Sunday, May 27, 2007

This extract come from a book by one of Malaya unsung heroes. I paste it to tell you how the Malays were at the turn of the century. In it the Author mention my Grandmother's name which I have to correct. As I mention she was the first Malay lady in Perak to study in an English School and the first to be a nurse in the state. Whether she was the first in Malaya is debatable due to the fact that Malaya was fragmented and somehow or rather until 1946 the Malays would identify themselves from the state they came not as Malay Malayan. The poverty of the Malays were striking during that time and even in the 70's the Malays were very poor but they were a happy lot. I was a product of the New Economic Policy which model itself with the affirmative action introduce by President Kennedy for the blacks in the United States. I will not defend the abuses of the NEP which are many but the policy is good. I was expose to malay poverty because thanks to my parents who keep on hobbing to one place and one place and my extended family, I seen Malay families who were poor and destitute. Yes, I seen Chinese and Indians too who were poor like in Pahang and in the plantation, that is why I cannot criticize NEP whose purpose was also eradicating poverty regardless of race colour or creed. It was a noble policy but everything that is noble will sometime be abuse. As I mention many times I yearn for the old Malays of yorn whereby they are more forgiving and charitable and not so money minded as now. If this mean progress for my people than I don't want any part of it!

1. My Family: At the Dawn of the Twentieth Century


In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate and the Most Merciful, I begin this memoir in January 1976 at my home at No. 11, Jalan Menteri, Matang, Perak. I am now 66 years old.

I was born in Matang at dusk on 21 August 1910, when Muslims in the nearby mosque were busy celebrating the auspicious Israk Mikraj (ascension of Prophet Mohammed s.a.w. to heaven). The mosque was actually a British sop to placate the Matang Malays who had been infuriated by the hanging of five Malay and Orang Asli (aboriginal) patriots. These patriots, including Datuk Sagor, Datuk Sri Maharajalela, Si Putum and Datuk Panglima Endut, had been accused of complicity in the murder of Perak’s first British Resident, J.W.W. Birch, in Pasir Salak in September 1875.

My late grandfather, Haji Aminuddin bin Haji Abdul Kadir, was a penghulu (village or county headman) in Sungai Tinggi, Perak. According to our family tree, we are descended from Sultan Alam Shah of the Pagaruyung Sultanate in West Sumatra, but the family later moved to Batu Bara, North Sumatra. There, they became community leaders and excelled as traders with their own vessels. Most were thus titled Nakhoda or ‘trader captain’.

In the 1840s, my great grandfather Haji Abdul Kadir bin Kaul (better known as Nakhoda Sulong or Nakhoda Ulong) migrated to Malaya with his family. I don’t know their reasons, but thankfully, my ancestors did away with their high titles after settling down in Matang.

My late father Hussain was the older brother of Aishahtun, mother of the late Tun Yusof Ishak, the first President of Singapore, and his brother, Aziz Ishak, former Minister of Agriculture for Malaya. Both are therefore my cousins.

I am fourth in a family of ten children, three girls and seven boys, many of whom are politically motivated. My older brother Alli was the first Secretary of the Persatuan Melayu Perak (Perak Malay Association), while my brother Yahaya participated actively in the Pahang State Branch of Malaya’s first political party, Kesatuan Melayu Muda (KMM), or Young Malay Union. I myself was KMM’s first Vice President from 1938 until 1942.

My father, a land demarcator with the British Colonial Government, spent many years learning English on his own until he gained an impressive command of the language. I salute him for being one of the progressive Malays of his time, to have visualised the importance of English, not only as a medium for learning, but as a language of progress.

As his children, we benefited immeasurably from his early awareness. My mother Saadiah binti Mohd Itam, though traditional, was a special woman of her time. She handled all ten of us, mostly boys, exceptionally well every time our father went on his surveying expeditions, which could take weeks. Broad-minded and thrifty, she always urged us, her children, to be ‘of one heart’.

Although most parents of that time intervened in their sons’ lives, including choosing their brides, my mother gave us free rein. At a time when most kampung (village) folks, especially Islamic religious teachers, considered English the ‘language of hell’, my parents rejected this view. The kampung’s belief stemmed from the experience of a young man from Jebong, two miles from our home, who, instead of reciting Islamic holy verses on his deathbed, had rambled wildly in English. The villagers assumed he had been affected by Christian holy water when the poor soul was actually delirious with high fever. Following the incident, many Malay pupils were pulled out of English schools by alarmed parents. A teacher friend, Jamil bin Abdul Rahman, never quite forgot that he was a hapless victim of the ‘language of hell’ campaign.

Several years later, when fear of the campaign had subsided, another religious figure went around the village condemning parents who had children in English schools, cadet corps and athletic teams. “Only education to prepare oneself for the next life is important”, he preached. He brought fear to the hearts of many when he campaigned that a Muslim who touched or walked under the shadow of the statue of either the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ would automatically become infidels.

Fortunately, the English school I attended, the King Edward VII School in Taiping, had no such statues. No Malay students attended the neighbouring St George’s Institution as it was run by white priests in black robes. The poor victims of his preaching were a handful of Malay girls who attended the Taiping Convent School, where a statue of the Virgin Mary holding a cross stood in its front yard. The girls were pulled out of school en masse. How they suffered! The one girl who remained, Don from Trong, became the first Malay nurse in the Larut and Matang District.

It was not that my father took Islam lightly, but he often asked, “Is Islam not in pursuit of progress?” He stuck to his beliefs, and we continued to attend English school. However, I must add that not all religious leaders were barriers to progress.

My father liked to experiment, as he cared about bringing knowledge and progress to the Malay community. One such experiment was his sending Malay newspapers from our home to the mosque, encouraging villagers to read them in between prayers, rather than just making small talk. For this action he was branded a ‘Satan’.

Despite his controversial ideas, my father was as devout a Muslim as any. He prayed the requisite five times a day, fasted throughout the month of Ramadan, donated to many religious and charitable causes, and had performed the haj three times, even though once was sufficient.

Perhaps Malay newspapers had some influence on his thinking. While we were still young, he forced us to read these periodicals so as to follow current events and widen our horizons. I am proud to have had such a father, in contrast to my friends’ parents.

I often heard the Convent School termed an arpang school when arpang meant nothing in Malay. Much later in life, I found out that arpang came from the English word ‘orphan’ as most convents housed orphans. Years later, when government and private sector jobs were mainly filled by non-Malays, religious teachers suddenly stopped their campaigns.

In fact, they openly encouraged their own children to go for higher education. When questioned what had happened to the old ‘language of hell’ sermons, they were quick to reply that past religious teachers were not precise in translating Islamic teachings. After all, Prophet Mohammed s.a.w. himself had urged Muslims, “Go in search of knowledge, even to China.” Where was this advice when I was growing up?

My diligent father earned a regular salary, but with the help of a rubber smallholding and my mother’s kampung-style economy, we lived very well. The kampung folk and the Chinese shopkeepers called us anak tok kerani or ‘master clerk’s son’, and gave us special treatment and attention. Despite these blessings, our wise father taught us to be enterprising and resourceful. For a small fee, we were asked to weed our rubber smallholding, to tap rubber and to look for weeds and grass for our chickens, ducks and goats. Sometimes, Father paid us by weight, so we looked for weeds and grass that grew near drains, for they were thicker and heavier when wet.

Before the arrival of cars in Matang, my father bought a buggy, pulled by an enormous horse and steered by an Indian syce. Soon after, another buggy was seen in Matang, belonging to Mr Alexander Keir, the Principal of the Matang Malay Teachers’ College. He was later appointed Inspector of Schools for the state of Perak.

When the price of rubber plummeted and more of his children were attending school, my father’s financial situation weakened, but I never once heard him complain. He went to and from work in mended and remended clothes. From smoking ‘Capstan’ or ‘White Tin’ cigarettes, he switched to the cheaper ‘Double Eagle’ or ‘Bird Cigarette’ brands.

When I sought his permission to join a private tuition class, he readily gave me $10 per month, saying softly, “Yes, do join the class. I will look for the money, don’t you worry.” The amount then could support a whole family for an entire month. I felt grateful because my friends who could not afford private tuition were often caned for not being ‘clever enough’.

One pupil bled when a teacher, shouting “Sa Pristi, young rascal”, caned him with all the strength he could muster. That was my earliest awareness of an effect of poverty on the Malays.

What did we gain from private tuition? This teacher collected us in his house and then instructed us to copy a picture hanging on the wall, of a drowning boy being saved by a winged Christian angel. Soon after he told us to go home. Two days later, he conducted a sketching test, asking all his pupils to draw the same picture. Naturally, those of us who had attended his private tuition fared well. The others, who could not afford ten dollars a month, were caned.

When the Japanese invaded Malaya in December 1941, as Vice President of KMM or the Young Malay Union (the first Malay political party in Malaya), I was ‘taken’ to move with them from Taiping to Singapore, where the British surrendered on 15 February 1942.

Yet, like most families, my family did not escape the war’s aftermath and hardships. To avoid undesirable incidents, my wife and three children hid in the jungle across the Larut River behind my father’s house. Carrying our three-month-old baby in her arms with two other children tugging on her sarong, she camped in the jungle for many weeks. There, our baby slept in a cradle made by tying an old sarong to a tree branch.

When the situation improved, they only hid from dawn to dusk. As the Japanese had taken me away with just the clothes on my back, I was not able to leave any ‘Japanese amulet’ (a special Japanese-stamped letter), which could guarantee safety to the bearer and his property.

One day, a team of Japanese soldiers came to commandeer my car from under my father’s house. My brother Osman tried to explain that I had been ‘taken’ to Singapore by Japanese officers, but they refused to listen, pointing a bayonet at Osman instead. My car was towed away on the pretext of being repaired. We never saw it again.

On another occasion, the Japanese came to commandeer my brother Alli’s car. Osman told them that Alli had taken the keys, but he was threatened again, this time with a sword. My ailing mother fainted from the stress. When she regained consciousness, she asked Osman to look for Alli to get the keys. When Alli returned with a ‘Japanese amulet’ he carried as Deputy State Forest Officer for Perak, the Japanese left his car alone.

Fear and worrying about my family always having to hide in the jungle aggravated my mother’s health. She died four months later in April 1942 at 57. Alli and Yahaya, two of my brothers, also lost their lives during the Japanese Occupation.

In 1937, Alli, a Senior Cambridge certificate holder, was the first Secretary to the Perak Malay Association while Wan Mohd Nor bin Wan Nasir was President. The British, who suspected that the association was hostile to them and also anti-feudal, decided to weaken it by transferring Alli to Rompin in Pahang, and Wan Mohd Nor to Tanjung Malim in Perak. Laidin, the Treasurer, was likewise moved to Kuala Lumpur. This was before the association was taken over by Datuk Panglima Bukit Gantang, Abdul Wahab bin Toh Muda Abdul Aziz.

Before the Japanese Invasion, Alli had been an Assistant Forest Officer in Perak, but during the Japanese Occupation, he was appointed Deputy State Forest Officer for Perak. In July 1944, he was abducted by the communist-led Malayan People’s Anti Japanese Army (MPAJA) in Tanjung Tualang, Perak, and was believed to have been killed later. His assistant, however, was released after a beating.

My younger brother, Yahaya, a Senior Cambridge certificate holder as well as an Agriculture School Diploma holder, was working as an Agricultural Assistant in Jerantut, Pahang before the Japanese invasion. He was, in fact, the prime mover for KMM’s state branch in that part of the country.

In early December 1941, days before the invasion, Yahaya, together with many others, was arrested by the British for being a KMM member. He was first taken from Jerantut to Pudu Prison in Kuala Lumpur before being transferred to Changi Prison in Singapore.

A couple of days before the British surrendered on 15 February 1942, Yahaya was released, together with other prisoners including other jailed KMM members. I stumbled upon him a few days later at the Bukit Chermin Siamese Temple in Singapore, but could hardly recognise him. He had not shaved in over two months and was plastered with mud from
Japanese shelling.

During the Occupation, Yahaya was appointed Chief of Derris Tuba Experimental Farm in Som, Jerantut, Pahang. Towards the end of the war, Yahaya was killed by MPAJA guerrillas. His pregnant wife, who had cried out “If you kill him, you might as well kill me”, was also killed. Kampung folks buried the couple in an unmarked grave in Damak, Pahang.

Translated by Insun Sony Mustapha
Edited by Jomo K. S.

Publisher: Utusan Publications & Distributors Sdn Bhd
No. 1 & 3, Jalan 3/91A, Taman Shamelin Perkasa, Cheras, 56100 Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-9285 6577

Foreign Distributor: Singapore University Press Pte Ltd
Price: RM50.00

my comment

I am the grandson of Che Dun binti Ismail not Don and she came from Taiping and studied at the Treacher school. The only thing correct was she did became a nurse. She was married to Wahi Anuar who is more famous for marrying Shamshiah Fakeh of PKM and he was the Commandant of the 10 Malay Regiment of PKM before Abdullah C.D. and later Rashid Maidin. He was interred in Kamunting and later with the help of Aziz Ishak he work as the special Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture until 1971 and serve of what i know under three minister Tan Sri Khir the late Tan Sri Ghazali Jawi and the late Aziz Ishak.
My Step grand ma knows of your father but they are things that need to be corrected. Your grandfather is known as an aloof a man who keeps to himself who marries a half anglo woman very pretty but the truth is nobody knows of him neither do they knew of my Grandma or Grandfather. These are hidden heroes and history must record them as heroes. I would like to meet you and perhaps exchange anecdotes. The trouble with Perakians they love bloodline too much to show where they come from and thats a pity, My grandfather comes from Thailand his father was from the palace and like yours when he comes here he severe the title but unlike yours we still go back to Patanni and they still visit us and the suprising thing about it we never really severe the blood...... do write to me.......


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