Part of the Muzium Pahang, the Sultan Abu Bakar Museum in Pekan is more than a cultural institution. With its colonial façade and state-of-the-art interior, the 93-year-old museum is the epitome of ‘tradition meets modernity’. We went to visit this stunning museum and discovered Pahang’s rich and compelling history through carefully curated collections and exhibits.
Pahang’s polity can be traced back to as early as the fifth century, and once came under the influence of both Srivijaya and Majapahit empires in the 13th century. By the end of the 15th century, the state was brought into the Malaccan Sultanate’s orbit, evolving into the Johor-Pahang-Riau- Lingga Empire in the 17th century. After the enactment of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty in March 1824, Pahang governed its land independently and was no longer subject to the rule of the Johor-Pahang-Riau-Lingga Empire.
At this time, Sultan Ahmad succeeded and reigned over Pahang by the end of the civil war in the mid-19th century (1857-1863). During the British Occupation of Malaya, His Majesty was key in the defence of Pahang against colonial bodies, resulting in armed clashes from 1891-1895. Soon, The Federated Malay States was formed, comprising Pahang, Perak, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan.
At the dawn of the 20th century, Pahang was once again occupied–this time, by the Japanese in the course of World War II. Having persevered through communist attacks, the state—together with other Malay lands—was eventuallybrought together into an alliance, achieving independence as a country known today as Malaysia.
As part of its permanent exhibition, the Sultan Abu Bakar Museum in Pekan pays tribute to the Sultanate’s illustrious journey. Artefacts of war and gilded keris narrate the storied events from as early as the 17th century, while ancient scripts and musical instruments portray the palace as a cultural hub. Here, a 200-year-old gamelan, one of the very first brought into Pahang from Riau, sits proudly among prized artworks depicting local folklore on the gallery’s second floor. Elsewhere, exquisitely crafted ceremonial ensembles in the iconic Tenun Pahang Diraja exemplify the industry of Pahang in textile craft, some of which have stood the test of time for almost a century.
From the reign of His Majesty Sultan Ahmad Al-Mu’adzam Shah, to the present heir to the throne, His Royal Highness the Regent of Pahang, Crown Prince Tengku Hassanal Ibrahim Alam Shah Ibni Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al Mustafa Billah Shah, each relic highlights the sovereignty of Pahang, as well as its influence from within the royal court and beyond.
They say that to know a land, you must first know its people. In this regard, the gallery’s “Personae Inderapura” exhibiton paints a comprehensive picture—some, quite literally—of the many faces of Pahang. And rightly so, given its sprawling 39,900 sq km landscape, making it the largest state in Peninsular Malaysia. Formerly known as Inderapura, Pahang is bordered by six other territories, further contributing to its diverse culture. Along the waters of Pahang River, myriad settlements have led to the development of unique sociological characteristics; agriculture, hobbies and activities (like the traditional game of congkak), as well as river-based cooking recipes.
Considering the vast network of Sungai Pahang, aquatic industries have long been a rice bowl for many in the state, particularly fishing. It’s no surprise then that the people of Pahang have devised their own methods of angling, often using woven baskets in lieu of nets to procure their daily catch. Indeed, weaving is a skill its community had mastered and pioneered, running the gamut from cultivation industries but textiles too. It’s the reason why Tenun Pahang Diraja has become symbolic to the state, as well as a testament to the ingenuity of its rakyat, who have spun themselves a new way of life unlike any in Malaysia.
According to historical text, the arrival of Islam in Malaysia coincided with the rise of the Malaccan Sultanate in the 14th century. At the time, the Straits of Malacca had already established itself as a key trading port within the region, attracting merchants from various lands. As a result of diversification, its Hindu prince, known as Parameswara, converted into Islam. At its height, Malacca hosted some 15,000 merchants, including Chinese, Arabs and Indians.
In the mid-1400s, Sultan Muhammad Shah, a descendent of Parameswara and heir apparent to the Malaccan throne, was exiled to Pahang. It was then that the first Pahang Sultanate was formed, bringing along the knowledge and wisdom of Islam to the state.
Since, Islam made a significant contribution to Malay civilisation, resulting in manuscripts spanning across belief, jurisprudence, ethics and purification of heart, medicine and even weaponry. Case in point the iconic keris, a traditional dagger which is symbolic of the skills and ability, as well as strength of the Malays.
Drawing parallels between both faith and conflict, the museum’s collection of Islamic manuscripts were complementary to the spiritual and intellectual needs of an individual who is a slave to the Almighty. Collectively, this leads to perfection, balance and the nature of servitude leading us back to the infinite power and greatness of Allah SWT as described in Asmaul Husna.
Interesting fact: human habitation in the state of Pahang has existed from as early as the Late Paleolithic period. Even more interesting, the lithic assemblage of 14,000 years ago have been discovered in Gua Sagu, Panching, Kuantan. With such discoveries , the Sultan Abu Bakar Museum has become host to some of the oldest archaeological relics in the state, including Neolithic tools such as a ‘Tembeling knife’, adze, axe, chisel, stone bracelet, stone bark beater, as well as a long-shafted iron axe named ‘Tulang Mawas’ from the Metal Age.
Given the town’s proximity to the iconic Pahang River, Pekan has been at the centre of proto- and historical findings in Malaysia. In 2020, a number of ceramics were uncovered in a Maritime Archaeology research by National Haritage Department near Kuala Pahang, which included porcelains from Song, Ming and Qing dynasties along with ancients sultanate and chinese coins.
Indeed, the state’s object finds remain abundant, particularly along the deltas of Tembeling Valley. In 1926, a major flood (also known as “The Great Flood of 1926) hit the state of Pahang during the monsoon season, and a large number of cultural artefacts—like the timpanum of Don Song drum discovered at Kampung Batu Pasir Garam—were exposed throughout the Tembeling River Valley after it subsided. The surfaceartefactswererecordedbyW.Linehan.
Home to one of the most important prehistoric sites in Peninsular Malaysia, another Sultan Abu Bakar Museum relic exemplifies the Pahang’s varied archaeology. This time in the form of a skull thought to have belonged to a Metal Age early human dated 1,500 years ago, discovered from Gua Kota Tongkat, Jerantut. Apart from a prehistoric perspective, Pahang also is home of the largest populations of aboriginals or orang asli, who are featured prominently in this exhibition.
The Sultan Abu Bakar Museum in Pekan is open for public daily from 09:00AM to 4:30PM (the Museum is closed on Mondays). For more information go to the website here.