Elephants in the museum? Are you sure? Fascinating details are often hidden in plain sight in the galleries of any museum, frequently overlooked. The elephant, the largest animal of the Peninsula, turns up in some unexpected places at Muzium Negara, if you look carefully enough. This great beast, a vital part of the economy of the region since the earliest times, has had many functions: as a beast of burden, a method of transport through thick forest, a farm animal, a vehicle for the nobility, a valuable trade item, and even a war mount in battle. It also has a particular link to South East Asia’s Hindu-Buddhist past, representing Ganesha, the Remover of Obstacles, the particular deity of merchants and travellers for his connections with trade and travel.
So, let us take a quick tour of the galleries and look for elephants! Such quests can be a handy trick to keep in your back pocket when your tour includes children or bored teenagers. ‘How many elephants can you find? Let’s see if you can get more than four…’
The most obvious elephant in Gallery A is a terracotta sculpture, part of the Bujang Valley collection. It may, of course, have a religious significance as a reference to Ganesha, but as it is in no way anthropomorphic, it may simply be a representation of an indigenous creature. Tigers and monkeys, snakes and crocodiles are often found on such pieces, just as on cave paintings, reflecting the animal world of the forest. The elephant was also, of course, important source of everyday labour and transport. This temple decoration came from Candi 21/22, which were Buddhist.
Another elephant example may be represented on the menhirs from Pengkalan Kempas, known colloquially as The Rudder and The Sword. Although there is little certainty about the many complex motifs on these megaliths, there have been suggestions that the animal on the mid left of ‘The Rudder’ is an elephant, whilst the ridge along the top of ‘The Sword’ that rises to a bulbous end may depict an elephant’s trunk. These megaliths are thought to represent several eras: the figures may have been carved at different times, explaining the unusual mix of animist, Hindu-Buddhist and Islamic elements. Pengkalan Kempas was probably a small jetty on a river where goods were exchanged. Ganesha would have been an important votive deity for the merchants who landed there in the hope of a good bargain.
The Makara is an impressive sight at the entry of Gallery B. In Hindu-Buddhist iconography, the makara represents the two opposing forces of the earth, the land and the sea. This highly stylised figure noticeably has a fish tail but also displays a furled trunk as well as tusks, clearly elephant motifs. The makara originated in India where it has a completely different appearance: a hybrid of a dog, a crocodile and a fish. The unique makara of this region, however, draws upon the local elephant and a large fish. It is quite a different chimaera from its Indic origins.
The most interesting elephant in Gallery B, however, is extremely hard to spot unless you are very observant. On the Riau Bugis keris in one of the central cases before the Perak throne, at the very top of the blade where it forms a triangular shape to meet the crosspiece, there is a finely wrought filigree feature. Careful scrutiny – and the help of a laser pointer or torch – reveals this to be a tiny unfurled Ganesha trunk, a trace of the Hindu-Buddhist origins of this archetypal Malay weapon.
Gallery C contains a colourful reference to elephants in one of the pictures at the back of a vitrine in the Portuguese section. During the terrible fighting from June-July 1511 that culminated in the Portuguese capture of Melaka, Sultan Mahmud commanded a huge army of 20,000, gathered from the many vassal states of the Melakan Empire, including Pahang, Sumatra and Java. Amongst this host were 20 war elephants. The image in Gallery C depicts the thick of battle with Melaka town burning in the distance. Centre stage is a furious bull elephant, ridden by Malay warriors armed with spears, charging into a melee of Portuguese infantry and Indian troops, all fleeing in terror. Two other war-elephants bring up the rear. Sadly, despite the superior local forces – and the fearsome elephants – after a battle lasting 40 days, the Portuguese eventually triumphed. The rest is history.
There is another elephant reference in the same gallery, in the pictorial display of Transportation towards the end of the room. Three working elephants, two with open rattan howdahs, the other with a woven covered canopy stand proudly facing the camera with their mahouts. They remind us of the vital role the elephant played in negotiating the narrow paths through the forest in an earlier time as transportation, beast of burden, and a valuable dragging and lifting machine before the invention of modern tractors and forklifts!
Even Gallery D has an elephant reference, although only those very well-informed about royal costume might notice it. Amongst the collection of the tengkoloks of the sultans of Malaysia, is the ceremonial Tanjak diRaja of the Sultans of Terengganu. It has a distinctive high folded front-piece that curves outwards, known as the tengolokbelalai gajah (the elephant trunk).
I found seven elephants – have I missed any?
Ahmad Sarji bin Abdul Hamid (Chairman, Editorial Board). (2011) The Encyclopaedia of Malaysia: Vol. 16 – The Rulers of Malaysia. Editions Didier Millet.
Gan, Rose. & Maganjeet Kaur (Eds.). (2017). A Malaysian Tapestry: Rich Heritage at the National Museum. JMM. MPH Group Printing.
National Museum Curators. (2011). Muzium Negara Kuala Lumpur Gallery Guide. JMM.
Salina Abdul Manan, Hamdzun Haron, Mohammed Jamal Mat Isa, Daeng Haliza Daeng Jamal, Narimah Abd. Mutalib. (2020). Tengkolok as a Traditional Work of Art in Malaysia: An Analysis of Design. Journal of Critical Reviews, 7(19). http://www.jcreview.com/fulltext/197-1598175690.pdf
The Dennis Fire Engine on the grounds of Muzium Negara bearing registration BE 3842 was donated by the Fire Service Department of the Federal Territory on 6 January 1982.
The pleasure of digging through archival documents to get more information on BE 3842 will have to wait until the pandemic is over. However, one can picture this vehicle tearing down the streets of Kuala Lumpur, sirens wailing, in a race against time to save lives and properties. We do not know how many fire incidences it participated in but it was in service for a good 22 years and we do know that the Dennis engine is a good workhorse. Please do share with us any photos you may have of the BE 3842 in action at a fire site, racing down the streets or simply at rest.
The engine was purchased on 24 December 1958 from Dennis Brothers Limited, a manufacturer of commercial vehicles based in Guilford, Surrey, England. Established in 1895 by brothers John Cawsey Dennis and Herbert Raymond Dennis, they started the business producing bicycles and later made motorcars. They subsequently moved to manufacturing heavy-duty commercial vehicles including buses, trucks and dustcarts; fire engines were first produced in 1908. The commercial vehicles manufactured by the company were made-to-order based on customers’ requirements and were stronger than the mass-produced vehicles of their competitors. An example of their hardiness comes from Singapore where a Dennis fire engine is said to have worked non-stop for 87 hours to put out a huge fire at a copra godown on Havelock Road in February 1929; this surely must have been a record of sorts!
Loyal fans of Dennis vehicles have established their own society. Made up of owners and enthusiasts, they provide useful advice for anyone wanting to restore a Dennis vehicle. Their website has a page listing Dennis fire engines that are being preserved and Muzium Negara’s fire engine is on this list, specified as having an F2 body type with chassis number 4416. The museum’s display board identifies it as Dennis RR B80-50A, thus indicating it has a Rolls Royce (petrol) engine.
During the time it was in service, BE 3842 was likely housed at the Central Fire Station at Shaw Road (today Jalan Hang Tuah). This fire station was built in 1955 to the tune of $750,000 and it replaced the old fire station on Church Street (Jalan Gereja). Designed by Eric Taylor, Municipal architect, it had push-button doors that opened instantly. The new station accommodated married firemen in self-contained two-room flats. It was equipped with two Dennis engines, BE 3842 undoubtedly one of them.
“Most Powerful in the East”
The first Dennis fire engine in Kuala Lumpur was purchased in 1911, arriving in October on the steamship Benavon. This petrol vehicle had a 500-gallon capacity, and, with a horsepower of 70, it was claimed to be the most powerful engine in the East. However, there is no pleasing everyone. Alexander Simpson, Engineer of the Selangor Fire Brigade, considered the horsepower “a little in excess of the needs of Kuala Lumpur and District under prevailing circumstances”. Simpson had the task of putting the engine together, which was done at the Works of the Federated Engineering Company. He had other minor grouses as well, albeit valid. Nevertheless, a test done at half power on 30 October showed the engine worked well and was ready to be put in action.
It kind of saw action very soon. On the night of Saturday 11 November, a prankster, probably very eager to see the new fire engine, pulled the fire alarm on nearby Weld Hill (Bukit Kewangan). The fire brigade was out the door in their new Dennis fire engine in just five minutes (with one member of the team still in pyjamas). Although they saw no signs of fire, just a smashed fire alarm, the incident showed that the Dennis fire engine was quicker compared to the 15-20 minutes required to get the old steam engine ready.
History of the Fire Brigade in Kuala Lumpur dates to 28 May 1884 when Captain Harry Syers was tasked by the British Resident to round up members for a Volunteer Fire Brigade. Thirty-odd people signed up and they became the founders of the brigade. The members comprised government officials and residents of Kuala Lumpur, Thamboosamy Pillai and Yap Ah Loy were among the prominent locals. H.F. Bellamy, the Superintendent of the Public Works Department, was appointed Chief Officer. His passion was the driving force behind the brigade, which came to be known as Bellamy’s Brigade.
The Fire Brigade was headquartered at the Central Police Station, which at the time was located on Cross Street (Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin). The Brigade only had a manual engine, which they dragged by hand. They later obtained Merryweather’s Greenwich Gum steam pump, also dragged by hand. It must have been quite a sight to see the pillars of society – brigade members included the likes of H. Conway Belfield, Magistrate & Revenue Collector; A.R. Venning, the State Treasurer; and A.C. Norman, the government architect – racing down the street, dragging a steam pump!
In 1893, Kuala Lumpur’s first fire station was built on Church Street (Jalan Gereja), and officiated on 30 November. In the same year, Shire horses were imported from Britain for the onerous task of pulling the steam pump. The horses were stabled in stalls on either side of the station’s central bay. They were trained to move to their place in front of the engine at the sound of the fire alarm. Bellamy himself drove the horses. In 1895, the Volunteer Fire Brigade was disbanded and the Fire Brigade became a paid unit.
By 1902, the Brigade had purchased their very first motor fire engine – the earliest model of Merryweather’s Fire King. They were the first in the East to have such an engine. When Penang purchased their Fire King in 1906, Kuala Lumpur showed off, “They move slowly in the northern settlement, and sometimes a good deal slower in the southern.” Perhaps they should have waited for the next model because their Fire King did not perform as well as the later model obtained by Singapore.
The Fire King was a steam engine and it was replaced by the Dennis petrol engine in 1911. By this time, Bellamy had returned to Britain (in around the around the mid-1910s).
Gullick, J.M. (2017). A History of Kuala Lumpur: 1856-1939. MBRAS.
Simpson, Alexander. (1911, December 14). Letter from Alexander Simpson to E.G. Broadrick. ‘Report on Dennis Motor Fire Engine, K. Lumpur’. Arkib Negara 1957/0159945.
I write about King Chulalongkorn with some trepidation. Thailand’s Lese-Majeste Law prosecutes for slights against both living and dead royals. I do want to visit Thailand again after the pandemic!
Chulalongkorn appears in Muzium Negara in the old photograph below.
Chulalongkorn has the epithet “Phra Piya Maharat”, the Great Beloved King. He is Rama V, 5th monarch of the reigning Chakri dynasty of Siam (now Thailand). The Chakri dynasty has ruled since 1782. He is the great-grandfather of the current King of Thailand.
A Glimpse of Chulalongkorn’s family life
Chulalongkorn was the 9th son of King Mongkut (Rama IV), but since he was the first to be born to a royal queen, he was recognized as heir to the throne. His mother was Queen Debsirindra and she was Mongkut’s grandniece.
Chulalongkorn was only 15 years old when his father died in 1868. He succeeded the throne under the regency of Somdet Chao Phraya Si Suriyawong. Over the next 5 years, he prepared to assume duties by observing court business and by travels to British Malaya, Dutch East Indies, Burma and India.
Chulalongkorn had at least five royal consorts who were his half-sisters (Mongkut’s daughters) and about 92 consorts and concubines in total. Nothing to raise your eyebrows about. Royal intermarriage used to be very prevalent in Europe and other parts of the world as well. (For Lese-Majeste reasons, note this is a statement and not a criticism!) Once when he visited Italy, he was asked by the Queen of Italy how many wives he had and his reply to her was, “Had I met you first perhaps I would have had only one.” The King of course knew how many he had because each wife was given a sum of money for personal expenses every year.
In theory, the King could make any of his wives a queen. However, in practice, his queens were the daughters of kings. They were called Somdet Phra Raja Devi. From these he promoted the mother of the Crown Prince who was the eldest son. The Crown Prince’s mother was called Somdet Phra Boroma Rajinee.
Chulalongkorn was a prolific producer of children. He had 77 children. Not as many as his father, King Mongkut, who had at least 82 children! (For Lese-Majeste reasons, note this is a statement and not a criticism!)
Why is Chulalongkorn one of Thailand’s most loved and revered Kings?
King Chulalongkorn is considered one of the greatest kings of Thailand. His reign was characterized by extensive social and economic reforms and development.
Chulalongkorn matured into a shrewd politician and managed to fend off very skilfully the threat of European colonialism. Large tracts of Siam were ceded to the Europeans during the period, but Thailand remains the only country in Southeast Asia to have never been colonized.
His abolition of slavery made him the Beloved Great King of all people of Siam. In the beginning of his reign, more than a third of the population were slaves.
Chulalongkorn was the first Siamese King to send the Royal Princes to be educated in Europe. He nurtured a corps of bright Western-educated royal relatives who helped him carry out reforms and to conduct diplomacy.
Dummies’ Quick Guide to What Was Happening In and Around Siam during Chulalongkorn’s Reign
In 1782, Rama I, the first king of the Chakri dynasty, founded a new capital city across the Chao Phraya River in an area known as Rattanakosin Island, now called Bangkok.
From the middle of the 16th century, there were many Burmese-Siamese wars and repeated attacks on Siam. In the 1790s, Burma was defeated and driven out and Siam reached its greatest extent around 1809.
Left: Greatest extent of Rattanakosin’s orbit (c. 1809). Image credit: Wikipedia Right: Territorial cessation of Siamese protectorates in 19th to 20th centuries. Purple to France. Red to Britain. Image credit: Wikipedia
Two kings, Mongkut and Chulalongkorn, witnessed the expansion of both France and Britain to increase their colonial territories in Southeast Asia and encircle Siam. From the west, the British “conquered” India (mid-18th century), Burma (1826-1885) and Malaya (1874), and from the east, the French “conquered” Vietnam (1859), Cambodia (1863) and Laos (1893).
The French takeover of Cambodia and Vietnam led to keen French interest in the Lao territories. They saw (wrongly) the Mekong as a potentially major trade route with China. They feared Thai interests in the territories would be championed by their imperial rival, Britain (also wrong!). The loss of Laos to France in 1893 was a prime example of gunboat diplomacy practiced by western powers. With French gunboats menacing Bangkok, Siam reluctantly signed the Franco-Siamese treaty, which transferred to the French Lao territories east of the Mekong.
After the Franco-Siamese War of 1893, King Chulalongkorn realised the threat of western colonial powers, and accelerated extensive reforms in the administration, military, economy and society of Siam.
In 1896, British and French concluded the Anglo-French Declaration, which made a border between their colonies, with Siam defined as a buffer state. The negotiations for this started around 1887 and the exceedingly subtle and active role that Siamese diplomats played must be appreciated.
This was quickly followed by the Anglo-Siamese Secret Convention 1897 whereby, in return for a Siamese undertaking not to grant any concession or cede any part of the Malay Peninsula without prior British approval, Britain pledged itself to come to the defence of Siamese rights in that region if they were threatened by any third power.
The Entente Cordiale of 8 April 1904 ended the rivalry between Great Britain and France over Siam. As far as Siam was concerned, what the two Powers did in 1904 was nothing more than a reaffirmation of their previous agreement of 1896.
The Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 defined the modern border between Siam and British Malaya. The treaty stated that Siam transfer all rights of suzerainty over its four Malay dependencies – Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis – to Britain. In return, Britain agreed to relinquish its extraterritorial rights over British subjects in Siam. Britain also agreed to abrogate the 1897 Secret Convention and loan Siam £4 million for the construction of a railway to the Malay Peninsula.
When King Chulalongkorn died in 1910, Siam had achieved the borders of today’s Thailand. In 1910, he was peacefully succeeded by his son Vajiravudh, who reigned as Rama VI.
Was Anna Leonowans real?
My first memory of the King of Siam was from the musical “The King & I”. The source material for this musical was a 1944 novel “Anna and the King of Siam” by Margaret Landon, a missionary to Thailand. Anna Leonowans herself did write her own commercially successful memoirs, “The English Governess at the Siamese Court” (1870) and “The Romance of the Harem”(1873), to which King Chulalongkorn responded with the statement that she “has supplied by her invention that which is deficient in her memory.”
Many movie and musical versions have been made of Anna’s story – all highly sensationalized and fictionalized. One was even filmed in Malaysia – “Anna & the King” (1999) starring Jodie Foster & Chow Yun Fat. These movies are banned in Thailand and considered to be lèse majesté because of their disrespectful treatment of King Mongkut.
A World Without A Sun
King Chulalongkorn died in 1910 of kidney disease. He was nursed by Queen Saovabha and his favourites. Princess Chongchitra said, ”It was very sad in the Palace after King Chulalongkorn’s death because his successor was unmarried and would not live Inside. So for us Inside, it was like a world without a sun. Life was all monotony. No King’s meals to prepare; nothing to do for him. We, who had talked about what the King did, what he said, what he liked and what he disliked, now had nothing to talk about.”
Aldrich, Robert (Ed.). (2007). The Age of Empires. Thames & Hudson.
Moore, Wendy Khadijah. (2007). Malaysia: A Pictorial History 1400 – 2004. Editions Didier Millet.
Nik Mohd bin Nik Mohd Salleh. (2011). Kelantan Sultanate. In Ahmad Sarji bin Abdul Hamid (Chairman, Editorial Board), Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Vol 16 – The Rulers of Malaysia (pp. 97-107). Editions Didier Millet.
The starting point of Sungai Langat is at Gunung Nuang on the Titiwangsa Range. The river flows westward across the state of Selangor covering a total distance of 190 km, passing through Kajang, Dengkil, Jenjarom and Jugra before it drains into the Straits of Melaka,. This article focuses on the town of Jugra, which was the royal town and administrative centre of Selangor during the reign of Sultan Abdul Samad and the period of the British intervention in the state. Sadly, today, the town has been left out of the state economic activity and it has slid into obscurity.
History, Tales and Remnants
The discoveries of large quantities of pottery shards, legs/stands of tripod pots and stone adzes at Kampung Jenderam Hilir near Dengkil proved that the Sungai Langat basin had been inhabited since the Neolithic times, believed to be between 3,000 – 4,000 years ago. The area later became a feeder point and regularly supplied local produce to the entrepot at Bujang Valley. At the height of the Melaka Sultanate in the middle of the 15th century CE, Sultan Mansur Shah made his son, Paduka Sri China, the Raja of Jeram near Langat. When the Sultanate of Selangor was set up following the installation of Raja Lumu as Sultan Salehuddin by Sultan Mahmud of Perak, the state was divided into five semi-autonomous districts based on the five major rivers in the state, namely Sungai Bernam, Sungai Selangor, Sungai Klang, Sungai Langat and Sungai Lukut. The settlements were at the estuaries, namely Sabak Bernam, Kuala Selangor, Klang, Bandar Langat (aka Bandar Temasya) and Lukut respectively.
Up until the third Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Mohamed (1826-1857), Kuala Selangor was the main administrative town and capital of Selangor and Raja Abdul Samad was assigned the charge of Kuala Selangor while his father, Raja Abdullah, ruled the Langat Valley. When Raja Abdul Samad took over the reign as the fourth Sultan of Selangor in 1857, he retired from Kuala Selangor and chose to reside in his ancestral fief of Langat, thus moving the capital to Bandar Langat. His eldest son, Raja Musa, who assumed the title of Raja Muda was put in-charge of Kuala Selangor. During the turbulent time of the Klang War/Selangor Civil War from 1867 to 1874, Sultan Abdul Samad issued a letter dated 26 June 1868 that delegated wide executive powers to his son in-law, Tunku Dhiauddin Zainal Rashid or Tengku Kudin in short, and Langat given as a gift to him.
The war was initially fought at Klang and it then spread to Kuala Selangor, Ulu Selangor and finally landed at Kuala Lumpur. After seven long years of fighting, in March of 1873, Tengku Kudin and his allies Yap Ah Loy and Pahang forces recaptured Kuala Lumpur. In November the same year, Kudin’s forces and a Pahang contingent retook Kuala Selangor, the last stronghold of Raja Mahadi in Selangor and it signalled the end of the war. In the middle of 1878, Tengku Kudin relinquished his position as Viceroy of Selangor and returned to his home state of Kedah.
After the war, and after a court trial at (1) Kuala Jugra to settle a piracy case that happened in November 1873 in Selangor waters, Colonial rule in Selangor was established. John Guthrie Davidson became the adviser and aide to Tengku Kudin in Klang and a young Frank Swettenham of the Straits Settlements Civil Service was appointed the Assistant Resident in August 1874. He was to reside at the (2) Sultan’s fortified stockade by the river which according to him, was flooded twice daily! During his incumbency, Swettenham made many field trips, travelling the length and breadth of the state, including the key mining towns of Hulu Langat, which took him extra days to arrive and Kuala Kubu, where he commented on the gigantic dam that the locals had constructed. Davidson’s position as the first Resident of Selangor was confirmed the following year and at the same time, Swettenham left Bandar Langat and moved to Perak.
The next phase was the development of the royal capital, which was shifted to Jugra, a Malay village south of Bandar Langat. The hill at Jugra was already a known spot and had served as a natural guiding beacon for seafarers in the Straits of Malacca for centuries. The earliest record came from the Chinese source through the sailing charts that recorded the expeditions of Admiral Zheng He in the early 15th century CE. They were published in a book in 1628 and it showed the location of Bukit Jugra, which the Chinese called Mian Hua Yu (綿花嶼) or Cotton Islet in English. Legend has it that when the Malacca Kingdom was ousted by the Portuguese in 1511, Puteri Gunung Ledang escaped and arrived at Bukit Jugra with her husband. One day, she killed her husband and buried him at the foot of the hill and their two cats turned into ‘rimau keramat/ghost tigers’ guarding the grave ever since. ‘Even to this day she pays periodical visits to Jugra Hill’. The hill was also mentioned in ‘The Oriental Navigator, Or, New Directions for Sailing to and from the East Indies’, an important guide to navigating the seas to the far reaches of Asia, which was first published in 1794. Bukit Jugra was known as Parcelar Hill, and the book mentions another hill with a similar name i.e False Parcelar Hill, which is Bukit Jeram today, located at Kuala Selangor. The name ‘Parcelar’ derives from the Arabic word ‘balasar’, which literally means above the head.
In the 1850’s, some Americans opened a tin mine upstream of Sungai Langat at Sungai Tangkas near Rekoh but was later met by altercations from the locals as they did not possess any consent and the mine was soon abandoned. They travelled down to Bandar Langat and while there, made a significant contribution by improving the communications in the area. They succeeded in making a (3) canal to provide a shortcut from Sungai Langat and the Straits of Malacca at the Jugra inlet (see the top/first photo). The canal later turned into a channel and a reference was made in 1877 that Emily Innes, wife of District Officer James Innes, had used the channel to transport her goods and chattels including a piano, which was a wedding present from her parents, in a big cargo boat from Bandar Langat to Bukit Jugra. At the summit of Bukit Jugra, the British had built a lighthouse to guide ships approaching Jugra. The locals said that during the construction, the waters in the area had turned red for thirty days and at the expiry, cockles, which were abundant, suddenly disappeared. In 1976, another concrete tower was built, this time equipped with the state-of-the-art navigational equipment. Today, there are (4) two lighthouses at Bukit Jugra; the taller was built during the colonial era.
The British started developing Bukit Jugra between 1875 and 1876 and probably the first building constructed was the police station. It was said that Tengku Kudin had initiated the construction. It was to be the first police station in Selangor. A twenty-two year old Harry Charles Syers arrived in March 1875 to set up the police force and he recruited Malays from rural districts of Malacca. One of his early accomplishments was the crushing of Sutan Puasa’s suspected uprising in Ulu Langat in October 1875. H.C. Syers moved on to become the first Federal Commissioner of Police. The ruins of ‘Rumah Pasung’, name given by the locals for the police station, were discovered by the state archaeology team in 2001 and restoration work was carried out the following year and since 2013, it has served as the (5) In-Situ Museum. Some parts of the old police station are preserved, such as the granite walls, flooring, two pillars and the jail cell.
Next to be built was the (6) Jugra District Office. Similar to the police station, the District Office was a two-storey granite and brick building and it also housed a bank and a court. It was by no coincidence that the building housed a bank and a court. The District Officer was indeed a Tax collector and Magistrate! The building has disintegrated and, today, only its ruins can be seen. It is located on the same road that leads to the lighthouses and next to the Chinese cemetery. When the (7) District Officer Residence was ready in 1877, James Innes and Emily moved in immediately. Those days, sightings of tigers in the open were quite common and particularly so in the Kuala Langat district. There was also news of people being killed by tigers. James reported an encounter with a tiger in his garden when he was reading the newspaper. Luckily, nothing bad happened to him. Today, it would be difficult to locate the building, as it may have been completely demolished. The photo below, taken before 1985, showed only one upright pillar.
Located about 300 metres from the Jugra District Office is the (8) Bukit Jugra Ammunition Store. This bunker-like structure with only one entrance was used to store ammunition for the police force and it is strategically located facing Sungai Langat to facilitate the movement of ammunition to and from the store. There is another similar ammunition store albeit a larger one located near Kota Raja Mahadi in Klang.
In 1876, Sultan Abdul Samad felt secure enough to move away from his stockade to his new residence, (9) Jugra Palace/Istana Jugra, which was also known as Istana Sedang Masa, located at Bukit Jugra. His stockade at Bandar Langat was destroyed and he told Swettenham that ‘he very much prefers his house and garden at the hill’. The palace went on to become his main residence for the rest of his life. When he passed away, the palace was abandoned and left to deteriorate. However, one item was left behind i.e. an iron chest. In 1968, Dato Shahrom Yeop who was then the Director of the National Museum had obtained special permission from Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman to move the item to the museum for an exhibition. Incidentally, Tunku was once the District Officer of Kuala Langat. Since its arrival at the museum, strange noises could be heard from the empty chest! In less than a week, it was returned to Jugra, even then the strange phenomena continued – the journey to Jugra took seven hours, a crane was needed to lift the chest and finally, it took just the caretaker and an assistant to carry it up to the room on top of the stairs! The chest is now being kept by one of the descendants in Kampung Permatang Pasir.
Within walking distance from Jugra Palace is the site of what used to be (10) Long Puteri Palace, the official residence of Sultan Abdul Samad’s granddaughter, Raja Long Puteri. In the 1930’s, the place was inhabited by Raja Sakiah Raja Mustar. Today, both buildings have almost ‘disappeared’ except for some tall pillars that stood out at Jugra Palace and the remains of the stone staircase of fourteen steps at the latter. Visiting these two buildings would be quite impossible as both are now within private property.
Sultan Abdul Samad passed away on 6 February 1898 at the age of 93. During his reign, the Resident and the state government was moved from Klang to Kuala Lumpur in 1880 while Jugra remained the royal town. In 1886, Sultan Abdul Samad attended theopening of the railway from Klang to Kuala Lumpur and spent three weeks in Kuala Lumpur. In 1897, after the British had established the Federated Malay States, Sultan Abdul Samad attended the first Durbar, meeting of the Malay Rulers of the four member states at Kuala Kangsar. As the most senior Sultan, he delivered the speech of welcome to the Governor. British officials also noted Sultan Abdul Samad preferred tin ingots rather than silver dollars as his personal reserves and he was reputed to have a hoard of tin worth $100,000. He was buried at (11) Jugra Royal Mausoleum, the Selangor royal family mausoleum since 1886. The mausoleum complex also contained the graves of his children, Raja Muda Musa who died in 1884, Raja Kahar and Tunku Alfiah. The mausoleum is open to visitors.
When Raja Musa died, his son Raja Suleiman was made the heir apparent to the throne when he was appointed as the new Raja Muda in 1887. Thus, when Sultan Abdul Samad passed away, Raja Sulaiman became the fifth Sultan of Selangor and he took the name Sultan Alaeddin Sulaiman Shah, ruling for 40 years, from 1898 to 1938. He was a pious Sultan and was very close to Islamic scholars. One of them, Shaykh Tengku Mahmud Zuhdi, was appointed as the Religious Advisor of the state of Selangor with the title of Shaykh al-Islam Setia DiRaja Selangor. Sultan Alaeddin had written at least three religious books in Jawi and one of the books was once used as a textbook for religious schools in Selangor. In July 1903, Sultan Alaeddin attended the Second Durbar, which was held at the Federal capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Sultan Alaeddin commissioned the construction of two buildings at Kampung Bandar, which is situated away from Bukit Jugra. Both constructions were funded entirely by Sultan Alaeddin. The (12) Bandar Palace/Istana Bandar was built in stages starting from 1899 and finally completed in 1905. It was said that the palace was designed by the Sultan who was inspired by the Sultan Abdul Samad building in Kuala Lumpur. The entire building is constructed of bricks and covered by lime plaster while the staircases and doors are carved from local hardwood. It underwent two renovations i.e in 1914, the rear facade was added with ornaments and inclusion of a fence, then a front entrance was added in 1925. His grandson, Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah who later became the eighth Sultan of Selangor, was born here on 8 March 1926. Sultan Alaeddin lived in this palace for 33 years until his death in 1938. It then went into disuse when the sixth Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Hisamuddin Alam Shah moved to Istana Mahkota Puri in Klang. It was used as a Japanese base during the Japanese Occupation.
At the end of 1980’s, the palace went through major restoration work undertaken by the Selangor state government who turned it into a District Handicraft Centre, which did not last long. It was used as a Maahad Tahfiz school by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department from 1997 to 1999 then left vacant until 2008 when it was certified as a National Heritage building. Upon completion of rehabilitation works, it was handed over to the Malay Customs and National Heritage Corporation of Selangor (PADAT) in December 2010 and was made a tourist attraction in the district. It underwent conservation work in 2015 and there was a plan to turn it into a Living Museum or Royal Gallery to preserve and educate future generations of this national heritage.
The (13) Sultan Alaeddin Royal Mosque/Istana DiRaja Sultan Alaeddin, also known as Masjid Bandar, Masjid Alauddin, Masjid Sultan Suleiman, is situated close to Bandar Palace. It was inaugurated on 18 June 1924 and the design was believed to have originated from the Deli Kingdom in Medan, Sumatra. It was earlier known for its yellow or mustard colour; today the mosque is painted white. Sultan Alaeddin used to deliver sermons here even on Aidilfitri and Aidiladha. This century-old mosque is still being used and maintained by the residents. Prior to this mosque, there was another mosque, (14) Raja Muda Musa Mosque/Masjid Raja Muda Musa located next to the Kampung Bandar Royal Tomb/Makam DiRaja Kampung Bandar. It was built in 1875 and was the first mosque built in Kampung Bandar. The mosque was badly damaged in 1920 and a temporary one was built just outside the mosque. The congregation moved over to Sultan Alaeddin Royal Mosque when it was opened.
(15) Sekolah Kebangsaan Bandar located on the same street as Bandar Palace and Sultan Alaeddin Royal Mosque is the first school in Kuala Langat district and one of the oldest in the state. It was originally known as Sekolah Melayu Bandar Dandan Bakti Raja and was established on 13 March 1898. It started with an enrolment of 53, all boys. The first headmaster was Burok Bin Haji Ahmad who worked until 31 December 1922. In 1952, the school moved to the current site, which is close to the mosque.
From Kuala Lumpur, use Plus Highway (E2) southbound. Exit at Exit 209 UPM to join Jalan Sungai Besi and continue on to join South Klang Valley Expressway (SKVE) at Ayer Hitam toll plaza. Continue and exit at Teluk Panglima Garang toll plaza and after the toll plaza, keep left to Jenjarom. Drive past Jenjarom and head towards Banting. When approaching Banting, watch out for signage to Kampung Bandar and Bukit Jugra.
In this Series
Please click HERE for a list of articles in the ‘A Very Rough Guide’ series.
Mahanavika1 Buddhagupta was a mariner who lived possibly in the second half of the fifth century CE. The title ‘Mahanavika’ bestowed on him implies he was a skilled navigator while his given name, Buddhagupta2, identifies his religious affiliation. Hailing from Raktamṛttika, his visit to the northern Malay Peninsula has entered into the annals of history though a stone stele he donated to a local shrine.
Only the upper part of this stele has survived; it measures 66 centimetres in height, between 29 to 34 centimetres in width and 8 to 9 centimetres in depth. The main feature on this slab is the representation of a stupa with an almost spherical dome, in itself unusual given that they are typically semi-hemispherical.
A balcony can be seen on top of the dome and rising from this is a staff carrying seven parasols of diminishing sizes ending in two semi circles. The dome sits within the upturned petals of a lotus blossom while downward petals of the lotus frame the base. This base is decorated by three pilasters – the pilaster in the centre is shown complete while the two side pilasters are in halves. Alternatively, these could have been pillars. The stone is broken off under the pilasters/pillars – the base could have been resting on a plinth as in the case of the Kampung Sungai Mas inscription.
Inscriptions run along the sides of the stupa as well as along the sides of the slab. The language is Sanskrit and the script Pallava. There are two parts to this inscription. The inscription that runs along the right side of the stupa is a karma verse that can be translated as:
Through ignorance, karma is accumulated. The cause of birth is karma. Through knowledge karma is not accumulated. Through absence of karma one is not reborn.3
This verse has also been found on inscriptions at two locations in southern Kedah – Kampung Sungai Mas and Bukit Meriam – in both cases coupled with the Buddhist Ye Dharma Hetu credo. The coupling of the karma and the Ye Dharma Hetu verses has not been found in India or Sri Lanka and, hence, could have been a local blending of philosophies.
The second part of the inscription mentions a Mahanavika Buddhagupta from Raktamṛttika giving thanks for a successful voyage. The inscription likely continues onto the broken-off piece of the stele and hence this inscription is not complete. The translation by Kern4 of the surviving inscription is below.
Right-hand side of stele: ‘Of the eminent shipowner Buddhagupta resident at Raktamrttika…’
Left-hand side of stele: ‘In every way, from everything, in every respect, all… who has performed a successful journey’
Raktamṛttika translates to ‘red earth’. This location was initially identified with the Chitu mentioned in Chinese records, which also translates to ‘red earth’; it is believed to have been located in Kelantan. Another possibility is the Raktamṛttika Mahavihara mentioned in the writings of Hiuen-Tsang (Xuanzang), a Chinese traveller to India in the seventh century CE. He wrote that the most learned men in the kingdom congregated at this vihara. Its location has been identified with the archaeological site at Rajbaridanga in West Bengal, India.
And… just for fun… an attempt to transliterate one line of the Pallava script.
The stele was discovered in 1834 by Captain James Low while he was excavating some ruins at a sandy site in Seberang Perai (at its border with Kedah). Low did not leave behind any further details of the location but later researchers speculate it to be Guar Kepah, a sandy site at Penaga on the southern bank of Muda River.
Guar Kepah has other calls to fame. At one time coastal, it lies on an old beach ridge and it was previously made up of shell middens, i.e. mounds made up mainly from remains of edible molluscs and other kitchen waste. The shell midden at Guar Kepah was recorded in 1860 by G.W. Earl as being six metres high; by 1936, this had been reduced to less than two metres due to quarrying activities for lime. Shell middens signal the presence of prehistoric settlements and the Guar Kepah site was in occupation during the Hoabinhian and the Neolithic. Excavations during the colonial period had unearthed 41 skeletons and the discovery in 2017 of ‘Penang Woman’, a 5,710 year-old skeleton, puts the focus back on Guar Kepah.
With such a long history, it is thrilling to think that the shell mounds may have back dropped a stupa of the design shown on the stele. Guar Kepah is not done revealing its secrets and we can only hope that future discoveries will illuminate the Buddhagupta period, shedding light on the community that resided in the area at the time.
1 ‘Navika’ is a Sanskrit word translated initially as ‘sea-captain’. However, present-day scholarship leans towards ‘navigator’ as the more accurate meaning. ‘Mahanavika’ thus translates to ‘Great Navigator’.
2 Names identifying religious affiliation were common. As an example, among the 193 Indic inscriptions discovered at Hoc Cave on Socotra Island in Yemen, many were personal names indicating religious affiliation with Vishnu, Siva, Kartikeya or Surya. Incidentally, Budhagupta was also the name of an emperor of the Gupta Dynasty, reigning between c. 476 and 495 CE. The navigator who arrived on the shores of Kedah may have been named after him.
3Jacq-Hergoualc’h (2002, 216)
4Kern (1907, 96)
Allen, Jane. (1986-87). An Inscribed Tablet from Kedah, Malaysia: Comparison with Earlier Finds. Asian Perspectives, 27(1), 35-57.
Muzium Negara has on display a few personal items that belonged to Haji Abdul Rahman bin Abdul Hamid, a religious scholar and freedom fighter from Kuala Terengganu. Born in 1868, Abdul Rahman was a successful entrepreneur with business dealings as far as Menara (today Narathiwat) in southern Thailand. His frequent visits to Limbong in Kemaman to trade as well as to preach earned him the moniker ‘Limbong’, which was tacked to the end of his given name. Some simply called him ‘Tok Limbong’. In spite of his wealth, he was down to earth, generous and ready to help; this made him well known especially along the middle part of the Terengganu River. He was very versatile; apart from trade, he had agricultural concerns, practised silat and was a religious teacher.
History remembers him for the role he played in protesting against the land and forest management laws introduced by the British. Forest produce, such as timber, attap, rattan and eaglewood, was an important source of revenue for the state. Taxation on these products had been in place even before British intervention – Malay district chiefs, through royal grants, exercised monopoly over their purchase. However, the rates were flexible and, importantly, transactions were mainly through barter. The British introduced a much higher tax rate for jungle products and included many additional items into the taxable list. Their tax collection process was also more efficient as they completely replaced the barter system with cash. In addition, permits were required before trees could be felled preparatory to dry-rice cultivation. All these measures put a huge burden on the peasantry.
In 1921, in an effort to end shifting cultivation, the government introduced a license to cultivate land on a temporary basis, with a hefty fine for non-compliance. The following year, a group of farmers disregarded the law and worked the land in Beladau without permit, supported by Haji Abdul Rahman. When 43 of these farmers were served with warrants for their rebellion, Haji Abdul Rahman applied for a special attorney’s license to defend them during their trial. However, too many supporters turned up in court, some bearing weapons, and Haji Abdul Rahman’s refusal to cooperate with the authorities saw him lose his special license. His license as a religious teacher and permit to hold circumcisions were also revoked. He was viewed with concern as his ability to garner support and rile up a crowd pegged him as a powerful and dangerous leader.
Discontent over the land duties and royalty over jungle produce continued to mount. The Malay chiefs were also unhappy losing their customary claims over land. On 20 May 1928, with a conviction that the land belonged to God and that the State had no right over it, around 2,000 people marched to Kuala Berang. The District Officer and the police, made up of a sergeant and four men, made a prudent retreat and summoned help. A team of 25 policemen later caught up with the dissidents in Kuala Telemong. Here, after failing to disperse the crowd in spite of repeated warnings, the police fired one volley, killing eleven men including one of the key leaders of the rebellion, i.e. Lebai Deraman, better known as To’ Janggut (not be to confused with the Kelantanese rebel leader). Further reinforcements arrived the next day from the Federated Malay States and the dissidents finally dispersed.
Twelve other ringleaders were arrested and given long prison sentences coupled with hard labour. Haji Abdul Rahman, though he did not take part in the actual disturbance, was identified as the leader behind the incident and he was exiled to Mecca.
Berhanundin bin Abdullah, Kamaruzaman bin Yusoff & Mansoureh Ebrahimi (2015). Haji Abdul Rahman Limbong (1868-1928): Fighter against the Colonialist. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 6(6), 281-289.
Kathirithamby-Wells, Jeyamalar (2005). Nature and Nation: Forests and Development in Peninsular Malaysia. NIAS Press and NUS Press.
In my last article (on Dengkil), I wrote about the discovery of Neolithic and later historical period artefacts at the confluence of Sungai Langat and Sungai Semenyih near Jenderam Hilir. Sungai Langat is one of the main sources of water supply for the state of Selangor. In this article, I shall follow the path of Sungai Langat further west, from Dengkil to Jenjarom. Located in the district of Kuala Langat, Jenjarom is about 54 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur and 24 kilometres from Klang town. Since its early days, it has been an agricultural town and today, it is turning into a popular tourist spot.
The origin of the town’s name has two potential sources – from a river/stream and a plant. Sungai Jarom, which is a tributary of Sungai Langat, has a distinctive feature that looks like a needle (jarum in Malay) and thus the name. The Ixora is a flowering shrub that grows well in tropical Asia. The plants produce large clusters of tiny flowers and they flower all year round. In Malaysia, it is known by the following names – jarum jarum, jejarum, jenjarum, siantan, tabung jarum and pecah periuk.
The Banjar, an ethnic group native to South Kalimantan in the island of Borneo, were the earliest inhabitants in the area. They arrived in the 1920’s and at about the same time or slightly later, Chinese immigrants arrived. They were mostly Hokkiens from Nan Tian village, Anxi in the Fujian Province and they called their new residence Chap Si Gi, which means 14 miles, the distance to Klang. They were given land by the British for the cultivation of rubber trees. Besides rubber trees, they also cultivated coffee plants, tea and coconut.
Coffee growing in our country started as early as in the 1870’s and Selangor was historically the peninsula’s largest coffee producer. The estates were located around Klang and Kuala Lumpur. However, the industry did not last long due to the fluctuation in coffee prices, coffee leaf rust (disease) attacking the farms and the switch to rubber, which became the dominant cash crop. On the other hand, tea growing at Bukit Cheeding has survived until today (more information below).
The earliest school in Jenjarom was the Aik Kuan Chinese School, which was established in 1924. During the Emergency, its name was changed to Sekolah Rendah Cina Jenjarom and today, it is Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan Cina (SJKC) Jenjarom. Kampung Baru Jenjarom was set up in 1950 behind the town. From an initial population of 4,500, it grew to 18,000 in 1995 and by 2012, it went up to 25,000; it was then, one of the largest Chinese New Villages in Selangor. Today, it is known as Kampung Seri Jarum.
Jenjarom was under the Telok Datoh state constituency from 1959 to 1974. This constituency was abolished and re-created as Teluk Datuk in 1995 and, following a re-delineation exercise, it was renamed Banting in 2018. Four-term state assemblyman, Dato Seri Haji Hormat Bin Rafei became Selangor Menteri Besar from 1976 to 1982. He took over from Dato Seri Haji Harun Bin Haji Idris who resigned in 1976. At the Federal level, Jenjarom comes under the Kuala Langat federal constituency. The Member of Parliament (MP) for three-terms, from 1974 to 1986, was Aishah Ghani, who was then the head of Wanita UMNO. Aishah’s early involvement in politics was in 1945, as a leading member of AWAS (Angkatan Wanita Sedar, the women’s wing of PKMM (Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya or Malay Nationalist Party). She was appointed as the Minister of Social Welfare in 1973 and served until 1984. She then became the Permanent Chairman of Wanita UMNO from 1984 until 19 April 2013 when she passed away at the age of 89. The current state assemblyman is Lau Weng San (PH-DAP) and the MP is Xavier Jayakumar Arulanandam (formerly PH-PKR, now Independent).
Moving forward to the beginning of 2018, residents of Jenjarom were having sleepless nights as they had difficulty breathing due to the putrid scent. They soon found out that it was the smell of burning plastic and it came from the illegal plastic recycling factories that were mushrooming in the township. Due to the town’s proximity to Port Klang, it became an ideal dumping ground. Greenpeace reported that plastic waste exported from the US to Malaysia in the first seven month of that year had doubled from the previous year. The Minister in-charge at that time, Yeo Bee Yin, took action by closing down the illegal factories, agreed to add plastic to the Basel Convention to combat the dangerous effects of plastic pollution worldwide and sent back the plastic waste to the exporting countries. The Government also suspended the operations of the 114 permitted factories and told them to re-apply under stricter criteria. One year after the discovery, residents of Jenjarom ‘can breathe normally and there are no more health problems. Jenjarom has been given a new lease of life’.
Places of Interest
The tea plantation at Bukit Cheeding, just outside Jenjarom town is owned by (1) BOH Plantations Sdn. Bhd. This is where lowland tea is grown and BOH is one of two companies that grow lowland tea in our country. Here, specially designed vehicular harvesters are utilized to pluck the green leaves. Bukit Cheeding is BOH’s only packaging plant. BOH’s other tea gardens are all located at Cameron Highlands, namely the first garden at Habu which was established in 1929, Sungai Palas and Fairlie. The current CEO is Caroline Russell who is the granddaughter of the founder, John ‘Archie’ Archibald Russell. In a news report on 6 December 2019, BOH is offering 651 acres of its Bukit Cheeding plantation for sale. It also mentioned that the land has been zoned for housing. BOH Bukit Cheeding is not open for walk-in visitors and prior permission must be obtained from Majlis Daerah Kuala Langat (MDKL/Kuala Langat District Council).
Photo source : BOH Tea Facebook
The (2) Wanshou Palace (仁嘉隆萬壽宮) located at Jalan Sungai Buaya is a unique temple. It is a unification of four temples, namely Shizhu Temple, Tongluo Temple, Guanyin Pavilion and Yufu Palace. The construction of the first temple was completed on 14 June 1965 on a piece of land given by the Government. In moving with the times, Wanshou Palace was registered as an official organization on 28 March 2000. They were also successful in getting the adjacent land from the government and the reconstruction of the temple went ahead in 2012 with a budget of six million ringgit.
Further down Jalan Sungai Buaya is the location of (3)馬來西亞佛光山東禪寺 Fo Guang Shan Dong Zen Temple which is a must-visit site in Jenjarom. FGS Dong Zen is one of the many branches of FGS, which was founded by Venerable Master Hsing Yun in 1967. FGS Dong Zen was built in 1994 and it occupies an area of 16 acres. The temple complex comprises a main shrine with a large seated Buddha, Lumbini garden, Zen garden, Waterdrop Teahouse, Sutra calligraphy hall, Dong Zen Institute of Buddhist Studies, Fo Guang Yuan art gallery, exhibition halls, meditation halls and more. Every Chinese New Year, the temple grounds will be transformed into a glittering wonderland of red lanterns, illuminated gardens, flotillas and colourful displays. This Lantern and Flora Festival will be on display throughout the Chinese New Year celebrations.
Next, to shift focus to some food and beverage outlets that have appeared in Jenjarom in recent times. Starting with (5) Mansion 1969, this cafe-cum-heritage gallery started business in 2016. Incidentally, the building was built in 1969. Besides the many antiques that are on display, the wooden walls are filled with historical information taken from the pages of ‘Moving Mountains : A Pictorial History of the Chinese in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur’ published by the Centre for Malaysian Chinese Studies; one of the partners of the cafe was involved in the editing of the book. The cafe serves local and Western dishes. Two years later, they started another F&B outlet at the car park outside of Mansion 1969, which they called (6)NightBus 127. Bus 127 used to be the only public transportation between Banting and Klang and it operated in the evenings. An old bus that has been renovated and brought back to life, now serving as the main dining area, is proving to be a crowd puller. The cafe serves western food and operates from 5.00 pm to midnight. And last but not least, one of the partners started another outlet at Kampung Sungai Jarom which he called (4) Pak Teh Kopitiam. The cafe is housed in a 1950’s built village house and started operations in 2019. They serve breakfast and lunch, plus many vegetarian foods and is pork-free.
To get to Jenjarom from Kuala Lumpur, use Plus Highway (E2) southbound. Exit at Exit 209 UPM to join Jalan Sungai Besi and continue on to join South Klang Valley Expressway (SKVE) at Ayer Hitam toll plaza. Continue driving and exit at Teluk Panglima Garang toll plaza and, after the toll plaza, keep left to Jenjarom.
In this Series
Please click HERE for a list of articles in the ‘A Very Rough Guide’ series.
“To be standing together in a frosty field, looking up into the sky, marvelling at birds and revelling in the natural world around us, is a simple miracle. And I wonder why we are so rarely able to appreciate it.”
– Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Mother’s Memoir [paraphrased]
A recent article in our blog titled ‘Volunteering at the Museum during the Covid-19 Pandemic’ by Karen Loh, touched on the Museum Volunteers’ organisation and its continuing work. It prompted me to reflect on the previous year. Museum Volunteers have largely carried on with normal life, as well as some new things in the sudden ‘time windfall’. Of course, there is the shopping, cooking, house cleaning because the house cleaner cannot come in, and the outdoor exercises. Tasks previously done on weekends are now spread out over the week. There are the unusual activities like cooking or baking foods you never did before and repairs you always wanted to do but put off. I, however, have found a way to indulge in bird photography just around my garden.
I am a keen amateur observer of birds, but I have only observed because I did not have a powerful camera. I do have powerful binoculars and used this to take notes and then refer to all the colour plates in the book I have on birds to identify them. A challenge in itself. Then, a good friend insisted I use his spare Canon EOS1 Ds Mark III, together with a 400mm and 70-200mm zoom lens. This truly opened up a completely new world nine months ago. Somehow, it seemed that the various birds knew their pictures were going to be taken, so they all appeared and posed for me. After that, some of them would not be seen for a long while or ever again.
Being near Bukit Gasing helps making a collection just by being in the garden. However, it involves hearing new sounds, keeping the camera always on the ready and with its battery charged. The first pictures I took were of the Scaly-breasted Munia. They are certainly rare, at least in my garden, as I have never seen them again. They come in pairs and move slowly around a bushy plant, pecking away at tiny insects or seeds.
Mind you, bird photography is not just point and shoot. The quick dash to capture the pictures, the excitement and shooting it quick in case it flies off, all makes one nervous with a shaky hand resulting in a few slightly blurred initial pictures. However, unlike film, with a digital you can take as many pictures as you want until your hand steadies, because it is all free! All part of the fun!
Then again, many birds sit high up a tree or they may be far away. Then, there are birds that never sit still but continuously flit about in the bushes such as this Olive-backed Sunbird. How does it feed at that speed I wonder?
The Crested Serpent Eagle is a real treat. I first sighted it in the early morning on top of a dead pinang tree. A few days later, that vain bird (or maybe another) was on the top of the telephone pole right outside my front gate like a sentinel! Was it oblivious to my clicking away? It does make an appearance now and again in the late evening, perched regally looking around for prey, which could be snakes or frogs and rats. These eagles nest up in the bukit. On some hot breezy days sometime after 10am, they spread their wings and circle, ‘riding the thermals’ as the hot air lifts them higher and higher, till they disappear from view, with a call that sounds like a baby’s cry.
Crested Serpent Eagle. Clockwise from top-left: in flight, on telephone pole, on pinang tree, up close
If you see the eagle’s crown is ruffled, it is best to make a quick exit, as this means the bird is angry.
I must qualify that the comments I make here are based on my own observations over time and not from books – so please do not challenge me lah. While I could use scientific names like birderus whateverus, I prefer the simple names. Admittedly, I am not yet familiar with the sub-species. Only for a few birds, I can distinguish between male and female. While the explanations are simple, detailed descriptions like habitats, migration patterns, range etc., are avoided as this is all about my sightings only.
Naturally, other than the exotic birds, there are the few plebeian, or ‘commoner birds’. These will be familiar to all.
Clockwise from top-left: Yellow-vented Bulbul, Eurasian tree sparrow, Magpie Robin, Javan Myna
Left: Peaceful Dove, Right: Spotted Dove
The Kingfisher comes by because of a monsoon drain nearby. It dives down into this drain and comes up with a guppy in its beak. A couple of wallops of the beak on the wire kills the fish, which then gets swallowed. They are also partial to worms and caterpillars.
Left: White-throated Kingfisher, Right: White-throated Kingfishers fighting for caterpillar
Then there are the seasonal birds, though some have become resident. I first sighted the Koel in this area, as well as in many other parts of the country in about the late 1980s, usually between November and March. Over the years it has become resident all over the country. A very shy bird which is almost always hidden in the trees and therefore difficult to photograph. But one of the ‘gems’ if captured on film.
Left: Female Koel; Right: Male Koel
Their call is a short continuous ‘woo woo’, which gets louder and louder. On a cool evening with the setting sun and a light breeze, the call truly sounds the knell of parting day. (Note to self: get a video camera).
The Philippine Glossy Starling is a simple black beauty in low light but is really a glossy dark-green in full light. It usually flies in a small flock, roving from one plant to another to feed, stopping long enough to be photographed.
Another year-end bird is the Green Bee-eater, which I first saw at the Kuala Gula Sanctuary swamps ages ago. These are still year-end birds and remain so, except that there are stragglers staying on later than before. They sit on a wire, then dive or fly up and catch a bee mid-air and get back to the wire to eat. If the bee is a bit large, the bird beats its beak on the wire to kill the bee first.
Green Bee-eater, can be seen eating a bee
Some birds you hear but are difficult to see due to their size. They need some effort as they flit quickly in the bushes, pecking at unseen things on branches and twigs. Below are two examples – the Asian Brown Flycatcher and Common Tailorbird.
top: Asian Brown Flycatcher, bottom: Common Tailorbird
The Coppersmith Barbet has a strong voice. Its sound is a regular beat ‘tonk tonk tonk’ and it can go on for quite a while with short intervals, and a ‘sore throat tonk’ sometimes in between. The sound is similar to a coppersmith beating metal to shape it and hence the name of the bird.
When I was shooting the Koel, along came this proud Pink-necked Green Pigeon and settled on a nearby branch.
Pink-necked Green Pigeon
Now comes another set of very rare birds for this area; I have seen each of them only once and never saw them again. It was sheer luck of being at the right place at the right time.
left: a pair of Greater Goldenback Woodpeckers; right: the female of the species
The Little Egret and White-breasted Waterhen do frequent the neighbourhood, but you need sharp eyes and have to be well hidden to get them.
Other interesting creatures visited as well.
Left: Common Birdwing Butterfly; Right: Monkey
This bat used to hang from an outer ceiling all day for a few months; flying off in the evening, returning later in the night and then messing up the floor below. You can see why – it was eating a jambu air the night I took this shot.
Then there is the pesky tree shrew; nevertheless a beauty of its own, unless it runs into the house.
This last picture is of birds in a feeding frenzy after an evening rain – all flying so swiftly and up high.
I have yet to get a good shot of the common crow, which does fly by but up high. That is on my To Sight List, which also includes the Heron. For the Heron, I may have to make an exception and go to Taman Jaya to spot them in the ditches. Who knows what other birds I may find there!
When it is safe to travel, trips to Kuala Gula, Frasers Hill and other places are on the card. This will add variety to my personal collection, which I have titled ‘Birds Seen by Me’.
Dengkil, Sepang and Labu are the three mukim that make up the Sepang district. Sepang officially became a district on 1 January 1975, making it the ‘youngest’ district in the state of Selangor. Previously, Dengkil was part of the Hulu Langat district. Incidentally, Sepang is the local name of a shrubby plant found in the area; its wood produces a red dye that is used for dyeing textiles. The tree was a major source of red dye used throughout the world up until the end of the nineteenth century. Its scientific name is Caesalpinia sappan L and the tree is also found in India, Myanmar, Thailand, Indo-China and China.
According to the district portal, Dengkil is the largest mukim and it comprises ten Malay kampungs, one Chinese new village, one Indian community village and 82 public housing developments. Dengkil has benefitted from its proximity to our country’s mega projects namely Putrajaya, Cyberjaya, KL International Airport and KL International Airport 2. Today, Dengkil is conveniently accessible via major highways like MEX, LDP, SKV4, ELITE, Putrajaya-Cyberjaya Expressway, North-South Expressway, Jalan Banting-Semenyih (B18) and Jalan Putrajaya-Dengkil (B15).
The first version on how the name ‘Dengkil’ came about originated from an aboriginal word ‘dingkil’, which was used to describe a type of durian that has less/no pulp but has large seeds. There used to be a lot of durian trees planted on the banks of Sungai Langat. The second version came from the word ‘dengkat’, which means the shallow bed of the river, in this case Sungai Langat. In the third version, Dengkil came from the name of a plant called Nibong Dengkil, which is found in the area. Incidentally, Nibong Dengkil was the original name of Telok Panglima Garang, located at the Kuala Langat district. The Chinese name for Dengkil is Long Xi (龙溪), or Ling Kay in Hokkien, which means Dragon River. Local Chinese believed that an ascetical dragon was living in the area for a very long time but the British chased it away by setting it on fire. The dragon was badly injured and spew out black blood, which later formed a river and thus the name Dragon River. Another name for the river is Sungai Air Hitam (black water river in English) which still exists until today.
Chinese migrants settled in Dengkil in the early 1920’s and worked in the tin mines and rubber estates. In 1950, during the time of the Emergency, British gathered scattered Chinese communities in Banting, Air Hitam, Batu 4 and Dengkil into the newly established Dengkil New Village (today Kampung Baru Seri Dengkil). The transition back to normalcy returned, and tin mining and rubber tapping again became the primary source of income. When tin mining reached its peak in the 1960’s, Dengkil had seven tin dredges. In 1969, a fire razed through the town and caused massive amounts of damage. Many families lost their possessions and decided to move to Pandamaran in Klang.
Kampung Jenderam Hilir, nine kilometres east of Dengkil, is the location of an archaeological site. Brian C. Batchelor (today Dr Daud Abdul Fattah Batchelor) first discovered the place in December 1975, and, in 1977, Professor Leong Sau Heng and the Museum Department conducted further studies at the site. Most of the artefacts were recovered from the Teck Lam Hong Tin Mining Sendirian Berhad tin mines; a large collection was from the Neolithic period. It includes a cord marked earthenware pot, large quantity of pottery sherds, legs / stands of tripod pots and stone adzes. It also yielded artefacts from a later historical period, such as bronze bowls, wooden boat paddles and oars, ceramic wares, a celadon bowl of Lung Chuan type, a small stoneware jar and tin ingots. In her research paper Ancient Finds From Kampong Jenderam Hilir, Professor Leong mentioned that Kampung Jenderam Hilir, located near the confluence of the Sungai Langat and Sungai Semenyih, was first occupied in the late Neolithic and its inhabitants made stone implements and pottery and were involved in agricultural activities. She also said the place might once have been a feeder point to the entrepot at Pengkalan Bujang. Feeder points refer to places which regularly send supplies of their local produce to the entrepot and this type of trading sites may be found in inland riverine areas (like Kampung jenderam Hilir) or on the coast (like Kuala Selingsing in Perak). Excavation was also carried out at Bukit Piatu, located directly on the opposite bank to Kampung Jenderam Hilir, and it yielded mainly pottery sherds.
In 1993, the Selangor state government sold a piece of land at Bukit Tunggul for the development of a golf resort. Thirty-four families of the Temuan Orang Asli group were told to vacate their land. This was the second time they were asked to move. Originally, the Temuan were from Bangi and in 1974, the Government told them to move as the land was marked for the construction of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. They resettled at Kampung Sungai Buah and Bukit Tunggul. The golf resort developer agreed to offer cash and build houses for them at Kampung Kechau Orang Asli Settlement, Semenyih. Many do not want to move there as that belongs to another group of Orang Asli. According to a press report in 2016, these families are still staying put on the land that now belongs to Bukit Unggul Golf and Country Resort Sdn Bhd without electricity and water supply.
Kampung Orang Asli Bukit Tunggul / Photo source : Eric Lim
Places of Interest
For fans of Dr Henry Walton ’Indiana’ Jones Jr., a visit to the archaeological sites of (1) Kampung Jenderam Hilir and (2) Bukit Piatu (today Kampung Bukit Piatu) are definitely a must-do. You may not find the Temple of Doom, Lost Ark or the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but you will get to see an ex-tin mine, which is now a vast vacant sandy land, near the rivers. Start digging; you may chance upon the discovery of some Neolithic relics! Steeped in Orang Asli land issue controversy, the (3) Bukit Unggul Golf and Country Resort is a par-71, 5,858 metre long 18-hole hilly golf course. It was designed by American Ronald Fream and was established in 1994.
Bukit Unggul Golf & Country Resort / Photo source : Eric Lim
Places of worship are located at the town centre – (4) Masjid Jameatus Solehan Dengkil which is next to the Shell petrol station, (5) Tian Hu Gong temple, built in 1926 and dedicated to Chinese deity Nezha (哪吒) and (6) Mariamman Temple at Taman Permata. Located close-by is the (7) Dengkil Police Station, which is located at the town’s T-junction overlooking Jalan Banting-Semenyih (B18) and Jalan Putrajaya-Dengkil (B15). It was established in 1928.
(L) Masjid Jameatus Solehan Dengkil (R) Tian Hu Gong temple / Photo source : Eric Lim
Using Jalan Banting-Semenyih (B18), about 6 km away from the Police Station heading to Banting is (8) Paya Indah Wetlands(PIW). On the right just before reaching the gate of PIW is the (9) former Paya Indah National Service Training camp. The three-month training programme for selected 18-year old youths started in December 2003. It was halted for a year in 2015 and finally abolished in August 2018. PIW was officially opened on 13 October 2001 by Tun Dr Mahathir Muhammad. The park is divided into three zones namely Recreation, Education and Conservation & Research. Walk-in visitors are only allowed to enter the Recreation zone while prior booking is required for the other zones. The activities at the Recreation zone include cycling, bird watching, fishing (charge for fishing rod), nature walk, photography, kayaking and paddle boat (chargeable), observation tower and feeding hippopotamus (at 10.00 am), pelican (10.30 am), crocodile (11.00 am) and porcupine (11.30 am). There are four hippopotamus, which are a gift from the Government of Botswana, and the crocodiles were transported to PIW from Langkawi. Chalet accommodation is available for rental.
Paya Indah Wetland / Photo source : Eric Lim
The current site of PIW was formerly a tin mine operated by Selangor Dredging Berhad (SDB). The Selangor government awarded a 1,200- acre mining concession to the company in 1963/1964. Due to its size, the company decided to use a dredge and it was commissioned in 1967. SDB became the first Malaysian company to have its own dredge. The dredge was the largest in the world and it operated around the clock. To facilitate operations, a village was built around the dredge and the workers stayed on site. The village became known as (10) Kampung Selangor Dredging and the settlement still stands today in Dengkil. A second dredge was commissioned in 1973. At its peak, the population of Kampung Selangor Dredging was 1,800, which included staff and their families. The land was returned to the state government in the 1980’s.
Still on the subject of ‘dredger’, currently there are only two in our country. The Tanjung Tualang Tin Dredge No.5 or TT5, located at Batu Gajah has been rehabilitated and revived into a tourist attraction. Weighing 4 500 tonnes, TT5 was built in England in 1938, rebuilt in 1963 and was retired in 1982. The last owner, Malaysia Mining Corporation, donated it to the Perak government in 2014. It opened to the public in late 2017 in conjunction with the Visit Perak Year 2017. I guess by now you should know the location of the other ‘dredger’. When PIW started operation, there was a tin dredge lodged at one of the lakes; this was Petaling Dredge No.9 owned by Petaling Tin Berhad. ‘PetD 9’ was constructed at the mining site in 1982 and was later sold off. The other surviving dredger is the (11)Sri Banting Dredge currently located at Kampung Dengkil. Built in 1974, this 5,000 tonnes structure is up for sale. To view it, follow the map that starts at the Dengkil Police Station to the site – https://goo.gl/maps/334qmjyGaSWrS5gBA
Update – The writer visited Dengkil a day before it went under MCO and would like to make the following updates.
The archaeological sites ofKampung Jenderam Hilir and Bukit Piatu are now located inside the Semenyih 2 Water Treatment Plant and entry to the sites may/will be denied.
The Orang Asli are now staying at Kampung Orang Asli Bukit Tunggul, which is next to the entry road to Bukit Unggul Golf & Country Resort. They have access to water by sharing a water supply pipe but there is still no electricity supply.
Many chalets in PIW are in a state of decay and visitors to the park are rare.
To reach Sri Banting Dredge, you have to walk the last one kilometre or so to the site.
From the North, use Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong (LDP/E11) and exit at the end of the toll expressway at Serdang Interchange. Then enter Putrajaya-Cyberjaya Expressway (Federal Route 29) and exit at Dengkil East Interchange (Exit 15) to join Jalan Banting-Semenyih (Federal Route 31) to Dengkil.
In this Series
Please click HERE for a list of articles in the ‘A Very Rough Guide’ series.
Bumi Satu Kampung Dalam 2 Negeri – i Kampung Baru . Imbasan Sejarah Kampung Baru Cina Selangor – Published by Jawatankuasa Tetap Pembangunan Kampung Baru Kerajaan Selangor -First edition 2012 – pp 148 – 149.
The International Museum Day’s theme this year, “The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine” is appropriate in view of the current pandemic and its uncertain future. This article is about the Museum Volunteers’ (MV) experience as we navigated the series of lockdowns, which began on 18 March, 2020.
Volunteering at the National Museum (Muzium Negara)
Having a guide whilst visiting a museum, be it a docent, audio guide or booklet enhances a visitor’s experience. For one hour or so, the visitor journeys with the guide and travels back in time to a particular period through the displays and information boards on vitrines in the gallery. The artefacts are brought to life by factual stories imparted to them as they navigate that display. For example, the visitor does not only marvel at a 560-year-old shipwrecked celadon dish but follows its journey from the time it was first fired at Sisachanalai, Thailand. It was then loaded onto a ship destined for markets in South East Asia but the ship tragically sunk during a great storm. There it lay for 540 years until a marine archaeologist recovered it and it made its way to a museum vitrine, on display, having never served its original purpose.
How then can a visitor experience this journey with their docent when the guided tours have been cancelled and the museums closed due to the pandemic? Even as museums reopen to the public, the number of visitors is limited and guided tours restricted to fewer numbers in a tour group.
New Norm – finding a suitable video-conferencing/virtual meeting platform
When we began the first MCO on 18 March 2020, many of us took the lockdown as an opportunity to rest, spring clean, read the books we had kept aside to read later and indulge in television. Muzium Negara was closed indefinitely and all of our volunteer activities at the museum with it. As the two-week lockdown became four weeks then eight and so on, it became clear to the MV committee that some changes had to be made. We could not afford to sit around and wait for the museum to reopen. The first thing the committee had to do was to learn how to hold our meetings in some alternate mode like video-conferencing platforms. We had to adapt to today’s technology. The second thing was to get the members acquainted with the new technology. We all had to learn how to join an online meeting, turning on or muting our microphone, turning our video camera on or off and screen share, all of which are done effortlessly today. Not willing to pay for any service then, we looked at different video-conferencing platforms besides Zoom (which provided only 40-minutes free service), like Microsoft Teams, Skype, Google Meet where subscription payment was not required. While many of the video-conferencing platforms provide similar service, the committee decided to subscribe to Zoom after the second lockdown (MCO 2.0).
The MVs who did not stop working – Research and Focus Teams
Although all of our guided tours and school programme activities came to a halt, our Research team and Focus team continued to operate. The Research team have a deadline to produce Muzings, which is MV’s annual digest. A draft copy of Muzings has to be submitted to JMM for approval before the end of every year until 2024. Besides discussing our articles and trying to solve problems in sourcing for research material, we also held in-house presentations online. This proved to be another learning curve as those who have done this would tell you that speaking to a computer screen with everybody else muted and video camera turned off is a very lonely experience.
The Focus team rolled out their first webinar in July 2020. We hosted the presentation from the IT lab in JMM with assistance from the IT technicians, using JMM’s Skype for business platform. The talk was given in-person by the speaker along with the Focus team present at the IT lab to our attendees online. Though the lab was limited to six people due to SOP, I think this little bit of human presence boosted the speaker’s morale. We also used the extra half hour before the start of a talk to interact with our members online. MCO 2.0 prompted us to subscribe to a video-conferencing platform. All talks from then on were conducted remotely. In retrospect, using a video-conferencing platform has been beneficial to the MV, for not only online meetings and webinars but also reaching out to speakers who do not live in the Klang valley. This has been the positive side of the pandemic. The Focus team and Research team have been able to reach out to speakers from around the world (taking into account the time difference of course). Seminars or conferences, which we had to travel to, to attend previously, could now be attended virtually in the comfort of our homes. It has certainly lessened our carbon footprint.
Interactive Projects at Muzium Negara – new forms of cultural experience
There were months in between the lockdowns when the museum was reopened. MVs used this opportunity to complete their training programme, which had been put on hold since 2019. Other projects such as the following were introduced:
i) One-hour recorded tours by volunteer guides in four languages: English, French, Japanese & Korean. The tours highlight selected artefacts in each of the four galleries in the museum. The recorded tours have been posted on Muzium Negara’s Facebook page.
ii) Shorter five-minute recorded talks on one artefact in the museum in the language of the guide’s choice. These talks are posted on Muzium Negara’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
iii) Proposed MV activities at the museum after the lockdown: cooking and paper-folding demonstrations as well as a beginner’s level language course.
Looking forward – Results and Discussion
i) Sustainability of the volunteer training programme. In order to become a museum volunteer guide, all docents have to attend the 16-week MV training programme. This programme was cancelled for 2020 and 2021; the programme for 2022 is still under consideration. The training programme involves a classroom style in-person attendance and museum walk-throughs. While online training has not been explored, another option would be lesser numbers per session.
ii) Whether the museum is able to provide MV guides with face shields, face masks and/or wireless tour guide portable audio system for group tours.
There is a global vaccination programme going on with governments providing Covid vaccines for free. As more people are vaccinated, will our volunteer guides resume their duties when the museum reopens? Will visitors need to produce vaccine passports? If not, will our guides feel safe conducting in-person tours? Vice-versa, will visitors join a guided tour? Is the use of audio-guided tours the best alternative? There is still much to be discussed and decided.