A gilded tree, with historical roots tracing back centuries to a tributary gift from Malay sultans to the Siamese ruler, has been newly installed in an ongoing exhibition on Singapore's significance in the Malay Archipelago before the British and Dutch occupation.
The bunga emas (golden flowers) sculpture, crafted in silver and gold and weighing 14.9kg, is a replica of a gift from the Kedah sultan to the Siamese ruler in the 1800s.
According to the Malay Heritage Centre (MHC), which organised the exhibition, this is the only bunga emas in Malaysia, and it is the first time since 1968 that it has left Kedah State Museum.
It was unveiled yesterday at the Seekor Singa, Seorang Putera Dan Sebingkai Cermin (A Lion, A Prince and A Mirror): Reflecting and Refracting Singapura exhibition, which began last October and runs till June 21.
Traditionally handcrafted in the form of a flowering tree, this replica is modelled on an actual bunga emas given by Kedah royalty to the Thai emperor in the 19th century.
Standing at 153.5cm tall and 97cm wide, it bears 258 leaves modelled after the henna plant's and flowers inspired by the tropical buah jeruju shrub's.
The original, which is in the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, is not available for public viewing. As such, "even interested Thais would pay a visit to the Kedah State Museum to see the replica of the bunga emas", said Mr Suhaidi Shukri, director of the Kedah State Museum, yesterday.
The bunga emas is significant to the exhibition as it reflects the political jostling over the weaker states in the Malay Archipelago, even under British rule. While the gifts from the sultans of Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu and Patani to the royal court of Siam were reportedly considered tokens of friendship and alliance, some scholars interpreted them as an act of submission from weaker states.
"Kedah sent a bunga emas about once every three years. In total, Kedah sent about 18 of these tributes from the 1840s to 1909. The bunga emas sent to London in 1909 following the Anglo-Siamese Treaty would be the last," said Mr Suhaidi.
The ceremonial journey of the bunga emas from Kedah to the royal court of Siam used to be an arduous one. "By land, it would take about a year. Across the various checkpoints from Kedah to Siam, about 100 elephants would transport the bunga emas. By sea, it would take about six months," Mr Suhaidi said.
Its journey to Singapore was considerably shorter. "It was brought over to Singapore via land transport in 1½ days," said the MHC.
Admission to this latest exhibition is free for Singapore citizens and permanent residents.