This is KL’s real founder

So says Ab­dur-Raz­zaq Lu­bis in his new book on the en­tre­pre­neur Su­tan Puasa.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Culture - By ROUWEN LIN star2@thes­tar.com.my

SOME au­thors have a long list of things they would like their read­ers to take away from their book.

Not this man. In­de­pen­dent scholar and au­thor Ab­dur-Raz­zaq Lu­bis is quick with his an­swer when asked what he wants to get across in his book: that Su­tan Puasa is the founder of Kuala Lumpur. Pe­riod.

“With this project, I wanted to set the record straight that Su­tan Puasa was the real founder of KL.

“I am a di­rect de­scen­dant of Raja Bi­lah, a con­tem­po­rary of Su­tan Puasa, and it is a strong tra­di­tion among us Mandail­ings that he is the founder.

“All I had to do is prove the oral tra­di­tion with a writ­ten work that is backed by ver­i­fied facts and is aca­dem­i­cally de­fen­si­ble,” he says.

Su­tan Puasa: Founder Of Kuala Lumpur (Areca Books) is an ex­pan­sion of his aca­demic ar­ti­cle pub­lished in the Jour­nal Of South­east Asian Stud­ies in 2013, and in­cludes never-be­fore pub­lished doc­u­ments and pho­to­graphs per­tain­ing to KL.

When Lu­bis first em­barked on this project, he was in­formed that what­ever is known re­gard­ing KL has been writ­ten. But he did not let that faze him.

“Many peo­ple, in­clud­ing aca­demi­cians and schol­ars, told me that there was noth­ing else to write about, es­pe­cially about who founded the city.

“I was told there were hardly any doc­u­ments on KL, so the dis­cov­ery or un­cov­er­ing of these doc­u­ments and images was, of course, thrilling and de­light­ful, as they as­sisted me in telling the story of Su­tan Puasa and the de­vel­op­ment of the city,” he re­lates.

Work on the book started some five years ago, but it only took off in earnest two years later, when the re­quired fund­ing was ob­tained.

Lu­bis con­curs that the found­ing of KL is a much-de­bated topic – with Yap Ah Loy cred­ited as the founder in text­books, and Raja Ab­dul­lah be­ing that cen­tral fig­ure in sto­ries passed down in oral tra­di­tions – but is adamant that the story of Su­tan Puasa be told.

To sug­gest that rel­a­tively lit­tle has been said about Su­tan Puasa, and Lu­bis will tell you just how mis­taken you are.

“It is not com­pletely true that lit­tle has been said. If you read the colo­nial bu­reau­crat-scholar S.M. Mid­dle­brook’s bi­og­ra­phy of Yap Ah Loy, you will find Su­tan Puasa men­tioned in re­la­tion to the Chi­nese Kap­i­tans and the gen­eral his­tory of KL and Se­lan­gor. Eurasian planter Pasqual also wrote about him in the 1930s. He ap­pears in J.M. Gul­lick’s his­tory of KL, of which there were sev­eral ver­sions,” he shares.

Sources in Malay and Chi­nese fea­ture this man as well, ac­cord­ing to Lu­bis. “In other words, you must know where to look for him to find him,” he adds.

Still, Lu­bis notes that the ma­te­ri­als and writ­ten doc­u­ments on Su­tan Puasa are dis­parate, so what he has done is col­late them into a whole in the retelling of his story in this book.

He talks about him with a cer­tain fa­mil­iar­ity, not­ing that Su­tan Puasa came across as “a kind and gen­er­ous man, more of an en­tre­pre­neur and trader rather than a gover­nor and ad­min­is­tra­tor”.

This was a man who was em­broiled in the Klang War (18661873, fought be­tween Raja-Ab­dul­lah and Raja Mahdi) as a gen­eral, who saved the cit­i­zens of KL three times dur­ing the course of the long­est civil war in Se­lan­gor in the 19th cen­tury.

“In his role as the founder of KL, he acted like a set­tle­ment of­fi­cer, as he en­cour­aged fam­i­lies to set­tle, pro­vided them with seed fund­ing, and nur­tured the growth of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion.

“He de­vel­oped KL and the sur­round­ing ar­eas by com­mis­sion­ing the con­struc­tion of in­fra­struc­ture and en­cour­aged peo­ple to farm on his land on a usufruct (ten­ant) ba­sis, in re­turn for a tenth of the yield, col­lected on flex­i­ble and le­nient terms,” Lu­bis says.

In sum­mary, Su­tan Puasa was a min­ing en­tre­pre­neur, tin trader and agri­cul­tural pi­o­neer, the most suc­cess­ful non-Chi­nese en­tre­pre­neur in KL be­fore the Klang War, and still the wealth­i­est Mandail­ing after Bri­tish in­ter­ven­tion, he adds.

Ac­cord­ing to Lu­bis, it is thus er­ro­neous to sug­gest that only with the com­ing of Yap Ah Loy and the Bri­tish colo­nial­ists that KL was de­vel­oped.

“This is tan­ta­mount to say­ing that de­vel­op­ment only came with the Bri­tish colo­nial­ists and the Chi­nese. Su­tan Puasa saw to the pros­per­ity and de­vel­op­ment of KL by putting into place firm foun­da­tions for its progress and guar­an­tee­ing its con­tin­ued suc­cess.

“The Brits in­ter­vened at the in­sti­ga­tion of the agency houses and the Straits Set­tle­ments colony cap­i­tal­ist lobby as they wanted the lu­cra­tive tin mines all to them­selves and for their own profits,” he says.

Lu­bis muses that his in­ter­est in Su­tan Puasa stemmed from his fam­ily his­tory and af­fi­nal re­la­tion­ship with him, and the Mandail­ing tra­di­tion pro­vided the rest.

“This project to val­i­date this knowl­edge is close to my heart. It is mean­ing­ful not just to me but to the other Mandail­ings and other pribu­mis/bu­mipu­tras. The other scions of the soils such as the Mi­nangk­abau are also aware and con­scious of the role of Su­tan Puasa in the found­ing of KL. In this re­gard, it was im­por­tant that his story be told,” he stresses.

De­scrib­ing the book as a labour of love, al­beit one with a long ges­ta­tion pe­riod, Lu­bis is al­ready plan­ning a re­vised edi­tion that will in­clude ad­di­tional maps and doc­u­ments to lend fur­ther weight to the story.

“In telling the story of Su­tan Puasa, I am re­count­ing the story of the orig­i­nal peo­ple of Kuala Lumpur who were van­quished but who re­fused to be for­got­ten with the im­po­si­tion of the gen­er­ally en­forced nar­ra­tive.

“It is a come­back to tell our side of the story that has been sup­pressed by the Bri­tish and na­tion­al­ist his­to­ri­ans,” he says.

As for other books, Lu­bis is happy to let the topic of the found­ing of Kuala Lumpur rest for now, and is set­ting his sights on a se­ries on founders of other places, for in­stance, Ku­lop Riow, founder of Cameron High­lands; Imam Prang Jabaru­mun, founder of Kam­par, Perak; and Raja Barayun, founder of Ka­jang, Se­lan­gor. Ab­dul­lah Hukum, a pi­o­neer of KL, is also on his list. Su­tan Puasa: Founder Of Kuala Lumpur is avail­able at ma­jor book­stores in Kuala Lumpur and Pe­nang, in­clud­ing Areca Books, Ki­noku­niya, WHSmith, MPH and the Il­ham Gallery Gift Shop in Kuala Lumpur.

Su­tan Puasa: Founder Of Kuala Lumpur of­fers unique his­tor­i­cal images, such as this one from 1874 of Sul­tan Ab­dul Sa­mad, with mem­bers of his court at Ju­gra, Lan­gat, in Se­lan­gor. 1. Tungku Pan­glima Raja Berkat Riau, 2. Raja Mah­mud, 3. Syed Mash­hor, 4....

Kam­pung Rawa, the Mandail­ing-Rawa set­tle­ment that formed the core area of old KL at the south­ern end of Batu Road, on the western bank of the Klang River, circa 1890. This is the west­ward ex­ten­sion of the orig­i­nal Kam­pung Rawa, which was si­t­u­ated on...

The house of Su­tan Puasa’s nephew, Su­tan Man­gatas, on Chow Kit Road; in the book, it’s cap­tioned, ‘Fa­ther’s house nearly fin­ish, Jan. 1926’.

The book is a labour of love, says Lu­bis. — Areca Books

Su­tan Puasa’s res­i­dence at Batu 4¾, Gom­bak Road, KL, also re­ferred to as Batu 5, Gom­bak Road. The fam­ily be­lieves that this was his fi­nal res­i­dence be­fore he died in 1908. The house was de­mol­ished circa 1984.

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