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By Ray Chong
- February 8, 2021

A Comprehensive Guide to the Malay Heritage Centre

Art and Culture . Singapore

Singapore’s rich heritage can be difficult for newcomers to piece together, and sometimes requires breaking down the culture into its individual parts. To help with this, several heritage museums have been set up in Singapore to guide visitors into understanding the distinctive cultures of Singapore.

Malay Heritage Centre grounds and building
The cultural centre is situated in the heart of Kampong Glam | © Ray

If you’re interested in participating in this journey through history, the Malay Heritage Centre is a definite stop on the list. As the name suggests, this museum is dedicated to the history of Malay Heritage in Singapore: everything from the original settlers and Sultans of the region’s past, to their modern day contributions to local literature and film.

History of the Building

Situated in the heart of Kampong Gelam, the building was once the Istana Kampong Glam, built in 1819 by Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor. Though it has changed hands and gone through several refurbishings throughout the 1900s, the building was last restored in 2005 and now serves as the Malay Heritage Centre, where it continues to house its permanent exhibit, a cycle of temporary exhibits and other cultural programmes to maintain remembrance of Singapore’s Malay history.

The General Experience

A comprehensive visit here should take about one to two hours, if you really delve into all the individual texts and nitty gritty details. You can expect to learn more about the history of Singapore, intrinsically tied to generations of Malay settlers, and significant Malay figures in history such as President Yusof Ishak, the first president of Singapore and the face of all our Singaporean bills.

Counter in the gift shop
The visitor's centre is where you'll obtain your ticket or purchase souvenirs | © Ray

Before entry into the building, you’ll need to obtain an entry ticket from the general office, which comes in the form of a sticker.  The souvenir shop is also located here. Entry is free for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, but SGD $8 for foreigners. However, you can purchase a ticket from our Native Marketplace at only SGD $6.50.

Scarves and souvenirs from the gift shop
Floral patterns are very common parts of Malay decorative culture | © Ray

Common to many Malay households and holy places, you’ll need to remove your shoes before entering. If you aren’t comfortable walking around the building completely barefooted, make sure to bring a pair of comfortable socks.

Shelves with a shoe placed inside it
Shelves are available to store your shoes before you enter | © Ray

Permanent Exhibit

A mapped layout of the main building
An on-site map of the Permanent Exhibit | © Ray

Living and Working (Second Floor)

The permanent exhibit houses a collection of artifacts, informational displays and immersive environments that tell the general history of Malays in Singapore. Though not in any particular historical order, the exhibit separates itself into multiple sections that all express a piece of the Malay Culture.

A combination of photographs and physical displays in an open room
On the left, a collage of images capture the progress of the Malay industry | © Ray

The top floor, where you’ll begin your visit, is dedicated to the living and working lifestyle of Malays since the 1900s. You’ll find photo collections that collage the growth of the Malay Community alongside the industrialisation of Singapore and artifacts that speak to the Malay contributions during World War II and the independence of Singapore.

Signed documents signifying Singapore's independence and self-governance
The British Queen's seal of approval presented to President Yusof bin Ishak | © Ray

Another room, where the primary bedchambers of the royalty used to be, contains common but now ancient household items that facilitated the daily living of Malay communities. 

Displays of common Malay household items
This room used to be the royal bedchambers of the Sultan's family in the 1900s | © Ray

One section details the intimate relationship the ancient Malay community had with rivers and the sea, presenting artifacts concerning trade, fishing and an impressive wall of traditional boats employed by both fishermen and traders. This room also contains heartfelt anecdotes of faithful muslims departing for the Hajj, a religious pilgrimage to Mecca.

Displays of model ships and trade-based items
Ship models in the background detail the unique relationship Malays had with trade along the straits | © Ray

There’s even a room that attempts to simulate an old town coffee shop environment using ambient lighting and coffee-smelling perfume.

Arts and Culture (First Floor)

The first floor, the second part of the permanent exhibit, is dedicated to the Malay contributions to film, music and literature in Singapore. 

Collage capturing the Malay film industry
The Golden Age of Malay films lasted about two and a half decades from 1947 | © Ray

Malays were one of the strongest pioneers of the film industry in Singapore, translating many of their folktales and cultural stories to the big screen during the boom in the 1950s. IN the heritage museum, you’ll get to experience snippets of this Golden Age via a simulated theatre, playing a compilation of the more popular films made during this time. It’s an interesting look back into how film and acting has changed over the years.

Seating facing a black and white screen, playing an old Malay film
Take a seat and enjoy what used to be considered prime cinema! | © Ray

Malay culture was also invested in its poignant thought and literature, with many Malay publications, newspapers and fictional novels coming out of the 20th century. Collections and printouts have been preserved at the museum for your viewing pleasure, giving a detailed insight into the contemporary thought of that time.

Display of old Malay novels and literature
Malays have a unique culture of literature that continues to grow and evolve until today | © Ray

At the end of the permanent exhibit is a small children’s play area for kids to engage in some traditional Malay stories. Unfortunately, the space has been temporarily closed due to COVID, so there isn’t much to do here.

Closed signage
Due to Covid restrictions, the children's play area is currently closed | © Ray

Urang Banjar Exhibit

Urang Banjar Exhibition entrance
The Urang Banjar exhibit is located right next to the Souvenir Shop/Ticketing Office | © Ray

Aside from the permanent exhibit, a temporary exhibit has been set up in the building attached to the main Istana House.

The Urang Banjar: Heritage and Culture of the Banjar in Singapore is the fifth instalment of a series of community co-curated exhibitions, expounding on the ethnic and cultural diversity within the Singaporean Malay community. The Urang Banjar are arguably the smallest group within the Singaporean Malay community, possessing a common ancestral language, material culture and distinct norms and practices.

Text display explaining the origin of the exhibit
This exhibit was co-curated, meaning both cultural historians and members of the community contributed | © Ray

Here, you’ll get to see a mixture of artifacts, recollections and anecdotes from the still-existing Banjarnese community in Singapore as they attempt to preserve their heritage. You’ll even find out more about the rush of the diamond trade among the Banjarese of Kalimantan.

Model of the childhood home of one Mohd Gazali bin Mohd Arshad | © Ray

Additional Details

Unfortunately, due to the COVID a number of the multimedia exhibits within the permanent galleries are currently disabled for safety reasons. However, most of the gallery texts are available via a scannable QR code in the main lobby, so you’re free to use your phone to get the full experience.

QR Codes in the main lobby
If you want to peruse the exhibits on your phone, you can use the QR code to enhance your experience | © Ray

However, if you want a more in-depth experience you can participate in the free guided tours, available for both the Permanent Gallery and the Urang Banjar Gallery. Take note that guided tours are maximised at 8 pax per tour, as per COVID guidelines.

Urang Banjar: Heritage and Culture of the Banjar in Singapore Guided Tour Times

English: Every 2nd and 4th Saturday, 11AM.

  Every Wednesday, 11AM.

Mandarin: Every 3rd Saturday, 11AM.

Permanent Galleries Guided Tour Times

English: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, 11AM

  Saturday, 2PM

Mandarin: Every 3rd Saturday, 1PM

Conclusion

There are multiple Heritage Galleries and Museums in Singapore, covering the multicultural nature which sits at the heart of Singapore’s spirit. If you’re planning to learn and understand more about Singaporean culture and her unique history, then this will undoubtedly be one of many stops along the way, an important one that speaks to the history of the original settlers; the people of the land.

The Sultan Mosque
The Masjid Sultan, visible from the grounds of the Heritage Centre | © Ray

However, if you’re planning a day out, you might want to consider the surrounding area as well. Kampong Glam is the Malay Cultural seat of Singapore, and there are many cuisine and shopping opportunities that might accompany a heritage day out perfectly.

Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10AM - 6PM

Closed on Mondays

Contact: 6391 0450

Website | Facebook

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