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Museum and fort showcase the rich legacy of a former tin-mining district
Siti Zaharah Lehan
IT is hard to imagine that quiet and rustic Lukut in Negri Sembilan was once among the richest commercial centres in the peninsula. Such was its wealth that a fort was required for the protection of the people and the Ruler.
Lukut today is a far cry from its heyday. All that remains of its former splendour is the rectangular floor of the fort, a stone wall and three entrances. Abandoned wells and a foundation stone make up the rest. It is off the beaten track and attracts the occasional history buffs.
The British Resident of Malacca, Captain Macpherson, who had visited Lukut in 1860 was impressed with the development and stability of the tin-rich area. In his account of the visit, Macpherson said he was amazed that such a small town could be so prosperous and advanced, well beyond its time. He even said Lukut was a far better area compared to Selangor. He said it was strange to find such a developed State in the middle of the jungle with streets that were gravelled and well-maintained. There were also many Chinese shops built of bricks with tiled roofs. A little known fact is that the famous
Yap Ah Loy, who in later years founded Kuala Lumpur, once worked as a cook in the nearby Lukut tin mines. The background to Lukut's once good fortunes may lie in the fact that it shared a common border with, Negri Sembilan and Selangor.
The Lukut Fort, which was built to overlook the town of Lukut, was about 200 metres long and 170 metres wide, surrounded by a five metre deep moat with a wall of sharpened wooden stakes. Large cannons were also placed at the edges of the fort. Defence was a necessity in those times, as Lukut was a wealthy and lucrative mining district complete with Chinese secret societies which would not hesitate to battle each other at the slightest provocation. There was also a well, believed to contain poisonous water - meant to punish criminals.
The fort was built on top of Bukit Gajah Mati in 1847 by Raja Jumaat bin Raja Jaafar, who came from a long line of Rulers appointed by the Sultan of Selangor, to oversee the administration of Lukut in the 1800s. When Raja Jumaat died in 1864 (his brother Raja Abdullah had shifted to Klang and founded Kuala Lumpur in 1857), the throne was taken over by Raja Jumaat's son, Raja Bot, who employed Arab mercenaries to defend the fort. Internal strife and gradual depletion of tin deposits at the district's tin mines made it increasingly difficult for the Ruler to manage Lukut. By 1877 Lukut's economy had deteriorated so much that Raja Bot could no longer afford to maintain the fort.
Lukut was separated from Selangor on Feb 15, 1878, under a treaty whereby Sultan Abdul Samad of Selangor delineated the boundaries of Selangor and Sungai Ujung with the Datuk Kelana Sungai Ujung (Tengku Sayid Abdul Rahman). Under this agreement Lukut came under Sungai Ujung's suzerainty. After Raja Bot formally relinquished power in 1880, Lukut Fort was abandoned and reduced to a state of ruins until the Museum Department rehabilitated the site in the 1970s.
In an effort to preserve the history of Lukut Fort, a museum was built there to commemorate the glorious past of Lukut district. Visitors now have the opportunity to learn more about Lukut's history from the early 19th century to 1880 when it was established as a district of Sungai Ujong in Negri Sembilan. The museum also presents the legacy of the Lukut Fort which has been gazetted as a historical monument under the care of the Department of Museums and Antiquities.
Visitors will also have the opportunity to admire the artifacts unearthed at Lukut Fort during the excavations carried out by the Museum Department. Among the artifacts are blue and white porcelain pieces from the Qing Dynasty, stoneware plate shards from Thailand, 18th century European porcelain plate shards and clay floor tiles. The museum also has a gallery showcasing the cultures and customs of the Minangkabau, the pre-colonial era, the lineage of Malay Rulers of the State, the colonial and post-war era and the history of Undang Luak.
Another attraction at the museum is the Nassau Gallery which displays artifacts recovered from the Nassau, a battleship belonging to the Dutch East Indies Company which sank at Cape Rachado near Bambek Shoal, eight nautical miles off the coast of Port Dickson, on Aug 18, 1606. Nassau was a 40-metre long, 320 tonne battleship carrying 110 sailors and a cargo of 3,600 kg of gunpowder. More than 5,000 artifacts were recovered from the ship including 40,000kg of tin ingots, 3,000 Spanish silver coins, a Bellarine (the only intact jar found in the wreck) a group of north European ceramics of the period, a pewter spoon, musket shot of varying sizes and a magnificently adorned cannon bearing the famous cannon maker's name Pedro Dias Bacarro of the 16th century.
The Lukut museum is being managed by representatives from the Department of Museums and Antiquities. Museum assistant Asrul Effendi Kamaruzzaman said a flight of steps was being built to connect the museum to the Lukut Fort, adding that the construction was 70 per cent complete. Entrance is free and the museum is open from 9am to 6pm daily except during Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Hari Raya Haji. He said the museum department was trying its best to attract more people to visit the museum and the fort. Asrul said Lukut had a truly beautiful and unique history that should be appreciated more by the public. He said the new millennium was an ideal time for people to appreciate history and invited more people to come and view the Lukut Fort and museum.
Reprinted from the New Straits Times,
Monday April 10, 2000
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