Along the stretch of Jalan Tutong lies a home that in the opinion of the BHC team, could easily be considered as a mini museum, with an occupant whose personal interest and hobby in life ties in to his field of specialty.
The need to collect items of particular interest to ourselves is an innermost drive that leads many, out of sheer curiosity or interest, to amass a sizeable collection over the years. Unless managed properly there is great potential for things to get out of hand quickly. Clutter can build up and the border between what constitutes a healthy pastime and a burgeoning burden becomes increasingly blurred.
This is not the case with our fellow countryman, Haji Mohd Rozan bin Dato Paduka Haji Mohd Yunos, the former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, who has invested a considerable amount of time and effort saving the tangible aspects of Malay culture and history. A numerous and diverse selection of antiques, occupy a considerable portion of the living room in which many a guest has been entertained to no small end. And why would they not be? As the BHC team came to learn, with so many individual items possessing unique stories of their own, each with their own elements of mystery, humour or drama attached to them, many an interesting conversation followed suit. Keep in mind that on average, these antiques range between 200 to 2,000 years old!
When asked if he considered himself a historian, an anthropologist or a curator, the beginnings of a wide grin materialise on his features. “Well, a little of everything I suppose. The skill-sets are interchangeable”, Rozan points out before delving into in-depth descriptions of some of the more notable items on display.
“You see this pot”, he begins, gesturing to a large urn around half a metre tall with a Jawi inscription written below the upper lip. “This is quite an amusing story. The entirety of Kampung Ayer comprises smaller villages that are all interconnected. There is a wall with all the names of these smaller villages written on them … well most of them,” he grins. “There was once a Kg Sungai Kuyok, admittedly not the most savoury of names, but there was one once nonetheless. You will not find its name up on the wall and as time passes by, there are some who insist it never was regardless of what I can say. But look at that pot, it says right there on the inscription – Kg Sungai Kuyok,” he concludes with a bout of laughter. “People forget. It is natural, it happens. This is why conserving these items is important to me.”
With such a large inventory the far simpler question is obviously, “What do you not have?” which elicited a giggle from our host as he began listing out the different classifications of items. Some of the ore recognisable items include periuk-periuk (pots), gantangs (jugs and containers used in measurement), cilapas (decorative containers both old and modern), candle-holders, a commercially-produced congkat board (traditional game), a rougher, older hand-carved equivalent, as well as decommissioned canons, pistols and rifles (which the BHC team could not stop playing with).
Organised, stored and placed neatly on cupboards, shelves, glass display cabinets, and even neatly arranged on sections of the floor in the living room, the interior is surprisingly not as cluttered as one might assume given a genuine lifetime spent amassing such an impressive collection. A guling tangan set lies on the floor at the base of an item-riddle cupboard, nearby to an upright gambus. “This is rather unfortunate I do believe”, Rozan begins gesturing to both instruments. “Do you know that we have stopped making these and that there have been a fair few occasions when we had to actually order it from neighbouring Malaysia or Indonesia. We used to make these ourselves.” Taking a moment to reflect on this helped strengthen the reasoning behind what drives this homeowner and his love of our culture.
Traditional furniture in the form of couches well-suited to Hari Raya, accompanied by lush carpets run the length of the living room, against the backdrop of the windows illuminating the interior. A staircase in one corner winds upwards and is decorated with faux vines wrapped around sections of the upper railing. Nearby the ground floor landing a table surrounded on all sides by staircase, cabinets and 2 couches, which gives off the impression of an island enclosure. The dense marble block from which the long slender neck of a large silver lamp emerges and extends from, occupies a space behind the curve of the staircase. This results in the lamp appearing as if out of nowhere. Vases filled with a variety of colourful flowers can be seen spread out evenly throughout the home adding a great deal of vibrancy and life, which in its own way offers a counterbalance of sorts to a collection some hundreds of years old.
An interesting man who spent a decade writing a well-known column within the Brunei Times prior to its closure, Rozan can definitely count himself as a storyteller in addition to his other accolades; after all it takes one to know one.