Dedicated Custodians

21 March 2007.

Individuals who come from diverse backgrounds but share a common bond in being guardians of the nation’s heritage are this year’s Amazing Malaysians.

AN ARCHITECT, a farmer and a nature conservationist are among those named as “Amazing Malaysians” by DIGI Telecommunications Sdn Bhd. Another two are dedicated to preserving the culture of communities – one in historic Malacca and the other, Sabah.

The five were selected after a nationwide search which began in September last year when DIGI called upon the public to nominate heritage practitioners via its website.

A panel – including members of DIGI’s corporate responsibility team, its management team as well as some of last year’s nominees – selected this year’s Amazing Malaysians. The main criteria for the selection were the individual’s passion and dedication to heritage conservation. The sustainability of the projects within the local communities was also a factor.

“Progress adds comfort and convenience while tradition keeps us rooted. It reminds us of who we are and allows us to make huge advances into the future without losing ourselves in the process. With knowledge of the past, we strengthen the present and future,” said DIGI’s CEO Morten Lundal, when announcing the team.

Now into its third year, the Amazing Malaysians is a corporate responsibility programme which identifies individuals who are working towards preserving Malaysia’s natural, social, art, cultural or built heritage. Those so named will receive resources from DIGI to enable them to pass their knowledge and skills on to the younger generation.

Those who have received the award include architect Raja Datuk Kamarul Bahrin Shah, who rebuilt an old kampung house, with the youth who participated in the project documenting the process; “Lion Dance Sifu” Siow Ho Peng, who introduced lion dance, drumming and lion head-making to boys and girls of different ethnic groups; and arts activist Janet Pillai, who guided children to depict Penang’s history through dance, music and art.

The five who received the award this year are:

The Treasure Keeper of Kuala Lumpur’ – architect Chen Voon Fee

Chen has long been associated with the conservation of buildings. He was among those who, in 1982, set up Badan Warisan Malaysia, with which he served as council member and deputy president until 1995. The projects he has been involved in iare the Central Square at Central Market, which received a Persatuan Akitek Malaysia (PAM) award in 1991 in the Commercial Buildings category.

Under the DIGI programme, Chen will facilitate a project involving children in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. His reason for choosing this particular area goes back to when he worked on Kuala Lumpur – A Sketchbook (a book of illustrations of buildings in the city by artist Chin Kon Yit, for which Chen provided the text), 10 years ago.

“It is an area that I missed studying then,” said Chen. “There is a lot more to study, and using children in the programme will be a good way to carry on what we didn’t do.”

He added that Brickfields is one of the few areas with a built heritage that has remained intact, with the exception of the railway quarters. The recent demolition of the Bok House is an example of problems faced by those working towards conserving heritage buildings.

“Programmes like DIGI are about making people more aware of these problems,” Chen said.
‘The Rhythm Master of Negri Sembilan’ – farmer Pak Saad Harun

After spending 13 years in the army, Pak Saad became a farmer in his hometown of Kg Gagu in Jelebu, Negri Sembilan. He has also developed a passion for the randai, a theatre tradition introduced by the Minangkabau that incorporates elements of dance, drama and silat. His mastery of the randai eventually led to the formation of a cultural troupe that focuses specifically on performing the art.

In 2000, Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage Datuk Dr Rais Yatim supported an initiative to start a cultural programme aimed solely at reviving the randai.Pak Saad and his cultural troupe have performed at a number of national events, the most recent being the opening ceremony of the Anugerah Belia Kebangsaan in November 2006.

As an Amazing Malaysian, Pak Saad will teach students different aspects of the dance and equip them to stage a full performance. His hope is to inspire the younger generation to keep the tradition alive.

‘The Jungle-Wallah of Langkawi’ – island ecosystem conservationist Irshad Mobarak

Irshad worked for five years with a major bank before deciding that the corporate sector was not for him. Sixteen years ago, he made a trip to Langkawi and was captivated by the island’s beauty. He was eventually drawn to nature conservation. His interest in nature and the preservation of natural habitats and ecosystems led him to study island ecosystems.

Today, he is the resident naturalist of the Datai Resort, where he runs nature programmes for guests, focusing mainly on bird-watching and rainforest educational tours.

“I hope to show that the forest is a living community of interactive and interdependent relationships, not unlike our own relationships in our cities,” Irshad said.

In recent years, the island of Langkawi has lost nearly half of its wildlife, something that Irshad is extremely concerned about. The remaining wildlife is now concentrated in five main habitats which are cut off from each other.

Unable to move out of the areas, the wildlife and plant species are forced to in-breed, which will lead to the weakening of the genetic pool and, eventually, their extinction.

Irshad has been lobbying to create wildlife corridors to connect the five habitats. Within the local community, he has also been helping to educate fishermen on sustainable fishing while promoting conservation efforts among both islanders and developers.

For this project, Irshad hopes to create a troop of young forest rangers with a life-long sense of responsibility towards the environment.
‘The Culture Seeker of Sabah’ – assistant curator Judeth John Baptist

Baptist’s entire working career has been spent at the Sabah Museum. But it is her work in the performing arts that has led to her receiving this award. Her work at the museum, however, has exposed her to many things that she believes need to be highlighted. She has a particular passion for the culture of Sabah, especially the traditional arts and crafts of its minority indigenous communities.

In 1990, Baptist helped set up the Budaya Maju Cultural Troupe, comprising mostly youth from Kota Kinabalu. Her efforts to promote Sabahan arts and heritage have also gone beyond our shores. She has led the state-run Persatuan Seni Budaya Sabah in international folk dance festivals organised by Unesco and other international cultural agencies in South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Cambodia.

For this project, Baptist will focus on the Bajau community in Semporna, Sabah. She chose to work with a smaller community to raise awareness of the community’s cultural traditions. “Most people know about the Kadazans, for example, but not many know about the Bajaus. I will be looking at specific dances by the elderly women, and teaching them to the younger generation,” she said.

Her interests have led to published works in The Encyclopaedia of Malaysia Volume 12 – “Peoples and Traditions” and Global and Local Dance Performance.
‘The Kristang Poet of Malacca’ – (retired) specialist music teacher Joan Marbeck

Marbeck has dedicated her life to preserving the cultural heritage of the Portuguese. An important aspect of this culture is Kristang – a creolised version of the Portuguese language – which is said to have played a crucial role in unifying the Portuguese community and integrating them into Malaysian society.

Born and bred in Malacca, Marbeck is the author of two books on Kristang, entitlted Ungua Adanza (An Inheritance) published in 1995, and Linggu Mai (Mother Tongue), published in 2005. She has also written what is believed to be the first ever Kristang play, Seng Marianne.

In this project, Marbeck hopes to revive the Kristang by introducing children to its music, dance and drama.

She said: “My thanks to DIGI for giving me the opportunity to reach out to my community and others so that every Malaysian will be aware of the rich and unique Malaysian-Eurasian culture and heritage that exists in Malaysia.”

Marbeck has been lobbying for support to get Unesco to recognise hers as a Community with an Intangible Heritage. She also hopes to set up a Malaysian-Eurasian Heritage Centre and Museum in Malacca to promote the diversity of rich Malaysian cultures.

Photo: (From left) DIGI’s CEO Morten Lundal with the Amazing Malaysians: Irshad Mobarak, Pak Saad, Joan Marbeck, Judeth John Baptist and Chen Voon Fee.