MELAKA (Dec 25): Melaka is known for the uniqueness of the traditional architecture of its Malay kampung houses.
The alluring wooden houses are not only a magnet for tourists but also a symbol of the expertise and skills of the artisans who lived on this land a long time back.
It is also said that the architectural beauty of Melaka's traditional Malay house symbolised its owner's status, character and identity, whilst also conforming to factors such as the environment, customs, beliefs and appreciation of Islam.
Among the state's architectural gems is the aesthetically pleasing 187-year-old house in Merlimau, Jasin, which was turned into a gallery in 2011 by Melaka Museum Corporation (Perzim).
It is a haven for art aficionados who will probably need hours to peruse and assess the house's unique craftsmanship and artworks.
The house, which was declared a national heritage by the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry on Oct 17 this year, had served as the ancestral home of the family of a village 'demang' or headman Abdul Ghani Abdul Majid who was said to have built it in 1831.
Perzim curator Fadhilah Md Saleh told Bernama the house was known as 'Rumah Penghulu Md Nattar' (House of Headman Md Nattar) when the National Heritage Department stepped in to carry out restoration works in the house in 2008 which cost an estimated RM2 million.
She said after the completion of the restoration process, Perzim took over the house with the permission of the family that owned it, for the purpose of converting it into a gallery.
"The family requested us to name it Demang Abdul Ghani Gallery as Abdul Ghani was the original owner of the premises while Md Nattar was his son," said Fadhilah, who is now also performing the tasks of the general manager of Perzim.
She said although Perzim has taken over the traditional building and made it a tourism product, the house and the 0.4-hectare land it is located on still belonged to the family of Demang Abdul Ghani.
According to her, it was Demang Abdul Ghani's grandson Prof Dr Noor Hassim Ismail – a lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Faculty of Medicine --who played a major role in uniting the family and convincing them to allow Perzim to convert the house into a gallery.
"As noted by the family, their house has been in good condition ever since Perzim took over. In fact, we have no objections should any family member want to use the house to hold an event or function," she added.
Fadhilah also said that the Melaka government, National Heritage Department and Perzim had been "campaigning" hard to get the federal government to declare Demang Abdul Ghani's house as a national heritage as they viewed it as a treasure of great historical value that deserved to be preserved for future generations.
Their efforts and hard work did not go to waste because on Oct 17 this year, the house was declared a national heritage by the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry.
"The recognition was something we all really wanted as it fosters the spirit of statehood and nationality. It also gave an advantage in terms of preserving the house and enhancing its tourism potential," she said, adding that between January and November this year 1,227 tourists have visited the Demang Abdul Ghani Gallery.
She added that the awarding of the national heritage status was a step forward in the state's efforts to eventually get the house recognised as a world heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
The beauty of the Demang Abdul Ghani Gallery is not only attracting tourists but also newly-weds and fashion designers and models who use it as a location for their photo shoots.
Perzim operations assistant Khairul Amri Ismail, who is in charge of Demang Abdul Ghani Gallery, said they would normally come during the weekends and school holidays.
"They like to come here to take pictures as the house reminds them of a classic old palace.
"Among the favourite locations for the photo shoots are the front portion of the house and the 'throne' in the main section of the house. There was one occasion when two or three couples came at the same time to take photographs," said Khairul Amri, who has been taking care of the house since Dec 24, 2011.
He said the gallery was also often visited by school and university students who wished to do some reference work for their assignments.
Demang Abdul Ghani's house is divided into six portions, namely the meeting hall, verandah, the main section of the house, master bedroom, centre section of the house and kitchen.
The gallery is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. Tickets are priced at RM3 for adults and RM1 for children below 12.
This is the second of a two-part article on the Demang Abdul Ghani Gallery in Merlimau, which used to be the ancestral home of the descendants of the village headman who built the house 187 years ago. Read the first part here.