The state of Negeri Sembilan shares its borders with the other Malaysian states of Selangor, Melaka, Pahang and Johor. From the standpoint of a Malaysian namely me, myself and I, the state of Negeri Sembilan has always stood out from the rest, mainly for four reasons : it’s the spiritual home of the Minangkabau of Malaysia (as opposed to the Minangkabau of Sumatera, Indonesia), the horns of the buffalo, the Minangkabau dialect and of course, the practice of Adat Pepatih (as opposed to that of Adat Temenggung which is practiced almost everywhere else in Malaysia).
The name ‘Negeri Sembilan’ is literally translated as Nine States or Kingdoms, each kingdom, called a Nagari, having its own Ruler or Chieftain. When the individual Rulers or Chieftains collectively agreed to install Raja Melewar as the first Yamtuan Besar (similar in status to that of a Sultan) in 1773, from a layman’s point of view, it would not be wrong to say that the coming together of the entity that is now known as Negeri Sembilan is akin to the formation of a federation of nine separate kingdoms, with the Yamtuan Besar as Head of State.
Upon Raja Melewar being installed as the Yamtuan Besar, he eventually made Seri Menanti his home and to this day, Seri Menanti has remained the royal seat of the HRH Yang Di Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan, as the Yamtuan Besar is more popularly known today.
Location wise, Seri Menanti is about 40km from the state capital of Seremban (or as the locals would say in the local Minangkabau dialect, Soromban), and is situated in the district of Kuala Pilah (in Minangkabau dialect, Kolo Pilah). From the North South Expressway (NSE), you can get to Seri Menanti by exiting the NSE either at Simpang Ampat (if travelling from the South, and after exiting the NSE head for Tampin and then onwards to Kuala Pilah) or Senawang (when travelling from the North, after exiting the NSE, just follow the signboards heading towards Kuala Pilah). If you are like me (poor sense of direction et al, as my wife would always remind me), the general rule of following the signboards applies and if you stick with that, chances are you will get to Seri Menanti. Eventually.
Personally, I have never ever ventured this far in into, what we would call, Minangkabau country. True, I have friends who are from the state (Tampin, Batu Kikir, Seremban etc) but I never had any cause to venture in except to the state capital of Seremban and the seaside resort town of Port Dickson. Never been that adventurous, I have.
Until the day my son got admitted into the Kuala Pilah Beting campus of UiTM that is. And venture into Minangkabau country we did, and it was, as they say, an eye opener. Kuala Pilah’s cool weather (the plus side of being up in the high country), and what with the abundance of the local produce and fruits (often sold at the different road-side stalls at very attractive prices) as well as the local delicacies (try the kuah lomak cili api, it is guaranteed to give you that extra zing in your food! or even the local smoked buffalo meat or beef) make for some Kuala Pilah’s attractions.
Seri Menanti has been in our radar for quite some time now, ever since the day when we first made our way to Kuala Pilah. But somehow we never got around to making our way to Seri Menanti until our son informed us that this trip could be our last. Something about major misgivings with respect to his latest exams. My son, the pessimist.
Seri Menanti is a very small town, if you can even call it that. According to local folklore, it was in the 15th century that Seri Menanti was first settled by the Minangkabau people who had ventured from their settlements at nearby Rembau.
Amongst them was a Datuk Puteh of Pagar Ruyung, who according to local folklore, found three stalks of fresh green paddy and believing it to be a sign, named the place Padi Menanti (Padi being the Malay word for paddy) and promptly settled there. It was also believed that, over time, Padi Menanti became to be known as Seri Menanti and so it remained to this day.
Against a scenic backdrop of the cool highlands, you will find the majestic Istana Lama Seri Menanti. Four floors high, it was commissioned by HRH Yang di-Pertuan Besar Tuanku Muhammad Shah ibni AlMarhum Tuanku Antah (1888-1933) in 1902, with work on the palace finally completed in 1908.
Designed by two local Malay master craftsmen, Tukang Kahar and Tukang Taib (Tukang being equivalent to the German Meister), it is a palace made of timber and built WITHOUT the use of any metal nails. None whatsoever. Instead, hardwood rods were used to hold the timber together. Altogether, the palace has 99 posts (to represent 99 different warriors of the different clans, and just who they may be, I believe, may make for some interesting reading) including four posts which were 67 feet long.
From what can be seen of the old palace as it stands today, the old palace must have been a labour of love for Tukang Kahar and Tukang Taib. The old palace still stands strong today, and is magnificent to behold now as it must have been when it was first completed.
Today, the old palace has been converted into a museum i.e The Royal Museum of Seri Menanti, managed by the Museum Board of Negeri Sembilan. Inside the old palace which is now a museum, exhibits portraying the life of the current Yang Di Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan, HRH Yang Di Pertuan Besar Tuanku Muhriz ibni AlMarhum Tuanku Munawir are on show.
Photograph taking is not allowed within the old palace, however. No surprises there. Nevertheless, as you walk within the old palace walls, going through the different exhibits, you cannot help but be taken in by a sense of history and wonder what life must have been like in Seri Menanti in the days of old; before, during and after the palace was built.
Also notwithstanding, you would also get a crash course in the workings of Adat Perpatih as well as the history of Adat Perpatih. You will get to know names like Dato’ Pepatih Dato’ Nan Sebatang and Dato’ Bentara Putih Dato’ Katumanggungan and their significance, the story of the adult buffalo and the baby buffalo, the historical significance of the four Undangs and the Tunku Besar Tampin, and many more.
Makes for good and interesting reading, if you are into history that is. But even if you are not, the Istana Lama Seri Menanti (or The Royal Museum Seri Menanti, as it is known now) is still a place worth visiting, for various reasons : historically, architecturally, and culturally, to say the least.
As things stand, we will, in all probability, make a return trip to Istana Lama now the Royal Museum, as we further explore Kuala Pilah and its surrounding areas. Afterall, my son did make it through his exams.
Date : 12 December 2012