Published: Wednesday, 25 September 2019 09:43
KUALA LUMPUR: The fire in Sungai Lembing, Pahang, on Merdeka morning, gutted 32 century-old buildings in the settlement, destroying history and the way of life of the community in a place once known as the “Eldorado of the East”. An elderly couple died in the blaze, while the community’s 50-year-old library with books chronicling its storied past, a tome twice the facility’s age and out-of-print books are among treasures reduced to ash. While some of the ex-tin-mining town’s treasures are lost, cultural activists told the New Straits Times the fire could be a wake-up call. Cultural activists, including Perak Heritage Society president Law Siak Hong, said there were lessons to be learned. “Too bad the fire happened. I am sad because it destroyed the iconic shophouses. What is going to happen now?”
“This is a wake-up call not only to preserve our past but to also look to our future. We should not focus on what is lost. We must create something good now for future use.” Law, however, said there was a dearth in the documentation. “Documenting the history of a place is essential for future planning, but we are grossly undocumented. “How are you going to know about what to do and how to do it without any knowledge?” He said there was no basic registry of heritage towns and villages. “We can’t do an audit to gauge which town or village has heritage value on a local, state or national level because we don’t know where they are or what they are about. “This is because there’s no initiative to identify them. State authorities have to carry out population, economic and historical studies before they move on to community initiatives”
He said state Town and Country Planning Departments had the budget to get the ball rolling. He said overtures could be made to neighboring or local corporations and plantations to provide funding for the plans. Law, however, said if the efforts were undertaken by the authorities, they would be “lopsided and inadequate”. “They will choose vote banks or places that have higher economic or tourist ratings. “They will use public funds for hare-brained projects that no one asked for in the first place by getting a village committee member’s consent. They will claim it’s a heritage drive or community project.” He said state authorities should use public coffers to educate the communities to empower them to make decisions for themselves and take the lead.
He said while this was “massively ambitious”, the states had to get things moving. He said they must send a team of consultants to each town or village to carry out cultural mapping. “The towns and villages must be studied and documented via cultural mapping but who is going to do the work? We have to get locals to do this because of the history of your place and its conservation matter to you and not anyone else.
“We should get consultants to shake things up and spearhead the movement by gathering people and encouraging them to get involved and say want they want. “Sometimes, it helps to suggest what they can do. Then slowly the locals have to rise up collectively, lead the movement and tell the government what they want.” He said this was one of the suggestions made in a convention attended by village heads in Putrajaya recently, where it was found that many people had no clue about what they wanted to preserve in their settlements and way of life.
Law drew on his experience in Papan, Perak, where he set up the Sybil Kathigasu memorial. He embarked on a mission to convince a community of 200 to 300 elderly folk that keeping the village vibrant was crucial to its survival. But he said it was an uphill task. “It’s a slow and painful job. Its success depends on the people’s communication, freedom and education in choosing their path. It’s democracy in the process. “The right conversations, minds as well as independent consultants have to be involved. Even if it does not work, at least we tried something.” He said ultimately the people would want to conserve their towns, villages, communities, and way of life.
He said impressing the necessity of installing fire extinguishers and putting in safety measures in people’s homes to prevent a recurrence of the Sungai Lembing fire was complex. “You may think of a building as a heritage structure, but for the person living there, it’s his house. “He might use open stoves and firewood, or even smoke in the house. You can’t stop people from living the way they want. Even handling an extinguisher for the elderly is impractical.” Badan Warisan Malaysia president Elizabeth Cardosa said while the National Heritage Department did not gazette geographical places outside buildings or sites with national significance, local councils, and state Town and Country Planning Departments could make the push by inserting them in local plans. “In the case of the state and local authorities, if the people value it, they can do that.” Associate Professor Dr. A.S. Hardy Shafii said the government had to be sincere about conserving or rebuilding villages and towns.
“Everything is related. You can’t separate tourism from culture and politics. From one angle, it is difficult to sustain conservation efforts. From the other, if you want to build something that is just a façade or a replica for tourists, then the living and breathing aspects of the place or the site disappear.” He, however, said the common thread in the understanding of heritage was either gentrification of a place or community or upgrading with poor designs and architecture.
Hardy cited George Town, Penang, as an example of where Singaporean outfits bought pre-war shophouses to be turned into cafes for tourists. This resulted in the townsfolk’s culture and traditions being obliterated. Hardy, who is doing research on waterfront cities and cultural activities, said the government must consider the reasons for rebuilding Sungai Lembing. “You need to carry out studies and engage the community when you want to build, preserve or conserve. “At the end of the day, it has to be what is sustainable and what they want as they are the custodians. It cannot be the authorities’ agenda.” Hardy said all settlements must be conserved and not just those that were predominantly Malay.
“Different cultures and communities hold a treasure trove of knowledge and traditions. We cannot be ethnocentric or chauvinistic about one culture taking precedence over another in terms of heritage and conservation.”
He drew on the shrinking Portuguese settlement in Melaka that had fallen by the wayside. “The community is unique because people are mostly related and close-knit. People come from all over the world during the San Pedro boat festival. Their brand of San Pedro is unique to Melaka.” Hardy said many things could be done to keep traditions alive and settlements vibrant. However, he said, they involved political will and professionalism. “It boils down to whether the government is sincere. If you understand what is culture and heritage, then it all boils down to professionalism. “There are many instances where the authorities bulldoze projects even though people don’t agree, and when something bad happens, they play the blame game.”
Published: Monday, 23 September 2019 16:37
KUANTAN: Pahang is set to receive investments worth RM1.386 billion from China after the east coast state inked six memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with Chinese companies in Nanning, China today. In a statement, the Pahang Menteri Besar's press secretary office said these investments include an RM522.2 million project by ND Paper (M) Bhd to set up a plant in Bentong to produce paper and pulp. "TNP Power Sdn Bhd has set aside RM341.74 million to set up a factory at the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park (MCKIP) 1 in Kuantan for combined heat and power generation, while China Travel Service Meizian Company Limited will invest RM200 million to establish an ‘Eco-Tourism City’ in Bukit Tinggi, Bentong.
"Zhongxin Resources Regeneration Technology Sdn Bhd is interested in investing RM122.48 million in a paper and plastic particles manufacturing project in MCKIP 1 while Wuxi Jinxie Industrial Company Limited will invest in an 800kw ultra-low speed wind turbine in Pulau Tioman, Rompin worth RM100 million," said the statement. The sixth company - Power China Construction Group - will invest RM100 million to build a factory that produces solar panels for homes at the Gebeng Industrial Plant in Kuantan. Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail, who witnessed the signing ceremony, described the signing as a huge achievement which will contribute significantly to the socio-economic growth of the state and its people.
"I hope the MoUs which were signed today would be turned into reality soon. This is similar to the 11 MoUs signed between the Pahang state government and several Singaporean firms in August, whereby eight of the projects are already in the final stages of being implemented," said Wan Rosdy. Earlier, Wan Rosdy paid a courtesy call to Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Governor Chen Wu. Both leaders discussed several issues including the proposal to establish direct flights between Kuantan-Nanning which would help reduce the traveling time between the two regions.