A Tale of Two Heritage Homes (Part II)

Rumah5

A stately kampung house with the selembayung gracing the roof. (Ahmad Harun)

Towards the end of my teenage years, I relocated to a contemporary Malay kampung in Ipoh – Kampung Sungai Rokam, situated roughly 6km from the Ipoh Railway Station. The name came from a fairly large-sized river that wound its way through the village. From what I recall, the houses in Sungai Rokam reflected the social standing of its occupants, ranging from pretentious stone and brick mansions to humble, modest sized dwellings. Coincidentally, the second house in Ipoh where I lived, which my dad named Istana Wazirul Akzam was located in Taman Golf, a stone’s throw away from Kampung Sungai Rokam.

The architecture of the houses in Kampung Sungai Rokam were pretty much ‘standard’ affairs. Wood and concrete were the main material. The house featured at least two entrances, a main one in front and up to three or more in the rear portion, usually for the sleeping areas and the kitchen. The house was divided into three main areas, the verandah and reception, the scullery and the sleeping area. A passageway (sometimes called the selang) is the short passageway linking them.

For the raised floor of the main structure, 
The front verandah is where it lowers, 
The elevation then shifts towards the scullery, 
Where it is raised a level in the Telo Tengah.  
(from Tenas Effendy’s Rumah)

 

Some houses also seal the lower level (where the stilts are) to convert the space into a basement or store. As the temperature here was slightly lower than the rest of the house, it often served as a welcome respite from blazingly hot afternoons. The majority of kampung houses are designed locally, and it is not surprising that the rest of the village helped out with the construction itself.

Rumah1

The Ruang Muka or main sitting room in a kampong setting. Bathed in the warmth of ambient light, it is a serene place where kinfolk take leave, sit or chat. (Ahmad Harun)

My neighbor was none other than Malaysia’s most recognizable cartoonist – Lat. He was seldom home as he worked in Kuala Lumpur, and the house was occupied mostly by his mother and his younger brother Mamat, himself a character in one of Lat’s cartoon series. Mamat had something which not many Sungai Rokam youths had – a turntable, a cool stereo and several psychedelic avant-garde albums. Many afternoons were spent with Mamat and his LPs, but only when his mother wasn’t home, as she hadn’t quite gotten used to the peculiar and otherworldly noises emitted by Mamat’s esoteric taste in music.

Like the Istana’s Balai Rong Seri, the ‘Ruang Muka’ of a kampung house is where all notable events, such as weddings and kenduris take place.

The staircase’s collar latches onto the threshold,
Its head rests beside the door frame,
Its stair-treads set in tiers and layers,
Where the Adat ascends up high,  
Where heritage treads lightly down,      
Where heel dust is scraped away,
Where feet are washed and cleansed.
(from Tunas Effendy’s Rumah)

Rumah2

Royal guests from Perak and Pahang at a wedding in the Balai Rong Seri.

Significant events, like birthdays, Hari Raya and weddings are a time of getting together for the family and friends. Participation, it goes without saying, is practically obligatory.

A place where kinfolk gather,
A place where the wise and sagacious confer,
A place where the learned and pious chatter,
A place with Adat and Keturunan.  

(from Tunas Effendy’s Rumah)

The actual construction date of the istana is unknown. However, blueprints indicate that the building was designed sometime in 1922, so it can be surmised that the building it at least 90 years old. The first occupant of the istana was my grandfather, Sultan Abdul Aziz, then the Raja Muda.

Rumah3

The VIP sitting room at the istana circa the 60s, pre-renovation. The event was a birthday celebration of the Raja Muda. Among the guests were Malaysia’s greatest artist P. Ramlee and his wife Saloma. (Picture courtesy of Raja Muzaffar Shah Raja Musa)

Its architecture was reminiscent of a European-style ‘Classical Revival’ villa with a central entrance doorway fronting a columned portico and features such as a grand balcony, pilasters and joist with stucco epistyles and arched windows. The lower floor comprised three sitting rooms, one reserved for VIPs, a bar, a bedroom, a dining hall and a barber’s room. In the early 70s, an unexceptional but functional ‘cubist-inspired’ wing comprising four rooms was added to the original structure. Three units were used as bedrooms and one as the Raja Muda’s office. Despite modifications made to the old wing to accommodate the new, the disparity in architectural style of old and new was still obviously apparent, when viewed from either the front or the back of the building. Still, several parts of the old wing retained their original designs.

A traditional Malay house usually starts off with the rumah ibu, its size growing in accordance with the number of its occupants. A florid description of the features of a traditional Malay house is found in Rumah:

That which has undulating doors,   
With tall fretwork windows,
With cross-timbers and Anjung Tinggi,  
With Selembayung and Sayap Layang, 
With Perabung of Kuda Berlari,
With lathe-turned outer window railings,  
With pierce-work inner window trellises,
Its gable wall in layered tiers,
Its fascia set in waves,
With orchards and yards.

 

The istana was vacated sometime in the late 1980s and has never been occupied since. Rumors of rejuvenation and adaptive reuse never materialized, and it is has been left in a sorry state of disrepair, all vestiges of its former glories literally extinguished. Because local laws and regulations prohibit a direct demolition of these significant buildings, the old istana has been left to slowly crumble.

Rumah4

A distant side view of the istana during the funeral of the Raja Muda Perak.

In an age of modernist architecture, the expertise, wisdom and lore involved in the construction of a traditional house is almost a dying skill. As the reader can deduce from the Rumah poem, the painstaking precision and curious rituals involved in the construction makes it an anachronistic oddity, out of place with today’s cut and dried methods. The emphasis on minimal ornamentation, and metal and concrete, is the complete antithesis to the kampung house described within the stanzas of Rumah. While one stresses a cold and clinical emphasis on usability, the other juxtaposes aesthetics with function, culture with form, and superstition with religiosity.

All is not lost however. The lessons contained within the Rumah poem are still relevant, not just from an architectural perspective but from a humane one as well.

- The End -

Written by: Y.M. Raja Abdul Razak bin Raja Muda Musa

RAZ

A Tale of Two Heritage Homes (Part 1)

Istana Raja Muda

Istana DYTM Raja Muda Perak Teluk Intan – 1976

My first taste of palace life happened during my early teens. Although my late father was the Raja Muda of Perak (1963–1983), I only spent a few years living in his official residence, the Istana Raja Muda Perak in Teluk Intan. Before that, my mother, sisters and myself lived in a bungalow in an affluent part of Ipoh. After the house was sold I moved to be with father in Teluk Intan. For someone who had, until then, spent many years growing up in ‘metropolitan’ settings, the quaintness and size of a backwater sleepy town came as a bit of a shock. In retrospect however, some of my most memorable moments were spent in Teluk Intan. It was there that I, for better or for worse (!) saw more of father, became more exposed to official functions and also got to know the rest of my rather large family. After father’s demise in 1983, the istana, as was the tradition, was vacated to make way for the next Raja Muda. Since then, I have only made one visit there, during Raja Ahmad Sifuddin Iskandar’s brief tenure as the new Raja Muda.

Sultan Abdul Aziz

A young Raja Musa with his parents, Sultan Abdul Aziz and Raja Perempuan Khadijah (picture courtesy of Y.M. Raja Muzaffar Raja Muda Musa)

In my early 20s, I moved back to Ipoh where I spent several years living in a Malay kampung. The house belonged to a family whose male children had served as manservants during different periodsof father’s life.  Except for a drastic reduction in scale and grandiosity, and with a little imagination I might add, one could imagine it wasn’t that far different from living in the old istana. In a sense, both an istana and a traditional Malay kampung are ‘active’ receptacles of traditions, cultural practices and oral histories, their occupants handing them down from one generation to the next. Although they appear to be obstinately unchanging, these fierce bastions of tradition slowly but eventually adapt to, and change with, the times.

Rumah

Left: Tenas Effendy’s Rumah. Right: A contemporary kampung house as depicted in Rumah (Ahmad Harun, artist)

 

Istana or kampung, the rustic charms of a traditional Malay house have been featured in movies, paintings, films and literature. Among them is a newly published translation of Tenas Effendy’s prose poem Rumah. Originally written in Bahasa Indonesia, it has recently been translated into English by the Malaysia-born, Australia based academic Raimy Ché-Ross and published by Areca Books Penang in August 2014. I was first introduced to Rumah in April 2013. Initially perplexing and enigmatic, it slowly revealed its inner secrets after several readings and reminded me of my own experience of living within traditional households. Utterly unique, the poem has really no peer or precedent and any attempts at comparison would only reveal disparate counterparts. That notwithstanding, the compositional style of Rumah occasionally reminded me of classic Sufi poetry, particularly Farid Attar’s Conference of the Birds and Rumi’s The Guest House. The architecture and design of a traditional istana and a kampung house bear certain similarities, as do the building materials. A porch serves as the main entrance for people and vehicles, and there are public social and dining spaces for guests and private ones for family members. ‘Secret’ passageways and staircases abound, and these were set well outside of the main spaces. My guess is that these clandestine corridors were once meant as a means of escape from threats (!) but a more mundane and likely explanation was that they served as entrance and exit points for the hired help.

Istana Raja Muda2

Left: Two events in full pomp and splendour – the circumcision ceremony of Raja Musa; Right: the wedding of his second eldest daughter Y.M. Raja Aminah to Y.A.M. Tengku Ibrahim Sultan Abu Bakar of Pahang. (Pictures courtesy of Y.M. Raja Muzaffar Shah Raja Muda Musa)

Che Puan Besar & Pintu Malim

Left: The Raja Muda and the Che Puan Besar Perak posing in front of the smaller Balai Rong Seri. (Pictures courtesy of Y.M. Raja Muzaffar Shah Raja Muda Musa). Right: A Pintu Malim, or Pintu Curi provides discreet mobility for females within the house. (Ahmad Harun).

Apparently such passageways are a common feature in  kampung houses, as described in Rumah:

The Pintu Malim is where modesty lies,                                                                         The Pintu Belakang is where laughter bides,                                                                 The Pintu Tengah is where the Adat resides.                                                                                                                         (from Rumah)

Floors and walls were fashioned from planks of hardwood, and the former, as sturdy as they were, often creaked and clacked noisily under the weight of human footfalls and footwear. Parts of the walls were fashioned from hardwood too. Two balai rong seri, set on the istana grounds, were used for official functions like the birthday of the Raja Muda, Hari Raya, weddings and kenduris. The Raja Muda’s fully equipped office, replete with a secretary, clerk and office boy, was also situated within the Istana. Here, various official assignments and personal businesses were attended to. Servants’ quarters, the earlier ones built in the style of modest kampungs on stilts, were situated at the back portion of the istana. The help comprised cooks, gardeners, grounds keepers and stable boys. One could say that the istana was a self-contained ‘village’ of sorts.

A large home contains smaller houses,                                                                        Like wood and its concentric rings,                                                                            Three tiers of gable blinds to the left,                                                                         Three tiers of gable blinds to the right,                                                                              A place where sovereign rulers reside,                                                                             A place where noblemen bear the Adat,                                                                           A place for an assortment of Penghulu.                                                                                                                (from Rumah)

End of Part 1

Written by:                                                                                                                    Y.M. Raja Abdul Razak bin Raja Muda Musa

RAZ

Tiga Puluh Tahun Bersemayam Diatas Takhta Singgahsana Negeri.

SultanAzlanShah

Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Sir Yussuf Izzuddin Ghafarullahu-lah,
Telah dilantik sebagai Paduka Seri Sultan Perak oleh Dewan Negara Negeri Perak Darul Ridzuan pada tanggal 3 Feb 1984.

Tegas Memperlihatkan Prinsip Pengharapan,
Mempamerkan Kebijaksanaan Dan Kearifan,
Itulah Paduka Seri Sultan Azlan,
Sultan Perak Darul Riduzan,

Payung Pemerintahan Paduka Seri,
Tiga Puluh Tahun Bersemayam Ditakhta Negeri,
Memperlihatkan Kebijaksanaan Raja Negeri,
Raja Berperlembagaan Dan Negara Berdemokrasi,

Indah Peterakna Merchu Negeri,
Singgahsana Takhta Keraja’an Negeri,
Menjadi Lambang Tunggak Negeri
Tempat Bersemayam Paduka Seri,

Dibawah Naungan Duli Baginda,
Negeri Bersultan Rakyat Beraja,
Rakyat Bersatu Penuh Bahgia,
Berbilang Kaum Berbilang Bangsa,

Paduka Seri Payung Negeri,
Penyambung Tradisi Membangunkan Negeri,
Negeri Sentosa Ilahi Memberi,
Bijak Bestari Memerintah Negeri,

Nasihat Dan Pandangan Paduka Seri,
Memelihara Dan Melindungi Tradisi,
Kerja Strategik Dan Berdimensi,
Adat Bangsa Tidak Ditenggelami,

Paduka Seri Berilmu Berpengetahuan,
Penguasaan Ilmu, Pengalaman Kerjaya,
Bidang Perundangan Dan Kehakiman,
Sumber Keadilan Dan Tunggak Keutuhan,

Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri,
Bersemayam Di Atas Takhta Negeri,
Tiga Puluh Tahun Menjadi Penyuluh Seri,
Arif Bijaksana Menaungi Rakyat Negeri,

Sepanjang Memimpin Rakyat Negeri,
Pelbagai Pembangunan Dikecapi,
Kemakmuran Negeri Kesejahteraan Dinikmati,
Dibawh Naungan Paduka Seri,

Memelihara Kemuliaan Pemerintahan Bertradisi,
Rakyat Bersultan Negeri Beraja,
Warisan Turun Temurun Diwarisi,
Merentas Waktu Peredaran Masa,

Patek sekalian Editor SembangKuala Merafak Sembah,
Berlandaskan Adat,
Bersempena Tiga Puluh Tahun Pemerintah Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Sultan Perak Darul Ridzuan.
Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Sir Yussuf Izzuddin Ghafarullahu-lah