February 7, 2010

Warrior Behind Malaysia Birthday - Don't Forget Them

Mat Kilau, the Malay warrior

OUT of the many Malay warriors of Pahang who stood up against the British in the late 1880’s, only one lived to witness with his very own eyes the nation’s independence.

He was Mat Kilau, the son of local chieftain Imam Perang Rasu (aka Tok Gajah), and one of the Malay warriors who rebelled between the 1880s and 1890s when the colonial masters extended their rule to Pahang.

Gallant walk: Mohamed bin Ibrahim being taken to the town hall to be declared the true Mat Kilau, the fighter against British rule

Mat Kilau even had the opportunity to shout the magical word “Merdeka” on August 31, 1957, something that his contemporaries Datuk Bahaman, Haji Abdul Rahman Limbong and Tok Janggut or the earlier ones like Datuk Maharaja Lela and Dol Said did not live to do.

But on that historic day, none of the hundreds who turned up at the state mosque field in Kuantan realised that the high-spirited but frail-looking centenarian standing among them was Mat Kilau, the man who once tormented the British.

Mat Kilau’s obscurity is equally legendary. The feared warrior went into oblivion for more than half a century as he was on the run after the British put a price on his head and branded him a traitor to the Sultan.

At the initial stages, Mat Kilau, Datuk Bahaman, Mat Kelubi, Awang Nong, Teh Ibrahim, Haji Mat Wahid and Mat Lela staged a formidable resistance that unnerved the British.

Mat Kilau and Datuk Bahaman’s names are etched in the nation’s annals as those responsible for the Lubuk Terua war where they attacked a police post set up by the British and fatally wounded two British policemen. They even conquered Temerloh.

However, with more reinforcement and a clever ploy of accusing the group of betraying the Sultan, the British succeeded in stopping more locals from joining the group and isolated it from the community. This eroded the group’s strength that at one time reached 600 and prompted them to flee.

Demise: Mat Kilau died at the age of 122 years on August 16, 1970. His body was buried in Pulau Tawar, Jerantut, Pahang.

The British continued to hunt them. Records show that his father Tok Gajah who was also involved in the resistance took refuge in Hulu Terengganu and died there, while Datuk Bahaman and several of his followers surrendered to the Siamese rulers.

What happened to Mat Kilau then is unclear till today but he definitely went through a lot of hardship especially when he had to move from place to place and take refuge under different names like Mat Dahan, Mat Dadu and Mat Siam.

After being on the run for many years, he returned to Pahang and settled in Kampung Batu 5, Gambang, Kuantan, under the name of Mohamed bin Ibrahim @ Mat Siam.

Mat Kilau’s real identity only came out into the open when he himself made a declaration after the Friday prayers at the Pulau Tawar mosque in Jerantut on Dec 26, 1969. After months of research and investigations, the Pahang state government finally confirmed that he was indeed Mat Kilau.

Unfortunately 10 days after the confirmation, Mat Kilau died on Aug 16, 1970, at his home in Kampung Batu 5. He is said to have died at the age of 122 based on his estimated birth year of 1847.

He was buried with full honours befitting a national hero at his birthplace, Kampung Masjid Pulau Tawar, Jerantut.

His adopted son who later became his son-in-law as well, Abu Bakar Awang, 80, said that before he revealed his real identity he was very evasive each time when asked about his background. Mat Kilau probably feared that he was yet to be pardoned for the allegations that he had betrayed the Sultan.

During the uprising, Pahang was under the reign of Sultan Ahmad Al-Muazam Shah.

He waited almost 12 years after independence to reveal that he was Mat Kilau as he feared the Sultan hadn’t forgiven him,” said Abu Bakar.

One of his daughters, Aminah, 80, when met at her home in Kampung Batu 5, confirmed that before Mat Kilau declared his actual identity, none of his children had the faintest idea that their father known as Mat Siam was actually a warrior dreaded by the English.

Aminah is among four out of Mat Kilau’s five surviving children who have settled around Kuantan. The others are Sabariah, Abdul Rahman, Salamah and Razali, while the eldest, Zaleha, married to Abu Bakar, died in 1978.

Continuing the story, Abu Bakar, despite his advanced age, recalled vividly Mat Kilau’s excitement on the run-up to the proclamation of independence.

“On that day (Aug 31, 1957), he woke up early and after the subuh (dawn) prayer he got ready to leave for Kuantan as he was aware that the proclamation was also being held in the states, other than at Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.

“I was wondering why he was so eager to go to the state mosque field. Even though he was more than 100 years old then, I noticed he was so excited to celebrate the historic occasion,” he said.

Abu Bakar who is the lead instructor of Seni Silat Tapak Setia Suci, the art of self-defence he inherited from his warrior father-in-law, remembered clearly how Mat Kilau had donned a white round-necked T-shirt with a grey overcoat and a kain sampin wrapped over the top part of his dark long pants. He wore shoes and his head was wrapped with a piece of cloth known as kain cindai.

“Even I was intrigued where he got all those things and what the kain cindai signified,” he said.

According to tradition, the kain cindai is a piece of silk cloth used by Malay warriors to wrap around their head before getting into the ring to confront their foes.

Abu Bakar said the bizzare clothing and behaviour prompted Mat Kilau’s wife Ajrah Bakar to reproach him, asking, “what’s wrong with you?”.

Upon getting ready, Abu Bakar and Mat Kilau left the house together and waited for the free bus ride made available by the authorities in conjunction with the celebration.

Though the bus was packed with people, nothing could deter Mat Kilau who was obviously impatient to get to the field.

“When we arrived at the field, we waited for the proclamation of independence. We managed to see the parade ... there were decorated cars too and he (Mat Kilau) was visibly exulted,” Abu Bakar recalled.

When the shouts of Merdeka began, Mat Kilau too joined in chorus.

While at the field Mat Kilau told Abu Bakar, “see, who would have thought I too will live to see this country’s independence”.

This made Abu Bakar wonder what this man was actually trying to say.

Abu Bakar, who lived with Mat Kilau since the age of 18, noted that his father-in-law felt contented with the opportunity to shout “Merdeka” at the field in Kuantan.

He was too feeble to go the Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur to witness the proclamation of independence there.

Abu Bakar said the declaration of Merdeka was probably the most defining moment for the warrior who tried to defend his race, religion and the sovereignty of his nation from occupation by foreign powers.

Abu Bakar now hopes that some historical texts especially those describing him as someone who betrayed the Sultan be revised.

“The English labelled Mat Kilau and his colleague Datuk Bahaman as rebels and traitors just to hoodwink the people so that they wouldn’t support their struggle,” said Abu Bakar, who is also the Kampung Batu 5 headman.

Mat Kilau’s grandson, Alhamadi Abu Bakar, 40, said though his grandfather did not leave any wealth, he left a legacy and unparalleled gallantry to be inherited by the coming generations in defending the nation from various forms of colonisation. –

Articles & photo

Mat Kilau - Pahang Warrior and Patriot

Mat Kilau was born in 1847 in Kampung Masjid Pulau Tawar, near Jerantut, Pahang, son of Khatib Rasu (later Imam Perang Indera Gajah) or Tok Gajah, who was one of the district chiefs of Pahang.

He married Yang Chik binti Imam Daud of Kampung Kedondong, when he was 20 years old, and had three children, one of whom, Omar, was to help him when he re-emerged from silence in 1969.

It was said that Mat Kilau learnt the finer art of silat and spiritual knowledge only after his marriage and one of his masters was his father.

His father, Tok Gajah or Imam Rasu bin Shahrom, fought many victorious battles for Sultan Ahmad, and is reputed to be able to lift a house by himself.

portrait of mat kilau at the pahang heroes muzium
Mat Kilau also studied religion and spiritual matters under the tutelage of Haji Osman, also known as Haji Muntuk, the religious man who later was to be appointed as Mufti of Pahang.

Mat Kilau joined the rebellion against the British imperialism (Pahang Rebellion 1891 – 1895) when he was 44 years old. Tok Gajah (his father) and the Panglima Kakap and later Orang Kaya Pahlawan Perkasa Semantan, Datuk Bahaman bin Dato’ Imam Noh, were some of his famous comrades-in-arms against the British during the period.


Mat Kilau showed his talent and genius while still young. He was an excellent Quran reader as a child, knowing various forms of Quranic recitation styles. In his teenage years, he excelled in the Malay traditional games of top spinning and "berlaga buah keras" and was always appointed the captain of his kampung team against neighbouring village teams.

It was as chief of his kampung’s game (animal) hunting that exposed him to the secrets of the jungle. And this intimate knowledge of the forests and jungle stood him in good stead when he later fought the British imperialists in the late 1880s.

But he is awed and respected by his followers because of his unusual or supernatural abilities in the physical and spiritual realms.

Amongst others, it is said that:-

* He can kill a person with just his bare hands.
* He can lift and carry a cow or bull alone by himself.
* He can eat fish with the bones intact, without internal injuries.
* He can drink poisonous drinks without any effect.
* He only used a stick and bamboo during fights with the British army, who used gunfire.
* He can make himself looked real dead and disappear from enemies.


The British had actually been misled by Mat Kilau into thinking that he was dead, ending their various pursuits in the jungles of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan, which they tried in vain many times previously.

mat kilau at 122 years old
There were actually two versions of his death recorded in the history books. One version is that he died during an ambush by Siamese soldiers at a ceremony in Kelantan . Another version is that he died on the way to the Kuala Reh beach. These deaths were believed to have occurred around 1895.

It is interesting to note on the first version that he actually pretended dead, since he possessed this supernatural ability to stop heart and breathing movements for a few hours, making his death looked authentic, even upon examination. It was said that a banana stem was later inserted in place of his body into the grave.

When he re-emerged in 1969, the public was informed that he had made a pledge to Sultan Abdullah of Pahang, to stay peacefully in the state and not to reveal his true identity to anyone.

Mat Kilau led a quiet life at Kampung Batu 5, Jalan Kuantan, Pekan for more than 35 years. During this quiet period he assumed various names, including Mat Siam.

He came out in the open on 26th December 1969, accompanied by his son, Omar bin Mat Kilau, and announced his true identity at the Masjid (Mosque) Pulau Tawar, near Jerantut. He was about 122 years old then.


As news reports proliferated on the emergence of this legendary warrior, the Pahang State Government subsequently formed a special Committee on the 8th of January 1970, to check the veracity and authenticity of his claim.

Counter-checks were made on his history and stories of his plights and ventures were corroborated and other evidences submitted before the Committee made the final decision.

His smooth and correct answers to the Committee’s deep queries on historical matters and made without hesitation, plus his mannerism and conduct and comfortable use of uncommon palace language during his meeting with the Sultan of Pahang, were substantial proofs of his genuine claim.

Physically, the big mole on his right cheek, a long mole below the left shoulder and visible, old bullet scars on his shoulders and body, plus an additional flesh on the small toe of his foot, tallied with his old identity and history.

He also has a special short stick with the hilt of a carved head of a bird. And it was said that he actually only use the stick and sometimes a sharp bamboo ("buluh runcing") when fighting or going to battle with the British.


The stick or sharp bamboo he used as a weapon is actually the "sulur bertam", a cane –like plant that grows high on the mountains in Pahang.

The sulur bertam is dangerous to humans, and it may cause paralysis when one is hit by the cane.

It is said that another legendary Malay warrior, the Orang Kaya Semantan, Datuk Bahaman, also used this sulur bertam as his weapon.


After close to seven months of investigation, on 6th August 1970, the then Menteri Besar of Pahang, Tan Sri Haji Yahaya Mohd Seth, announced the Committee’s findings and verdict.

The Committee declared and officially verified that the said Mat Siam is truly the legendary Pahang warrior and patriot Mat Kilau, the son of Tok Gajah.


But as destiny would have it, just four days after the announcement of the Committee’s findings, Mat Kilau died. The great man passed away before the public had even then to fully digest from the mouth of the man who made history himself, more stories of his exploits and deeds.

But life’s like that sometimes.

He was buried at Kampung Kedondong, a village about two miles above Pulau Tawar, near the grave of his mother, Teh Mahada.

A grandson, Ibrahim bin Omar, about 70 years old now, still lives in Kampung Bukit Rang, Pulau Tawar.

Well, Mat Kilau, a legendary warrior, a valiant fighter and patriot, and a true son of Pahang, is no more.

But his name and exploits shall forever be etched in the annals of Malaysian history, for his indefatigable leadership and bravery against heavy odds.

He may have lost the battles against an imperial power but he had won the ultimate endearment of all patriots, not only of Pahang but everywhere in Malaysia.

His fighting spirit and valor in times of national need shall perhaps be a model for future generations to follow.

He is depicted in the Pahang Heroes Museum (Muzium Tokoh Pahang) in Kuantan, and a brief history of his stoic resistance against the British imperialism can be read there.

As always, from me ...
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From traitor to patriot

HERE’S a twist to history. Ninety-two years ago, Merdeka was “declared” — in May, 1915 — in the district of Pasir Putih in Kelantan. That was 42 years and three months before the August 31, 1957, declaration!

It was rebel Malay leader Tok Janggut who declared the district of Pasir Putih free from British rule but the “declaration” was short-lived. Pasir Putih is the southernmost district along the east coast in Kelantan bordering Besut in Terengganu.

Tok Janggut and several followers were killed in battle by British soldiers summoned from Singapore. They came in a gunboat armed with large cannons.

His body was paraded in a bullock cart around Kota Baru and later, in a final act of indignation, it was covered with only a loincloth and hung upside down near the Kelantan River for four hours for public viewing. He was later buried on the opposite bank.

Tok Janggut, whose real name was Haji Mat Hassan bin Panglima Munas, was from Jeram, Pasir Putih. He had long since being reinstated as a national hero. His grave is now under a hut with tiled roof and surrounded by concrete walls. A Tourism Malaysia signboard tells about his exploits and untimely death on May 24, 1915.

A school in Pasir Putih has been named after him and there is a monument by the Semerak River, complete with keris, spears, tengkolok (head gear) and two pictures of the fallen hero but there is no signboard to inform outsiders what the monument is all about.

Tok Janggut shares a special place in history alongside other heroes who stood up against the British colonial masters.

Among them were Datuk Maharaja Lela and Datuk Sagor in Perak, Datuk Bahaman, Datuk Gajah, Mat Kilau and Mat Seman (Mat Kelantan) in Pahang. Datuk Dol Said in Naning, Negeri Sembilan, and Haji Abdul Rahman Limbong in Terengganu.

Others were Mat Saleh and Antanum in Sabah, and Sharif Masahor, Rentap, Banting, Asun and Rosli Dobi in Sarawak. The main bone of contention among the “rebels” was the excessive and unfair tax and insensitive meddling in local affairs and customs by the new “masters”.

Tok Janggut Trail

Recently, a group of journalists and tour agents went on a tour of various historical sites in Kelantan including to Pasir Putih. We stopped at Kampung Dalam Pupuh, the battle site between Tok Janggut and the British. Formerly a padi field, this is now abandoned and covered by small trees.

We met Yatim Awang, 96, a descendant of Tok Janggut. Yatim’s father (Awang) was one of the 43 villagers suspected of taking part in the rebellion. He was taken to Singapore where he died in prison.

We were shown a cluster of four coconut trees behind Yatim’s house where he said the bodies of local fighters Tok Hussin and Tok Abas, who were killed in battle, were secretly buried by villagers.

They dared not tell anyone about the graves for fear that the British would treat them like they did with Tok Janggut’s body. So instead of batu nesan (tombstones) to mark the graves, coconut palms were planted.

We also stopped at Pasir Putih to see Tok Janggut’s monument by the Semerak River, complete with pictures of his corpse – a close up shot of his face and another showing the body hanging upside down by the Kelantan River, guarded by a soldier.

The author of the book, Tok Janggut, Pejuang atau Penderhaka, Prof Nik Anuar Nik Mahmud of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia uncovered the pictures tucked away in the Bodleian Library Oxford, England when he went there to do research.

According to him, after the Tok Janggut rebellion episode, the British officer who documented the incident was told to destroy all records but instead these were secretly hidden and finally made their way to Oxford.

The book, published two years ago, also showed the execution of Berahim Teleng, one of Tok Janggut’s followers, by firing squad. Other pictures showed British soldiers resting after the battle.

We also saw Tok Janggut’s grave. Previously unmarked, it was given its due respect by the State government long after Merdeka.

At the Kota Baru War Museum, Nik Anuar said that the British exploited the Tok Janggut affair further by using their stooges in the government and forcing the palace to endorse their action.

Tok Janggut was portrayed as penderhaka (traitor) to the sultan even though he had explained that he was only rebelling against the British rule.

Nik Anuar said the prelude to the Tok Janggut uprising was the Bangkok Treaty on March 10, 1909, when Britain and Siam (Thailand) agreed to share the States of north and eastern Malaya without consulting the local chiefs and the people.

Britain took control of Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Terengganu while Siam took Patani, Menara, Jalor and Setol.

He said that earlier, in 1902, Siam had conquered Pattani, known in the Malay world as “Serambi Mekah” (the corridor of Mecca) by ousting its last ruler Tengku Abdul Kadir Kamaruddin.

“Sir John Anderson, the British governor of the Straits Settlement arrived at Kota Baru from Singapore on a gunboat in 1910 and forced Long Senik, local chieftain to accept the British direct rule over Kelantan,” he said.

“Long Senik was powerless to fight the British and on Oct 22 that year, he was forced to recognise the Bangkok Treaty and in return the British recognised him as Sultan Mahmud – IV. He was given $2,000 as allowance and $4,800 annually as pension.

“State administration was by order of British Advisors and administration of districts was under district officers (DO) who were outsiders, either British or locals. One such DO, Abdul Latif from Singapore, was given the mandate to rule Pasir Putih.”

His harsh and unfair rule was the last straw for Tok Janggut and his followers who caused the DO to flee to Kota Baru.

The British forced the locals to pay a high tax per head as well as tax on beetle nuts and coconuts. Some lost their land titles and inheritance. In protest, Tok Janggut and his followers boycotted the tax collection exercise.

“Tok Janggut went to Mecca to perform the Haj in 1914. There, he met with and received religious instructions from Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fatani who entrusted him with the task of launching a jihad (holy war) against Siam to free Pattani.

“His enlightenment against foreign exploitation and oppression of the Muslim world was further reinforced by a fatwa (decree) issued by the mufti of Ottoman Turkey that all Muslims must fight against British direct rule. World War I began that year and Turkey took Germany’s side against Britain.

“Alarmed, the British used every method to stop Muslims in its colonies from carrying out the fatwa. In Kelantan they forced the sultan to give a written support to the British government.

“The harsh treatment meted out to Tok Janggut and his followers was not only an insult to local customs but was also against basic human decency,” he said.

Nik Anuar, a direct descendant of Tok Janggut whose family emigrated from Pattani, said his book had put the facts down and that he was glad Tok Janggut had finally been given a rightful place in history as a freedom fighter.

Early Invasions

AS we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Merdeka, let us not forget that we received deliverance from a series of exploiters and colonial masters over several millennia.

In the 14th Century, the Malacca Sultanate covered the Malayan peninsular as well as parts of Indochina and Sumatera. It was a prosperous free port for a century but the arrival of the orang putih (white men) ruined everything.

With the arrival of the Portuguese in 1511, Malacca was reduced from a big kingdom to its present size. After ruling for 130 years, they were ousted by the Dutch in 1641. In turn, Dutch rule ended and the British took over after the signing of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty in 1824. But the British first came here in 1786 with Captain Francis Light taking over Penang.

In the beginning, these colonial masters comprised, not the British government, but big corporations like The British East India Company and the North Borneo Charter Company together with their counterpart, the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

The British ruled Malaya for 120 years until World War II (Dec 8, 1941 to Sept 13, 1945) when they were chased out by the Japanese.

The Japanese Occupation lasted three years and eight months. Two weeks of lawlessness followed as the Bintang Tiga (communist) terrorised the country, taking advantage of the lull in transition between the end of the Occupation and the return of the British.

The British ruled Malaya again, successfully weathering the Malayan Communist Party’s military uprising (Emergency) for 12 years between 1948 and 1960.

In all fairness, the British were the most civil of the colonial masters as they left behind not only physical infrastructures but also acted as mentor to the fledgling nation.

The British helped mobilise personnel and resources during Malaya’s efforts to repel attacks from Indonesia during the Konfrantasi (confrontation) when President Sukarno protested against North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak’s plan to join Malaya. Nevertheless, they did and the nation became Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963.

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Dol Said, The Naning warrior

Dol Said or in full Dato' Abdul Said was a 19th century Malay leader of an area called Naning, which was then part of Malacca on the Malay Peninsula. He opposed taxation by the British's taxation policy in the area and refused to pay it. This was a direct cause of a conflict known as the Naning War.

Dol Said's defiance led the British to send 150 soldiers in July 15th 1831 to capture Naning led by Captain Wyllie. Naning however successfully defended itself-guerrilla style- with aid from other Malay allies, which includes Seri Menanti, Sungai Ujong, Johol and Muar. The British realised that Naning can't easily be attacked, so British requested reinforcement from Yamtuan Muda Raja Ali in Rembau. Raja Ali agreed to send 600 troops to assist British on the attack of Naning. Later in March 1832, British sent a larger force, consisted of 1200 troops, to defeat Dol Said's force. Colonel Herbert led in this assault against Naning. In the second attack, Naning failed to receive military aids from his neighbors. Such failure along with the presence of a huge British expedition forced Dol Said to retreat to Sri Menanti before surrendering himself, effectively ending the war. British then combined Malacca and Naning. Dol said was given a home in Malacca. Till today, Dol Said is still known as a hero in Malaysia.

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Remember our heroes, says Raja Nazrin


By Minderjeet Kaur

KUALA LUMPUR: Merdeka Day should mean more than the annual parade and the Malaysian flag flying from tall buildings.

Raja Muda of Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah said it should also be about the unsung heroes who fought and died to achieve the country's independence in 1957.

"We should remember them. They are the country's treasure," he said at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) here yesterday.

Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka language planning officer Fauziah Hassan looking at one of the books by Syed Hussein Alatas after the launch of the seminar yesterday on his legacy of thoughts. — NST picture by Ahmad Irham Mohd Noor
Among the heroes, he said, were Mat Kilau, Dol Said, Maharaja Lela, Tuk Gajah, Tunku Kudin, Pandak Endut.

Raja Nazrin, speaking at a seminar organised by DBP on the "Legacy of Syed Hussein Alatas's Thoughts", became emotional as he spoke about the academician's contribution to the country.

He said Syed Hussein was a hero who respected freedom of thought and promoted harmony and social justice.

He added that the writer had tackled various issues, including the poor distribution of income and corruption, through his books such as Myth of Lazy Natives, Intellectuals in Developing Societies and Corruption: Its Nature, Causes and Functions.

Stressing that corruption was disgusting, Raja Nazrin said the problem was becoming widespread throughout the world. It could be seen in palaces, public and private service, political organisations and within uniformed bodies.

"It brings back a system of slavery, covered cosmetically, giving a false sense of beauty and joy to those who practise it. It brings a country and a person down.

"We have so many national heroes and we should continue to explore their philosophy in books, speeches and writings and keep them as the country's treasure.

"If we do not compile their work, our treasure might be buried and historical facts changed to suit the needs of political parties."

Raja Nazrin said it was crucial to remember historical events such as the signing of the Merdeka Agreement by the rulers of the Federated Malay States and Unfederated Malay States on Aug 5, 1957, which allowed the formation of a Malay regiment, guaranteed the sovereignty of the Malay rulers, and declared Islam as the official religion and the Malay language as the official language.

It also gave the responsibility of looking after the special position of the Malays and the legitimate rights of the other races to the Malay rulers.

Raja Muda of Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah says the unsung heroes who fought to achieve independence are the country’s treasure

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