RAIMY CHE-ROSS, in his own words, is only an independent researcher with an academic background in political science, anthropology and art history. He has no advanced degrees, unlike other historians in Malaysia.
But the Australian graduate has plenty of fire in his belly. He has spent the last 12 years poring through countless Malay manuscripts, including those written in Jawi, in search of ancient cities.
This young man has certainly stirred great interest in the academic world, at least among local historians, with his claim that there is a lost city known as Kota Gelanggi in the jungles of Johor. His claims are based on references in the Sejarah Melayu and on aerial photographs that show vegetation with unusual patterns. Raimy has also offered to share his information and provide assistance to the Department of Museums and Antiquities.
The ancient site, he theorises, could be at least 1,000 years old and even possibly older than Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Borobudur in Indonesia. If indeed the site is that of the lost city, it is set to revise our understanding of our region’s historical landscape.
But Raimy is a cautious man. He chooses his words, either in conversation or in his articles, carefully. He is aware that he has stumbled onto something big but also realises that nothing is proven until a serious expedition begins.
He has been open to admit that his first one-week expedition in 2003 did not produce any results and that his team did not see any tracks, which could lead to the lost city.
The orang asli who live around there talked of “ghosts and tigers” in the place which they knew as Kota Batu Hitam.
Raimy doesn’t quite fit the image of Indiana Jones, the archaeologist-adventurer played by Harrison Ford - the Hollywood hero who is ever in search of lost cities in jungles and deserts.
Nevertheless, he has stirred tremendous interest in Malay history. Students, who used to find the subject a bore because their unimaginative teachers only force them to copy notes, have been inspired by the more exciting treatment of the subject by the media.
Like pioneers in all fields, Raimy is ready to take his share of pot shots. There will be disputes and counter-claims. There will be triumphs and frustrations. But that is supposed to be normal in all historical or scientific discoveries.
Since The Star broke the story, there has been much interest in the subject. Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim has said the Federal Government will give top priority to the search for the lost city of Kota Gelanggi in Johor and will provide the necessary funds to unveil what could be the biggest historical find in the country.
On Monday, Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman said the state agreed that there was a lost city in the state but it was disputing its name. They claimed it was not known as Kota Gelanggi but was called Kota Klang Kiu or Ganggayu, based on findings by the Yayasan Warisan Johor.
The Star had reported on Feb 4 that the Kota Gelanggi cave complex existed in Pahang, a site known for its pre-historic links, about 30km from Jerantut. Six years ago, a team of archaeologists unearthed artefacts there believed to be more than 1,500 years old in one of the caves. The relics included pottery, hunting tools, weapons and ornamental pieces.
In Sejarah Melayu, Tun Seri Lanang pinpointed the city, saying it was built of blackstone and lay far in the upper reaches of Sungai Johor. He called it Kota Gelanggi but others have said that the city could have been called Klang Kiew in the 9th century AD.
The Malay rendition, as Raimy pointed out in his article, resembles the Siamese word Khlang kaew (jewel) and could have been mispronounced as “klang kiu.” There has been suggestion that the word soon became “glang giu” or “gelanggi” or even the more familiar “linggui.”
Raimy’s article in the Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society is well written and well argued. Even if one may dispute his theories, those interested in this subject must read his work before responding. This would include politicians, researchers and journalists – who may be happy or unhappy with his work for one reason or another.
He has, in fact, devoted a large section to the Kota Gelanggi cavern in Pahang, providing details of the cave complex including the limestone formations.
It is good to know that the Johor Mentri Besar is showing great interest in the issue but more importantly, there appears to be a consensus that there is a lost city in the state, whichever name we call it.
In the search for the lost city, the nation needs the support of leaders like Dr Rais, Ghani and historians like Prof Datuk Dr Nik Hassan Suhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and the Department of Museums and Antiquities director-general Datuk Dr Adi Taha to lend their push and expertise.
We need to work together for the common interest of wanting to make our history and heritage richer. This could well be the missing piece in the historical mosaic of the South-East Asian region. As Dr Rais put it correctly, it is a national priority. And who said history is boring?
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