Opinions

Let’s Talk Heritage: Relocate and save but risk losing its authenticity? Or keep in-situ and risk losing it altogether?

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“Salinger House” Paroi, Negeri Sembilan. (2019)

The fundamental guiding principle in the most established of heritage charters, such as those championed by the International Committee of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), is the belief that locating a heritage building or structure from its original setting to a new site destroys its authenticity.

While there does not seem to be much discourse on this issue in Malaysia, expansive plaudits and acclamation have been forthcoming from established leaders in the Malaysian heritage arena for some recent projects which saw heritage buildings being relocated to new sites.

These include the so-named Rumah Pusaka Chow Kit a.k.a. “Rumah Degil”, was moved (2018) a distance of around two (2) km, and now sits snug between Balai Seni Negara’s main gallery building and its administrative annex block in Kuala Lumpur; and the “Salinger House” originally located in Bangi, Selangor (built 1985-1992), and which is in the last stages of being reconstructed in its new home near Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. This is a result of the house being sold a few years ago to its current owners after the land on which it was originally located was sold separately for redevelopment. Then there is the case of the century old Kampong Teluk Memali mosque being moved (2017) from the banks of the Perak River near Kampong Gajah to a new housing development in greater Ipoh, Perak. In 2004, the “Alma Baker house”, a two-storey (part brick and part timber) building masonry and timber house was dismantled in Batu Gajah, Perak, and reassembled in Setiu, Terengganu around 2010. And over 20 years ago Badan Warisan moved the Rumah Penghulu Abu Seman a much further distance, over 300km, from Kedah to Kuala Lumpur.

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Rumah Pusaka Chow Kit a.k.a. “Rumah Degil”,  in front of  Balai Seni Negara’s main gallery building, Kuala Lumpur. (2019)

Add to this list the many other heritage buildings, too many to name, which have been “saved” because they have been relocated. It is perhaps timely for the many professionals and preservationists who fight to protect and safeguard our heritage resources to get together to discuss this issue. Should relocation be eschewed except in exceptional circumstances such as when there is no other option for saving the structure, and if not relocated, it will cease to exist? Should one wholeheartedly embrace this practice and promote adapting and relocating an existing building to meet changing economic and social needs in today’s society or is the cultural heritage significance of a building wholly bound to its original setting?

Mind you, the costs and risks of relocating a heritage building should not be underrated. Past experience has shown that this is an expensive exercise and that great care and much planning has to be put into place to ensure that the fabric of the building will not be damaged, and the new context within which the structure is moved is one which will offer as good, if not better, opportunity for the cultural heritage significance of the structure to be enhanced.

Badan Warisan would be very interested to hear from our readers on what could or should be the way forward. Please email lensa@badanwarisan.org.my if you would like to participate in a round-table discussion on this.

Elizabeth Cardosa
President of Badan Warisan Malaysia

LET’S TALK HERITAGE: A case for consensus-building and conflict-resolution for heritage place management

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The recent demolition of a traditional Malay house in Kampung Tanjung Kelab Pantai, Terengganu, which was reported as standing in the way of the RM4.5 billion Kuala Terengganu City Centre project, has raised yet again concerns amongst many heritage professionals over the status of protection of the nation’s heritage.

In this past year, we have been privy to other controversies involving the loss of cultural heritage places – some through demolition such as that of Ampang Park Shopping Complex and the row of houses, commonly known as “Serani Row” in KL; others through development or major changes in the “look” of the place, as in the painting of the staircase leading up to the Batu Caves Temple complex.

So how do we really understand what is heritage?

The ways in which heritage is often framed today is through such regimes as the World Heritage Convention, and our own National Heritage Act 2005. In many countries, Malaysia included, heritage processes are legalistic, using adversarial court systems to determine the heritage significance of a place and to determine what are acceptable and appropriate actions to safeguard heritage.

Conflict arises when there is disagreement between involved parties who are responding to real or perceived threats to their interests, values, identities or rights; fears that one’s heritage is disrespected create highly charged emotions.

This lack of agreement will impede or prevent mutual understanding while ignoring the conflict in the hope it will dissipate over time is also ineffective. Conflicts present major barriers to achieving good heritage outcomes for all parties.

Fundamentally, heritage is a complex concept, engaging feelings and identities of the many different peoples and groups which make up our society. It connects what is culturally important to us – the individual, the family, any specific cultural group, up to the larger social framework we refer to as nation. There can be no one singular view of what is heritage; rather there are multiple perspectives reflecting the multiple values of multiple stakeholders.

These stakeholders each have distinct roles and different interests. They are also likely to have very different concepts of what comprises heritage. This in turn oftentimes results in conflict or differences of opinion.

So how does one determine the heritage significance of a place, and the appropriate action to be taken? Should a place be protected under law, or changes (including demolition), be allowed? How do we seek co-existence of these multiple values?

The heritage professional is one whose expertise places them in a position to present an independent, objective view, advocating for a particular position. But there are occasions when this position is challenged by another “expert” view, resulting in disagreement on the “facts” and adding to an already confused situation.

Those of us working to promote and protect our national heritage should be advocating for a consensus-building methodology, focusing on the core needs and concerns of all parties, centered on fundamental values and identities, and ultimately negotiating for an outcome which adjudicates between economic, social, environmental and political perspectives.

Almost all the time, conflict arises because heritage places are located within contested terrain – e.g. old two-storey shophouses in the city centre where the local development plans allow for much higher plot ratios, a bungalow on a relatively large piece of land which has been identified for high-rise redevelopment, etc. etc.

We have to break this head to head pitting of economic and utilitarian benefits against that of heritage conservation. We have to create a framework based on recognizing difference and one which helps build respect for all values and connections and to seek consensus.

Had there been any attempts for conflict-resolution, which may have prevented, or at the very least mitigated against, the very distressing and wasteful outcome of the demolition of this property in Kuala Terengganu?

We do not have any direct knowledge of the context which led to the traditional timber house being knocked down. We do know from having seen a video of the demolition that in a matter of minutes, all vestiges of a traditional village lifestyle was cancelled out.

Was it that the owner refused to move because he wanted more compensation, with the reported value of RM20,000 not a fitting sum while RM2 million would have made up for the loss of his family’s history and legacy? Was it that the officially (government) recognized owner of the land, felt vindicated because it was their legal right to get vacant possession of the land? The conflict over this contested site is reported to have been going on for at least a year, if not two. Everyone else in the kampong vacated their houses. Was this the last bastion, holding out and fighting for heritage rights?

Following our inaugural Lensa Warisan lecture & discussion of 14 November, Badan Warisan is planning to hold a forum early next year to discuss issues relating to the management of heritage sites and the principles we should be using to guide our heritage practices. More details later.

Elizabeth Cardosa
President of Badan Warisan Malaysia

WHAT’S NEW: 255 Additions to the National Heritage Register 31 October 2018

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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”.

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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.

Justine Chew
Council Member of Badan Warisan Malaysia

 

WHAT’S LEFT : Ampang Park Shopping Complex

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12 October 2018

Over the Malaysia Day holidays in mid-September 2018, the Ampang Park Shopping Complex in Kuala Lumpur was demolished. When we came back to work after the holidays, all we saw where the building had once stood were several earth movers shifting rubble.

Over the past couple of years, following the news that  this complex was going to make way for the MRT (no doubt, part of the city’s sorely needed transportation infrastructure development), there were many expressions of regret and a lot of nostalgia making the rounds both in social media as well as main stream media. It was obvious that Ampang Park Shopping Complex held great memories for many who grew up in KL in the 1970s, 80s. And, if one were to go by the comments on the demolition, it even holds a place in the hearts and minds of those who have lived in KL in the 1990s and early 2000s.

This overwhelming sentiment demonstrates that this building was so much a part of the heritage of our city. It certainly validates the inclusion of this shopping complex in Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia’s (PAM) publication, “Guide to Kuala Lumpur Notable Buildings” (1976) which listed 71 structures built between the 1880s and 1974 which PAM deemed to be of architectural merit and historical importance.

A quick survey of the list shows that over half the structures listed were built by the late 1930s and would for most part be considered to be “heritage”; credit must be given to the forward-looking authors, that the remaining 32 are modern buildings, constructed in the two decades post-Merdeka.

About a dozen, eight of which are from the latter group, have been replaced by other, bigger, higher density developments. Some, such as the AIA Building on Jalan Ampang with its original distinctive diamond-shaped sunscreen of iodised aluminium, have been substantially changed to be unrecognisable. A few are vacant and their futures unknown to us while several others have had major developments in their immediate vicinity with later-day high-rise blocks substantially extending their floor space.

For the most part, religious and education-related buildings have remained extant, although there have been a couple which have been demolished and new, larger, grander structures built to replace them. Some others, like the old hospital at Tanglin, were demolished and replicas built, looking almost alike, but using new materials; which begs the question why they were demolished in the first place.

Many of those from the list which remain have in one way or another been changed, upgraded, updated, refurbished to meet new uses and current building standards and accessibility, some for the better, with the jury still out for others.

It is, however, a sad testament to KL’s architectural history that today, the buildings considered by PAM as iconic, deserving to be preserved as part of the architectural heritage of Kuala Lumpur, and which contributed to our national architectural identity, are no longer with us.

As we come towards the end of 2018, perhaps it is time to take another look at this list of notable buildings of Kuala Lumpur, to hopefully take stock of what remains, and to extend this list to include others built since the mid-1970s. With a more comprehensive inventory of notable buildings for the city, Badan Warisan Malaysia would hope that these will in the future be acknowledged and “protected” by the owners, statutory authorities and KLites, as an integral part of the architectural, historical and cultural character of our city.

Elizabeth Cardosa
President of Badan Warisan Malaysia

Betel Boxes- Symbol of Wealth, Status & Social Standing

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A betel box with Mother-of-Pearl Inlay

The habit of betel chewing is believed to have started way back into the Neolithic Age, and for a long time, it was thought to be native to India because of several literary references including a Pali text dating from 504 BC describing this practice. Recent linguistic studies and archaeological finds, however, point to another origin, i.e., southeast Asia.

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A carry-on Peranakan Betel Box, used by men. It is hooked onto the belt.

This conclusion is based on the discovery of traces of the piper betel seeds found in various caves in Thailand and Indonesia dating back to 5,000- 7,000 BC and the discovery of a male skeleton with betel-stained teeth in the Duyong caves in the Philippines dating back to 2680 BC. This habit (betel chewing) spread to cover a large area which included mainland southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Micronesia and a custom which was enjoyed by both men and women.

Over the years several accounts of the habit have been written by countless travellers and writers including references to betel and areca in Chinese accounts which date back to the 7th century. They believed that the betel and areca had many medicinal qualities most popular being that of a mouth freshener and it was said that its popularity in China only declined with the introduction of opium in the 19th century. In the “The Travels of Ibn Buttute” in the 13th century he described how he was welcomed by a plate of betel leaves and areca nuts on arrival at the palace of the Sultan of  Mogadishu, clearly indicating its association with hospitality.

The foreigners were fascinated and at the same time repelled by the black teeth and the red saliva describing the habit as vile and disgusting, but the habitual users considered these very same things as beautiful.  Chewing betel which is a mild narcotic evokes a mild euphoria and a general feeling of well-being. The British anthropologist, Tom Harrison claimed that a few minutes of betel chewing after an hour of hard climbing in Sarawak sent waves of energy through his body.

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Carry-on betel boxes used by Malay Men

There are three main ingredients necessary for betel chewing, the betel leaf (from the piper betel vine), lime (from limestone or crushed incinerated sea shells) and the areca nut. One starts with the betel leaf to which the lime is smeared, and a few slivers of areca nut added.  The leaf is neatly folded into a small parcel which is called a quid or a “chew” and then popped into the mouth between the gum and the cheek. The Malays add gambir as a fourth ingredient which is said to enhance the flow of saliva, but its primary export value was for tanning leather.  Tobacco and spices can also be added depending on taste and custom.

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A basic betel box, carved out of wood.

A receptacle was therefore required to house and transport the different ingredients mentioned above, and the Betel Box was born. This can be in the form of boxes, trays, baskets, and bags, fashioned out of silver, gold, brass, bronze, lacquer, wood, ceramic, glass, textile, etc. The shapes and sizes vary to reflect preference gradually becoming a status symbol to indicate the wealth and social standing of its owners.

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An exquisite 200-year old Betel Box made out of silver & gold, brought over from Sulawesi by Pn. Zuraidah’s grandfather.

The grandest usually made of gold were reserved for royalty, and this then became part of the royal regalia in countries such as Burma, Thailand and the Malay sultanates. Over time the popularity of betel chewing waned, and when Malaya became independent from the British in 1957, the betel box was excluded from the royal regalia because it was considered old-fashioned. What has remained is its association with respect and hospitality in Malay custom and tradition and the Betel Box, therefore, plays an important role especially in Malay weddings

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Equipment used for betel chewing (from left) areca nut cracker, mortars & leaf container

From what was described as an “unlovely practice” by Sir George Scott we have fortunately been left with a very rich inheritance of beautiful Betel Boxes and the various wonderful paraphernalia which were necessary for betel chewing. These include the betel cutters, tobacco boxes, spittoons and mortars which the elderly and toothless needed to pound the ingredients.

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A brass betel box, from the personal collection of Puan Zuraidah Ghani

This post is written by Puan Zuraidah Ghani, long-time member of Badan Warisan Malaysia and avid collector of Betel Boxes, otherwise known as Tepak Sirih in Malay. 

Turtle Tales Talk & Exhibition

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Sea Turtle Exhibition

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Turtle Tales: Talk & Exhibition at Badan Warisan Malaysia is in conjunction with World Turtle Day! The exhibition will be on going for 1 month from 13 May to 13 June 2017 whereas the talk will be on 21 May 2017.


About the Exhibition

20160528_185911This month long exhibition features paintings and drawings from the book ‘ I love Sea Turtles’, a collaboration between sisters Yi Xuan, 15, the writer of the book and Yu Jing, 11, the illustrator of the book.

The paintings and book were created after the sister’s witnessed the sea turtles laying eggs, which then ignited the sister’s passion and dedication in helping to save these sea creatures.  The sisters will be at Badan Warisan Malaysia on 21 May to share their experiences and talk about their adventure and future projects. 


About the Talk

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The talk will take place on 21 May 2017, given by the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia. The talk will feature a presentation of the different species of sea turtles found in Malaysia, their conservation status, feeding habits and threats that they face.

Audiences will also get to know TCS, their objectives, the research, conservation, education and awareness programmes that have been conduct.

The talk will also focus on the two critically endangered species of fresh water turtles in Malaysia that TCS is focused on.

Architecture & Nation Building: Multiculturalism & Democracy

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Prof Tajuddin

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The talk focuses on how architecture can contribute towards the creation of an ‘imagined community’ called ‘Malaysian’ through a discourse of multiculturalism and democracy as the main reference points of design. Historically, the call for a national architectural identity was received with great interest by Malay architects who produced many traditional revivalist buildings and also by non-Malay architects with emphasis on climate and local materials. Neither of the two extremes had taken multi-culturalism and democracy into their design approaches and discourses. What we find are either simplistically interpreted post-modern attempts and at the other extreme we find literalist modernism products with a number of architects engaging in regionalism using climate and material in a more daring manner.

Although the regionalist in Malaysia has a better edge in terms of a more creative and meaningful design, their approach would be most inspiring if the aspects of multi-culturalism and democracy were integrated. Many architects either seemed too frightened of political backlash or they are uncertain how these two aspects can be used in architecture. I will concentrate on these two aspects of multi-culturalism and democracy in my criticism of housing, mosques and administrative buildings in Malaysia by reinterpreting the rituals and values within a more inclusive view of politics and society and the early modernist framework of design.


About the Speaker

ProfessoProfile Dr. Tajr Dr Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi is a prolific writer in architecture, politics, social issues, religious matters and education. Prof Dr. Mohamad Tajuddin was educated in the USA at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee where he obtained his Masters and Bachelor of Science in Architecture.

He was Professor of Architecture at UTM for 10 years and now at UCSI University. Professor Tajuddin has authored and published 40 books to date on architecture concerning Islam, the mosque, housing, community building and planning of administrative centres. He was a columnist for several years with the Utusan Malaysia and with The Star. Prof Tajuddin is also responsible for writing hundreds of articles in architecture for the encyclopedia of architecture published by the national publication.

He has written many articles in the media concerning various issues of architecture, democracy, multi-culturalism and education. He is also frequently interviewed by online media news like malaysiakini and Freemalaysiatoday on national political and social issues.