One of the main attractions of Malay Heritage Centre is a giant map located in the Anjung section of the museum. The map is a geographical representation of maritime Southeast Asia, also known as Nusantara, an old Javanese term referring to the “outer islands”. Over time, the term has been used to refer to the Malay-speaking areas of the archipelago.
The original Anjung map is a snapshot of the length and breadth of Malay history and heritage, as well as the layers and complexities of what is understood as Malay. The map showcased the old Malay kingdoms, such as Sriwijaya, Melaka and Johor. It also illustrated the primary intra-regional connections within the Malay World and the global connections to other parts of Asia and the world at different points in the region’s history. One result of prolonged trade and cultural interaction can be seen in the Arabic, Indian, Greek and Chinese names given to key ports-of-call and capital cities in maritime Southeast Asia.
The original map displayed in Anjung, the welcoming area of the Malay Heritage Centre's permanent exhibitions.
In conjunction with MHC’s Special Exhibition, “Seekor Singa, Seorang Putera dan Sebingkai Cermin: Reflecting and Refracting Singapura”, MHC collaborated with students and staff from Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Interactive and Design Media (SIDM)1 to enhance the visual spectacle of the Anjung map. The primary goal is to render otherwise static information into something a little more interactive.
MHC and NYP worked closely together roughly over a period of three months leading up to exhibition launch in October 2019. MHC’s curatorial team initially provided the broad outlines of the digital content and as and where necessary, detailed information, such as historical contexts and chronologies, sociological background of various communities, and technical information (for example regarding monsoon wind patterns and types of ships). Taking those information on board, NYP students, under the guidance of their lecturers, conceptualised storyboards, designed and created an array of visual and animated effects to render otherwise static content more interactive.
Guided by MHC and their lecturers, NYP students also conducted their own research into various aspects of Malay World history, all in all adding to their already distinctive mark on the Anjung map digital installation.
As a result of this collaboration, three new components were introduced into the Anjung map: (1) projection mapping, (2) the diverse heritage of Singapore’s Malay community, and (3) a history of Singapore from the perspective of the Malay community.
The intent behind projection mapping is to animate the information on the Anjung map so as to mimic the experience of movement and time passing. There are three projections visitors can choose to view: monsoons, trade and kingdoms.
The monsoons projection highlights a key characteristic of the region that has shaped its historical development. The winds of the northeast and southwest monsoons are essentially a platform for trade and intercultural exchanges, as they fetch traders and their wares and ideas to and from Southeast Asia.
The second projection highlights the connectivity of the Malay World, by bringing to life the extensive trade and shipping routes within the region as well as those travelling to other parts of the world. This projection also provides information as to the types of products traded and ships used.
The Kingdoms projection showcases the long history Singapore’s Malay community is a part of, traceing the territorial influence of the old Malay kingdoms of Sriwijaya, Melaka and Johor. It also shows the impact of colonialism in the creation of British Malaya.
This projection mapping is further complemented by an iPad installation, which provides information on the spice trade once centred on the Malaku islands and their highly-prized spices.
The Diverse Heritage of the Singaporean Malay
The Anjung map installation also includes information on the diverse groups that make up Singapore’s Malay community. Malay, like other ethnic identities, does not refer to a homogenous culture. Rather, Malay identity come from a long history of movement and cultural interactions between the major ethnic groups of the Malay Archipelago. Singapore’s Malay identity and culture evolved from the histories and cultures of the Minangkabau, Javanese, Bawaenese, Bugis, the Riau Malays, and the Orang Laut.
This installation comprises of four iPads. They are located (on the new Anjung map) in Western Sumatra, the Riau archipelago, Java Sea, and Sulawesi, to reflect the geographical areas the major sub-groups of Singapore’s Malay community originally hailed from. Each iPad shares generic information about the geographical locale, the major ethnic groups of that area, and detailed information on the sub-group that is an integral part of Singapore’s Malay community, such as material culture, cuisine, and notable customs and practices.
The holding screen for the Minangkabau community
The holding screen for the Bugis community
Holding screen for the Orang Laut community
Holding screen for the Riau Malay community
Holding screen for the Javanese community
Holding screen for the Bawaenese community
The Malays of Singapore
The third component of the Anjung map installation is a broad 700-year history of Singapore, as viewed from the Malay community’s point of view. The historical overview is based primarily on C. C. Brown’s translation of the Sejarah Melayu, a significant literary work that provides the foundation of the community’s understanding of its history and heritage. The narrative is brought up to the point of the signing of the 1819 treaty and its immediate aftermath, i.e. the contrasting fortunes of Sultan Hussein, Temenggong Abdul Rahman, and their descendants.
Introductory screen for The Malays of Singapore installation
Screenshots from the historical overview of Singapore's Malay community
The historical overview is followed by an introductory outline of the social and cultural practices of Singapore’s Malay community, serving to some extent as an introduction to the permanent galleries of the Malay Heritage Centre. Despite the consequences of the 1819 and 1824 treaties with the British, the Malay community in Singapore has evolved and thrived, their cultural practices, social customs and religious observances an integral part of Singapore’s multicultural society.