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Muzium Negara volunteer guides to offer virtual tours to encourage visits to museums

History enthusiasts can now visit Muzium Negara after reopening its doors amid the Covid-19 recovery movement control order period (RMCO).

But the sight of museum volunteer guides eager to take you on a museum tour explaining stories around the main galleries is now a distant memory.

This is in accordance with the museum’s policy that only allows a maximum of 100 visitors at a time while guides are not allowed to bring in people for tours.

Museum volunteers programme president Karen Loh, 50, said that even if the guides were allowed, only eight visitors would be allowed per guide.

“As such, some of our museum volunteers have been focusing on our in-house research projects where we would be conducting focus talks in different languages later this month.

“We have also planned for virtual tours to be conducted on the museum’s selected galleries in various languages.”

She added that they had recorded the tours in English and French that would be posted to Facebook.

“The English and French tours were done on all four main galleries of Muzium Negara but on selected exhibits only.

“The virtual tours are teasers to encourage people to visit the museum.”

Museum guide trainer Jegatheesan Velupillay, 68, said he had been using his time during the MCO to research artefacts and colonial trading methods and could not wait to share his newfound knowledge once the museum allows guided tours.

“I miss the fulfilling experience of cultivating an interest in our country’s history and sharing them with visitors.

“As such, I look forward to when we are given the green light to be able to bring in people and strangers to share about Malaysia’s rich history.”

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Museum volunteer guiding programme

Loh said that the one-year volunteer guiding programme was held at the museum where guides need to attend various lectures and presentations.

“After attending lectures and conducting presentations, museum volunteers will need to be well-versed in all the galleries to be able to bring in visitors on their own.

“Upon completion of the programme, volunteers who have passed their probationary period receive a certificate during their graduation ceremony.

“However for this year, we are not doing our usual volunteer guiding programme for the new batch of volunteers.”

Seek learning opportunities together

Some of the opportunities that volunteers have undergone prior to the MCO were collaborating together on projects such as school visits, excursions to other museums and even publishing history-based books.

Loh and Jegatheesan have researched extensively on the Chitty community of Malacca, also known as the Indian Peranakans.

According to Jegatheesan, both of them decided to research the Malaysian Chitty community as they are hardly known in the Malaysian society.

“We went to Melaka where the Chitties are mainly located many times to understand their culture such as attending their festivals like the Sami Buka Mata (festival is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Mariamman).

“One of the reasons for these visits was to be able to witness these ceremonies so that we could understand them to be able to incorporate them into the book.”

“Nadarajan Raja, a knowledgeable Chitty in the community helped us source for information and answered our queries on the Chitty’s culture and festivities,” Loh said.

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Aside from collaborating together to write research stories about the community, volunteers also attended conferences such as the Kedah Tua Conference where they listened to experts talk on the Bujang Valley.

Malaysian Tapestry is a collection of short stories about the artefacts found in the museum, written by the volunteers themselves. — Picture courtesy of Karen Loh

“Ten of us attended the conference in 2017 and experts and historians shared their vast knowledge on pottery and how it linked to the trade of the Malay Archipelago a long time ago.

“It was an enriching experience for all of us just learning and listening to the rich stories during the Malay Archipelago that we are unable to experience and see now.”

Group of diverse volunteers

According to Loh, in 2006 and 2007, the museum volunteer programme initially attracted more expatriates and foreigners as compared to Malaysians.

Loh said that when she first joined as a volunteer back in 2007, she was the only Malaysian and the tours were mostly conducted in English and French.

“Initially, Malaysians were not keen on joining the programme as it was on a voluntary basis and they would not get paid for it.

“However, this pattern has changed as we currently have more Malaysian volunteers and also Korean volunteers.

“Because of the diverse representation of guides from Japan, Korea and France, we have tours conducted in those languages too.”

A space to start discussions and debates about stories of the past

Dennis Ong, 26, who will be completing his training guide programme said that one of his biggest takeaways from the programme was the fruitful discussions he has had with his diverse batchmates.

He also shared that one of the reasons he joined the programme was to be able to think critically about the stories presented in the museum.

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Dennis Ong has learned to be critical of the narratives presented in the museum by questioning, researching and debating them. — Picture courtesy of Ahmad Zamzahuri

“History is not set in stone especially when an artefact is discovered or a possible theory is brought up about a story in the past.

“As such, we continue to discuss, debate and then research about the stories that have been presented to us.”

Ong however hopes that in the future there would be more talks and forums conducted between history experts, museum volunteer guides and also Department of Museums Malaysia’s officials.

“It is also important for the museum to represent the people by having stories of the different races in the country and within the ethnicities in Malaysia as we live in a multi-layered society.” —  Malay Mail