Thursday, June 2, 2011

Do Malays really care about their heritage and past?

This post is not about movies. Like I said, sometime I would write about something else that I think is important to me, and hopefully important to others too.
The title of this post as one can read is "Do Malays really care about their heritage and their past?"
Why of a sudden?
Well, I believe not many knew of plans for a Museum of Malay Civilisation. It was to trace the origins, traditions, beliefs, history and diaspora of the Malays and was to be located in Putrajaya.
I thought that this museum should have been constructed and set up a long time ago because I believe not many Malays actually understand their heritage and better still not many non-Malays appreciate the Malay race - its history, its culture and traditions and its origins.
Unfortunately, this project and proposal didn't see the light of day.
If I am not mistaken, the museum that was supposed to house the Malay civilisation permanent exhibit has now become the Museum of Natural History in Putrajaya.
I am not sure why the museum was scrapped. Maybe someone in the government believes that such a museum is not politically correct. If this is so, it is sad.
This talk for the above museum was maybe five-six years ago. Now it is a forgotten chapter in our history. Not even a chapter, hardly a footnote even.
Then sometime back, about two years ago, there was talk of turning the old Istana Negara into a Museum Di Raja Malaysia. This historic building, previously owned by a famous Chinese millionaire Chan Wing.

Wikipedia states:

The palace was originally a double-storey mansion built in 1928 by a l

ocal Chinese millionaire,Chan Wing. During the Japanese occupation from 1942–1945, it was used as the Japanese officers’ mess. After the surrender of the Japanese, the building was bought by the Selangor State Government. It was then renovated to become the palace of His Majesty the Sultan of Selangor until 1957.

The Federal Government then bought the palace in 1957, to be converted into the Istana Negara for the newly created sovereign post

of Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaya which was about to achieve independence that August as scheduled. Since then it has undergone several renovations and extensions. But the most extensive upgrading was carried out in 1980, as it was the first time that the Installation Ceremony of His Majesty DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong was held at the Istana Negara. Prior to this the Installation Ceremonies were held at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Hall in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur with the first one held in 1957.

In about a year's time, the new billion over-Ringgit National Palace will be completed and it will be the new official residence of our Yang Di Pertuan Agong.

So the old Istana Negara will be vacant.

I thought then the idea to turn the old Istana Negara into a Royal Museum was long overdue.

Malaysia's constitutional monarchy is unique if not the only one of its kind in the world. The Malaysian Agong-ship is as old as the nation, created in 1957 when the country achieved its Independence.

But whilst the Agong's position is only 54 years old, the Malay Sultanate is much older. Quite old, in fact, and its history should not only be recorded, but should be exhibited and made known to all Malaysians and other interested parties in a single museum.

The content in such a Royal museum would be educational, interesting and entertaining.

Simple facts like the Melaka Sultanate is not the first nor the old

est Malay sultanate in the Malay Peninsula should be made available to the public, at least to correct misconceptions.

Little forgotten facts like the late Sultan Abdullah of Perak, who was exiled to Seychelles when wrongly found guilty by a kangaroo court of being involved in the assassination of Perak Resident J.W.W. Birch.

The British exonerated the Sultan and allowed him to return to Malaya albeit without allowing him to claim to his rightful throne. However he managed to retain the title of ex-Sultan of Perak upon his return to his homeland.

Whatever it is, the Malays hold the Malay Sultans or Rajahs in high esteem. They have daulat. The Malays lay all their hopes in terms of upholding religion (Islam), budaya (culture) and ras (race) on this system of monarchy.

It would not be far fetched to say that without the Malay monarchy or the Malay Sultans, the Malay race would be nothing.

So, archiving everything about the history of the Malay monarchy is akin to archiving the history of the Malays.

And since the museum of Malay civilisation was stillborn, I was really hoping that the plans to turn the Istana Negara into the National Royal Museum would materialise.

Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed.

I hear commercialisation again wins the day.

Reliable sources recently said that the proposal to turn the old Istana Negara into the Royal Museum has been officially scrapped and now, it seems, someone has won a negotiated bid to turn the 83-year old property into a 6-star luxury hotel.

Another one bites the dust.

What is again frustrating is that if my sources can be relied on, the proposal for the Royal Museum has been approved by various levels of government including the Economic Planning Unit. Yet, it was rejected without rhyme nor reason.

A building listed under the National Heritage list somehow manages to slip through leaks and into the hands of hoteliers who want to commercialise the area into something I believe will not be appreciated by most Malaysians.

Remember the old Majestic Hotel? Destroyed. Remember Bukit Bintang Girl School? It's now the Pavilion.Remember St Mary's Girl School? Flattened. Remember Pavilion Cinema? A carpark. Remember the old Museum of Kuala Lumpur in Dataran Merdeka? Now it's a restaurant.

What next? The Parliament building? The St John's Institution? Victoria Institution?

That's just in Kuala Lumpur. What about the hundreds of other historical buildings in danger of being torn down to make way for modern buildings.

If Istana Negara can be turned into a 6-star hotel, what can we say about other buildings with lesser historical impact?

I think the powers that be should really take pause, and realise that sometimes, the conservation of heritage is more important than dollars and cents. Their decisions can embarrass and even insult the people they promised to serve.


hapi said...

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Rizqi Mukhriz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Y can't I? said...

good one :) it's not about being racist man, it's about knowing where you came from...

dgreymatter said...

I think the question should be two-fold: Do *Malaysian* public care about their heritage and past, and do Malaysian politicians even care a little about the foundations of the country they are supposedly entrusted with?

The quick, generalistic and pessimistic answer would be "NO", because history has little to no place in our culture, education system, and our politics. Never mind the fact that our history is so malleable that it can be perverted according to the whims of the ruling government, history has always been unappreciated as a whole.

It doesn't help of course that very little remains of the early pre-colonial sultanates. Colonial structures seem to made to last and become simply cash cows rather than symbols of anything more, bad or good.

We also live with a postcolonial / third world success story complex of wanting to demonstrate how hyper-modern we are, through ugly and wasteful skyscrapers, malls, and various other white elephants in the desert-like wastelands of Putrajaya. The cost of our quest for hyper-modernity is lost of a sense of culture, aesthetics, soul, and retrospection.