Words and photos by Harny Khair
If you love heritage and have just a day to tour Malacca to learn everything you can about the historical Melaka, then taking part in a heritage walk is the way to go.
It will be a crash course on the state’s rich and colourful history, which you can still see in its old colonial buildings.
You will have more than a glimpse into the cultures and lifestyles of the local people made up of diverse ethnic groups including the Peranakan, Chetty and Seranis of Portuguese and Dutch descend. Of course, you get to taste their different unique cuisines too.
One place visitors can go for a heritage walk is Kampong Morten – a picturesque traditional Malay village with an English name along the Melaka River, surrounded by skyscrapers and highways.
The village with a cluster of beautiful traditional Malay houses was named after British Land Commissioner F.J Morten, who was instrumental in opening the village for the Malay community in the 1920s. At the time, village land was divided into 100 plots and sold at $100 each. Today, there are about 90 houses in the 16ha village, with a population of 900.
Here, visitors get to meet descendants of original inhabitants of Melaka, the Malays who used to be the masters of the sea in this part of the world, and their traditions.
In the heritage walk held every Monday, Wednesday and Friday by Friends of the Melaka Museum, three guides well-versed with the village history, Malay traditions, culture and architecture will lead the tour.
Recently, where2 joined the walk together with several visitors from Germany, Canada and France. The guide Eddie Chua presented a brief history on traditional Malay houses.
Malay houses are built with an open concept that has no perimeter fencing that keeps other people out. Fences, if any, are for decorative purposes in the compound.
Visitors will also get a quick look into the herb garden of a Malay home. Typically, Malay families plant local herbs for use in their kitchens. Many herbs grown at home have medicinal properties too.
Inside the home, there are separate spaces for men and women to preserve modesty. The balcony is where male guests are welcomed while ‘Rumah Ibu’, the centre of the house is for women, namely young ladies to gather.
The kitchen is the most important part of the house where the lady of the house reigns.
Visitors must see Villa Sentosa. This is the meeting point of the heritage walk anyway.
It is the largest house in the village that was the home of Kampong Morten founder Othman Mohd Noh, the businessman who helped Morten move the Malay community into the village in the past.
His descendants still live there today, causing the old house with antique furniture to be dubbed a ‘living museum’.
Visitors will find interesting items like an old gong, baking equipment, ornaments, musical instruments and also a special room that exhibits a traditional Malay wedding dais and other wedding paraphernalia.
Othman’s grandson Ibrahim Hashim – the caretaker of the house – says the family has opened the house for tourists to visit so that more people can learn about traditional Malay houses and how the community lives.
“Nowadays, it is difficult to find wooden traditional houses as people prefer to build houses using brick and mortar,” he says.
The house has 14 windows, which gives it good ventilation. Ibrahim says they only need fans, not air-conditioners.
The house is opened for daily visits from 9am to 6pm except on Fridays, when it is only open from 2pm to 6pm.
Ibrahim says no entrance fee is collected although the family accepts donations to help maintain the traditional home.
MINI HOUSE MODELS
Visitors also get to meet Baser Ali, a carpenter-turned-artist who has been making pretty traditional house models for the last six years.
If you think the house models he creates are like doll houses for kids to play, you would be mistaken. His miniature houses really look like the real thing, just much smaller.
Making model houses started as a hobby for the craftsman but he has since turned his skill into a business.
He has been getting orders from tourists and handicraft centres.
Friends of Melaka Museums president Shaukani Abbas says his organisation aims to raise more awareness of the state’s Malay heritage through heritage walks for visitors.
There are plans to beef up membership and train more villagers to be guides.
The walk starts at 4pm and ends at 6pm. Call Villa Sentosa on 06-2822988 for details.