THE Sarawak Heritage Society (SHS) and Malaysian Institute of Architects Sarawak Chapter (PAMSC) have pledged their support for Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s decision to conserve the state’s surviving 14 forts.
Both NGOs believe that the series of forts are part of a narrative that would attract tourists and their conservation would be a step forward in any effort to seek Unesco World Heritage listing.
Of the 30 forts built across Sarawak during the White Rajah era, only 14 remain in different stages of dilapidation. Even the newly-restored Fort Alice in Sri Aman, recently opened by Adenan, had fallen into serious disrepair before the RM5mil project under the state Museum Department to restore it to its former glory.
“Many of the forts have been demolished or even fallen into the river. We thank the Chief Minister for his support in this pursuit to preserve our cultural heritage for future generations before they are totally forgotten,” PAMSC chairman and conservation architect Mike Boon said.
SHS president Karen Shepherd offered the support of both NGOs to help the museum prepare a plan for the forts’ conservation.
“As NGOs, we have been campaigning for a multi-stakeholder approach to heritage conservation in the state. We will do anything within our resources and expertise to help push forward this initiative,” she said.
SHS and PAMSC commended the relevant ministries for their first steps to set up a heritage council to oversee such matters and hoped it would soon result in a heritage unit staffed with knowledgeable personnel who could develop a conservation managemen plan for effective implementation of Adenan’s directive.
Boon said: “The schoolchildren of Sri Aman who were involved in a community engagement programme alongside the Fort Alice restoration project had the greatest possible finale to an 18-month series of events.
“The Chief Minister and his wife, along with senior ministers, took time to acknowledge their efforts in learning about the fort’s conservation and even took a group photograph! This will stay with them and cement a love of their heritage for future generations.”
The community engagement programme, part of the Reminiscing Forgotten Treasures series started in Siniawan by PAMSC, SHS and other NGOs, has been a successful model of how to energise the community behind heritage sites, enhancing their significance as examples of living heritage.
It has demonstrated what can be achieved by links between NGOs and corporate sponsors such as NS Bluescope Lysaght (Sarawak) Sdn Bhd.
The programme was introduced to Sri Aman and will soon be reintroduced to Kuching.
“We would like to propose that our NGOs embark on a new project in Kuching to physically conserve a heritage building and, at the same time, run a third installment in this successful community engagement series for our state capital,” Shepherd said.
“We will consult the museum to identify an appropriate site for physical conservation and call upon more like-minded NGOs and corporations to step forward to support our next undertaking.”