On a warm mid-October afternoon in Kuala Lumpur, the Arts Hall of WowKL! Restaurant at the iconic MaTiC along busy Jalan Ampang bustled with activity. Distinct Malay background music accompanied the cordial chatter of guests and hosts alike, all orchestrally spilling into MaTiC’s patio where a temporary exhibition of celebrated heritage and cultural items was set up to mark the occasion.
And what occasion was that? The proclamation ceremony for the 5th edition of Malaysia’s National Heritage Register 2018.
Federal Minister and Deputy Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, YB Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi and YB Tuan Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik, accompanied by Secretary General YBhg Datuk Rashidi Hasbullah and other senior Ministry officials, joined hosts, Commissioner of Heritage YBhg Dato’ Dr. Zainah Ibrahim and her team at the Jabatan Warisan Negara (JWN), to proclaim the addition of 255 entries to the National Heritage Register (Register).
And, as it turned out, MaTiC was not only the event venue but also one of the 22 new buildings added to the Register.
National Heritage Designation
A practice founded in the National Heritage Act 2005 (NHA) and which began in 2007 with an inaugural 50 entries (including 16 classified as tangible architectural heritage) has over the years amassed hundred of entries under several distinct categories including ones covering heritage building or monuments, archaeological sites, natural sites, various tangible and intangible objects, and even, living persons, which was established for the 2012 edition.
The NHA, which became effective on 1 March 2006, was promulgated “… to provide for the conservation and preservation of National Heritage, natural heritage, tangible and intangible cultural heritage, underwater cultural heritage, treasure trove and for related matters”.
The NHA also establishes a 12-person National Heritage Council (NHC) and provides for the appointment of a Commissioner of Heritage empowered “to determine the designation of sites, registration of objects and underwater cultural heritage”, “to establish and maintain the Register and to determine and specify the categories of heritage to be listed in the Register”, and “to promote and regulate that best standards and practices are applied in the conservation and preservation of heritage” among other functions. The JWN supports the Commissioner in carrying out her functions.
Recognition as a National Heritage, and consequently protection for the same, is afforded through a process of gazettal. The Minister for heritage may gazette any heritage site, heritage object, underwater cultural heritage or living person as National Heritage based on a list of 9 criteria stated in s. 67(2) of the NHA. These criteria include “historical importance, association with or relationship to Malaysian history”, “the rarity or uniqueness” of the building, monument, site or object, and “any other matter which is relevant to the determination of cultural heritage significance”.
So, What’s on the National Heritage Register?
Many interesting items (and persons). Like what, you ask?
Well, among the now 72 national heritage buildings and monuments around the country, the earlier and better known entries include Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad, Istana Negara and Tugu Negara in Kuala Lumpur; also the Stadhuys and the St. Paul’s Church in Melaka; as well as a string of heritage buildings in Kuala Kangsar, Taiping and Teluk Intan in Perak.
In the recent 2018 proclamation alone, 22 buildings were declared as National Heritage:
1. Masjid Melayu Leboh Aceh, Pulau Pinang
2. Masjid Kapitan Keling, Pulau Pinang
3. Fort Cornwallis, Pulau Pinang
4. Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, Pulau Pinang
5. Penang High Court Building, Pulau Pinang
6. Penang Free School, Pulau Pinang
7. The Telegraph Building, Taiping, Perak
8. Darul Ridzuan Museum, Perak
9. Bangunan Lama Pusat Pelancongan Malaysia (MaTic) and Dewan Tunku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur
10. The Old Building of Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur
11. The Sulaiman Building, Kuala Lumpur
12. Majestic Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
13. Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur
14. National Library of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur
15. Bangunan Bank Kerapu (World War II Memorial), Kelantan
16. The State Museum, Kelantan
17. Maziah Palace, Terengganu
18. The Kuala Terengganu Grand Mosque / Abidin Mosque, Terengganu
19. Bangunan Sekolah Menengah King George V (Old Block), Negeri Sembilan
20. Pengulu Md. Nattar’s House, Melaka
21. Fort Malawati, Selangor
22. Fort Kuala Kedah, Kedah
On the Register now too are Candi Bukit Batu Pahat (Tapak 8) and Candi Pengkalan Bujang (Tapak 23), both found in Bujang Valley, Kedah, making up the list of 14 archaeology heritage sites in all.
The tally of natural heritage sites remained at 7, inclusive of such gems as Taman Diraja Belum in Grik, Perak, the Mulu Caves National Park in Sarawak, as well as Taman Negara Kinabalu in Sabah.
Please visit the Jabatan Warisan Negara website for the full National Heritage Register.
How should we designate National Heritage?
While we were pleasantly surprised to see the Malay-Chinese-European style architectured Penghulu Md. Nattar’s House in Melaka – the first traditional house added to the Register – we remain concerned by the lack of public awareness to the guiding principles adopted by JWN which facilitate their evaluation of the 9 criteria for National Heritage listing, especially for the “cultural heritage significance” criterion at the national level.
We believe that such awareness is of great importance to help guide the understanding, and consequently, appreciation by members of the public as to the significance of our heritage, and hopefully lead to a greater resolve in calling for the protection, conservation and preservation of the same. To this end, our upcoming Lensa Warisan series lecture on 14 November 2018 will feature our Vice-President Ar. Dr. Helena Aman Hashim on the topic of Understanding the Criteria for Listing of Buildings as Warisan Kebangsaan. Do join us if you can, details are found here.
Council Member of Badan Warisan Malaysia