National History Musuem, Malaysia

In the second part of his visit to Kuala Lumpur, Howsy writes about his visit to the National History Museum (Muzium Sejarah Nasional) – not to be confused with the National Museum (Muzium Negara) which in a stroke of perfect timing is going to be closed for renovations for most part of Visit Malaysia Year 2007. I’ve visited the National History Museum before, and it’s a surprisingly good museum with a narrative that takes you all the way from the prehistoric to modern period. Much of the pre- and proto- historic material is located in the ground floor of the museum, including stone tools, reproductions of monoliths, and the Terengganu Scripted Stone, which is the earliest record of Islamic influence in the country. Howsy’s account is full of pictures of the interior of the museum, but I must say that it’s worth a visit by itself.

Terengganu Scripted Stone, National History Museum Malaysia


Related Books:
Museum Treasures of Southeast Asia by B. Campell
Museums Of Southeast Asia by I. Lenzi
Early History (The Encyclopedia of Malaysia) by Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (Ed)

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

3 thoughts on “National History Musuem, Malaysia”

  1. Have to agree that the National History Museum is good and is well worth a visit.

    It’s amazing how the authorities decide to close the Muzium Negara during VMY 2007. Why on earth didn’t they plan ahead and do the renovations last year??

  2. On the bright side, at least the maritime archaeology gallery is going to be open. That, by itself, is worth a visit to an otherwise under-renovation museum.

  3. Muzium Negara, the national repository of the country’s heritage is undergoing a physical change for the first time since its inception in the early 60s. Under the patronage of Tunku Abdul Rahman, the national museum was the place to showcase a proud heritage that traverses across colors and race.

    However in recent years, the national museum and the exhibits are losing its frantic battle to draw more visitors. The museum has become notorious of becoming museum piece itself.

    Few were to be blamed.

    Society changed and museums, at least in Malaysia, are no longer the place to take your kids to. The mushrooming of mega malls did not help either.

    The axe finally came when policy makers turned blind eyed to the latest science and technology in museulogy. Key museum players simply fail to overhaul Muzium Negara and make the museum relevant to the changing taste of the public.

    Generations of visitors are continuously greeted by the same mundane features on keris, bridal chambers, stuffed animals and wayang kulit. Countless internet postings came with a frightening verdict – Muzium Negara is BORING!

    Yet there is hope now.

    Years of increasing revenue from the tourism industry have make the government to view the National Museum in a whole new perspective. Malaysian government is giving it the long overdue facelift to entice more foreigners to visit the country. In fact, the new minister in charge in his Museum Day 2008 speech, has listed it as one of the two main functions of Muzium Negara.

    The overhaul project valued at some RM20 million was first mooted in August 2006 and after several rounds of delay, the project is currently at its final stage of completion due late 2008.

    Obviously, the museum authority has high hopes. Rais Yatim was quoted to have set it on par if not exceed some of the leading museum establishments in the region, notably in Singapore. Others are predicting that ticket sales will hit all time high.

    Sadly, not much is said about the quality of the exhibition galleries.

    Gallery C and D were opened to visitors since August 2007. The new Gallery C will take visitors through the different colonial eras with dioramas of on-board a Portuguese Galleon as it pounded Malacca in the 15th century. Close by, you can pretend to be a British guard at Fort Cornwallis. Or perhaps bear witness to the signing of the Perak Treaty in the 18th century on board on a steamer. Then there is more on the bloodied history of colonial conquests and regional forces like the Dutch and Bugis.

    Gallery C also dwells on the formation years the country took as a tin and rubber producer. Ingots and a large tin dredge model gave visitors a small but impressive display of the tin industry in the country.

    It is perhaps the best of the two because visitors are left asking for more next.

    In Gallery D, nationalism theme takes center stage but ends up trying too hard to impress visitors. Bad lighting and a rather disappointing choice of displays spell future downfall.

    According to reliable inside source, the galleries have turned turf wars between the people running Muzium Negara and those from the ministry.

    The overhaul of the two galleries upstairs were administered separately and the museum management basically were told to lay their hands off. Hence the adversary. Choose carefully when you praise these galleries, otherwise you’ll get a mouthful how these galleries are no different from a showroom. You’ll hear discontentment and disapproval over how basic museum guidelines like the positioning of display fonts are thrown into the air.

    The rivalry is only natural because the first stage of the renovation are directives from the ministry and they have put something completely alien right under the nose of the Muzium Negara management.

    But on the other hand, the museum management is guilty of idling too long and not attuned to position Muzium Negara as the nation premier museum.

    However, the museum management now have their hands full of revenge at least till the year end. The stake is high for them to show how they can successfully turn around Galleries A and B on the ground floor.

    Exclusive work progress report has revealed that the star attraction in Gallery A will be the Perak Man housed in a cave diorama. Also in the pipeline is a walk through timeline of Malaysian flora and faunas and a section with the opportunity to experience ‘earthquake’.

    The source also notes that Gallery B will confine to solely feature the emergence of the Malay Sultanate since the 13th. century. Maybe offering a completely new way to view royal regalia but it would not surprise anyone if it is just to know who’s who in the Malay palaces and their long lineage.

    Nevertheless, it appears that the ‘new’ museum has completely discarded the museum early day’s concept of showcasing the many rich and colorful racial diversity. Malaysian minorities highlights are completely ignored. Polarization again bears its ugly head and Malaysians again is at its losing end.

    It is ironic to me that Muzium Negara which falls under the same ministry that oversees Unity in the country has left this important factor out when they sat collectively to plan the future for the country’s main repository of culture and heritage!

    Unless one reads along the line of the authority and their sole objective. Muzium Negara will be Malaysia’s latest cash cow and it is to bankroll on more tourists.

    One can then understand why there are also fundamental change in the new museum’s DNA.

    It has also opted to move away from research theme in their displays. Story telling now are visually more stimulating but the information is frustratingly brief. Anyone wanting a rewarding outing at the museum will find walking on the corridors of Muzium Negara is no different from browsing through tour brochures.

    Questions still remain if the rejuvenated Muzium Negara will reclaim its rightful place among Malaysians as the place to visit and the center of research in the region.

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