KUCHING: Efforts to conserve Sarawak’s heritage must be rooted in knowledge and appreciation of the state’s rich history, culture and environment, said Datuk Seri Lim Chong Keat.
The Penang-born architect and conservationist said the challenge and beauty of Sarawak was the richness of its rural environment which many urbanites were unfamiliar with.
“To me that is the top priority. If people here want to be cultured, they need to discover their own state through self-education, not to use it but for its own sake.
“If you are a Sarawakian, you have to be interested in your own people.
“You have to love the environment, the people and the history of the state,” he said after giving a talk on “Ethos, Heritage, Conservation and Advancement” here.
The talk was organised by the Sarawak Heritage Society as the first in its Sarawak Chronicles series.
The 87-year-old Lim, who has travelled extensively in Sarawak since the 1960s, said anyone who wanted to do heritage conservation must know their environment.
“If you have no sense of your own culture, you are not in a position to do heritage. It’s important to create an endogenous sense of heritage.
“You have to learn and discover your own country, your own environment,” he said in his talk.
According to him, the impediments to knowledge about culture and heritage included ignorance, indifference, the refusal or inability to learn, poor dissemination of research and the lack of encouragement and facilities to learn.
He said ignorance included not knowing the environment, geography, history, flora, fauna and indigenous people of the state.
“For instance, of the many palms planted around Kuching, do you know which are native to Sarawak and which are imported species?” he said, adding that there was a need to train more local botanists to discover and identify native plant species in the state.
Lim himself is a keen botanical researcher who has discovered over 70 new species of palms and gingers in Malaysia, including some in Sarawak.
He also said heritage conservation was not only about preserving old buildings in urban environments but also covered the rural and natural environment and culture.
Calling this ethnoheritage, he said its conservation began with empathy, compassion and knowledge.
“For example, we need to look at real folk art, markets selling local and jungle produce, folk culture and the environment. Sarawak has such a diverse cultural identity and many living traditions are still there,” he said.
Lim stressed that the discovery of heritage should be done for its own sake and not for the purpose of commercial exploitation alone.
“The danger in heritage conservation today is to ‘do it for tourism’. We must start with valuing heritage for its own sake, not for exploiting it,” he said.