The Forgotten Duo

by Maganjeet Kaur

Raja Abdullah and Yap Ah Loy have been pushed centre-stage to battle it out as founders of Kuala Lumpur, relegating to the background the two entrepreneurs who had developed a trading post at the confluence of Klang and Gombak Rivers, a trading post that would grow to become Kuala Lumpur. No street names laud their contributions but Hiu Siew was the first Kapitan Cina (Chinese Captain) of Kuala Lumpur and Ah Sze could have been either the second or third Kapitan had he wanted the job.

Their story starts in Lukut where they were joint owners of a tin-mine. It was here that they contracted a friendship with Sutan Puasa, a Mandailing trader servicing the Ampang tin mines, on whose advice they moved to the future Kuala Lumpur. Lukut was, until the border treaty of 1878, a part of Selangor and under the control of Raja Jumaat, an enterprising and capable leader. In 1857, Raja Abdullah, brother of Raja Jumaat, took 87 Chinese miners from Lukut and they started mining activities at Ampang, about five kilometres inland from the confluence. Raja Abdullah’s men were by no means the first miners at Ampang; this honour belongs to the Sumatrans who were probably there from as early as the 1820s. However, the increased activity brought about by Raja Abdullah’s team saw traders from Lukut moving to Ampang where they supplied the miners with food, essential items, opium, and spirits.

tin-mine-at-ampang
A tin-mine at Ampang. Source: KITLV Universiteit Leiden

Goods bound to and from Ampang were loaded/unloaded at the confluence and, in all likelihood, a settlement existed there from an early period. However, the trading post had to be expanded rapidly in order to keep pace with the increased activity at Ampang and Sutan Puasa succeeded in persuading Hiu Siew and Ah Sze to relocate there. He also paved the way for them by introducing them to the local Malays and their acceptance by the Malay community saw Hiu Siew being appointed as the first Kapitan Cina of Kuala Lumpur.

The exact location of this trading centre has not been identified. However, it is said that when Yap Ah Loy became the third Kapitan, he appropriated the property of Liu Ngim Kong, the second Kapitan, who had himself appropriated the property of Hiu Siew. We know that Yap Ah Loy’s house was located near the river, at the present site of the Pacific Express Hotel, and it is possible that Hiu Siew’s property was at this same location and that Yap Ah Loy’s ‘market’ was originally Hiu Siew’s.

yap-ah-loys-houses
Yap Ah Loy’s properties (around Medan Pasar) after they were rebuilt in brick following the 1881 fire. This was possibly also the original location of Hiu Siew’s properties. Source: Arkib Negara

The head panglima (commander) to Hiu Siew was Liu Ngim Kong. Liu had previously been panglima to the Kapitan Cina of Sungei Ujong and Yap Ah Loy had acted as his assistant during that time. When Hiu Siew passed away in 1861/62, Liu took over his role as Kapitan Cina as well as, purportedly, his private property. Liu invited Yap Ah Loy, who was Kapitan Cina at Sungei Ujong, to join him in Kuala Lumpur. The wealth of Kuala Lumpur induced Yap Ah Loy to move and he took over the position of Kapitan Cina after Liu’s death in 1868.

Ah Sze, in the meantime, had become among the wealthiest traders in Selangor. He also had mining concerns in Kanching which, together with Ampang (and Kuala Lumpur), were the only Chinese enclaves in Selangor north of Lukut at the time. Ah Sze was kingmaker. He had twice rejected offers to be Kapitan Cina: first after the death of Hiu Siew and again after the death of Liu. However, the selection of Liu Ngim Kong and Yap Ah Loy as the second and third Kapitans respectively were made in consultation with Ah Sze. The relatives of Liu Ngim Kong were unhappy with the ascension of Yap Ah Loy to the position of Kapitan and his appropriation of Liu’s property. Their attempt to redress the situation saw the murder of Ah Sze, seen as a powerful ally of Yap Ah Loy. This was done in order to weaken Yap’s position.

Kuala Lumpur was already a rich and flourishing settlement before Yap Ah Loy moved there. This was in large part due to the efforts of Hiu Siew, Ah Sze, and Liu Ngim Kong who come across as very capable leaders. However, information on them is scarce as they have largely been ignored in historical writings. One possible explanation for this is that the bulk of historical records come from the British whose official involvement in the Selangor state starts only after the treaty of 1874. They had involved interactions with Yap Ah Loy but only cursory dealings, if any, with the other three.

klv001011882-bridge-over-sungai-klang-in-kl-c1880
Klang River, circa 1880. Source: KITLV Universiteit Leiden
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Author: Museum Volunteers, JMM

Museum Volunteers, JMM Taking the Mystery out of History

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