Text by Sundralingam Saminathan
Photos by Lau Sook Mei
The PHS field trip on Sunday, 30 January attracted seven society members and three new friends. It was a small but happy group, eager with contained excitement.
We began with the amazing rock paintings at Gunung Panjang, Tambun. Our guide for the day, Hong reminded the gang on the Dos and Don’ts before leading us across the open field to an unkempt ‘heritage’ pavilion at the bottom of the concrete stairs. 128 steep steps to the rockshelter, so up we went.
The rock paintings are found on the exposed, west-facing cliffs, some as high as 10-metres from the floor of the rocky ledge. Huffing and puffing, we gazed awe-struck. Some paintings have faded, some are damaged by water and vandals. How did the paintings survive the weathering? How and why did the prehistoric men paint so high up the cliff face? Intriguing and magical!
Surprisingly, despite its importance, no proper studies have been done since its discovery in 1959 until, in 2009, an Archaeology student at Universiti Sains Malaysia , Noel Hidalgo Tan surveyed and mapped all the paintings he could find, and studied them for his Master thesis.
Just how many paintings are there? Noel found five hundred, in ten groups. Iron oxide found at the hill is assumed the colour ‘red’. To date them, Noel analysed little bits of paint samples. Artefacts previously uncovered cannot be traced, so went the material evidence of its Neolithic age.
We recognized the figurative paintings: tapir, deer and a giant catfish once thought to be a dugong, a manatee. Drawings of men are prominent, especially a captivating one with a long phallus.
Charmed, we pierced in wonderment but the mosquitoes got to us. Before we descended, we took in the view of Ipoh against the backdrop of the Kledang Range . Yes, Gunung Panjang would have been a landmark even in Neolithic time.
Our next destination was Gunung Naga Mas, just past Kampung Kepayang. We hesitated at the overgrown path to the cave but some foreign workers at the foothill prodded us on.
Our brave new friend, Thomas found a stick and began ‘slashing’ his way up the hand-laid stones steps. Hong followed, clearing the track for our fellow ‘adventurers’. Progress was slow but our patience paid off; we found an old nylon rope which guided us up the hill.
As we looked down to the barren land in Tekkah, where tin was mined, the stench of guano (bat droppings) wafted out the dark end of the chamber, which used to house a Chinese temple known as Gua Naga Mas or ‘golden dragon cave’. In the cool dampness, we stayed put, imagining spirits moving freely around us.
In a small alcove to the side we came face to face with the fossils. Ever the doctor, enthusiastic Mike named the bones embedded in the ceiling about 5-metres from the floor. A renowned zoologist has identified the ‘skeleton’ as that of a leopard. The only piece of research so far dated the bones to Paleolithic, between 10,000 and one-million-years-old. For the bones to be stuck to the rocks, we reckoned that the area had gone through extreme pressure for a very, very long time. But how does one wrap one’s head around such concept of eons and prehistoric time?
The descent was light work, but the energy sapping ‘hike’ made us very hungry, and so we rushed to Gopeng for lunch.
Our lunch in the Malay café on Jalan Pasar was very good. Sated and rested, we began our Sunday stroll in historic Gopeng.
Gopeng is famous for the Eu Yang San, the Chinese medical chain started in 1879. With a road named after him, Eu Kong is the founding patriarch while his illustrious son Eu Tong Sen built it into an international conglomerate.
Founded in 1888, the Tseng Lung Hakka Association is the oldest clan association in town. The photo gallery is most impressive, with formal portraits of noted clansmen and women. Here, Sook Mei discovered the photographs of her maternal grandfather and uncles, who were prominent clansmen in the Kinta Valley.
We walked up High Street to the changkat to cool off in the shade of the old angsana tree dominating a small park by the mining pool, then past the town padang to enjoy the Chinese temple theatre. We crossed the road to the sad remains of the 30-metre section of the water pipeline of Gopeng. We returned to town through Jalan Kampong Rawa, where we saw the rows of century-old coolies’ housing, and the original public toilet block, minus the ‘buckets’ for excrement.
At the Gopeng Museum on Jalan Eu Kong, we discovered Gopeng’s material culture. Its curator, Mr Phang See Kong was hospitable, offering mineral water and snacks. More discovery; I noticed my great-great-grandfather’s photograph on the wall! He was Vellasamy Pillai, the pioneer who built Gopeng’s Amman Hindu Temple in 1885. This fact was verified by my great-grand-uncle, Dato’ Rajasingam.
Phang arranged our visit to the Heritage House on Jalan Sungai Itek (Wayang Lane). This shophouse has adapted by its owner Mr Wong Kuan Cheong into a warren of interesting spaces on three levels, using salvaged building material.
Satiated and tired out, we left Gopeng with Phang’s promise of invitations to the opening of the Heritage House on World Heritage Day.
If you should want to go to the prehistoric sites on your own, never go alone, and make sure you let someone know when you are expected home. Be self-responsible at these prehistoric sites and remember the Dos and Don’ts below.
– Notice to All Visitors-
Welcome to one of the most significant pre-historic sites in Malaysia.
Pre-historical relics are rare but important because of what we can learn from them.
The locations where they are found are important as it presents to us the context for their significance within the region.
It is a rare opportunity to be able to enjoy significant relics in their natural state.
To protect and conserve this site, please observe the following:
1. Take notes and pictures. You will be pleasantly surprised by the details captured which may have eluded your gaze.
2. Stay on the designated path to avoid damaging the site and for your own safety. Rock-falls can seriously injure or kill.
3. Get in touch with Perak Heritage Society if you wish to know more about this site: https://perakheritage.wordpress.com/
4. Report any abuse or encroachment upon the site to PHS. Pictures will be of great help.
5. Help to conserve this site by keeping it clean & hazard free. Dispose of wastes appropriately. It is best that you take them away to the nearest waste bins.
1. Don’t remove any relic or material from the site.
2. Don’t touch, paint, draw or climb up the rock face; it is to preserve the relic as well as to mind your own safety.
3. Don’t litter; wastes attract pests, contaminate the site, and pose a fire & health hazard.
4. Don’t smoke within the vicinity of the site. It’s both a fire and health hazard.
Note: It is an offence to remove, damage or deface historical artefacts, the penalties include a hefty fine and jail time.
Proposed by Mr Cheah Soon Tatt, Penang, 2009
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Update ~ 2nd January 2016 : Ancient Cave Paintings Used to Teach New Lessons