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Saturday 18 August 2018

What is the meaning of the place named "Damansara"?

I made a comment in the Skyscrapercity forum sometime in October 2017, got quoted on Facebook, and was highlighted on the following articles:-

a) http://says.com/my/fun/did-you-know-damansara-used-to-be-called-damar-sara-until-someone-made-a-spelling-mistake

b) 'Damansara' Township Name Derived from Spelling Mistake by British Official in 1890s - The Coverage

c) https://celikhartanah.com/cuba-k...


The question posed here has been in my mind since my childhood days as I used to live in Damansara Utama without knowing what the word "Damansara" stands for. Let me begin with the caveat that my view of the origin of the name "Damansara" being a spelling mistake is only my assumption based on what is evident in the two old maps of the area as well some knowledge of the history of the implementation of the land registration system in Selangor. It is not an in-depth historical research on the issue.

My comment on the Skyscrapercity forum on 3.10.2017 reads as follows:-

"This is an interesting map that shows the original name of Damansara. Actually, the word "Damansara" has no meaning as it originated from a spelling mistake that occurred around 1890s when the British Resident, Sir William Maxwell, implemented Torrens system of land registration pursuant to the Selangor Registration of Titles Regulations of 1891. The error occurred when the land registrar mistook the letter "r" as "n", and wrongly merged the original two-word name of "Damar Sara" to "Damansara". The error is apparent as maps prior to 1891 contained the original name "Damar Sara". There was an ancient stone jetty & landing area (pengkalan batu) in Damar Sara which was utilised as a tin mining post. It is in the vicinity of what is today Section 23, Shah Alam. A river north of Damar Sara was subsequently named after the wrongly spelt "Damansara" which became the origin of "Mukim Damansara" and the name of as many as 25 housing developments around Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur, with copycats in Johor Bahru as well as in Kuantan. Unlike "Damansara", the original name "Damar Sara" has a specific meaning in old Malay and Sanskrit. "Damar" is a type of resin obtained from a tropical tree. Whilst "Sara" means "precious" or "important" in Sanskrit. "

The relevant maps in the forum as reproduced by Says . com are as follows:-

As you can see based on these older maps it is clear that the place is known as Damar Sara.

I would like to point out that besides these maps, there is a 1877 newspaper article produced by another Skyscrapercity forumer, pseudanon, that shows misspelling of Damar Sara occured at a much earlier date.

This suggests the error could be due to mispronounciation as well as well as misspelling. It would nevertheless be unjust for me to attribute the history of the area to a spelling mistake as Damar Sara’s history is much more than that.

Hence back to the question, the earliest occupier of Damar Sara would be the Orang Asli. Around 200BC to 100AD they traded with the Mon Khmer settlers and the local Malays who may have named the area based on its popular produce i.e. Damar (resins). They bartered inland products like resins, incense woods, and feathers for salt, cloth, and iron tools.

I believe that the Mon Khmers were in the area as early as the the Dongson era to mine for tin deposits found along the Klang river and its tributaries. Tin is an essential metal in the creation of tin bronzes, and its acquisition was an important part of ancient cultures from the Bronze Age onward. This can be seen in their artifacts such as Dongson drum and bells found along the Klang river.

Sources of tin were rare, and the metal usually had to be traded over very long distances to meet demand in areas which lacked tin deposits.

According to Suma Oriental by Tom Pires, written between 1512-1515, Klang river area is called "Clam", and the region of the Selangor river is called "Calangor" or "Calamgor". Both rivers are represented as tin-producing rivers. Pires further records that the prospectors and chieftains paid tribute to the Sultan of Malacca in a form of tin ingots.

At the turn of the 19th century the area was occupied by the Mandailing people. Kampung Damar Sara was one of 7 Mandailing settlements in Selangor and Perak. These photographs of a Mandailing kampung in Sumatera might throw some light as to the architecture of early houses of Damar Sara.

Mandailing people originates from Sumatera and came to Selangor and Perak around 1803 in a mass exodus to escape war in their homeland. Unlike the Bugis who settled around the coastal areas like Klang and Kuala Selangor, the Mandailings prefer to settle further inland and always near the converge of two rivers. Their settlements include Kampung Damar Sara, Kampung Gombak, Kampung Ampang, Kampung Sungai Chincin, Kampung Ulu Slim, Kampung Changkat Piatu, and Muara Bustak. Around 1824, Chinese tin miners were brought in by the British. They started prospecting for tin in Klang and gradually moved up river. By 1857 they were reported to be prospecting in Muara Bustak, which is a Mandailing word for Kuala Lumpur.

Based on the migration of people from Sumatera, I believe that beyond the evidence obtained from the old maps, the original name of Damansara could also be "Dharmasraya" (sanskrit: supreme universal law of nature) which is taken from an area known as Dharmasraya of Sumatera, of which capital was about 200km south of the Kerinci Regency (Kerinci being another name which is familiar to the area of Damansara). Dharmasraya (now Dharmasraya Regency) is said to be the capital of the 11th century Dharmasraya Kingdom (a.k.a Melayu Kingdom). See: Melayu Kingdom - Wikipedia. Through time its namesake in the Malay peninsula could have been corrupted into "Damar Sara" and later "Damansara".

Tuesday 14 August 2018

The origin of the slogan "Malaysia Boleh!"

According to Barry Wain in his book titled 'Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times', the slogan "Malaysia Boleh!" which loosely translated means "Malaysia Can Do It!" originated from a tagline of a health beverage marketing campaign back in the 80s. In 1992, the 80s "Milo Boleh!" slogan was used by Nestlé and the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) as a basis of the OCM's version known as "Malaysia Boleh!". The slogan was intended to be used to encourage and support the Malaysian athletes during overseas competitions.

It indeed caught on as battle cry during major sporting events participated by Malaysian athletes. Due to OCM being affiliated to the government, the slogan is somehow viewed to signify the government's fascination of building high (Petronas Twin Towers), long (Penang Bridge) and big (KL International Airport). On the negative side, due to overuse it became a major cliché and developed into deriding compound words such as "Bolehwood", “Bolehville” and "Bolehland" to describe wastages and excesses, as well as the Malaysian culture that accepts bending of rules and laws.

In my view the origin of the battle cry "... Boleh!" can be traced even further back in time than the 80s "Milo Boleh!" slogan. In particular, it can be traced to a 1949 yacth named 'Boleh' built by Terengganu Malay shipwright Embong bin Salleh and his assistants Ali Bin Ngah, Wan Ali & Awang at the British Naval Base in Loyang, Singapore.

It is unclear as to how the name Boleh was chosen. Perhaps it was to personify her owner's intention to sail her from Singapore all the way to England. Nevertheless, the owner and designer, Naval Commander Robin Kilroy DSC, did write an account of her construction and subsequent 14,000 mile journey to England in his book titled "Boleh".

In the said book he did mention the can-do attitude of the Malay shipwrights especially in the struggle they encounter in bending chengal (Malayan hardwood) into a curved frame for the yacth's 40ft hull.

Robin recorded that despite numerous failures and broken pieces the lead shipwright would not stop in his effort until the job is done, uttering the word "Mustee Boleh!" ("Sure Can!") in each and every attempt.

It took 8 1/2 months for Boleh to reach Salcombe.  According to Robin, he received a letter from Embong bin Salleh once he arrived in England.  Embong wrote that he and Ali bin Ngah were very proud when they heard about Boleh's arrival in Salcombe.  According to Embong, he was then busy building Police launches at the East Coast of Malaya.

As to Boleh's fate, she was used to train Sea Cadets and sailing club members in Salcombe. In 1978 she was severely damaged by arson and declared an insurance write-off.

She was rebuilt by its new owner, Roger Angel.  In 1980s, Boleh came to rest in Spain where her lines and rig became a familiar sight; her berth at Real Club Nautico gave the name Shanghai Quay to one of the the club's jetties in Palma.

In 2007 increasing ill health led Roger to look to sell Boleh and, by a happy chance, this coincided with Robin Kilroy’s family seeking to safeguard the vessel’s future.

After an eventful life, Boleh was restored in 2008.  Boleh is now a working heritage vessel based in Chichester Harbour, England. She is listed as a protected heritage item in the UK’s National Register of Historic Vessels (No. 2281). She is managed by The Boleh Trust which is jointly funded by the National Historic Ships Fund & the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Wednesday 8 August 2018

Malacca's Missing Cannons

I visited Lisbon's Military Museum (Museu Militar de Lisboa) in May 2017 and found 2 cannons which were possibly confiscated by the Portugese upon the fall of Malacca in 1511. One is known as "Peça de Malaca" (Piece of Malacca).

Peça de Malaca (Piece of Malacca)

Peça de Malaca is a 38-pounder muzzleloading bombard built with wrought iron staves reinforced by thick iron rings cast. It has a calibre of 17.5 cm, is 336 cm long with a bore length of 308 cm, and throws a 17.5 kg (38 lb) stone or iron ball. The inscriptions on the oblong plate on top of the cannon have been erased. The merong / dragon head carved on the tip of the gun is an example of the talent of sculptors, who implemented delicate carvings on it. Medieval cannons of similar size and calibre have been recorded to have a firing range of between 650 m to 3,700 m, and require a crew of 14.

Conquista de Malaca (Conquest of Malacca), by Ernesto Ferreira Condeixa (1904), Military Museum, Lisbon.

According to CR Boxer (JAMBRAS Vol 38, No.2, 1965), when Alfonso de Albuquerque invaded Malacca, two to three thousand guns were allegedly found. They were reported to be mostly primitive bombards and hand-guns apart from one large cannon recently presented to the Sultan of Malacca by the Samuri (Zamorin) of Calicut. I believe that Peça de Malaca may well be this "large cannon" in question.

The Zamorin of Kozhikode (Calicut) (1495–1500) on his throne as painted by Veloso Salgado in 1898 (Source: Wikipedia)

Interestingly, cannons of similar design can be found in Vijayapur, India, and built around the 14th and 15th century.  This includes the Golgumbaz and Kalaburagi cannon.

Golgumbaz Cannon (Source: Wikipedia)

29 ft Kalaburagi Cannon (Source: Wikipedia)

The merong / dragon design on Peça de Malaca is similar to the one carved on a 1549 cannon named Malik-e-Maidan (Lord of the Battlefield). It is also located in Vijayapur.

Malik-e-Maidan (Lord of the Battlefield) (Source: Wikipedia)

Side view of Malik-e-Maidan (Source: Wikipedia)

Malik-e-Maidan's carving of an elephant in the mouth of the roaring dragon may have been connected with a local folklore of the defeat (subsequently suicide) of prince Veerabhadra of the Gajapati dynasty (Elephant Kingdom) in the hands of Laksamana Hang Tuah when both of them dueled upon the order of Vijayapur's Deva Raya II (1424-1446). Laksamana Hang Tuah was recorded to have served as Deva Raya II's military advisor.  It is to be pointed out that Vijayapur's cannons prior to 1450s does not have the dragon head carving.

Hang Tuah v Prince Veerabhadra
(Credit: https://youtu.be/-K5PSAdCMPg)

Exhibited next to Peça de Malaca, is another cannon which may have been used in Malacca. It is known as "Touro" (Bull), a 200-pounder muzzleloading wrought iron cannon.  This cannon has a 43 cm calibre, and is 304 cm long with a bore length of 277 cm and throws a 92 kg (200 lb) stone ball.

Exhibits at Museu Militar de Lisboa 
(Credit: youtube/For91days)

Touro (Bull)

Touro is built with iron staves reinforced with metal bands, similar to the Ottoman bombards of the 15th century. It may have been one of many bombards acquired by the Sultan of Malacca from the Ottomans.

Other exhibits in Vasco da Gama hall

Museu Militar de Lisboa

Lisbon's Military Museum recorded that both cannons were taken from their fort in Calicut and Diu respectively. Nevertheless, in 2008, the ISMAT University of Lisbon published an article on the Portugese Fortress of Malacca wherein Rui Manuel Loureiro wrote that Peça de Malaca was one of many Malay cannons that defended Malacca from Portugese attack.

It is on this basis and context that Malaysia should make an attempt to trace and recover these historical items. It is suggested that Malaysia's first move is to sign and be part of UNESCO's 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.  Although it covers post 1970 theft, there are cases wherein high contracting states are able to mediate and agree to repatriate heritage items stolen prior to the convention date.

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