- 2007/07/16 Malacca river dirt yields rich pickings

They are four men, growing RM500 richer by the day from the things they sell. Things they have neither bought nor made, but scavenged. They call themselves treasure hunters. The real McCoy.

Image: Portuguese and Dutch era coins that Raffiee Mohd Najeer and his friends have dug up.
Portuguese and Dutch era coins that Raffiee Mohd Najeer and his friends have dug up.

And the treasures they seek are real enough: Old coins, bits and pieces of porcelain and other antiquities from the era of the Malacca sultanate as well as the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial period.

Their raiding ground is a spot on the river bank of the Sungai Melaka near Jalan Kilang where a 30m-high pile of river dirt has accumulated, courtesy of the contractors beautifying the river.

Unlike the archaeologists and tomb raiders shown on TV, the four men, led by Raffiee Mohd Najeer, 37, are armed only with ladles and their method is drama-free.

For the past few days, Raffiee and his friends have been climbing the mound of dirt to comb for treasure.

"Rain or shine, we are here. We saw the pile of sedimentation and decided to try our luck. We did not expect to hit the jackpot," said Raffiee.

"The first coin we found was from the sultanate era. The coin was well-preserved; the writings on it still visible. We sold it to an unknown collector."

"Since then, we have discovered coins from the Portuguese era, about 500 years old, and also those used by the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC in old-spelling Dutch), which are about 400 years old."

The VOC was established in 1602, when the states-general of the Netherlands granted it a 21-year monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia.

It was the first multinational corporation in the world and the first company to issue stock. It remained an important trading concern for almost two centuries until it became bankrupt and was formally dissolved in 1800.

"There are also unique coins the size of our 50-sen coin, but with a hole in the middle. Each has Arabic words inscribed, which I am unable to decipher," Raffiee said.

He and his friends also collect old metal pieces and other antiques, which they sell to interested buyers.

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