Blessed with a wealth of culture and heritage, Johor is gearing up to welcome more visitors in the Visit Johor 2020 campaign and share with them a glimpse of Malay heritage.
Set within the Johor Heritage Foundation – Yayasan Warisan Johor – the One-Stop Malay Heritage Centre welcomes visitors to enjoy and experience a touch of Malay heritage in a conducted tour that involves hands-on activities like batik painting and traditional games, and which ends with light refreshments.
The Malay Heritage Centre is sprawled across a hillock dotted with modern buildings, Rumah Limas Johor or wooden Malay houses designed in traditional architecture unique to Johor, as well as a landmark mansion which houses the Galleri Tenun, a gallery dedicated to preserving the art of songket-weaving.
This mansion, which is more than 100 years old, is in fact an old palace once named Istana Tunku Fatimah, the former residence of younger sister of Sultan Ibrahim, the Johor Sultan from 1895 to 1959.
I was at a preview of the Malay heritage tour and our group learnt that tours are offered in two sessions, 10.30am and 2pm, and with several activities for visitor participation, the tour should be completed within three hours.
The tour kicks off with the removal of footwear – a typically Malay custom before entering a home – to step into a Rumah Limas, a Malay-style wooden gazebo where guests are traditionally welcomed and entertained while seated on its wooden floors.
To welcome us, a group of dancers performed the Zapin, a lively Johor traditional folk dance. At the end of their performance, the dancers stepped forward to invite visitors to follow their lead in learning the basic steps and dance along with them.
With our footwear on again, we walked to the recently refurbished old building which houses the songket-weaving gallery.
The traditional art of songket-weaving was revived in Johor under royal command as His Majesty the Johor Sultan wished to ensure that valuable weaving skills are preserved for posterity.
During the conducted tour, we are introduced to various patterns in the fabric designs and informed that only three are available for the commoners’ use.
Meanwhile we can only admire the designs that are woven exclusively for the Sultan, Permaisuri or Queen, and members of the royal household.
A skilled worker demonstrates the art of spinning threads into spools while another is weaving the fabric, thread-by-thread on a wooden traditional weaving frame.
I observed her meticulous skills that involve time and patience in weaving the songket fabric, thread-by-thread, and watched how this accounts for the high cost in each piece of completed work.
I was fascinated by the glitter and glamour of golden threads woven into songket fabric and got a sense of the superior value of each piece of hand-woven fabric compared to mass-produced or machine-manufactured materials in the modern market.
Within the glass-fronted showcase, there are spools of polyester threads in a range of synthetic colours for visitors to compare against bunches of thread that are dyed using traditional methods and natural ingredients like turmeric roots and Butterfly Blue-pea flowers.
Next, we are ushered to the event area where we can observe craftsmen and craftswomen skilled in the art of traditional kite-making and batik-painting as well as the assembling and playing of the angklung, a traditional musical instrument made from bamboo.
This is a free-and-easy time for visitors to participate in these handicrafts or move to another area where visitors may also have a go at playing traditional games!
Seated on woven floor mats, young people are playing Batu Seremban or Five Stones, Congkak and checkers, and in the adjacent open space, some boys are playing Sepak Takraw, a game literally translated as “kicking a rattan ball.”
Visitors then pick their choices to try batik-painting or learn to play traditional games while some prefer to watch the craftsmen as they demonstrate the art of making a traditional kite or angklung.
While all this is going on, the mellow sounds of the angklung fill the air as curious visitors try their hand at playing these traditional musical instruments.
We are told that the activities presented may vary with each tour so that visitors can have different experiences with Johor traditional handicrafts and musical instruments.
Instead of the angklung, the gambus – a stringed musical instrument with Arab influence and played like the guitar – may be featured in the tour experience.
The tour ends with light refreshments served with a hot beverage like Teh Tarik or traditional pulled-milk tea.
The refreshment menu has a mix of sweet and savoury items like stir-fried noodles, curry-puffs and popular local kuih or cakes like seri-muka.
Visitors who have completed painting their pieces of batik can happily take them home as special souvenirs.
Before leaving the Malay Heritage Centre, I also visited the other Rumah Limas which houses the souvenir shop and showcases a collection of traditional Malay costumes.
Visitors are encouraged to dress up in Johor Malay traditional costumes and pose for photographs at Instagram-worthy spots like the open windows and charming verandah of the Rumah Limas.
I also explored the interior of the Rumah Limas to admire its traditional architecture and layout and feel how it is naturally ventilated by crosswinds through strategically positioned windows.
It’s a wonder of traditional architecture in Malay homes for families to live comfortably in an era when there was no air-conditioning!
Besides the Malay heritage tour, visitors may choose to have an exclusive experience of a traditional Malay wedding performed with a traditional welcome, bridal reception and wedding ceremony with blessings and which ends with a traditional dance for everyone to join in.
The Johor Malay Heritage experience is organised by S N Vacation Sdn Bhd for A Glimpse of Malay Heritage and A Malay Traditional Wedding.
Tours for minimum 20 visitors should be arranged a week in advance. Tel: +607 226 1780 and 226 1781, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile Tel: +6019 778 6188.
The One-Stop Malay Heritage Centre is closed on Fridays and Public Holidays. For more info, visit website: www.snvacation.com