Friends of Taman Tugu aims to build community through love of heritage, the outdoors

Friends of Taman Tugu aims to build community through love of heritage, the outdoors

The social media channel of the Taman Tugu Malaysia project has fostered a strong following among KL urbanites

THE architects of Taman Tugu Park located at the heart of Kuala Lumpur had ambitious plans – for it to become Malaysia’s own Central Park, the world-famous urban park in New York City.

The 66-acre site was originally intended to be turned into a theme park, but fortunately, wiser heads prevailed and in 2016, Khazanah Nasional Berhad partnered with government agencies and conservation groups to restore the forest, placing it under a national trust.

As a result, the Taman Tugu park was born, a sprawling sanctuary to get away from the noise and congestion of the city. During restoration, parts along the trails of Taman Tugu had been turned into an illegal dumping ground.

More than 300 truckloads of rubbish were removed from the site. Since then, the space has fostered a thriving community of outdoor and nature enthusiasts.

Friends of Taman Tugu, which is the social media channel of the project, organises public talks, nature education programmes, tree planting activities and physical recreational sessions, among many others.

Tracey Surin, head of fundraising, activation and communications of Taman Tugu commented, “Since its opening in September 2018, the community at Taman Tugu has grown significantly with more than half a million visitors to date including over the pandemic.

“Whilst visitors were initially from closer neighbourhoods such as Bukit Tunku, Damansara Heights and Bangsar, we currently have people travelling from as far as Shah Alam, Kota Damansara, Ampang, and outstation folks, especially during the holidays.

“We have also seen Taman Tugu becoming a lot more popular amongst tourists who may have heard of it through recognitions such as Lonely Planet’s Top-10 Global Openings in 2019 and Honorary Recognition by the World Urban Parks Association.”

One recent endeavour is their ‘People Library’ sessions, a public dialogue where experts of various fields are invited to speak for 30 minutes on a given subject. Instead of a book, the ‘library’ consists of real people sharing their experiences and stories.

A recent iteration focused on the history and heritage of Kuala Lumpur, and featured guest speakers Nadge Ariffin, Mariana Isa, Glenn Yap, Lim Take Bane, Datuk Hajeedar Abdul Majid and John Koh.

Hajeedar’s talk ventured into the far recesses of history looking at early settlements of this land. – KALASH NANDA KUMAR/The Vibes pic

They shared insights on the various important personalities that developed the city like Sutan Puasa, Yap Ah Loy, Raja Abdullah, and Frank Swettenham.

Hajeedar, a well-known and respected architect, provided a brief narrative of the early evolution of human settlements at the confluence of Gombak and Klang Rivers in the 1800s, with references to natives and waves of new settlers from the Nusantara and beyond who ventured to this land in search of fortune and prosperity.

In his presentation, Hajeedar honed in on the etymology of the name Kuala Lumpur, and the other references that were used.

“Like it or not, prior to the 1800s, the confluence of the rivers – Sungai Klang and Sungai Gombak was referred to as Muara Bustak.

“Muara Bustak was one of the names, and literally translated, Muara means confluence and Bustak means muddy. It got muddy simply because people were mining in this area and the mining was done conventionally and traditionally using the ‘dulang’ system.

“This confluence has also been referred to as Sungei Lumpoor and Qualla Lumpur. In some of the references of Tengku Kudin in 1875 in the Middlebrooks Papers, Kuala Lumpur was also known as Pengkalan Lumpur. Pengkalan translates to ‘trading post.’

“Muara Bustak was described as muddy estuary in Bahasa Mandailing, the language of a clan of people coming from Sumatera in the 1820s. The migration was caused by a persistent war called The Padri War in Sumatera that lasted more than 40 years.

“Before the creation of the political boundaries and the formation of the different countries, this large South Asian region was called the Nusantara.”

Mariana giving her presentation on early KL developments. – KALASH NANDA KUMAR/The Vibes pic

The Mandailings in Sumatera had this philosophy that to create a settlement, you must find a place where two rivers meet and at that confluence wealth and richness would be found. This was a belief that was carried through generations.

The word Muara Bustak should be remembered. Semantically and vocabulary-wise, there are some corrections to be made… and perhaps where necessary we need to amend our inverted history,” Hajeedar remarked.

The forum then ventured into more recent history as Mariana Isa, who runs Heritage Output Lab, provided an insightful presentation of Kuala Lumpur’s early urban and architectural history.

Through the aid of old photographs and maps, she highlighted the important foundational sites within the city and how these sites eventually morphed into what they are today.

Glenn Yap, the living descendant of Yap Ah Loy, shared some oral stories that have been passed down through generations about the most famous figure in Kuala Lumpur history.

Through personal research, insights collected from J.M. Gullick’s texts and other credible historians, he provided context to Kuala Lumpur in the 19th century and posits important questions about the various contesting claims that exist around Yap Ah Loy’s history.

Glenn sharing accounts of his family history. – KALASH NANDA KUMAR/The Vibes pic

Yap Ah Loy’s most significant contribution was the resurrection of Kuala Lumpur following its destruction after many years of civil war. A huge fire in 1881 prompted the reconstruction of the buildings using bricks and zinc roofing.

His other immense contributions to the city also include the creation of the first Chinese school (the name of that school is not clearly known; later when Yap Kwan Seng took over the school, the name Tang Wen Yi Xue, was used) aiding in the creation of hospice facilities, and several old folks’ homes, provided funding to start the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital, improving the arterial roads within the city, and helped the build of the first Railway Line in KL, which started construction in 1883.

As administrator of Kuala Lumpur, he brought law and order into the city following the many wars that happened. Documents from the period indicate a jail was created which was able to hold 60 people, and that only six police officers were needed, an indicator of the peace that he established.

On the occasion of Yap Ah Loy’s death, flags were flown at half-mast and offices were closed. Such was the tribute paid to the man who re-established Kuala Lumpur and laid the foundations for it to become the capital of Malaysia after it was abandoned following the Selangor Civil War.

Other speakers provided equally important data and information about the development of the city. Seated in the audience were many locals and tourists, all engaged in the knowledge that was being shared.

Located in the heart of the city, the Taman Tugu Project includes a 66-acre park, which will be for the public. – Pic courtesy of Friends of Taman Tugu

“The community has also grown from primarily environmental champions and hiking enthusiasts to multi-generational families including older folk as well as parents with toddlers who come on a recreational basis to explore the trails at Taman Tugu and participate in its many activities.

“The vision is that Taman Tugu continues to instil a sense of appreciation for the environment and promotes a sense of urgency to act on the climate crisis – be it through small things that we can do at home; to major initiatives that need to be driven by the private and public sector.”

“The project is also meant to be a model of how parks and green spaces can be protected and activated in a sustainable way as a community project by corporate entities. The dream then is to see many more Taman Tugu-type projects across the country and beyond,” Tracey commented.

The Taman Tugu park is managed by Amanah Warisan Negara (Awan), or National Heritage Trust, to be protected in perpetuity as a public green space.

Awan is a national public trust founded by Khazanah Nasional Berhad with a longer-term objective to undertake more projects that involve the rejuvenation, rehabilitation and/or operations of selected public spaces together with heritage assets of national significance – as inspired by the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty or commonly known as the National Trust UK.

source – The Vibes

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