By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
If destroying relics of our past or doing away with something we consider kolot (primitive) then we are nowhere near the end…
The public forum organised by the Perak Heritage Society on Saturday, October 16 at Syuen Hotel provided an insight into the thinking of Perakeans at large.
Heritage, as the definition goes, is not confined to buildings alone. It covers such diverse aspects such as beliefs, culture, traditions, music, languages and folklore – to name just a few. Even the almost barren limestone outcrops that greet motorists into Ipoh on the Plus Expressway and the disused tin mining fields in Kinta Valley are items of heritage significance, however inconsequential they may be. And if this definition is to be taken in its proper context, then there is plenty for us to digest. Therefore, making Ipoh or Kinta Valley a UNESCO-listed heritage site, following on the heels of Penang and Malacca, requires more than just lip service and the frequent knee-jerk reactions associated with those within the heritage circle.
Dato’ Hamidah Osman, in her opening remarks, reminded the 100-odd participants to be committed in safeguarding the state’s heritage. “Once gone they’re gone forever,” she decried. Hamidah is right. There is no way of restoring an object to its former glory once it is destroyed. However, her plea for commitment from interested parties, individuals and the media does not necessarily absolve the authorities from blame.
”The authorities should be blamed too,” said Mohd Taib, President of Perak Heritage Society. He theorised that the failure to gazette and the reluctance to declare an entity as having heritage significance were reasons why they were being destroyed. “Commitment is a two-way traffic,” he insisted. Property owners sensing that their properties would be declared heritage sites would either sell them or have them developed. The recent destruction of a row of pre-war houses along Jalan Chung On Siew to make way for a budget hotel is proof of this phenomenon.
One significant deve-lopment arising from the forum was the RM50,000 grant from the state government to Centre-KUTAI of Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Seri Iskandar. The centre has been tasked to collect and collate folk stories from Perak and transform them into a book for dissemination to Perakeans. “The sum may not be much but it is a step in the right direction,” said Mohd Taib. However, some doubted the ability of UiTM to take on the job, let alone complete it. Evidently, the size of the grant has led some to think otherwise.
Professor Amran Hamzah of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia raised one pertinent point about heritage – Outstanding Universal Value. The universal value of a heritage site has to be identified and promoted. Kinta Valley’s association with tin mining and prospecting is second to none. In the mid-1980s when prices of tin ore fell, the valley’s prominence took a beating. Tin and anything related to the metal, is the universal value that needs to be highlighted. Therefore, maintaining an operational tin dredge, a working palong with running water and tin tailings on it and dulang washing are a must to achieve the target. Cultures, traditions, languages, tribal habitats, etc., too require exposure. “These are the intangibles which deserve similar treatment,” he remarked.
Judging from the foregoing, Perak still has a long way to go. It took Penang and Malacca almost 20 years to be where they are today.
“Some soul searching is in order if we want results,” said Mohd Taib. “And the first question we need to ask is whether we have done enough?”
If destroying relics of our past or doing away with something we consider kolot (primitive) then we are nowhere near the end.