THE grounds of Badan Warisan came alive last weekend. People from all walks of life, locals and expatriates, gathered at the premises located in Jalan Stonor to celebrate Malaysia’s heritage.
Despite the lack of fanfare, the People’s Merdeka Exhibition drew a steady stream of visitors on both days it was held. The boisterous atmosphere was very much like the kenduri kampong or village feast that I remember. People came to get a taste of Malaysian heritage and history.
Organised by the Facebook-based Malaysian Heritage and History Club (MHHC), the two-day self-funded event was a banquet of sorts for many who came to know about it, largely through word of mouth and via the Internet grapevine.
There were heritage talks, walks, workshops and displays of historical artefacts. Long forgotten traditional games, kitchen appliances, tools of trade, old photographs and other artifacts from the various communities were showcased by collectors who turned volunteer curators.
There was no shortage of interactive sessions for visitors. Those who had never seen rubber seeds or had thought that rubber came from a test-tube were not only shown what the seeds looked like but also given a chance to tap latex from a rubber tree in the compound of Badan Warisan.
A long forgotten childhood game of yesteryears – rubber seed “fighting” was also introduced to city kids. They also learned how to make “wind mills” using shells of rubber seed pods.
Visitors were taken on a tour of a traditional wooden house on Badan Warisan grounds and curators paid tribute to the ingenuity of the ancient builders as they drew attention to the features of the structure that were not only functional but environment friendly.
In one house, visitors saw an armoury of arm-powered appliances like the batu giling (millstone) and kukur kelapa (coconut grater), among others, and learned how they were used by kitchen masters of old.
In a time when electronic toys were unheard of, traditional homemade ones like bottle-cap spinners, bamboo pop-guns and wooden catapult rifles ruled the day.
At the exhibition, children got to learn about them while their parents and grandparents took a trip down memory lane. The curator of the traditional games area, Cikgu Lee, even showed visitors how to make bottle-cap spinners and also how to cast a wooden top.
Rachel Loke, who showcased her father’s collection of periodicals from Malaysian football’s glorious eras of the 60s through 80s, was rewarded with an autograph by former soccer great, goalkeeper Wong Kam Fook, when he made a surprise call at the booth.
Mahen Bala’s and Radzi Jamaludin’s collections of old photographs opened eyes to how far the country had come since Independence. So too did Sabine Ferrao’s photos on the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca and the challenges it faced.
If the traditional games and antiques were interesting, the talks were even more enlightening. Razak Bahrom, who spoke on the topic of “A King for Malaya”, not only gave an insight into the behind-the-scene challenges and preparations in the definition of a new kingdom for post-Independence Malaya, but also touched on the thoughts and creation of the royal insignias.
Saidah Rastam’s talk on patriotic music and its role in nation building on the final day was an aural delight for many, too, as participants were invited to sing along some of the patriotic songs that once ruled the air waves just after Independence.
Watching the camaraderie of the multiracial crowd on both days was a sight for sore eyes for me, especially after a week’s diet of gloom on TV and over the Internet. When events leading to and after this year’s 58th Merdeka celebrations turned depressing, it was comforting to get a glimpse of real Malaysians at the exhibition.
They came from all walks of life, from within the city and afar. They came in cars, taxis, and some even walked from the LRT station in the sweltering heat. Both young and old, and some with their expatriate friends in tow, came to experience a truly Malaysian event organised by the people for the people.
A love for the nation cannot be sustained through constant slogan chanting or race-based propaganda. But it can be encouraged through events like this one, where everyone, regardless of race or skin colour, come together to share their collections (and recollections) of the nation’s history and traditions, not for personal glory but out of their love for their country and their respect for the people. And this is something not many can understand despite years of having the privilege of citizenry.
To check out the good things the club is doing, go here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/malaysian.heritage.and.history.club