As with most people, my husband and I contemplated taking the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine when it was announced that it would be available to anyone on a volunteer basis. After talking to a few friends in the UK and France who had already taken the AZ vaccine, we decided to register. Yes, we read about the risks of blood clots, etc. but trusted the scientific reports that the benefits far outweighed the risks. I think I must have been one of the first batches of volunteers who registered as I was given the 3pm time slot on the first day of vaccination at Universiti Malaya (UM) on 5 May.
Before I knew it, it was the 5th of May and it was time to take the vaccine. Using Waze, I arrived at Bangunan Peperiksaan, UM around 2:45pm. For those who are also going to UM, there is plenty of parking available on its premises. The many signage placed around the premise were also helpful. From the entrance of the building, volunteers/staff were stationed at various stops to assist. The process went something like this:
First stop, scan MySejahtera app with my phone.
Show the person at the counter/desk my appointment slot. Only those who have an appointment that day will be allowed to enter the hall (If you have the same date with a family member, I read that you can go together irrespective of your different time slots. Just choose one of your appointment times).
Temperature taken and a numbered card was given.
Take a seat and wait to be called.
The following stop was to confirm my identity. I was asked to scan the QR code with my MySejahtera app and produce my MyKad (or passport for expats). A few general Covid questions were asked – whether I had been in close contact with a Covid patient, been out of the country, where I worked. Two health consent forms were then given; these were to be filled out and signed later at the next stop (you can fill up the forms first and leave signature part for later as it has to be signed in front of the doctor).
The next stop is a quick consultation with a doctor. The doctor asked me whether I had any allergies, pre-existing health conditions, whether I was on any medication and then proceeded to brief me on the side effects of the vaccine. The most common side effects include a sore arm where the shot was administered, slight fever, mild headache, fatigue, muscle pain and nausea. She also warned that if any of these symptoms became severe and if rash appeared, to go to the nearest hospital or report the symptoms on MySejahtera. Fortunately, other than a headache I experienced the next day, my side effects were minimal. I was advised to take paracetamol for my headache.
Taking the AstraZeneca vaccine! As soon as the consent forms were signed (the doctor takes one form while I was given the other), I was ushered to a booth for the shot. I was instructed to place my left hand over my right arm, take a deep breath and then it was done. There was no pain at all, just a pinprick feeling over within seconds.
After the shot, I was asked to proceed to the waiting area for observation. The observation period is usually 15 minutes. After the wait, I had to scan MySejahtera app again to update my vaccination report, which has the vaccination date, vaccine number and batch number. A vaccination card was also issued and I was informed that that the second dose would be given after 12 weeks and the date confirmed later.
In conclusion, the AZ vaccination process was quick and efficient. It took less than one hour from Step 1 to the time I took this photo!
When my fellow Museum Volunteer sent a message asking whether I had heard news of the passing of Cikgu Lee, I brushed her off and told her that I had met him about a week ago at his centre and he was perfectly fine. Not too long after, the official news came from other Museum Volunteers of his passing. Cikgu Lee died of a heart attack and he was only 66 years old.
Lee Kim Sin, or affectionately known as Cikgu Lee, was from Merbok, Kedah. He was a teacher at SMJK Yu Hua, Kajang, before he stood for elections during GE 12 in 2008 for the Kajang state seat. He came out victorious with a majority of 3,268 votes. I met him for the first time when he attended one of our Tai Chi events at Mewah Club in 2010. My next meeting with him came ten years later, in early 2020 when he was the Director of the Kajang Heritage Centre located at Jalan Mendaling. I wanted his permission to bring visitors to the centre and, at the same time, request him to narrate the history of Kajang and the surrounding towns. Since then, I have been a frequent visitor to the centre.
Every time I set foot in the Centre, I learnt new things from Cikgu Lee. He was ever willing to share his knowledge with us. I still recall vividly that I told him that I was writing articles about places and he would immediately mention the major events that took place in the town. For example: Broga – thermal incinerator project, Rawang – protest against the construction of high tension electric cable towers, Tanjong Malim – Battle of Slim River, Dengkil – discoveries at Jenderam Hilir and Orang Asli land issue at Bukit Tunggul.
Cikgu Lee was also a keen researcher on the Sin Sze Si Ya temples in our country. He was passionate about the preservation and conservation of the town. For one of his projects, the Taman Tasik Sungai Chua, a former tin mine, he worked closely with the Kajang Municipal Council, and this project ultimately came to fruition. It was officially opened last year to great response from residents of Kajang; I am a frequent user.
Kajang as well as the cultural and heritage community will miss you dearly. Rest in peace, Cikgu Lee.
One of Melaka’s most formidable foes was the Kingdom of Siam, now known as Thailand, whose power reached as far south as the Malay Archipelago. All the kingdoms of the region, with the exception of Melaka, acknowledged Siam as their overlord and paid tribute to the Siamese king.
When Bubunnya, the King of Siam, learned that the Melakans had not accepted Siamese suzerainty, he demanded a letter of obeisance from them. At that time, the ruler of Melaka was Sultan Muzaffar Shah. He rejected Bubunnya’s demand. When the Siamese king heard of the Sultan’s refusal to submit, he was furious and ordered his army to prepare for war. The Siamese army, which was placed under the command of Awi Chakra, marched down the Malay Peninsula until they arrived in Pahang.
When Sultan Muzaffar Shah received news of the impending Siamese invasion, he assembled an army by ordering his vassals to bring their soldiers to Melaka. One of the vassals who responded to the sultan’s order was Tun Perak, a chieftain from Klang, Selangor. Unlike the rest of the Sultan’s vassals, Tun Perak brought not only his warriors, but also their wives and children. The men of Klang saw this as an inconvenience and complained about it during their audience with the Sultan.
Sultan Muzaffar Shah was intrigued by what he had heard so decided to get to the bottom of the matter. He summoned one of his heralds, Sri Imarat, who was originally from Pasai, northern Sumatra. Thanks to his wit and eloquence, he had been appointed as a herald at the court of Melaka. Sri Imarat was instructed by the Sultan to question Tun Perak about this issue when he came to present himself. A stool was then placed below the Sultan’s knees, Sri Imarat’s usual spot. When he sat on this stool, the herald carried the Sword of State and delivered the Sultan’s messages.
Once Sri Imarat had taken his seat, Tun Perak entered the court and presented himself to Sultan Muzaffar Shah. The herald addressed the chieftain, “Tun Perak, your men have complained thus to the Sultan: all the other vassals of the Sultan have brought only their warriors to Melaka, whilst we were commanded by our chief to bring our wives and children. Tun Perak, what is your explanation for this?” Tun Perak made no reply, so Sri Imarat repeated his question. Tun Perak maintained his silence.
Sri Imarat questioned Tun Perak a third time, and only then did he respond, “Hey Imarat! Take good care of yourself and of the Sword of State that you bear. Let not its blade rust, nor its tip lose its sharpness. What do you know about the work of us fighting men? His Majesty resides here in Melaka with his wives, his children, and all his belongings. Do you think it would be right for a vassal to bring only his warriors to defend the city? Should anything happen to Melaka, what would it matter to us? That is why I instructed my men to bring along their wives and children, so that they would fight the Siamese to the utmost. Even if they lose their resolve to do battle for the Sultan, they will continue fighting in order to protect their families.”
Sultan Muzaffar Shah was impressed by Tun Perak’s wisdom and approved of his answer. As a reward, the Sultan gave Tun Perak some betel leaves from his own betel box. The Sultan also remarked that Tun Perak should not stay in Klang anymore but move to Melaka so that his services may be put to better use.
Eventually, the Siamese army arrived, and a great battle ensued. The battle lasted for a long time and many Siamese soldiers were killed. The invaders, however, failed to capture Melaka and were forced to retreat.
When the war was over, all the vassals of the Sultan returned to their homes. The Sultan, however, did not allow Tun Perak to return to Klang, but kept him in Melaka. As one might expect, the Siamese were not at all pleased with their defeat, and planned another attack on Melaka. That, however, is another story for another time…!
Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah was arguably one of the most hands-on rulers of Melaka. At one point during his reign, the sultanate was suffering from a plague of thieves. These ferocious men not only stole people’s belongings but also violently murdered their victims. This happened night after night, causing all the inhabitants of Melaka to live in fear.
When the Sultan heard about the plight of his subjects, he was grief-stricken and resolved to deal with the problem himself. So, one night, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah disguised himself as a commoner and left his palace with two of his warriors, Hang Isap, also known as Hang Siak, and Hang Isak. The three men travelled incognito around Melaka to see for themselves the situation in the city.
During their patrol, the Sultan and his companions encountered a group of five robbers who were carrying a huge chest laden with valuables. The thieves, shocked by the unexpected appearance of the three men, dropped their loot, and fled the scene. The Sultan opened the chest and commanded Hang Isak to keep his eye on it, while he and Hang Isap gave chase to the robbers.
The two men followed the robbers up a hill, finally catching up with them under a large weeping fig tree. The Sultan attacked and succeeded in killing one of them. Using his parang, the Sultan slashed the criminal at his waist, splitting him in two like a cucumber. The rest of the thieves fled for their lives but Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah still would not relent. At a bridge, the Sultan caught up with them again, and killed another. The three remaining thieves managed to escape from the Sultan by jumping into the river and swimming to the other side. The Sultan returned to Hang Isak, ordering him to bring the chest back to the palace. After a long and tiring night, the Sultan and his men finally reached home.
The following morning, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah held an audience attended by all the ministers and notables of Melaka. The Sultan asked the Temenggung, his minister of public security, whether he had been on duty the night before. When the Temenggung, Sri Maharaja, also known as Tun Mutahir, replied in the positive, the Sultan said, “I heard that two murders occurred last night, one on a hill and the other at a bridge. Might you know who the culprit was?” The Temenggung admitted that he had no idea and was thus reprimanded by the Sultan for sleeping on the job, quite literally so, perhaps.
Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah then ordered Hang Isap and Hang Isak to bring in the chest that they had seized from the robbers. When the chest was brought in, the Sultan commanded the two warriors to tell the court all that had happened on the previous night. Hang Isap and Hang Isak did as the Sultan ordered. When they finished their story, everyone bowed to the Sultan in fear.
Fortunately, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah was not a tyrannical ruler so no one was punished that day. Neither was he a greedy ruler. Instead of keeping the chest of valuables for himself, which he could easily have done the Sultan ordered his men to investigate to whom it belonged. It was found that the owner of the chest was a merchant by the name of Ki Tirubalam. The Sultan had the stolen chest returned to the merchant after which everyone went back to their homes.
When night fell, Tun Mutahir, who was still feeling the sting from the Sultan’s admonishment earlier that day, doubled his efforts in guarding Melaka. As the Temenggung was making his rounds, he bumped into a thief, whom he promptly attacked. Not to be outdone by his liege, Tun Mutahir chopped at the thief’s shoulder, hacking the man with such force that the severed limb was flung onto the tie beam of a nearby shop. Imagine the shopkeeper’s shock and horror when he came to work the next morning!
The actions of the Sultan and the Temenggung sent a clear message to any would-be thieves in Melaka. Hence, from that day onwards, Melaka was free from robbery. Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah went on to enjoy a prosperous reign, while Tun Mutahir eventually attained the position of Chief Minister and became the Bendahara. That, however, is another story for another time!
In our museum, Bujang valley (BV) is presented as the first Malay kingdom in the Peninsula, but, as far as I know before beginning this research, we have yet to find any artefact showing it was indeed a kingdom. I wanted to be sure and began to investigate. During my research, I learned a lot about BV, not always directly related to my research but I will share it anyway.
A kingdom is a country ruled by a king or a queen, as per Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary 7th edition.
Bujang valley (Malay: Lembah Bujang) “is a sprawling historical complex and has an area of approximately 224 square kilometres (86 sq mi) situated near Merbok, Kedah, between Gunung Jerai in the north and Muda River in the south. It is the richest archaeological area in Malaysia.” (Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bujang_Valley)
Srivijaya Kingdom was situated in South Sumatra, with its capital at present day Palembang. It was founded in the seventh century by Dapunta Hyang who led twenty thousand troops from Minanga Tamwan to Palambang, Jambi and Bengkulu. This event is recorded in the Kedukan Bukit inscription dated 16th June 683, setting its birth in the seventh century. Chinese sources called Srivijaya “Shi Li Fo Shi” and the Arabs “Sribuza”. Its wealth comes from trade with China, India and the Arabs. It extends to the Strait of Malacca up to Burma and part of Java, over kingdoms that had existed since the second century, if one believes Chinese sources. These kingdoms were trading local products such as benzoin, camphor, dammar, spices, aromatic woods, ivory, tin and gold with Srivijaya, who then sent all that farther. This way of ruling is often described as a mandala (explained later in this article).
In the eighth century, Srivijaya had links with the Sailendra, a Javanese dynasty (which built Borobodur). Srivijaya was a centre of Mahayana Buddhism studies and Sanskrit at least until the twelfth century. Some kings gave money not only to build a temple in South Thailand, but also to repair temples in India and Guangzhou. It had a very good administration with a datu (minister) for each kingdom.
The Indian Tamil Chola king attacked first Kedah then Srivijaya in the eleventh century. Srivijaya was clever enough to make believe that it was the other way around; Chinese envoys always thought that Chola was under Srivijaya rule! In a memorial presented to the Song emperor Huizong in 1106, the Song Shi (Song Annals) records: ‘The Chola kingdom is subject to Srivijaya. We wrote to its ruler on coarse paper’.
The capital of Srivijaya was moved from Palembang to Jambi, centre of the Melayu kingdom, which gave its name to the Malay language. It marks the beginning of the decline of Srivijaya who shared its power between Kedah, Kota Cina and Jambi, becoming Three Vijaya according to Chinese accounts. In 1292, Three Vijaya fell under the Singarasi (another kingdom of which little is known) who then quickly fell to Majapahit. Majapahit founded its wealth not only on trade but also on agriculture, being based on Java, a volcanic fertile soil area. It lasted until 1520 with the rise of Islam in Java.
Indian written sources
The first to write about BV were the Indian. As early as the second century BCE, Indian writing related trade between BV and some ports of South India that lasted until the 10th century CE. Later, the inscriptions of Tanjore speak of a king of Kedah and Srivijaya and, in 1007, the Chola seemed to have already attacked Kedah. Scholars do not know why.
However, in 1025 the Chola king Rajendra, lobbied by Indian trading guilds fed-up of paying taxes to Srivijaya each time they send a boat in these waters, attacked Srivijaya. The description of this attack informed, “the Maharaja of Kedah and Srivijaya, named Samgramavijayottungavarman, was taken prisoner during the attack of Palembang”. Hence, it seems that, at this time, there was a king of Kedah, but ruling from Srivijaya since he obviously lived in Palembang. After the sacking of Srivijaya, a new Maharaja was enthroned – Sri Deva.
This new king could not “pay” anymore for the allegiance of his vassals and hence they sought independence. Among the first to do so was Kedah, who openly revolted in 1060. Sri Devi chose to make peace with the Chola Kingdom and sought their help to bring Kedah back into the Srivijaya mandala. In 1068, Virajendra, the ruler of Chola, attacked only Kedah, looted it and returned it, graciously, to Srivijaya. This uncommon event confused the Chinese who thought that Chola was under the rule of Srivijaya.
Chinese written sources
Chinese writings mention tributes given to China by the BV polity. In the Sui Shu (History of the Sui, completed in 636 CE), Kedah was called Chitu, Jietu, Geluo or Geluofashaluo. Two missions were sent from China in 607 and in 610. The first one left from Guangzou under the command of Chang Jun. It was bound for Chitu and Luocha. These two were the only destinations for the mission, showing the growing importance, at that time, of these transhipment centres for long distance Persian Gulf-India-China trade.
Chang Jun mentions that the capital of Chitu was named Sengzhi, perhaps located near the Muda River in what is now Kampung Sungai Mas. He describes it as a city surrounded by three concentric walls separated by one hundred paces each. “At each gate, there are painted flying spirits, fairies and Bodhisattva images… The king, we are told, is Li-Fu-Duo-Sai Qu-Tan (Riputro Gautama?). Behind his throne is a golden crouching bull and above it , one bejewel parasol and bejewelled fans left and right…Hundreds of Brahmans seated in rows facing each other on left and right. The practice of the residents was to respect Buddha and give special reverence to Brahmans. Indian music was played during the audience with the ruler. When the king sent a nayaka (leader or protector) as an emissary to China, with local products, he also sent a gold leaf letter”. Hence, it appears to be a Buddhist kingdom where Brahmans were key players advising the ruler and performing Indian-based ceremonies.
What is bothering me in this description is the presence of a triple enceinte. As far as I know, archaeologists never found any traces of these walls. Even, if their construction materials were used later as a source of stones or bricks for other constructions, they would have had some sort of foundations … that have not, yet, been found. So was Chitu really Kedah? In my opinion, it still needs to be proven. Other sources, including the Encyclopaedia of Malaysia: Early History, places Chitu in Kelantan. This makes more sense.
In the chronicles of the Tang dynasty (619 to 916 CE) translated by Winstedt, it seems that Kedah was called Kalah or Kora or Kala. It is said that this Kora has a king named Misi Pura Sri Pura and the customs of the people were the same as in Siam. But in the same book, Winstedt writes that Langkasuka was the former name of Kedah and that under the Liang dynasty (502 to 665 CE) people dated the birth of the country four hundred years earlier.
Seventy years after the Chitu mission, yet another name for Kedah in Chinese writing appears – Jietu, again a phonetic rendering of Kedah. In 671, the Chinese monk Yijing left Guangzhou and stopped over at Srivijaya where he studied Sanskrit. He then went to Kacha (probably Kedah) to board a boat to India. This was the first proof that Kedah may have been a major port of embarkation for the long journey to India. When he came back in 685, he noted that Kedah was now under Srivijayan rule. He explains that BV was the northern capital of Srivijaya, levying taxes on the merchandises coming from the West with Palembang, the southern capital, took care of the goods coming from the East.
There are also other sources showing that Jietu was an important port for merchants and monks on their way to India. The Xin Tang Shu notes that south of Panpan lay Geluo. Around 800, Jia Dan writes about Geluo, recording that it had 24 provinces – “It was a major trading port since the 9th century or earlier”. There is no evidence of diplomatic contact between Geluo and Tang China.
Arab written sources
As early as the 8th century, Arabic navigational treaties mention Kalah. Several archaeologists have studied the writings of Arab or Persian merchants. According to as-Sin wa’l-Hind, Kalah was a kingdom located near the coast. Kalah-bar (government) was a kingdom under the control of al-Zabaj (Srivijaya). Sulayman describes Kalah as a colony of Srivijaya and an entrepôt trade centre where the traders called to obtain supplies of clean water. Abu Dalaf Misar stated that Kalah was a huge kingdom surrounded by walls, gardens, water, market and houses with a large population…”Kalah has its own social system that is really organised in terms of justice, treatment of offences and matters related to fines”… Katacha entrepôt developed rapidly since the fifth century and it is believed that the port existed since the early century CE. Kataha’s centre at that time was situated at today’s Sungai Mas. Various types of temple architecture and thousands of foreign ceramics are the best proof of it. Relative dating on inscriptions showed that Sungai Mas prospered since the fifth century. Later, the entrepôt was moved to Kampung Pengkalan Bujang.
The discovery of glass fragments at site 18, Pengkalan Bujang, was reported by Quaritch-Wales in 1940. With the discovery of laterite stone blocks and bricks in the vicinity, Quaritch-Wales expects them to belong to a palace hall or a building structure in a palace. Ah! Finally proof of Kedah as a kingdom? … Not so sure.
Michel Jacq-Hergoualc’h explains in his Arts Asiatiques article in 1992 that Quaritch thought the main Indianisation of Kedah and South East Asia dated from 550 to 750 with a Pallava colonisation. Alastair Lamb restudied the same areas as Quaritch plus some others and concluded, “We can definitely not use periodization influenced by the too approximate and too partisan Quatrich work. For us, South Kedah is not a small kingdom created by Pallava, it is not even a Malay kingdom Indianised as Quatrich suggested.”
Overall, the study of Chinese ceramics shows that the trading activity moved to Kampung Sireh on Sungai Mudah for a few decades only. Then it moved to Melaka. Hence, from the fifth to eleventh century, BV was centred in Kampung Sungai Mas, South of Merbok River; it was mostly Buddhist if we believe the artefacts found at the candi. From the eleventh to early fourteenth century, the centre moved to Pengkalan Bujang, north of Merbok River and it became mainly Hindu. Beginning of the fourteenth century, it was moved again to Kampong Sireh, which silted at the same time Melaka became the predominant kingdom; so Kedah, as a port, started to decline.
In 2014, John Guy wrote on the formation of states in South East Asia. He does not know exactly how they functioned in term of political organization “whether they are best characterized by fiefdoms, polities, kingdoms or states is open to discussion”. O.W. Walters was the first to suggest they might work as a mandala-negara, an Indian model described in regional inscriptions as “radiating zone, strongest in its centre, weakest at the periphery with porous frontiers that intercepted adjacent tributary”. The peripheral states trade their local product with the more powerful one in the centre, who concentrate and finally send the goods further, creating a kind of loose federation based on trade.
I conclude by referring to Dr Nasha Rodziadi Khaw’s talk to the MV on 6th January 2021. He told us that Kedah trading ports existed from 6th century BC to 1371. It consisted of a confederation of trading polities for which no proof currently exists that they were kingdoms. Hence, so far, it seems we cannot conclude yet if BV was indeed a kingdom.
Dr Cheah Boon Kheng, Early modern history, Archipelago press, 2001
Guy John, Last kingdoms. Introducing early Southeast Asia, 2014
Wade Geoff. Beyond the Southern Borders: Southeast Asia in Chinese texts to the 9th century
Sulitiyono, Journal of marine cultures, volume 7
Ramli, Shuaimi Nik Abdul Rhaman, Zain Musa, Samsudin, Rodzi Abdul Razak. Arab-Persian merchants in the Malay peninsula based on foreign sources and archaeological data, Institute of Malay world and civilisation, Faculty of social sciences and humanities, School of history, politics and strategy, The national university of Malaysia.
Selvakumar, V. Commercial interactions between India and Southeast Asia during medieval period and future Interactions between ASEAN and India.
Jacq-Hergoualc’h Michel. Art asiatiques. 1992
Oxford advanced learners’ Dictionary ,7th edition
Munoz, Paul Michel. Early kingdoms of the Indonesian archipelago and the Malay peninsula. Dr Nasha Rodziadi Khaw. MV focus: History and archaeology of ancient Kedah, a reflection of multiculturalism in the Malay Peninsula.
The introduction of railways in our country occurred in the second half of the 19th century and the British played an important role in its development. However, a Malay Ruler beat the British to the construction of the country’s first railway.
He was Maharaja Sir Abu Bakar of Johor who laid the foundation for the construction of the Johore Wooden Railway (JWR) line connecting Johor Bahru and Gunong Pulai where he had envisioned constructing a sanatorium and a hill resort in 1869. James Meldrum was given the task to build the line. In 1875, upon the completion of the first phase, he invited Sir Andrew Clake and his wife to ride on the steam locomotive, which was purchased from India and was subsequently named Lady Clarke. A few months later, the incoming Governor, Sir William Jervois was invited for a ride. An article in the Straits Observer (Singapore) dated 21 September 1875 reported the abandonment of the JWR line. The JWR was a short-lived railway line purposely built for the Maharaja and his guests.
In 1880, Maharaja Sir Abu Bakar ordered the construction of another railway, connecting Muar town and the coastal settlement of Parit Jawa, to eventually link with Batu Pahat and Johor Bahru. It became known as the Muar State Railway (MSR).Both JWR and MSR were funded from the state’s coffers. The early construction was done by Malay and Javanese workers and the line began operation on 11 March 1890. MSR was very profitable due to the high traffic of passengers and goods travelling between the terminals. Children attending English school in Muar travelled free. The opening of Jalan Abdul Rahman in 1918, greatly affected the traffic of MSR and eventually the line was closed in 1929. Below, news reports of construction workers who uncovered railway sleepers believed to be part of MSR.
The development of the railway system by the British tied up closely with their involvement in the politics of our country. The first phase started after the Pangkor Treaty of 1874 that saw the start of the Residential System.In 1880, Hugh Low, who was the British Resident of Perak, sought the approval and fund for the first British-built commercial railway line linking Taiping to Port Weld. Construction began in 1882 with help from the Pioneer Corporations of the British Army stationed in Ceylon. The line was completed in 1884 and opened for traffic on 1 June 1885. The locomotive was named Lady Weld, which later became FMSR 1 and ended its service in 1916.
In Selangor, Frank Swettenham who was then the British Resident recommended the construction of the 19-mile line between Kuala Lumpur and Bukit Kuda. It was opened to traffic on 10 September 1886 and it became the second line built by the British. It was extended from Bukit Kuda to Klang, a distance of 2 ½ miles on 17 April 1890. Lady Clarke from the JWR was used on the construction of the Selangor state railway. It was renamed as FMSR 2 and it survived until scrapping in December 1912.
The third line was in Negeri Sembilan. This time, a firm by the name of Hill and Rathborne was granted a concession to construct and operate the 24 ¾ mile long line between Seremban and Port Dickson.Construction started in 1888 and it was completed in 1891. The name of the company set up to run this line was Sungai Ujong Railway Company Limited. The locomotive was aptly named Sungai Ujong and it was later sent to Selangor and was called FMSR 4. It was sold to a contractor in 1909.
Tin production in our country was the fourth largest in the world in the 1870’s, then we became the largest producer in the 1880’s and by the 1890’s, British Malaya was producing more tin than the world’s production combined. Also at this time, the country was heading into agriculture and rubber became the major crop. Commercial cultivation of rubber was developing rapidly and most of the rubber plantations were located along the railway lines.
By the end of the first phase, twenty railway lines were already being constructed connecting all the major mining towns and districts in Perak, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan to their respective ports. The second phase started in 1896, which saw the amalgamation of Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang into the Federated Malay States (FMS)under one central administration headed by Frank Swettenham as the first Resident General.
Frank Swettenham, in a bid to unify the railway lines, put forth several suggestions. He suggested a line from Tapah Road to Kuala Kubu (thus linking Perak and Selangor railway system), a line from Taiping to Kuala Perai (Province Wellesley) and an extension of the Pudoh-Sungai Besi-Cheras to the south to connect to the Sungai Ujong line in Seremban. In 1901, saw the formation of the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) and two years later in 1903, Province Wellesley, Perak, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan were connected by rail, linking Perai in the north to Port Dickson in the south. Edwin Spooner was appointed as the first FMSR General Manager. By this time, an additional thirty-seven lines were constructed across the FMS.
On 1 December 1905, the section from Tampin to Malacca town was officially opened thus extending the North-South trunk line from one Straits Settlement to another. The Straits Times reported on 4 December 1905 that ‘it is now possible to leave Malacca at 1 pm and arrive in Penang at 6.21 on the following day instead of taking two to three days by steamer’. Malacca Government Railway was awarded the concession to construct the railway line. The following year, they extended the main line from Tampin to Gemas and upon completion, Malacca Government Railway was absorbed into the FMSR.
During the expansion of the railway lines in the FMS, Frank Swettenham had wanted to connect the FMSR from Penang to Singapore passing through Johore but it was turned down by Sultan Ibrahim, who took over the throne from Sultan Abu Bakar who had died in 1895. That impasse ended on 11 July 1904 when the Railway Convention was signed in London. Construction began northward from Johore Bahru at the end of 1904 and in March 1905, construction from Gemas moving southward started. The line passing through Johore was completed in August 1907. However, the line was opened to the public on 1 July 1909 and was known as the Johore State Railway. It later came under the FMSR when the FMS government managed to lease it for 21 years, starting from January 1912 with rental paid each year at an incremental rate. The section to cross the Straits of Johore was made possible with the construction of a causeway at the end of 1919. It was opened for goods trains on 17 September 1923 and later to passenger trains on 1 October 1923.
The next important event that took place was the signing of the Anglo Siamese Treaty a.k.a Bangkok Treaty on 10 March 1909. The treaty was intended to resolve the dispute over railway development and control in the Peninsula. For the latter, the states of Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Terengganu were ceded to the British. These four states became known as the Unfederated Malay States (UMS) and Johore was later added to this grouping.
The stage was set for the next grand expansion of the FMSR into the UMS and to the last state in the FMS i.e Pahang. Construction of the railway line connecting Bukit Mertajam to Alor Setar started towards the end of 1912 and it was officially opened in 1915. It was then linked to Bukit Ketri in Perlis on 15 October 1917 and reached the border town of Padang Besar on 1 March 1918. The line from Padang Besar linked up with the Siamese Railway system and it was opened on 1 July 1918. This marked the start of international train services between the two countries, with an initial schedule of three times a week between Perai and Bangkok. The following year, saw the first international express train service from Thonburi to Malaya. By 1920, it was possible to transverse the entire West coast of Malaya, from Padang Besar to Johore Bahru, by rail.
Between 1910 and 1931 theEast Coast line was constructed from Gemas to Pahang and Kelantan, while in Kelantan, construction began from Tumpat. On 15 October 1917, the construction from Gemas had reached Kuala Lipis. In May 1920, it marked another important milestone for the FMSR, with the start of construction of the longest river bridge in the country, the Guillemard Bridge, as a crossing over the Kelantan River. This 600 metres bridge was completed in July 1924. The other river bridge built by FMSR is the Victoria Bridge in Perak, which was built in 1900. The date 5 September 1931 witnessed the completion of the East Coast line connecting Gemas and Bahau (in Negeri Sembilan) through to Mentakab and Kuala Lipis (in Pahang) and finally to Gua Musang, Tumpat and Sungai Golok (in Kelantan).
By 1935, fifty years after the start of the first British built railway line, FMSR had laid 1321 miles of railway tracks and built 213 permanent stations and 76 halts across the Peninsula. Terengganu remained the only state not connected by the FMSR. (The new railway link infrastructure, East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) will be connecting all the East coast states namely Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang to the West coast).
It is a dream of many young boys to fly, soaring high into the wide-open and mysterious skies and feeling adventurous and free. Mine was not any different except that I thought that if I were to take up flying I would be done with books and examinations, which proved to be otherwise. My journey with the airline started in July 1971 when I was selected as a cadet pilot with Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA). It was right after finishing my Form Six (A-Level) in Ipoh.
Unknown to many, the airline started as Malayan Airways and it was actually formed way back in 1937. However, it did not take-off until 1947 due to the Second World War. Its Headquarters was in Singapore. In 1963 with the formation of Malaysia, the airline was renamed Malaysian Airways. Two years later, with Singapore leaving Malaysia in 1965, it was again renamed, this time to Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA). The airline was jointly operated by both Singapore and Malaysia. Malayan Airways Ltd (MAL) started with Airspeed Consul Aircraft and Twin Pioneers. Douglas DC 3 was later introduced into the airline fleet.
I was sent to the Philippines Airline Aviation School for flight training. After training, I was posted to Sabah as a young Second Officer flying as co-pilot on the Fokker Friendship F-27. The road system was not very good those days in East Malaysia. It was more convenient to travel by aeroplanes. As such, we have passengers coming on board carrying chickens in baskets and the next thing you know the chickens were running all over the cabin with the poor stewardesses chasing after them!
Most of the aeroplanes stationed in Sabah and Sarawak were Fokker Friendship F-27 that replaced the DC 3s and Britten Norman Islanders (BN-2). The B737-200 aircrafts were used for flights between East and West Malaysia and Singapore. The first jet aircraft was the de Havilland Comet 4 used for regional and international flights. Unfortunately, Comet 4 had some metal fatigue cracks in the wing structure, which was a safety concern for the airline. The aircraft was replaced with a couple of Boeing 707s.
As early as 1970, there were already differences in opinion between the two governments as to how MSA should be run. The Singapore government was interested in expansion of international routes whereas the Malaysian government was more interested in expansion of domestic routes for obvious reasons. Eventually, MSA was officially split on 30 September 1972 into Malaysian Airline System (MAS) and Singapore International Airlines (SIA). MSA was a very popular airline worldwide. Both governments wanted to utilise these alphabets in their new airlines. The Malaysian government used Malaysian Airline System (MAS) since mas in the Malay language means ‘gold’. The Singapore government called their airline Mercury Singapore Airline (MSA) but finally changed it to Singapore International Airline (SIA).
On 01 October 1972, MAS became operational with two flights taking off in the early morning. Utilising brand new B737-200, the first flight was from Subang Airport to Singapore piloted by Capt. Hassan Ahmad while the second flight from Subang Airport to Penang was piloted by Capt. Khairi Mohd. At that time, only 30 odd Malaysian pilots opted to come back to MAS from MSA. I was one of the pioneers. In my batch of 12 pilots, only three of us opted for MAS. As such, MAS had to recruit a number of expatriate pilots from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Ireland. I was then stationed in Kuching, Sarawak still flying as co-pilot on the F-27. I was transferred back to Kuala Lumpur and I started my B737-200 conversion course. As part of the course, I was sent to Christchurch, New Zealand for simulator training with the New Zealand National Airline. MAS had only ground instructors and classrooms for ground school but did not have any simulators then. Being operational on the B737, I was promoted to the rank of First Officer.
As the company expanded, MAS bought two B707 from Qantas. We were sent to Sydney for the conversion training with Qantas. MAS eventually bought a third one with the expansion of her international routes to Sydney, Melbourne, London and Europe. With upgrading to wide-bodied aircraft, MAS bought two McDonnell Douglas DC 10-30s. This time we were sent to Long Beach, California for a three months conversion-training course. This included flight training in Yuma, Arizona and ferrying the DC 10-30s back to Malaysia. MAS eventually sold off the three B707s and bought a third DC 10-30. The airline was becoming a well known and popular air carrier internationally. In 1981, we added the Airbus A300B4, a medium sized regional aircraft to our network. In the rural air services, the BN-2s were replaced with Twin Otters and the Fokker F-27s with Fokker F-50s.
In the late 1970s, I went down to the B737 fleet as a Captain. After three years, I was made a Flight Instructor conducting training and the checking of pilots. Pilots are checked for flying proficiency every five months in the simulator. Two years after that, I was appointed Fleet Manager for the B737 fleet. That was also the time the Malaysian government bought a B737-200 to be used as VVIP aircraft for the official use of the King and the Prime Minister. This aircraft had a Sitting room, Dining room, and Bedroom in the cabin with seats for 10-15 passengers at the back row. When not on VVIP flights, MAS would use the aircraft for normal service. The interior would be changed to the normal passenger-seating configuration. I have flown this special VVIP flights to many interesting places and destinations that were not commercially covered by MAS, for example Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Western Samoa, Romania, Yugoslavia, Libya and even Timbuktu to name a few.
Most of the countries that we flew to would provide security personnel for our King or Prime Minister on arrival. We do, however, carry our ‘Mat Bonds’ (Malaysian James Bonds), as I like to call them, with us sometimes, all three of them from Bukit Aman. On the lighter side, during our flight to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, when the Prime Minister came down from the aeroplane, our national anthem was played but the Singapore flag was raised!!!! The next day, the newspapers in Port Moresby ran an apology on their front-page headlines, because it seemed the next week, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, PM of Singapore was supposed to visit Port Moresby.
Another incident was during our recce trip to Tonga, we were told that there would be a large roasted pig as the centre dish of the traditional Tongan feast. We politely told them that our Prime Minister is a Muslim and does not eat pork. On our actual arrival day, it was announced on the Tongan radio that Malaysian Prime Minister has arrived and proceeding to the King’s palace for a Tongan feast and all the pigs were running about happily! For the Prime Minister’s flight, smoking and alcoholic drinks were not allowed in the aircraft.
To be competitive in the aviation market, in addition to a disastrous air accident in America involving the crash of a DC-10 on take-off due to the opening of a cargo door, MAS replaced the DC-10s with two Jumbo jets B747-200 in the mid-1980s. A third jumbo jet that came into service was a B747-300 with an extended upper deck. This was the time we started our USA services into Los Angeles. With sufficient flying hours and seniority, I became the captain of the Airbus A300 for two years, captain of the DC-10 for a year and became a jumbo jet captain at a young age of 36. Two years later MAS bought the B747-400, which has no flight engineer, just 2 pilots in the cockpit. Eventually, MAS sold the two classic jumbo jets B747-200 and the B747-300 and replaced them with thirteen B747-400s. This aircraft can fly direct from Kuala Lumpur to London. On this long haul flight, we carry two sets of pilots. There is a bedroom right behind the cockpit for the pilots to rest. Most of the flight engineers, 40 years and below, were retrained as pilots.
The first two B747-400s were the Combi version. The first half of the cabin was filled with passenger seats and second half with space for cargo containers. It was during one of my flights from London direct to Kuala Lumpur that a Lamborghini belonging to a Sultan was in the cabin cargo compartment. Flying the B747-200/300/400 from 1987 until my retirement in 2011, has taken me to many interesting and lovely places. Unlike many other airlines, MAS flies to Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa and onwards to Buenos Aires in Argentina. In my years with the airline, I have seen and heard pilots and cabin crew complaining about the places and hotels we night-stopped, but that one place that I have not heard any complaints about is Honolulu, Hawaii. I guess, probably the only complaint would be not enough layover days there! I also had the honour of ferrying one of the new B747-400 aircrafts from the Boeing factory in Seattle, USA direct to Kuala Lumpur. It was almost a fifteen and a half hour flight.
Another interesting flight is operating cargo flights, which is a different cup of tea, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. MAS had two B747-400 full cargo aeroplanes. The whole cabin from the nose to the tail of the aircraft is loaded with cargo containers or sometimes animals like cows, sheep, goats and horses. For long haul flights, we carry two set of pilots and no cabin crew. The pilots had to heat up their own meals and make their own drinks. There was a flight I did that carried 400 cattle from Australia to the Middle East. The difficult part was to maintain the cabin temperature at 22°C. This is to ensure the cows did not develop too much gas in the stomach. False fire alarms in the cargo section had been activated on some previous flights due to excess gas produced by the many cows. Turbulence can cause anxiety to the nervous cattle too. Cargo flights also stop at destinations that normal MAS flights do not operate to for example, Milan, Italy and Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
When I retired in 2011 from flying, I had clocked almost 20,000 flying hours. MAS had bought six Airbus A380 superjumbo jets. With a shortage of flight instructors, I was re-employed to train pilots in the simulator conversion courses for the B737-400 and B747-400. I did this for three years and finally decided to enjoy my retirement even though MAS wanted me to continue for a few more years.
Malaysia Airlines has always been an excellent airline. The cabin crew has won six awards and its pilots and engineers are well sought after in the international market. The airline has encountered some bumps and thumps but it is still a good and favourite airline among the locals and foreigners.
Many airlines and businesses in the tourism industries are now facing difficult times in this pandemic period. Malaysia Airlines is no different and I wish the airline all the best. This national airline has touched the lives of all Malaysians near and far.
Early this month, after a round of golf, a friend invited us to his farm for lunch. In the midst of enjoying the food, another friend arrived bringing a bottle of whisky and immediately announced that it is a product of Malaysia!
Indeed the whisky is distilled, blended and bottled in our country. The only difference is the spelling of whisky, which in this case is spelt ‘whiskey’. It carries a name ‘Timah’, Malay for tin, and, on the bottle, there is a picture and a brief write up on Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy. In August this year, ‘Timah’ won a silver award at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition 2020. Intrigued, I decided to do a search on Captain Speedy, in short, and barely twenty-four hours later, there was a news article about a plea to restore a colonial structure in Taiping, and that structure was none other than the former residence of the man!
James Speedy was 17 when he joined the Bengal army in 1828 where he stayed until 1835. In October that year, James married Sarah Squire, daughter of a Lieutenant Colonel, in Agra and he re-joined his regiment, which had moved to Meerut near Delhi in 1836. It was here that Captain Speedy was born on 26 November 1836.
1854 – 1871 (India, Abyssinia, Sudan, New Zealand)
Captain Speedy had his education in England and following his father’s footsteps, he joined the army at seventeen. He was sent to join the regiment in Meerut in 1854. He served in India until 1860, and during this time, he was awarded two medals for his regiment’s involvement in the Indian Mutiny in Punjab and Eusoffian Expedition. Here, he learned to speak Urdu.
He then left the army and moved to Africa where he was employed by King Theodore of Abyssinia (Ethiopia today) to train his army. He was given the Amharic name of ‘Basha Felika’ (meaning ‘speedy’). He worked here for eighteen months and he picked up Amharic. After a falling out with the King, he fled the country in autumn of 1861. He reappeared in 1863 in Kassala, a city in neighbouring Sudan, where he met Captain Cameron who was then the British Consul at Massawa, a port on the Red Sea coast (today Massawa is also known as Mitsiwa, and is in Eritrea). Captain Speedy was offered the post of Vice Consul and he worked until January 1864.
Next, he travelled to New Zealand where his parents had emigrated eight years ago and he was a member of the Waikato militia that fought in the New Zealand Wars. He was promoted to Captain and was awarded a medal for his service and land grant in the Waikato of confiscated lands. He later sold the land to Bill Cowan.
Meantime, the relationship between Britain and Abyssinia had worsened. King Theodore had captured some Europeans and diplomacy had failed to release the prisoners. This led Britain to arrange a military mission to be headed by General Sir Robert Napier. Captain Speedy was found in Australia in 1867 and he was recruited into the mission in Abyssinia. Captain Speedy made a return to Africa in 1868 but this time as acivilian interpreter where his knowledge of the country and languages proved valuable. On 13 April 1868, British forces stormed through the stronghold of King Theodore at Magdala and discovered that the King had committed suicide. Empress Tiruwork Wube died a month later on the way to the coast, leaving behind an eight- year-old son, Dejatch Alamayou (Prince Alamayou) under the care of Napier. Having been friends with the late King during his service in 1860, Captain Speedy offered to look after Alamayou and Napier agreed. The Abyssinian War gained the fourth medal for Captain Speedy.
Upon his return to Britain, Captain Speedy was appointed as Guardian of the young Abyssinian prince by Queen Victoria. On 15 December 1868, Captain Speedy married Cornelia Mary, daughter of Benjamin Tennyson Cotton, a wealthy Isle of Wight landowner, at Freshwater and Alamayou was a groom. A few months later, in 1869, Captain Speedy returned to India with his wife and Alamayou. He was appointed the District Superintendent of the Oudh Police from 1869 to 1871. Captain Speedy had accompanied the Duke of Edinburgh who was the second son of Queen Victoria, on a shooting trip in Nepal. Captain Speedy had big game shooting experience in Sudan, when he fled from Abyssinia in 1861. He was given a kukri with an ivory handle by the Chief Minister of Nepal. Kukri is a type of machete with a distinct recurve in the blade and originates from the Indian subcontinent.
1871 – 1877 (British Malaya)
After his two years in India, it was time to move again. In 1871, Captain Speedy arrived at Penang to work as the Superintendent of Police. His first contribution to Penang was the planting of a baobab tree. This is regarded as the oldest non-indigenous tree planted in our country. When Frank Swettenham met them, he said ‘the boy (Alamayou) was in good hands, for Speedy and his wife were very fond of him’.
In December, Speedy escorted Alamayou to England where he was sent to Cheltenham College in the care of its headmaster, Dr. Jex Blake. Captain Speedy then returned to Penang while Alamayou continued his studies in England. In 1874, when Dr. Jex Blake moved to Rugby School, Alamayou followed him. Alamayou left in 1878 to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and after a year, he left to Leeds to study under Cyril Ransome, a master whom Alamayou had met at Rugby School. He then contracted pleurisy and died on 14 November of 1879. He was eighteen years of age. The funeral took place a week later at the St. George’s Chapel, Windsor and Captain Speedy were present at the funeral. By the order of Queen Victoria, a brass plaque to his memory was installed and it bears the words ‘I was a stranger and ye took me in’.
Long Jaafar was a tax collector in Larut. It was here that he accidentally discovered tin ore, first, while bathing in a stream and second, when he found his elephant! In 1848, Long Jaafar encouraged Chinese to mine in his land and, subsequently, Chinese capitalists from the Straits Settlements invested in these mines, bringing an influx of Chinese immigrants to Larut. Long Jaafar prospered and the Sultan made him the administrator of the district of Larut, Matang and Selama in 1850. He died in 1857 and he was succeeded by his son, Ngah Ibrahim, who was granted even more powers by the Sultan; he was installed as the Orang Kaya Mantri and given control over Larut.
At its peak before 1872, there were 40 000 Chinese working on the mines in Larut. The Chinese were divided into two rival clans – Hai San, comprising mostly Hakka and Hokkien, and Ghee Hin, predominantly Cantonese. They vied for control over the tin mines. The Malays were also fighting among themselves over collection of taxes and, like the Chinese, they were also divided into two groups, Ulu (up-river); and Hilir (down river). When Sultan Ali died in 1871, they also fought for the throne of Perak. The two Chinese groups allied with different Malay factions and the conflicts between the factions resulted in the Larut War.
With the situation getting out of control, Ngah Ibrahim went to Penang to offer an appointment to Captain Speedy to restore order in Larut. He was made an offer of a salary and one-third of the revenues of Larut. Captain Speedy immediately resigned from his police post and left for India on 27 July 1873 on a mission to recruit sepoys for his troop in Larut. He returned with a force of 110 sepoys in late September. The frequent clashes of the Chinese caused the disruption of the supply of tin and this led to the British intervention in January 1874. Organized by the then Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Andrew Clarke, the Pangkor Treaty was signed on board the HMS Pluto, near Pangkor Island. It managed to solve the Chinese tin mining conflict and the Perak succession dispute. The treaty also marked the start of the Resident programme in the Peninsular.
James Wheeler Woodford Birch was appointed the Resident of Perak and Captain Speedy as the Assistant Resident at Larut. Speedy’s top priority was to restore mining production. Next, he divided Larut into two – North (Klian Bahru) was awarded to Ghee Hin and the town was known as ‘Kamunting’; while the more prosperous South (Klian Pauh) was given to Hai San and Captain Speedy named the town ‘Thai Peng’(Chinese for Everlasting Peace, it is Taiping today). Next, Captain Speedy started construction of roads and erected Government buildings and quarters, which also included the new government headquarters-cum-residence completed in early 1875. Sir William Jervois who took over from Sir Andrew Clarke in 1875 commented that the residence was ‘a large and very comfortable house’ and Birch said it was ‘a very commodious residence’.
Cornelia arrived in the middle of 1874 to join her husband, as did Speedy’s younger brother James Havelock Speedy who spent about 18 months in Larut. At the end of May 1876, Captain Speedy took 6 months leave to return to England to settle the inheritance left behind by Cornelia’s father who had recently died. The Speedy’s were now ‘very comfortable off’. They returned to Larut in early December 1876 by which time, the post of Assistant Resident of Larut was held by W.E. Maxwell. Captain Speedy was then moved to Durian Sebatang in Lower Perak where he stayed until he resigned at the end of 1877. The Speedys left British Malaya for good in January 1878 – his superiors were happy to see him leave!
1878 – 1910 (Sudan, Abyssinia)
They arrived in Sudan where they stayed until July 1878. It was during this trip that Cornelia wrote letters back home to her mother, and shared with family and friends, and was later published into a book titled My wanderings in the Soudanin 1884. They also met some Germans and within a week, Captain Speedy could speak with them fluently in German, showing he had the gift of languages. In December of 1883, he was again called upon to join a diplomatic mission to Abyssinia (for the third time) as an interpreter, which he was ‘most happy to offer my services’, this time under the command of Vice Admiral Hewett. He was paid until January 1885. In March 1897, Captain Speedy took his final mission to Abyssinia under Rennell Rodd. The mission was over by the end of May. Cornelia had bought a house in the picturesque village of Chatsworth in Shropshire where they stayed until Captain Speedy died in August 1910 at the age of 73. Cornelia died seven years later at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.
John M. Gullick / Captain Speedy of Larut / Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society / Vol.26 No.3 (163) Captain Speedy of Larut (November 1953) / https://www.jstor.org/stable/41503024
Plea to restore colonial structure in Taiping by Ivan Loh / Page 4, Starmetro – The Star / 8 October 2020
Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy (1836 – 1910) / Wikitree Free Family /wikitree.com
A name may be just a term used for identification of a person, object or place, but studies have questioned the psychological effect names have on the bearer. To some, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, while to others a name defines a place or person’s life. So vital is the significance of a name that many communities have traditions surrounding its selection.
There must be a reason why there are at least three different places in Indonesia named Gunung Kawi (Mount Kawi). It may be an eponym for ‘Kawi’, the ancient sacred language of Java, which existed in the 8th century CE, and still used to some extent as a literary language. The word, in Sanskrit-derived forms can mean ‘poetry, wisdom or sculpture’, leading to the surmise that it may mean ‘Mountain of Wisdom/Poets’ or ‘carved out of mountain’.
Gunung Kawi, East Java
My first encounter with Gunung Kawi was when I was on a round island tour of Java in 1991. My co-travellers were mainly Indonesian Chinese from different parts of Java and as far as Medan in north Sumatra, who had joined the tour because Gunung Kawi was on the itinerary. They related (to me) the hagiasmos or sanctification ritual of this mist-shrouded mountain, which is the resting place of two of Indonesia’s legendary figures.
Gunung Kawi, located in the administrative area of Wonosari Village in the Malang Regency of East Java, is a stratovolcano with no eruption in recorded history. It gained fame because of matters relating to pesugihan often held there. Many do so because of the quest for infinite wealth. Pesugihan is derived from the Javanese word ‘sugih’ meaning ‘rich’. It is a ritual performed as a means to get rich instantly. In exchange, the seekers must sacrifice something.
At 2500 metres above sea level on the slope of Gunung Kawi is Pesarean Gunung Kawi – a cemetery containing the sacred twin tombs of Mbah Djoego and Iman Soedjono, revered historical figures in Indonesia. Iman Soedjono was one of the seventy noblemen who took arms against the Dutch occupation led by Prince Diponegoro from 1825 to 1830. Next to his grave is the tomb of Mbah Djoego or Kiai Zakaria II, a local figure who pioneered a new technology in farming at that time. He was a brave fighter and spiritual adviser to Diponegoro. Both were descendants of the kingdom of Mataram, loyal to Pangeran Diponegoro. Though the tombs are of Muslim deceased, this place has a magical appeal to Chinese, Madurese and indigenous communities of Indonesia who are in search of spiritual blessings.
The cemetery is located at the top of the village and along the way are several gates with reliefs that tell the story of how Mbah Djoego fought the war with Prince Diponegoro. The reliefs were carved by his followers in 1871 to commemorate his heroic deeds. Near the cemetery is the holy sian tho (sacred fruit) tree, also known as the dewandaru tree, believed to have sprung from Djoego’s stick, which was stuck to the ground for protection of the Wonosari area. Pilgrims wait around the tree for the fruit, leaves or even twigs to fall to be kept as a wealth-giving talisman.
Adjacent to the tomb house is a mosque. Within the pesarean complex is also a Confucian/Buddhist temple with Kwan Im as the main lord. In years past, some people from the local Chinese community who conducted the rituals here were believed to have become fabulously rich or healed from their sickness after the rituals. News spread, and more Chinese resettled at Mount Kawi. In time, the village became known to other Chinese communities and the Buddhist temple was built near the pesarean.
Some distance away is a building, once the hermitage belonging to Prabu Kameswara, a prince from the Kingdom of Kediri who was Hindu. He was a deeply religious person who preferred to live in meditative seclusion. It was said that after the prabu finished meditating in that place, he succeeded in resolving the political turmoil in his kingdom. This is now a place for worship and the practice of pesugihan.
On this mountain refuge, the sanctuaries of three different faiths exist harmoniously side-by-side, which is not unusual among Indonesians. Though this is a good place for photography, its uniqueness as well has attracted many to Gunung Kawi; they come not only for a vacation but also, for believers of animism, this is a pilgrimage site. Visitors believe that the pilgrimage will bring them success in their careers, good health and prosperity. The best time to visit the sacred sepulchres is on Thursday evening, Jumaat Legi according to the Javanese Calendar. Gunung Kawi is one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations for Indonesian Chinese, with the Jumat Legi before the Lunar New Year being especially busy.
The smell of incense pervades the air; patrons come to have their fortunes revealed through the ancient Confucian/Taoist ritual known as kau ciam si (roughly translated from the Hokkien dialect to mean ‘seek/consult bamboo oracle’), a method of fortune revealing. It involves shaking a cylindrical container filled with oracle sticks made of bamboo, numbered 1 – 100, in such a manner that an oracle stick will mysteriously jump out. The number on the stick will be matched with the interpretation of the oracle on the divination slip of the same number, and therein lays the fortune you seek. The divination message may be an aphorism, epigram or proverb; it is cryptic and enigmatic. It is usually deciphered by a temple staff, its accuracy dependent on the knowledge of the interpreter. The practice of kau ciam si dates back to the Jin Dynasty, and is still prevalent in Taoist temples in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.
In recent years, Mount Kawi not only functions as a sacred space (the pesarean) for pilgrims and visitors, but it also has a ‘profane space’ for other visitors who come to enjoy the natural beauty and the cultural and inter-faith performances of the region. These are initiatives of the government of Malang Regency in its attempt to change the image of Gunung Kawi and erase the stigma of Mount Kawi as a Pesarean.
Pura Gunung Kawi, Bali
Down in a valley through which runs a stream near Tampaksiring in Ubud, Bali, is an interesting archaeological complex – an antiquated sanctuary of edifices – Pura Gunung Kawi.
Unlike other temples in Bali, this mist and mystery-shrouded one is rather laid-back with few foreign visitors, but was on former President Obama’s itinerary when he and his family holidayed in Bali in 2017. I visited in August 2019 on the suggestion of the manager of the Ubud resort where I was spending a week. The complex radiates a certain mystique; legends of long-forgotten gods, kings and heroes have been told about its origin. But then, isn’t Bali a land of legends?
As you make your way down to the temple, a descent of 270 steps, you are met with beautiful vistas of luxuriant paddy fields, and finally welcomed by the sound of running water. Where the stairs end, there is an archway with pillars holding basins of holy water, which visitors sprinkle to cleanse themselves before entering the complex.
Pura Gunung Kawi’s setting among rice terraces and natural jungle makes its location quite stunning. The ancient artwork carved onto the cliff are of four candi or shrines on the west side and another five on the eastern side of the river, while another is hidden to the south across the valley. Evidence suggests that these candi were probably once protected between two massive rock-hewn cloisters. Each candi is believed to be a memorial to a member of the 11th-century Balinese royalty, but little is known of this. Legends relate that the whole group of memorials was carved out of the rock face in a single night by the mighty fingernails of the mythical giant Kebo Iwo.
The five candi on the eastern side are dedicated to King Udaya, Queen Mahendradatta and their sons Airlangga, Anak Wangsu and Marakata. When Anak Wangsu was ruler of Bali, Airlangga ruled eastern Java and became the legendary king of Singhasari (Singosari). The other four are for Anak Wangsu’s chief concubines and the remote tenth candi is for a royal minister. Another theory states that the whole complex is dedicated to Anak Wangsu, his wives and concubines, and a royal minister.
As the temple is held sacred, proper attire consisting of a sarong tied around the waist is required for all visitors. Image credit: Annie Chuah
These candi (niches) are not tombs and they have never contained any human remains, but their function has not been ascertained. Their shape resembles small buildings with three-tiered roofs bearing nine stylised lingam-yoni symbols. The doorway seems to be going nowhere. There is a small chamber beneath each candi for offerings of food and metal objects representing earthly necessities.
Within the complex are small stone caves and cells hewn out of rock that serve as meditation sites to complement shrines where Buddhist monks used to sit and contemplate. In Bali, Hinduism and Buddhism have coexisted and fused in harmony since ancient times. As you wander between monuments, shrines, fountains and streams, there is a feeling of ancient majesty.
Gunung Kawi Sebatu, Bali
About 10km away in Gianyar, is another sacred temple – Gunung Kawi Sebatu, a Hindu water temple dedicated to Vishnu. This 11th century temple complex, built on a natural spring, comprises a collection of ancient shrines, bathing pools and fountains. The architectural interest is in its split gates, richly carved walls and the variety of shrines and pavilions.
Entry into the main temple is reserved for Hindu devotees but other pavilions and shrines for ancestral spirits can be explored. Artisans in the mountain village of Sebatu were skilled wood carvers and sculptors. Carved beams and depictions of deities and demons in stone can be seen throughout the temple.
There is a shrine dedicated to the Javanese sage Mpu Kuturan, a priest instrumental in the establishment of Balinese Hinduism. To the right of the central court is the temple of the Pasek Gelgel clan where the ancestral deities are honoured in nine shrines.
The reflecting pool with a floating pavilion is in the outer courtyard; further beyond is the performance pavilion. Some pools are for purification ritual baths while shoals of carps are reared in others. Fowls roam around the jungle setting. The Gunung Kawi Sebatu temple is a gem, one of the prettiest temples in Bali, so visit before the crowds come to know about it!
Elaborate ceremonies are held to celebrate the temple anniversary, Purnama Sasih Kasa, on the first full moon of the Balinese calendar and attended by Balinese Hindu pilgrims from all over the island.
The Balinese are expected to participate in the temple anniversaries of their clan temples to reinforce their clan identities. This is the time their ancestors come down for visits to be welcomed with dance and food.
Throughout the world people look up to mountains as sources of blessings and healing, as in these spiritual Gunung Kawi sites in Java and Bali. Sacred mountains incite reverence and are the subject of legends. Spirituality provides a sense of peace and helps us understand why these Gunung Kawi remote locations are held in such mystical regard by the natives of the land.
Recently, a reader of this blog wrote in asking for the actual site of Sir Henry Gurney’s assassination. Prior to this, I had been asked the same question by my ex-classmate’s husband while doing a guided tour at the National Museum last year. In addition, recently there was a news report on the development of a new multi-storey hotel resort in Fraser’s Hill and Badan Warisan Malaysia, a national heritage NGO, had initiated a petition to stop the demolition of heritage buildings on Fraser’s Hill.
These events are closely related to Federal Route 55. Sir Henry Gurney was assassinated on 6 October 1951 by communist terrorists (CT) at Mile 56 ½, Kuala Kubu Road (90.91 km, distance measured from Kuala Lumpur), about 8 miles (12.87 km) from Fraser’s Hill and about 2 miles (3.22 km) before The Gap. Federal Route 55 is the main access route to Fraser’s Hill, whether from Pahang or Selangor.
This stretch of road was the first federal route constructed in Pahang, thus putting the final jigsaw in linking all four states in the Federal Malay States (FMS). It was opened on 13 January 1899, and it initially connected Kuala Kubu to Kuala Lipis, the then capital of Pahang. Today, Federal Route 55 starts at the intersection of Federal Route 1, the main North-South trunk road, with Kuala Kubu Bharu and ends at Teranum in Raub district.
With these two issues on my mind, I decided to drive up to Fraser’s Hill using Federal Route 55 from the Selangor side. My last trip to our country’s third hill station was for a tai chi retreat many years ago. The drive was a breeze on a Saturday early morning except for the occasional braking and overtaking of cyclists. On weekends, particularly, Federal Route 55 is a favourite with cyclists, who challenge themselves on its uphill, downhill and winding circuit.
I do recall seeing on the internet, a photo of a signboard that was erected at the site of Gurney’s assassination. Hence, as I approached The Gap, I slowed down to look for it but alas, I could not locate it even though I went back and forth several times. Since it was still early, I decided to pull over at The Gap, to check the old Rest House. Incidentally, The Gap is still in the state of Selangor. What once used to be a fine stone Tudor style rest house where visitors could drop by for scones and tea, relax and admire the flowers and as well as enjoy the mountain fresh air before continuing their journey to Fraser’s Hill, it is now in decrepit condition. In 2008, it underwent refurbishment with a budget of RM 500,000. A second phase costing RM 1.5 million was planned for 2011 but the project was cancelled. Since then, the building has been left untouched and is under threat from the elements and vandalism. Looks like the glory days of the Rest House would not be making a return for a long time to come.
The trend of losing heritage buildings continued to rear its ugly head when I reached the site of the proposed 15-storey resort and spa in Fraser’s Hill. Two colonial bungalows, Maybank Lodge and Jelai Resort, had been completely demolished two weeks earlier as part of the project. The project is expected to be completed in 2026. When the Silver Park Resort was built, another two bungalows namely Mentakab Bungalow and Bishop House (earlier called The Retreat) were destroyed to make way for that project. Another important landmark in Fraser’s Hill is the Jeriau Waterfall. It is now a pale shadow of its former glory after the development of an 18-hole golf course nearby. The golf course did not survive for long and it has been abandoned for many years now.
Moving away from the news of destruction to a more positive note, I have succeeded in locating the photograph of the memorial signboard. In addition, I also found photographs of Gurney’s Rolls Royce that was riddled by bullet holes (a total of 35 bullet holes were counted), Gurney’s funeral procession held on 8 October 1951 and the news headline of the killing. I discovered these at the Shahzan Inn on Fraser’s Hill.
In retaliation for the killing of the highest ranking British officer in the country, the entire population of the village of Tras near Fraser’s Hill, almost all Chinese, was rounded up onto lorries and sent to a detention camp in Ipoh. They were suspected of supporting the CTs. Thirty seven of them were arrested for possible involvement and the rest were released in batches but they were not allowed to return to Tras. They were finally permitted to return home in 1958, by which time, Tras looked more like a ghost town! Tras is also located on Federal Route 55, near Teranum.
Again, it looked like an easy and quiet ride leaving Fraser’s Hill. However, not for long as I could see a chasing pack of cyclists behind me. I stepped on the accelerator and I went speeding down the hill and round the hairpin bends but they were still close on my tail. It was like in the movies. When I finally broke free, it was close to the Sungai Selangor Dam and I decided to stop at the Lookout Point to view the massive lake. Treated water from the dam is supplied to Selangor and Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.
As I was about to return to my car, I saw the cyclists speeding by and soon they were out of sight. It was a good race for them and a good day for my adventure on Federal Route 55.
Book / The Towns of Malaya : An illustrated urban history of the Peninsula up to 1957. By Dr Neil Khor, Mariana Isa and Maganjeet Kaur.
Henry Gurney’s final flight by Alan Teh Lean Seng / 7 October 2018 New Straits Time. www.nst.com > lifestyle >sunday-vibes