As a Malaysian growing up just a half-hour's drive away from Kuala Lumpur, I am ashamed to say that I didn't visit the National Museum until I turned 22 (this is a literal fact, as I visited the museum on my birthday outing). Even so, better late than never! I admit that it was only after I came back from studying in Adelaide that I took a more active interest in museums and other tourist attractions in my own city, having been a long-term tourist myself in South Australia.
The National Museum, or Muzium Negara as it is known in Malay, has a story that reaches back to the year 1899 during the era of the British colonialisation. Back then, it was the Selangor Museum that stood on this spot, but the building's right wing and many artefacts were destroyed in 1945 due to bombings by the Allied Air Force. It wasn't until 14 years later that an architect by the name of Ho Kok Hoe was chosen to design the new museum, which now stands on the exact same location as the former Selangor Museum. The brand new National Museum was finally officiated on the 30 August 1963, just a day before Malaysia's 6th anniversary of independence.
Entry to the museum costs RM2 for adults and RM1 for senior citizens and the disabled, while children under 12 can enter for free. However, this price is reserved for Malaysian citizens. Foreigners must pay a RM5 entry for adults, while children between the ages of 6 and 12 are charged RM2. Kids younger than 6 can enter for free. There is also a special rate for secondary school students who are in their school uniforms - without the uniform, the entry stands at RM2.
In total there are five galleries at the museum - four are permanent all time exhibits, while the fifth is usually opened when there are special exhibitions going on (at the time of my visit, there was one on Masks of the World). Gallery A marked the beginning of our adventure into Malaysian history, travelling back in time to the earth's formation and moving gradually through prehistoric times in the Malay Archipelago.
Gallery A exhibits the prehistoric side of Malaysia.
Walking through the dimly lit gallery really brought back memories of my history textbook back in school. From earthenware to tools to skeletal remains (both actual and replicated), there is quite a lot to see here. There is even a replica of the Perak Man, a 11,000 years old human skeleton found 22 years ago in Lenggong Valley, Perak - his is the oldest human skeleton discovered in Malaysia.
The second gallery focuses on the Malay Kingdoms, a crucial backdrop of Malaysia's past. The Malay sultanate has its roots in Malacca (back then being a strategically located trading port) with the coming of Parameswara, who was later known as Sultan Iskandar Shah following his conversion to Islam. It was during the mid-15th century that Malacca experienced its glory years before its fall to the Portuguese Empire in 1511.
There is also an emphasis on the way Islam affected the traditions and culture of the era, as Malacca was seen as a center of Islam in the region. There is even an exhibit in the furthest end of the gallery that portrays the conversion of a Malay Sultan to Islam.
Gallery C: Colonial Era
A model replica of a ship belonging to the colonial powers.
The third gallery had the most interesting layout in my opinion - as you walk through the exhibits, you will wander through large replicas of forts and structures set up by the Dutch and British during their respective periods of colonialism in Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak.
This gallery boasts a number of fort replicas incorporated into its layout.
The Malay Archipelago was considered prime land all these centuries ago, mainly for the natural resources that were in high demand at the time. Tin, for instance was a huge moneymaker during the Industrial Revolution, while having control of the trade routes in the area gave the rulers a significant amount of power. Pictured above is one of the tin mining dredges constructed to meet the high demand of tin internationally.
There is supposed to be a fourth indoor exhibit called 'Malaysia Today'. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation works during the time of my visit, so I couldn't go in and take a look. According to the museum website, the gallery focuses on the formation of Malaysia and her independence from foreign rule.
Take the time to explore the area around the main building, as there are even some gravestone replicas and a small wooden kampung house on stilts. I didn't take any pictures of those unfortunately, which just gives you even more reason to drop by for a visit yourself!
The museum is definitely a must-see for both locals and tourists, giving a pretty comprehensive idea of Malaysia's past and how she got to where she is today. There are free guided tours at 10 am every day ... and as this month of August marks the country's 56th year of independence, what better time is there to visit and relive the history of the land?