Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Middleburg Bastion To Boost Tourism

Malacca now boosts another attraction to cash on the tourism dollars. The replica of the Middleburg Bastion is now opened to public when I visited there on Dec 9, 08.

The project is not without controversy from the first day its foundation was unearthed by workers constructing the Taming Sari Revolving Tower.

A few parties have voiced conflicting views how best the monument should be preserved.

Ar John Koh in his Badan Warisan column- "The Old Melaka Fort"- even go so far as to accord the site as the next most important archaeological find in the Malay Peninsula after the discovery of Hindu Cendi in Bujang Valley, Kedah.

For hard core conservationists, no viable option is acceptable except to leave the bastion foundation unmolested.

On the other extreme, policy makers were more interested in turning the site into a grand tourism scheme by 'remaking' the bastion.

RM12.8 million and almost a year later and you've another tourist attraction.

Needless to say, critics of the project were aghast at the turn of event.

The entire development took place when no expert could verify the authenticity of bastion design or the height of the wall.

The bastion was part of a larger fortress the A Famosa - which was first constructed by the Portuguese and reinforced later by the Dutch before British Captain W. Farquhar almost demolished it all in the 18th century.

All working reference for the project was based on sketchy illustrations and tell-tales provided by ancient sea farers. Yet the people who mooted the rebuilding task were adamant about giving the project the go-ahead.

Now the bastion project is completed and I am for one tend to agree that maybe the replica could benefit the lay men. It works wonderfully to stir up their imagination of the ancient bastion.

The fact of the matter is that they are the bulk of the visitors to Malacca and historical sites like Middleburg appeal to folks more interested in snapping some memorable pictures but hardly excited with the historical value of this momentous archaeological find.

Fortunately in my view, a few ingenious designs have been incorporated into this RM12.8 million project and we are able to appreciate the remnants of the original bastion foundation and the laterite coral rocks hidden underneath.

Walk around the structure and you could find a few openings in the ground previously discovered by archaeologists to give visitors some insights about the original foundation.
Visitors however, will be disappointed to find information on the bastion lacking because there are no captions available but I believe this would be overcome soon.

My favorite is the glass bridge next to the main structure if one is on their way to the top of bastion.
It allows visitors take a walk over the original laterite foundation and appreciate the depth of the original foundation underground.

If you think rebuilding the bastion structure goes against the acceptable heritage norm, then the VOC cannon replicas found on top of the bastion only reinforce the miserable the state of heritage in this country.

In fact, some key conservation players involved in the project appeared confused about their respective roles and how heritage should be safeguarded for the future generations.
Needless to say, such practices are symptomatic of the ever-blurring of conservation and tourism agendas in Malaysia.

Rampant manipulative interpretation of history would irk those who want to protect heritage at its core but their voices are silenced by groups calling for better cash cows for the economy. (For more related issue, refer to the article titled - "A Famosa Rescued?" - April 24, 08)

Who would have thought that the Middleburg Bastion given up for good over two centuries ago and left to fade from history has not only risen but it is basked in all its former glory in a bizarre twist of fate?

Hopefully, the bastion would spur new interests in the early history of Malacca fort in all of us minus all the bias instilled by certain segment of the community.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Firemen Usher New Twist in Traditional Circumcision

Few would argue that firemen are saviors of all emergencies, but in Malaysia, their expertise is called beyond the line of duties.

On December 10, 2008, the Army Fire Services based in Terendak Camp, Malacca were invited by the villagers of Kampung Pinang A, to Majlis Berkhatan or a religious circumcision ritual.

40 odd boys dressed in their finest Malay clothes then grouped in front of the red Mercedes Benz 911 before fire crew doused them wet.
When the shower ended about 15 minutes later, the boys proceed to a makeshift operating theatre at the back of the village’s surau for their unnerving and life-changing experience.

According to the elders, boys would traditionally take a dip at a nearby river or bathe near a well to build up courage. However, no one disputes that cold water whatever the sources are has a calming effect on the male organ before it is surgically mutilated.

Elaborate and expensive berkhatan ceremonies are now a trendy phenomenon and Malay kampung go to their wits to outdo each other with bigger sunat participants and a larger scheme of things.

Berkhatan or sunat was previously a low key and solemn religious affair, but now the event has a carnival-like atmosphere to it, and firemen and fire sprinkles are very much part of the repertoire.

Another victim of change is Tok Mudim or the village circumcision expert, and they too have fallen into redundant. In their place are medical assistants armed with sterilized tools to perform the rite of passage.

As the ceremony progressed, I saw how ZA 6326 found itself stuck in mud because of the weight the pump has to take. Fortunately, the villagers were around to save the day for the fire truck.

According to a local web source, Merc Benz 911 or otherwise known as Mercedes Munjung because of its large nose-like engine compartment was a favorite in Malaysian fire fighting scenes in the 80s until it was phased out.

True to the customary practice on school break, another grand circumcision ceremony was arranged three days later (Dec. 13, 08). The event was held at the nearby Pantai Puteri and saw an overwhelming participation from 200 kids.
Their mothers also played their parts and they each brought the beautiful bunga melur telur, a decorative bouquet made from egg shells, to accompany their boys on a loud and colorful procession down the road to a site next the beach.

Soon, they were greeted by firemen and the full water blast from Mercedes Benz Atego (No. BKA 8922) . As usual this marks the start of the bathing ritual, and the boys are in for an unforgettable event in their life journey and to usher the rich Muslim legacy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Taiping Museum To Be Revamped

The Taiping Museum built in 1883 and widely regarded as the grand dame of Malaysia’s historical repository will be given a fresh lease of life in a RM3.5 million refurbishment plan (The Star, Dec 2, 08).

High on the list of this ambitious project is the conservation of the century old fa├žade.

However, the icing to the cake is the long overdue effort to bring change to the dusty and ill-kept galleries. Many of the galleries are reminiscent of Victorian era and often the bane of the visitors.

According to curator Norhanisah Ahmad, the main work involved the natural history, culture, Orang Asli and ceramics galleries. When completed in June 2009, the galleries are poised to position Taiping Museum amongst the country’s top with interactive features and captivating exhibits.

The rejuvenated museum will then be in a stronger position to welcome a new generation of historical buffs. Nevertheless, important question remains unanswered about the fate of the impressive ethnography and Malay-Paleo collections.

My fear is that the museum will discard the existing arrays of collection and take on a completely different theme in line with nationwide trend to alter historical development in this country according to whims and fancies of the powerful.

Other element of what is essentially a structural uplift by the museum department involves instilling the original wooden floorboards. Future museum visitors may be required to wear woolen sandals to protect the floors.

However the curator notes that fee will be imposed for the usage of the sandals and it doesn’t that a rocket scientist to fathom long how it will enrich the museum coffers.