by Eric Lim
Titi is in the district of Jelebu in Negri Sembilan and it is about 43 km from the state capital, Seremban, using Federal Route 86. From the Selangor side, Titi is accessible from Hulu Langat and Semenyih on the B32 (Selangor state route) that crosses the border to meet up with N32 (Negri Sembilan state route).
The name Titi comes from a Malay word referring to a narrow passage to cross a ditch, drain or a tributary and usually made from log of a palm or coconut tree. However, the Chinese call it Titi Kong (知知港) which could possibly be referring to jetty/jetties found in the town in the past. Sungai Glemi is a tributary that meanders gently across the town and flows to join Sungai Triang. It flows northeast and ultimately falls into Sungai Pahang and finally into the South China Sea.
The Orang Asli were the earliest inhabitants in this area and they were already using this waterway to supply tin and various jungle produce to the commercial centre at the mouth of Sungai Pahang. In the 17th century, Minangkabau from Sumatra migrated into the state in large numbers and Jelebu was dominated by them. They were mainly in agriculture with tin prospecting mostly a part-time work to make some side income. The Chinesefirst arrived in the district in about 1860 and the first Chinese temple, Lian Hua An, was built in 1876.
During British intervention, Sungai Ujong was the key mining area in the state even though Lukut fell under its control in 1878. Lukut was the chief tin producing area in the country between 1830 and 1860 but by the time it came under the jurisdiction of Sungai Ujong, tin was dwindling and it was in financial ruin because of the conflict between the Malays and Chinese. The then Acting Resident of Sungai Ujong, H.A. O’Brien reported in 1884 of an abundance of tin deposits in Jelebu and in June the following year, British took over the administration and appointed E.P. Gueritz as the first British Collector of Jelebu. Immediately, the district saw major developments like the construction of a bridle track to connect Sungai Ujong (later widened into a cart road in 1888), Jelebu Hospital built at Petaling as well as police stations at Bukit Tangga, Kuala Klawang and Titi. As for for tin mining in the district, two British-owned companies, Jelebu Mining and Trading Company and Jelebu Mining Company were given the monopoly over land and tax concessions. The special concessions ceased in 1893.
Next, it saw the arrival of small Chinese enterprises to prospect for tin. The towkays from Sungai Ujong and Malacca were not keen to invest in Jelebu due to its remoteness. This was a good opportunity for Siow Kon Chia to start tin exploitation. He was born in Lan-Lin village of Hui Zhou in Guangdong in 1864. He came to Malaya in 1892 where he worked in Melaka for two years. He then moved to Sungai Ujong where he met with Roman Catholic missionaries who offered him a job. It was during this time that he became a Christian. At the same time, he started tin speculating and eventually obtained permits to operate several mining sites in Titi. For his labour recruitment, he returned to his home village and offered to transport whole families out to Jelebu. During the first few years of the recruitment, over a thousand Siow clan families had migrated to Titi.
In 1905, Siow Kon Chia donated two acres of his land and financed the construction of a church. It is today the Saint Augustine Catholic Church. At the peak of his success, he married Maria Leong who was a Melaka born Baba Chinese. In time, Siow Kon Chia was regarded as the unofficial Kapitan China to help with the administration of Chinese in the area. Later, he moved his family to Seremban where he stayed until he died on 24 May 1929. His house located behind St Paul’s Institution had been used as the Headmaster’s residence; St Paul’s Institution was established in 1899 and was the first English school in Negri Sembilan.
When Siow Kon Chia’s business enterprises started to decline, it paved the way for a group of enterprising Siow men to emerge. Comprising five men – Min Foong, Piang Keow, Sin Tow, Lian Fook and Onn – they formed the Ban Lee Seng business enterprise with a capital of $100.00 per head. They started a provision store, selling work equipment and household needs. At the same time, they also operated a fish and vegetable stall at the local market. Later, they were involved in opening up land for rubber and cash crop growing. Within five years, they were very successful and opened another shop called Ban Yap Seng to cope with the business expansion. From 1920 to 1930, Ban Lee Seng was controlling the district’s transport services, groceries, meat and vegetable sales and equipment supplies. After a decade together, they decided to go their own way. They continued to prosper and became community leaders in Titi.
When the rubber boom started in the country, businessmen in Titi also took up rubber planting. However, rubber trees take about five to six years before they can be tapped. So while waiting, they planted cash crops like tapioca, vegetables, sugar cane and fruits like bananas and pineapples.
During the Japanese Occupation, Japanese soldiers arrived at the district on 7 January 1942, exactly one month from the date that they arrived in the Peninsular. It was early in the morning when about forty soldiers cycled into Kuala Klawang from Seremban. The troop was led by two guides who had stayed in Titi before the war and known by their Chinese names of Yah Te and Yah Ming, and had worked as a barber and photographer respectively. Within two weeks, the Japanese had formed a police force consisting of about one hundred men. The presence of the Japanese soldiers sent most of the Chinese in the area into hiding in the surrounding jungle.
On the fateful day of 18 March 1942, about one hundred Japanese soldiers, who had cycled from Seremban the previous evening and joined by the soldiers stationed at the district police station, made their way to Jelulung village (余朗朗村) located next to Titi town. Due to its strategic location near the borders of Selangor and Pahang, Jelulung became a favourite hideout for resistance fighters. Japanese soldiers gathered the villagers at the marketplace on the pretext of meeting the people and conducting identity checks. Later, they went on a house-to-house search and when it was done, the villagers were herded into small groups and led away to isolated spots and nearby houses where they were stabbed to death by bayonets. Those who resisted were shot point blank. By dusk, the whole settlement was set on fire. A total of 1474 men, women and children were killed and the massacre was the highest single-day casualties recorded during the Japanese Occupation. In 1979, a memorial was built at the Titi Chinese cemetery and the exhumed remains were finally laid to rest there.
When the Japanese left Titi on 10 August 1945, MPAJA took control and set up the People’s Communist Government of Titi but just for a brief period. By 15 October 1945, British Military Administration (BMA) returned to power in Titi. By the time of the declaration of Emergency in the country, Titi and the surrounding settlements were already known for their communist activities. When the resettlement programme came into effect, squatters were evacuated into allocated housing sites in Titi New Village. By 1955, Titi New Village had grown in size and comprised Titi town, Titi-Mahfong, Titi-Hosapa and Titi-Kimloong; and the population had reached 5500. Next, it saw the re-emergence of secret society in Titi, the ‘new’ Hung Household and rival Wah Kee group until the next stage where the people of Titi had their first experience of democracy with the introduction of local government through a publicly elected committee of councillors.
Two notable people from Titi are the late Qui Yun (1947-2006), a popular Hakka singer most remembered for the song Ah Po Mai Ham Choi, and Tan Sri Dr Lim Wee Chai (born 1958), Founder and Executive Chairman of Top Glove Corporation Berhad.
Laurence K.L Siaw / Chinese society in rural Malaysia – A local history of the Chinese in Titi, Jelebu / thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology and Sociology and the Department of History at Monash University.
Malaysia quiet remembrance / Asia Weekly / Elaine Tan / 4 April 2014 / www.chinadailyasia.com
Massacre in Titi / atrocityinns.net > masacretiti
The Lukut massacres / www.sabrizain.org > malaya > sgor6