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Melaka world heritage status under threat

The new 22-storey new building may inside the buffer zone based on this plan submitted to Unesco. There is building height limit of 18 meters for any new building in the buffer zone.

Melaka and Penang can say goodbye to their world heritage status if Melaka government allows the project to proceed.

melaka world heritage buffer zone

Chittys’ last refuge under threat

by m. veera pandiyan

Swift action is needed to protect and conserve the sole bastion of one of the country’s smallest communities.

HAPPY New Year! Will it be a better one? Malaysians polled by the World Independent Network of Market Research (WiN) and Gallup International seem to think so.

About 41% of respondents felt that 2014 would be better than last year while 28% reckoned it would be the same.

On the negative side, 29% expected it to be worse while 2% didn’t know or chose not to answer.

The WiN/Gallup poll, published on Monday in collaboration with the BBC’s Today programme, surveyed the hopes and fears of people from 65 countries around the world.

Apparently, about half were more upbeat about 2014 than they were for 2013.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world but the results of the tiny sample of 300 Malaysians aren’t quite convincing, especially when the Powers That Be seem to be constantly promising one thing and doing quite another.

Our policy-makers and implementers seem to be fixed in a cycle of repeating the same insensitive blunders over and over again.

The furore over a massive condominium project in the ancestral village of the Malacca Chittys – one of the smallest minorities in the country – is the newest example.

For those who are not familiar with the community, it is the Indian version of the Baba-Nyonya or Peranakan Chinese.

They should not be confused with the Chettiars, the clan of merchants and money-lenders who hail from the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu, India.

The Chittys are descendants of traders who came to Malacca in the early 1400s from the Coromandel Coast.

Coramandel is derived from Chola Mandalam or Land of the Chola, a Tamil dynasty which lasted from the 9th century to 1279.

Their ancestors were among the pioneers of the spice trade who married local women.

They spoke Malay, adopted both Malay and Chinese Peranakan cultures, cuisines and garments but remained staunch Hindus.

It has been speculated that the place where they settled, Gajah Berang (angry elephant) was called “Kanja Pidam”, a corruption of Kanjipuram, a city famous for its silk where some of the Chittys originated but historical records show that there was indeed an enraged jumbo there once.

The community played a big role in the early development of Malacca and after its fall to the Portuguese.

The most prominent of its leaders was Naina Chatu or Naina Chitty, a trader credited with minting the city’s first Portuguese coins.

The community lived in Campon Chelim (Kampung Keling), in Upeh (present day Tranquerah).

Its influence, however, waned during the Dutch era when they moved out from the richer areas to various places including Bachang and Balai Panjang, before eventually settling down in Kampung Tujuh to become padi farmers.

They built several historical places of worship, including the Poyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple in Jalan Tukang Emas (Goldsmith Street) in 1781, which still stands as the oldest functioning Hindu temple in the country.

Around the village they built the Muthu Mariamman Temple (1822), the Kailasanathar Temple or Sivan Kovil (1887), the Kaliamman Kovil (1804) and the Angalamman Para­meswari Temple (1888).

They also built several smaller shrines amid the padi fields, including the Linggadariamman Kovil, Amman Kovil, Dharma Rajah Kovil, Kathaiamman Kovil and Iyenar Kovil.

Today, there are only about 30 Chitty families in the village.

Ten years ago, a census showed that there were only 325 members of the community left in Malacca.

The condominium project – which is just metres away from the village houses and temples – was first proposed seven years ago by a Singaporean developer.

It was originally meant to be a 33-storey condominium and adjoining 12-storey hotel with a six-storey car park on a 2.25ha plot next to the village. The height of the condominium blocks was later revised to 22 storeys.

The then mayor of the Malacca Historic City said it was on private land and located outside the World Heritage Site zones although the village was already gazetted as National Heritage site in 2002.

When Malacca and Penang were inscribed as Unesco World Heritage sites in 2008, about 63ha of the historical city were listed under the core heritage zone and about 175ha in the buffer zone.

In meeting Unesco’s guidelines, the Department of Town and Coun­try Planning commissioned a Special Area Plan to study areas covering the core and buffer zones.

In 2009, the developer was told to submit a more suitable development plan for the area.

Three years later, the then Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rus­tam declared that the project had been shelved.

In February last year, he directed the Melaka Tengah District Office to acquire the land and convert it for public use.

But in spite of all these developments, work has resumed and the sales of the units – priced between RM259,400 to RM373,295 – are being marketed aggressively.

The reasons remain a mystery but it is appalling that a project involving three high-rise, high-density towers in a vulnerable heritage site was even considered by the council.

Surely, the authorities must know that the village and surrounding historical temples are the last refuge of the Chittys who have been squeezed out of their ancestral homes over the years because of their poor economic standing.

But it’s still not too late for both the state and federal governments to act swiftly to protect and conserve the unique minority’s only bastion of culture, heritage and faith.

The right thing for the Malacca Government to do is to cancel the project and for National Heritage Commissioner Prof Datuk Siti Zuraina Abdul Majid to declare it a heritage site.

Will it be done? It’s a brand new year and hope springs eternal.

Associate Editor M. Veera Pandi­yan likes this quote by Confucius: “Study the past, if you would divine the future.”
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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