I love museums. I have been to numerous museums over the years ever since I first stepped foot in Muzium Negara (or The National Museum) in Kuala Lumpur so many years ago : some within the shores of Malaysia and some located elsewhere in Europe and other parts of Asia.

Abdullah Ahmad
Encik (or Mr) Abdullah bin Ahmad – owner, curator and guide of the ‘Muzium Bugis’. (photo credit : Shah Said @ all rights reserved)

That said, my favourites are those that showcases history, culture and civilizations.

I am so into museums that once I step in a museum, I am like a child in a candy store. I could spend hours in a museum, getting lost amongst the many exhibits on show, reading most, if not all, of the narratives that accompany the exhibits on show.

The more interesting the exhibit the longer I’ll linger around them, so much so that accompanying me to a museum can get to be a bit of a tedious affair, especially if you are not one for museums.

Personally, I find visiting a museum not only therapeutic but also educational and enlightening. Admittedly, in all that time visiting the many and different museums I had the opportunity to have stepped foot in, I never really took notice of the admission fees.

Muzium Bugis - Corridor of Exhibits
Muzium Bugis – corridor of exhibits. (photo credit : Shah Said @ all rights reserved)

But then again, who does?

We can only assume that whatever fees that gets collected do go some way to defray the costs of managing a museum. But does it amount to much when you take into consideration the cost of acquiring technological advances in maintaining and restoring priceless artifacts?

That said, the business of having and maintaining a museum is essentially the domain of a state- or national-owned corporation or agency. Charged solely with the responsibility for the upkeep and the safekeeping of national historical artifacts, these corporations are financially supported by either the Malaysian Federal government or the respective state governments.

Lady in A Tea Cup
The Lady in the Teacup. Said to have the portrait of the wife of a visiting Japanese prince to Johor. (photo credit : Shah Said @ all rights reserved)

This assumption of mine was however challenged when, on one occasion, we were driving through the town of Pontian which is about an hour’s drive away from Johor Bahru, we chanced upon a signboard of sorts giving directions to a ‘Muzium Bugis’.

As we were on an errand of sorts and not forgetting that I am of Bugis descent myself, I must admit that the ‘signboard’ did piqued my curiosity and ever since then, I have made a mental note to make a beeline for the museum whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Taman Rekreasi Sg Rambah
Taman Rekreasi Sg Rambah – facing the Straits of Malacca. (photo credit : Shah Said @ all rights reserved)

The day finally came when the opportunity presented itself when, as it happened, my better half and I were ‘in the neighbourhood’. For directions, we had to look it up though, with ‘looking it up’ a mere matter of using your favourite travel app.

We ditched the app when we came across signboards saying ‘This Way to Muzium Bugis’ (well, not literally, but you know what I mean), but not before we expressed surprise at the state of the signboards – they looked like actual signboards. Official too.

When we finally got there, our first remark was ‘This can’t be it’.  As we remembered it, the ‘museum’ was housed in a very rustic looking house. Well, according to the newspaper article that we read it was.

Along The Waterfront
View of the waterfront facing the Straits of Malacca. (photo credit : Shah Said @ all rights reserved)

The signboards brought us to a rather nice-looking recreational park, Taman Rekreasi Sg Rambah to be exact, facing the Straits of Malacca. The park itself looked interesting but small, with the main attraction being the few angling enthusiasts ‘parked’ under the few shades on offer under the not-so-many trees lining the embankment, their lines casted waiting and anticipating for that tug of the line announcing ‘FISH BITING!!!’.

We made our way to the main building and true enough, the ‘museum’ was located there. Proof was the signboard announcing the ‘museum’ and after making certain inquiries, we exchanged pleasantries with the ‘curator’ cum owner of the ‘museum’, Encik (or Mr) Abdullah bin Ahmad.

Pleasantries done, we began to explore what is there to be explored and learn what is there to be learned about ‘Muzium Bugis’, as they say, ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’. A bit strange that, as most museums that we go to, it is seldom, if at all, do we get a guide to show us around. But at ‘Muzium Bugis’, I guess personal touch is the order of the day.

Muzium Bugis - Artefacts on Show
Some of the artifacts on show. (photo credit : Shah Said @ all rights reserved)

Amongst the first few things that we learned about the ‘museum’ is that it is a private endeavour. That said, its open almost every day except for the Hari Raya celebrations, presumably on the first day of both Eidul Fitr and Eidul Adha, and I suspect, whenever Encik Abdullah is ill. I say presumably as I can’t find a signboard saying otherwise.

Secondly, there is no entrance or admission fee BUT donations are welcomed. Always.

Thirdly, it open its doors during the daytime only. But at what time it actually open its doors and at what time they close them is anyone’s guess. The freedom of running a ‘private museum’, I guess.

Dato'Abdul Rahman Andak
Dato’ Abdul Rahman Andak – a key personality of the early Johor state administration. (photo credit : Shah Said @ all rights reserved)

As the name suggests, the ‘museum’ is dedicated to the Bugis community, especially they from the state of Johor. It is to be noted that the Bugis are quite well spread out all over the country, never mind the different royal houses (which is to be expected from the interaction and inter marriages between the different royal houses of the Nusantara).

Dedicated to the Bugis of Johor, the ‘museum’ is just that – paying homage to their heritage, their culture and their history. As best as it can be done, without official financial support.

Family trees of different royal families, outlining the relationships connecting different personalities in the country and in the region, are on show. It makes for very interesting reading especially when the personalities are totally unexpected.

Portraits of Johor personalities including they who had filled the positions of the Johor Menteri Besar and the relationship between each of them was an eye opener. Talk about political dynasties.

Community leaders especially of the different Chinese communities, also have pride of place amongst the exhibits.

Wong Ah Fook
Wong Ah Fook – one of the Chinese community leaders. His name is immortalised via the naming of the main thoroughfare in Johor Bahru with his name. (photo credit : Shah Said @ all rights reserved)

Why you might ask? What has the Chinese community leaders have got to do with the Bugis, you would be wont to ask?

Well, they don’t have to look further than the royal family of Johor, who have always taken an active interest and role in the state’s administration.

Past members of the Johor state administration are also included especially they who were involved in the strategic and political positioning of the state vis-à-vis the  British and also the other Malay states.

When visiting the ‘Muzium Bugis’, one cannot expect artifacts to be exhibited with the normal trimmings, with plaques and all, as like in ‘normal’ museums. Hence, the ‘personal touch’ by the ‘museum’s’ owner cum curator.

Ungku Abdul Majid
Ungku Abdul Majid – said to have played a prominent role in the development of the town of Pontian. (photo credit : Shah Said @ all rights reserved)

The ‘museum’ does need official support and financial aid to upgrade the ‘museum’. Otherwise artifacts would go ‘missing’, for a host of reasons.

That said, would I have gone to visit the ‘Muzium Bugis’ still, with the benefit of hindsight knowing that it lacked the many amenities and facilities that other official museums enjoy? Hand on heart, I guess I would.

Most notable museums of today started out as private collections or donation from private collections, and over the years, with the support of patrons and state funding, have grown leaps and bounds, to be what they are now.

The Guggenheim, The Louvre and The British Museum are but notable examples. Now, that being the case, the ‘Muzium Bugis’ becoming The Bugis Museum may not be that far-fetched now would it?