Sutan Puasa: Founder of Kuala Lumpur


Sutan Puasa: Founder of Kuala Lumpur by Abdur-Razzaq Lubis


Who is the real founder of Kuala Lumpur? This issue has been debated passionately for almost a century. The official version or ‘Malay’ version credits Raja Abdullah (a Bugis rather than Malay chief) with the establishment of Kuala Lumpur, while the Chinese regard Yap Ah Loy as the legendary founder. If there was a Chinese founder he would have been the first Capitan China of Kuala Lumpur, but Yap Ah Loy was the third. The ‘founding myth’ of Kuala Lumpur is revealed in a survey of contemporary literature disclosing the disagreements as to the origin and the founding father of the capital city of Malaysia. Even the name Kuala Lumpur has been problematized on the premise that it is not in keeping with Malay usage. Various hypothesis have been put forth as to the origin of the name Kuala Lumpur, ranging from ‘Pengkalen Lumpur’ (Pangkalan Lumpur) to the Cantonese word, lam-pa. A highly respected historian of Kuala Lumpur thereby concluded that ‘The origin of the local name will probably never be established.’ This work attempts to offer a satisfactory explanation to resolve this issue once and for all.

In terms of who was first on the spot, we know that Sutan Puasa was in Kuala Lumpur before 1850. Hui Siew and (Yap) Ah Sze Keledek were there in 1857. Liu Ngim Kong alias Pak Loh Tsi appeared in Kuala Lumpur in 1861. All there men were invited to come over to Kuala Lumpur by Sutan Puasa. Yap Ah Loy only showed up in Kuala Lumpur in 1862. Sutan Puasa sanctioned the appointment of each Capitan China of Kuala Lumpur of that period, from Hui Siew (1859) to Liu Ngim Kong (1862) to Yap Ah Loy (1869).

Subject matter: ‘Sutan Puasa, The Founder of Kuala Lumpur’ chronicles the story of entrepreneur Sutan Puasa, from his migration from Mandailing in Sumatra to his eventual settlement and founding of Kuala Lumpur circa 1830s. From its inception, Kuala Lumpur was a riverine landing stage serving the mining settlements in the interior. Its growth as an interior trading post and thriving multicultural commercial centre was spearheaded through the visionary leadership of Sutan Puasa. By 1850 there were already two business streets which under colonial rule became Market Street (Leboh Pasar Besar) and Java Street (Mountbatten Road/Jalan Tun Perak). Sutan Puasa himself lived on Ampang Street before moving to Batu Road (Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman) and finally to Chow Kit Road. A pioneer agriculturalist, Sutan Puasa opened up the areas upriver of Kuala Lumpur in Setapak, Segambut and Gombak for irrigated paddy fields to feed the miners and the general populace, and developed jungle paths around Kuala Lumpur to facilitate transportation and communication with the metropolis. Besides having diversified mining and agricultural investments, Sutan Puasa was also a ‘Taukeh Labur’ (investment tycoon) for Chinese mines. He invited the first Chinese traders to Kuala Lumpur. Sutan Puasa’s control of Kuala Lumpur was undermined through the agency of British intervention during the Klang War (1867–1873), the longest civil strife in nineteenth century Malaya. At the conclusion of the war, the British handed over the helm of Kuala Lumpur to Yap Ah Loy, the third Kapitan China of Kuala Lumpur. Sutan Puasa remained a tin trader and merchant until his death in 1908. He is buried at the Ampang Muslim cemetery. In 1880 the capital of Selangor was moved to Kuala Lumpur and in 1896 Kuala Lumpur emerged as the capital of the Federated Malay States (FMS).



A Note on Mandailing Names and Titles
A note on general historical sources
A note on Malay/Jawi sources
A note on Chinese Sources and Sources on Yap Ah Loy
Introduction to Selected Cultural Groups
Biographies of Mandaling Personalities and A Few of Their Allies
The Story of Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur, Place Name and Founder
The Padri War and The Sumatran Diaspora
The Mandailings in the ‘Western Malay States’
The Mandailings in Klang
The Expansion of Mining in Klang
The Genesis of the Klang War
Alliances and Enmities in the Klang War
The Conclusion of the Klang War
Kuala Lumpur in Transition
‘Sutan Puasa’s Rebellion’
Sutan Puasa Returns to Kuala Lumpur


About the Author

Abdur-Razzaq Lubis (also known by his Mandailing name, Namora Sende Loebis) is an author and activist who writes on the environment, and the social history and cultural heritage of Perak, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Sumatra, Indonesia. His publications include Perak Postcards: 1890s-1940s (2010), Kinta Valley: Pioneering Malaysia’s Modern Development (2005) and Raja Bilah and the Mandailings in Perak: 1875-1911(2003).

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