Perak Heritage in Limbo

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.

12 thoughts on “Perak Heritage in Limbo

  1. Hi Darren Leong, I see that you have a very strong conviction for people to be involved in the heritage matters. If all of us could realize that ” No man is noble by birth, No man is ignoble by birth, Man is noble by his own deeds, Man is ignoble by his own deeds”. So lets start the ball rolling by u joining the PHS first!

  2. Hi Sundralingam,

    My assumption was based on the society’s web page. At “Join PHS”, all memberships listed were associated with a subscription fees regardless of status.

    A quote from the page..
    “Membership has its privileges
    Members will get on our mailing list for info and notices. Members enjoy discounts, and get priority and preferences where non-members compete for limited sources”

    Nevertheless, you guys are doing a great job! Just looking at options on how the community can be more involved in the process =)

  3. Hi Mr.Darren Leong, I wonder from where you got the information that Perak Heritage Society operates on closed membership. Just to put it on record, PHS membership is open to all heritage lovers. Its a non-profit-taking organization registered under the society Act. We network with individuals, other like minded organizations, local communities and encourage local to take pride in their “hometown heritage”.

    PHS works very hard to ensure that our heritage does not disappear so that the future generation can learn from and appreciate the leaps and bounds that human civilization have made it.

    U and the rest of the world are most welcome to join
    Perak Heritage Society. U can reach us on our or write to us at No.85 C, Jalan Sultan Abdul Jalil, 30300 IPOH.

  4. Last post was in abit of a hurry.
    @Roland: The last line meant i was agreeing with you; surprised to find that the council isn’t moving in that direction =)

  5. Hi Roland,
    Thank you for the website =) However, I did notice that the society operates on a closed membership (e.g. subcription fees, making it somewhat “exclusive”). Would have been great if they shifted to a charitable orientated organisation to garner the leverage it needs from the community.

    A good example would be “Ipohworld’s World”. Tho small and independent, i find that it has embodied the thoughts and wishes of Ipohians/Perakeans very well.

    RM50,000 on a book….for me that’ll just delay the actual work than needs to be done. It’ll take them ~2 years to get it right hopefully, but that also means 2 years lost in funds and planning for heritage conservation.

    I would have thought that the first step is to initiate a “Heritage Council” in MBI

  6. Darren,i read Perak Heritage Society blog at reporting Forum Warisan.They made proposals for state government to set up a special fund for heritage and state entity incharge for heritage management.I wonder who will listen to the noble suggestions?

  7. I agree with most of the points, especially setting up a conservation guideline. It’s been a grey matter what constitutes “heritage”.

    However, i think that sustainability has been greatly overlooked, especially from a user/tenant ‘s point of view. Some incentive/support is needed for people to restore and make use of such premises.

    -Would you risk operating/staying in a building that’s been structurally decaying for more than 40yrs?
    -If one does choose to restore and develop the heritage sites;the time and cost of the approval process by council does add up…4 steps forwards, 3 steps backwards….(it’s still progress but how long does a person have to wait for pint&steaks at FMS again)

  8. So much for the call of ‘love for our local heritage’when knowingly we see Gopeng Pipeline being dismantled,pre war buildings in Ipoh being torn down,our last tin dredge sinking etc.It is ‘love of our local heritage’that we heard Ex-Servicemen Association of Kuala Dipang eracted a monument at Kampar Green Ridge.Heritage lost!!!
    What happen to Perak Tourism Strategic Action Plan drafted by IDR?

  9. Felica, when you compare Ipoh with Taiping, concerning preserving heritage buildings, actually there is no secret. Demolitions and shacked renovation on heritage buildings in Ipoh is mainly
    due to lack of legislation, enforcement and co-ordination among different department in the
    Ipoh City Hall.

    If we are seriously in wanting Kinta Valley
    to be in the UNESCO- heritage listing, then we must start the ball rolling by at least apeing the Taiping Town Council. Thus, Ipoh City Hall must emulate Taiping Town Council’s concept with
    strick legislation and enforcement on built
    heritage besides having its own heritage
    conservation and restoration unit.

  10. Taiping started years ago (just before 2000?) by positioning itself as ‘heritage town’ with numerous ‘firsts’, though the criteria have always been challenged by historians and heritage conservationists.

    Thus, the Majlis Perbandaran Taiping had a direction and it engaged an external company to prepare conservation guidelines and later set up a unit to advise owners who apply for re-development, incluidng renovations.

    The lesson to be learned is to start considering the heritage qualities of Perak places, be they towns, villages, or a nature site. Recognise their heritage and start to take pride in them, and to think of their conservation for the future generations.

  11. it’s interesting to know that our ‘neighbour-town’ Taiping has done quite a bit to preserve their heritage. i wonder what’s their secret? maybe we could learn a thing or two from them…

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