Catching-up with our backlog of info on cultural heritage…


Early May, The Borneo Post published a stimulating article on the status on heritage management in Sarawak based on statements by Tan Sri William Mawan, at the time Sarawak Minister of Social Development and Liwan Lagang, his Assistant Minister of Culture and Heritage, and on an interview with Sarawak Heritage Society past president Karen Shepherd.


At the December 2015 State Legislative Assembly meeting, the Minister outlined the Sarawak Museum’s research and documentation programmes on cultural and historical sites. He mentioned the forts of the Brooke era, the historical and cultural sites of the Sarawak river delta and of the Borneo highlands and Niah caves. He said that “the State would continue to engage local communities, particularly school students, in heritage activities; and continue to identify, document and prepare conservation management plans to protect the state’s old buildings, artefacts and historical sites in recognising their significant heritage value” reported the article.

The article observed however that “there seems to be a lack of personal desire to keep and preserve the ownership of old buildings” and that “it is the same case with Sarawak’s heritage policy, which is imposed and not out of one’s own desire or will to retain these invaluable treasures”.

In this respect Karen Shepherd recalled the calls by the Sarawak Heritage Society for a review of Sarawak’s heritage management. She noted that the current approaches are piecemeal and that there have been ‘horrifying’ losses of buildings with heritage value, adding :

It is difficult to think of one country where heritage conservation has come from the bottom up.” (…)

“The state government must set the example for the people to follow. They must establish a heritage zone, like what Penang has done — ideally with a buffer zone around it. Any public or private development within that area must be managed by a heritage body, which will balance heritage concerns with those commercial in nature, in a coordinated multi-stakeholder approach. Without this, commerce will forever dominate over heritage, leaving the latter to pass into history forever.”

“No tourist travels thousands of miles to see a globalised version of what they have at home — faceless, international shopping centres with international brands everywhere. The tourists are here to see what makes us special — the orange apes, great caves, home of the White Rajahs in a time past, the vestige of the headhunters’ days, Chinese shophouses, rushing rivers and rapids, or Indian spice shops. But before the tourists could appreciate this, we must appreciate it first and present it with pride. We must preserve it with care. After all, our heritage is our story, not theirs (tourists)”.

The then Assistant Minister of Culture and Heritage, Liwan Lagang, recalled, in reaction, that “even though there’s no new policy on heritage buildings, the matter remained enshrined under Sarawak Cultural Heritage Ordinance 1993” (which regulates the listing and preservation of heritage buildings), reported the article.

Karen Shepherd cited Singapore, which “makes heritage preservation a priority that stands just as crucial as modernisation”. “I just got back from Singapore and they did very well (…) We need to turn these old buildings into adaptive reuse*, restoring and putting them into use while keeping them well-maintained”, she said.

Full Borneo Post article, with photos : Facing up to challenges in preservation of heritage, Borneo Post online, 2 May 2016.

Readers’ comments are welcome.


2006 view of one of the old market buildings, Gambier Street/Waterfront, Kuching, before demolition. (SHS photo)

2006 view of one of the old market buildings, Gambier Street/Waterfront, Kuching, before demolition. (SHS photo)

 * “adaptive reuse” is an approach developed by Singapore to restore and adapt conserved shophouses to new uses, while adhering to conservation principles so as to retain the intrinsic character and historical value of the building. See Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority Conservation Guidelines.