Malaysian museum pieces long gone with the wind?

A parliamentary debate over the deplorable state of Malaysia’s museums collections reveal and underlying problem: the process of colonialism have led to the exodus of many artefacts, which have now remained unrecoverable due to high prices. Is this the full story? I’m inclined to think that it’s more than that… the example cited in this story – about Sir Stamford Raffles’ letters – does not make sense. Just because Raffles wrote about Malay customs, does that automatically Malaysian property?

13 July 2007 (The Star) – A parliamentary debate over the deplorable state of Malaysia’s museums collections reveal and underlying problem: the process of colonialism have led to the exodus of many artefacts, which have now remained unrecoverable due to high prices. Is this the full story? I’m inclined to think that it’s more than that… the example cited in this story – about Sir Stamford Raffles’ letters – does not make sense. Just because Raffles wrote about Malay customs, does that automatically Malaysian property?

Museum without originals

he Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry has denied a claim by a senator that Muzium Negara was a third-class museum as it showcases only “photocopied pictures” rather than original documents and artefacts.

Its deputy minister Datuk Wong Kam Hoong said the museum was unable to display original artefacts because many of them had been taken out of the country during the colonial era.

The high price quoted by sellers to acquire the artefacts was another reason, he said.

“After the collapse of the Malacca Sultanate, we were colonised for 500 years. During the period, many artefacts of historical significance were taken out of the country.

“Since the artefacts were not smuggled out or stolen, we tried to buy them from foreign owners but they asked for exorbitant prices,” he said, refuting the claim by Senator Dr Mohd Puad Zarkashi in the Dewan Negara yesterday.

Among the items Malaysia tried to buy were letters written by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who was highly knowledgeable on Malayan history and Malay customs.

Read the full story about Malaysian museums.

Books featuring the museums of Malaysia:
Museum Treasures of Southeast Asia by B. Campell
Museums Of Southeast Asia by I. Lenzi
Extraordinary Museums of Southeast Asia by K. Kelly

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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.

One thought on “Malaysian museum pieces long gone with the wind?”

  1. It’s all too easy to blame 500 years of colonialization. I suspect more was lost during the post-Merdeka period through neglect and possibly even theft than before that.

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