By WILLIAM THADDAEUS
WILLIAM THADDAEUS looked beyond the palace in Kuala Kangsar and discovered the rich history behind a village nearby in which many served the Sultans faithfully and continue to produce the handicrafts they were famous for.
MALAY villages have always held a special fascination for me, perhaps because of the peace and tranquillity that exude from a rural setting dominated by the greenery of fruit trees, vegetables and other plants.
The villagers' simple lifestyle also makes me take a step back and reflect on my own life, much of which has been spent in bustling cities in my youth.
A combination of many factors makes many city dwellers yearn to balik kampung - a common expression for 'going back to my home village'.
These may range from wanting to visit loved ones to climbing the trees in the orchard.
For me, there's one village that stands out from other villages in the country. It's Padang Changkat, which I came across quite by accident, while exploring Bukit Chandan in Kuala Kangsar, Perak.
A Rich Legacy
Situated by the banks of the Perak River, it has a population of around 500 to 600 people.
The village has been around for more than 250 years.
The first ruler of Perak, Sultan Muzaffar Shah, believed to be from the Malacca sultanate, then lived nearby at Bukit Chandan. It was a Bugis man from Indonesia by the name of Daeng Sedili who first came and settled here in 1740. He was well liked by the Sultan who, besides giving him nobility status, also gave him the hand in marriage to a princess of the royal family.
The Sultan entrusted Daeng Sedili to head the village's Bugis community and to cater to the needs of the Sultan. Because of his unwavering loyalty to the Sultan, Daeng Sedili was later appointed the Mufti of Perak.
Padang Changkat literally means 'a field on high ground'. The name makes sense because although it is right beside the river, it rises some good 50 to 80 metres above the banks of Sungai Perak. This unique topographical feature has protected the village from floods after heavy rains.
The Bugis people in the village were expert elephant handlers and were entrusted to train and manage elephants owned by the Sultans. In those days, as there were no roads, the river was the only means of transportation and trade.
Boats, both small and large, used to ply the river, bringing goods to and from the palace, located high up the hill.
Elephants were the most efficient means to transport heavy cargo unloaded at the riverbanks. The elephants then carried the cargo via roads, which ran through this village to the palace.
Today, of course, we can't find any more elephants in the village but the villagers never cease to tell visitors about the exploits of their ancestors and their old status as royal elephant handlers.
|A wide range of kris, each taking more than a month to make.
The Bugis community also brought with them other skills of which the Sultans took note of. They were expert blade-smiths making swords (pedang), spears (lembing), machetes (golok) and kris. These were weapons used by the Sultans' warriors.
The blade-making skills have been preserved and handed down for many generations till today.
There are several practitioners here offering their services to royal households and collectors of this ancient art form. In fact, the Golok Perak, a machete of unique design, is reputed to have originated from here.
When you visit, ask the villagers for directions and they will help you locate these artisans. There's also a showroom recently built where you can view these exquisite handicrafts.
The women of this village, not to be outshone by their male counterparts, are recognised for their skills in a special art of embroidery called tekat benang emas. This intricate weaving of gold thread on velvet or silk cloth is used to create highly-prized clothing and decorative items. These items are often used at special functions, especially weddings or given as gifts.
|A board called 'pemidang' is used in 'tarik benang emas'.
There are two forms of this art: tarik benang emas and tarik gobah.
In tarik benang emas, cut-out manila cards are used to create the intricate motifs, which are then attached to the base materials. The golden thread is then weaved over the cards.
In tarik gobah, the design is drawn in pencil onto the cloth and the embroidery is done following the drawing.
Tekat benang emas is a thriving cottage industry in Padang Changkat. There are a few homes here where you can enjoy a demonstration by the weavers without charge. You may also buy the beautiful items directly from them.
Visitors, especially tour groups arriving in buses, are encouraged to disembark at the village entrance as the road within the village is pretty narrow. However, cars would have no problem getting through. The entrance is marked with an arch.
A walk through the village is also very pleasant as you have so much to see while walking under the shade of durian, jackfruit, banana, rambutan and durian trees that grow in abundance here.
The village is pleasantly clean. There are about 200 houses, mostly traditional wooden homes with a smattering of brick homes built recently.
Villagers are friendly to visitors, so don't hesitate to stop and make inquiries or just chat. Many pensioners live here. Some of them retired from the armed forces and the police. They simply love talking about their 'exploits' in the good old days.
How To Get There
When in Kuala Kangsar town, follow the signboard to Bukit Chandan. It will also lead you to the Perak Sultan's palace (Istana Iskandariah) atop the hill. When you reach the palace area, the road is a one-way drive around the palace. When driving around there, look out for the Padang Changkat signboard. You can't miss it.
To see the art of sword-making and tekat benang emas, contact former village chief of Padang Changkat Zaino Beedin Shah Shaharudin at 05-776 0973 or 012-582 9664.