Exhibition unveils museum’s rare collection

An Iban medicine basket or lupong displayed for the first time in the Urang Sarawak exhibition.

KUCHING: The Urang Sarawak exhibition at the Art Museum here offers a glimpse of rare and never-seen-before objects from the Sarawak Museum’s collection.

One such artefact is a collection of paper scrolls written by an Anglican priest when he was a prisoner of war at the Batu Lintang camp during the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945.

Sarawak Museum Department documentation and content development officer Mona Octavia Sulai said the writing was done secretly and the pieces of paper rolled into cylinders to conceal them from the guards.

“The scrolls were given to the museum and previously shown in their cylinder form. Now they have been unrolled and laid out for the first time so that viewers can read what is written on them.

“I was actually the one given the task to unroll the scrolls. They were in a good state and not fragile,” she said.

The scrolls are displayed in the exhibition’s history section which chronicles Sarawak’s journey from the Brooke era through the Second World War to independence.

These boat coffins are among the highlights of the Urang Sarawak exhibition.
These boat coffins are among the highlights of the Urang Sarawak exhibition. 

According to the accompanying inscription, the scrolls belonged to a Rev Henry Herbert Howes and contain revisions of the Biatah Gospels and translations of the Epistles of the Bible. The paper came from old Treasury records which were wrapped around camp rations.

Another object on display for the first time is an Iban medicine basket collected from the Undup River and dated to the early 1900s.

Known as “lupong”, the basket held charms used by a shaman in healing rites. The charms include a rare “batu bilong”, a small clay axe head used to symbolically cut diseases out of the sick person.

A highlight in the archaeological section is a pair of boat coffins found in the Niah caves during an excavation by former museum curator Tom Harrisson in 1958.

“These death ships are significant because they show how ancient people treated their loved ones when they died,” Malissa Abdul Kadir, another documentation and content development officer, said.

Mona said the Urang Sarawak exhibition was about representing Sarawak’s diverse communities to promote understanding.

“Foreigners are curious about Sarawak whereas locals feel appreciated when they see objects from their communities on display. We want people to understand what we have in store in our own backyard.

“It’s not only getting to know our own cultural groups but others as well,” she said.

In addition, Mona said the exhibition served as a pilot for the new Sarawak Museum Campus, which is currently under construction and scheduled for completion in 2020.

“We want to prepare the public for what’s coming in the future when there will be a different way of exhibiting objects.

“We want to do more thematic exhibitions to show how the objects relate to the people in the past and the present and how they can still be relevant to the community,” she said.

Urang Sarawak is an ongoing exhibition and admission is free.

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