CULTURE IN MALAYSIA
Julia Zappei of AFP wrote: “For much of Malaysia's recent history, an authoritarian government focused on economic development -- making it one of Southeast Asia's most affluent nations, while religious and political constraints stunted the arts and culture scene. But since strongman ruler Mahathir Mohamad retired in 2003, society is gradually relaxing, with more people expressing themselves via art and some collectors looking for edgier works. The former British colony has no deep-rooted art tradition, having developed as an agrarian society that drew large numbers of Chinese and Indian immigrants more concerned with economic survival than art and leisure. Religious and social taboos in the country of 29 million people have also been blamed for stifling more challenging art. [Source: Julia Zappei, AFP, December 13, 2012 *^*]
On a visit to Japan, Mahathir sharply criticized young Japanese for looking different. "Japanese youths want to be blonds, work less and play more. The traditional Japanese and Eastern culture is being discarded and replaced with Western culture with disregard for filial piety and discipline."
History of Culture and Arts in Malaysia
Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Finnish Theatre Academy wrote: “The Malay Peninsula is the cradle of the tradition of Malay culture, which extends to prehistoric stone monuments. The Malays have been active mariners for over two millennia, which explains the expansion of the Malay culture to various parts of Southeast Asia. Because of its geographical location, the Malay Peninsula has served as a kind of bridge between mainland and archipelagic Southeast Asia, which has shaped Malaysia’s multi-ethnic culture greatly. The Strait of Malacca was, for a long period, an important junction of sea routes connecting Southeast Asia to India, China, and later also to the Arab world. It was precisely the flourishing sea trade that made the region later attractive for the Western colonial powers, first the Portuguese, then the Dutch, and finally the British.” [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki |~|]
“Malaysia combines a variety of ethnic and cultural elements: indigenous Malay, Javanese, Sumatran, Thai, Arab, Indian, Chinese, etc. The Indianised court culture, so dominant in the early kingdoms of Southeast Asia, was probably adopted from Java and Sumatra. Before the Malays adopted Islam in the 13th and 14th centuries the Indian influence had been dominant since the early centuries AD. In a similar way as in the neighbouring areas, both on the Southeast Asian mainland as well as in the archipelago, there also existed an early Indian-influenced kingdom in the regions of present-day Malaysia. Although mentioned in both Chinese and Indian sources, the history of the kingdom of Langkasuka, situated in the northeast coast of the peninsula, is not known in detail. |~|
“Many of the still extant indigenous theatre and dance traditions of Malaysia, in fact, originate from the regions of ancient Langkasuka, thus confirming the continuation of the region’s Hindu-Buddhist culture. This region, Pattani, has belonged from time to time to the Thai kingdoms, which explains the close relation of the performing traditions of northeastern Malaysia and southernmost Thailand. |~|
“Malacca, a strategically well-located kingdom controlling the trade in the Strait of Malacca, was converted to Islam in 1402. Thus, through the sea routes new cultural ties were established, this time with Islamic West India and the Arab world. This resulted in a new kind of syncretism combining elements from Islam as well as from the earlier animistic and Hindu-Buddhist traditions. |~|
“The ruling class of the sultanate had close ties with Islamic India, from where some of the sultans or their forefathers had arrived. Javanese influences continued to be felt, even during the period of Malaccan hegemony, as the sultan had huge retinues of Javanese workers and servants. The Sultanate of Malacca thus laid the basis not only for the Islamisation of the peninsula but also for its ethnic diversity, which was gradually also enriched by Chinese immigrants. The Portuguese conquered Malacca in 1511, heralding a long period of Western domination in the area of present-day Malaysia. The centre of Islamic culture moved to the sultanates of the east coast of the Malay Peninsula. Dominant factors in their culture were and still are the almost deified sultan, his palace (istana) and, of course, the mosque.” |~|
Straits Chinese and Peranakan Chinese-Malay
Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Finnish Theatre Academy wrote: “From the 15th century Chinese traders began to settle in both Insular and Peninsular Southeast Asia. In the regions of the Malay Peninsula, Chinese communities started to emerge, especially along the west coast, in what was to become known during the British colonial period as the Straits Settlements: Penang, Malacca and Singapore. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki]
These “Straits Chinese” adapted to local conditions and developed a unique eclectic culture of their own. It includes eclectic architecture, and Chinese-influenced crafts. To a lesser degree they also maintain their, originally Chinese, forms of puppetry and opera, thus adding one more aspect to Malaysia’s heterogeneous theatrical tradition.
In this historical context it is only natural that the Malaysian theatrical tradition became diverse in nature. The various ethnic groups had their own drama traditions, none of which ever rose to the status of a national or classical form. In the late 20th century, when fundamentalist Islam gained power, the central government has, if not completely banned, at least restricted many of the traditional performing arts traditions.
The Peranakan Chinese-Malay culture flourished in southwest Malaysia from the 17th century to its peak at the turn of the 20th. The Peranakan culture, also known as Baba-Nyonya — men were called babas, women were nyonyas — incorporated Dutch, English, Portuguese and Indian influences. The Peranakan were aficionados of Victorian fashion in the 19th century.
Indigenous Traditions: Main Puteri and Mak Yong
Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Finnish Theatre Academy wrote: “Like most of the Southeast countries, Malaysia also has several theatre and dance traditions that still clearly have their roots in indigenous animism. Many of them have flourished in Sabah and Sarawak and at least two in the Malay Peninsula. These two are the healing ritual called main puteri and an indigenous form of sung dance-drama, called mak yong. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki |~|]
“Main puteri is a healing ritual with some theatrical features. It has been practised in the state of Kelantan, on the east cost of the peninsula. Its primus motor is a shaman (bomoh), who also often plays a three-stringed rebab violin. With his or her assistant the shaman aims to heal a patient by personifying the illness as a malevolent spirit. Main puteri has features common to some other animistic ritual performances around Southeast Asia and even Sri Lanka. This seems to confirm the fact that it is indeed is a tradition originating from pre-Islamic times. It may also reflect the Tantric belief-system, common in regions before the arrival of Islam. |~|
“The rituals usually take place at night. Hours of prayers are followed by invocations and offerings. The actual healing ritual is saved until just before the dawn, when the spirits are believed to be forced to withdraw from the human world. The main puteri ceremony is accompanied by a small orchestra. The ceremony usually takes one whole night to perform, sometimes even several nights. |~|
“The theatrical features of a main puteri ritual include dances accompanied by singing and an orchestra. The spirit’s arrival is made known by the change of the dance style towards uncontrolled, jerky trance movements. Then follows the actual communication with the spirit including offerings and negotiations by the shaman. This dialogue-like communication with the spirit of the illness may last long and it often includes even obscene humour.” |~|
Malaysia - Truly Asia or Truly Bizarre?
In January 2007, Reuters reported: “Malaysia has launched its biggest tourism drive since independence under its famous slogan "Malaysia: Truly Asia", but it may as well read "truly bizarre". Recent visitors to the Southeast Asian nation have read serious newspaper articles about miracle healers and a mysterious giant ape in the country's southern jungles. Now, there is a woman who apparently secretes gem-stones out of her big toes. The wondrous toes of 23-year-old Siti Suhana Saadon, a rubber-tapper's daughter, have become a media sensation, drawing serious commentary from health officials and medical experts. Welfare authorities have even offered to pay for tests to be carried out on the poor villager and her collection of clear round stones, the New Straits Times said on Thursday. "I would like to see her. Her condition is very unusual," the mainstream daily quoted a senior academic as saying. [Source: Reuters, January 25, 2007 *^*]
“Malaysians are willing to suspend disbelief when dealing with the supernatural, if recent newspaper coverage is any guide. Last year, conservationist Vincent Chow captured headlines at home and abroad by saying he had found evidence of a "Bigfoot" wandering the jungles of Johor state, leaving footprints the size of dinner plates and impressive piles of scatological evidence. "Malaysians may be in for the biggest scientific discovery in human history if the theory of the biodiversity expert Vincent Chow on the origin of the creature called 'big-foot' is proven true," state news agency Bernama declared last June. *^*
“For tourists who like the bizarre and unexplained, Malaysia also offers a crocodile-whisperer and until recently a special exhibit of ghoulish human-looking remains, known as 'jenglot', which are vampires according to Malay folklore. Standing up to a metre (3 ft) tall, 'jenglot' appear to have charred skin, long black hair and sharp fangs. They are used in villages as a spiritual guard dog to scare off trespassers. Last year's exhibit drew big crowds to a small museum outside Kuala Lumpur, including a local paranormal investigation group, Seekers, which reportedly put some of the figures in a room under 24-hour camera surveillance to catch any of them moving about. Seekers has yet to announce a breakthrough. *^*
“It is also too late to see Malaysia's "Snake King", Ali Khan Samsuddin, who spent 25 years mesmerising scorpions and snakes during live performances. He died last month after being bitten by a king cobra that failed to fall under his spell. But famed crocodile whisperer Cheek Inu, aged in his 70s, is still communicating with the fearsome reptiles, in the frontier state of Sarawak, on Borneo island, though some refuse to listen. "His prowess is not a myth as he has proven his ability in various past incidents," the New Straits Times said in September after Cheek Inu was called in to help capture a crocodile that had eaten a 12-year-old boy swimming in the Sarawak River. Seven years ago, Cheek Inu was credited with coaxing a 5.5 metre (18 ft) crocodile to come out of hiding, crawl up a river bank, turn over and die. Unfortunately, the 12-year-old boy's killer proved to be far more stubborn and remained at large.” *^*
Cultural War Between Malaysia and Indonesia
John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “ For decades, Uni Histayanti has performed the enigmatic movements of her country's traditional pendet dance. She learned the rhythms as an infant and years ago opened a dinner theater in Jakarta where, dressed in native costume, she performs nightly. As she flutters her arms bird-like, darts her eyes and tilts her head at exotic angles, she invokes the welcoming spirit of the Hindu-majority Bali island where it originated centuries ago. That's why it floored her to hear that neighboring Malaysia had reportedly tried to seize the pendet as its own. It's pure cultural piracy, Histayanti insists. And it makes her mad. "It's a symbol of our heritage, not theirs," she said as she applied makeup in a backstage dressing room of her theater. "If you have something and someone tries to steal it, you take it back." [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, October 21, 2009 <>]
“These two predominantly Muslim neighbors, which share ethnic and physical traits, are engaged in a tense struggle for superiority. Nowadays, the rift is widening. It's cultural. It's political. And recently, it has gotten personal. Many Malaysians dismiss the teeming Indonesian archipelago as a source for the low-class maids, parking-lot jockeys and waiters who work in Kuala Lumpur and other cities in Malaysia. For their part, Indonesians icily counter that Malaysia is so desperate for a culture that it will resort to anything -- even outright theft -- to acquire one. <>
“The pendet dance tiff is only one example of battle over so-called proprietary traditions. “A fresh skirmish of the culture wars breaks out now and then when Indonesians claim Malaysians have yet again plagiarized their indigenous art and music. Malaysians have reportedly laid claim to the Indonesian reog performances -- a mix of dance and magic, as well as the angklung, a bamboo musical instrument, activists say. In 2007, Indonesia threatened legal action against Malaysia for allegedly co-opting Indonesian songs and dances in its national tourism campaign. That resulted in a high-profile panel being convened to settle the dispute. <>
“Many in Indonesia claim that even Malaysia's national anthem borrows from an Indonesian song. Experts solicited to settle the fight reported that both songs borrow from a 19th century French tune. At home, many Indonesians say, Malaysians are protective of their own culture. When a wave of Indonesian pop music began receiving play on radio stations there a year ago, officials sought to set a strict quota: 90 percent Malaysian songs and 10 percent Indonesian.” <>
Cultural War Between Malaysia and Indonesia Get Ugly
John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times, ““The pendet dance tiff emerged in the summer of 2009 when rumors spread that Malaysia was responsible for television ads claiming the invention of the pendet dance. Within days, a private company producing a program for the Discovery Channel admitted they were behind the ads and that they had mistakenly picked the wrong dance to promote their upcoming program. The Malaysian government, they explained, had nothing to do with the foul-up.” [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, October 21, 2009 <>]
“But it was too late. Indonesia's feathers had been ruffled. Indonesia's tourism minister demanded a written apology, which he said was needed for the record. Meanwhile, outraged Indonesians waged a "Crush Malaysia" campaign reminiscent of a nationalistic tirade in the 1960s. This time, mobs burned the Malaysian flag, which features a crescent moon and sun, and threw rotten eggs at the embassy in Jakarta. <>
“For days, protesters wielding sharpened bamboo sticks stopped traffic in search of Malaysian motorists and pedestrians. Six Indonesians were arrested. No one was injured, but the Malaysian Embassy complained about the safety of its citizens. Internet hackers attacked Malaysian government websites. One nationalist youth group began collecting signatures on the Internet for volunteers willing to go to war with Malaysia. Though the leaders of the youth group concede that such a face-off is extremely unlikely, they say they have stockpiled food, medicine and weapons such as samurai swords and ninja throwing-stars.” <>
The Straits Times reported: “The curious tiff between Malaysia and Indonesia defies rationality. Vigilante gangs in Indonesia have sought to "sweep" Malaysians out at roadblocks. Protesters have pelted the Malaysian embassy with bad eggs. These came about after Indonesians accused Malaysians of hijacking a Balinese dance for a promotional campaign on Malaysia. The affair is doubly irrational when one considers the fact that the error was committed not by Malaysia but by the widely watched cable Discovery Channel. [Source: The Straits Times, September 14, 2009]
Bitter Feelings Behind the Cultural War Between Malaysia and Indonesia
John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Such high jinks baffle many Malaysians, not to mention Indonesians."These guys with pointed sticks, they're from the loony left," said Ong Hock Chuan, a Malaysian-born public relations consultant who lives in Jakarta. "If it wasn't Malaysia, they'd vent their anger at something else." But many others here say the resentment is widespread and runs deep. Newspapers run stories about mistreatment of some of the 2 million Indonesian workers by their bosses in Malaysia. Last year, Indonesia temporarily stopped sending maids to Malaysia until better security was provided for the workers. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, October 21, 2009 <>]
"Many who want to invade Malaysia are former migrant workers or people who know one," said Aleksius Jemadu, a political scientist at Pelita Harapan University in Indonesia. "There is a sense that Malaysians look down on us. They insult us. And to tell you the truth, many Indonesians are secretly envious because they view most Malaysians as being better off than us." The two governments also remain at loggerheads. "Each wants to be seen as the regional leader in Southeast Asia," he said. "They both claim to be the leading Muslim nation." <>
“The vitriol and bad feelings spill over into politics. Animosity rose this summer after two Jakarta hotels were bombed, an attack apparently planned by a Malaysian citizen linked to Al Qaeda, Noordin Mohammad Top, who was later killed. Ong, the Malaysian Indonesian consultant, writes on his blog that Indonesians should be angry at their own government "for doing so little to capitalize on their culture, which is varied and rich beyond description, and hence letting great opportunities slip away." But Ong says there is much blame to go around. The Malaysian government, he says, "needs to get off its high horse" and treat Indonesian officials as equals. For now, Histayanti says, she will continue to perform the pendet dance for all her customers -- even Malaysians. "I feel sorry for them," she said. "They're just jealous of us." <>
The Straits Times reported: “ Malaysia has progressed much faster than Indonesia and jobs are more plentiful than could be created in Indonesia for its much bigger population. The economic gap has resulted in a flood of surplus Indonesian workers into Malaysia to do '3D' (dirty, dangerous and demeaning) jobs in sectors such as construction, plantations and household help. Against this backdrop, ordinary Indonesians rile against being treated as second-class by their kinsmen. Some insensitive Malaysians exacerbate matters when they assert their position in the superior-subordinate relationship. The curious tiff between Malaysia and Indonesia defies rationality. Vigilante gangs in Indonesia have sought to "sweep" Malaysians out at roadblocks. [Source: The Straits Times, September 14, 2009]
“Both countries would do well to stress their common and shared cultural heritage, rather than allow their citizens to score nationalist points by declaring exclusive ownership of cultural symbols. As one Malaysian minister has noted, India did not make any noise about Hindi songs being sung in Malaysia and Indonesia. (To buttress the point, India has also never protested against the use of its great Ramayana and Mahabharata epics in Indonesia's wayang kulit.) [Ibid]
Art in Malaysia
Malaysia is not really regarded as a major art center. One Malaysian art dealer told the International Herald Tribune that the art that sells best n Malaysia is “chocolate-box art—kittens and still lifes and swaying coconut trees.”
Charlie Cham is perhaps Malaysia’s best-known modern artists. Based in Malacca, he sells much more of his art abroad than he does it home. His works feature abstract figures against bright-colored backgrounds. The government has been critical of his work. One painting shown at a hotel had “vaguely drawn genitalia.” A government officials spotted it and inked over the genitals with a magic marker. The paintings were then removed and haven’t been seen since.
Cham told the International Herald Tribune, “Many people here think that a neatly executed watercolor is great art. Someone once came in here, pointed to a figure in one of my paintings and asked why one leg was bigger than the other. ‘Can you draw?’ He asked.”
Malaysian Art Scenes Open Up a Little in the 2010s
Julia Zappei of AFP wrote: “Finishing art school, Haslin Ismail began as the typical struggling student, selling just a few of his mixed media fantasy pieces for a few hundred dollars each over five years. But in September, a buyer at one of a sudden spate of Malaysian art auctions spent 30,800 ringgit ($10,100) for a wall-sized Haslin painting full of outlandish images including a large human foot without skin. "It's still quite risky to become an artist... but actually there is positive development. It has changed a lot," the soft-spoken 28-year-old said. Muslim-majority and affluent, Malaysia is known more for Islamic conservatism and a consumerculture embodied by its air-conditioned shopping malls than for the Bohemian pursuit of art. But a nascent art boom is under way as the industry seeks to replicate the huge recent success in such markets as China and Malaysia's neighbour Indonesia. [Source: Julia Zappei, AFP, December 13, 2012 *^*]
“Art auctions were once unknown, but five major sales were held in Malaysia in 2012, earning more than 13 million ringgit, with domestic art fetching ever-higher prices. New galleries have sprouted with works depicting traditional village scenes, cautious commentary on modern society, or the wild imaginations of artists like Haslin. "Prices have been rising and it has positively affected some of the younger artists," said Ray Langenbach, an artist and art professor at Tunku Abdul Rahman University, who added that high prices in more established markets were stirring interest in Malaysia. "It's the least-tapped of the region's markets." *^*
“For much of Malaysia's recent history, an authoritarian government focused on economic development -- making it one of Southeast Asia's most affluent nations, while religious and political constraints stunted the arts and culture scene. But since strongman ruler Mahathir Mohamad retired in 2003, society is gradually relaxing, with more people expressing themselves via art and some collectors looking for edgier works. *^*
“In May, a vast 1984 abstract of interwoven, multi-colored lines by late painter Ibrahim Hussein sold for nearly 800,000 ringgit -- a record high for a Malaysian art work at auction. A painting by abstract artist Abdul Latiff Mohidin fetched 715,000 ringgit at an auction in early December, while another sold in October for 605,000 ringgit. Both sold well above their reserve prices. Buyers, meanwhile, also have snapped up paintings of ethnic Indian rubber tappers and portraits of Malay women in the country's colourful batik fabrics -- expressions of Malaysia's multi-cultural make-up.” *^*
Challenges for Malaysian Artists
Julia Zappei of AFP wrote: “But there are doubts over how long the current interest will last.The former British colony has no deep-rooted art tradition, having developed as an agrarian society that drew large numbers of Chinese and Indian immigrants more concerned with economic survival than art and leisure. Religious and social taboos in the country of 29 million people have also been blamed for stifling more challenging art. "For the moment, it's very, very hot," said Linda Leoni, business manager of Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers, which staged Malayia's first auction in 2010 and has held three this year. "Can we sustain the level? We have yet to see." [Source: Julia Zappei, AFP, December 13, 2012 *^*]
“But Langenbach said more daring art is slowly emerging. "I think new artists are definitely coming up... A more political art has come out recently," Langenbach said. He cited as one example of such art Poodien, or Shaifuddin Mamat, whose dark works suggest a disillusionment with politics and the modern world. *^*
“But government support for art remains limited and lacks the "vision" to encourage more experimental themes and art forms, Langenbach said. Auctions and other public sales steer largely clear of what little edgy content there is, and collectors are mostly Malaysians, with broad international interest elusive. "For a serious collector, there is very little choice, really," said Pakhruddin Sulaiman, a lawyer and art collector.” *^*
“Bayu Utomo Radjikin, one of the country's most established figurative painters, is part of a collective formed in 1989 by five Malaysian artists that today aims to encourage emerging artists. Bayu said many younger artists who came of age under Mahathir were still struggling to find their voices, adding that art will not truly develop until more artists find ways around the taboos. *^*
"Malaysia is safe and comfortable, so that shows in their art, and we (Malaysians) are easy to satisfy," he said. Haslin, a Muslim Malay, says the current interest nonetheless makes survival easier for new graduates, and he lets buyers find their own meaning in his art. "I am not interested in political events or stories," he said in his small home studio, crammed with large canvases and the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings action figures that he collects. "But I think it's good if the audience can relate it to political (issues) because that is the power of the paintings. It can influence the audience to think," he said. *^*
Traditional Architecture in Malaysia
Traditional Malay architecture employs sophisticated architectural processes ideally suited to tropical conditions such as structures built on stilts, which allow cross-ventilating breeze beneath the dwelling to cool the house whilst mitigating the effects of the occasional flood. High-pitched roofs and large windows not only allow cross-ventilation but are also carved with intricate organic designs. Traditional houses in Negeri Sembilan were built of hardwood and entirely free of nails. They are built using beams, which are held together by wedges. A beautiful example of this type of architecture can be seen in the Old Palace of Seri Menanti in Negeri Sembilan, which was built around 1905. [Source: Malaysia Government Tourism]
Today, many Malay or Islamic buildings incorporate Moorish design elements as can be seen in the Islamic Arts Museum and a number of buildings in Putrajaya - the new administrative capital, and many mosques throughout the country. Moorish architecture hails from North Africa and Spain. Characteristic elements include muqarnas, horseshoe arches, voussoirs, domes, crenellated arches, lancet arches, ogee arches, courtyards, and decorative tile work.
In Malaysia, Chinese architecture is of two broad types: traditional and Baba-Nyonya. Examples of traditional architecture include Chinese temples found throughout the country such as the Cheng Hoon Teng that dates back to 1646. Many old houses especially those in Melaka and Penang are of Baba-Nyonya heritage, built with indoor courtyards and beautiful, colourful tiles.
With most of Malaysian Hindus originally from Southern India, local Hindu temples exhibit the colourful architecture of that region. Built in the late nineteenth century, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Kuala Lumpur is one of the most ornate and elaborate Hindu temples in the country. The detailed decorative scheme for the temple incorporates intricate carvings, gold embellishments, hand-painted motifs and exquisite tiles from Italy and Spain. The Sikhs, although a small minority, also have their temples of more staid design in many parts of the country.
Two unique architectural highlights of the indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak are longhouses and water villages. Homes to interior riverine tribes, longhouses are traditional community homes. These elongated and stilted structures, often built of axe-hewn timber, tied with creeper fibre and roofed with woven atap or thatched leaves, can house between 20 to 100 families. Rustic water villages built on stilts are also commonly found along riverbanks and seafronts. Houses are linked by plank walkways with boats anchored on the sides. Transport around the village is usually by sampan or canoe.
See Separate Article HOMES AND TOWNS IN MALAYSIA
Colonial Architecture in Malaysia
The architectural styles of the different colonial powers are used in many buildings built between 1511 and 1957. The best examples of colonial architecture in Malaysia are found in Melaka (Malacca). Melaka and George Town have developed over 500 years of trading and cultural exchanges between East and West in the Straits of Malacca. The influences of Asia and Europe have endowed these towns with a specific multicultural heritage; of government buildings, churches, squares and fortifications. Melaka demonstrates the early stages of this history originating in the 15th-century Malay sultanate and the Portuguese and Dutch periods beginning in the early 16th century while the residential and commercial buildings of George Town represents the British era from the end of the 18th century to the middle of the 20th century. Together they constitute a unique architectural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia and have been recognised as the World Heritage listed, ‘Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca.’
The most notable example of Portuguese architecture in Malaysia is the A'Famosa fort in Melaka, which was built by Alfonso d'Albuquerque in 1511. Nearly annihilated by the Dutch, only a small part of the fortification is still on the hill overlooking the Melaka town, old port and the Straits of Melaka.
There are several examples of Dutch architecture in Melaka. The Stadthuys with its heavy wooden doors, thick red walls and wrought-iron hinges is the most imposing relic of the Dutch period in Melaka. It is a fine example of Dutch masonry and woodworking skills. Built between 1641 and 1660 it is believed to be the oldest building in the East.
Among the most significant landmarks built by the British is theSultan Abdul Samad Building, which grandly overlooks the Merdeka Square, Kuala Lumpur. This Moorish beauty, completed in 1897, served as the Colonial Secretariat offices during the British administration. Pre-Merdeka or pre-independence shophouses still emanate the characteristic charm of their earlier days. A display of English ingenuity is the 'five-foot-way' or covered sidewalk designed to shield pedestrians from the heat and rain.
Malaysian Architecture and Climate
In their paper “Malaysian Architectural Identity,” Wan Sharizatul Suraya and Wan Mohd Rashdi wrote: “In hot and wet climate country, spaciousness and wind orientation are essential design considerations as these allow ventilation in designing a building, referring to Malaysian traditional house, long overhangs, large and many windows, screens, and high pitched roofs are elements resulting comfort and ease of the residents. [Source: Wan Sharizatul Suraya bt Wan Mohd Rashdi, Malaysian Architectural Identity, April 11, 2013 |<|]
“The basic concept demands that direct sunshine and heat be kept out, as much the rain. Roof are often steeply pitched to facilitate water drainage and to provide a large, ventilated roof space below which allows warm air to dissipate and the building to keep cool. Large overhangs prevent rain from entering, offer sun shading, and reduce unwanted glare. |<|
The Salinger House has wide overhanging roof eaves to protect windows from sun and rain. Multi paneled, fenestration carvings or louvres are designed to encourage air movements, and gaps under the roof also allowing air to enter the house. |<|
Modern Malaysian Architecture
In their paper “Malaysian Architectural Identity,” Wan Sharizatul Suraya and Wan Mohd Rashdi wrote: “Malaysian architecture shows Malaysian daily life and Malaysian aspirations. An example is National Mosque which is one of the most prominent building in Malaysia, it was built when Malaysia in the need of independence and freedom symbol. The National Mosque was one of the best mosque designs that reflect Malaysian identity (Tajuddin Mohd. Rasdi, 2000). Having a humble approach in its expression and uniqueness in the design of the roof folded plate; a metaphor of royal umbrella used in palace. Symbolically, it is meant as the leader of all other mosques. But the problem arises in the issue of Malaysian architectural identity is; we may be preoccupied away with technology and modern approach and at the same time, we neglect to think the needs of the buildings and the public aspirations. [Source: Wan Sharizatul Suraya bt Wan Mohd Rashdi, Malaysian Architectural Identity, April 11, 2013 |<|]
“Among the most prominent examples of buildings that support the quest for Malaysian identity in architecture are Tabung Haji, Maybank, and Telekom Towers. These are the buildings of the 80’s and 90’that show the identity of architecture through their unique shape of form and building designs. In the ongoing search for a Malaysian architectural identity, vernacular revivalism, Islamic symbolism and tropical design have all entered the vocabulary. The adaptation of vernacular architecture to modern building design is most evident in resort hotels which strive to offer guests an environment that reflects the surrounding cultural heritage but has yet to find its place in commercial or residential architecture. |<|
“The most outstanding buildings in reflecting those elements are National Mosque; design with the umbrella shape roof, act as the best form, reflecting the unique Malaysian identity, Lembaga Urusan Tabung Haji (LUTH) building; define with its uniqueness sleek shape, interpreting Islamic features with the combination of “Jawi” inscription and five pillars of faith of Islam concept at the structural elements, Dayabumi Complex; distinguish as one of the Malaysia’s landmark is an adaptation of Islamic arches at the floor level and Islamic motifs on the grille design which also function as sun shading devices, and last review is Putra World Trade Center; utilizing the Malay vernacular pitch roof at the building roof, step amidst the high rise surroundings. All buildings characteristic, exhibit regional character which definitely show Malaysian identity. |<|
“Designs which interpret Malaysian culture in buildings would have a concept that is being identified as Malaysian. For examples when public see some important buildings in Malaysia, they can interpret the concepts such as Malaysian dagger (keris) for Maybank Tower and fish trap (bubu ikan) or savings box (tabung) for LUTH building. These all happens because when the architect designs the building, they incorporated in mind that they are designing for the people and what public want to see. In fact, the actual architect doesn’t design towards such concepts to those building mentioned. Accidentally, they were interpreted as those symbolisms by the public. |<|
“Some buildings attempt to show Malaysia is a multiracial and multicultural community. The building serves the nation as a symbol of pride and expression of freedom. One of the examples is Central Market “Pasar Seni”. Indeed, this building is a symbol of multiracial, culture and custom of Malaysian being put in one place. The mix of all multiracial people in Malaysia becomes the identity in Malaysian architecture. |<|
“National Art Gallery, with “long ridge roof” adapted from traditional Malays house is a building that serves art expressionist and public who love art. The building exhibits all kinds of art from all ethnicity. National Museum, the building façade show the Malaysian lives also using art expression; wall paintings, design with pitched roof; again symbol of traditional Malay houses. National Theater (Istana Budaya) was influenced with ‘sirih junjung’ at the roof design. The building portrays national identity with theater play either internationally or locally. The theater show Malaysian ways of life to others. |<|
“The National Library uses the concept of a traditional ‘folded bracket head gear’ (songket tengkolok) in showing its importance as it being put at the head of men. These elements can be seen from the exterior view. While the National Science Centre shows the science concept of the building, it applies the usage of ‘geodesic domes’ a top of a circular base. Tay Kheng Soon’s (1983) research found that: Certain themes in the folk arts, such as the repetitive versions of the star pattern and scroll forms, reminiscent of vegetable forms are also widespread, and continue to be used to this date. “ |<|
Petronas Twin Tower is built using high technology and western materials but the building were designed with local ornamentation such as star pattern and adapted our climate with its sun shading devices.
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