The Lost Kingdoms Exhibition @ Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur

Southeast Asia was once home to many Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, such as Angkor in Cambodia, Kedah Tua in modern-day Malaysia, as well as the mighty Srivijaya, Sailendra and Majapahit empires in what is today Indonesia. Their legacies can be seen in the form of ancient temples, relics and artefacts that have survived through the ages. Good news for history buffs – you can see them for yourself at The Lost Kingdoms exhibition, currently running at Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur until the end of April 2020. The entrance fee to the main section of the museum is just RM2, and covers entry to this exhibition as well!

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Working with the National Museum of Indonesia and the National Museum of Cambodia, Lost Kingdoms maps out 12 ancient Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Southeast Asia, featuring 103 items that are a mix of real artefacts as well as replicas. Through these items, one can see that there are many similarities between the cultures of the region, from the techniques used to create beautifully carved statues of the gods, to the elaborate decorations found on the hilts of traditional weaponry.

Here are just some of the exhibits that visitors will get to see at the exhibition:

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A 9th century statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, from pre-Angkorian times (on loan from the National Museum of Cambodia).

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Angkorian/Banteay Srei style seated garuda from the late 10th century, carved from red sandstone. Half man and half bird, the garuda is an important mythical figure in Hindu folklore, being the bearer of the Hindu god Vishnu. The garuda features heavily in Javanese and Balinese culture, and is also featured on the Indonesian crest.

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Another statue of Vishnu, this one from the pre-Angkorian period in the Prei Khmeng Style. The statue is made from sandstone and dates back to the mid 7th century. The full, round forms of the face demonstrate the strong Indian influence in the region. Vishnu holds a conch in his raised left hand, a war discus (chakra) in his right, while his lowered left hand rests on the remains of a mace.

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If I’m not mistaken, this is the head of a Kala, a common sight at many Hindu/Buddhist temples in Central Java. The Kala is a mythical lion-like creature – its name in Sanskrit also symbolises ‘time’, which is why the kala is said to devour everything, just as time does.

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One of my favourite pieces from the exhibition is an elaborate relief of Vishnu riding the Garuda, dedicated to the king of Airlangga from the Kahuripan kingdom (9th to 10th century). The image of Vishnu was made in the king’s likeness, to honour his contribution to rescuing and rebuilding Java after the kingdom almost collapsed from war with a neighbouring empire. This is on loan from the National Museum of Indonesia.

 

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Statue of the Hindu elephant god Ganesha made from granite stone, from the Kedah Tua (Kataha) kingdom, 6th to 7th century. Unlike the Hindu Buddhist kingdoms in Java, Indonesia, or even Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, not much remains of the Kataha kingdom in Kedah, other than a couple of candis (shrines).

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Prajnaparamita Statue from the Singhasari Kingdom, 13th century. Prajnaparamita is the goddess of transcendental wisdom in Buddhist tradition, and this particular statue is said to have been modeled after the beauty of Ken Dedes, an ancient Javanese princess who was the consort of Ken Arok, the first king of the Singhasari Kingdom. It is said that the kings that ruled from the Srivijayan to Majapahit eras were direct descendants of Ken Dedes, making her the literal mother of kings.

The Lost Kingdoms Exhibition is running until April 30 at Muzium Negara’s Gallery 2.  Entrance is RM2 for Malaysians (included with the ticket to the main museum).

Museum opening hours are from 9AM – 6PM.

Why You Should Visit The Orang Asli Crafts Museum: Muzium Seni Kraf Orang Asli, Kuala Lumpur

When visiting the National Museum of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, most people make a beeline for the grand main building – a three-storey structure with various galleries within chronicling the history of Malaysia from Palaeolithic times up until the modern era.

Next to it, however, is a smaller, humble-looking building that can be easy to miss – which houses the Orang Asli Crafts Museum, aka Muzium Seni Kraf Orang Asli. Displays are limited but they offer an interesting insight into the often overlooked Orang Asli community in Malaysia.

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The Jahai tribe. Image via Muhammad Adzha from Penang, Malaysia / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

The Orang Asli (literally ‘aborigines’ or the ‘original people’) are natives of Peninsular Malaysia who pre-date the arrival of the Malays. Numbering around 150 – 200, 000, they form around 0.7% of the population.

Despite being the true natives of the land, many of them live below the poverty line, with their rights often trampled upon (especially in regards to land ownership, as many Orang Asli live off the land) and their access to modern facilities such as healthcare and education are limited. There are three distinct groups: the Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malay, further divided into 18 ethnic tribes, each with their own language, culture, traditions and practices. Most still live in or close to forests, and practice animism. Some of these tribes include the Mah Meri, Jakun, Temuan, Temiar, Seletar, Bateq and Semai, among others.

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Most of the items on display at the Museum are masks and carvings from the Mah Meri and Jah Hut tribes. The Mah Meri of Selangor are among the most well known Orang Asli tribes. They live close to the coast and make a living as fishermen, although in recent years, tourism has also become an important source of livelihood. They are extremely skilled at woodcarving, hence the masks which are used in rituals and ancestor worship. Ancestor Day, a massive celebration that honours the tribe’s ancestral spirits, is a spectacle to behold, attracting tourists from all over the world to Pulau Carey, where most of the tribe are concentrated at.

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Typically carved from Pulai wood which is soft and pliable, Mah Meri masks are a representation of their ancestor spirits, called Moyang. Some are based on animal figures as well, such as Siamang (monkey – far left), and cow (top row, far left). The masks are named after the Moyang Spirits, such as Moyang Bojos, Moyang Hapok and Moyang Belangkas, which the Mah Meri believe are imbued with extraordinary powers.

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Tools used for carving.

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Masks are not the only thing unique to the Mah Meri, as they also have statues that represent the spirits. (Above) Spirit of Mother and Baby, carved from Angsana wood, depicting a mother carrying a suckling babe.

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Another wood carving of a tiger spirit in chains.

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Aside from Mah Meri carvings, visitors will also find many Jah Hut wood carvings on display. The Jah Hut live in the highlands of Pahang, with the name ‘Jah Hut’ meaning ‘different people’ in their language. They live in or near forests with agriculture as their main income, as well as hunting and gathering the bounty of nature. Pahang is home to lush and dense rainforests, and the Jah Hut, like many Orang Asli, have a strong connection to spiritualism and the land. Their carvings are representation of beings from their beliefs and mythology.

(Above) Spirits of Genting, Batu Hulu and Sawan.

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The carvings are actually a little frightening to look at, almost demonic.

I believe that there exists a realm beyond our own, which is why you should never disrespect anything while you’re hiking in a jungle (in Malaysia, we believe in ‘makhluk halus’ and ‘penunggu‘, ie spirits). Having to live off the jungle, I’m sure the Jah Hut know more of these things than we city folk do, and who is to say that these representations are not real?

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Another room in the museum houses displays on traditional clothes, arts and crafts, tools and burial ritual items.

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Pensol or nose flute, a traditional musical instrument

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Some Orang Asli tribes, such as the Jah Hut, build wooden tombs for their departed, while others place the body in bamboo or a simple wooden coffin.

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Many tribes are also known for their weaving skills, such as the Temuan and Temiar. In recent years, NGOs such as Gerai Orang Asli have helped to promote these handmade crafts to the public, where they have amassed a loyal following – thereby providing the women of these communities a way to utilise their skills for income.

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Mah Meri clothing, which consists of a tree bark shirt and palm leave skirt, as well as additional garments and accessories that are intricately plaited. The headdress worn by both the men and womenfolk resemble long dreadlocks.

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A life-sized carving of Penjaga Gunung Tahan or the Guardian of Mount Tahan. Tall and long limbed, the guardian is shown as having long protruding fangs and holding a stick, with a loincloth and a container slung around the waist. A scary apparition to bump into if you’re out hunting, to say the least.

While the Orang Asli Crafts Museum is not large by any standards, the displays are certainly interesting, offering a fascinating insight into one of Malaysia’s smallest but oldest communities. The Orang Asli have been here for thousands of years, way before any of the great civilisations came to be, and their knowledge of the land and seas have been handed down the ages. Their language and culture is slowly being eroded in modern times – which is all the more reason to educate the public on the importance of preserving them.

That being said, I think there are a couple of things that the museum can improve on to make visitor experience better:

  • Update the data and stats on display, which are a little outdated.
  • Improve the information billboards, especially the portions in English. The explanations were rife with odd syntax and grammatical errors, which is unseemly for a national museum.

How To Get There 

The Orang Asli Crafts Museum is located within the grounds of the National Museum complex. From KL Sentral, KL’s main transportation hub, there is a 240-metre covered walkway to the museum grounds. Alternatively, take an MRT and alight at the Muzium Negara station.

MUZIUM SENI KRAF ORANG ASLI (ORANG ASLI CRAFTS MUSEUM) 

Jabatan Muzium Malaysia, Jalan Damansara, 50566 Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 9AM – 6PM

*Tickets cost RM2 (USD 0.50) 

We Spent Six Hours At The National Museum in Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand has a rich and colourful history, and it’s chronicled incredibly well at the National Museum in Bangkok.  From the early days of its ancient Buddhist kingdoms of Sukhothai, Lan Na and Ayutthaya to the more modern eras under the Rama kings, the museum offers visitors a look into the history and various facets of what makes up Thailand today – and it’s absolutely fascinating. N and I spent six hours exploring the vast museum grounds, and would have spent more if it wasn’t for the fact that we had other items on our itinerary to go to :’D

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The museum was about 1.5 kilometres from our hostel in Rambuttri, and it was packed with tourists, locals and students, despite being a weekday. From the outside, the museum didn’t look very large, but there were actually many buildings within. There was an entrance fee of 200 baht (RM27) for foreigners.

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Our timing was excellent as the museum was running a temporary exhibition, “Qin Shi Huang: The First Emperor of China and Terracotta Warriors” during our visit. The showcase included historical artefacts and items from the rule of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, some of which were flown in from Xi’an.

QSH was a bit of an obsessive personality and during his lifetime, drank mercury in an attempt to prolong his life (mercury was believed to be the secret to immortality back then). When he died (presumably from mercury poisoning), he was entombed in a necropolis, complete with 8,000 life-sized terracotta warriors. The mausoleum, which was designed as a reflection of a palace / city so that QSH could continue ruling in the afterlife,  has never been fully excavated due to fears of possible damage.

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Although it said ‘life-sized’, I felt like the sculptures were actually taller than normal, averaging about eight feet.

The original statues that were discovered were actually coated in paint, so they weren’t all grey and dull looking. The paint evaporated into the air after the mausoleum was excavated.

 

 

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Terracotta horse-drawn chariot.

Beyond just his odd practices of drinking mercury and burning books, SHD was an extraordinary figure who united China’s many warring factions under one banner. The exhibition also detailed this, explaining the economic and political reforms that took place during his rule, as well as cultural and historical impact that can still be felt two millennia later.  On display to tell the narrative was advanced weaponry, decorative statues, household items, ritual objects, and more.

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A distinctive stone armour worn by soldiers, made up of hundreds of interlinked stone pieces connected by bronze wire to offer more flexibility.

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Decorative / ritual objects in the shapes of farm animals like horses, cows, goats, pigs and sheep; or scenes from everyday life like a rice mill, shrines and small houses.

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N was fascinated, and I had to literally drag him out to the main courtyard (lest we stay there the entire day). We next ventured into the Buddhaisawan Chapel. Built in the early 18th century, the main hall houses one of the most sacred Buddhist images in all of Thailand, the Phra Buddha Sihing.

The vast hall had sleek wooden floors, with a red ceiling and walls decorated with images of the Devas, as well as old paintings telling Buddha’s story. Some of these were faded with age and were difficult to discern, but you could still see the meticulous attention to detail poured into creating each one.

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The entrance to Buddhaisawan Chapel is guarded by garudas – mythical creatures in Buddhist and Hindu mythology that sport avian and human features.

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Another building you can check out within the museum is the vibrant-looking The Red House. Constructed from teak, it was originally the private living quarters of a princess. Today, it houses items used by royals in the past, including those of Queen Sri Suriyenda.

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A beautiful gold pavilion with intricate decorative features and exquisite detailing on the ceiling.

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The halls within the museum seemed to go on forever – there were just so many things to see. There were sections dedicated to Buddhist art from Thailand and neighbouring regions, the evolution of the country’s monetary system and currency, paintings, weaponry, clothing worn by royals, palanquins which were used to mount onto the backs of elephants, war drums, dioramas and much more.

 

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Royal throne. The colour gold is prevalent in Thai colour, as it is an important colour in both Buddhist and Thai culture.

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Life-sized replica of an elephant with a palanquin strapped to its back. Elephants are the national animal of Thailand.

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Students writing notes down as they observe a diorama, complete with war elephants, cavalry, foot soldiers and archers

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Thai royals were a fashionable lot, with ceremonial and everyday costumes featuring rich fabrics, elegant colours, beautiful detailing and patterns, and slim silhouettes.

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Everyone likes beautiful things – and there were sections detailing Thai art, such as how artisans apply mother of pearl to everything from furniture to sword scabbards; as well as a section for enamel pottery.

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Another impressive section was a hall containing numerous royal funeral chariots. Built from teak, the chariots were ornately carved, painted and gilded in gold, with mythical / religious figures and decorative fixtures such as nagas and devas.

Thais have deep respect for their royalty (they have some of the world’s strictest lese-majeste laws), and they revere them as much in death as they do in life. When a member of the royal family passes, the chariots are pulled by hundreds of men in a parade down the streets with the urn carrying the ashes of the deceased royal sitting atop a tall roofed shrine.

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Grand send off.

The Bangkok National Museum is, by far, one of the most impressive museums I have been to in Southeast Asia, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you love history and culture. Allocate at least half a day for the place if you’re planning to have a more in-depth experience.

BANGKOK NATIONAL MUSEUM 

Na Phra That Alley, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

Opening hours: 9AM – 4PM (closed on Mon – Tues)

 

4 Historical Spots To Visit While In Melaka

Melaka is one of Southeast Asia’s most historically rich sites. Founded by a Javanese Hindu prince in the 1400s, it thrived as a port and welcomed traders from as far as China, Arab and India. It was then conquered by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English for hundreds of years. Naturally, old structures and the influence of various cultures remain, making Melaka a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For first-timers in the city, there’s no running away from visiting four important historical hotspots. They’re all within walking distance of each other, so getting to each is just a matter of legwork. Just ready the sunscreen, shades, an umbrella and lots of water – Melaka is scorching at most times of the year.

THE RUINS OF ST PAUL’S CHURCH @ ST PAUL’S HILL 

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The heart of Melaka is centred around a hill (now known as St Paul’s Hill), since the high vantage point affordsgood views of the coastline (ergo, important back then to see ships + invading forces).

Perched on top of this hill are the ruins of St Paul’s Church, a Roman Catholic church built in 1521 by the Portuguese nobleman Duarte Coelho. Originally called the Nossa Senhora da Annunciada (Our Lady of the Annunciation), it was dedicated to St Mary. The church was later deeded to a Jesuit missionary called Francis Xavier, who used it as a base for his missionary trips around Southeast Asia. After his death and ascension to sainthood, his body was interred for a while at the church, before it was sent to Goa. A burial vault was also opened in the 1590s, and many Portuguese nobles and people of distinction were buried here.

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After the Dutch invaded in 1641, the church was re-designated as St Paul’s Church under the Dutch Reformed denomination. For a while, the Dutch community in Melaka used it as their main church, but left it abandoned after the new Christ Church was completed in 1753. Parts of the building were also taken down to help fortify defense structures around Melaka. The church building fell further into disrepair during English occupation, when it was used as a gunpowder depot.

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View of the Straits of Melaka from St Paul’s Hill

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There was a church event going on at the ruins during our visit.

The building itself is just a shell of its former self – four walls, no roof and exposed red brick, lined with elaborately carved stone grave markers. One wonders how it must have been like in its heyday, when both the Portuguese and then later the Dutch came to pray and attend religious sermons and events.

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The stage was set up for a play later in the evening, while the open grave where St Francis Xavier’s body was once interred was littered with flower petals.

PORTA DE SANTIAGO @ A FAMOSA 

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When the Portuguese invaded Melaka in 1511, they established their base at the hill (now St Paul’s Hill), built a fort around it, and called it “The Famous”. The Dutch continued to use it during their occupation, but when the British came, they destroyed almost all but this last gate called the Porta de Santiago. Visitors who visit the site today will find little more than a simple gate, its brick facade blackened and weathered. Over the archway is an inscription, Anno 1670, as well as the logo of the East India Company – both additions by the Dutch. While there isn’t much by way of sights, the historical significance itself makes this place worth a visit. It is, after all, the oldest surviving European remains in Southeast Asia.

MALACCA SULTANATE PALACE MUSEUM 

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Just steps away from the Porta de Santiago is the Malacca Sultanate Palace Museum, a reconstruction of the old palace based on written accounts in the Sejarah Melayu, or Malay Annals. The old palace was said to have sat on the hill where St Paul’s Church is now located, but it was destroyed when Portuguese forces invaded. This modern version tries to stay as true as possible to descriptions from the Malay Annals, and was built with timber wood without the use of nails.

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Inside, visitors will find various exhibits detailing the history of the sultanate, as well as cultural and historical artefacts. Only the main hall is air conditioned; it is very stuffy upstairs and at the outer verandah, so it’s best to visit at a cooler time of day.

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The story of Hang Tuah is told here through a series of paintings.

Hang Tuah is the OG of Malay warriors and features prominently throughout Malay legends and literature, although whether or not he truly existed remains highly debated. He was apparently highly skilled in the martial arts (silat) and was an extraordinary warrior, second to none.

One of the most famous tales is the one where some ministers of the court, jealous of Hang Tuah’s standing with the Sultan, spread slander and lies about him, to which the Sultan ordered him executed. The chief minister who was tasked with this knew that Hang Tuah was innocent and instead hid him in a cave. Hearing of unjust done to his childhood friend, Hang Jebat – who after Hang Tuah was the best fighter in the land – ran amok, seeking to avenge him.

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It was then that the Chief Minister revealed that Hang Tuah was in fact, alive – much to the relief of the Sultan. Jebat was happy that Hang Tuah was alive, but Hang Tuah berated his friend for rebelling against the Sultan. A fight ensued that lasted for seven days, and Tuah emerged the winner after killing his friend. He continued serving Melaka, going on numerous other adventures. Yes, a rather grim ending for Jebat who was only thinking of avenging a friend whom an unjust ruler wronged – but hey, loyalty to the Sultan was paramount to anything else back in the day, even childhood friends whom you grew up with.

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A diorama of the Balairong Seri, or the audience reception hall where the Sultan received political dignitaries, guests and his advisors.

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Costumes worn by the different classes in Malaccan society, including royalty, as well as accessories and jewellery such as hair pins, brooches, belts, etc.

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Another diorama, this one of the Sultan’s bedchamber.

The Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum is open daily from 9AM to 5PM. Entrance is RM3 for Malaysians and RM5 for foreigners.

RED SQUARE / STADTHUYS/ CHRISTCHURCH 

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Last but not least, make your way to the Red Square, where you will find fire-red buildings which include a clocktower, the 18th century Dutch founded Christ Church, and the Stadthuys, which was once used as an administration building and residence for the Dutch Governor and now houses a museum of History and Ethnography. The square is a colourful place, filled with loud and gaudy-looking trishaws that blast techno music and are decorated with pop culture characters. Once the main mode of transportation around Melaka, you can now take a ride around town for a hefty RM25.

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If the Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum detailed the history of the ancient Malay kingdom, the Stadthuys is more focused on the period between the landing of the Portuguese up until Japanese occupation in the days of World War II. Exhibits include a selection of weaponry, including swords, sabres, guns and armour, plus items from trade such as pottery, crystal glasses, silverware and the like.

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Melaka’s four conquering forces – the Portuguese (1511 – 1641), the Dutch (1641 – 1825), the British (1826 – 1942) and the Japanese (1942 – 1945).

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A diorama of Melaka during the Portuguese occupation. notice how the fort was still completely intact, surrounding the city.

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A painting depicting the captain of the Portuguese guard surrendering the keys to the city to the Dutch after the defeat of Portuguese forces.

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Aside from colonial history, the museum also houses exhibits on local culture and practices of the community. Pictured is a diorama of a traditional Malay-Melakan wedding. The bersanding ceremony, where the bride and groom sits on a raised dias, draws from Hindu cultural influences.

The Stadthuys is open from 9.30AM – 5.30PM daily. Entrance is RM5 for Malaysians and RM10 for foreigners.

If there’s one thing Melaka isn’t short of, it’s museums – although I can’t say they’re all impressive. If you like museum-hopping, also worth visiting is the Melaka Maritime Museum (housed in a replica of the Portuguese galleon Flor del Mar), the People’s Museum, the Stamp Museum and the Submarine Museum (housed in a decommissioned submarine by the coast), to name a few.

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Museum of Malay World Ethnology @ Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur

When visiting Muzium Negara (The National Museum), most people make a beeline for the main building – so some might not have noticed the building adjacent to it which houses a small but interesting museum well worth checking out.

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Muzium Ethnologi Dunia Melayu (Musuem of Malay World Ethnology) is dedicated to Malay culture and history, where visitors can learn about traditional games, clothing, accessories, arts and crafts and weaponry, among others. While not very large, visitors will find a good collection of exhibits on display, with detailed descriptions.

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Malay culture is rich and steeped in various influences. This is thanks to the strategic geographic location of the Malay Peninsula which made it an important trade centre for traders from as far as India, the Middle East and China. Wars with powerful neighbouring kingdoms (what is now Thailand and Indonesia), as well as the invasion of foreign powers such as the Portuguese, Dutch and English have also added to the tapestry that is the Malay heritage we know today.

Here are just some of the interesting exhibits you’ll be able to see:

SHADOW PUPPETS 

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Like many cultures in Southeast Asia, Malay culture has its own form of shadow puppetry, called wayang kulit (literally ‘skin performance’) – so called because of the cowhide leather that the puppets are made from. They often feature mythical characters and have a moral lesson behind their stories.

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The northern state of Kelantan is particularly well known for its wayang kulit, with designs carrying a strong Thai influence, where as in the southern state of Johor, the wayang kulit is influenced by the Javanese Indonesian style, brought over by Javanese immigrants. The puppets are supported on sticks or buffalo horn handles and moved around by a puppet master, with characters voiced by different actors. The shadows are projected onto a cotton cloth using an oil lamp. You could say it was the earliest form of ‘animation’ or ‘cinema’. Performances are often accompanied by traditional gamelan music.

TRADITIONAL WEDDING (BERSANDING CEREMONY) LIFE-SIZED DIORAMAS 

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Bersanding is an integral part of a Malay wedding. The bride and groom are seated at a pelamin (an elevated platform, usually elaborately decorated) side by side, and a reception is held for family and friends. Traditionally, one would find items such as bunga telur (a decorative ‘egg’ flower to represent fertility), although these are becoming rarer in big cities. Certain other traditions such as spraying rose water and pouring scented petals onto the couple are also slowly done away for the sake of convenience.

GOLD / METALWORK 

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Malay culture is renowned for its craftsmanship and artistry, especially in gold and metalwork. Geometric patterns and floral motifs are common. In traditional Malay society, the quality of the jewellery worn, such as brooches, pins, earrings, belt buckles and necklaces in gold, silver and other precious metals often indicated wealth and status – so the more intricate the piece, the more important the person or his/her family.

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Silverware and bronzeware exhibits featuring items such as kitchenware, pots and pans, cutlery, trays, jewellery boxes, teapots and more.

WEAPONRY 

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When it comes to Malay weaponry, the most well known of all is definitely the keris, an asymmetrical dagger with a wavy blade – also a symbol of Malaysia’s royal families. The keris can come in a variety of designs (there are also straight-bladed keris), with a meticulously carved handle and sheath inlaid with precious stones, wood, gold or ivory. It is said the wavy pattern made it easier to rend through an enemy’s flesh.

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Diorama of a Malay blacksmith circa 15th century

WOODWORK 

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Woodwork and woodcarving is another area that the Malays excel in, and you’ll see this applied in everything from architecture to carpentry. Decorative wall hangings (above) feature geometric and nature motifs (flowers, clouds) as is common in Islamic design, or Islamic verses in Jawi (bottom left).

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These interesting contraptions are quail traps! You can see even these have a lot of effort put into them from the beautiful cage fronts.

TRADITIONAL GAMES 

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Congkak is a mancala game involving two players and a board with a number of ‘holes’ and two ‘homes’ at each side. The objective of the game is to get as many seeds into the player’s respective home, and involves a measure of strategy, speed and skill. The game was played by people from all classes, although the wealthy would have nicer congkak boards such as the one above shaped like a large and beautiful bird.

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And then we have the Wau – giant kites that span over a metre in length that are flown as much as for sport as they are for recreation. Wau-making competitions and wau races are still popular until this day, dotting the skies with a rainbow of colours during tournament season. The Wau Bulan (moonkite) is unique to the state of Kelantan, and is also used as the symbol of the Malaysian national carrier.

So there you have it! Not a big museum but a nice one filled with interesting things to see. Be sure to check out the Museum of Malay World Ethnology while you’re at Muzium Negara! Entrance is RM2.

Also while you’re here, there’s a replica of a traditional Malay house on stilts sandwiched in between the MWEM and the main building.

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MUZIUM ETHNOLOGI DUNIA MELAYU 

The Office of Malay World Gallery, Department of Mesuem Malaysia, Jalan Damansara,Tasik Perdana, 50566 Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 9AM – 6PM (Daily)

National Museum of Anthropology (Formerly Museum of the Filipino People), Manila

There are many things to do while at Rizal Park in Manila. If you’re a history buff like me, then visiting the museum is a must!

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With it’s tall, white-washed Corinthian columns and wooden doors, the grand-looking Museum of the Filipino People is hard to miss. Part of the National Museums of the Philippines, it houses the anthropology and archaeology divisions, spanning five floors (only four are open). Entry was PHP150 (RM15), which also allowed us access to other museums (Planetarium and National Art Gallery).

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It was close to empty on a weekday, so we had the place to ourselves (Hence, the above mucking around for photos. Don’t worry, we didn’t touch anything). There were tours going around, conducted in Filipino. Food and drinks were not allowed inside so we had to leave our bottled water somewhere.

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A section of the museum was dedicated to artifacts recovered from the sunken San Diego galleon. A Spanish trading ship built in Cebu and supervised by European boat-builders, it was hastily converted into a warship against invading Dutch troops in 1600. But because it was never built for fighting and there was too much stuff on board, the ship listed and sank without firing a single shot.

The ruins were discovered 400 years later in the 1990s about 50ms deep outside of Manila Bay, and massive efforts were undertaken to retrieve and conserve artifacts onboard. The ship had been sleeping, untouched for centuries, with many of the items still intact. (Above) Some jars and urns used to store food/water/other essentials for the more than 300+ men onboard the San Diego.

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An old Spanish-style helm. Idk why but they remind me of chickens. Some of the artifacts still had bits of coral attached to them.

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Exhibit detailing how the Spaniards came to the Philippines and spread Christianity – which is prevalent throughout the islands today. More than 90% of the population are Catholic.

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The Philippines was a rich, trading outpost – carrying everything from spices and exotic wares to ivory. 

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Chinese carvings, beads, amulets and bracelets carved from ivory. Poor elephants   20160205_104826-tile

A smaller section of the museum was dedicated to the preservation of local plant and small wildlife/insect species. This included a showcase of dried and pressed flowers and leaves, preserved butterflies/beetles, and

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Pickled lizard. My worst nightmare. OMG LOOK AT THE ONE AT THE BOTTOM IT IS SMILING EVILLY

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There was a nicely lit chamber with stained glass and chandeliers. After the gloomy dark of the exhibit area, this was like an ‘intermission’. A colourful, graffitied part of the Berlin wall (gifted to the museum by Germany) sits in the middle.

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Moving on, the exhibits had more local stuff, explaining to visitors on the local cultures and customs of the Filipino people pre and post-Spanish era. I was fascinated by this titty jug oddly shaped urn that seemed to have nipples.

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Perched on top of burial urns were small figurines of men in boats. This reminds me of the River Styx in Ancient Egyptian lore.

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Statues of heads. Their odd features and aesthetics convinced the fiancee further that ancients were, in fact, aliens. 😀

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Bags and containers used by local tribes.

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There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ethnic groups in the Philippines – with their own beliefs, cultures, art and history. They still live a way of life free from Western influence, so researchers study them to gauge how life was like before colonization.

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One thing is for sure – them tribes sure have an amazing fashion sense. Vibrant colours and patterns were embroidered onto their clothing, emphasised with funky beads every hippie/hipster would die for.

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Traditional musical instruments

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Anthropologist Professor E, explains.

“Here is a flying grasshopper hippo hybrid, carved from centuries old wood and considered a guardian of the galaxy.”

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The ancient Filipino text, or ‘BayBayin’. 

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Rice is a major staple in the Phils (they eat rice with everything!) so it’s no surprise that they had a section dedicated to that as well.

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Traditional textile machines. The cloths produced reminded me a lot of the Pua Kumbu by Malaysia’s Iban community.

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We wandered around downstairs where the research labs are and was greeted by this. 😀 Someone has a sense of humour.

MUSEUM OF THE FILIPINO PEOPLE (MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY) 

Ermita, Manila, 1000 Metro Manila, Philippines

Open: Tuesdays to Sundays, from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Free admission on Sundays.

Ticket prices: 150PHP (Adults), 50PHP (Students)