Categories: Culture

The Iconic Sultan Abu Bakar Museum in Pekan

Built by the British, the Sultan Abu Bakar Museum is more than a cultural institution—it is a historical icon. Beginning its journey as a base for the state of Pahang’s first resident, J.P. Rodger, the landmark was initially constructed as a wooden bungalow, before rebuilding its foundations with stone. Given its location on the banks of Sungai Parit—at the time buzzing with trade activity—the establishment was key in overseeing economic developments; boats and barges carrying merchandise would often anchor, while merchants from far-flung distances convene in Pekan Baru.

Explore Pahang’s Rich Heritage through Carefully Curated Collections

In addition, its proximity to the Royal administrative centre in Pekan Lama made it an ideal headquarters during the British occupation. Though with many advantages, its locale did pose one threat: floods. According to Yang Berbahagia Dato’ Mokhtar (former Director of the Pahang State Museum Board), a ship loaded with building materials from Singapore sank in Pahang waters due to the massive torrents that hit Pekan in 1926. It was then that its wooden groundworks were replaced with sturdier materials, and reimagined with neo-classical accents typical of the century. Think Greco-Roman columns and minimalist geometric forms, both architectural details which are still prevalent to this day.

The ‘wayang kulit’, a traditional Malay puppet show, translated into modern works of art

By the time the Second World War came, the mansion had already transformed into a command post for Kempeitai, the military arm of the Imperial Japanese Army. Luckily for restorators, the property remained intact during the Japanese Invasion of Malaya, save for a few blemishes which hinted at the period’s macabre past. Case in point: during cable installation work commissioned by the state years later, chained live machine-gun bullets were found embedded around several poles, which were believed to have belonged to the British army stationed in Pekan. Nevertheless, the building was left abandoned until the late Sultan Abu Bakar made it his official domain in 1948. Named after the palace that once stood at this site, Istana Kota Beram became the late Sultan’s primary quarters for 10 years, eventually expanding its premises to include a front hall known as Balairong Seri.

The head of a keris, a traditional Malay dagger, immortalised as a concrete sculpture.

Following the catastrophic downpour that hit Pahang in 1971, the late Tun Abdul Razak, the Second Prime Minister of Malaysia and former Chief Minister of Pahang, was inspired to transform the stately home into a museum. In an attempt to preserve heritage treasures, the Pahang State Museum Board Enactment 1975 was put into motion. Finally, a state museum was established and the Sultan Abu Bakar Museum begins its new chapter in the legacy of Pekan.

The Museum now houses various collections that show the rich history and diverse heritage of the state of Pahang. Discover the state’s remarkable stories as told through the lens of religion, royalty, relic and rakyat.

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.

Frank Nelwan

Published by
Frank Nelwan

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