Monday, June 9, 2008

Conquer This Culture Coup.

THE new Peranakan Museum in Singapore has opened its doors to visitors (The Star, April 24) and, judging by the success they have had with the Asian Civilizations Museum, it is a safe bet to say that this museum, housed in an old school, will generate the same excitement among history buffs and tourists.

Singaporeans can be forgiven if they show a glint in their eyes over this museum, but it is no laughing matter for the Malaysian Government.

The Malaysian Ministry of Unity, Cultural, Arts and Heritage and the Museum
Department must confront this culture coup earnestly. Heritage-loving Malaysians are disappointed that invaluable Peranakan artifacts are now in the hands of foreigners and we should demand that Malaysia adopt a more proactive stance to champion local heritage.

Malacca, Penang and Kelantan were some of the early points of entry for Chinese immigrants who came here to work. They subsequently assimilated with the locals to form this unique culture we have come to call Peranakan, or the not-so-politically-correct term – Baba and Nyonya.

Singapore or Temasik was then just the occasional pirate hideout. Thus, it is not ridiculous to stake claim that Malaysia is the rightful birthplace of the Peranakan heritage.
Countless theses and study papers from local and foreign universities have been done on the community’s unique racial composition and highlighted the role its members play in Malaysian society.

Whatever the festive occasions, the Peranakan are exemplified for their multi-racial outlook and multi-cultural practices.

There is a popular Baba and Nyonya Museum operated by Chan Kim Lay and family in Malacca. It is a favourite with tourists who are willing to pay top dollar to see first-hand the culture, decorations and architecture associated with the Peranakan.

In the late 90s, there was talk about a Jabatan Museum project to build a similar Peranakan Museum along Heeren Street in Malacca. Nothing came out of it and as we all know now, Singapore has beaten us to it.

It is not an exaggeration if we consider this seemingly “oversight” a tip of the iceberg.
We have new archeological finds and reveal fascinating insights about the A Famosa fortress and its two unearthed Portuguese bastions in Malacca. Yet Jabatan Muzium’s and the state government’s enthusiasm is found wanting.

Lembah Bujang with its 1,000-year-old candis around Gunung Jerai are left neglected, although conservationists have acknowledged that Lembah Bujang is in the same league with Angkor Wat and Borobodur.

However, no proper recognition or planning is forthcoming and this historical treasure is just accorded a brief mention in a tour itinerary, if at all.

Malaysians should not lament that Malaysia has no historical attractions to offer. The Ministry responsible for our heritage and culture must be bold enough to embrace the wealth that our multi-cultural and multi-racial society has to offer.

April 24, 08

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