A Treasure Trove of Malaysian Heritage

Updated: Jan 21, 2015, 10:11 AM IST
A Treasure Trove of Malaysian Heritage

Rama Sreekant

Not just a one-stop shop, The Central Market in Kuala Lumpur is a great way to acquaint yourself with the local culture, heritage and traditions.

Located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, where the city was founded, is an arts and crafts market which could very well be the final stop of a long walking tour through this splendid city. The Central Market in Kuala Lumpur will say out a loud Selamat Datang! (‘Welcome’ in Malay) to any visitor in typical Malaysian fashion.

This deco market is filled with every imaginable curiosity from old Craven cigarette tin boxes, oil lamps to century-old Nyonya tea sets, charcoal irons and cosmetic accessories. Not only can you purchase items with a genuine local feel but they are price friendly too, although a little bargaining would be rewarding. Situated at the border of Chinatown, bargains galore can be found within the preserved walls of this landmark Central Market. The bazaar boasts colourful interiors with a wide range of shops modeled after traditional houses, each selling crafts representing various Malaysian cultures. One can find charming souvenirs to take home as keep sakes from your travels such as a Kelantanese tea set, antique silver dining ware, jewellery or an authentic Malaysian kite, antique hand-crafted Burmese doors etc. Choices range from priceless authentic antiques to modern hand-made crafts so exquisite that they are in fact heritage inspired objects d’art.

No longer a ‘wet market’ selling fresh meat, fish and vegetables, the Central Market now houses more than 130 shops, 30 food outlets, 140 small kiosks, an exhibition corner (Sudut Pameran and an outdoor riverside amphitheatre with cultural performances). Take a walk along the streets with themes such as Malay Street, Straits Chinese, Little India, Jonker Street (named after the famous street in Malacca) and Blue Mansion (named after the heritage building in Penang). Rummage through sari silks, rugs and spice stalls in the side-streets of Little India before checking out hand-painted Chinese clogs, Sogo's vast range of designer perfumes, home furnishings and electronics. A visit to Kuala Lumpur's bustling Central Market is a must to witness bazaar-style haggling at its best.

As a land of great forests and timber diversity, Malaysia has long been a source of woodcrafts. You can find antique Malay panel carvings or keris dagger handles, Chinese containers and unusual Orang Asli spirit sculptures, as well as moulded walking sticks, kitchen utensils or even decorated scented woods to adorn your home. But a sure-fire eye catcher is the vast display of masks at every corner of the market. Each mask carries a certain character—from the very pensive to a cheery face; you can pick your favourite. Legend has it that the locals hang these masks at the entrance of their homes or on the walls of their homes to ward off the evil spirits.

A dazzling tapestry of Asian traditions, the market is a one-stop shop for everything Malaysian. Malay pottery such as Perak labu sayong (an elegant, gourd-shaped carafe that is used to keep water cool) as well as geluk and belanga (traditional Malay crockery cooking pot), Chinese dragon kiln ceramics or Sarawak tribal motif pottery are all popular. You could also go wild marveling at ingenious traditional weaving skills and products. Local plant fibres and parts from bamboo, rattan, pandan and mengkang leaves are coiled, plaited, twined and woven to produce comely bags, basketry of all kinds, colourful mats or tikar. I picked a carved lampshade and a carved planter, made of coconut shell. Shop for a keris (a traditional Malay weapon), wayang kulit(shadow puppet), handicraft, art, traditional costumes and textiles, antiques, pewter more. At the Art Lane, have your portraits sketched by portrait artists or see and learn how Malaysian batik is made and painted. Touch and feel an actual Wau Bulan (traditional Moon Kite from Kelantan).

A trip to Central Market is incomplete if you haven’t bought pewter craft. A notable newer heritage, pewter made from tin is a favourite among tourists. Exquisitely crafted pewter ware is available as beer tankards, goblets, tea and coffee sets, picture frames, clocks vases and other decorative items.
But if you are looking for something truly unique, the traditional wooden blowpipes may well fit the bill. Originally used for hunting by the aborigines, this wood craft is arty enough to make the cut from the jungle to your living room.