By Eric Lim
The Clock Tower is an iconic landmark of Bahau / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons
Moving back to Negeri Sembilan, this time to the district of Jempol. It is the largest district in the state which covers approximately 22% of the total land area of Negeri Sembilan. It shares boundaries with the district of Jelebu, Kuala Pilah, Tampin, Bera in Pahang and Segamat in Johor. Prior to becoming the Jempol district, it was known as Bahau Kecil, under the administration of the Kuala Pilah district. Jempol was declared a district on 1 January 1980. Then on 29 January 2019, the status was upgraded to a municipal council, the fourth municipal council in Negeri Sembilan. The two principal towns in the district are Bandar Seri Jempol (previously known as Bandar Baru Serting, and the current district capital) and Bahau. This article will focus on the history of the district, Jempol and the town of Bahau.
Map of districts and mukims of Negeri Sembilan today.
Map of towns in the district of Jempol / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons
Jempol was not in the original Malay federation that consisted of nine states when Raja Melewar became the Yam Tuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan in 1773. However, when the British arrived in the state, Jempol was very much in the picture where a series of treaties were signed between the 1870’s to the 1890’s. Sungai Ujong was the first state in Negeri Sembilan that had requested for British protection in 1874. On 23 November 1876, a treaty was signed between Tengku Antah and the minor states of Johol, Inas, Ulu Muar, Terachi, Gunung Pasir and Jempol; witnessed by British officials from the Straits Settlements which recognized Tengku Antah as the Yamtuan of Sri Menanti. This treaty effectively ended the civil war in the state where the warring states were divided into two, the East region came under Sri Menanti and the West consisting of Sungai Ujong, Jelebu and Rembau. On 13 July 1889, the rulers of Tampin and Rembau joined Sri Menanti and agreed to a confederation known as ‘The Old Negri Sembilan’ and placed themselves under the protection of the British government. The states were then separated into two districts namely Kuala Pilah which administered the minor states of Sri Menanti and Johol; and Tampin which took care of Rembau, Tampin and Gemencheh.
Charles Mitchell / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons
Martin Lister / Photo source : Sejarah-ahmadyaakob.com: PENUBUHAN KONFIDERASI NEGERI SEMBILAN
When Charles Mitchell (full name Charles Bullen Hugh Mitchell) succeeded William Edward Maxwell as the 14th Governor of the Straits Settlements in 1894, he had proposed that Sungai Ujong and Jelebu be amalgamated with ‘The Old Negri Sembilan’ faction. He commented that ‘the Negri Sembilan are a small confederation in which Sungai Ujong was in old days included, so that their combination under one Resident is historically sound as well as politically convenient’. It was initially met with resistance but later, both states agreed to the proposal. On 8 August 1895, a treaty was signed and a larger and modern Negeri Sembilan was constituted and Martin Lister was appointed as the first Resident. The following year, Negeri Sembilan joined the other three protected states in the Malay Peninsula namely Perak, Selangor and Pahang, in the formation of the Federated Malay States (FMS). The first Resident General of FMS was Frank Athelstane Swettenham. Finally, in a treaty on 29 April 1898, the Yamtuan of Sri Menanti was elected the official ruler of Negeri Sembilan.
The history of Jempol long precedes the formation of Negeri Sembilan, and some believed it was even earlier than the Malacca Sultanate. The district was first settled by people from Pasai, a Muslim kingdom on the north coast of Sumatra (Acheh today).This kingdom was the first to convert to Islam, believed to be in the second half of the 13th century. The settlers started the cultivation of paddy in the state and due to the fertility of its soil, enjoyed a bountiful harvest every year. This prompted them to name the area ‘Jempol’ which roughly translated to mean ‘beautiful and the best place’.
Jempol continued to thrive when the locals discovered two navigable waterways that proved to be invaluable assets. These two rivers flowed in opposite directions from the interior, one to the direction of the Straits of Malacca and the other drains to the South China Sea, creating a shortcut for traveling from the west coast to east coast without having to go through the arduous journey round the southern tip. This led to the start of the trans peninsula trade route used by both local Malay and foreign traders. And the key factor that attracted foreign traders to this trade route was gold. This waterway was marked on early mapping of South-East Asia compiled by cartographers of the West from the 16th century. However, the waterway is depicted as a continuous river or canal as roughly bisecting the peninsula. This glaring error was corrected by Emanuel Godinho de Eredia in a map drawn in 1602.
16th century maps showing the waterway. / Photo source : https://www.jstor.org/stable/1150179
Emanuel Godinho de Eredia was born at Malacca on 15th July 1563. He was of Bugis – Portuguese descent and had his early education at College of the Company of Jesus, Malacca. When he reached thirteen, he was sent to Goa where he completed his studies in astronomy, cartography and mathematics. In 1594, he was ranked ‘Descobridor e Adelantado da Nova India Meridional’ by King Philip I of Portugal. ‘Descobridor’ means ‘officer commissioned to organize the work of exploration and discovery’ and the rest of the title supposedly means ‘the southern land’. He did not see action for six years and only in 1600, he was given the green light. He returned to Malacca to make preparations for the exploration but local wars intervened and he was forced to stay back to see action for the next four years. During this time, he was made the commanding officer of the southern squadron of 70 armed ships. In 1604, he founded the Fortaleza de Muar (Fortress of Muar) located at the mouth of Muar river and joined General Andre Furtado de Mendoca in the conquest of Kota Batu, the capital of Johore at that time. Then he was met with some health issues that kept him away from starting his exploration. He then turned to writing books until his last book in 1620. He died in 1623. His books were never published in his lifetime. Declaracam de Malaca e da Índia Meridional com Cathay (Description of Malacca, Meridional India and Cathay in English) written in 1613, first translated to French in 1880 and later to English by JV Mills in April 1930, contains valuable information on Malacca and the surrounding region when it came under the control of the Portuguese. It also included maps and illustrations, including the location of the two rivers that formed the trans peninsula trade route as mentioned above.
Map by Emanuel de Godinho Eredia showing the location of the Panarican (in box)
/ Photo source : Wikimedia Commons
Self portrait of Emanuel de Godinho Eredia / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons
Emanuel de Godinho Eredia discovered that the two main rivers, Pahang river (Rio de Pan in the map) and Muar river (Rio de Muar), are separated by land about 600 meters apart. He also pointed out two points, namely Sartin (Serting today) and Jompol (Jempol), and these are names of tributaries of Pahang river and Muar river respectively. He also named the place ‘Panarican’, from the Malay word ‘penarikan’ which is from the root word ‘tarik’, meaning to pull / drag. The overland portage of vessels and goods were carried out by the locals, elephants and buffalos. Later, in 1614, he appended an explanatory note in the map that ‘Por panarican passao de Malaca a Pam em 6 dias de caminbo’ meaning ‘By the Panarican, one travels from Malacca to Pahang in 6 days’ journey’. It was believed that the journey using the open sea south route would take up to six months and traders also face the risks of rough waters and pirates.
According to local text references, the Panarican / Jalan Penarikan in Malay, was used by merchants from Arab to spread Islam in the interior during the 11th century. The route was also frequented by the Sultanate of Malacca, Pahang and Negeri Sembilan. In the 14th century, at the height of power of the Srivijaya and Majapahit Kingdom, Jalan Penarikan was an active trade route between the interior and the cities along the shores of the Malay Peninsula. Sultan Mahmud also used the route to escape from the Portuguese. Earlier, Hang Tuah had used it to accompany the beautiful Tun Teja from Pahang to Malacca. At the start of the 17th century, the newly formed Dutch V.O.C was a threat to the Portuguese’s monopoly in the region. On 25 February 1603, the Dutch managed to capture Portuguese’s treasure ship, Santa Catarina, at the Strait of Singapore. The ship and its cargo were taken back to Europe as booty of war. After that incident, the Portuguese diverted to use Jalan Penarikan to return to Muar. It also cited the journey through the portage taken by Charles Gray in early January 1827, and in his journal, he noted that he made an overnight stop in a small village called Bahru, which is believed to be Bahau today. Coincidentally, the next part of this article would be on Bahau.
The first railway line built by the British linked Taiping in the Larut Valley to Port Weld, covering a distance of about 8 miles (13 kilometers) , was officially opened for traffic on 1 June 1885. By the turn of the new century, saw the formation of the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) and in 1903, the railway track was extended from Prai in Province Wellesley (Penang) in the North, running across Perak and Selangor to reach Port Dickson in Negeri Sembilan in the South. The next phase of construction was in the state of Johore, starting in 1904. And in 1910, saw the start of the East Coast Line connecting the West to the East coast states of Pahang and Kelantan.
The first stretch of the East Coast Line between Gemas and Bahau was opened on 4 April 1910. Also on the same day, was the opening of the branch line from Bahau to Kuala Pilah in the interior. The opening of this branch line was to serve the tin mining industry at Parit Tinggi which is situated north of Kuala Pilah. This line was in operation until 1930 when it was dismantled due to stiff competition with road transport. On 1 October 1910, the East Coast Line was extended from Bahau to Pahang, reaching Triang located in the south west of the state. The line was completed with the opening section of the last stretch between Gua Musang and Kuala Gris in Kelantan on 5 September 1931.
1929 FMSR map showing the branch line between Bahau and Kuala Pilah and Bahau – Triang.
Photo source : FMSR 1929 railway map
The next significant record of Bahau in the history archive came during the Japanese Occupation. Japanese forces landed in Kota Bharu on 8 December 1941 and in just two months, they had steamrolled the peninsula and were fighting the British in Singapore. On 15 February 1942, Lieutenant General Arthur Percival surrendered the island to the Japanese. The loss came as a great shock to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. With an impending chronic food shortage, Japanese authorities immediately embarked on a Grow More Food Campaign in the city state. However, the campaign did not produce the desired results. The next course of action by the Japanese was to set up agricultural settlements outside of Singapore. The Chinese were the first group to be coaxed into the resettlement project and Endau in Johor was the venue for the project. The pioneer settlers arrived in September 1943 and by the end of that year, 12,000 Chinese had made Endau their new home.
Settlers building the rudimentary road from the train station to the settlement
Photo source : Bahau: A Utopia That Went Awry
The next group to join the project were the Eurasians and the new venue was Bahau. The first settlers consisting of mainly young, single men and led by Catholic Bishop of Singapore, Adrien Devals arrived in late December 1943. They took the overnight train from Singapore to Gemas, followed by a local train to Bahau town and walked the last five miles (8 km) to the site of the settlement. Prior, the site had been cleared and rejected by the Japanese for use as an airfield and by the Chinese group who had wanted Endau instead. The Japanese name for the settlement was ‘Fuji Go’ which means ‘Fuji Village or beautiful village’. These men were tasked to clear the land of dense forest, build a rudimentary road from the train station to the settlement and set up the basic infrastructure for the arriving families. By April 1944, the population had risen to 2,000, of which about half were Chinese Catholics and it also included European Protestants families and neutrals from countries like Denmark, Switzerland, Romania and Russia. Each family was given three acres of land to build their own home with whatever that they could find from the jungle and to grow crops.Though they had enjoyed some measure of freedom from the Japanese, many of them suffered from malnutrition and diseases such as malaria which eventually led to a high death toll. Japanese Occupation came to an end in August 1945, and immediately after, the MPAJA (Malayan People’s Anti Japanese Army) guerilla movement took over control of the country for a brief spell. Bahau was finally liberated with the arrival of Force 136 on 3 September 1945. The settlement was abandoned and settlers returned to Singapore. (In total, Japanese authorities had created three agricultural settlements outside of Singapore, namely Endau, Johor for the Chinese, Bahau, Negeri Sembilan for the Eurasian community and Pulau Bintan in Indonesia for the Indians).
Photo source : Google Maps
According to the 2020 survey, the population of Bahau stands at 32,018. Federal Route 13 (FR13 in the map) that links Juasseh to Bahau, cuts across the town to connect to Federal Route 10 (FR10) to Rompin and Gemas. In essence, the straight stretch of FR13 is built over the old railway track that used to run from Kuala Pilah to Bahau. Remnants of the old tracks like stone foundations can still be seen underneath the road. There are two popular trails that are open all year-round and are beautiful to visit at any time of the day in Bahau. The elevation of Bukit Penarikan (1) is 1364 ft / 416 meters and the 3.2 km out-and-back trail takes an average of 1 hour 28 minutes to complete. It is regarded as a moderately challenging route. Bukit Taisho (2) is shorter than Bukit Penarikan, and it takes a slightly shorter time to complete. However, it attracts more hikers / visitors as they can enjoy a spectacular sky mirror and breathtaking sea of clouds view from the peak of the hill. The modestly built Bahau train station (3) is located at the center of town. Today, Bahau has the distinction as the only town in the west coast to be served by the East Coast Line instead of the west coast main line. The name Bahau is believed to come from a Chinese / Cantonese phrase ‘Makou / Mahou’ meaning ‘horse’s mouth’ and there is a nearby Chinese village by the name of ‘Mahsan’ which means ‘horse’s body’.
View from the peak of Bukit Taisho
Photo source : Bukit Taisho: 116 Reviews, Map – Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia | AllTrails
From Cheras, use the Cheras – Kajang Expressway (E7) that would link to Kajang Dispersal Link Expressway / SILK (E18). Look out for Exit 1804 Kajang Perdana, then link to LEKAS (E21) Lebuhraya Kajang Seremban. Exit at Paroi interchange and link Federal Route 51 (Seremban to Kuala Pilah). At Kuala Pilah, join Federal Route 13 to Bahau.
Negeri Sembilan was historically spelt as Negri Sembilan.
1. Info Jempol | Portal Rasmi Majlis Perbandaran Jempol (MPJL): http://www.mdjl.gov.my/ms/pelawat/info-jempol
2. Penubuhan Konfederasi Negeri Sembilan – PeKhabar: https://pekhabar.com/h-i-d-s-penubuhan-konfiderasi-negeri-sembilan/
3. bab 4: negeri sembilan sebagai sebuah persekutuan: http://studentsrepo.um.edu.my/722/5/BAB4.pdf
4. Sejarah-ahmadyaakob.com: PENUBUHAN KONFIDERASI NEGERI SEMBILANhttp://matsejarah.blogspot.com/2014/07/penubuhan-konfiderasi-negeri-sembilan.html
5. A Curious Feature on Early Maps of Malaya: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1150179
6. EREDIA’S DESCRIPTION OF MALACA, MERIDIONAL INDIA, and CATHAY: https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/41560454.pdf
7. Three of Eredia’s illustrations: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41587427?searchText=&searchUri=&ab_segments=&searchKey=&refreqid=fastly-default%3A7f53f5e82f747c062c72613a4a30c736
8. Analysis Of Alternative Trade Route Based On Earliest Cartography And Textual Data: https://www.europeanproceedings.com/article/10.15405/epsbs.2018.05.43/image/3
9. The Capture of the Santa Catarina (1603) | Peace Palace Library: https://peacepalacelibrary.nl/blog/2018/capture-santa-catarina-1603
10. Federated Malay States Railway – Museum Volunteers, JMM: https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/2020/12/07/federated-malay-states-railway/
11. Mamoru Shinozaki in Syonan-To: https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/2020/04/23/mamoru-shinozaki-in-syonan-to/
12. Bukit Taisho: 116 Reviews, Map – Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia | AllTrails: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/malaysia/negeri-sembilan/bukit-taisho