Gedung Kuning

Around 1846, a Rumah Bendahara (House of the Chief Minister) was built for Tengku Mahmud, the younger son of Sultan Ali (Wikipedia). Tengku Mahmud named the house Gedung Kuning (the Yellow Mansion) after its yellow walls.

Gedung Kuning in 1955                Gedung Kuning in 1955 (2)

The house was purchased in 1912 by Haji Yusoff bin Haji Mohamed Noor, or Haji Yusoff the Belt Merchant. His family stayed in the house from 1925 to 1999, when the Singapore government acquired it under the Land Acquisitions Act, and turned it into part of the Malay Heritage Center. It is one thing to acquire private property for the purpose of economic development that benefits all. It is quite another thing to acquire a cherished home and turn it into a museum of itself.

Haji Yusoff the Belt Merchant

Haji Yusoff the Belt Merchant

A great granddaughter of Haji Yusoff, Hidayah Amin, commemorates her family’s life in Gedung Kuning by setting up a virtual home on-line. Gedung Kuning, the website, records memories of family life, documents an on-going dispute over a mango tree, and explains the modified Palladian style of the house. Hidayah Amin kindly provided the photos of her great grandfather and of Gedung Kuning in this post. She also gave permission for the use of her dignified poem about her stately family home.

Gedungku

Kuning warna tersergam indah
Dipagar, dijaga si helang batu
Dulu dibina untuk Bendahara
Didiami oleh keluarga diraja

Gedung Kuning nama diberi
Terletak di sisi istana Melayu
Kampong Glam, Dalam dan Kaji
Tempat berdagang orang dahulu

Haji Yusoff peniaga berjaya
Gedung Kuning menjadi miliknya
Anak Singapura keturunan Jawa
Berwawasan dan berhati mulia

Gedungku anggun warisan bangsa
Lambang Melayu kemajuan nusa
Generasiku kan tahu budaya mereka
Takkan Melayu hilang di dunia

by Hidayah Amin

Translation by Hidayah Amin of “Gedungku” (“My Home”):
Gedung Kuning with its regal yellow walls and stone eagles is a mansion originally built for the Prime Minister. It stands next to the Malay palace and is located in the hub of historical Malay trading places. Haji Yusoff, the visionary and successful Malay businessman purchased Gedung Kuning which remains to this day, a symbol of Malay heritage and culture.

Gedung Kuning in the 1980s

Gedung Kuning in the 1980s

About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.

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