Situated alongside the main street of Kuala Pilah is a memorial arch since 1901, built in honour of the Honourable Martin Lister. Before the British colonial government intervened into political affairs, Negeri Sembilan was nine separate districts ruled by different tribal leaders, with never-ending internal conflicts. Martin Lister was invited and appointed by Sultan/Yamtuan Seri Menanti to improve and develop the local economy. Due to his success in rebuilding the Negeri Sembilan Confederation and restoring peace through his excellent negotiation and diplomatic skills, he was appointed the first British Resident of Negeri Sembilan from 1889 to 1897.
The memorial arch comprised of both Chinese and Western architecture styles, includingthree-bay, four-pillar LingNan elements; calabash and fireball symbolizing fortune, prosperity, and longevity; and Dragon head Carp fish symbolizing bright prospects. There are also Ancient Roman hemispherical arch and Ancient Grecian entablature. Its front side bore trilingual inscriptions, with an English heading, a political timeline in Jawi on the left, and achievements in Chinese on the right. Praises were inscribed on the reverse side.
The upper stream of Muar river cut across Kuala Pilah, where the Minangkabau landed in the 15th century as pioneers. In late 19th century, the British colonial government encouraged land cultivation and tin mining, thus attracting scores of Chinese forefathers, transforming Kuala Pilah from a backward inland village into a main town of newly-founded Negeri Sembilan.
The Chinese community at Kuala Pilah is made up of 1/3 Hakka, then Cantonese and Hokkien, as well as some Hainanese and TeoChew. Each brought upon their religious faiths, thus Sam Seng Keong Temple was founded in 1898 under the leadership of local entrepreneur Tung Yen. The main deities worshipped are Emperor Guan, Guan Ping, and Zhou Cang; subdeities being Master Tam Gong, Master Xian Shi, and also other native deities. Following Tung Yen’s liaison with the British colonial government, the temple was allocated permanent land reservation status in 1900. Subsequently the site directly opposite the temple was allocated as a Chinese Pleasure Garden, where a memorial arch was constructed to commemorate Martin Lister who died of illness on his return journey to England.
Nowadays Kuala Pilah is hardly flourishing, traffic just passed through the highway. A lack of industrial zones and unrevealed tourism potential caused slow economical development and mass urban migration. The heritage of Martin Lister Memorial Arch gradually became forgotten by the local population, notwithstanding its trusteeship under the Sam Seng Keong temple committee, hosting theatre and puppetry performances during festive celebrations. The Chinese Pleasure Garden used to be a space for co-curricular activity of the Sam Seng Keong private school. However, neglect in maintenance and repairs led to its decrepit appearance, whereby it was often mistook for an ancient tomb.
An advocate in culture and education, Mr GH Tee was born and bred in Kuala Pilah, but works in Kuala Lumpur. On an occasional hometown visit in 2013, he discovered the miserable condition of Martin Lister Memorial Arch and the Chinese Pleasure Garden, therefore he took an initiative to conserve this historical site. The community barely acknowledge or appreciate its historical value, and were only concerned about the financial prospects of this project. For six years, despite lack of response, he persisted in promoting the historical background of the memorial arch and its importance to the local Chinese guilds, businesses, and relevant government authorities.
Mr Tee’s continual efforts were not in vain, a Committee of Restoration and Beautification of Kuala Pilah Chinese Pleasure Garden was founded last year. Talents from various professional fields work together in restoration, research, fundraising, as well as applying for the memorial arch to be listed as a cultural heritage site. The initiatives and publicity over the year has increased public awareness, gaining beneficial support and generous donations. Currently the blueprint is completed by an architect who specialize in historic building restoration, tender notice and partial works will commence in the near future.
There are a multitude of historical sites reflecting ancient features and local specialties within Malaysia, a collective memory of the residing community, a proof of historical trace. Buildings bear testimony to culture heritage, nevertheless some historical sites were unable to sustain through development, hence falling to ruins or even dismantled. In order to pass on such historical and cultural inheritance to future generations, Mr Tee recommends nurturing and educating the public to inspire interest and passion in conserving historical sites. Times and things may change, the virtues of predecessors should not be forgotten.
Text: Daniel Lim & Pua Hui Wen
Malay Subtitles: Lim Ai Ling (Cikgu Pi Chung)
有你 UNI Production
Producer : Mok Yii Chek
Coordinator : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Evon Pang
Drone : Daniel Lim
Video Editor : Evon Pang
Production Assistant : Michael Lerk
Music : Sentimental Peaceful Cinematic Piano
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