MENTION Lunas and many will probably recall the closely fought by-election in the southern Kedah town in 2000.
But most people would be left scratching their heads if they were asked now to point out the exact location of the town.
“It is true that many cannot tell the precise location of this sleepy hollow in Kedah.
“And most people do not know that the famous Lunas roasted ducks can be found in a hypermaket chain nationwide,” said Laurence Loh, one of DiGi’s Amazing Malaysians 2006 who has been dubbed the Heritage Architect of Kedah.
That is the reason Loh, an architect and leading figure in the field of conservation in Malaysia, has brought his heritage conservation expertise to Lunas, a picturesque little town which is just a 20-minute drive on the Butterworth-Kulim Expressway from Butterworth.
He is currently leading some 80 schoolchildren to undertake a cultural mapping project in the town which has one main road lined with pre-war shophouses on both sides.
The students, who are mostly locals, are from SMK Paya Besar, SMK Kulim and SRJK (C) Hwa Min. The project started in June and is scheduled to end by September.
The primary and secondary students, who are conducting their research and project work on weekends, will display what they have learnt in a showcase in October.
Loh, who had headed the conservation of Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in Penang which was adjudged the Most Excellent Project at the inaugural Unesco Asia Pacific Heritage 2000 Awards, said he chose Lunas for the project as his grandfather headed one of the three pioneer families of the town.
He said Lunas was where three major Penang families started their lineages in Malaysia – the Lims (descended from Lim Lean Teng), the Soons (descended from Soon Ah Lee) and the Lohs (descended from Loh Boon Ngee, Loh’s grandfather who started a rubber business).
During the three-month Heritage Architect of Kedah project, Loh is guiding the students to produce a cultural map of Lunas and restore an old, derelict rubber smokehouse there into a town museum where the October showcase will be held.
They are also doing a photographic survey of 40 buildings in the town, rediscovering its oral history by interviewing old residents, documenting the creation process of the town’s museum as well as preparing the exhibits and researching the rubber and tapioca industries there.
“The pictorial architecture essay, which the children are doing, may not change lives directly but will inspire them to take ownership of their town.
“Starting at the grassroots helps locals to see the importance of their town in a bigger picture,” said Loh who is also the deputy president of Badan Warisan.
He noted a strong connection between tangible and intangible heritage.
“The old rubber smokehouse in Lunas, for example, bears testimony to the kind of economy this small town had once depended on.
“Once you tear it down, you could still tell your children that rubber was once a main commodity but the building would definitely speak volumes by itself,” Loh said.
At the recent launch of The Heritage Architect of Kedah project, the participating students competed in a treasure hunt that took them from the Soon’s ancestral home to interesting landmarks including a pawnshop, a coffin maker’s shop, a duck rice shop and a temple.
The students pounded the town’s street and five-foot ways for two-and-a-half hours to search for the answers. Along the way, they interviewed local folk and traders to find out the history of the town.
Sattesh Maran, 14, said the treasure hunt was full of excitement and fun.
“I like outdoor activities. If not for the treasure hunt, I would not have learnt so much about the heritage of my birthplace Lunas,” said the Form Two student of SMK Kulim.
To cap a memorable outing, Sattesh and his eight teammates won a handphone each for emerging tops in the treasure hunt.
“Thanks to DiGi Telecommunications, we had so much fun and prizes to take home,” he added.
DiGi director of corporate affairs Tunku Alizakri Raja Muhammad Alias said heritage buildings provided a real link to the people and events that had shaped the areas in which the people live.
“Heritage, in particular our building heritage, is our legacy from the past and one that we, as a society, owe a duty to future generations to protect,” he said before presenting a piece of songket to Loh during the launch.
This is the second year DiGi is running its Amazing Malaysians programme that identifies individuals who are doing great heritage work and engages them in projects with youth or children living mainly in rural areas.
Besides Loh, the other four DiGi’s Amazing Malaysians 2006 are Janet Pillai – Madame Heritage Heboh of Penang; Rashid Esa – Woodcraft Warrior of Selangor; Eddin Khoo – Shadow player of Kelantan; and Bishan Singh – Champion of Pahang’s Lake Chini.
The five were chosen among 60 nominations for the DiGi Amazing Malaysian 2006 award.