Three Museums

by Eric Lim

The first quarter of 2019 was very eventful for me. I made two overseas trips, the first to Guangzhou, China, in January followed by an 18-day sojourn to the North Island of New Zealand, between February and March. Taking these excellent opportunities, I visited the local museums and I would like to share my experiences with you.

1. Archaeological Site Museum of Nanyue Palace in Guangzhou

The history of Guangzhou started more than 2,000 years ago. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Empire succeeded in unifying the Lingnan Region, which comprised 3 prefectures namely Nanhai, Guilin and Xiang.

The Qin dynasty ended when military captains staged revolts causing great upheavals in the Central Plains of China. Zhao Tuo took over and established the Nanyue Kingdom with Panyu (original name of Guangzhou) as its capital. The Nanyue Kingdom was ruled successively by 5 kings and endured 93 years until it was obliterated by Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty in 111 BC. Since then, Guangzhou was further developed by another 10 cultural strata, right up to the Republic of China.

The museum sits between shops fronting the Beijing Road and dwellings on the other side, with the main entrance located at Zhongshan 4th Road. As the name suggests, the focus is on the historic site of the palace and garden of the Nanyue Kingdom. The royal garden consists of a large stone pond and a crooked stone brook. The latter was discovered in 1997 and it meanders from the north to south, a distance of 160 metres. It is the earliest and the best-preserved royal garden discovered so far in China.

The palace of the Nanyue Kingdom

During the excavation of the pond, a large quantity of the remains of turtles was found at the bottom, implying the animals might have been kept as pets in the royal garden. Chinese authorities also found that stone structures used in the construction of the royal garden were built with materials similar to those of Western stone structures, thus testifying to the meeting of East and West in Guangzhou in ancient times.

Exchanges between the Chinese and Western cultures

Besides the site of the palace and garden of the Nanyue Kingdom, there is also the palace site of the Nanhan Kingdom, which includes the Nanhan courtyard paved with fabulous butterfly peony square bricks. At the exhibition building for Guangzhou’s ancient wells, visitors can see over 500 wells built during the different dynasties. During excavations at this site, many valuable artefacts were found. Over 100 pottery jars were unearthed from the wells constructed by the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-20 BCE).

(Left) Well of Eastern Han Dynasty 25-220 BC (Right) Well of Qing Dynasty 1644 – 1911

Towards the end of 2004, hundreds of inscribed wooden slips were excavated from the wells built during the Nanyue Kingdom. These are the very first of such artefacts ever discovered in the region that provide great value for academic research.

There is no admission fee to visit the museum but visitors must get tickets at the main entrance by showing personal ID cards or, in the case of foreigners, by showing passports.

2. Auckland War Memorial Museum in Auckland

The Auckland Domain is Auckland’s oldest park and it is located just outside Auckland’s CBD. This spacious 75 hectares park is also one of the largest parks in the city and it has been developed around the cone of the extinct Pukekawa volcano. Sitting proudly atop it is the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Auckland War Memorial Museum

The museum is housed in a large neo-classical styled building and is considered as one of the finest heritage buildings. It was opened in 1929 to commemorate the loss of 18,166 New Zealanders who died in the First World War. Today, AWMM is one of the top tourist attractions. The museum is divided into 3 levels:

Ground Level – This level examines the diversity of Maori and Pacific Island cultures. It also talks about the movement of people from South East Asia to the islands in “Near Oceania” 5,000 years ago, then progressing further to the distant island groups in “Remote Oceania” such as New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa between 3,500 – 3,000 years ago. By then, these people were known as the Lapita people, the immediate ancestors of the Polynesians. Then after “The Long Pause”, a period of over 1,000 years, they started sailing again after the development of larger ocean-going canoes reaching as far North as the Hawaiian islands and as far South as Aotearoa New Zealand 800 years ago. It was believed that the Polynesians have sailed as far as South America and brought back kumara and gourd.

Movement of people from SEA to the Pacific Islands and New Zealand

Level One – Talks about the Natural History of New Zealand, from geological origins to its ancient flora and fauna. The Moa was the tallest bird known and the female grew as tall as 3 metres, measured in an upright standing position. This level also highlights the uniqueness of many New Zealand birds, which are flightless, large, dull or dark in colour and slow breeders. Of course, there is mention of the Kiwi, national pride of New Zealand.

The Moa

Level Two – This gallery is named Scars on the Heart. It is a war memorial centered mainly on the First and Second World Wars. There is also a section that talks about Kiwis being called into action in Asia, namely in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam.

The first New Zealanders that fought in Asia were based at the Changi Air Base in Singapore from 1949 to 1951, during the time of the Malayan Emergency, and they remained in the country until 1989. Their engagement grew larger during the time of the Confrontation over Borneo in 1964. In the 1960’s, pressured by the American government, New Zealand committed resources to the Vietnam War.

We were again given the spotlight, this time on the stained glass ceiling above the main foyer, which depicts the Coat of Arms of all British Dominions and Colonies during the First World War. The Coat of Arms of Malaya and Straits Settlements are proudly displayed on this glass ceiling.

Coat of Arms of Malaya and Straits Settlements on glass ceiling (extreme left and second left)

A portrait of Sir Edmund Hillary, who was born in Auckland, is also on display. On 29 May 1953, Sir Edmund and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, became the first climbers to reach the peak of Mount Everest.

The general admission fee to this museum is NZ $25.00 and the highlights guided tour is an additional NZ $15.00.

3. Navy Museum in Devonport

Still in Auckland, I also visited the Navy Museum in the village of Devonport. Here, visitors can learn about New Zealand’s contribution at sea in the major conflicts of the 20th century and as well as during peace-time. Again, the Malayan Emergency and Confrontation are highlighted. The museum is open seven days a week, 10.00 am to 5.00 pm and admission is free.

Malaysian Medals awarded to British Commonwealth personnels who served during the Malayan Emergency and Confrontation
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Invisible Bridges and Memory Lanes: Part Two of the Melaka (2019) Journey

by Muhammad Adib bin Mohd Faiz

Lunch was over, and our group had assembled at an open area near a bridge. I was catching up with my mentor, Yook Ling, when suddenly –

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!!!!

A driver attempting to cross the bridge had apparently been oblivious to the fact that he was driving in the wrong direction. The resulting commotion essentially amounted to a series of loud commands ordering him to reverse. Someone notes his licence plate: “Wilayah”. Well, that explains a great deal.

Yet our Wilayah driver was not the first one who had difficulty crossing that section of the Melaka River. Jambatan Tan Kim Seng was built by a wealthy Peranakan man, who had sought his fortune in Singapore and built monuments in Melaka thereafter. However, our guide, En. Shaukani, tells us of another bridge that was in fact destroyed by the British during the Japanese invasion of Melaka. In an attempt to slow down Japanese advancement, British troops carried out a ‘scorched earth’ policy of destroying bridges. That bridge lies alongside Jambatan Tan Kim Seng, but remains invisible to all save those with an awareness of the incident. This was a fitting point to begin the ‘intangible’ segment of our Melaka trip, a tour not of monuments, but of memories.

Memories: sometimes clear, sometimes hazy, and always bound to make their mark. My own memories of this part of the trip were affected by heat, low-blood sugar, and the fact that I did not set everything down the moment I returned. Nonetheless, I attempted at scratching away some notes whilst keeping up with my group in the midst of the Malaccan sun.

How does one map out a city’s history? Does the answer lie in the names of old streets and famous buildings? Or does history lie behind those streets, somewhere between the memories of those long dead and the commerce of those still living? As one recalls plodding through the streets of Melaka, such questions come to mind, a reminder that heritage is not merely about what we inherit, but how we choose to inherit.

En. Shaukani takes us to ‘Black Smith Street’ (Jalan Tukang Besi), so called because of the occupation of those who used to work there. The past tense can no doubt produce dismay; almost all of the craftsmen have since left the area, and their crafts have gone with them. As our guide points out, the old crafts have since been replaced by modern alternatives, with knives being bought from the supermarket rather than the local blacksmith. Tinsmiths and bucket makers have long departed the scene. Instead, one sees mural paintings, massage parlours, and the modern world in its various forms. Had we been on our own, we may have been left with disappointment. However, we were in the presence of a tour guide with experience on his hands, and En. Shaukani transformed the view before us into one filled with bullock carts, lorries, opium smoking, fights, and naked ghosts.

“NAKED GHOSTS?!” you exclaim, voicing your shock and disbelief to me from – well, from wherever you happen to be at the present moment. “If there are naked ghosts in the street, I am never going to Melaka!” Keep calm reader. Rest assured; if we had seen ghosts, we would certainly have behaved in a quintessentially Malaysian fashion (i.e. taking one picture for our relatives and then running for our lives back to KL). However, we saw none, for En. Shaukani merely made mention of ‘Coolie Street’ and the naked ghosts said to inhabit that area. From what I recall, these ghosts are apparently the coolies themselves, while the story was told to young children to prevent them from going to the area. Regardless of who or what actually resides in Coolie Street, I am personally grateful for not having gone there; I can take ‘intangible’ tours, but not supernatural ones.

The picture painted thus far can provide the impression of a dead city. Yet this is far from the truth, for Melaka is a city full of life and colour. Though most of the craftsmen have gone, we were fortunate enough to come across one man who has maintained a family tradition. Much later in the tour, we had the good fortune of meeting Mr T.S. Lim, who runs a shop making handmade shoes. Yet these are no ordinary shoes, but glass slippers. Remove that image of Cinderella’s footwear from your mind, for those transparent ‘one-size only’ high heels pale in comparison to these vibrant traditional Nyonya beaded shoes, made from potong beads. The rows of traditional shoes displayed at the front of the shop are like a cross between beautiful paintings and coloured candy, reminding one of the multi-coloured tiles that typify Peranakan culture. Inside the store, Mr. Lim is kind enough to share his knowledge with our group, showing us some work in progress contained in an embroidery hoop. As Mr. Lim explains to us, the design on one shoe must be a mirror image of the other shoe that forms the pair. On the shelves, one sees that Mr. Lim has created contemporary high heels featuring the potong beads on their straps, an ingenious and tasteful blend that combines modern styles with traditional techniques. It is an indication that the tradition is still alive, quite literally carrying on its own journey on the feet of others.

As for our own feet, we found ourselves on yet another road: Harmony Street. The road owes its name to the presence of the Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple, the Kampung Kling mosque, and the Cheng Hoon Teng temple, each of which is located beside the other. The close proximity of these historic places of worship is a reminder that peaceful co-existence and acceptance is not a new invention in Malaysia, but an established part of our country’s traditions. The Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple was built by the Chitty community on land given by the VOC (Dutch East India Trading Company), and is one of Malaysia’s oldest Hindu temples. It thus occupies a unique place in our country’s history, not least because Chitty temples are now a rarity in Malaysia. Just as historic is the Kampung Kling mosque, originally built by Indian Muslim traders. The mosque has the tiered roof that is characteristic of many traditional Malaysian and Indonesian mosques. Yet like so many Malaccan mosques, the Kampung Kling mosque also bears elements of Chinese architecture, with the main structure having a pagoda-like feel. En. Shaukani also points out to us the use of pineapple motifs on the mosque’s archway, the pineapple being a traditional Chinese symbol of prosperity. Unique to Southeast Asian Chinese culture is the use of Peranakan tiles, which adorn the mosque with a variety of colours. These elements do not merely co-exist; they work in harmony to create a new effect, one that is greater than the sum of particular artistic influences. In an age when religion often feels dry and harsh, the Kampung Kling mosque is a loving reminder of the beauty of faith.

I would return to the mosque later, but for the time being it was on to the next building: the Cheng Hoon Teng temple. Yet to refer to its current function as a temple does not reveal the complex history underlying this building. Though it is currently a house of worship for Mahayana Buddhists, the building was originally a community centre commissioned by Tay Kie Ki, a kapitan or leader of Melaka’s Chinese community in 1645. As En. Shaukani tells us, Melaka’s community had a “kapitan system”, with En. Shaukani mentioning three kapitan: kapitan Melayu, kapitan kling, and kapitan Cina. As far as I can understand – I was writing whilst standing, so the shorthand is vague – the Dutch would liase with the various kapitan in question. But the British abolished this system, and the building was subsequently converted into a temple. According to Kenny Mah, the building is a reflection of Southern Chinese architecture, and every aspect of the building is aligned with feng shui. The use of red makes this building a truly stunning sight, befitting of this beautiful Chinese monument.

We passed by many other buildings, each with some story of its own. An apparently insignificant building is really a property once owned by Tan Cheng Lock, with the house being the site of many meetings held to discuss our independence. The house of the Chi family links us unexpectedly back to home, with the Chi family helping to finance Raja Abdullah’s tin mining in Kuala Lumpur. Yet what stood out most for me was the Aik Cheong Coffee Roaster shop lot. Although it is now a location selling packaged coffee, the lot was once a coffee shop; En. Shaukani recounted how the smell of roasted coffee used to fill the air. Once again, it was not the tangible that counted but the intangible, a history not tucked away in dusty archives but written on the tablets of human memory.

We had come to the end our tour, but some time remained for us to explore the city on our own. For myself, I needed to make a trip back to the mosque to perform the canonical prayers. Though modern mosques have taps, the Kampung Kling mosque has a square-shaped pool for worshipers to perform the ritual purification (wudu), at the centre of which is a golden fountain. In the midst of the Malaccan heat, taking cool water from the pool reminds one of the desert oasis. One also thinks of the words of the Prophet (SAW): “I go before you, and I am your witness. Your tryst with me is at the Pool”. I cannot remember if these thoughts entered my head at the time. What I do remember is looking up and being calmly but clearly confronted with reality, with the gravestones of the deceased being in front of the pool. They were slightly to the left but inescapably in view, and though one can laugh at the thought of ghosts, one cannot truly behold the men and women who have gone before without thinking of what lies ahead. It is a reminder that the true bridge is an invisible one, visible only to those who remember.

REFERENCES

Lings, Martin. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/life/2018/02/11/jalan-tokong-a-stroll-down-melakas-harmony-street/1574623

http://malaysiatravelmonitor.com/tan-kim-seng-bridge-melaka/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Poyatha_Moorthi_Temple

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheng_Hoon_Tenghttps://www.thespruce.com/use-fruit-symbols-for-good-feng-shui-1274660

For Part 1, click here

MV Trainees in Melaka (Jan 2019)

by Ilani Binti Mohammad Jamin

A morning visit to Stadthuys, St. Paul’s Hill, Dutch Cemetery, Porta de Santiago

On the fine Saturday morning of 12 January 2019, a group of 22 including MV trainers and trainees set off from Muzium Negara and arrived in Melaka at approximately 9.45 am. An experienced local guide, En Shaukani Abbas, from Friends of Melaka Museums, led our day’s itinerary. Upon introducing himself, he shared some tips and techniques on tour guiding: 1 – Understand the history; 2 – Say the facts in your own words; 3 – Tell the story from your heart using your imagination; and finally 4 – Have humour in your presentation.

Our first stop was the Stadthuys, a prominent red building believed to be the oldest surviving structure of the Dutch in the East; if a modern Dutch visitor wishes to see a historical Dutch building, Melaka is where it can be found. The Stadthuys was built in 1641 on top of a Portuguese building as evidenced by Portuguese wells found below the ground. It was the official administration centre and dwelling of Dutch governors and officers. In 1982, it was converted into a museum displaying the rich history of Melaka’s colonial past and local customs and traditions. Its Dutch-style architecture can be clearly seen in its steep and high roofing as well as its wide doors and windows.

One of the rooms has ornate engravings on its ceiling; this room is believed to have been the living room of the governor. Also on display are items traded during the Dutch period in this region under the Dutch East-India Company (VOC) and portrait paintings of the Directors of the company are hung at one corner of the room. Just outside of the building but connected by a walkway is the kitchen, also known as the Big Toaster. In the olden days, servants would bake bread overnight in order to serve it fresh to their masters the next morning. The original brick flooring and massive ovens give the space a rustic feel.

Photo taken from http://aislim.blogspot.com/2012/08/stadthuys-museum.html

Moving deeper into the museum, dioramas on traditional wedding and ceremonial events are displayed and they provide an overall glimpse of the various cultures and customs practiced by the multi-racial people of Melaka. It was especially interesting to learn about the Chitty ceremony of shaving a baby’s head and the Baba Nyonya wedding bed for newlyweds. The remaining tour in the museum was regarding the Melaka sultanate, Portuguese and foreign invasion and miniature models of the A Famosa fortress.

After an information-packed session at the museum, we walked up St. Paul’s Hill to visit ruins of the church. Propped up against a wall are headstones, which were well preserved and have beautiful patterns carved onto the stone. It is believed that the headstones were brought from overseas, as the material is not found locally. We also came across St. Francis Xavier’s statue, which was given by the Archbishop of Melaka. The statue is missing a right arm and En. Shaukani told the story of a nearby tree that fell onto the statue during a storm, hence the missing limb.

As we descended the hill, we saw an old Dutch cemetery and we learnt that despite its name, only seven Dutch graves are found there while the rest of about 30 plus graves are those of British military personnel and their wives. We continued walking towards Porta de Santiago, the only gate that survived the destruction of A Famosa. We took a happy group photo there under the scorching sun. By this time, we were ready for a lunch break to fuel ourselves for the rest of the afternoon in the historical city of Melaka.

For Part 2, click here.

Eunos Abdullah – An Early Malay Nationalist

by Hani Kamal

Mohammad Eunos Abdullah (1876-1933) was a campaigner for the Malay cause in Singapore. He was also known as the father of modern Malay journalism. Eunos fought hard for Malay rights especially in education. He died at the age of 57; he was a journalist, a politician and founder of the Singapura Malay Union (Kesatuan Melayu Singapura,KMS). His passion in championing Malay rights in Singapore went on to inspire future Malay nationalists in Malaya.

Eunos was born in Singapore to a successful Minangkabau trader from Sumatera, Indonesia. He had his early education in a Malay school in Kampong Glam and he was among the very few Malays who studied at Raffles Institution. Upon graduation, he joined the government service. His early career in Singapore was that of an attendant at the Harbour Master’s office; he was later promoted as Harbour Master in Muar, Johore.

A portrait of Mohammad Eunos Abdullah. Photograph from the display boards of National Museum of Singapore

In the early 19th century, Munshi Abdullah, the father of modern Malay literature, was also a renowned Islamic scholar with his modernistic interpretation of Islam in the region. Eunos was inspired by his writings. At the age of 31, Eunos was offered a job as an Editor for the Utusan Malayu, a Malay language version of the English newspaper in Singapore. Thus, was the beginning of his opinionated voice on racial nationalism of “bumiputra” son of the soil issues. He also spoke up against the Muslim Arab descendants who were monopolizing the social and economic environment in Singapore. From literary work, he instantly became a political activist representing the Malay voice during the colonial era.

In 1922, he was appointed as Justice of Peace and subsequently appointed as a member to the municipal commission. He was the first Malay given this position in Singapore. Following the British’s administration policy to increase local representation in the Legislative Council of the Straits Settlement, Eunos was made a Legislative Councillor in 1924. He was the first Malay councillor. In his first public appearance, Eunos stood up to condemn the government’s education policy that side lined the Malay youth. Eunos concluded:

“Being unable to swim, he sinks and is lost in the swelling sea of unemployment. Surely, Sir, this is not a thing to be desired among the original son of the soil? I am confident, Sir, ways and means can be found which will enhance the prospects of boys of the soil and remove forever the penalization which oust them from their own markets simply because they happen to be the imperfect products of an imperfect system of education”.

The minutes of this Legislative Council’s proceedings recorded that there was an immediate applause from his friends and Asian councillors in the audience.

Empress Place. Meetings of the Legislative Council were held here. Eunos Abdullah became an unofficial member of the Council on 14 April 1924 and delivered his first speech at the following meeting on 30 June. Photograph from the display boards of National Museum of Singapore

In 1926, Eunos and his associates formed the Kesatuan Melayu Singapura (KMS) or the Singapore Malay Union; he was made its President. KMS was the first political organisation set up to champion Malay rights such as increasing Malay representation in the government service, upholding Malay interests, and promoting higher education for the Malays. 

A letter from Eunos Abdullah to The Straits Times. During the legislative meetings, Eunos Abdullah also pushed for Malay children to be taught English from a younger age so they would not be handicapped when transiting from vernacular to English schools. From The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 7 November 1924, Page 6.

He wanted a strong sense of Malay nationalism and called for the preservation of its culture or roots to be known and recognised. Eunos pushed to increase the education budget so that Malays could enter into the medical college and attend Malay vernacular or trade schools. He also advocated for better living conditions and sanitation for the Malay community. He proposed to build a settlement of Kampung Melayu to uphold the Malay values. Eunos was eventually given a grant to purchase and build the settlement. It was named Kampung Melayu or Kampung Eunos. In 1981, the settlement paved way for the construction of Pan Island Expressway and development of housing estates. To commemorate Eunos’s legacy, one of the local residential districts near Kampung Eunos was named EUNOS.

A procession at Jalan Eunos Malay Settlement in the 1930s. Photograph from the display boards of National Museum of Singapore

Eunos retired in early 1933 and passed away in December 1933. He was laid to rest in the Bidadari Cemetery, Singapore.

References:

  1. eresources.nib.gov.sg
  2. National Museum Singapore- Board Captions
  3. Marx Ravinder Frost & Yu-Mei Balasingamchow (2009) Singapore: A Biography, Singapore: EDM & National Museum of Singapore

Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions

The exhibition at the Islamic Arts Museum, Malaysia (IAMM) titled ‘Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions in Islamic Medical Manuscripts’ has been extended until end of January this year. If you were planning a visit to IAMM, this month would be a good time to go.

‘Tibb’ is the Arabic word for medicine and this exhibition displays IAMM’s collections of manuscripts and objects related to the science of medicine in the Islamic world. The collections are from across the Islamic world and cover a number of areas including prophetic medicine, pharmacy and dietetics, bimaristan (hospital), anatomy, Malay medicine, and traditional medicine.

Knowledge of healing from around the Malay Archipelago is encapsulated in a number Kitab Tibb Melayu, the first of which was written in 1638 CE by Sheik Nuruddin al-Raniri, an ulama in the Aceh Sultanate. IAMM has a number of Kitab Tibb in its collection; samples from a few pieces are shown below.

A 19th century Kitab Tibb Melayu from the Malay Peninsula written in Jawi script. This manuscript is dedicated to the tropical disease puru (yaw), a disease that infects the skin, bones, and joints leaving scars and deformities. It was widespread in the Malay Archipelago and this manuscript provides information on its development, symptoms, and treatment.

The 2-page spread in the photograph provide illustrations of the human body labelled with the various types of puru at the different locations on the body. The manuscript also provides illustrations on the shapes of pustule clusters. For example, the keri getah (sickle used in cutting rubber trees) shaped cluster appears between 1-7 days while the buaya laut (sea crocodile) shaped cluster would indicate the person has been infected for 15 days.
This Kitab Tibb is written on the leaves of the nipa palm. As can be seen in the photograph, the leaves are stitched together. The page on the left is the colophon page, which attributes the authorship of the book to Haji Abdullah bin Wan who completed the work in May 1936 CE. The treatise describes herbal remedies for a large number of common maladies from sore throat to snake bites and to tuberculosis. Some treatments prescribed for new mothers continue to be practised today, for example bertangas, a herbal steam bath. The herbs used in the remedies were easily obtained locally.
This medical treatise from the Malay Peninsula (19th century CE) is a training guide on becoming a bomoh (medicine man). It includes knowledge on obtaining assistance from the Rijal al-Ghaib (invisible beings), traditional healing ceremonies, and predicting the patient’s future well-being though calculations using the Lawh al-Hayat (Board of Life) and Lawh al-Mamat (Board of Death). It also includes treatment for various diseases.

The page in the photograph contains an illustration of the front (right) and back (left) of a human body. Puru (yaw) clusters are marked on the right image while the puru names are labelled on the left image. The puru on the right foot is named Gajah Mata (Elephant Eye), the right knee Anjing Basah (Wet Dog), and right shoulder is Batu Tengah Laut (Stone in Middle of Ocean). The inclusion of this page shows the prevalence of this disease and the effort spent in documenting it.
A Kitab Tibb from Patani, dated to either 1786 CE or 1883 CE. It is written on 12 pieces of wood tied together with white thread. This medical treatise describes remedies for a number of skin diseases, vascular diseases, and diabetes. The remedies make use of plants, especially their leaves and roots. Cautionary advice to stop taking the medication if headaches occur is included. Dietary advice is also given – for example a diabetic patient is advised not be consume certain types of meat and seafood.
A Kitab Ramalan (Book on Divination) from the Malay Peninsula dated to the 19th century CE. It describes a number of different divination methods to determine the auspicious and inauspicious start dates for a wide range of activities, for example the right time to prepare medicine, build a house, make a boat, and travel.

The left page in the photograph is a guideline for building houses. The right page has an illustration of the Naga Hari (Daily Rotating Naga). This serpent moves across the cardinal directions (N, S, E, W) on different days. Another serpent (not shown in the photograph) known as the Naga Tahun (Yearly Rotating Naga) moves across the cardinal directions every three months.

Reference

Harun Mat Piah (2018) ‘The Malay Knowledge of Healing’, in Lucien de Guise (editor) Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions in Islamic Medical Manuscripts, Kuala Lumpur: IAMM.

‘Amek Gambar’ Exhibition

@ Peranakan Museum, Singapore

by Lim Ee Lin

After a lovely tour of the permanent galleries by volunteer docent Marjon de Winter and visiting the various other parts of the museum, I just had enough time for a whirlwind walk through the Amek Gambar exhibition. According to the write up, it “presents over a century of photographs, tracing the emergence, adoption and evolution of photography in Southeast Asia.”

I was fortunate enough to catch the tail end of a private, informal tour and this experience truly drove home the point that museum docents play an important role in helping visitors on their journey of discovery. For me, having the dots connected, deepened my appreciation of the images on display and the insight they afforded into the world of the Peranakans. More so, when the guide has first-hand knowledge on the subjects of the photographs and shares a bit a local gossip here and there!

The photographs range from the earliest photo of Singapore to crowd sourced digital images – capturing people, places and events to tell a story of the scene captured. A majority of photographs were donated by Mr and Mrs Lee Kip Lee. The tools of the trade – cameras, negatives, photo albums – are also given prominence. Visitors are given the opportunity to see the photographs as they would have been kept, used or displayed in their time – framed for hanging or displayed on table tops, in albums, within official documents as well as with their negatives, transparencies or slides.

Mr. Lee Kip Lee

Camera wall

Walking through the exhibition, you can also see the evolution from sepia to black and white; from colour prints to colour painted photographs.  The change in photography techniques is paralleled by the variety of ways the Peranakans were captured by Western and Asian photographers as well as how they chose to depict/capture themselves.

With the portraits, you get to see the poses evolve from the formal pose to the more casual; locations shift from the studio to a formal setting in the subject’s home and later to a more casual outdoor setting. In some of the early photos, the costumes range from formal Peranakan wear to western costume to fashion of the day.

Oei Tiong Nam

Herbert Lim

The use of camera “tricks” or creative development of the print from more than one negative appeared to be popular innovations. I rather enjoyed these photos that were in the exhibition. The gentleman in the photograph below, taken in Java in the 1930s, decided to portray himself in 3 poses.

A baba in three poses

The following photo that was taken in Ipoh in the 1920s features a woman in both traditional women’s wear as well as in the male colonial costume complete with cane and pith helmet! What were they trying to portray of themselves?

Same woman, in two different poses

It appears cross dressing does not seem to be an issue with the Peranakans. The guide mentioned that these pictures were mainly for the promotion of a theatre show but who knows if they also are a manifestion of the baba’s interest in cross dressing! The photo of the baba in a kebaya shows him in impeccable form – reminding me of my grandmother who always said that it is important to ensure that one must always be properly turned out and present one’s best angle in pictures.

Baba in heels

Baba in a sarong kebaya

Given a chance, I would revisit Amek Gambar and spend more time going through the photos. They presented a people and culture that were familiar to me yet offered a refreshing at look the Peranakans.

Amek Gambar – Taking Pictures: Peranakans and Photography runs until 3 February 2019.