UNESCO Status for Kuching and Miri?

Wednesday May 19, 2010

In search of heritage Sarawak seeks Unesco status for Kuching, Sibu

SARAWAK is planning to seek Unesco heritage status for Kuching and Miri.

Assistant Tourism Minister Mong Dagang told the State Legislative Assembly that a team would be sent to Malacca and Penang soon to meet the relevant authorities to get a better understanding of the criteria for the final assessment as required under the Unesco Heritage Convention.

“The ministry has also met and discussed with the National Heritage Commission early this year to assist in the technicalities,” he said in Kuching yesterday in reply to Aidan Wing (BN-Lambir) during question time.

Mong said that in general, Kuching and Miri had the ingredients to be listed as heritage cities but the process was very tedious and lengthy.

He said several initiatives had been held since last year, including a public forum jointly organised by the Sarawak Tourism Federation and Sarawak Heritage Society, to raise public awareness on heritage matters. – Bernama

The Malaysian Songket

The Star

By Mae Chan | Sep 25, 2009

The Malaysian Songket: The Precious Gift of Heritage

Company/Seller Details

Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahirah (YTNZ) was founded in 2007 under the Royal patronage of Her Majesty the Queen of Malaysia, Seri Paduka Baginda Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Nur Zahirah. It aims to improve the lives of artisans, weavers and craftsmen by raising the level of skills and creating fair employment opportunities for them, also introducing contemporary designs and innovation in local crafts to enhance their value and to expand the Malaysian crafts market. Employing 60 weavers from both Terengganu and Sarawak in their pay-and-train scheme, the Foundation believes in empowering these weavers to be independent and all-rounded. YTNZ also supports single-mother weavers by buying songket from them as well as providing financial aid to improve and upgrade their work infrastructure. Selling their products under the Royal Terengganu Songket brand, the Foundation aims to open a flagship store in Kuala Lumpur, to educate and expose the art of songket to the Malaysian people, with plans to take this Malaysian art to the world.

Royal Terengganu Songket
Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahirah
No.83, Jalan Telawi,
Bangsar,
59100 Kuala Lumpur
+603 2284 8253
www.yayasantnz.org
Description

Songket is traditionally a luxurious hand-woven cloth, which is historically associated Malaysian royalty. Intricate patterns are painstakingly woven with gold and silver threads into silk or cotton yarns, yet the inspiration for songket often reflects the simpleness of the surrounding nature. Leaves or flowers such as the Orkid or Pucuk Rebung are common motifs. Fashioning a songket is a laborious and tedious process that requires a high level of skill, each thread repeatedly woven through a method called the supplementary weft technique to create patterns on the cloth itself.

The Terengganu songket weavers believe that the technique originated from Indian traders during the time of Srivijaya, who brought along their weaving looms and introduced it to the local people. From then, this precious art form has become an important part of the Malaysian identity.

As with most traditional art forms, songket weaving has been gradually overlooked and the number of weavers has dwindled over the years. The Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahirah (YTNZ) is founded to address this problem, raising the standard of living for artisans and weavers as well as to create viable means to support and expand the usage of songket, making it a sustainable art.

A major achievement by the Foundation is the production of the light-weight contemporary songket that breaks away from the typically thick and stiff materials of traditional songket, its technique allowing for lighter and thinner materials to be woven without breaking. This “new generation” songket maintains the traditional elements of the art while also creating new uses such as the songket shawl and modern clothing fit for the local weather.

Apart from just producing raw materials, YTNZ also produces a wide range of products through their Royal Terengganu Songket brand, widening the usage of songket through collaboration with various designers both local and international, such as Tom Abang Saufi, Radzuan Radziwill, Melinda Looi, Jovian Mandagie, Rizalman Ibrahim, Tangoo, Pink Jambu, Annick Goutal and Bagatelle.

Through some of these collaborations, the Foundation is able to produce unique and creative home and lifestyle products, a varied range that currently includes cushion covers, place mats, table runners, songket wall panels, curtains, songket wall frame, songket chairs, gift boxes and upholstery.

Combining traditional and modern designs, these songket products are of not only great artistic value, but also a timely reminder of our proud heritage, a great gift of inspiration not only for us, but for our future generation. Passed on through Indian traders who introduced the traditional weaving looms, using fine Chinese silk brought in from the ports of Malacca, shaped by the Malay community and influenced by our surrounding nature, the art of songket weaving is a truly Malaysian legacy to be cherished.

Lacquer gift boxes (Oval Silver)

Price: RM1,800
Intricate songket gift boxes that are perfect as gifts or to add a touch of elegance to any festive occasion. Available in silver and gold, with round, oval, square and rectangular shapes.

Interview with Elizabeth Cardosa, executive director of Badan Warisan

The Star Saturday April 3, 2010

Up Close and Personal with Elizabeth Cardosa

By SOO EWE JIN

ewejin@thestar.com.my

THE Indian restaurant in Section 11, Petaling Jaya, was probably not the best place to conduct an interview. It was a hot Sunday afternoon and the place was packed, and noisy.

This has always been a favourite meeting place for a motley crew of politicians, social activists and academics who can mingle freely with the ordinary people here, unlike their counterparts who hang out at air-conditioned coffee houses in five-star hotels.

It provided the perfect backdrop for heritage crusader Elizabeth Cardosa as she spoke passionately about how we tend to glorify beauty over the ordinary, of how we treat history only as a record of things past, but not of lessons to be learnt.

(Above and below): Elizabeth Cardosa at Suffolk House, one of the success stories of heritage conservation in Malaysia. The project to restore Suffolk House is a good example of public-private partnership between the Penang state government, HSBC and the Penang Heritage Trust. Badan Warisan Malaysia was subsequently given the contract to manage Suffolk House for five years.

Having spent much of her life in cultural and heritage work, the executive director of Badan Warisan Malaysia has a naturally exuberant personality and is determined to put heritage firmly on the agenda of the masses.

She is constantly on the move, which is why it took us some months to finally meet up face-to-face. Because of her current assignment at the restored Suffolk House in Penang, we arranged for the photo shoot to be taken there instead.

Heritage work is not easy, says Elizabeth, because it is still seen as a niche cause.

There is also a tendency to equate heritage work with the grand old buildings, especially those that have been legally granted heritage status, when ordinary homes and little kampungs throughout the country have equally powerful heritage value.

According to Elizabeth, the real heritage value is not just in the physical structure, but in the stories that are part of that building and its surroundings. It is when the stories are known that people begin to understand what it is that they are seeking to conserve.

The problem, as she puts it, is that the people currently in the vicinity are often not the ones who have the real ties to the building.

“As a people, we don’t map our culture. We never map our heritage. We look for what is beautiful, but we never look at what is ordinary,” says Elizabeth. “We have to learn to appreciate little stories, but many people don’t have the means to tell their stories, So the physical manifestation in the buildings cannot come alive.”

Elizabeth uses two examples to make her point – the Bukit Bintang Girls School (BBGS) and Bok House.

“In the case of BBGS, because it was a school, it affected a lot of people, not so much as a physical building but as a place where many lives were touched,” she explains.

“As a physical structure, not many are aware that when the US embassy was being built, the architecture blended with BBGS. The eaves, the varendahs and the columns were done up in a similar style. But without the school there, that relationship is lost. The land was valuable, no doubt, but the constituents had moved out.

“For Bok House, the people who were concerned were the older ones who remembered it as the first fine dining restaurant in Kuala Lumpur.”

So people will react differently even though the core issue of heritage conservation is still the same, depending on their own experiences.

She illustrates the point further with another two examples – Pudu Jail and Carcosa Seri Negara.

“We were surprised that the plan to demolish Pudu Jail excited a lot of young people. It was discussed in their blogs. We felt that even the young people were interested in heritage. To them, this was a very real issue because Pudu Jail was a place they passed by every day so they could relate to it.

“On the other hand, very few people talked about Carcosa. In the press, Carcosa got greater coverage, especially in the business newspapers, while Pudu Jail was ignored.”

Conservationists, says Elizabeth, still has a lot to learn about how to make things relevant to people in a language that they can undertand.

She wonders if the time will come when people will get excited about heritage like they do about environmental conservation.

“People can now identify with the environment cause because it affects everyone,” says Elizabeth. “If there is a drought or the haze comes back, everyone feels it. So for the people involved in environmental issues, they can now talk about the carbon footprint or climate change and these are translated into everyday issues that the ordinary citizen can identify with.”

The key to a greater understanding of heritage, she says, must begin at an early age.

“We are not taught values in school. I love history and had good history teachers in my schooldays. But nowadays, history is simply recording things of the past but not about lessons to be learnt.”

She laments that although Malaysia is very rich culturally, we often come across as bland.

“Why can’t we be a rainbow? Why must we always be a melting pot, when everything mixes together and the outcome is a dull grey?”

By her argument, an understanding of our diversity will invariably lead to an appreciation of our heritage, in both the grand and the ordinary.

And what about the role of government and Corporate Malaysia?

Elizabeth is optimistic.

She sees an increasing awareness and commitment on the part of governments, especially at the local council levels, where organisations like Badan Warisan are able to work together.

“The government is supportive in many ways,” she says. “But we also understand that as long as heritage conservation is seen as a niche thing, it will always rank behind bigger issues like education, poverty eradication. Our job is to collaborate with them and share our research.”

As for Corporate Malaysia, she notes that some companies already see heritage conservation as a social responsibility that transcends economic opportunities. This is a form of CSR, she says, and the challenge is to let them realise that they can own property that may not be on the heritage list but are heritage property, nevertheless.

Elizabeth believes strongly that society is what you build, and if you, as a corporate entity, do not contribute to helping build it, you won’t have much to speak of at the end of the day, “You will have money, but no soul,” she declares.

She cites the example of Stadium Merdeka and how it was thankfully saved from being taken down to make way for a massive commercial development.

“We have to give Tun Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid (former Chief Secretary to the Government, and now president of Badan Warisan) credit for saving the two stadiums and restoring them to their former glory,” she says.

“Can you imagine preserving such a heritage site only on a video clip? You tell your children about our independence being declared at Stadium Merdeka, and you can’t show them the stadium.”

To Elizabeth, if even such an important monument can be at risk, what more the ordinary but meaningful heritage sites that dot the length and breadth of the country.

Away from work, spending time with her lawyer husband and their two children, a son, 21, and a daughter, 17, is a wonderful way to relax.

“I read and also go walking with friends… the usual things,” she laughs.

“I am glad that my children understand and appreciate the work I am doing. My son used to complain that everywhere he goes, people ask about his famous mother.

“My husband gives me valuable insights into weighing the needs of conservation with the property rights of the individual.”

I could not resist asking her, at the end of the interview, about her equally famous sisters, Jane and Mary.

She laughs out loud. “They tell me that when they meet people, they are always asked about Elizabeth. Of course, the reverse is true, and I am often asked about them.”

Jane is a professor of virology at University Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) while Mary is an anaesthesiologist at Selayang Hospital. Which is why, for the purpose of this story, we are using Elizabeth instead of Cardosa.

Tea with Datuk Ibrahim bin Ismail 24 May 10am

Monday 24 May 10 am Dataran Muzium  (outdoor shaded area between Muzium Negara and National Museums Department)

Datuk Ibrahim bin Ismail, Director-General, National Museums Department

Come and meet Director-General Datuk Ibrahim Ismail, National Museums Department, Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture. This is your opportunity to ask questions and learn about future plans the National Museums Department has for working with the MVM.

Please do come. Chrissy needs numbers for catering purposes so email her if you are attending.

Visit to Yogyakarta, Borobodur and Prambanan

Visit to Indonesia

In March, seven intrepid MVMers flew off on AirAsia to Yogyakarta in Central Java. We spent two nights in Yogyakarta and visited two major UNESCO sites – the Prambanan complex of Hindu Temples and the Buddhist stupa and temple complex of Borobudur. We also visited the Kraton or royal palace of the Hamengkubuwono Sultanate, in the centre of Yogyakarta. This is the last remaining Sultanate in Indonesia.

Wow! What a cultural feast we had. The two UNESCO sites are quite different in style with the Hindu Prambanan temple complex being a collection of sharp, jaggedly sculpted towers in contrast to the vast horizontal bulk of Buddhist Borobudur. However, they both date from approximately the same period, around the middle of the Ninth Century AD. Both were also forgotten and swallowed up by the jungle until colonial explorers relocated them in the Nineteenth Century. And both are a reasonably short drive from Yogyakarta.

We climbed up Borobudur for sunrise, which was totally magical.  Even though Borobodour is the biggest tourist destination in Indonesia, there were only a dozen other people watching the sun come up.

Please enjoy the pictures, courtesy of MVMer Karen Loh.

Lorien Holland

Early morning at Borobodur

Zahara and See Ting watching sun rise at Borobudur

Prambanan Temple Complex

Coffee Morning for New Recruits 16 June 10am

Coffee Morning Wednesday 16 June 10am MVM Room, National Museums Department

The 2010-2011 Docent Training Programme is now open for applications and will be starting in September, with weekday and weekend sessions both running. If you know anyone who is interested in joining, please tell them about the coffee morning on 16 June when MVM volunteers will be on hand to explain the training programme and what it entails.

May Newsletter message from Chrissy

Dear MVMers,

Congratulations to all our graduates of 2010, and welcome to the guiding programme. The MVM Committee is already gearing up for our new intake of trainees in September.  Weekday training will begin on Tuesday 14th September and weekend training will commence on Saturday 18th September. A recruitment Coffee Morning will be hosted by the MVM in our new offices at the  National Museums Department on Thursday June 16th at 10.00am.  Please encourage your friends and colleagues to attend there will be plenty of volunteers on hand to explain what the MVM does, as well as giving details about the training programme and answering any questions or concerns.

As you know, in February we expanded our weekday tours to 4 days a week in English and 2 days a week in French, and one weekday in Japanese. We continue to provide weekend tours. In addition, there are Malay and Mandarin tours during the school holidays and one Saturday a month a Japanese guided tour is conducted.  From September we plan to expand the English guided tours to 6 days a week, which means Monday through Saturday, as our great new graduates have provided the numbers to boost the programme.

In May the MVM moved its office and library from Muzium Negara to the National Museums Department, which is the parent body for the museum. The actual location is up the glass elevator that you see as you walk towards our old office in Muzium Negara. Our new offices are very spacious, light, air conditioned and there is plenty of room for the books and all our schools programme equipment.  There is adequate seating and a good size table for meetings. The new room is next door to the Secretariat which has been set up by the Department of Museums. It is run by Jamil with the help of Fiza, Visa, and Maisaraf  to help the MVM with its administrative needs. Please do drop by, take a look and introduce yourselves to the folks at the Secretariat. We are still in the process of sorting out various projects such as new ID Cards, guide vests, publicity material and events but we will keep you up-to-date through the newsletter and the Yahoo site.

On Monday 24th May we have arranged a meeting at the Dataran at 10.00am so that the volunteers can meet and talk to Datuk Ibrahim bin Ismail, the Director General of the National Museums Department.  I know he is looking forward to the event and hope to see as many of you as possible.

This time of year is always a little sad as we have to say goodbye to our volunteers who will be leaving Malaysia over the next few months.  We are planning a ‘Farewell Lunch’ to which everyone is invited on Thursday 24th June. I will send out further details nearer the time, but please put the date in your diaries.

I look forward to seeing you all very soon at the events we have planned.  As always if you have any comments or ideas please email us.

Chrissy Lioe

MVM President

The Glass Elevator that leads up to the MVM Room

THE new light and airy MVM Room