Artifact: A Pogrom for Tea


Credit: The Star, Malaysia

To Westerners, this teapot will seem more Lewis Carroll than David Koresh. But in the Malaysian state of Terengganu, where the two-story pot once sat beside a fishing boat, a massive vase, and an even larger yellow umbrella, the structure has become a symbol of religious strife. Ayah Pin, who founded this "Sky Kingdom," has spent the last two decades building a religious community around the teapot. The members of his interfaith cult are welcome to follow any religion they choose, he says, as long as they recognize that he is the God at the head of all of them. "All religions are basically the same," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Malaysian authorities don't see it that way. Ayah Pin and his followers have been repeatedly jailed since the 1990s, and in July of this year armed men lobbed Molotov cocktails at the teapot, sending Ayah Pin into hiding. Two weeks later, the Terengganu government finally bulldozed the kingdom. The teapot now lies smashed in a pile of rubble.

Ayah Pin has lost his teapot to the tempest. He has also given the world a startling image of paranoia and intolerance–evidence that when religious liberty is lost, so too are imagination and whimsy.