History, architecture and beauty
04.02.2015 - 04.02.2016
After getting to sleep in courtesy of the time difference and exhaustion, we inquired about laundry. We hoped that KL, being a large and modern enough city, would have a laundromat. Sure enough it did, according the woman at the front desk who at one time had lived in Saskatchewan of all places. Construction made the journey a bit longer, past fancy malls, Middle Eastern restaurants and a Fuddruckers, our indication to turn, but we found the laundromat in the end. It was nice to use a machine instead of hand washing and it only cost us 6 ringgit ($2). The approximately 3:1 conversion for the local currency was nice and easy to figure out.
We decided to save some time and money by drying the clothes in our room. Unfortunately there was a snag in our plan when we returned. Hostelworld, our booking site, had messed up our booking and we'd have a different room for tonight, meaning that we'd have to check out now and check back in later. Not the best news to get with a bag dull of moist clothes. The public drying areas would have to do.
For lunch, we headed down to Naab, an Iranian restaurant with a fancy tiled interior including a fountain. I ordered baba ganoush, an eggplant dip with pita bread, while Ryan had a chicken kebab with some really dry rice. Still it was quite nice to have a change from the familiar Burmese fare of fried rice, Chinese style food or omelettes.
The monorail ran during daylight hours so we headed over to KL Sentral. From there we could see where the entrance would have been, off to the side near a mall and a distance from where we walked last night. On our walk to National Museum, we passed the old railway station with Moorish style architecture. Designed by British architect, Arthur Hubback in 1910 to replace the existing railway station, the building design had Neo-Moorish/Mughal/Indo-Saracenic/Neo-Saracenic influences. The British architect was a result of Malaysia being a British colony at the time, more on that when we get to the museum. The building was quite impressive with horseshoe and ogee arches, large chhatris at the corners and even verandas.
We reached the Muzium Negara (National Museum). It was built on the old site of the Selangor Museum, built in 1898 by the British and Selangor governments after the formation of the Federated Malay States two years prior. Toward the end of the war, the right wing of the museum was hit by a US Allied B-29 bomber and the collection had to be moved. Near their independence, Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman had the idea to build a museum to house cultural and historical treasures as well as flora and fauna. By 1963, the Muzium Negara was officially opened. The architect, Ho Kok Hoe, was inspired by Malay royal palaces and vernacular Malay architecture.
We entered the first exhibit, which was free. The gallery featured Orang Asli crafts from three different tribes native to the Malay Peninsula: Negrito, Senoi, and Proto Malay. Some practised a hunter gather lifestyle and many of their tools, traps, wood sculptures and musical instruments were on display. According to the museum signs, the Negrito people move from one place to another by building simple huts on hillsides or river valleys inland. They hunt and collect forest produce to support their livelihood. They have darker skin, a shorter stature and wavy hair.
The Senoi tribes: Mah Meri and Jah Hut do excellent carvings. The Senoi group makes up 55% of the Orang Asli. Their livelihood involves farming dry rice, corn, millet and tapioca as well as hunting, fishing and gathering wood for sale. They cook using bamboo and live at the edge of forests. They have wavy hair.
The Proto Malays practised agriculture as well, growing dry rice, tapioca, yam, and fruit. They are expert boat makers and still can hunt using a blow pipe and expertly made traps. They are tall with fairer skin and straight hair.
A group of school children visited at the same time we did and their English was fairly fluent, some even adopting North American accents.
We entered the second free exhibit, the Malay World Ethnology Museum which had an ambitious number of write ups on the arts, religion, dances, crafts, music and dress of the Malay people. There was a diorama of a man making a tradition wau bulan, a moon-kite. There was also a traditional Malay village on display.
The section on wedding featured a traditional wedding dai, or pelamin. This was the area where the bride and groom sat to receive their guests. After the engagement, there would be an akad nikah, signing of the wedding contract in front of a religious official. The day or a few days after, the Bersanding commenced. Guests were entertained at the groom's home before the ceremony and male musicians, like a hadrah or kompang band, played. Then they all made a procession to the bride's home to meet her. There could be comically staged attempts to stop the meeting of the bride and groom. From there, the couple sat on their pelamin, an ornately decorated sofa raised above the guests. It sometimes featured yellow, like the one in the museum, as it was a colour associated with royalty. The couple were to be treated like royalty for the day as they were served, sprinkled with scented water and yellow rice, and given demonstrations of the traditional martial art silat. Musicians played court music. They were also given an ornamented egg with a flower to promote fertility.
Shadow puppets were neat to see and as I suspected, they came from Indonesia, part of the area they considered Malay in culture. There were also games and toys like a spin top, congkak animal shaped board and more Wau Bulan moon-kites. Many traditional music instruments were on display as well.
There were weapons with short handles, long handles, some intended for gutting, as well as cannons, "Tombak" (spear), "Lembing" and the important Keris. The Keris/Kris was a double edged weapon used for stabbing. In addition to its weaponry qualities, it was also a symbol of status as kerises could indicate the rank and social standing of a person based on their colour and number of waves (or loks) in a blade, as well as serving as a talisman for protection. The Keris originated in Java in the 9th century and spread throughout the Indonesian archipelago of Malaysia, Southern Thailand, Southern Philippines (Mindanao), Singapore, Brunei and some parts of Cambodia, Laos and Burma. Most men felt naked if they did not have a keris on their hip. Some of the blades were straight and others wavy. The hilt of the blade varied too. The Keris had a supernatural element. It was reputed to warn the wearer of potential danger by rattling in its sheath. It was also though that one could damage their enemy by thrusting the blade into their footsteps. The weapon was also used in ceremonies, rituals, and executions.
One of the craft activities featured was weaving and included a diorama with a woman weaving mengkuang leaves into a colourful mat. There was also pottery and woodworking including quail traps.
Outside, there was a traditional Malay house, an example of Terenggnau Malay architecture called Rumah Terrengganu Tiang dua belas, meaning 12 column Terrangganu house. It was made of cengal wood and stood on wooden stilts. It was called Istana Satu and was erected by Al-marhum Sultan Zainal Abidin III, Sultan of Terengganu in 1884. We went inside to see several rooms squished into one in what would have been a royal home.
There were also burial poles. Two tribes, Sekapan and Punan Bah, would rebury their deceased by collecting bones from the coffin and placing them in a jar from their home. The jar would then be placed inside or around the pole. These poles were estimated to be about 200 years old, donated by the Sekapans and Punan Bah community in Sarawak (a province on the island of Borneo). They stood 8.5 metres and 7.1 metres high.
The outdoor display also featured transportation options through the ages. There was a Johor horse cart that was used by a Chinese family in the early 1900s for recreation then public transportation as well as a bullock cart. The bullock cart was a symbol of Melacca, going back as far as the 15th century when it was thought to be brought over from India. There was also a green gharry used to transport passengers in the 1920-30s.
The trains on display was a class T steam locomotive, one of five small tank engines built by W.G. Bagnall Limited of England in 1927 as well as a steam locomotive.
There was an Austin seven car, built in the 1930s, a trishaw, a railway coach, and a fire engine used from the 1950s to 1980s. The Proton Saga, the first car to be built by a Malaysian company was on display. It was easy to guess that it came out of the 1980s, 1985 to be exact.
There was also a helicopter and a tank on display to do with their temporary exhibit.
We paid our admission fee to visit the rest of the museum (5 ringgit, less than $2). The museum offered insight into long term history, foreign influences, and Malaysia today. The pre-history section gave an overview of the geological and cultural history of the area. During the last ice age, water levels were low to the point that much of Southeast Asia was connected including Indonesia and the Philippines. That was the reason for some cultural similarities today along with exchange through trade. The collection also featured Neolithic pottery, jewelry like stone rings, shells earrings and beads used for trade. The collection also featured the Dong Son bell, dated approximately 150 CE.
There was also a replica of the Perak Man, dated between 10,000 to 11,000 years ago. The human skeleton is the oldest and most complete skeleton in Southeast Asia and was found in the Cave of Runtuh, Lenggong, Perak.
In the Malay kingdoms section, there was a model of a Majapahit ship that sailed in the Malay Peninsula around the 13th century. It was built by the powerful Majapahit Empire which was based in Indonesia. There were also statues from the Indonesian area dating back to the 9th-12th centuries when the area was more Hindu-Buddhist.
In Malaysia, Melacca was ideally situated to be an ideal trading point along the Melaka straight for the Eastern nations like China and those to the West like Middle Eastern empires. From the Middle East came Islam, which replaced and shamed the people's previous animist beliefs. Sultan Megat Iskandar Shah, the second ruler of Melacca, converted to Islam, made it the official religion and others followed. This helped make Melacca more attractive for trade with Muslim merchants and traders from India, Arabia and Persia. These empires also controlled much of the trade routes in that area at the time. When Christians arrived later, very few successful conversions were made.
Come the 15th century, the Malay Kingdom of Melecca was a celebrated and powerful force, strengthened by Islam and a politically savvy leader, Parameswara. He was the son-in-law of the Raja of Majapahit and the son of Raja Sailendra of Palembang. Parameswara had also served as the governor of Palembang and of Temasik (Singapore). Melacca grew to be an internationally recognized port city.
The Portuguese came to colonize Malaysia, which at the time was known mainly as Melacca. They were unable to make contact the first time an emissary was sent, but the second delegation sent by King of Portugal to foster relations was intercepted. Some got away and others were captured. Hearing this, the King sent his armada which attacked the Malaccan fleet. The Malaccans put up a resistance but were overtaken. Melacca became a Portuguese colony and the Sultan fled to Johor to found the Johor Sultanate. Portuguese rule lasted from 1511-1641.
The Dutch were the next to colonize Melacca in 1641. After aligning themselves with local allies in Johor, the Dutch were finally able to drive the Portuguese out of Melacca. In return for their help, the Dutch agreed not to seek territory or wage war with Malay kingdoms. Melacca was ceasing to become an important port as Jakarta was increasingly used by the Dutch. Their rule of Melacca lasted until about 1825, with a period of British rule during the Napoleonic wars. Some replicas of Dutch buildings were featured in the museum.
The British came next to colonize in the area. They had been in Penang in northern Malaysia since 1785. In 1784, the British East Indian Company had insisted that the Sultan Abdullah of Kedah had over Penang, another port city. He refused until 1785 when there were threats from neighbouring Siam and Burma. In exchange for protection, the Sultan offered Penang to the East Indian Company. The company accepted the offer but refused to offer any protection in a vague and obscure way. When British rule was declared in Penang, the Sultan learned the truth and prepared his fleet for attack. The British attacked first and conquered Penang. By 1825, they also had Melacca from the Dutch and were in Singapore as well with the rights to build bases and plants as well as use land they didn't own.
Occupation wasn't over as the Japanese came in to occupy Malaysia during the Second World War. Post-War, the British created the Federation of Malaya, unifying several British territories in the country including Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Negotiations included a guarantee of rights for Malays including the position of Sultan and a colonial government. These actions upset the Communist Party, formed of mainly Chinese members, as they had wanted a communist Malaya. The Party started a guerrilla insurgency and a state of emergency was declared by the government June 18, 1948. The British government began unpopular efforts to contain the situation including the formation of 'New Villages' where the rural Chinese community was sent to live in an effort to deny rebels food and manpower. In the 1950s, the British government began to listen and resolve grievances by holding local elections and creating village counsels. Many Chinese people were granted citizenship which decreased support for the insurgency. The rebels grew more isolated and finally in 1960, the emergency was declared over.
During the emergency period, in 1957, the Malay people could cry out 'Merdeka' or freedom as they achieved independence. By 1963, Malaysia was formed, a culturally diverse nation. The citizens included Malay, Chinese, and Indians among others who had some mixed race (including European) backgrounds. People had also come from the Middle East, if our lunch and the many other Middle Eastern restaurants had been any indicator. On display were some of the documents and declarations including original copy of the letter of Proclamation of His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to the 14 heads of state of Malaysia.
Outside, we raided the vending machine to try out some of the local pop. Ryan tried Kickapoo Joy Juice, a lime soda, and I had a Frost root beer. Both were quite good.
Our walk continued past the KTM building, another of Hubbard's creations built in 1917 with similar influences to the railway stations. Moorish architecture reflecting 13th and 14th century Ottoman and Moghul style was mixed with Gothic and ancient Greek designs of the 14th century. Today, the building served as the railway administration building. The many large arches and arched windows showed the Gothic influence. The domes atop the building displayed its Greek design typical of the 14th century as well as link to domes found on mosques. The Moorish style of the building came to the British empire, and subsequently Malaysia based on influences from British India. The KTM building was across from the train station.
There's more to come about our busy day in Malaysia, including the Petronas Towers, KL Tower and Islamic Arts Museum, but I thought I'd split it here since it's a lot of information to take in. The links are included as my sources and they also have more detailed information if you're interested. Thanks for reading.