I remember meeting Tunku when I just started my career as an Archive Officer in the late 80s. My former Director General, YBhg. Datuk Zakiah Hanum binti Abdul Hamid was in talks with Tunku to conduct a historical audio recording. Although I was only a junior officer, but it was such a privilege to have met the person who fought so hard for our country’s independence,” said Azemi Abdul Aziz.
As fate would have it, Azemi worked his way up with a career spanning over 30 years at ANM. He is currently heading the National Archives of Malaysia, as the Director General and among the privileges entitled to him include monitoring the Memorial of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra on Jalan Dato’ Onn, Kuala Lumpur.
“I can’t even begin to describe my true feeling when facing Tunku for the first time. It was such a great honour; I was simply awed by his greatness as a leader. Had you been there, you too would feel that aura that surrounds him. It is among the best memories I cherish,” Azemi added. Unfortunately, the historical audio recording was never materialized as Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj passed away on December 6th, 1990 and was later buried at the Langgar Royal Mausoleum in Kedah.
Despite being born into the royal family, Tunku was extremely humble and caring towards people around him. While many royal-borns are restrained by protocols, Azemi added, Tunku was a simple man who often visited local businesses to chat with people around him as friends would. “I’ve met a man who claimed that Tunku had once visited his father’s coffee shop in Penang. He was very young at that time, he didn’t even know the man who was joking and laughing with the other patrons was the Father of Malaysia. In fact, many people have similar versions of such stories, of Tunku being a people person and easily socializing without barriers with the ‘rakyat’ (citizens). This shows his true human qualities,” Azemi shared with Destination Malaysia.
After Tunku passed away, the ANM began working on the paperwork to establish a memorial in his honour. Thus, his old residence along Jalan Dato’ Onn was selected. This building has a history of over 125 years old and is attached to the memorial where one can experience a blast from the past, from the preindependence day and glory of the establishment of Malaysia as a free country.
If you feel what has been written in history books are all that you can learn, you’ll be proven wrong with the extensive information gathered and displayed here at the Memorial of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra. According to Azemi, discussions were made between ANM and Tunku’s family members which allowed Tunku’s personal belongings to be showcased here for the people to identify with the real Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj.
Enlarged photos of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj and leaders from the past, each complemented with didactics will give you further insight into the days of pre-Merdeka (Independence); from the hardship of rallying the power of the people, to getting the support from all Sovereign Malay Rulers and finally, to have the Independence signed over by the British. And later, at Merdeka Square on a date we Malaysians hold close to our hearts, 31st August 1957, Tunku Abdul Rahman announced our freedom with the famous ‘Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!’ cry, witnessed by the whole nation. It was on this day that Malaya, a British colony became Malaysia.
Located in another section of the memorial, you can learn about the personal and softer side of Tunku Abdul Rahman. Learn about his royal family heritage, photos taken from his childhood growing up into a lawyer and finally, a highly respectable leader.
Walking further into the memorial, you can find Tunku’s photos and personal belongings showcasing his hobbies in sports and leisure. Tunku was a big fan of football and had been photographed many times joining the game. Don’t miss the enlarged photo of Tunku kicking a football while still wearing his baju Melayu and songket samping. Besides football, he also enjoyed swimming.
Like most young men, Tunku had a knack for anything with speed and agility. During his spare time, Tunku enjoyed driving his sports car around and sometimes, he’d take his speed boat out for a ride. As many royalties are, he was also an avid fan of equestrian.
Perhaps many are not aware of Tunku’s passion for culture and arts. While studying in England, Tunku was interested in performance arts and participated in theatre productions. You’ll find a photo of Tunku and his college mates working on a play together. Of course, many people from the older generation are familiar with one of the screen plays that Tunku himself wrote titled, ‘Raja Bersiong’ (The Vampire King), a story based on the historical myth Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, a pre-Islamic Kedah empire.
“Tunku wanted to portray the historical legends of Kedah through the films that he penned. This includes another one; ‘Sumpahan Mahsuri’ (The Curse of Mahsuri), all related to the legends and myths of Kedah. It was another way of Tunku portraying the sovereignty of Kedah. It was also during Tunku’s time that Malaysia hosted several international film festivals like the ones in Hong Kong and Japan.”
Azemi also said, “From what we can see here at the memorial, with his collection of personal items, photos and related documents, we can see that Tunku was just an ordinary human being who loves culture, sports, entertainment and his nation. He also possessed extraordinary qualities such as his love and loyalty for the country, religion and the people. He had idealistic dreams of a united nation, living in peace and harmony.”
THE MEMORIAL OF TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN PUTRA
The Memorial of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra was officially opened by the 4th Prime Minister, Tun Dato’ Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad on November 10th, 1994. This is the second memorial dedicated to former Prime Ministers, with the first of the Heroes Archive series dedicated to Allahyarham Tun Abdul Razak.The Residence was Tunku’s official home from 1956 to 1970 and he became the First Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1957 onwards. Other than the documents and photographs related to Tunku throughout his hardship to gain Independence and his tenure as the Prime Minister, you’ll find his personal collection very interesting including the Medals bestowed upon him from foreign countries and also his life-long journals which are still well-preserved until today. The Residence retains its original décor. Priceless decorative items such as elephant tusks each at about a metre in length, semi-precious stone carvings, dozens of kris he collected over the years which filled two cabinets and an authentic tiger fur carpet complete with its head, are some of his personal belongings.
MYSTICAL TALES FROM THE MEMORIAL
When Hollywood produced movies such as Night At The Museum franchise, sending thrills and excitement to visitors with the possibility of something magical happening at museums, you’ll be surprised to know that the National Archives of Malaysia has their own stories to share. Many items showcased here were once Tunku’s belongings, so one can only imagine how many years these items have been around. Keep an open mind and heart when visiting The Residence. The building itself is over a century old, undergoing regular restoration and cleaning activities by caretakers. Much Asian hearsay believes, that old items such as family heirlooms are often ‘accompanied’ by ‘an owner’ even long after the passing of its owner.
THE HAUNTED TELEPHONE
Among the stories the caretakers shared with Destination Malaysia was the story of the old telephone at the residence. Once the telephone rang and the person nearest to it answered, thinking it was still functioning. At the other end, there was a male voice asking, “Hello, apa habaq?” (Northern slang for ‘apa khabar’/’how are you?’). The person who answered it later realized, the telephone wire was not connected to the wall socket and later fell ill due to shock.
THE MYSTERIOUS HOME FURNITURE
On another occasion, the caretakers at the memorial were on duty to clean the old furniture and decorative items. So, of course, everything had to be moved carefully to the corner of the room for cleaning. Imagine coming back into the room holding your broomstick and mop only to find the furniture and decorative items were all back to their original position. Apparently, ‘Someone’ doesn’t like it when you rearrange his furniture!’
THE CENTURY-OLD TREE
While taking a walk around the Residence, you may notice a giant jejawi tree or Banyan (Genus Ficus, Subgenus Urostigma) growing in the backyard.In case you’re wondering how could a jejawi tree grow that big, well, it has been around a lot longer than the Residence; easily more than 130 – 140 years old. According to Azemi, there were several attempts to cut it down or at least to trim the tree. As it has grown too big and may disrupt the view. What is a mystery is that at every attempt to cut or trim the tree, the gardener fell sick on the day scheduled for the trimming. There has also been reports that the cutting equipment will stop functioning. Till today, no one dares to mention a cut or a trim.
THE NIGHT GUARDIAN
Officially the caretakers at the Memorial work office hours. Unless there is an event or activity taking place, then they will be requested to stay longer at the memorial. How about on non-peak periods and ‘someone’ decides to work overtime? It happened. One of the Archive Assistant whispered of a colleague who was newly transferred to the Memorial not too long ago. Being new to the place, he took a stroll and realized that during one evening, he was not alone. Thinking it might be another colleague working late as well, he just let it go. Until he came back to work again the next day, only to find out, he was indeed alone. So, who was the other ‘colleague’ that he saw walking around the memorial?
THE 1959 CADILLAC FLEETWOOD
This sports car was used during Tunku’s time as the Prime Minister. As majestic as it may seem, this old baby might have a story of her own. Think of Stephen King’s famous 1983 horror ‘Christine’ with the red-and-white Plymouth Fury. Why don’t you visit the Memorial of Tunku Abdul Rahman and solve the mysteries yourself? Only if you dare.