Jalan Merdeka – Traversing the Routes towards Independence

Date : 1 September 2017 - 31 October 2017

Venue : Kuala Lumpur

As Malaysians celebrate the significance of the country’s independence in 1957 and the formation of Malaysia in 1963, here’s a chance for everyone to piece together what actually went down those 60 years ago from alternate perspectives.

Nelson Mandela once said, “The history of struggle is rich with stories of heroes and heroines – some of them leaders, some of them followers, all of them deserve to be remembered.”

This might very well be the basis of “Jalan Merdeka – Traversing the Routes towards Independence,” an exhibition recounting the events that took place days, months and years before Malaysia officially gained independence from the British Empire. Organised by the Asian Heritage Museum (AHM), the exhibition presents the bigger picture of the Malaysian struggle for independence told from the viewpoints of various segments of the society at the time.

"The exhibition is curated to show different perspectives by highlighting the roles of normal people and not just the political elites," said AHM Council chairman Tunku Zain Al'-Abidin ibni Tuanku Muhriz.

So, yes, the familiar stories of Tunku Abdul Rahman leading the Merdeka mission that all Malaysian students memorised in school are presented. But so are the not-so-familiar tales of female freedom fighters, the union labourers, the fiery-spirited youth groups and numerous others who all fought for the same goals but perhaps in different ways.

Tunku Zain wrote about the exhibition in his “Conservatively Speaking Freely” newspaper column, “And so you will read about the tribulations of trade union leaders and contributions of multiracial left-leaning movements, and you will be challenged by a room that jointly considers the motivations of Malayan soldiers and communists.”

So, it’s best to walk through the well-curated exhibition with an open mind to fully appreciate the roles and contributions of all segments of the Malaysian society at the time. Never-before-seen artefacts contributed by the National Archives of Malaysia, Department of Museums Malaysia, National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS) and the New Straits Times Press add depth and breadth to the history we know, creating a multi-faceted mosaic of that period in time.

Examine the Malayan Communist Party’s red book, listen to an early rendition of the original tune that inspired Malaysia’s national anthem, and view the hand-stitched Malaysian flag (with eleven stripes and eleven-pointed star) in all its glory – these are some of the not-to-be missed artefacts at the exhibition. Propaganda posters, rare photographs and films, and newspaper clippings give further insight into the sentiments of the time.

The fact that the exhibition is held in a historic location – Seri Negara (previously known as King’s House) was where the Malay rulers signed the Federation of Malaya Agreement on 5 August 1957, an important step in the Merdeka process – adds to the significance of the exhibition.

It’s quite a powerful feeling to find yourself at the end of the tour standing in the very same room where the agreement was inked, while the nostalgic strains of Negaraku faintly stream in from the adjacent room.

In fact, there is one particularly expressive photograph here that perfectly captures the frenzy of activity that probably filled the room six decades ago as nine dignified Malay rulers in their royal refinery and headgear along with their Mentris Besar shuffled papers, peeked over each other’s shoulders and poised their Parker pens to sign and seal the Federation of Malaya Agreement.

By the end of the tour, you’ll be reflecting deeply about what you thought you knew of Malaysia’s history as subtle shifts register upon your perspective of things. That is perhaps the ultimate purpose of this multifarious narrative of our history that Asian Heritage Museum hopes to accomplish.

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