Friday, February 19, 2010

Spearing your destiny

One of the longest post I've written here was a spleen venting on the sad state of the National Museum. However, I am pleased to see that things are a-changing, as evidenced by the new look to the Jabatan Muzium Malaysia's website and the multitude of exhibitions planned.

The list of museums under the Jabatan Muzium Malaysia is also quite impressive, something I am sure that many are unaware. However, this does not include the museums by the respective state governments and other institutions such as the Islamic Arts Museum under the AlBukhary Foundation. All in all, there are roughly 150 museums in total in Malaysia; from the government sponsored (federal and state), institutional or departmental (e.g the Muzium Seni Asia in Universiti Malaya) as well as private museums.

What cinched it for me was the Sg Lembing Museum of Mining in Pahang. A lovely bijou nestled in the highlands of Pahang, it documented the hey days of tin mining in Malaysia, but particularly of the state.

I had an opportunity to see it during a Kuantan family trip; a massive one comprising of 9 families to a total of 45 people.

The grand melee.

Sg Lembing was once the hub of tin mining in Pahang, boasting the deepest tin mine in the world. It is also the home of my uncle's in-laws, who kindly hosted us for a lovely morning tea. We took a moment to splash around in the deliciously cool waters of Sungai Kenau; its rich mineralised landscape evident in the colourful striations of the rocks and pebbles of the river.

Don't ask why is the Jeep resting in the river. I have no idea.

The museum is housed in what used to be the mining company manager's residence up on a steep slope of an already hilly country. Climbing up towards it was quite a challenge to some of the gang members hampered by less than ideal health condition.

The harmonious blend of colonial and local architecture, no?

The environment surrounding the museum was wonderfully landscaped to make the most of the undulating surface and the cool temperature of the highlands lent a vigor to the flowers.

Antique water tap?

Not as cool as Cameron Highlands, but delicious nonetheless.

It was documented by historians both local and foreign that tin mining has been a crucial element in the economy of the Malay states even way back during the Malacca sultanate. This means that tin mining was actively engaged in the Malay states even before the British colonialist wangled it into becoming the backbone of the British empire.

Some of the ledgers and cashbooks of the mining company.

The exhibit displayed implements used in the open mining and deep mining methods. The mining done in Sungai Lembing was the latter process, as the grounds made it impossible to have the open type mining more popular in the flatlands of Selangor and Perak. Those open mines brought about thousands of mining pools that have been converted to either aquaculture ponds or covered for commercial development.

Some scary looking instruments, yeah?

The old fashioned fire engine.

The dulang for the mendulang is actually made of wood.

The miners wore minimal clothing as the temperatures in the mines reached hellish proportions.

Tin that was extracted from the ground was processed nearby the mines for export purposes. Plating using tin made processed food production for long term storage possible in the 19th century, indirectly contributing to the economic domination of the Western powers. Today, tin is mostly used as solder, in the plastic industries and as anti-fouling agents. However, it was found that organotin compounds may have undesirable effects on the environment; hence its use is becoming more and more limited.

The granite containing tin ore.

Processed ore.

Jongkong timah. :D

Tin mining was done on mega scale by the British colonialists who brought in the Chinese coolies to work in the mines. I won't go into detail about the impact of this exercise upon the socioeconomy of the indigenous population here, but suffice to say that this changed the ethnic landscape of the Malay states dramatically. To this day, the Chinese community is very prominent in Sungai Lembing.

Lanterns to mark the lunar new year.

The managers of the mining company were usually from Great Britain. They lived in style here and some even brought their family over.

Old school trike.

Grand bedroom.

It was a pity that I didn't have much time to really go through the exhibits as I would have liked. I dawdled enough that my Mum rang me on my mobile to remind me to get down as everyone had left for lunch. There were so many more things to see; the diorama at the outside as well as other items placed outside the museum. Oh well, them's the breaks when you travel in a large group.

However, I must say that the museum was as finely appointed as the mining museum that I visited in the Blue Mountains while I was in Sydney last year. It gave me an appreciation of the impact tin mining had not only to the socioeconomy of the country but also how it contributed towards our subjugation by foreign powers. The museum brought to life a slice of history that was unbearably dry and unexciting when it was taught in school. I hope that more people make full use of the museums in the country to learn of where we came from so that we can chart where we are going next.

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