Malacca has always been known for its rich historical and cultural heritage? Maybe if you were a visitor there in the 1980s.
Make no mistake the historical city’s landscape, if you look beyond Tourism Board brochures, is in real danger of losing its old world charm and multi-ethnic warmth. The influx of new developments, posh hotels, shopping malls and the constant threat of old neighbourhoods losing their authenticity to gentrification has made Malacca a very real case of how a state can easily lose its identity.
Will Malacca’s old quarters end up being swallowed by modernity?
A small group of history-loving individuals asked themselves that question. And the result of that is the upcoming New/Old Malacca, an exhibition and research project shedding light on the soul of old Malacca.
“It started off with a series of walkabouts around the old town quarters last year. By using a mobile app known as Timera, participants could see the existing landscape through old photographs that were uploaded onto the app,” says Melissa Chan, curator at Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum.
Chan is one of the project leaders for New/Old Malacca.
“We then began to interview some of the residents still living in the old quarters. We asked them how they felt about the changing landscape of their town, and how the development has affected their daily life and businesses,” she adds.
Places mapped out in the New/Old Malacca exhibition include Lorong Hang Kasturi, Jalan Kampung Pantai, Jalan Tranquerah, Kampung Gajah Berang, Lorong Jawa, Kampung Jawa and the Portuguese Settlement.
With Malacca being over 600 years old, the question this exhibition hopes to raise – as the city progresses – is this Unesco world heritage city slowly losing its soul?
The exhibition is helmed by Chan, Julian Yeo from The Daily Fix Cafe and Bert Tan from the Malaysia History and Heritage Club. The project is also supported by CzipLee Stationery (Malaysia), MyTeksi and Fuji Xerox.
According to Chan, the people featured in the exhibition are mostly from the local communities.
“We interviewed a locksmith from Kampung Kuli, a porridge seller from Kampung Pantai, a resident from First Cross Street (Jalan Hang Kasturi), a kuih badak seller from Tengkera, a resident from the Portuguese settlement and a resident from Gajah Berang,” she says.
If you need to talk about changes in a minority community, Chan points to the Portuguese Settlement.
“The members of this community, through the years, have had their lives affected by development and land reclamation.”
The Portuguese Settlement, which is known for its fishing community, is slowly losing its coastal land to rapid development.
Once a place to visit for its fresh sea produce, the Portuguese Settlement now looks the part as a tourist bus destination – with generic restaurants devoid of culture and identity. Only a handful of historical wooden houses remain there.
“For us Portuguese, the sea is our soul. If you take away the sea, you take away our soul,” says Martin Theseira, who laments the changes in the Portuguese Settlement.
Traditional businesses are also a major part of New/Old Malacca’s scope of research.
“We are featuring those who have had businesses for years, who now have to move out to make way for shopping malls that will be built over the next few years. They cannot afford to compete and so have decided to close their business,” explains Chan.
Chan says the multi-media exhibition will contain photographs contrasting old Malacca with the Malacca of today. The video screenings will include documentaries such as The Sound Of Malacca, The Locksmith, Kueh Badak Of Tranquerah, The Flavour Of Malacca and A Traditional Rattan Furniture Maker.
According to Tan, the project’s longer term goal was to interview more residents, and to gauge what the community really wanted for their city.
“We hope that this exhibition will be the start of more engagement and collaboration between governmental bodies, stake-holders and businesses of the city,” says Tan.
“Our intention is not to antagonise but to create awareness and better solutions between all parties in Malacca town,” he concludes.
New/Old Malacca will run from Nov 27 to Dec 31 at the Daily Fix Cafe, No. 55, Jonker Street, Malacca. For more info, visit www.facebook.com/newoldmalacca.