After a long spell as an important port trading with the Chinese, KUALA TERENGGANU (the capital of Terengganu state) had by the late nineteenth century been eclipsed by the rise of Singapore and other new ports in the Melaka Straits. Following the transfer of Terengganu from Siamese to British control in the early twentieth century, the state became the last in the Peninsula to take a British Adviser, in 1919. It continued to languish as a rural state with, unusually, most of its settlements at river mouths rather than on the lower reaches of rivers, as elsewhere in Peninsular Malaysia.
The discovery of oil in the 1980s transformed its fortunes; modern Kuala Terengganu is even more of a hotchpotch than most Malaysian cities, sprinkled with oil-funded showpieces of varying degrees of success. There is, nevertheless, a certain austerity about Terengganu state that’s noticeable in Kuala Terengganu. It lacks the commercial buzz of Kuantan or even Kota Bharu, partly because oil revenues have barely trickled down to ordinary people but also because in some respects the state is more conservative and inward-looking than neighbouring Kelantan.
Many visitors use the city simply as a transit point for Terengganu’s best-known attractions – the pleasant beaches that line most of the coastline, and glorious islands including the Perhentians, Pulau Redang, Pulau Lang Tengah and Pulau Kapas. Using the city as a base, you can also venture inland to Tasik Kenyir lake. Kuala Terengganu itself does, however, hold enough to reward a day or two’s sightseeing, in particular the old town with its lively Central Market and the adjacent old Chinatown quarter; the State Museum, among the best of such complexes in Malaysia; and Pulau Duyong, where the city’s maritime heritage just about survives.Read More
Terengganu State Museum
Terengganu State Museum
Arriving at the Terengganu State Museum, you might think you’ve strayed into Alice in Wonderland. Visitors are confronted by a series of buildings modelled on the archetypal Terengganu village house, but absolutely gargantuan in scale. Somehow the dislocation in size is fitting though for, although it lacks the interactive exhibits of more modern establishments, the museum far outstrips most of its provincial counterparts.
The ground floor of the main building holds exquisite fabrics from around Southeast Asia, while the next floor up displays various crafts. The top floor details the history of Terengganu. The Petronas Oil Gallery, in the building to the left, is sporadically interesting but predictably skewed. Behind it, the old-fashioned Islamic Gallery displays fine examples of Koranic calligraphy.
Allow time to see the rest of the site. Beside the river are two examples of the sailing boats for which Kuala Terengganu is famed – unique blends of European ships and Chinese junks. The small Seafaring Gallery and larger Fisheries and Marine Park Gallery are close by, as is a collection of smaller, beautifully decorated fishing boats. Five old timber buildings have been disassembled and reconstructed within the grounds. Among them, the Istana Tengku Long was originally built in 1888 entirely without nails, which to Malays signify death because of their use in coffins.
- Pulau Duyong
The kris (or keris) occupies a treasured position in Malay culture, a symbol of manhood and honour believed to harbour protective spirits. Traditionally, all young men crossing the barrier of puberty receive one which remains with them for the rest of their lives, tucked into the folds of a sarong; for an enemy to relieve someone of a kris is tantamount to stripping him of his virility. In the past some weapons were reputed to have magical powers, able to fly from their owners’ hand to seek out and kill an enemy.
The kris itself is intended to deliver a horizontal thrust rather than the more usual downward stab. When a sultan executed a treacherous subject, he did so by sliding a long kris through his windpipe, just above the collar bone, thereby inflicting a swift – though bloody – death. The distinguishing feature of the dagger is the hilt, shaped like the butt of a gun to facilitate a sure grip. The hilt can also be used to inflict a damaging blow to the head in combat, especially if there isn’t time to unsheathe the weapon.
The daggers can be highly decorative: the iron blade is often embellished with fingerprint patterns or the body of a snake, while the hilt can be made from ivory, wood or metal. Designs are usually based on the theme of a bird’s head.