The Culture Mandala: Bulletin of the Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies,

5 no. 1, 2002: Copyright © Paulette Dellios 2002

The Museumification of the Village:

Cultural Subversion in the 21st Century (1) 


by Paulette Dellios

Introduction: The Museumification Matrix

In many nations of the Asian region museumification and globalisation have created a hybrid form, commonly known as the 'cultural village'. This article sets out to examine the cultural village as a cultural issue in development in the 21st century. This inquiry will survey cultural villages in Asia but will single out Malaysia for particular attention as it is here that the museumification of the village has taken a pervasive hold. Hence, the multiple connotations of the cultural village-inclusive of cultural subversion-may be investigated in greater depth.

Museumification is a process whilst originating in the museum is not confined by it. In the interpretive medium of museumification, everything is a potential 'artefact'-entire villages, or abstractions such as 'ethnicity' and 'nation', or human beings. Yet, reality cannot be represented: museumification distorts inverts and subverts meanings.

Museumification and globalisation are symbiotically interrelated. Museums, in their interpretations and orderings of the 'world', are active participants in globalisation (Prösler 1996: 40). Furthermore, the global proliferation of museums has made the museum itself a 'global symbol' (Macdonald 1996: 2). However, it is museologically misguided to assign museums to the task of 'global development' (see Gorakshkar 1992: 8).

The Museological Formula of 'Development'

The term 'development', like 'culture', is open to innumerable interpretations. Here, 'development' will be restricted to museological musings. The International Council of Museums pronounces that museums and sites of a museum nature are "in the service of society and its development" (ICOM 1994a: 277-278). However, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) does not clarify the meaning of 'development'.

The then chairman of the ICOM Asia-Pacific Agency maintains that museums are "indispensable for a civilized society" and the development of museums results in "the development of society itself" (Inumaru 1989: 7). 'Development' is not explicated, nor is the ensuing enigma: how did acclaimed civilisations of the past arise when the museum had yet to be invented?

The trinity of museums, civilisation and development is further promoted in an ICOM (1994b) publication, tellingly entitled Museums, Civilization and Development. The museological assumption is that the three concepts belong to the one taxonomy. However, the term 'development' is neither theorised nor debated. The International Council of Museums has long advocated a partnership between 'museums' and 'development', as summarised in the 1982 ICOM study: Museums: An Investment for Development (de la Torre & Monreal 1982).

Museological writings present the relationship between museums and development as axiomatic. Museums are deemed to play important roles in 'national development' and 'socio-economic development' (see, for example, Kaplan 1994: 77; San Roman 1992: 30; William & Regis 1990: 1). However, how these processes occur and what is meant by development are questions that are consistently ignored.

The implicit meaning of 'development' in museological discourse only becomes manifest when 'development' is harnessed to 'developing' as a descriptor of nations. For instance, The Directory of Museums and Living Displays declares:

... developing countries will make great sacrifices in order to have museums ... To have no museums, in today's circumstances, is to admit that one is below the minimum level of civilization required of a modern state (Hudson & Nicholls 1985: x).

Hence, the assumption is that the more museums a nation possesses, the more 'civilised' or 'developed' it is. The Directory of Museums and Living Displays also correlates each nation's GNP per capita to its total number of museums.

This murky museum mathematics, disguising a civilisational and/or developmental hierarchy, is widespread (for a similar critique, see Prösler 1996: 23-24). For example, Lewis (1992: 18) indicates that two-thirds of the world's museums are located in industrialised nations where, moreover, the major growth in museums is occurring. Lewis's (ibid: 18) application of comparative statistics-one museum to every 43,000 Europeans and one museum to every 1.3 million Africans-is disingenuous. That Africans may elect to engage civilisation in other ways rather than museumify it, and then quantify their museums to measure their level of 'civilisation' or 'development' against a Euro-centred yardstick, is not conceded.

If development is regarded as a value-encrusted amalgam of material and moral concepts (see Wall 1997: 34), this is equally true of the museum and sites of a museum nature. The museological rhetoric that museums are 'indispensable' to the 'development' of societies and nations is a conceited, self-serving stance. 'Development' is not articulated; museologically, it is simply a 'noble truth' that can be effortlessly appropriated for the museum's justificatory portfolio.

Cultural Villages in Asia: Recycling the Past

The contemporary cultural village in Asia has its museological predecessor in late 19th century Europe, with the materialisation of open-air, folklife museums. The folklife museum movement emerged as a response to industrialisation and the declining peasantry (Adler 1990: 114-115). Similarly, in the context of cultural villages in Asia, museologists habitually cite heritage concerns in a climate of rapid socio-economic changes (e.g. Chin 1989: 102; Regis 1990: 35; Su Donghai & An Laishun 1998: 41-42). However, the heritage rationale is only a partial explanation. Politics, identity, nascent nostalgia, the globalisation of tourism, and notions of development all contribute to deciphering why the 19th century European museum idea is being reconstituted in 21st century Asia.

Before a detailed examination of the cultural villages motif in Malaysia, some cognate forms in Asia will be briefly delineated. The following survey is not intended to be exhaustive. Rather, it illustrates the range of 'cultural village' forms, although not all sites apply that particular appellation.

In India the Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya Complex (Madhya Pradesh) comprises a museum, an outdoors display of tribal dwellings in village-like settings, a 'Coastal Village' and a 'Desert Village'. The Shilpgram Crafts Village (Rajasthan) holds demonstrations in a setting of traditional houses. The Dakshinachitra Village (Tamil Nadu) is a display village of traditional art, craft and architecture. The Crafts Museum (New Delhi) contains the 'Village Complex' of dwellings from rural India. The Botanical Gardens (Nilgiri Hills) stretches natural history to encompass a Toda village display. The Tribal Research Centre (Bhubaneswar) has an outdoors display of Orissan tribal houses.

The Chinese Society of Museums has transformed the isolated Soga Miao community, who live in a cluster of villages (Guizhou Province), into an eco-museum. The China Ethnic Minorities Park (Beijing) showcases approximately 55 nationalities in their re-created habitat. The China Folk Culture Villages (Guandong Province) displays 24 villages as settings for 21 minority nationalities. The Yunnan Nationalities Villages (Kunming) comprises 12 re-created villages of ethnic minority groups. In Hong Kong the Sam Tung Uk Museum, a folk museum highlighting Hakka culture, includes a traditional village. In Macau the Taipa Folk Museum is the first stage of a cultural village which will depict the lifestyle of Macau's Portuguese a century ago.

Taiwan displays the Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village, comprising dwellings and artefacts representing Taiwan's nine aboriginal tribes (an official number in dispute, see Alliance of Taiwan Aborigines 1995: 357). Taiwan Aboriginal Cultural Park spans three villages and includes miniature 'villages' of the nine (official) aboriginal tribes. In addition, Taiwan offers the Taiwan Folk Village and the Kinmen Cultural Village. Japan's Ainu Village is a cultural tourism site which began as a resettlement scheme for the aboriginal Ainu in 1965. Korea's Folk Village (near Seoul) exhibits approximately 200 buildings and inhabitants who re-enact rural life of a bygone era.

Thailand's Rose Garden (near Bangkok) is a resort 'village', with crafts demonstrations and cultural performances known as the 'Thai Village' show. Nong Nooch Village (near Pattaya) is another Thai-style village-resort (with a small museum) and daily cultural shows. The Thai Southern Cultural Village (Hat Yai) is a re-created display village, also offering cultural shows. The Old Chiang Mai Cultural Centre comprises teak houses and Hilltribe villages, and stages cultural performances.

Mini Indonesia (Taman Mini Indonesia Indah), on the outskirts of Jakarta, is intended to be a miniature version of life in Indonesia. The vast site includes traditional houses of all the provinces, an orchid garden, bird park, numerous museums, several recreational facilities and performance spaces. The Philippines exhibits the Philippine Village (Nayong Pilipino), situated near Manila International Airport. The site (inclusive of two museums) showcases Filipino traditions and cultures from the country's six major regions.

Singapore's Malay Village re-creates Malay culture through village architecture, crafts demonstrations, a museum, souvenir shops, eateries, a multi-media show and cultural performances. Singapore also displays a colossal ambition: the tiny island-state lays claim to Asia with its Asian Village. The Asian Village is intended to depict the cultures of Japan, China, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

As the aforementioned examples suggest, the cultural village may assume varied forms, functions and labels. The site may museumify living or vanished traditions, a minority or majority ethnicity, a former colonial power, a nation-state or the Asian region. Nevertheless, these disparate strands are held together by the 'village' motif and by the methodology of museumification. Cultural villages are, quintessentially, sites of a museum nature. Some are classified as 'living museums' or 'eco-museums'; some were initiated by museums; others house museums within their reconstructed village confines or replicate museum display techniques.

The Village is the Theme, Malaysia is the Venue

Before scrutinising cultural villages in Malaysia, a context is useful. Malaysia, covering an area of approximately 330,000 square kilometres, has two geographical components which are separated by the South China Sea. The Federation of Malaysia comprises thirteen states: eleven in Peninsular Malaysia and two - Sabah and Sarawak - on the island of Borneo. The political boundaries of Malaysia are one outcome of British colonial rule.

The population of Malaysia is 22,180,000 as of mid-1998 (Demaine 2001: 692). Information Malaysia (1997: 62-63) classifies Malaysians into 64 ethnic or culturally differentiated groups which are then condensed into three main categories: Malays and others considered 'indigenous', Chinese and Indians. The population is 55% urban and 45% rural, which may be compared to 1980 figures of 34% and 66%, respectively (Edwards 2001: 703). Rural modernisation and the economic transformation of Malay communities (predominant in rural areas) have been resolute goals of the Government's development programmes.

The village in Malaysia is termed kampung. The village or kampung also refers to longhouse communities in the Bornean States of Sabah and Sarawak. Yeang (1992: 195) describes the longhouse as "an entire village" living in one rectangular, timber and thatch structure on stilts. 'What is on two stilts and hundreds of thatched roofs?' is an inventive Sabahan riddle, solved with the response: 'a chicken'. The chicken is expressed in the visual imagery of the village house and chickens are an integral feature of kampungs. The 'riddling' activity in Sabah takes place in the rice fields during the harvesting season. In Malaysia, the kampung is usually set in an agricultural landscape, but long-established urban kampungs also exist. Similarly, re-created villages have materialised in urban, rural and semi-rural settings but these 'villages' are devoid of chickens.

Currently, Malaysia accommodates fifteen re-created villages. Cultural villages have emerged only recently in Malaysia, whereas museums have been a colonially-instituted presence since the 19th century. The first cultural village to be established was Mini Malaysia in the state of Malacca in 1986. This year also marks the date when the Government identified tourism as a mechanism for economic development (Edwards 2001: 708). In 1987 tourism and culture were combined in one ministry and in 1992 this was expanded into the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism. Mini Malaysia also promotes itself as Malacca's 'Cultural Village'. It was initiated as a tourism project of the Malacca State Development Corporation. Mini Malaysia, located in a semi-rural setting, comprises replica wooden houses of each of the thirteen states. The houses are complete with museum-style displays of artefacts, mannequins, tableaux and texts.

A dominant display theme in the houses is the traditional Malay wedding, particularly the tableau of the bersanding ceremony ('sitting in state'). This continues to be a fundamental element of contemporary Malay weddings. In villages, the wedding ceremony is still held in the home with the assistance and participation of the kampung community. Significantly, Mini Malaysia offers Malay weddings as the 'real thing' in its 'Special Package Wedding Ceremony' (undated brochure, 'Pakej Istimewa Majlis Perkahwinan'). A prospective bride and groom may hire the facilities at the cultural village for a 'kampung wedding' in a 'kampung' environment (ibid).

The thirteen replica houses of Mini Malaysia are "authentically crafted" and are intended to represent the "traditional architecture" of each state (undated brochure, 'Taman Mini Malaysia'). How is the representative house determined? The choice for the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak is based on representation of the largest ethnic group in each state: the Kadazan-Dusun longhouse of Sabah and the Iban longhouse of Sarawak. The Malays form the largest ethnic group of the eleven peninsular states. However, each state has a multiplicity of Malay house styles. Hilton (1992: 40) explains that the Malay houses of Mini Malaysia represent those of "well-to-do villagers so that the full potentialities of the style in size, design, and decoration, can be displayed". Architectural scope is not the sole determinant: the dwellings of villagers not 'well-to-do' would hardly do as a display of Malaysia in Mini Malaysia.

The rural Chinese house is unrepresented in Mini Malaysia. Hilton (1992: 40) dismisses this type of dwelling as a "standard design" whereas the peninsular Malay house varies according to regional styles. Also excluded is the rural Chinese Peranakan house (a timber dwelling on stilts) on the east coast of Malaysia. This type of house is a striking example of cultural adaptation in domestic architecture. Tan Chee-Beng (1993: 7) emphasises that Peranakan-type houses are no longer being constructed and the ones that remain should be "preserved as ... an important part of our national heritage".

Mini Malaysia in its architecture of space reveals a set of implicit boundaries. As a manifestation of the nation's architectural identity, the site does not represent a collection of Malaysia. The replica houses, like any museum collection, are informed by selection procedures. Mini Malaysia is, simultaneously, a collection of omissions and a tacit statement on who belongs to the nation as 'village'.

The Pasir Salak Historical Complex (1990) is being developed in stages in the Malay village of Kampung Pasir Salak. The project was initiated by the Perak state government as a tourism-related venture but this hardly evinces its manifold meanings. The present shape of Kampung Pasir Salak is extracted from its past. The kampung was the assassination site of a British colonial official in 1875. The Historical Complex proclaims this incident as the first nationalist uprising, a claim which is historically inaccurate (see Andaya & Andaya 1982: 123, 162).

The Historical Complex contains three museums modelled on Perak-Malay domestic architecture. One of the museums depicts Perak's history in a series of re-enactments using life-size wax figures. The wax colonisers as 'artefacts' inverts the museumification of the 'natives' during British rule. Other parallels may be traced between colonial narratives and cultural villages. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, imperial exhibitions displayed fabricated 'native villages' populated by 'native' inhabitants (see Greenhalgh 1988: ch. 4). The British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 exhibited human 'specimens', including twenty Malays, catalogued under the heading: 'Races in Residence' (ibid: 95).

The Pasir Salak Historical Complex is a complex structure of colonial, state, nationalistic, touristic and village identity. The Complex is superimposed on a Malay kampung of 73 households, that is, a 'Malay race in residence'. A newspaper feature (Mimi 1996: 13) provides some insight into the villagers' reception of the Complex growing in their midst. A villager, working as a security guard at the Complex, questions its location in Kampung Pasir Salak: "The village is small and the complex dwarfs it even more" (ibid: 13). This is a faithful portrait of the scale of museumification. Another villager welcomes the increased job opportunities the Complex provides in an agricultural community but experiences "a kind of culture shock" (ibid: 13). In this re-colonised village it is the resident villagers, not the tourists, who experience 'culture shock'.

The Pulau Keladi Cultural Village/Kampung Budaya Pulau Keladi (1994) was established by the Pahang State Museum Board. This cultural village materialises the culture of politics: it is sited in the village of a former prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak (d. 1976). The Cultural Village includes the Tun Abdul Razak Gallery (kampung house architecture), and a replica of the kampung house in which Tun Abdul Razak was born. A Malay language brochure describes this replica as a 'traditional' house, constructed by 'traditional' craftsmen using 'traditional' techniques and materials (undated, 'Kampung Budaya Pulau Keladi'). The Cultural Village stamps liberally the signature of the 'traditional', a signature writ large in other cultural villages. In the Malay language 'traditional' is tradisional, suggestive of its recent temporality.

The state of Kelantan has crafted a Handicraft Village/Kampung Kraftangan (1991) in its capital. All the structures are of timber but the Kelantanese architecture is enlarged in scale and stylistically enhanced. The site contains a handicraft museum, an art gallery, a souvenir shop and a restaurant. The museum displays are supplemented with handicraft demonstrations. The urban Handicraft Village is an abrupt change of venue for, traditionally, handicrafts were produced at home in kampungs and, according to Mohd Taib (1988: 229), this approach has endured "where village life has not changed very much". Paradoxically, the Handicraft Village has emerged in Kelantan, a state where village life is still very much intact.

The Craft Cultural Complex (1997), in the capital Kuala Lumpur, includes the Perkampungan Pelukis as an artists colony. The Perkampungan reinvents the kampung architecture of the wakaf, a communal rest facility in rural Kelantan. The Perkampungan structures, instead of being open-sided wakaf, have walls that can be folded back- a feature which is the "only departure from tradition" (undated brochure, 'Perkampungan Pelukis'). On display are not only the artists' works but the artists at work, in the visual arts-which is not a kampung tradition. The artists labour in the remodelled wakaf whereas in rural wakaf villagers would rest from their labours. The remodelling of space is accompanied by the remodelling of persons: the invented category of the 'village' artist.

Elsewhere in this discussion, additional categories will register in the lexical inventory of the cultural village: the 'native', the 'head-hunter', the 'pagan' and the 'oriental'. As the familiar medium of the kampung becomes appropriated by exoticism, 'orientalism' may become self-museumified.

The Pinang Cultural Centre (1993), in the state of Penang, is managed by a developer of tourism projects. The site includes 'The Village' comprising replica timber houses: the Orang Ulu Longhouse of Sarawak; Rungus Longhouse of Sabah; Fisherman's House of the East Coast; Minangkabau House and Aceh House. Sheds depict agricultural processes and a series of stalls have handicraft demonstrators. The site also contains the Malay Theatre Restaurant and a museum in a reassembled Malay house (from the state of Negeri Sembilan). The predominant theme of the Pinang Cultural Centre is food, as evident in the promotional literature (undated brochure, 'Special Venues for Theme Dinners'). The 'village' display houses also double as dinner venues. The titles of some of these 'theme dinners' divulge the culinary interpretation of ethnicity. The Rungus Longhouse of Sabah offers 'theme dinners' of Harvest Festival and Native Night. The Orang Ulu Longhouse of Sarawak offers an extra dinner treat of Head-Hunters Night. As in other re-created villages, 'The Village' also accentuates the themes of the 'traditional' and the 'authentic': the two longhouse dinner venues are decorated with "authentic tribal artefacts" (undated brochure, 'Pinang Cultural Centre').

Kedah's State Economic Planning Unit is manufacturing Kampung Melayu, the Malay Village. Collected from different villages in Kedah, historic kampung houses are being reassembled in the state's capital. The Chief Minister of Kedah indicates: "We are bringing a traditional Malay village to the town to help boost our tourism industry" (quoted in New Straits Times 5 Nov. 1997). Curiously, Kedah, an agriculture-based state, is dominated by real villages and paddy fields. Langkawi Island, part of Kedah, has been transformed in the past decade into an international tourist destination. Prior to this, the island was defined by its fishing villages. Langkawi is now being redefined by re-created villages: the Batik Art Village; the Hot Spring Village; the Book Village; and the Oriental Village.

The final destination in the village panorama of Peninsular Malaysia is a slight deviation. The state of Selangor has grown a 'village' in the Malaysia Agriculture Park (1988) which is managed by the Ministry of Agriculture. Set amongst the greenery is the 'Idyllic Village', a collection of Malay traditional houses. These have modern amenities since they are intended for 'authentic' usage as accommodation. The descriptor, 'idyllic' is indicative of the contemporary romanticisation processes at work on kampung imagery.

These processes, in Malaysia, should be viewed from historical contiguity. According to Savage (1984: 289), the 'romantic' British administrators in Malaya and Rajah Brooke in Sarawak appreciated the 'idyllic kampungs' and indigenous life styles. The former saw the landscape peopled with 'noble peasants' and the latter with 'noble savages' (ibid: 289). A sense of continuity unfolds from colonial to post-colonial imaginings of the kampung and its inhabitants.

The 'cultural village' motif is not restricted to Peninsular Malaysia for it also appears in the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak, which differ markedly in histories and ethnicities to the peninsular states. Thus, analysis of Peninsular Malaysia's cultural villages in terms of a "Malay cultural revival" (see Kahn 1992: 169-170) fails to explain this phenomenon in the Bornean states where Malays are not the ethnic majority. Moreover, as will be shown in a subsequent section, 'cultural subversion' rather than 'cultural revival' is a more realistic assessment.

The village of Kampung Kuai in Sabah contains the Monsopiad Cultural Village. It is named after the warrior and head-hunter, Monsopiad, who lived in Kampung Kuai. This family-run tourism enterprise, established in 1995, offers "an insight into the past pagan era of the Kadazan people" (undated brochure, 'The Legend of Monsopiad'). 'Paganism' is the thematic pivot but its temporality is not made explicit in the Cultural Village. A replica of Monsopiad's house, erected on the original site, functions as a museum but Monsopiad is undated.

The Cultural Village is suffused with spirits: 'spirit jars' in the museum, the rice-spirit in the rice granary, the spirit of the stone monolith, the spirits of 42 trophy heads in the House of Skulls. Notably, a guide informed that during ritual performances for tourists, the participants did not "speak to the spirits". Thus, the 'performers'-drawn from the real village-interpret 'culture' according to which village is their operational setting. Yet, the boundary between the two is as elusive as Monsopiad's era: the re-created kampung is set in the original kampung. Without this spatial genesis, 'pagan' temporality cannot be re-created.

The 'spirit of Sabah' (Sullivan 1988: 5) appears to be the theme of the Heritage Village established by the Sabah State Museum on its extensive grounds. The 'spirit of Sabah' was used to summarise the new state museum (opened in 1984), symbolising in its innovative architecture Sabah's multi-ethnic population. In a like manner, the Sabah Museum gathers together and recombines ethnic diversity in its re-created Heritage Village/Kampung Warisan.

Sabah Museum's project of replica "traditional houses" was conceived in 1984 under the Fifth Malaysia Development Plan, and was intended "to record Sabah's rich cultural heritage before it is overtaken by change and modern technology" (Regis 1990: 35). The then director, Regis (ibid: 35), indicates the houses were built by "the kampung people themselves, employing traditional methods and using traditional materials". The domestic domain of the Heritage Village includes a small zoological park and displays of life-size fibre-glass animals. The 'village' is also home to the Sabah Museum horse, an authentic specimen, used for official museum ceremonies. There are no chickens.

In 1990 five houses were on display; by 1996 seven more had been added to the collection. The twelve replica houses represent the traditional dwellings of ethnic groups indigenous to or settled in Sabah: Bonggi House; Rungus Longhouse; Murut Longhouse; Tambunan Bamboo House; Lotud House; Bisaya House; Bajau House; Semporna Bajau House; Brunei House; Suluk House; Iranun House; and Chinese Farmhouse.

Kalb (1995: 5), an American museologist, suggested that for first-time visitors to Sabah, the distinctions among the houses (then totalling nine) were too subtle to warrant construction of further types. Kalb missed the symbolic point: to assemble an aggregate of ethnic identities. The 'village' format promises a place for all in Sabah. Heritage is as much to do with shaping the present and positioning the future as it is with preserving the past.

The Sarawak Cultural Village/Kampung Budaya Sarawak was established by the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation and was opened in time for the 'Visit Malaysia Year 1990' tourism campaign. The Cultural Village is also known as a 'living museum'. It accommodates 'races in residence' - live-in families occupying the replica houses, set around an artificial lake. In addition, there are shelters for agricultural processes, a restaurant, a souvenir shop and a building for cultural performances. Akin to Malacca's cultural village, the Sarawak Cultural Village is an economic similitude of a well-to-do 'village'.

The traditional houses represent seven ethnic groups: the Iban Longhouse; Bidayuh Longhouse; Penan Huts; Orang Ulu Longhouse; Melanau Tall House; Malay House; and Chinese Farm House. It is politically meaningful that the 'Chinese farmhouse' in both Sabah and Sarawak is considered part of the traditional landscape. Although Hilton (1992: 40) is correct in his architectural assessment that this type of dwelling shows little regional variation, a principle of inclusion operates in these two Bornean states, in contrast to Mini Malaysia in Peninsular Malaysia.

The Sarawak Museum was closely involved in the establishment of the Sarawak Cultural Village and vigilantly monitored the authenticity of cultural forms and traditions. Chin (1989: 102), then director of the Sarawak Museum, provided an exhaustive assertion of the 'traditional':

The Cultural Village includes traditional houses ... [which] ... will be traditionally constructed and traditionally furnished as well. Skilled craftsmen and women ... will demonstrate traditional handicrafts ... In addition, traditional cultural performances ... will be organised in the premises.

The houses of the Sarawak Cultural Village have furnishings and artefacts that accord with the notion of 'traditional'. Outside each house a placard conveys detailed information on the ethnic community but little on their architecture and building techniques. The placard on the Iban longhouse omits to mention that, in building materials and design, the longhouse is an admixture of the old and nouveau 'traditional'. This latter feature was the outcome of a local political decision intended "to show the Iban as modern and progressive" (Zeppel 1994: 248). Ironically, the Cultural Village is also a 'Headhunters Theme Party' venue, a theme which draws on the Iban old tradition of head-hunting. Furthermore, the nouveau traditional is offered in "authentic" wedding packages in a choice of Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu or Malay styles (undated brochure, 'Sarawak Cultural Village').

Once the kampung has been replicated, its repertoire of culture can be drawn upon as sources of authentication. If re-created villages can establish their cultural credentials with 'authentic' weddings, 'authentic' houses, and 'authentic' kampung crafts, will real villages only retain a claim to authentic chickens?

The Time That Is To Come

The current tally of re-created villages in Malaysia is fifteen. Nine more have been proposed, some of which are already taking shape. These future renditions will be briefly surveyed in order to fully assimilate the projected mastery of the village through museumification.

The state of Negeri Sembilan plans to establish in the village of Kampung Terachi a 'Cultural Village', based on the 'living museum' concept (Ziauddin 1996: 5). The Malacca state government has already approved "the development of Kampung Duyong as a Living Museum" (Nik Abdul Rashid 1995: 79). The real kampung will contain the Hang Tuah Village (a resuscitation of a legendary Malay warrior). Kelantan state has proposed a museum project encompassing the state museum, Kelantanese buildings of 'traditional architecture', 'village houses' and 'traditional medicinal plants' (Perbadanan Muzium Negeri Kelantan c. 1996: 8-10).

The Selangor State Museum Board has produced a concept paper on a "village complex which will display the original houses of about twenty sub-ethnic groups" (Mohd Lofti, pers. comm., 21 Nov. 1996). In Terengganu state, a district member of parliament has proposed a 'heritage village' in the village of Kampung Raja (New Straits Times 26 Feb. 1996). Also planned for Kampung Raja, is a private museum in a re-created village setting, to be created by a woodcarver (see Shukor Rahman 1997: 6). Another proposal is the Orang Asli Cultural Village. The Orang Asli (literally 'original people') are Malaysia's first inhabitants. The exact location has not been specified, but is envisaged as a jungle site (Dalip 1997: 15).

From the jungle to a "super-futuristic twenty-first century ... designer cyber city" (Jing Y Cheng 2001: 28), the cultural village is equally equipped. The futuristic city of Putrajaya (the federal government's new administrative centre) is poised to produce a Malay Village and Sea Coastal Village as components of a larger heritage park. A "village museum" in "a traditional rural setting within a village complex" was suggested ten years ago in an article, prophetically entitled 'Now and the future in Malaysia' (Raja Fuziah & Sharifah Zuriah 1991: 171).

These proposed forms of the kampung illustrate that it is a rich artefactual resource for the future. The kampung is a powerful symbol and before one can analyse the meanings of the replicated village, one must comprehend the contours of its prototype, which is the next subject under examination.

'Balik Kampung' ('Returning Home')

An editorial, 'Modernisation and villages', in Malaysia's New Straits Times (25 Jan. 1996) informs its readers:

Folklore, customs, craftsmanship, ornate architectural works are threatened by economic development and migration. The extended family, farms, religion ... could so easily be relegated to nostalgia the same way some Singaporeans felt the loss of their last two kampungs three years ago. Modernisation is essential, but it must also blend with the people and its cultures, not impose itself.

The editorial highlights manifold concerns in contemporary Malaysia. Moreover, it pointedly equates Singaporean nostalgia with the disappearance of villages. Notably, Singapore's Malay Village includes a re-created house display self-consciously labelled 'Kampung Nostalgia'. Some analysts criticise open-air museums as "exercises in nostalgia" (see Shackley 1994: 396). However, Singapore, being vacant of real villages, is an extreme case in comparison to the rest of Asia. Nostalgia is a matter of degree and subjectivity rather than a definitive characteristic of cultural villages. Nostalgia is also a matter of time. Although the concept of nostalgia is premature in Malaysia, the generational project of 'Vision 2020'-transforming Malaysia into a fully industrialised nation-may, in the future, refurbish cultural villages as nostalgic enclaves.

The aforementioned editorial reveals that 3,000 villages nationwide have been targeted for modernisation by the Rural Development Ministry. Villagers may have their own interpretation of 'modernisation' as suggested in the following account. A fishing village comprising 600 families in Kuala Kedah disputed being relocated to a resettlement site of multi-storey flats, when they had been assured of wooden houses by the previous state administration. According to a state government official, "[T]he proposed wooden houses were found to be unsuitable in view of the State Government's aspiration to transform Kuala Kedah into a modern township" (quoted in Saiful & Zubaidah 1997: 2).

Even the imagery of the kampung may be perceived as anti-modernity. According to the director of an advertising agency in Malaysia, kampung scenes are discouraged because "the Government believes they will cause people to look back and not forward" (Tan quoted in Rastam 1995: 7).

How does the Government's vision of modernity accord with its encouragement of re-created villages? Several cultural villages have received federal funding or other forms of assistance (see Kamarul Baharin 1993: 86; Mohd Kassim 1995: 84). Moreover, the Prime Minister officially launched Malacca's Mini Malaysia and the Sarawak Cultural Village. Are re-created villages created for the tourism industry a way of looking forward backwards? Do their cultural messages diverge according to the categories of domestic and international tourist?

Din's (1989: 198) study of tourism in Malaysia advocates domestic tourism as a means of fostering national unity and regional integration. Although his study overlooks cultural villages, they are tangibly germane to this issue. Four fabricated villages re-create the houses of several ethnic groups: Malacca's Mini Malaysia, Penang's 'Village', Sabah's Heritage Village, and Sarawak Cultural Village. Yet, this 'mix-and-match' model of settlement patterns is entirely unrelated to kampung realities. A Malay village in Peninsular Malaysia will not have longhouse dwellings in its midst. Neither will a village in Sarawak or Sabah have all the ethnic groups congregated, with their respective house styles, in the same community. Is the national or state message for Malaysians that they all belong to the 'one village', that is, orang sekampung? The integrated re-created village may have a deeper domestic resonance than implied in its international tourist facade. It is noteworthy that a major proportion of the tourists at cultural villages is of the 'domestic' category (see also Kahn 1992: 169).

The word 'kampung' may be envisaged as a set of expanding concentric circles. The term balik kampung (return home) may refer to one's home, one's village, one's home-town, or one's state in the Federation of Malaysia. Because of the multi-religious composition of the population, public holidays are gazetted for the major religious festivities. Balik kampung as an exodus from the cities is particularly pronounced during these public holidays. The opportunity is taken to balik kampung even if it is not one's own festive occasion. Gannon (2001: ch. 15) identifies balik kampung as the definitive 'cultural metaphor' of Malaysia. Balik kampung encapsulates the mind-set of the nation and functions as a common denominator amongst Malaysia's culturally differentiated groups.

Kahn (1994: 39-40) associates the reinvention of kampung imagery with the emergence of the new Malay middle classes who have yet to adapt culturally to urban life and modernity. It should be pointed out that his study is a sociological analysis of Malay identity in Peninsular Malaysia. In this respect, it only provides a partial view of the village vista. The collective totality includes re-created kampungs in Sabah and Sarawak. One should not ignore the possibility of a more comprehensive Malaysian imagining of the kampung.

Jones (1992: 9) argues that exhibition themes reveal the preoccupations of their times. The museumification of the village is a preoccupation of the past fifteen years and it points to some of the profound paradoxes in the shaping of Malaysian society.

Who Are the Keepers of Kampung Culture?

Sani (1990: 43), a Malaysian political scientist, stresses that culture must be a central constituent of development strategies and such strategies ought to be sensitive to the cultural ethos of the society, whilst concurrently contributing to the development of culture. 'Culture' and 'development' may be positioned as compatible bedfellows but does the same bed necessarily imply the same dreams?

The museumification of the living village is exemplified by the Historical Complex in Kampung Pasir Salak, where villagers avow increased economic benefits but experience 'culture shock' in their 'dwarfed' village. It was noted earlier that real villagers, when relocated for development purposes, may desire a real kampung. According to a member of the Penang Heritage Trust, development projects are threatening both rural and urban kampungs and in the latter the situation is 'critical' (Ahmad Chik cited in Shukor Rahman 1995: 35).

Another organisation, Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement, has questioned whether development will erode the heritage and norms of rural kampungs and eventually result in the demise of village communities (New Straits Times 26 Mar. 1996). Kedit (1990) argues that the longhouse is a socio-cultural entity and that resettlement schemes and urban housing projects need to adapt the characteristics of longhouse design. Malaysians are increasingly asking 'where is the village going?' on the national and state charts of development. Re-created kampungs may be an indicator of an emerging Malaysian malaise.

Reproducing the kampung, in a benign appraisal, may suggest that 'ordinary' culture has been deemed museum-worthy. The linguistic litany of 'heritage', the 'traditional' and 'culture' in re-created villages (with the nomenclature of 'cultural village') disguises, however, a chronicle of contradictions. Are re-created villages contributing to or accelerating the erosion of the original kampung landscape? The re-created kampungs are cleaner (no chickens), newer and more 'idyllic' than the real things. Re-created villages, often with replica traditional houses, may promise a vision of an improved permanence. For the purpose of displaying the 'idyllic' nation and/or state the kampung has to be remodelled, reinvented and, as will be shown presently, culturally subverted.

Malaysian museum writings on replica villages extol their value in preserving cultural heritage and traditional architecture (e.g. Chin 1989: 102; Regis 1990: 35). Kedit, a former director of the Sarawak Museum, claims that the Sarawak Cultural Village is an exemplar of "cultural revival and preservation" (1991: 21). One may inquire what is being preserved and revived in re-created villages?

An answer can only be attempted by indicating the 'preservation' patterns in Malaysia's village and longhouse communities. Kedit (1991: 20) emphasises that longhouses are the "centres of traditional knowledge, custom, and socialization for young cultural practitioners". Similarly, Mohd Taib (1985: 53) indicates that the peninsular Malay kampung is a socio-cultural unit defined by social relationships and obligations, expressed as "orang sekampung or 'belonging to the same village'". Do replica villages re-create norms and values, social and cultural orientations embedded in the prototypes?

The question of what is being preserved must be viewed in tandem with the question of who is the cultural authority on these socio-cultural environments. Sani (1990: 40), though disputing narrow definitions of heritage, nevertheless betrays the politics of élitism: "Heritage preservation ... is in fact an intellectual act ... of guiding cultural continuity." Whose intellects do the 'guiding'?

Cultural villages reflect the underlying assumption that the 'keepers' of kampung culture cannot be entrusted with their own culture. According to Ramli (1994: 36), the Pinang Cultural Centre is both a tourist attraction and a research centre which preserves the nation's heritage. He then proceeds to usurp the socio-cultural authority of the kampung: "Villagers send their young to the centre to learn silat [art of self-defence], dances, handicrafts, traditional values and customs" (ibid: 36). Yet customarily, real villages - not re-created villages - are considered the keepers of 'traditional values and customs' and the centres of socialisation (see also Gannon 2001: 257-261).

The nuances of the subversive modes of museumification are also discernible in Sabah. Doris Blood (1990: 90), in her essay on the social organisation of the Lotud, observes that despite socio-economic changes, village life continues to define and maintain Lotud identity. Her closing remark (ibid: 90) is ominous: "One hopes that the Lotud culture will not become a 'museum-piece', but that [their] values ... will be the foundation of the Lotud culture of the future." The Lotud house has already become a 'museum-piece' in Sabah Museum's Heritage Village.

The re-created village is a new type of cultural production dislodged from the habitat of the 'cultural practitioners', to borrow Kedit's phrase. This new form uses a familiar foundation: the traditional house. In Malaysia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia the traditional house is not simply a physical structure. The house is a living entity, with its own life force, and its architecture is a symbolic counterpart of the human body (for details, see Waterson 1991: ch. 6). The traditional house has a long ancestry. The longhouse is considered the oldest architectural form in Sarawak (Bin 1991: 231). Similarly, the timber house supported on stilts has been described as characteristic of the "material culture" of the early Malays during Southeast Asia's prehistory (Alisjahbana 1965: 29).

These two house types have survived in Malaysia-until recently-without the concept of preserving them as forms of 'material culture'. The community of houses as a kampung and the longhouse as 'an entire village' house mentalities. These worldviews embrace the religio-cultural, socio-political, and natural environment, though not subdivided into these discrete categories (see also Kedit 1990; Mohd Taib 1985). The categories of 'preservation', 'material culture', 'heritage' and the 'traditional' signify that the museumification is also a mentality, a mind-set that is becoming increasingly 'at home' in the kampung.

The kampung represents a spatio-temporal template that can be shifted to new landscapes for new purposes. Alternatively, the template may be superimposed on actual villages. The cultural villages are marked by a diversity of administrative structures and rationales, but their geographical diffusion and uniformity of theme represent a national orientation. They materialise Malaysia as an idyllic kampung. The village is the theme; Malaysia is the venue.

The artefactual village is cultural construction in its most literal sense. Yet, it is also cultural subversion in its most subtle sense. The Malay proverb, 'A turtle lays a thousand eggs without knowing it; a hen lays one egg and the whole kampung knows', is an apt analogy. The hundreds of thousands of real villages in Malaysia may be juxtaposed with the fifteen cultural villages which vociferously proclaim themselves the guardians of kampung culture.

Village Issues: Coming Home to Roost

The Malaysian case study discloses multifarious issues embedded in the cultural content. Consequently, it is opportune to revisit the larger artefactual arena of Asia to reiterate that cultural villages are not 'idyllic' cultural cocoons.

Mini Indonesia (1975) spans the spectrum of political, social, cultural, economic and security issues in development. Mini Indonesia was closely identified with the wife of then President Suharto. The project was unpopular from its inception and triggered protests over the eviction of residents and the low compensation offered (for details, see Anderson 1990: 176-7). Additionally, controversy centred on conceptions of Indonesian culture. The political upheavals of 1998 resulted in the closure of Mini Indonesia, and one of its museums was afforded security protection for it was assessed as a potential target (T. Semestari, pers. comm., 9 Nov. 2000). This museum, both a political and architectural mandala, houses gifts presented by heads of state to then President Suharto.

Cultural villages are uniformly mute on the issue of humans as 'museum specimens' or 'living displays'. Commentators query whether the minorities in China's Folk Culture Villages will become "merely mechanical performers of a museum culture" (Stanley & Siu King Chung 1995: 26). Local academics debate the Yunnan Nationalities Villages in China in the language of a 'human zoo' (Wang Ya Nan cited in The Culture Mandala 2001: 70). Similarly, a Toda activist applies an identical descriptor to the re-created Toda village in the Botanical Gardens of the Nilgiri Hills (see Niven et al. 1999: 1194).

Hitchcock (cited in Shackley 1994: 396) criticises cultural villages as 'sanitised' versions of culture-a trifling critique in comparison to cultural subversion. Singapore's Malay Village promotes a multi-media show which re-presents Malay folklore and legends. The S$3,000,000 show is offered in four languages but not in the Malay language. Malay culture is renowned for its oral traditions but in Singapore's Malay Village, oral traditions are effectively - and expensively - obliterated.

Excepting Singapore, where the population is almost entirely urban, the village in Asia still orientates the individual and the nation. In Thailand, the three components of the "national psyche" are village life, Buddhism and the institution of the King (Gaffey 1993: 226).

In the context of South Asia, Coll (1994: 59) underlines:

... the villages matter because there is a powerful feeling of rootedness that none of the recent political economies ... has yet eroded. And at the base of every man's or woman's sense of self is his or her village. ... In South Asia, you are not from a village, you 'belong to' it ...

Where does the cultural village fit in the scheme of 'belongingness'?

The folklife museum movement of 19th century Europe has moved far beyond its origins. Its movement will accelerate in the 21st century. A small sample will suffice to demonstrate the geographical drift in the late 20th century. Mini Malaysia was partly modelled on Mini Indonesia which, itself, was inspired by a similar re-created site in Thailand (Anderson 1990: 176). The Sarawak Cultural Village has been labelled a 'clone' of Hawaii's Polynesian Cultural Centre (Shackley 1994: 396). The Polynesian Cultural Centre recently signed a memorandum of collaboration with the China Folk Culture Villages (Stanley & Siu King Chung 1995: 26). The 19th century folklife museum, which originated in Scandinavia, has come full circle: the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation partially funded the museumification project of the Soga Miao village community in mainland China. Museumification of the village is a borderless and bottomless pit of possibilities.

Conclusion: The Cultural Village - Artefact or Artifice?

The global 'village' is Asia. Globalisation, museumification and development are all construction partners in Asia's cultural villages. However, political, economic, and ethnic agendas may be easily camouflaged by the innocuously termed 'cultural' village.

It is a common museological conviction that cultural sites have a crucial role to play in the preservation and protection of cultural life, particularly as it is being endangered by technological and socio-economic transformations. Museologists have yet to apprehend that these very sites are the cultural enemies within.

The explicit aim of museums and sites of a museum nature is to be of service to society and its development. Who do the cultural villages ultimately serve? Whose version of development do re-created villages re-create? What are the socio-cultural implications of the museumification of the village? Why are fabricated villages proliferating in societies with real villages?

Museumification subverts and inverts. Who needs the 'real thing', when the deracinated replicated village is deemed better? The keepers of village culture would do well to heed a Malay proverb: 'The man who puts bananas in your mouth also sticks thorns in your bottom'.


1. This paper was prepared for The Third IIDS (International Institute for Development Studies) Conference, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India, 3-6 January 2002.


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