One night in the early ‘70s. It is past midnight. The stage is set. The crowd waits in anticipation. Gene Ang and his Hawaiian Crackers are playing popular Hawaiian music of the day, performing for one night only at the Chinese New village in Taiping for the legendary striptease artiste, Rose Chan. Suddenly she appears from behind the curtains. The band works hard to keep their music in tempo to Rose’s moves as she gyrates and teases her audience. Unbeknownst to the audience, Rose is wearing three pairs of undergarments. Excitement builds as Rose takes off the first of three of her brassieres and swings it to the audience. She then takes off her second brassiere and again throws it to the crowd. And just as Rose is removing her third brassiere, Gene snaps a string of his lap steel guitar. It was all too much for him.
1958: What do a postman, surveyor, storekeeper, optical shop assistant and bank teller have in common? Nothing much, except that they all were all once members of the same band! Gene Ang and his Hawaiian Crackers was the only performing band in Taiping from the late ‘50s up to 1976. The band comprised of Gene’s neighbour, Zain, who was a postman; Poh Kee who worked in Chartered Bank (now known as Standard Chartered Bank after the 1969 merger with Standard Bank); Singgam, an Army storekeeper; ‘T.A.’ who worked in an optician’s; and Gene whose day job was with the Government Survey Department.
Hawaiian songs and the hits of Elvis Presley were very popular back then so the band concentrated on playing these songs. Most of the music was learnt by ear after listening to vinyl records. They did not have the luxury of music sheets. As the only band around, Gene Ang and his Hawaiian Crackers was in high demand performing at weddings, private evening functions and birthday parties. And during the weekends, they sometimes performed for doctors’ private functions, the police inspectors’ mess, nurses’ dances, and in private clubs. The band even played at the cinema before showings of Elvis Presley movies. One of Gene’s fondest memories is performing in the band which was chosen to play during the opening of Parliament in 1962. Gene’s instrument of choice was the lap steel guitar (a.k.a. Hawaiian guitar), but he could play almost all stringed instruments including the guitar, ukulele, double bass, mandolin, and violin, as well as the gendang (double-headed drum). How and when did Gene develop this passion for playing and performing?
Here is his story…
1929: Ang Leong Tooi was born in Ipoh to a Baba family from Medan. He would later adopt the name Gene after Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy who was popular in the 1940s. Gene’s father worked as a Chief Customs Officer while his mother tended to their six children. Even from the early age of five, Gene was drawn to music. His first instrument was the violin, which he learnt to play from a Ronggeng (Javanese dance) troupe. His family moved to Teluk Intan when he was 7 years old where he was introduced to a friend of his father who played for a Chinese Opera troupe in Taiwan. From him, Gene learned to play the big drum and also observed how to lead a band. But life took a different turn in 1942 during the Japanese Occupation when most of the schools and shops were closed, a period where Gene also stopped playing music. In 1943, his family moved to Taiping. After the war, Gene resumed his studies at the King Edward School there (now SMK King Edward VII), starting Standard 4 at the age of 17 years old. He would later complete his education at the age of 20 years in Penang in 1949. Sadly, Gene’s father fell ill in December the same year and passed away at the beginning of 1952. With no means of supporting himself through further education, Gene joined the Government Survey Department in Taiping and worked his way up to be a land surveyor.
As luck would have it, soon after the war, while Gene was still at school in Taiping, he met Emile Nicholas who later became a Major (then Colonel) in the army. The duo played guitar at weekly Saturday campfires and sing-a-longs. It was also during these weekly campfires that Gene met his future wife, Judy Foo, who was only 15 years old when they met. She was his sister’s classmate. They dated for 7 years before getting married in 1954.
In the early ‘50s, Gene was invited to play for the British at the Military Club, the Australian and New Zealand clubs in Kamunting, the Customs Recreational Club, and the New Club near Lake Gardens in Taiping. When Nicholas was transferred to Ipoh, he invited Gene to play the double bass in his band at St. John’s Red Cross Hall and at joget (traditional Malay dance) dances in Perak. After his experiences in Nicholas’ band, Gene finally formed his own troupe in 1958, calling themselves The Hawaiian Crackers with Gene Ang as the band leader. The band performed together until 1976 when Gene had to move to Pahang as the land surveyor for a Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) scheme.
Gene still remains sprightly and full of energy to this day. He does his daily exercises by walking every morning and evening. After he stopped playing music, his passion turned to cooking and baking.
Batang Kali is located along the route to Genting Highlands. It has a dark past being the place where the Seventh Platoon, G Company, 2nd Scots Guard shot dead 24 unarmed villagers. This incident took place in 1948 during the Malayan Emergency at a rubber estate in Sungei Rimoh, Batang Kali.
Today, Batang Kali is a quiet place but this predominantly Hokkien town has a unique cultural experience to offer its visitors. I participated in a tour recently through Lokalocal. The tour guide was Tek Eng Seng, a local resident of Batang Kali who is passionate about promoting the town.
The group met at KL Sentral before 10am and we made our way to Batang Kali. After an hour on the road, Eng Seng greeted us at Econsave and he gave us some local cucur udang (prawn fritters) to try. We had a fun-filled educational trip that is best told in photos.
Our first stop was at Five Q Brothers Enterprise where we learned how to make loh mee from scratch. These noodles are a signature dish of Batang Kali and are traditionally cooked in a thick and starchy broth with a touch of black vinegar to give it a zing. Our noodle-making session was followed by a sumptuous lunch of Loh Mee (of course), Hokkien Mee and Lor Bak at the Hokken Town restaurant.
We then made our way to the organic Guava Fruit Farm. There is also a bee farm on the premises and we tried out various types of honey. I bought a box of wax honey.
We then went to Kuil Siam Buddha Sakya Tharig Centre, which is actually a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. This was followed by a coffee break at Zhen Zhen Restaurant. Eng Seng bought various type of pau for us to sample.
Our next stop was at the World of Phalaenopsis where we took lots of pictures of the orchids. Phalaenopsis is the scientific name for a genus of orchids, known commonly as the moth orchid. Many species of multi colours are grown at the World of Phalaenopsis.
We then soaked our feet in the sulfur ponds at Cholo Cholo Hot Spring. Some of us had lobster feet but it was a good rejuvenation session even though the sulfur gas made my eyes smart. Eng Seng is such a gentleman that he bought me some eye drops.
Next, we visited the Fu Quan temple, which is located on a hill. This is the main temple of Batang Kali. We had quite an adventure here having been got locked out of our van. Luckily a local mechanic came to our rescue.
We ended the day with a sumptuous dinner at Hock Lay Restaurant. Eng Seng treated us to a delicious meal of Boned Pork, Fried Tofu, Tom Yum Prawns and Claypot Veggy.
Although other ports on the Malayan Peninsula and in Sumatra existed along the Straits of Malacca, none of these ports could rival Melaka itself in its heyday, with the entrepôt attracting traders from all over the world. Those who look back upon this period often express nostalgia for a “Golden Age”, with Melaka’s power, wealth, and cultural refinement evoking the image of a distant kingdom, imbibed with majesty and magic. But nostalgia can often cast too strong a spell, and Melaka’s legendary status can obscure the actual reasons for the empire’s success. Though Melaka’s success was partly due to its strategic location, it was largely Melaka’s efficient administration that was central to its success as an international trading hub. The term “administration” does not merely refer to a group of officials, but to “the process or activity of running a business, organization, etc.”. Melaka’s efficient administration was the result of two things: a clear system of law and an efficient system of governance. The region also benefited from effective communication and mutual cooperation, points that will be touched on toward the end of this article.
Melaka had an effective legal justice system, which provided a clear framework for the facilitation of trade. Melaka has a clear legal system, with the region having two important legal codes that governed the affairs of the region. The first was the “Laws of Melaka” (Undang-Undang Melaka), a combination of customary and Islamic law that covered the special rights of the ruling family, dignitaries’ duties, government protocol, and both criminal and civil offences. This meant that there was a clear system that determined the state’s internal affairs, providing a stable basis for the day-to-day activities that took place in the area. But Melaka’s system also encompassed matters of trade, with the “Maritime Laws of Melaka” (Undang-Undang Laut Melaka) providing “rules for the proper conduct of trade, rules governing accidents at sea and regulations for boats and ships”. A clear system of taxation, import duties, customs duties, and gifts was outlined, with the details “varying according to the trader’s country of origin”. These laws provided a clear framework for the functioning of trade, minimizing the potential for large disputes with regards to transactions. The laws also applied the same principles governing affairs on land to those at sea, with captains “possessing power and authority akin to that of the ruler on land”. In a world where so much human activity took place aboard ships, these laws greatly reduced the potential for chaos that could disrupt trade. The laws also covered safety regulations, covering “regulations for the safety of a prahu while at sea”. The law even detailed how sailors should deal with cargo in the midst of “a violent storm”, stating that the nakhodah must hold “a general consultation” of the crewmembers and not “indiscriminately” dispose of the cargo. The clarity and detail of these codes meant that traders “understood what kinds of laws governed their trade”, with the “element of arbitrariness” being “removed” from commercial activity. This provided a sense of security that encouraged traders from all over the world to bring their merchandise to Melaka.
However, a legal system is useless without an executive body to implement it, and Melaka possessed a clear system of governance to implement the region’s laws. Melaka had a clear bureaucratic system that managed the affairs of the region. Authority was centred on the sultan, whose sovereignty was not to be challenged. This notion of sovereignty or daulat was the cornerstone of Melaka’s social order: “without a king there could be no kingdom; without a kingdom there could not be ordered social life”. However, the king was at the summit of a larger governmental system, with the task of managing the country being regulated by a larger bureaucratic structure. Beneath the king were four principal officials:
The Bendahara – The Prime Minister or vizier
The Penghulu Bendahari – The state treasurer
The Temenggong – Head of Security and Law and Order
The Laksamana – Admiral of the Navy and chief emissary of the Sultan
These officials existed with the framework of a larger governmental system called “The Fourfold System of Officials” (Sistem Pembesar Empat Lipatan). Beneath the four principal officials were eight lower-ranking officials, beneath these eight were another sixteen officials, and beneath these sixteen another thirty-two. This created a chain of command for the execution of orders, distributing power across a system akin to a civil service.
The regulation of the traders themselves fell to four harbour masters (shahbandars), each of whom regulated the traders from a particular region such as Gujerat or the Malay Archipelago. The shahbandar was “often a foreign merchant who had acquired the trust of the ruler” who would “mediate between merchants of his home area and the ruler”. They also were responsible for many tasks, such as managing transport and making sure that the weights and measures were accurate. But the Malay rulers along the Straits of Malacca also understood the need for cooperation with the more nomadic elements in the society, who possessed skills important to the region as a whole. For instance, the Malay rulers established an alliance with the Orang Laut, “nomadic boat dwellers” that were a large percentage of the population. By establishing alliances with this group, the Malay rulers were able to maintain the safety of Melaka, with the Orang Laut using their seafaring skills to help “keep piracy within limits”. Similarly, the Malay rulers formed alliances with the hinterland dwellers, “gatherers of forest products” who were the “ancestors of the … Orang Asli”. The “bonds of personal loyalty” forged between these two groups resulted in “commercial and military benefits”.
Justice, efficiency, and a willingness to work with others: these three components were ultimately the underlying factors that determined the overall administration of Melaka. It was this form of administration that ultimately brought about Melaka’s success as an entrepôt, making it a meeting place between cultures and civilizations. As we look back upon this “Golden Age”, the centrality of these principles in the proper functioning of Melaka are worth bearing in mind. For after visiting the kingdoms of the past, we must ultimately return to the shores of the present. And what good is a journey if you don’t return home with something useful?
Miksic, John. “Entrepôts along the Melaka Strait.” In The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early History, edited by Prof. Dato’ Dr Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman, 116–7. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 1998.
Osman, Mohd Taib. “Trade and administration.” In The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: The Rulers of Malaysia, editorial advisory board chaired by Tun Ahmad Sarji bin Abdul Hamid, 114–5. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2011.
Velupillay, Jegatheesan. “The Golden Age of Melaka.” In A Malaysian Tapestry: Rich Heritage at the National Museum, edited by Rose Gan and Maganjeet Kaur, 99–109. Kuala Lumpur: Department of Museums Malaysia, 2015.
We are all familiar with the legend of Prince Parameswara flying from Srivijaya to Temasek and then to a place named after the tree he sat under. Much less is known about the tree itself: the Melaka tree. Phyllanthus emblica, known as the Āmalaka or Āmelaki tree in Sanskrit, is very common in India, Nepal and South-East Asia and has given its name to Melaka city and the Straits. Its common name in English is Emblic myrobalan (Myrobolan emblique in French) and it produces a fruit called the Indian or Nepalese Gooseberry. When dried, the powder is known as ‘amla’. The importance of the Melaka tree is both symbolic and economic.
In Buddhist statuary art and sculpture, the Medicine Buddha is depicted, delicately holding the myrobalan plant between his thumb and middle finger. This symbolic gesture stems from the healing properties of the myrobalan. It entered the Persian pharmacopeia from early times: myrobalan is mentioned in the medical handbook of Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā) in the early 11th century. It was also used in Europe. No later than during the Middle Age, it was a valued ingredient which apothecaries prescribed almost as a universal remedy. It should be noted that, apart from its use in traditional and Ayurvedic medicine, amla has recently aroused a growing interest from modern medicine where it is use in diabetic treatments and to prevent cancer, among other properties.
All parts of the Melaka tree are full of tannins, which make myrobalan a very useful ingredient. In the natural dyeing process, myrobalan can be used either as a mordant (a substance which helps fix the pigments into the fibres) or as a dye itself, rendering blackish colours. In addition to dyeing, myrobalan has many other applications. It is used both for tanning leather and also in the manufacture of Damascus steel.
It is clear that Prince Parameswara was wise to choose this place and this beneficial tree, to establish his new realm!
Tannins are vegetable substances of the family of polyphenols, most often water-soluble, which have the ability to precipitate proteins and other chemical substances. For trees and flowering plants, this is a chemical defence against pests. Tannins can be found in some drinks such as tea, coffee, beer and wine.
How tin mining struck deep into Malayan soil and left its mark upon a nation
by Muhammad Adib Mohd Faiz
To the average modern person, tin is merely a metal – dead matter fit for industrial purposes. The Malays, however, traditionally believed that tin possesses a soul. The ‘soul of tin’ took the shape of a water buffalo, an animal used to plough the rice fields that were a major source of provision. Whatever our personal beliefs may be, there can be little doubt that tin would plough its way through 19th and early 20th century Malaya, becoming a source of wealth for those involved in its production. The important economic role of tin in this period would have a long-lasting effect on the social, political, and infrastructural landscape of Malaya.
Tin mining had existed amongst the Malays as early as the 15th century, with tin currency going back to at least the time of the Melakan king Sultan Muzaffar Shah (1445-9). Other than the simple method of panning for tin with a dulang, Malays used a combination of pits, dams, sluice boxes, and other components to extract tin ore. This system could produce an amount “sufficient for local use as well as export”. However, the Malay rulers often lacked funds to open these mines and began to rely on Chinese merchants for capital in the early 19th century. The Malay chiefs then used Chinese labour to work the mines, with the Chinese having been involved in tin mining as early as the late eighteenth century. While the initial numbers were small, the rise of the tin canning industry after 1830 and the discovery of rich tin deposits in Selangor and Perak in the 1840s led to a massive influx of Chinese immigrants, swelling the population of the mining towns. It seems likely that the sudden increase in demand would have influenced the decision of Chinese mine owners to switch to new forms of technology such as opencast or lombong mining. For instance, Chinese mine-owners began to use the chin-chia, a chain pump that drained water from the mines more quickly than traditional methods. Yet in spite of the technological changes and diaspora population, tin-mine opening ceremonies remained “purely Malay in character”. A pawang or “mining wizard”, often a Malay and occasionally a Sakai, was often called upon to use a combination of spells and talismans for protection and an auspicious start. This contrast between the old and the new embodies the nature of tin mining in this period: a modern industry in the midst of a traditional world.
The involvement of Chinese merchants and the large influx of Chinese labour had a number of social consequences. While immigrants may have initially intended to be temporary, direct settlement eventually arose, with family structures emerging in the early 20th century in places such as Ipoh. The accounts of an Englishwoman living in Ipoh in 1914 bear witness to the role of female miners, who played central economic and social roles in the town. Waking up before dawn, these women would prepare the day’s meals, chop wood, and “[draw and carry], often from a distance, quantities of water”. Breakfast with their husbands was followed by “very thoroughly” bathing and dressing their “generally numerous” quantities of children. They would then see to the grandfather and grandmother, “who will then look after the babies” as the women work on the tin mines alongside their husbands. This last piece of information clearly indicates the presence of extended families, showing that large social structures existed in mining towns. The ability to raise families was made even more remarkable by the sheer difficulty of the work in question; these people laboured for hours in cold, stagnant water up to their ankles, with the female dulang washers having to bend over to obtain tin ore.
However, there was a less admirable side to this history of immigration, namely the exploitation connected with the kongsi organizations, the colonial authorities, and the system in general. Though often referred to as “secret societies”, the kongsi had a public political and social role in nineteenth century tin-mining areas. They were cooperative associations that originated from China’s “illegal mining communities and sea-merchant kingdoms”. Theoretically, the kongsi were democratic organizations designed to share profits between members and “[enable] immigrants to pursue their primary purpose of making a living and supporting their families in China”. As Tan Pek Leng notes, the lack of “effective formal governance” caused these societies to act as arbitrators in the midst of disputes, while the “bonds of brotherhood” in a kongsi provided a formidable force against the colonial authorities. However, the ideal form of the kongsi was rarely realized in Malaya, with these powerful organizations exploiting others for personal economic gain. The various kongsi often controlled labourers before they had even left China, with recruiters placing labourer’s names on kongsi membership rolls “without their knowledge”. Once in Malaya, the labourers were totally dependent on the “advancers” for everything from food to opium, all of which had to be bought at the advancer’s price. The colonial authorities were complicit in the exploitation. Though the British had some admirable officials who introduced some regulations, British law courts recognized the fines imposed by advancers. Colonial contradictions could be jarring; although the Perak Government insisted on a “discharge ticket” so labourers could “seek employment elsewhere” upon contract completion, they subjected labourers who absconded to “a fine, flogging or imprisonment, and to have the wages due to them forfeited”. This last detail meant that such workers would have to start from scratch, locking them into their contract for an even longer time. It is difficult to disagree with Ho Tak Ming’s conclusion that this “was no better than a modified form of slavery”.
Power leads to conflict, and rival kongsi often came into armed conflict with each other “to protect the interests of their towkays and headmen”. In a world mostly centred on kongsi control, these confrontations were effectively civil wars, engulfing whole towns in chaos. The most famous of these were the Larut wars in Perak (1861-74), where the Ghee Hin and Hai San societies engaged in bloody battles over tin mines. With the Malay rulers lacking control of the situation – the Mentri Larut “was forced to side with whichever side was mining at the time” – the British eventually stepped in to settle the disputes. The result was the signing of the Pangkor Treaty in 1874, which forced the rival factions to maintain peace at the expense of a $50,000 penalty and demanded that the Sultan follow the “advice” of a British officer called a “Resident” in all matters except Malay customs and religion. The treaty also stated that British residents would regulate “all revenues and the general administration”. This began a pattern of indirect rule that would spread to other states in Malaya.
It was with the introduction of the dredge ship that European power would gain a firm foothold in Malaya’s tin mining industry. In the years after 1915, the earlier sources of tin were gradually depleted. With fewer “easily accessible deposits”, it became necessary to dig deeper into areas that could not be reached through existing methods. Around this time, European companies began introducing new forms of technology that could reach the “deeply buried deposits” that were previously inaccessible. An example of such technology was the dredge or kapal korek, with the example referred to in the National Museum being capable of digging 31.5 meters deep. Moreover, the dredge could do the same work with a far smaller labour force, shifting the tin mines away from labour-intensive methods to capital-intensive methods. Coupled with the increase of British administrative control over Malaya, the dredge and other machines gradually weakened the Chinese hold over the industry. Although they did not have the same societal effect as the Chinese, European economic domination would have a developmental – and environmental – effect. In an attempt to link the economic centres of Malaya together, a system of transportation was eventually devised with trunk roads and railways connecting tin mining areas on the West coast. Yet while Malay transportation systems had been developed in harmony with nature, the new modes of transportation were built with little concern for environmental effects. While seas and rivers had previously served as “natural highways”, railways were an artificial imposition that altered the landscape. While elephants had previously been used to transport goods, wild elephants were now injured by oncoming trains. Though hardly matching the environmental catastrophe that exists in Malaysia today, these early developments may be seen as beginning a venomous trend, namely the love of “progress” with no regard for the earth and its creatures.
The soul of tin turned the soil of Malaya into a dramatic history, with a cast of immigrants, mothers, bullies, and machines. What traces remain of that drama today? The tin mines of Malaya are now mere pools of water, and Malaysia’s economy is a whole other beast. The soul of tin has clearly moved on, perhaps to plough other fields or else to rest in a faraway swamp. Yet in its wake, it has left a furrow filled with the experiences and emotions of an era. Out of that furrow, new crops have grown, surrounding us as a part of our Malaysian experience.
Champion, Marissa. Odyssey: Perspectives on Southeast Asia – Malaysia & Singapore, 1870-197. Singapore: SNP Panpac, 2001.
Ho, Tak Ming. Ipoh: When Tin Was King – Volume 1. Ipoh: Perak Academy, 2014.
Kaur, Amarjit. “The development of railways.” In The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early Modern History [1800-1940], edited by Cheah Boon Kheng, 120–1. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2001.
Loh, Francis Kok-Wah. “Chinese immigration and tin mining.” In The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early Modern History [1800-1940], edited by Cheah Boon Kheng, 72–3. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2001.
Loh, Francis Kok-Wah. “Early Malay tin mining.” In The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early Modern History [1800-1940], edited by Cheah Boon Kheng, 20–1. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2001.
Mrs JG Withycombe. Lady. 1914. As quoted in Ho Tak Ming. Ipoh: When Tin Was King – Volume 1. Ipoh: Perak Academy, 2014.
Skeat, Walter William. Malay Magic: An Introduction to the Folklore and Popular Religion of the Malay Peninsular. London: Frank Cass and Co. Ltd., 1900.
Tan, Pek Leng. “Chinese secret societies.” In The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early Modern History [1800-1940], edited by Cheah Boon Kheng, 48–9. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2001.
Tan, Pek Leng. “Long Jaafar and the Chinese tin miners in Larut.” In The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early Modern History [1800-1940], edited by Cheah Boon Kheng, 46–7. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2001.
Tin Animal Currency display board, Gallery C, National Museum, Malaysia.
Tin Dredges display board, Gallery C, National Museum, Malaysia.
The Indonesian-Malaysian or Borneo confrontation was an undeclared war, from 1962 to 1966, that stemmed from Indonesia’s opposition to the formation of Malaysia. The term ‘Confrontation’ was coined by Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Dr Subandrio, in January 1963, and has come to refer to Indonesia’s efforts to destabilise the new federation, with a view to breaking it up. The conflict resulted from Indonesia’s President Sukarno’s belief that Malaysia, which became official on 16 September 1963, represented a British attempt to maintain colonial rule behind the cloak of independence granted to its former colonial possessions in the South East Asian region.
In the late 1950s, the British Government had begun to re-evaluate its force commitment in the Far East. As part of its withdrawal from its South East Asian colonies, Britain moved to combine its colonies in Borneo with the Federation of Malaya (which had become independent from Britain in 1957) and Singapore (which had become self-governing in 1959). In May 1961, the British and Malayan governments proposed a larger federation called Malaysia, encompassing the states of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Singapore.
By the close of 1962, Indonesia had achieved a considerable diplomatic victory, which possibly emboldened its self-perception as a notable regional power and thus its ability to extend its dominance over its weaker neighbours in the region. It was in the context of Indonesia’s success in the Netherlands’ West New Guinea dispute that Indonesia cast its attention to the British proposal for the formation Malaysia. Opposition to Malaysia also favoured Sukarno politically by distracting the minds of the Indonesian public from the appalling realities at home as evidenced by gross mismanagement, nationalistic policies that alienated foreign investors and rife corruption. Everyone in Indonesia felt the hardships of high inflation and food shortage. Sukarno also had dreamed of an Indonesia that was like the glorious ancient Srivijaya and Majapahit empires.
Sukarno argued that Malaysia was a British puppet state, a neo-colonial experiment contrary to that of revolutionary Indonesia, and that the creation of Malaysia would perpetuate British control rather than ending its colonial domination over the region. He argued that this had serious implications for Indonesia’s national security as a sovereign nation especially in light of the fact that Britain would continue to have military bases in Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Singapore, which are a stone’s throw away from Indonesia’s backyard.
Similarly, Philippines made a claim to North Borneo or Sabah, arguing that they had been historically linked through the Sulu Sultanate. Manila maintained that the area was once owned by the Sultan of Sulu, and because Sulu is now part of modern Philippines, that area should therefore belong to Philippines through the principle of extension. While Philippines, under President Macapagal, did not engage in armed hostilities with Malaysia unlike Indonesia, diplomatic relation was severed after the former deferred in recognising the latter as the successor nation of Malaya.
As for Brunei, Sultan Omar was undecided on whether he would support joining Malaysia because of the implied reduction of his influence as the head of state and significant amounts of Brunei’s oil revenue being diverted to the federal government in Kuala Lumpur to be shared among the proposed states of Malaysia. Brunei was to be the tenth state of Malaysia, whose sultan would be eligible to be the king of the country on a rotational basis for a five-year tenure and the sultans of Malaya had made it clear that he would have to wait his turn. This did not go down well with him as he could not foresee the prestige of being a king in his lifetime due to his place in line. Furthermore, AM Azahari, a Brunei politician and veteran of Indonesia’s independence movement who was against colonial rule, also opposed joining Malaysia on similar grounds as Indonesia.
In December 1962, Brunei faced a revolt by the North Kalimantan National Army (NKNA), which was backed by Indonesia and was pushing for Brunei’s independence instead of it joining Malaysia. In response to the revolt, the British and other Commonwealth troops were sent from Singapore to Brunei, where they crushed the revolt within days by securing Brunei’s capital and ensured the Sultan’s safety. The insurrection was an abject failure because the poorly trained and ill-equipped guerillas were unable to seize key objectives such as capturing the sultan of Brunei, seize the Brunei oil fields or take any British hostages.
Following NKNA’s military setback in Brunei, small parties of armed insurgents began infiltrating Malaysian territory along the Indonesian border in Borneo on sabotage and propaganda missions. The first recorded incursion of Indonesian troops was in April 1963 when a police station in Tebedu, Sarawak was attacked. After the formation of Malaysia in September 1963, Indonesia declared the ‘Crush Malaysia’ campaign leading to the escalation of cross border incursions into Sabah and Sarawak, which had then ceased to be British territories. Indonesia also began raids in the Malaysian Peninsula and Singapore in 1964. To repulse the infiltrators and prevent their incursions, the British and other Commonwealth troops remained at the request of Malaysia. Together with the Malaysian troops, they engaged in successful offensives against the Indonesian troops.
The intensity of the conflict began to subside following the events of the ‘30 September Movement’ and General Suharto’s rise to power in Indonesia. On the night of 30 September 1965, an attempted coup by the Indonesian Communist Party took place in Jakarta, which was successfully put down by Suharto. In the ensuing confusion, Sukarno agreed to allow Suharto to assume emergency command and control of Jakarta. The train of events that were set off by the failed coup led to Suharto’s power consolidation and Sukarno’s marginalisation, who was placed under house arrest soon after the transfer of power was completed. Peace negotiations were initiated during May 1966 before an agreement was ratified in August 1966 with Indonesia recognising Malaysia and officially ending the conflict. In March 1967, Suharto was able to form a new government in Indonesia that excluded Sukarno.
Genesis of Konfrontasi : Malaysia, Brunei & Indonesia 1945 to 1965 – Greg Poulgrain (1998)
Crossroads : A Popular History of Malaysia & Singapore – Jim Baker (2014)
Wherever you go in Malaysia, be it countryside, villages, cities, or golf course, you will often encounter little red shrines on the side of the road, or at the entrance of houses or temples, or at the boundaries of a land plot. Sometimes these shrines are empty with only some inscriptions that, of course, unless you are fluent in Chinese, you will not understand. However, even if the shrine is empty of any statue, offerings are still present, which are witness of a cult to some kind of deity or spirit. Fortunately for the layman, mostly if he is not Chinese, a statue will be present and…surprise! It is clearly a Malay figure. So who is he? How comes a Malay is present and worshipped in a Chinese shrine?
It seems this is a direct legacy of early animism that infused Malay and Chinese religions. Called Dato’, or Datuk, in Malay, often associated with the word keramat, it represents a spirit of the place. Dato’ means ‘grandfather’ in Malay and the earliest presence of this word dates back to Srivijayan times. What does keramat mean? It is related to the miracles accomplished by Muslim Sufi saints or more generally to “high places” (places of worship according to Mr Bellamy in the Selangor Journal, quoted by W. W. Skeats, “kramat may be roughly translated prophet or magician”).
Altogether, the Dato’ can be associated with either early pre-Muslim animism, to Sufi Islam, or to Chinese Taoism, some also relate it to Hindu-Buddhism.
When the first Hakka immigrants arrived in Malaya in the early 15th century, they paid respect to all the ‘earth spirits’ (tree, water spring, rock or hill – the penunggu of early Malay culture) that were worshipped by the locals. This was not far different from the practice of Taoism which, linked to nature, worships its different spirits (the shen). The Dato’ Keramat, either legendary figures once human, or prominent persons, such as famous silat warriors, pious Muslims, or even shamans (bomoh), later become deities. This was very similar to the Taoist practice by which a famous figure may become a shen and worshipped as such (for example Guan Di –general of the Three Kingdoms–, or much later Sin Sze Ya).
Therefore, it was not difficult for the Chinese immigrants to adopt local practices which led to worshipping a Malay-Muslim figure in a typical Chinese shrine.
While the Dato’ Kong (Na To Kong or La To Kong in Chinese), which means ‘great Grandfather’, is generally associated with trees, or more generally is considered the protector of the place where it stands, the tradition of Dato’ Keramat, often also called Datuk Panglima, lists nine of them:
Datuk Panglima Ali (Ali)
Datuk Panglima Hitam (Black)
Datuk Panglima Harimau (Tiger)
Datuk Panglima Hijau (Green)
Datuk Panglima Kuning (Yellow)
Datuk Panglima Putih (White)
Datuk Panglima Bisu (Mute)
Datuk Panglima Merah (Red)
Datuk Panglima Bongsu (Youngest)
Associating colours with the deities is a legacy of Hinduism, while the Tiger attribute may refer to Shiva; colours could also refer to the five elements and directions in Chinese belief: white=metal/west, red=fire/south, yellow=earth/centre, green=wood/east, black=water/north.
Apart from these, there are numerous Datuk. Some consider that there are 108 Datuk, identifying them with the 108 Ruesi of Hindu-Buddhism, characters who are gifted with spiritual and magical powers (Buddha, as well as Shiva, are considered Ruesi).
At the KDE Golf club in Ampang, there is a Datuk Panglima Hussein shrine. This shrine may be related to Nakhoda Hussin, quoted by W. W. Skeat in Malay Magic as a jin presiding over water, rain, and streams, who has a kramat, or holy place, in Bukit Nyalas (Johor). This would be consistent with the fact that a stream runs across the premises of the club.
Dato’ Kong shrines are generally situated outside buildings, be it a temple or a house. In some cases, it may be placed inside a tower, but often at the entrance of the car park, as is the case with Integra Tower in KL (is this because fortune flows in at the toll barrier?). When the statue of the Dato’ Kong is present in the shrine, which is the most frequent situation, it cannot be mistaken for any other deity, as it has all the attributes of a Malay: he usually wears a songkok or a haji white hat, sometimes a tengkolok, and often holds a keris. This Malay attire does not exclude holding a Chinese gold ingot, to bring the appropriate wealth to the worshippers, or showing the long ears of Buddha as a symbol of wisdom.
In Penang and along the coast of Perak, there are female Datuk, called Nenek.
Offerings may vary (betel leaves, bananas, eggs, chicken…cigars and coffee are much appreciated by Datuk Panglima Harimau), but, of course, pork and alcohol are strictly forbidden!
Now, what can we learn from the omnipresence of Dato’ Kong in Malaysia:
That the Chinese immigrants respected the local culture
That the Chinese pray to whatever may work and bring them good fortune
That Malaysia has always been a land of syncretism and mix of cultures throughout the centuries
The Three Chinese Wisdoms (in French), Cyrille J.D. Jarry, Ed. Albin Michel (2010)