciate the intrinsic philosophy and beauty of Malay houses not only in Malaysia, but also throughout Nusantara and the wider Malay World.

Elevated dwelling spaces built with organic materials, these examples of vernacular architecture are prone to the ravages of climate, and many have not survived the centuries. Conservation efforts are being undertaken to preserve some fine examples of built structures, which stand testimony to the architectural mastery and artistry of the peoples of the Malay World.

Ar. Ahmad Najib Ariffin (Nadge), Director, Nusantara Academy of Development, Geoculture & Ethnolinguistics, is at the forefront of preservation and conservation of some of the existing structures of traditional buildings in Malaysia. Historian, conservationist and educationist, this zealous architect is fervent in his mission to raise awareness of the value of Malay architecture and tradition.

In a talk to Museum Volunteers on 22 January 2022 titled Malay Architecture & Traditional Houses: history, traditions and transitions, he explained how architectural heritage plays an important role in providing a wealth of materials in comparative forms of styles and their applications in structures meant to be comfortable dwelling spaces in harmony with the natural environment.

In his opening slide of a Malay Kampung in Klang, Nadge introduced the setting as ‘one of the most environment-friendly civilisations in the history of Earth’.

Attap houses close to the banks of the Klang River, circa 1920. Attribution: Cheah Jin Seng. (2011). Selangor 300 Early Postcards (p. 160). Editions Didier Millet.

In a virtual experience with Nadge, we heard five Malaysian stories spanning 15,000 years. He spoke on:

  • Sundaland, the submerged continent.
  • Sungai Batu in Kedah. Dating to the 8th century BCE, it is Southeast Asia’s oldest-known built site. It was an iron smelting and export complex made of brick structures.
  • The Melaka Empire, which was the centre of trade and religion in the region until the Portuguese conquest in 1511. 

Through these stories, Nadge shed light on the architectural origins of the Malay House. The layout of traditional Malay houses is seemingly random and gives a non-uniform look but the wisdom behind Malay architecture surprises the uninitiated. The well thought out design, use of natural resources and the overall functionality represents the identity of a people who have lived in harmony with nature since ancient times.

Raised on stilts, the post and lintel structure with wooden or bamboo walls, topped by sloping roofs of thatch with gables on both sides, the typical Malay houses are a fine example of sophisticated rural domestic architecture.

Stilts ensure minimal impact on the ground, the earth space they respect, to avoid human-animal conflict. The raised dwelling is also a safeguard from floods. Height of stilts of hard, durable wood such as cengal, vary according to location – inland or coastal. Being in the tropics with generally high daily temperatures, the earth-floor space allows temperature regulation, ventilation and unimpeded air circulation. A member of the audience commented that it also facilitates sweeping the floor with the dust and dirt passing through the gaps of the wooden floor to the ground beneath!

Of the three sections of the house, the main section is the Rumah Ibu where the family eats, relaxes and entertains guests. The length of this section is determined by the span (depa) of the mother’s/matriarch’s arms. Windows along the walls are long and the entrance is through a short flight of steps or stairs.

Rumah Dapur is the kitchen annexe. It is a separate building but linked to the main section by a passageway. It is an ingenious plan for when the kitchen catches fire – the stilts are cut off and thrown away from the house to be doused or into the river if there is one nearby.

Rumah Tengah is the area for sleeping. The rooms are partitioned off, usually by curtains. The lavatory and bathroom are not within the main house, but built some distance away. The outside of the house is usually shaded with trees and vegetation. A short flight of steps or stairs leads to the elevated main section. The steps may be plain or decorated with tiles.

Example of a Malay house in Kampung Bharu

It can be observed here that the house is of a modular construction. As the family expands, additional units are added on, as in the longhouses of Sarawak.

Every region has its own style and this is most prominent in the style of the tropically suited roof – the long ridge roof with slopes for humble dwellings. Wealthier families have the five-ridge roof. Carved panels below the roof edges cut glare during the day while they adorn and add a touch of finesse to the home.

Sometimes a crossed frontal structure is used to anchor and stabilise the roof edges against strong monsoon winds and heavy rain as experienced in the east coast although this crossbeam is a feature on palaces and public/government buildings. Look out for this in Museum Negara’s front entrance.

Traditional Malay houses have their own form of geomancy. The ‘tiang seri’, a freestanding pillar without any joints, is the main pillar of the house and is in the main section.

A defining characteristic of the traditional Malay house is its construction without nails or metal supports. Builder artisans are adept in the art of cutting wood in such a manner that pieces slide together and solidly interlock. Interlocking edges and ends of wood are tightened by wedges. What a genius of wooden carpentry! Such a construction can withstand earthquakes. Another advantage is that it can be easily dismantled and rebuilt in another location.

Traditional Malay construction methods have been applied in palace and mosque architecture, with details that are more intricate, scale and complexity. Nadge cited Istana Kenangan in Kuala Kangsar, Perak, and Istana Sri Menanti in Negeri Sembilan as buildings with great cultural aesthetic value.

Istana Lama Seri Menanti, an elegant five-storey timber palace, was built in the 20th century by expert Malay craftsmen and carvers. Designed by two skilful local master builders, no piece of iron nail or metal screw was used. It is recognised as the tallest wooden palace in Southeast Asia. Recently restored, this architectural gem was opened as a Royal Museum in July 1992. A visit by Museum Volunteers with Nadge as guide is scheduled on 2 March 2022 for an on-site study of the elements of Malay architecture incorporated in its construction.

Istana Kenangan was once a royal residence, but now the Royal Museum of Perak. This 2-storey building was built in 1925 without a single nail. Its facade is beautified in its state colours of yellow, white and black. The elements of Malay architecture – the stilts, long windows for ventilation, multiple roof ridges and carved overhangs – are plainly  evident.

The flexibility of Malay architectural designs in traditional mosques is another fascinating area of observation and study. Built of wood, old traditional mosques are in need of conservation. Among these are Masjid Lama Kampung Kuala Dal in Kuala Kangsar, Perak and Masjid Tanjung Sembeling Lama Seri Siantan in Negeri Sembilan.

Masjid Tanjung Sembeling Lama Seri Siantan before and after conservation. Image credits: http://seriesiantan.blogspot.com/2011/01/masjid-lama-tanjung-sembeling-dalam_18.html

Other extant examples of palaces, mosques and houses with designs and range of Malay craftsmanship can still be seen in Malaysia. With increased awareness in the value of these buildings comes renewed interest in their conservation.

Restoration of Rumah Empang Batu, Negeri Sembilan. Images taken from Nadge’s presentation slides.

Internationalisation and mechanisation leading to shorter building time have led to rejection of traditional architecture. Ardent architects such as Nadge and those of like mind draw attention to the Malay contribution to the technology of architecture. The Malays were among the pioneers in the art of modular construction and prefabrication long before these ideas re-surfaced in architectural journals.

Let us not forget and discard previous knowledge of principles of building construction that were very suitable in the circumstances where people lived. Although some may appear outdated, it is only because we have forgotten the wisdom that came with traditions. Have modern designs and technologies that replaced those solved present living problems while creating new unsustainable ones?

Next: Istana Satu

References

Presentation Slides – Malay Architectural Houses History Tradition Transitions Najib Nadge Ariffin.pptx 2022. https://openarchive.icomos.org/id/eprint/2475/

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266285891_Architectural_Heritage_Conservation_in_Malaysia_Recognition_and_Challenges

https://books.google.com.my/books?id=fCtFff2veXYC&pg=PA68&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

W is for Wickham

by Fazlin Azrimi Abu Hassan and Dennis Ong

The history of planting rubber trees or Hevea brasiliensis in the Malay Peninsula does not date back very far. We think of rubber when we talk about British botanist Sir Henry Wickham. There was a time when demand for rubber was elevated by industrialisation and the rubber business boomed when British inventors Charles Macintosh and Thomas Hancock figured out how to make good raincoats from rubberized fabric.

A photograph of Sir Henry Wickham.
Source: Library of Congress, USA

Later, due to the properties of rubber, which melted in hot weather and was stiff in the cold, an American inventor named Charles Goodyear invented the vulcanisation process by accident in 1839 after dropping some latex in sulphur. The vulcanisation process essentially allowed rubber to become more durable and elastic, thus making it more attractive for commercial use. While capitalists and inventors saw great potential, the biggest problem with rubber, however, was that there was still a scarcity of the material. At the time, the world’s rubber was mainly harvested in South America and Africa.

That was about to change in 1876 when about 70,000 rubber seeds wrapped in banana leaves arrived in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London. Collected by locals at its source in the hills and plateau in Boim, Brazil, the seeds were purchased at a price of £10 per 100. The expedition was financed by the government of (British) India, and led by Wickham who was then 30 years old.

A sketch of Wickham as a young man.
Source: http://www.bouncing-balls.com/timeline/people/nr_wickham1.htm

Bearing the responsibility to re-establish his family’s fortune after his father’s death due to a cholera epidemic, the option to become a planter during that time was one of few viable options to get rich. Finding rubber trees in the Amazon for Britain proved to be promising. Wickham had experience in the Amazon prior to Boim. At 20 years old, he embarked on an exploration in Central America and spent nine months collecting exotic birds whose feathers had been sold and appropriated for millinery use. Subsequently, he returned home and revisited the Amazon where he tapped wild rubber trees as part of his adventure. One can very much see that Wickham had an appetite for thrill and exploration.

Life happened and he married a woman named Violet. It is commonly believed that the publishing business Violet’s family ran helped make Wickham’s travels possible. Wickham’s interest in the Amazon evinced in the first book he published, which has a rather long title: Rough Notes of a Journey Through the Wilderness from Trinidad to Pará, Brazil, by way of the Great Cataracts of the Orinoco, Atabapo, and Rio Negro.

A back profile of a woman believed to be Violet, whom Wickham had sketched in some of his journals. She was in Wickham’s company to Boim whence the rubber seeds were collected. Source: http://www.bouncing-balls.com/timeline/people/nr_wickham1.htm

Britain’s intention was simple – to germinate the seeds and plant them for rubber. Soon enough, botanists at Kew successfully germinated some 2,800 seeds. Most of the lot was sent to Ceylon, Singapore, and Java. Then came H.N. Ridley (aka “Mad Ridley”), a botanist at the Singapore Botanic Gardens who zealously propounded the idea of planting rubber as a cash crop. Although there were supplies of seeds, no planters took up cultivation with the exception of Thomas Heslop Hill in Negeri Sembilan. In 1897, the price of rubber shot up. This coupled with recommendations by experts in Ceylon and elsewhere led many planters to begin planting rubber trees. Convinced by Ridley’s proposal, Tan Chay Yan started the first rubber plantation in Malaya with seven million seeds.

Despite the thriving industry in the Far East, Wickham suffered significant drawbacks in his life. This included having to pay his debts from loss of possession during his period in Queensland where he planted tobacco and coffee. He then clinched a position as a civil servant in British Honduras. Wickham’s constantly wandering mind yet again got the better of him when he was slapped with a legal problem, which forced him to sell his property, upon which, he returned to Britain. Undeterred, he ventured into other prospects but failed. During these times, Wickham continued to suggest recommendations cultivating rubber trees and even proposed several tools for rubber tapping. However, his ideas were deemed either unsuitable or as impractical failures.

H.N.Ridley with an assistant posing next to a rubber tree tapped using the herringbone method. Source: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Henry_Nicholas_Ridley

Necessity is the mother of invention. The herringbone method for tapping rubber trees was introduced by H.N. Ridley. It left V-shaped channels on the trunk, removing only a thin layer of bark each time, thus allowing a smooth flow of latex. The methods became so efficient that latex can be collected three times a day. On the flip side, this also meant that labourers in the industry were at the mercy of ensuring efficiency and productivity. They were also subject to potential risks at the workplace. To say the least, the industry was reliant on a constant stream of labour to maintain its processes.

Three photographs depicting Indian labourers who made up the majority of the manpower of the rubber industry in Malaya. These labourers were recruited based on the Kangani system and were largely subject to unfair exploitation. The subject of class and employment power structure often form the crux of the historical debate in topics relating to colonial economy.
Source: https://aliran.com/thinking-allowed-online/the-real-story-behind-those-faded-photos-of-tamil-plantation-workers-in-malaya/

At the end of 1905, there were 40,000 acres of planted rubber trees in the Federated Malay States and more than 85,000 at the close of 1906. By January 1907, there were 10,000,000 trees planted. The output of dry rubber was about 130 tons in 1905 and three times as much in 1906.

By 1910, Malaya was one of the biggest producers of rubber. Expectedly, the combined production of rubber across Britain’s colonies exceeded that of Brazil’s, causing it to lose its monopoly in the rubber industry.

A fun fact about the rubber tree cultivated for latex.
Source: Wonder Book of Rubber, 1947.

However, there has been a debate about whether Wickham’s actions qualify as an unethical act of smuggling or an act of formal exchange between governments. Laying out the facts, sources have described that Wickham had misrepresented his cargo as ‘exceedingly delicate botanical specimens specially designated for delivery to Her Britannic Majesty’s own Royal Gardens at Kew’ in order to be granted permission to export.

Notwithstanding the trials and tribulations in Wickham’s life, he was knighted for “Services in connection with the rubber plantation industry in the Far East”. Wickham passed away in 1928, regretfully perhaps, with an unfulfilled dream for enterprise.

Bust of Wickham at Muzium Negara.

References

Bouncing Balls. (n.d.). Sir Henry Alexander Wickham. Bouncing Balls. http://www.bouncing-balls.com/timeline/people/nr_wickham1.htm

Schurz, William Lytle; Hargis, O.D.; Manifold, Courtland Brenneman & Marbut, Curtis Fletcher. (1925). Rubber Production in the Amazon Valley (p. 169). Washington, Govt. Print. Office.

Sims, Shannon. (2015). The Rubber Thief of Brazil. OXY. https://www.ozy.com/true-and-stories/the-rubber-thief-of-brazil/60424/

Veloo Saminathan. (2020). The real story behind those faded photos of Tamil plantation workers in Malaya. Aliran. https://aliran.com/thinking-allowed-online/the-real-story-behind-those-faded-photos-of-tamil-plantation-workers-in-malaya/

Wright, ArnoldCartwright, H. A. (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. Lloyd’s Greater Britain Publishing Company, Limited.

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V is for VOC Plate

by Daniela Barrier

From Portuguese carracks to Japanese kilns, the power of a company logo

This blue and white porcelain plate is showcased in Gallery C of the National Museum, Malaysia. It sits on a marble-topped wooden table, a typical furnishing of a Dutch family home in Melaka during the Dutch occupation (1641-1795, then 1818-1825). The so called “VOC plate” itself was probably part of a complete porcelain service. These services were used by officers of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie – VOC) throughout their colonies, imparting status to the owner and contributing to the dissemination of the VOC’s brand image.

The VOC plate at Gallery C, National Museum, Malaysia.

Surrounded by flowers, fruit and deer motifs, the VOC monogram stands out in the centre – a lean capital V with a superposing O on the left and C on the right. It was perhaps the contrast of its clear, simple lines (one could say, almost contemporary) with the exuberant details of the baroque style monograms of the time, which turned the VOC logo into one of the first worldwide recognisable company labels. It was applied with no parsimony to most VOC possessions and everyday objects, from building facades and canons to swords, coins and plates such as the one in Gallery C. [1]

VOC logo on various objects
top-left: VOC logo on a sword. Musée de l’armée, Paris, France.
top-right: Façade of the Castle of Good Hope, South Africa. Image credit: Martinvl, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
bottom-left: VOC logo on a coin, circa 1760. Image credit: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
bottom-right: Canon with VOC logo, 1764, Port of Dejima, Nagasaki, Japan. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Researchers have written extensively on the VOC’s innovative business model, considering it the forbearer of modern corporations (the VOC was the world’s first formally listed public company). The VOC’s idea of producing porcelain services with its own mark on them, however, might have been borrowed from the Portuguese and from a different type of company: The Society of Jesus (or the Jesuit Order, founded in 1540).

Jesuits are thought to be at the source of the introduction of new techniques and of European scenes on Chinese porcelain, in particular under Emperor K’ang Hsi (1654-1722), who held Jesuit priests in high regard (one Father Thomas Cardosa was a personal friend of the emperor and was appointed a mandarin of the highest rank). During this period, it became more and more fashionable in Europe, amongst nobles and high-level clergy, to have their coat of arms painted on their porcelain services and to order specific designs from potters in China. Huge quantities of undecorated porcelain began to be shipped from Jingdezhen (Ching-te-chen) kilns to Canton where they were painted under the supervision of European agents and re-fired.

From left to right:

  • Pedro de Farias bowl, 1541, captain major of Melaka. Portuguese nobles had their coat-of-arms painted on Chinese porcelain.
  • Jesuit Chinese Vase with Company of Jesus monogram, circa 1800. Image credit: Nicolas Fournery.
  • Late 18th century plate in European style with VOC ships. White painted porcelain from Jingdezhen. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Kraak porcelain from Japan

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, with more and more Dutch trade ships anchoring in Asian ports, the Portuguese monopoly on porcelain trade was broken. In 1602, the Portuguese carrack Sao Tiago was captured by the Dutch and its porcelain cargo taken back to Holland for the first time. The carrack Santa Maria suffered the same fate in the Straits of Melaka a year later, its cargo being sold to European royals, including Henri IV, king of France, and King James I of England. The Dutch named them kraak porselein because the Portuguese ships in which they were found were called carracks.

Between 1602 and 1682, VOC ships delivered three million pieces of porcelain to Holland and over 12 million were distributed over the Dutch East Indies, of which approximately eighty percent were blue and white wares (kraak) [2].

Kraak blue and white porcelain were thus mostly associated with the Dutch East India Company. They were made of fine porcelain with cobalt blue decorations under a shiny and slightly bluish glaze, and had central themes which included flowers, birds, insects and deer, as well as having the well and the rim of the dish treated as one and divided into panels that were mostly filled with flowers and symbolic motifs.

Like European royals, Japanese tea masters also ordered kraak pieces (called fuyode ware in Japan) from China, which were transported to Japan on VOC ships. These ended up being copied by Japanese artisans and sold all over Europe, often for higher prices than the Chinese originals. However, there was one design the Japanese only produced for the Dutch India offices: it was overall similar to other karrak designs, only it had the VOC logo in the centre. These wares were usually small – less than twenty centimetres in diameter – but some pieces were larger and measured fifty centimetres or more across. That is very likely the provenance of the VOC plate displayed at the National Museum.

VOC plate produced in Japan, late 17th century. In the collection of Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore.


[1] In The Portuguese Porcelain Trade with China, by Jorge Graca, Arts of Asia, November-December 1977.

[2] In Porcelain and the Dutch East India Company, by T. Volker, cited in Chinese Ceramics carried by The Dutch East India Company, by Effie B. Allison, Arts of Asia, November-December 1977.

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A Very Rough Guide to Taboh Naning

by Eric Lim

Introduction

Dato Dol Said Mosque Taboh Naning is a well known local landmark, located along Lebuh AMJ. Photo source : Portal Masjid v1.0

I woke up this morning to the news that Barisan Nasional had scored a landslide victory in the Melaka 15th state election. They had captured 21 seats out of the 28 seats that they had contested. So, I thought it was timely to visit Taboh Naning, a state constituency located in the northern part of Melaka, bordering Negeri Sembilan. Tampin is just 11 km away via Federal Route 19 (Jalan Kampung Taboh-Kampung Ulu Kendong) and Federal Route 1 (Jalan Seremban-Tampin) while the state capital is 37 km south via Lebuh AMJ (Alor Gajah-Sentral Melaka-Jasin Highway) a.k.a Federal Route 19. This constituency covers a large area and it includes the following mukim (sub-districts): Taboh Naning, Brisu, Sungai Buloh, Melekek and Ayer Paabas. And, Taboh Naning is within the municipal borders of Alor Gajah.

History

State of Naning and position of Taboh pre 1511 / Photo source : Dol Said Pahlawan Naning

Naning has existed since the time of the Melaka Sultanate and it was under kingdom’s suzerainty. Taboh was one of the main settlements in the state. When Melaka fell to foreign powers, Naning was protected by the Sultanate of Johor. Later, when Raja Melewar became the first Yamtuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan in 1773, Naning was one of the original nine states of this loose confederacy. However, due to its position as the most southerly district and its close proximity to Melaka, Naning was disunited from the other states in Negeri Sembilan during the long and distinct period of the Portuguese, Dutch and finally, the British in Melaka.

The Malacca Territory (showing Naning – spelt ‘Nani’ in the top left quadrant of the map – as part of the Malacca Territory) from ‘The Description of Malacca’, a report written by Manuel Gordinho de Eredia in 1613. This report was published in the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, volumn 8 part 1 in April 1930. / Photo source : Buku Naning in Melaka – Jonathan Cave | PDF

Immediately after the capture of Melaka by the Portuguese in 1511, Alfonso De Albuquerque sent an expedition into Naning as part of their mapping exercise to determine the circumference of Melaka; Naning was made an integral part of the Melaka’s territory. Alfonso de Albuquerque then left for Goa where he later became the Viceroy. Though obligated to the Portuguese during its long reign, Naning retained its independence and territorial integrity until the arrival of another foreign power to Melaka.

Dutch Malacca circa 1665 / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

By the start of the 17th century CE, the Dutch were already making their presence felt in the region and ready to challenge the Portuguese for control of the spice trade. In 1606, the Dutch under a corporation that was formed in 1602 named Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (VOC) and the Johor Sultanate concluded an alliance against the Portuguese and immediately after, the VOC fought the Portuguese in a naval battle at Cape Rachado (today Tanjung Tuan). However, it took the VOC another thirty-five years to break the dominance. On 14 January 1641, VOC together with the Sultanate of Johor and a new ally, the Achenese, took control of the fortress of Melaka.

Unlike the Portuguese, the Dutch did not send an expedition to Naning in the year they conquered Melaka. It was two years later, in 1643 that the Dutch invaded Naning and as a follow up action, Naning had to render tribute of one tenth of its produce to the Dutch. However, it was never enforced as the state was small and poor, and furthermore, it was not cost effective to do so. In 1701, Johor relinquished Naning to the Dutch following the conclusion of the Treaty of Protection. During the 18th century CE, the Dutch were enjoying a monopoly of the tin trade in the peninsula. Then, in 1765, the Dutch reduced the tenth to a yearly nominal tribute of 400 gantang of paddy, equivalent to 1/1000 of its total crop produce. Still, the Dutch allowed Naning self-rule.

Malacca town and fort at the time of the British takeover in 1795 
Photo source : Governor Couperus and the Surrender of Malacca, 1795

Moving forward to 1795, the French Republican armies were emerging as the new power in Europe. The Dutch was a refugee in England and while there, signed the Kew Letters, which gave Britain the right to protect Dutch possessions in the East, which included Melaka. British troops under Major Brown landed in Melaka and duly took possession of the fort from the Dutch. The British would take custody of Melaka while the war in Europe lasted, and return it to the Netherlands after the war ended.

Prior to the takeover, Melaka was facing a period of declining trade and revenue. In 1801, Naning saw a change in leadership when a 26-year old Abdul Said Bin Omar (Dol Said in short) was chosen as the new Penghulu Naning and the appointment was confirmed by the British authorities in Melaka. Both parties then inked a treaty where the British will receive one tenth of Naning’s total crop produce, similar to the Dutch treaty of 1643. This treaty was regarded by the British as proof that Naning was part of Melaka. The following year, the Treaty of Amiens ended the war in Europe and this provided for the return of Melaka to the Dutch but the resumption of war in May 1803 forestalled any British withdrawal. Dutch finally returned to Melaka in 1818 following the restitution of possessions to the Dutch by the Treaty of Vienna. The Dutch return lasted only six years. On 17 March 1824, Britain and Netherlands signed the Anglo Dutch Treaty in London, which put an end to the long period of territorial and trade disputes between the two nations in Southeast Asia. Melaka was ceded to the British and, in return, the Dutch took possession of Benkulen (Bencoolen) in Sumatra.

In 1826, the East India Company united the settlements of Penang, Melaka and Singapore into an administrative unit called Presidency of the Straits Settlements. Robert Fullerton, who was the Governor of Penang (1824-1827), was made the First Governor of Straits Settlements (1826-1829). He assumed that Naning was part of Melaka and hence subject to its land laws, judicial system and the delivery of the tribute of produce. Dol Said resisted and demanded the recognition of Naning’s autonomous status. However, Fullerton’s demands were kept on hold as it was met with counteractions from the other British officials until the final approval came from the Director in London in 1830. By this time, Fullerton had returned to Europe and he was succeeded by Robert Ibbetson (1830-1833). Ibbetson received fresh approval the following year to take action and the stage was set for an invasion of Naning.

Proclamation for the arrest of Dol Said and his supporters, written in Jawi and romanized Malay. Photo source : Buku Naning in Melaka – Jonathan Cave | PDF

In July 1831, the British moved in with a force of 150 sepoys and 2 six-pounders drawn by bullocks, led by Captain Wyllie. Dol Said managed to fend off the attack with help from the neighbouring Malay states of Rembau, Sri Menanti, Sungai Ujong, Johol and Muar. These states feared that after the capture of Naning, the British would levy the same tax on them. Furthermore, the Malays were notably better trained for jungle warfare than the British were.  Prior to the second attack, the British signed a treaty with Rembau on 30 November 1831, which marked the accession of Rembau to the British side in the Naning War. This was closely followed by another treaty on 28 January 1832 signed at Simpang. And as a final push, on 9 February 1832, the British issued a proclamation for the arrest of Dol Said and four of his supporters; the reward was $1,000 and $200 per supporter respectively. These manoeuvres duly changed the cause of the war. The second attack, started in March 1832, was led by Colonel Herbertwith far more superior weaponry. This was coupled with the arrival of Syed Syaaban, the son in law of Raja Ali of Rembau, with a force of Malays to help the British capture the stockades. On 16 June 1832, Taboh was captured and it effectively ended the conflict.

(L) Camp near Alor Gajah in March 1832 (R) Attack upon the first line at Taboh in 1832.Photo source :  Buku Naning in Melaka – Jonathan Cave | PDF

Dol Said managed to escape to Sri Menanti. Two years later, Dol Said surrendered on the promise of pardon. He was given a house, a pension and liberty to live freely in Melaka. He became a farmer, trader and a doctor/healer. He died in 1849. After the war, Naning was offered to Raja Ali but he turned it down. For his service to the British, Syed Syaaban was rewarded with a site for a house in Melaka town and given a pension. It proved to be an expensive and unprofitable venture for the British – they spent 100,000 British pounds to secure the paltry annual revenue of $100! This costly lesson discouraged British expansion in Malaya for the next four decades until the start of a new period with the signing of the Treaty of Pangkor in 1874.

Places of Interest

The most convenient and popular local landmark of Taboh Naning is Dato Dol Said Mosque Taboh Naning [1] (top photo) which is located near the Simpang Ampat toll plaza, along Lebuh AMJ toward Federal Route 1 intersection to Seremban-Tampin. The mosque was built in 1955 with public funds and was inaugurated by the 18th Penghulu/Dato Naning, Dato Mohamed Shah Mohamed Said. The significance of this mosque is the tomb of Dol Said, which is sited at the cemetery behind the mosque. He was believed buried near the graves of earlier Penghulu/Dato Naning and the site was a rice field.  (Note: A smaller mosque goes by the name of Masjid Taboh Naning at Kampung Cherana Putih)

Tomb of Dol Said / Photo source : www.mpag.gov.my (tourism)

Located further along this highway, just before reaching Kampung Cherana Putih, is the Datuk Tua Megalith [2] site. The Alor Gajah district is the major megalithic site in Melaka and there are more than 100 of these ancient stones or ‘batu hidup’ to the locals, which can be found in this district.

Datuk Tua Megalith / Photo source : https://malaysiamegalithic.blogspot.com

Coming to something more modern, located at Kampung Cherana Putih is the Cherana Putih Hot Spring [3]. It is actually a hot spring-cum-waterpark and a smaller version of the Toji Waterpark in Japan. In 2019, the park went through some repair works and as a result, it is one of the cleanest hot springs in the state. Admission fee is RM 6.50 for adults and RM 5.00 for children.

Cherana Putih Hot Spring / Photo source : Cherana Putih Hot Spring Facebook page.

On the other end of Lebuh AMJ, heading just past the Simpang Ampat police station is the Naning Heritage and History Museum / Muzium Peradaban dan Warisan Naning [4]. The museum is housed in the former Official Residency and Hall for Penghulu Naning, which was constructed in 1951. It was first used by the 18th Penghulu/Dato Naning, Dato Mohamed Shah Mohamed Said in 1953 until his death on 13 June 2004. Perbadanan Muzium Melaka took over the building on 9 April 2015 and soon after started conservation work. It was completed on 30 June 2015 and it is established as the museum today.

Naning Heritage and History Museum / Photo source : www.mpag.gov.my (tourism)

Further south from Simpang Ampat on Lebuh AMJ is the town of Alor Gajah. There are sites here that are closely linked to the Naning War. Found within the compound of Sekolah Kebangsaan Alor Gajah 1 and just beside the school canteen is a fenced enclosure containing three tombstones. The one in the centre is the grave of Ensign George Holford Walker who was killed in an attack on a stockyard on 3 May 1832 (second expedition of the Naning War). He was just 18 years old. The other two are graves of his horse and dog, which stood loyally beside his dead body until they too died of thirst and grief.

The school is located in the centre of the town, next to the Dataran Keris. Also within the vicinity is the Muzium Adatistiadat Alor Gajah / Tradition & Custom Museum. Dol Said is well remembered for his anti-colonial stance and in commemoration, there is a street in Alor Gajah named Jalan Dato Dol Said, as well as a school, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Dato Dol Said.

(L) Grave at SK Alor Gajah 1 / Photo source : www.mpag.gov.my (tourism). (R) Grave at Dutch Graveyard, Melaka / Photo source : Dutch Graveyard – St. Paul’s Hill, Melaka.

Moving on to the capital city of Melaka – located at the foot of St. Paul’s Hill is the Dutch Graveyard. This site was used in two stages, during the Dutch era from 1670 to 1682 when it was known as St. Anthony’s Kerkhof (graveyard), and the British era from 1818 to 1838. Two casualties of the Naning War are buried here, namely Lieutenant James White who was killed on 20 August 1831 and Lieutenant E.V Harding, killed on 29 March 1832. Both were in their mid-twenties when they died. Their grave is the only one marked with an obelisk.

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 right to join Lebuh AMJ (Alor Gajah-Sentral Melaka-Jasin Highway) a.k.a Federal Route 19 to Taboh Naning. Dato Dol Said Mosque Taboh Naning is not too far from this junction (see the map above).

References

Portal Masjid v1.0 

Dol Said Pahlawan Naning

Buku Naning in Melaka – Jonathan Cave | PDF

Governor Couperus and the Surrender of Malacca, 1795

Robert Fullerton | Infopedia

https://www.nst.com.my/lifestyle/sunday-vibes/2019/01/452497/reliving-nanings-past

https://malaysiamegalithic.blogspot.com

www.mpag.gov.my (tourism)

The Malayan Peninsula embracing its history, manners and customs of the inhabitants, politics, natural history, etc. from its earliest records : Begbie, Peter James : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Nutmeg Books – Ensign George Holford Walker Few people… | Facebook

Dutch Graveyard – St. Paul’s Hill, Melaka

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U is for UMNO Kuala Kangsar’s Letter

by V. Jegatheesan

Achieving independence from the British was a significant moment in Malaysia’s history. The three political parties, United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC), had formed the Alliance Party and won the first General Election on 27 July 1955. This was a clear mandate given by the people to the Alliance to fulfil their commitment to gain independence within four years.

On 1 January 1956, the then Chief Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, leading a large delegation, sailed to Karachi from Singapore and then flew to London. Negotiations began on 18 January 1956 and it is remarkable that the negotiations ended after just three weeks on 8 February 1956, with Britain agreeing to independence for Malaya, as it was at that time. The agreement was signed on 11 February 1956. The delegation then flew directly to Singapore arriving on 19 February 1956.

It is common knowledge that Tunku Abdul Rahman went to Melaka the next day on 20 February 1956 to announce that Malaya had been given independence. In front of a rousing crowd on Padang Bandar Hilir, recorded as 100,000, he announced that Malaya’s Independence Day would be 31 August 1957.

Tunku Abdul Rahman at Dato’ Sir Tan Cheng Lock’s house before leaving for Padang Bandar Hilir, Malacca

But why Melaka and not Kuala Lumpur, which was the Federal Capital? The average Malaysian will assume that Tunku decided on this himself. However, this just may not be the case.

Among the various images on the information boards about Malaya’s Road to Independence in Gallery D – beside the picture of Tunku with Dato’ Sir Tan Cheng Lock’s family and just above the glass cases with newspaper clippings – is a letter from UMNO Kuala Kangsar. Dated 14 January 1956, the letter is from the UMNO Secretary of the Kuala Kangsar Branch to the Secretary General of UMNO Malaya. The subject is ‘Return of the Independence Delegation from England’.

The following is a translation of the letter.

The Working Committee had an urgent meeting on Friday 13 January 1956 and an agreement was made as follows:

This branch has resolved that the UMNO Malaya Headquarters urgently send a wire (telegram) to London, requesting that when the delegation headed by Y.A.M Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra brings along the date of independence of Malaya from England, they should arrive in Malacca.

This resolution has been made after carefully weighing considerations and taking into account the politics in respect of the history of Malacca as follows:

(a) Raise the status of the history of the Malay Empire of Malacca.
(b) The statement “Never will the Malays disappear from this world” was originated in Malacca by Laxamana Hang Tuah, a gallant and mighty Malay warrior who fought for the nation and homeland.
(c) It was in Malacca that western colonisation was enforced in our homeland on 11 July 1511. 
(d) It was on the collapse of Malacca that the soul of our independence awoke, according to a Malay leader, Dr. Burhannudin Al-Hilmy in 1946.
(e) UMNO had 100% in the General Elections resulting in Y.A.M Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra to be sent to England is also the decision of the Emergency General Meeting of UMNO Malaya in Malacca
(f) For these reasons, let the date of independence be brought to Malacca

However, UMNO Branch Kuala Kangsar is confident that this suggestion will receive support from UMNO all over Malaya.

The letter is signed by Haji Meor Samsudin, Secretary of the UMNO Kuala Kangsar Branch.

Tunku would surely have been informed of this letter by way of that telegram. But it will never be known if Tunku made this decision based on this letter or whether he had it in his mind all along. Tunku being Tunku, we will never know!

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T is for Tiles

by Farida Jamal

According to a 2003 publication, 40 Tahun Muzium Negara 1963-2003, construction of the National Museum was initiated in 1958 by the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra. It was to be a showcase of the heritage and history of the nation, incorporating Malay architectural traditions and motifs. The third Yang di Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Syed Putra Al- Haj ibni Almarhum Syed Hassan Jamalullail, officially opened the museum on 31 August 1963. Over the years, it has expanded and undergone several renovations. The single-storied original building currently comprises the entrance hall to the four main galleries. Its original tiled floor has also been preserved and is a stunning tapestry in ceramic. Although an integral part of the overall ambience of the museum, the floor tiles speak of their foreign origin.

Exquisitely hand crafted, the eggshell white tiles with azure and ink blue motifs measure 12 by 12 inches. They are laid out in repeated square motifs formed by four tiles and each motif measures 2 by 2 feet. Within the hall, there are thirty- four motifs lengthwise and twenty-four motifs along the width, covering 3264 square feet of the floor. The remaining original stretch of the floor has been incorporated in the landing platform outside of the front entrance. This is a rectangular space, which is partitioned into three sections by two latticed brick- walls. The tiles cover 240 square feet of the floor area, and each section displays twenty motifs. Beneath the two-latticed walls, one can discover the origin of the tiles through marble plaques laid out on the floor, in Bahasa Malaysia and in English. The tiles were a gift from the Government of Pakistan.

Nawabzada General Sher Ali Khan Pataudi was the first High Commissioner of Pakistan to Malaysia (1957-1962). As the construction of the museum began during the same period, it is likely that he was instrumental in facilitating the gift of floor tiles from his government. National gestures of goodwill are a part and parcel of diplomacy, but often involves special people and special relationships. A Google search on Sher Ali Khan Pataudi revealed a remarkable personality and an extraordinary life. Born an Indian prince, he had studied at Sandhurst, was in the Indian armed forces and had opted to move to Pakistan when India was partitioned in 1947. Ten years later, aged 43, Sher Ali Khan retired from the army and he was appointed Pakistan’s first High Commissioner to the newly liberated country, Malaysia.

In one of his books, The Story of Soldiering and Politics in India and Pakistan, the retired general turned scholar described his years as a diplomat. He and his family had made many friends in Malaysia and developed special friendships with YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra and members of Malaysian royalty. Sher Ali Khan does not mention the gift of museum tiles in his book, though. Documents pertaining to the construction of the National Museum at the National Archives may contain some information. In the meantime, the floor tiles of the museum foyer remain a token of this special relationship and continue to delight and surprise visitors.

References

Farida Jamal. (2016, 18 September). Beyond a Gift of Friendship Plush Heritage, New Sunday Times, pp. 6-7.

Jabatan Muzium dan Antikuiti. (2003). 40 Tahun Muzium Negara 1963-2003.

Nawabzada Sher Ali Khan Patuadi. (1988). The Story of Soldiering and Politics in India and Pakistan (3rd Edition). Syed Mobin Mahumud & Co.

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S is for Sukhothai & Si Satchanalai

by Karen Loh

The Cities

Location of the old cities of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai.
Image credit: Kamarul Shah B. Bakar, Maritime Archaeology and Shipwreck Ceramics in Malaysia.

The old city of Sukhothai is situated along the Yom River, one of the main tributaries of the Chao Phraya River, in the northeastern part of modern day Thailand. The city started out as a small settlement outpost under the Khmer Empire (802-1431 CE), with the design of its temples, building structures and canals very much influenced by Angkor, the capital city of the Khmer empire. The Empire began to weaken in the early 13th century, following the death of their ruler, Jayavarman VII (1181-1218 CE). Seeing a weakened regime, the people of Sukhothai soon started challenging their overlords. Under the leadership of Si Inthrahit (also known as Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao), and together with his friend and ally, Pho Khun Pha Meung, the people of Sukhotai started to gather their forces, rose up and revolted against Khmer rule. They finally succeeded in driving the Khmers out in 1250 CE, thereafter establishing the Kingdom of Sukhothai. The capital city was also called Sukhothai, meaning Dawn of Happiness, and Si Inthrahit was crowned their first king. In Thai historiography, Sukhothai is considered the first kingdom in Thailand.

Sukhothai. Image credit: © Vyacheslav Argenberg / http://www.vascoplanet.com/, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sisatchanalai or Si Satchanalai was another Khmer outpost located 55 kilometres north of Sukhothai city, along Yom River. This city was formerly called Chalieng, meaning “city of good people”. Si Satchanalai rose to importance as an associated city to Sukhothai after the people’s independence from the Khmers. However, it was not until the reign of the kingdom’s third king, Pho Khun Ram Kham Haeng (1279-1299 CE) that the society, administration, religion and arts in the kingdom of Sukhothai flourished. In addition, the invention of the Thai alphabet in 1283 marked this period as Sukhothai’s Golden Era. Si Satchanalai reached her peak prosperity during the reign of Phra Maha Dhamaraja I (1347-1374 CE).

The 13th Century Thai City of Si Satchanalai. Image credit: Gary Todd, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sukhotai & Si Satchanalai: export-oriented pottery centres

Left and centre: Si Satchanalai Celadon dish, and jarlet recovered from the Royal Nanhai shipwreck c1460 CE. Right: Si Satchanalai bowl recovered from the Nanyang shipwreck c1380 CE.
Note: Please refer to L is for Longquan to look at more Si Satchanalai ceramics

The 14th and 15th centuries saw many large potting centres producing Thai ceramics, mainly stoneware, scattered across the northern part of Thailand. During this time, the Thai kilns around the city of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai (also known as Sawankhalok) flourished, exporting ceramics in large quantities as evidence of Thai ceramics can be found across South East Asia and from shipwrecks salvaged around the region. Sukhothai kilns produced mostly underglaze black ware, which were very similar in design and decoration to the pots made in the Cizhou kilns in northern China centuries earlier. Popular designs from the Sukhothai kilns were underglaze black plates decorated with lively fish with an arched back and tail thrown upwards, flower or cakra or starburst motifs, and various upright shapes like vases, bottles, jars with underglaze black fish or flower motifs.

The Si Satchanalai kilns on the other hand produced mostly celadon ware: dishes, bowls, and ring-handled jars in various sizes. At the height of its celadon production, the Si Satchanalai potters were producing high quality celadon ware, decorated with incised lotus petals, lotus blossoms, and chrysanthemum flowers on dishes with foliated mouth rims and similar incised lotus and chrysanthemum flowers on the bigger ring-handled jars. Many of these jars were completed with beautifully carved vertical striations on the lower body.

Other famous kiln sites producing Thai ceramics, mainly storage jars, were situated at Singburi (also known as Maenam Noi) and Suphanburi.

Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai ceramics at Gallery B, Muzium Negara, recovered from the Turiang (c. 1370).
5: Si Satchanalai vase with vertical striations.
6: Sukhothai black glazed decorated flower dish.
7: Si Satchanalai black glazed ring-handled jar.
8: Sukhothai black glazed decorated jar.
9: Si Satchanalai green glazed ring-handled bottle.

The Ming Gap

Questions have been raised on why Thai ceramics only began to be exported towards the end of the 14th century. One of the reasons might be due to the first Haijìn (Ming ban or Sea ban;1371-1509 CE), a policy ordered by Ming Dynasty’s first Emperor, Hongwu in 1371 CE where all exports and private overseas trading were prohibited. The Emperor proclaimed that all merchant ships were to be destroyed and anyone caught smuggling goods out of China would be executed. It is believed that these isolationist policies caused many of the Chinese potters and Chinese shipbuilders to migrate to various cities or towns in Southeast Asia to continue their trade. In her book, The Ceramics of South-East Asia, Their Dating and Identification, Roxanna Brown wrote that the migration of the potters may have actually started earlier, i.e. during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 CE) under Mongol rule, where many Song Chinese sought refuge in the Sukhothai kingdom. Evidence of this could be found through the trade route. She wrote in her book, “It is about this time, the end of the thirteenth or by the middle of the fourteenth century, at any rate, that Sukhothai’s ceramics industry moves from being purely domestic to testing itself on international South-East Asian market. The local potters could not have done this on their own. Somehow they were linked to the Chinese Trade network; and this must have been done by the Chinese. For Thai ceramics appear at the same South-East Asian sites as Chinese wares; the Thai did not forge new trading routes”.

There is an ongoing study on whether the trading of Thai ceramics began before or after the founding the new Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya(1351-1767 CE). It is also interesting to note that there was an absence of blue and white ware from the Thai kilns. A valid explanation may be that cobalt, the blue pigment used by Chinese kilns at Jingdezhen from around the 1320s to produce blue and white porcelain, is a relatively rare mineral. Cobalt may have been difficult to acquire and was expensive, while iron, the black oxide used in underglaze black ware was common and plentiful in Sukhothai. The last of the kilns in the old kingdom of Sukhothai finally closed down after the Burmese invasion in the 1580s. It is reported in the Glass Palace Chronicle of Burma that their ruler, King Bayinnaung (1516-1581 CE) ordered all the artists, artisans, and craftsmen of Sukhothai kingdom to be relocated and settled in Pegu (today Bago).

Stylistic evolution of Si Satchanalai dishes from four shipwrecks arranged in chronological order (from the Kildegaard Galbo collection):
a) Turiang c1370 CE
b) Nanyang c1380 CE
c) Longquan c1400 CE
d) Royal Nanhai c1460 CE
Image credit: Sten Sjostrand, Maritime Archaeology and Shipwreck Ceramics in Malaysia.

References

Brown, Roxanna M. (2000). The Ceramics of South-East Asia: Their Dating and Identification. Art Media Resources.

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

Miksic, John (Ed.). Southeast Asian Ceramics, New Light on Old Pottery (pp. 27-33). Editions Didier Millet, 2009.

Siripon, Nanta (ed), Thai Heritage – World Heritage. Thailand, Graphic Format Ltd, 2000.

Tan, Heidi (Ed.). (2012). Marine Archaeology in Southeast Asia, Innovation and Adaptation (pp. 23-29). Asian Civilisations Museum.

Vecchia, Stefano. (2007). The Khmers, History and Treasures of an Ancient Civilization. WS White Star Publishers.

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Victoria Bridge, Karai

by Hani Kamal

Victoria Bridge in Karai, Perak is one of the oldest bridges in Malaysia. It was built in 1897 and completed in 1900. The Victoria Bridge was built across the Perak River linking it to the rail line in Sungai Siput and Kuala Kangsar in the north. This is a single-track railway built to transport natural resources from the interior all the way to Singapore for export.

The Victoria Bridge today. Image credit: Hani Kamal

Karai – Coal Mining Town

Karai is located 9 kilometres from the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, and about 250 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur; it takes approximately 3 hours to reach. People are often confused with the location or name of the sleepy town of Karai where Victoria Bridge is located. The bridge is situated in both the Karai and Enggor towns. The British wanted to name the entire place Enggor, fashioned after Enggor Street in Singapore.  However, the village folks wanted to retain its name Karai. So, it became Victoria Bridge in Karai and the station is called Enggor Station.

The Enggor Station to Victoria Bridge. Image credit: Hani Kamal

In the 1890s, coal was first discovered by a Chinese planter Hok Hin Hoh while planting rubber trees on a leased plot of land. The discovery of coal in this sleepy town turned it into one of the busiest towns up north. Coal was in demand at that time for locomotives and other industrial usage.

During the prosperous period of coal mining between 1905 and 1930s, and with the completion of Victoria Bridge, several shop houses were built along the railway station road. These shops were used as wholesale rubber trade, sundry shop, eateries, pawnshop, liquor outlet, places to smoke opium and gambling dents. These pre-war shop houses remain until today but minus its once boisterous activities.

The Karai shoplots today. Image credit: Hani Kamal

When coal was first discovered in Karai, the concession was awarded to the Enggor Coal Syndicate Ltd. The Enggor mine ceased operation in 1928 when coal prices and demand went down. The low demand for coal and its low price was due to the discovery of newer technology utilizing petroleum.

Newspaper article announcing the closure of Enggor Coal Syndicate Ltd Company. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 19 July 1928, Page 9. https://tinyurl.com/2p93f9p6

Construction and Launch of the Bridge

Before the completion of the Victoria Bridge rail, pontoons were used to transport coal across the Perak River. Due to several adverse floods, most of the pontoons were washed away. These big floods expedited the administration to build a bridge high enough to avoid the overflowing river. The Victoria Bridge was constructed twelve meters from the surface of the Perak River. 

The overall length of the Victoria Bridge is 351 meters with each length of the beam measuring 305 meters. Its width is 3.6 meters wide. It is completely constructed with steel beams and six meters deep concrete foundation. There are 6 columns elevated 12 meters from the level of the river surface. The cost of construction was $325,000. Construction of Victoria Bridge commenced in November 1897 and the date of completion was recorded as March 1900. This bridge was fully functional for 102 years (1900-2002). The engineers from Railway Division were G.W. Fryer (Design Engineer) and C.R. Hanson (Resident Engineer), working under the supervision of Happlestone. The bridge is said to be similar to the “Bridge on the River Kwai” and Guillemard Bridge in Kelantan.

The Victoria Bridge was designed for a single-track carriage with 500 millimetres service lanes on both sides of the line. Both pedestrian and motorbikes/bicycles can use it to cross the river. These paths are still in use until today by people to cross the river.

The Victoria Bridge. Today tourists can walk in between the rails.The pedestrian crossings on both sides of the Victoria Bridge still functional till today to cross the river. Image credit: Hani Kamal

The Victoria Bridge was officially launched on 21 March 1900 by the late Sultan Idris Murshidul Azzam Shah (28th Sultan of Perak) at a ceremony which was also attended by Sir Frank Swettenham, the Resident-General for the Federated Malay States, and Sir John Pickersgill Rodger, the acting British Resident for Perak. Sir Frank Swettenham, in his speech during the opening of the bridge, regarded Victoria Bridge as the largest bridge in the East outside of India.  This bridge was named after Queen Victoria, the ruler of the British Empire at the time.

Official opening plaque

Today

Construction of the Victoria Bridge served the purpose of connecting this small town with other towns from Malaya and Singapore. However, when coal-mining activities discontinued, the town also loss its glory. The bridge ceased its function and it was only used to connect the two villages.

During the war, the Victoria Bridge was partly bombed by the British in order to delay the Japanese advancement from the north via Kelantan. After the war, the bridge was repaired and it functioned as usual. Added securities and barracks were built in lieu of local threats from the Malayan Communist Party.

Barracks were built to guard the Victoria Bridge during the period of Emergency. Two post guards were placed on each side of Victoria Bridge. 

By 2002, the Victoria Bridge railway track was abandoned for the new two-way rail track. Overgrowth and weeds ate into its surrounding and it was left unattended until in 2013 when the authorities cleared the area to rebuild it as a tourist attraction. By 2016, The Victoria Bridge was officially registered as a National Heritage under the Department of National Heritage Malaysia.

Sungai Perak Bike Trail to Kampung Raja Intan Suraya (25 km)

The RM2 million Living River Bike Trail Project from Chenderoh to Victoria Bridge was completed on Dec 6, 2020. The Sg Perak bike trail starts from the Victoria Bridge to Kampung Raja Intan Suraya. It was initiated by the state authority in order to maintain its beauty and cleanliness of the river and its villages. It covers 25 kilometres of cycling through fiercely independent old villages along the riverbank of the Perak River.  The starting point is from the Victoria Bridge itself.  Tourists can rent bicycles near the D’Village Resort opposite the Victoria Bridge.  The trail is surrounded by beautiful greens and you can catch people fishing on the side.  The roads are well tarred and highly conducive if you are looking for a “kampong ride”. You can almost imagine how hulubalangs who used to live in these villages jumping into river sampans at the call of das meriam* from the Kuala Kangsar Palace.   There are not many of such charming kampong surroundings left to tell their stories.

*Note:  Hulubalangs or soldiers of Sultans lived along the river banks of Sg Perak are known to be very loyal towards the monarch.  When hulubalangs are wanted at the palace in Kuala Kangsar, canon shots are made as a signal or call for their presence at the palace.  They would jumped into the boats (sampan) and row upstream towards the palace to report for duties. This was narrated by an ex hulubalang many years ago.  He lived in one of the villages and he retired as a silat (martial arts) master.

References

Haji Mior Haji Zawari. (2020). Karai: Teman dan Senibina. Akitek Suria, Ampang, Selangor.

Mohd Hasrol Haffiz Bin Aliasak, Mhd. Nor Bin Osman, Siti Rahayu Binti Zakaria, Mohd Farid Bin Sa’ad & Nur Lesya Firsya binti Johaimi Ling. Town of Karai : The only coal mining site in Perak and its contribution to the urban development. Academia.edu. https://www.academia.edu/9531628/Town_of_Karai_The_only_coal_mining_site_in_Perak_and_its_contribution_to_the_urban_development

SembangKuala. (2010, August 15). Victoria Bridge, Kuala Kangsar. https://sembangkuala.wordpress.com/2010/08/15/victoria-bridge-kuala-kangsar/

Victoria Bridge, Malaysia. (2021, October 15). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Victoria_Bridge,_Malaysia&action=history

Zahratulhayat Mat Arif. (2021, March 23). Living River Bike Trail along Sungai Perak now open. NST. https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2021/03/676228/living-river-bike-trail-along-sungai-perak-now-open

R is for Rebab

by Rose Gan

This colourful rebab is a stringed instrument more than eighty years old, part of the gamelan orchestra of the court of Kelantan that accompanied traditional wayang performances. In the same vitrine there are also examples of Kelantanese wayang kulit figures. A rebab is similar to the medieval lute. It originated in the Middle East by the eighth century CE, if not much earlier, where it is widespread in many regions.  From the Arab world, this early instrument travelled both east and west along Islamic trade routes, In Europe, the rebab was the ancestor of the lute, the rebec, and ultimately the guitar, having been introduced in Spain during the medieval Islamic period. In each region, the rebab developed its own particular characteristics.

Rebab at Gallery B

Left to right:
Medieval rebab player c 1250. Image credit: public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Medieval rebab by unknown artist from 13th century. Image credit: https://miguelmorateorganologia.wordpress.com/introduccion-a-los-cordofonos-compuestos-o-familia-de-los-laudes/
Persian rebab player. Image credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/436708495107772315/

The rebab reached South East Asia with the coming of Islam to Sumatra, Java and the Peninsula, and bears marked similarities to the early Persian version. It is a singularly difficult instrument to play because it has neither fingerboard nor fret, and its bow is loosely strung, unlike the taut bow of the violin. It also has a limited range of little more than one octave. In a gamelan orchestra, the rebab acts as an ornamentation to the basic melody, but it also has a function as the main accompaniment in other cultural traditions of the peninsular East coast, particularly Main Puteri, Mak Yong and Tarek Selampit.

K.P.H. Notoprojo, Javanese rebab player. Image credit: Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In South East Asia, the rebab has a distinctive and unique shape, indicating that it evolved significantly from its earliest Arabic origins. Traditionally, the structure of the rebab represents a stylised human form with triangular crowned head (kecopong), long thin neck (leher) and a round body resting on a spiked foot (kaki).   The head is adorned with a brightly painted pucuk rebung motif (bamboo shoot), a typical design found on batik and songket textiles; the top is oddly stupa-like, which may be a throwback to decorative forms of an earlier time. Three pegs (pemulas) can be observed on the upper part of the neck; these are the tuning pegs connected to the strings that are sometimes referred to as ‘ears’ (telinga).  In Java the rebab has two strings, but in Kelantan it has three.

Malay Rebab. Background Image credit: Asza, https://www.asza.com/graphics/Gallery/irebabMalay.jpeg; annotations by Rose Gan.

The body, here hidden beneath a decorative fringing, was originally made of a coconut shell and later wood, with a piece of buffalo intestine or bladder stretched tightly over the front face.  Fabric is used to cover the back.  There is a small moveable bridge on the body. A ball of beeswax (susu), attached near the bridge, mutes the sound reverberations. A wooden foot (known as the spike) protrudes at the base; rebabs of this type are sometimes known as ‘spike fiddles’ in English. The rebab is played upright (like a cello), and is secured on the ground by the ‘foot’.  The bow was originally strung with coconut fibres, but now nylon is used; the strings are coated with resin to smoothen the intricate bowing. The South East Asian rebab may also have been influenced by the Chinese erhu, a similar two-stringed spiked fiddle of very ancient origin; its sound is similar.

Main Puteri was an ancient healing tradition of Kelantan conducted by a bomoh (shaman), involving trances and other ritualistic practises accompanied by the rebab. There was a time when it was even performed in hospitals on the East coast to ensure a safe recovery!   Tarek Selampit, a traditional story telling form in Kelantan, was also accompanied by the rebab. Mak Yong, however, is perhaps one of the most notable Kelantanese traditions connected to the rebab. An ancient dance and drama theatre performed in Kelantan and the Pattani region of southern Thailand, the heyday of Mak Yong was in the 19th- early 20th centuries, although its roots probably stretch back to a much earlier time. The tales performed in Mak Yong theatre reflect very ancient myths and legends, many with roots in the Hindu-Buddhist past. In fact, some believe that Mak Yong may even have originally represented the rice goddess Dewi Sri. During a performance, the rebab is the main instrument that accompanies the dancers, singers and the spoken word, although the orchestra also includes drums and percussion. Today Mak Yong is no longer performed in Kelantan but performances are sometimes held at ASWARA (The National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage) and Istana Budaya (The National Theatre).

References

Hood Salleh (Vol. Ed.). (2006). The Encyclopaedia of Malaysia Volume 12: Peoples and Traditions. Archipelago Press.

Fiddling Around UK websitehttp://www.fiddlingaround.co.uk/med/Med+mid%20frame.html

JMM. (2014) Koleksi Museum Negara. OMR Press Sdn Bhd.

Matusky, Patricia. (2015). Malaysian Journal of Performing and Visual Arts Vol I:  Mak Yong Music of Malaysia: Negotiating Complex Musical Content Within Periodicity. University of Malaya.

Syed Ahmad Jamal (Vol. Ed.). (2007). The Encyclopaedia of Malaysia Volume 14: Crafts and the Visual Arts. Archipelago Press.

In this Series

Click HERE for a list of articles in the ‘A-Z at Muzium Negara’ series.

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