Nonchalant behaviour towards donors of artefacts

Gedung Kuning (image - gedungkuning.com)
Gedung Kuning (image – gedungkuning.com)

By Ms Hidayah Amin

I read with interest the article ‘NHB’s stock of artefacts from the public grows’ in Straits Times on 14 November.

Whilst it is heartening to know of increasing public’s generosity and civic-mindedness to contribute to our country’s heritage, it is also the responsibility of the receiving party to take care of such priceless contributions. I would like to share what had happened to my family who loaned our artefacts to the Malay Heritage Foundation (MHF) and the Malay Heritage Centre (MHC) (operated by the National Heritage Board).

I am the great-granddaughter of Haji Yusoff who owned Gedung Kuning (the Yellow Mansion in Kampong Glam) before it was acquired in 1999 under the Land Acquisition Act. My 81-year-old uncle Abdullah, the trustee of the estate of Haji Yusoff, asked me to inquire about our artefacts. This is because Abdullah’s letters to the MHF fell on deaf ears.

The MHF took a very long time to reply to his first complaint to Dr Yaacob Ibrahim in June 2013. Whilst the MHC replied within 3 days of our inquiry, the MHF had been unresponsive. The MHF refused to have a face-to-face meeting to discuss about our artefacts (some had been broken under their care), the lack of proper acknowledgement plaques, and the missing letter of transfer and inventory list.

After one year of non-responsive behaviour from the MHF, we sought the help of Minister Lawrence Wong to resolve the matter.

Minister Wong’s office responded on October 7, 2014 stating, “We have found that as the dispute is of a private nature, we are not in a position to intervene.” I argued in response to Minister Wong that the dispute is not of a private nature for the simple reason that our family loaned the artefacts for the benefit of the public to understand more about Malay heritage and culture.

If this is the attitude and treatment philosophy of agencies that deal with the public in relation to their donation of precious family artefacts, then it is utterly disappointing. Their conduct would irk families and individuals like my family and me, to an extent that nobody would ever consider donating artefacts to such institutions, lest they be neglected or unaccounted for.

That, in our view, is an act of disservice to Singapore by MHF and a great loss to our country’s role in preserving heritage and culture for the sake of younger generations.

The above letter was also submitted to The Straits Times on 18 November but was not published.


Ms Hidayah Amin is the founder and CEO of Archipelago Consultancy (AC), a founding member of Club HEAL where she produced five short films depicting the plight of people suffering from mental illness, and is a recipient of various scholarships such as the Fulbright Scholarship and Tan Kah Kee Postgraduate Scholarship, both in 2006, and the LBKM Prestigious Scholarship in 2010.

She has also published two books, Gedung Kuning: Memories of a Malay Childhood and The Mango Tree that share her personal childhood and family experiences living in one of Singapore’s iconic heritage buildings.