Wilbert W. W. Wong (Australian National University)

Arkib Negara Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur

Sign by the Guard Post of the Malaysia National Archives in Kuala Lumpur.
Photograph by Wilbert W. W. Wong

Although the Arkib Negara Malaysia hold collections across different state branches, most of the archival materials can be found in the Kuala Lumpur branch. This is the best place to access the available British colonial sources on Malaysia and Singapore in the region. The Kuala Lumpur branch has a good collection of government reports, gazettes, bulletins, blue books, and conference proceedings, among other materials. Together, they provide crucial references on the economic life and activities of colonial and post-colonial Malaysia and its surrounding regions. The archive also has a good array of education reports and blueprints that showcase the colonial and post-colonial government’s plans for the economic development of the inhabitants of Malaya and, later, Malaysia. These reports also capture the economic conditions of the inhabitants at the time from both the colonial and local lens.

Archival holdings on Malaya before World War II are patchy because a lot of these sources were destroyed or lost during the war. However, copies of official correspondence records sent to Britain are held in the National Archives in Kew. Researchers working on this period may want to visit those holdings to fill in the gaps.  

Arkib Negara’s records on Malaya after World War II are more complete. The archive boosts a good array of local Malay periodicals, such as the colonial-period Majalah Guru. A printed catalogue of the archive’s Malay language collections and other periodicals can also be found in its reading room. These Malay language periodicals underscore how Malays conceived of and responded to economic change. Arkib Negara is also home to the papers and correspondence of the Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (JMBRAS). Interestingly, personal records of public servants from the colonial period up to recent times can also be found there. I made this discovery while obtaining a complete public service profile and work record of my grandfather, who worked as a court interpreter in Malaysia during the colonial and post-colonial periods.

The easiest and most convenient way to get to Arkib Negara in Kuala Lumpur is either by car or taxi, and I normally hire a ride from one of the e-hailing services. An alternative would be to take the train to one of the nearest stations (Pusat Bandar Damansara or Segambut) and from there hire a taxi or Uber. The Cairnhill Hotel is the closest hotel, and its rates are usually reasonable.

Wisma Warisan. Photography by Wilbert W. W. Wong

Upon arrival at the archive, visitors need to register at the guard post for a research access pass. Before handing out the research access pass, the guard will ask for a personal document, such as a driver’s license, which will be returned when the research pass is handed in before leaving the archive. Your research pass will allow access to the archive’s reading room located in the building (Wisma Warisan) on the right. You will have to scan your pass on a reader by the door to enter the main building. Once inside the archive, the visitor will be asked to register as an archive user by the reception if this is their first time there. A user card will then be issued and access granted to the digital catalogue, called Online Finding Aid (OFA). OFA can be accessed offsite, but only certain items will be shown on the catalogue. This makes it necessary to access OFA through the archive’s computers for complete access to the archive’s database. OFA does not only list materials that are available in Kuala Lumpur, but also the collections of the national archives branches in other states.

View from the Front Entrance of Wisma Warisan. Photograph by Wilbert W. W. Wong

Photography is unfortunately not allowed in the archives, but this is compensated for by the generous and cheap (roughly about RM 0.20 per page) photocopy service. The photocopies are made to a professional standard by the archive staff. They are not taken immediately, although they are normally done within a day, depending on demand. It is always advisable to ensure that photocopy orders are placed in advance before the archive closes. Otherwise they will need to be collected the following day. Digital coloured copies of images and photographs can also be purchased. They will be e-mailed within a few days. Although more expensive than standard photocopies, the prices are still reasonable. Of all the archives and libraries I have been to around the world (Australia, New Zealand, London, Singapore and Malaysia), the photocopy and image ordering service of Arkib Negara stands out, mainly because of its affordability, timeliness and quality.

April 2019