Mustafa K Anuar hopes the outcry over the neglect of this archaeological valley will serve as a wake-up call to the authorities to do more to protect our cultural heritage.
The disrepair of the Lenggong archaeological site in Perak exposes the authorities’ negligence towards the treasures of our past.
It appears that the urgency of restoring and maintaining the historical site – which was declared a Unesco world heritage site on 30 June 2012 – is lost on government agencies arguing over who should be responsible.
The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture said it has done what was needed for the development and maintenance of the archaeological valley of Lenggong, while the National Heritage Department (NHD) asserts that it could not maintain the site as it is constrained by funding problems arising from jurisdiction issues.
Calls were made for the Perak government to intervene and administer the sites under its control.
The archaeological sites of Bukit Bunuh, Bukit Jawa and the Lenggong Archaeological Gallery are managed by the NHD, while the rest come under the jurisdiction of Perak.
It is appalling that Lenggong Valley is the only Unesco site that does not have a world heritage office under the state government.
In the meantime, nature continues to exact its toll on the valley. The structures, artefacts and murals at the sites decay when left exposed to the elements over time and worse, unattended by the people who were expected to do what is needed. As if this isn’t enough, the vandalism of these historical sites is as good as smudging pages of our history. Such desecration robs us of our identity.
It is feared that the Unesco certification for the site may be withdrawn if the requirements are not met soon.
Such ancient sites are invaluable to Malaysians because they connect us to the past, and we can take pride in and respect local history and our cultural heritage. Each historical site is a store of knowledge and has a story to tell us and succeeding generations, which is why it is vital these sites are preserved and maintained.
Ancillary facilities can be built near these sites to cultivate curiosity, excitement and love for local cultures and histories, such as a mini library where exhibits, photos, books and journal articles on the archaeological finds are accessible; merchandise shops; and a space to hold talks.
Revenue can be generated from such activities to help fund the maintenance of these sites.
These historical sites can also drive the local economy, spurring small businesses, such as resorts and homestays, for the convenience of visitors. Local residents will also benefit from the creation of jobs, such as guides.
In fact, this boon to the economy was anticipated by a tourism association in Lenggong but its expectations were dashed.
It is hoped that the Lenggong neglect would be a wake-up call to the authorities to put their heads together in the interest of our cultural heritage and pride as well as serve as caution for those who manage other historical sites in the country.
Neglect of the past does not augur well for our present and future.