In Pekan, there is a popular museum and watercraft gallery where, as a source of Pahang history, it is rich with exhibits of ancient artifacts.
Located on the banks of the Pahang River 50 km south of Kuantan, Pekan is the royal town of the state of Pahang Darul Makmur. In the middle of the town, we can observe fine architectural buildings of yesteryears, and places of historic significance including the Royal Palace of the Sultan of Pahang.
In fact when the British first came to Pahang with the appointment of John Pickersgill Rodger as the first British Resident in October 1888, the State’s administrative center was located at Pekan. But three years later, in 1891, the British colonizers moved the state’s administrative center from Pekan to Kuala Lipis.
Although it was later planned to relocate the administrative center away from Kuala Lipis in 1901, it was not carried out.
With the killing by the British of his staunch and loyal friend in 1889, the Orang Kaya Maharaja Setia Raja Haji Wan Daud, the Sultan at that time, Sultan Ahmad, declared he would never agree to the abandonment of Kuala Lipis as the ground had been hallowed by blood-shed.
The state administrative center of Pahang was only moved away from Kuala Lipis to Kuantan in 1955, during the reign of Sultan Abu Bakar.
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From its rich political, social and cultural history, being situated at the mouth of the Pahang River, the royal town of Pekan has, in the areas in its vicinity, today blossomed into a very important industrial center, especially with the location and site of heavy industrial factories assembling motor vehicles there.
The vehicles assembled range from the assembly of the locally manufactured Proton cars to foreign marques such as Mercedes Benz. Trucks, lorries, buses and even armored army vehicles are built there. Truly, Pekan is a growing "Detroit" of Malaysia.
Gone are the days when Pekan used to be a very serene town, like a big extended village, with cows and goats roaming the place, interspersed with few motor vehicles. Old wooden houses have given way to modern brick buildings, although some old British style buildings are still retained.
I remember this well because more than 30 years ago, after my wedding, I visited Pekan to pay respects to my uncles and aunts- in -law who live in Pekan at Permatang Pauh, a small, tranquil village behind the Royal Palace. The place was full of fruit trees, buffaloes, cows, sheep, goats, ducks and chickens—a typical Malay kampung (village).
Now, however, Pekan is bubbling with economic activity, not at its old centre, but further inland before you reach the main town coming from Kuantan. Streams of large and long lorries pulling containers traverse the road to Pekan from all parts of the country, bringing supplies of components, accessories and parts to the factories there.
Where there were no traffic lights before , now we find traffic lights regulate the flow of traffic every few kilometers.
It is as well, as the economic activities in Pekan contribute to the economic wellbeing of not only the state of Pahang but also to the country, Malaysia.
The main town itself is relatively small, with a wet market, shops, banks, government offices, and utility companies. It is situated near the junction where travelers can go south to Nenasi, Rompin/Lanjut, and Tioman Island, and thence straight down to Johore and Singapore via the coastal road.
Singaporeans prefer to use this coastal road to Kuantan or if they come from Tioman or from the other beautiful beaches of Rompin and Lanjut, as an alternative to the highways, mainly because of the scenic beauty of the coast and less traffic along the way.
The Sultan Abu Bakar Museum, which is the official name of the Pekan State Museum, is a good place to unravel the bygone days of Pahang. It is located at Jalan Sultan Ahmad, and was established on the proposal by the second Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Abdul Razak bin Dato’ Hussein, in 1970, in the year Pekan was struck with a big flood.
The Sultan Abu Bakar Museum houses a rich collection of artifacts. Among the items displayed are priceless antiques including glassware and ceramics, as well as exhibits tracing the lineage of the state’s royalty.
At the front entrance, visitors will find displays of a few large cannons used in warfare in the past century. An old helicopter and a one-seater Tebuan fighter jet, are also displayed in the front lawn entrance.
The "Tebuan" jets were used as the main fighter jets of the Malaysian Air Force in the 1960s, and are the forerunner of the current F5Es, MIG-29 and Sukhoi jets of the Malaysian Air Force, which has an airbase in Kuantan.
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The Sultan Abu Bakar Museum is financed by the state government and administered by the Museum Board appointed by the State Government. The stated objective of the museum is to acquire, preserve, study and exhibit objects of historical and cultural significance to Pahang, and to also undertake research, as well as to care for the historical monuments and sites found in the state.
The present brick and stone museum building was originally constructed in 1929 as the house for the then British Resident. The building replaced the original wooden bungalow constructed in 1888. From time to time, renovations and expansions were made to the building until the present time.
During the Japanese war years of 1942-1945 it served as the headquarters for the Japanese Army in Pahang. After the war, in 1948, the late Sultan Abu Bakar took over the building to replace Istana Seri Terentang as the official palace, and he renamed it as Istana Kota Beram.
It was said that the original Pahang palace was named "Istana Kota Beram" ("beram" means "elephant"). The name was said to derive during the early years of Pahang history when the then sultan of Pahang, who was very angry when his daughter was abducted by his opponent, showed his anger at the conduct of the enemy and riding on his elephant, showed how he would bring down the palace of the enemy king by ramming the elephant against the beam / column of the palace.
In 1975 the building was handed to the Pahang State Museum Board and the Museum was formally opened by HRH Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah on October 21st 1976, and named after HRH’s late father.
The Museum holds more than 10,000 archaeological, historical, ethnographic and natural history specimens and artifacts. From time to time new artifacts and items are added and exhibited at the Museum.
The Museum contains three Royal Galleries, and displays various currencies of the past, traditional costumes and textiles, traditional Malay games, ceramics, pottery, glassware, brassware, silverware, weapons, and history of Pahang and its ancient kings.
At the Royal Galleries, visitors can see exhibits on the decorations and attire of the royalties, royal headwears, royal regalia such as the keris, tombak and spears, and titles and royal conferments.
There are also exhibits of beautifully sewn dresses and fine possessions of the late Tengku Ampuan of Pahang, who died in 1988, and various beautifully crafted products and handiworks from her hobbies.
At an adjacent to the main building, visitors can see old and antique household items used by the Malays in the not so distant past. Utensils such as the kukur kelapa (coconut scraper), lesung batu ( mortar and pestle and used to pound chillies and other spices for cooking), lesung tepung gandum, antique pots and pans, and other items.
When we leave this Museum, we would have felt and understood the rich history and culture of Pahang. They should be preserved for the benefit of the future generations.
The Watercraft Gallery building is located across the road from the State Museum, on Pulau Beram. As a state with 208 km of land facing the South China Sea and the longest river (Pahang River) in Peninsula Malaysia, water transport played an important role in the past social and economic development of Pahang.
Historically, the rivers of Pahang, Kuantan, Bebar, Rompin, Endau, Tembeling, Jelai, Semantan and other river tributaries were used as the main transportation system for travels between villages and districts in Pahang and also to other states in Peninsula Malaysia. Small boats called perahu jalak were used to carry both cargoes and passengers then.
This is because, before the advent of the bicycles and motorized vehicles, only watercrafts which used raw human power to row and peddle, sailboats and later steamboats were used to move around and transport goods between the villages and towns along the coast and river banks upstream.
This unique gallery depicts the various designs and types of water crafts used by the population in Pahang in the past. We can see various types, designs and sizes of perahus (boats), koleks, sampans, and other water crafts. Original perahus or sampans made from the bark of trees and those carved out from big logs and tree trunks like the Perahu Tembeling, are displayed.
There is also a small model of a local fisherman’s traditional wooden house displayed. Like some traditional Malay house, the houses of the fishermen along the coasts are built on stilts.
Visitors will observe that no nails are used in the construction of the house, but instead bamboo floors and rattan strings are used in constructing it. Although it looks flimsy, it is actually very strong and durable.
The Watercraft Gallery of Pahang exhibits actual size craft as used by the Malay people in the past. Magnificent watercrafts, such as those with intricate carvings like the Perahu Burung, Perahu Pinas, Perahu Pontian and Perahu Payang, will make the visitor feel awed and amazed at the artistic and craftsmanship skills of boat-builders of the past.
For trade with foreign countries, the Perahu Besar (big boats) like Pinas Gobel and Pinas Dogor were used for the transport of bulky products while for the domestic trade smaller perahus like the Perahu Bedar and Perahu Katar were used to distribute commodities needed by all fishing ports along the east coast of the country.
History books also tell us that besides consumer goods, there were also trading activities in timber and wood products which were carried and pulled by the bigger boats known as Tongkang Balak from Kuala Pontian and Kuala Endau to the sawmills in the Johore Straits.
During the early days, the Pahang River served as a water route to reach the internal areas. There were archaeological findings which showed the remains of primitive craft like boats made from the bark of trees, bamboo rafts and boats carved out of logs. These findings proved the existence of prehistoric settlements along the Sungai Tembeling, Sungai Jelai and the upper stream of the Pahang River as early as 4,000 years ago.
Pahang, even in the 17th century, was also linked by river routes to Kelantan, Terengganu, Perak and Selangor. The Penarikan Route was a very important and regularly used route by traders and travelers from Kuala Pahang to Malacca through Sungai Pahang via Sungai Serting to Sungai Muar.
P.S. Talking about river routes, my grandfather, who lived in Temerloh in the 1800s was an active trader in goods. I was told that he bought and sold his wares, comprising of textiles, clothes and other traded goods, at Kuala Lumpur. And during those days he would travel by the river routes (Semantan River) from Temerloh , Pahang, to Kuala Lumpur and Klang, about 400 km away.
I hold him in awe as I can imagine how much physical (as well as mental) strength is required to undertake the venture. I cannot understand why he would go to such lengths to trade so far in those difficult terrains. He must have nurtured a dream for excellence. It, perhaps, must take a very strong will and determination to succeed in trading in the old days.
But of course, hardships always reward. From those trades he later became the richest man in Temerloh, Pahang, and owned nearly three quarters of the town (or village) then. He was the first and only person in Temerloh then to own a car in the early 1900s (and chauffeur–driven as well, as he had no driving licence!).
But then again, maybe, since his first wife was from Gombak, Kuala Lumpur, perhaps there WAS motivation!!! I reckon, he must have met her when he had to get to Kuala Lumpur via the Gombak River – a trading route in the past.
(P.S. -- Muslims are allowed to have four wives, but they must be treated equally in all aspects --- this makes almost all Muslims take a single spouse.
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Well, it is said that the introduction into Pahang of the outboard motor in the late 1930s and the bicycles and motor buses, led to the gradual demise of the popularity of the water crafts.
The construction of roads in Pahang, beginning with the roads from Kuantan to the interior (1910), from Jerantut and Kuantan to Kuala Lipis (1918), Pekan to Kuantan (1933), and new highways subsequently constructed after the country’s independence plus modern airports and seaports complete the end of the sole dependence on the old water-way systems in the state.
Consequently and inevitably, these beautifully carved and artistic boats are now cast to the annals of history and displayed as museum exhibits.
Nonetheless, we should never forget our past. Remember, those were the ways of our forefathers who valued the rivers and seas as means for transport of goods and travels, and not only as providing the food (fishes, etc.) for their livelihood.
So while we should remember to move forward and develop into a modern economy, we must also remember to preserve and maintain in good condition, those machines and objects which our forefathers used for economic and social activities during their time.
After all, History is for those who wish to know how to go forward.
Bandar Diraja Pekan, the royal town of Pahang, is filled with the intriguing past. But it now moves forward with certainty, developing and modernizing in tandem with the rest of Malaysia.
I hope you've enjoyed the trip to the popular museum and watercraft gallery in Pekan. The famous Tenun Pahang Diraja (woven silk cloth) small cottage industry is also located in this royal town of Pekan, at Pulau Keladi. Take a visit if you haven't already.
And Bandar Diraja Pekan is also the finish line for the annual Sungai Pahang International River Rafting Expedition.
And while you're in Pekan, don't forget to try the sweet traditional Pahang Malay banana cuisine called Puding Raja.
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