Terms to determine the founder of KL April 4, 2019 – Posted in: In The News

I refer to the letter by Dr Pushpa Al Bakri Devadason, “Putting history into perspective” (The Star, March 27). Allow me to enlighten readers about who exactly is the “founder” of Kuala Lumpur based upon authoritative sources.

To determine the true founder of Kuala Lumpur, one first needs to define the term “founder”.

If it refers to “originator”, “establisher” or, as stated by Sharon A. Carstens, as “the first important person on the scene”, the founder is arguably Hiu Siew, the first Kapitan Cina of Kuala Lumpur.

At the behest of Sutan Puasa (a Mandailing tin trader and merchant who lived near the mining settlement of Ampang), Hiu Siew and his business partner, Ah Sze, left Lukut around 1859 and settled at a place near the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers (heart of Kuala Lumpur). They established a trading post comprising a few huts after clearing the jungle which, as stated by S. M. Middlebrook (a British civil servant), became known as Kuala Lumpur.

In a similar vein, J. M. Gullick, author of The Story of Kuala Lumpur (1857-1939), states that this trading post marks “the origin of Kuala Lumpur itself”.

According to Frank Swettenham (British Resident of Selangor), Kuala Lumpur in 1872 was a “purely Chinese village, consisting of two rows of adobe-built dwellings, thatched with palm leaves.”

If the term “founder” refers to “builder”, “prime mover” or, in the words of Carstens, as “the person who expended the most effort in the early years to build and develop the city”, the founder of Kuala Lumpur is undoubtedly Yap Ah Loy, its third Kapitan Cina (1868–1885).

All historians worth their salt will admit that Yap Ah Loy was primarily responsible for transforming Kuala Lumpur from a mining village into a leading commercial and mining centre after it was largely destroyed during the Selangor Civil War (1867-1873).

He played a major role in rebuilding Kuala Lumpur, virtually kept it free of crime, built cart roads to the mines in the vicinity and imported thousands of Chinese labourers to work in his mines and other enterprises. As aptly stated by Gullick, “Down to 1879, Yap Ah Loy was Mr Kuala Lumpur. It was his place.” He adds further that Yap Ah Loy raised Kuala Lumpur “from an obscure mining village to become the most important town in the Malay Peninsula.”

In the words of Dr Ahmad Kamal Ariffin (senior lecturer, History Department, Universiti Malaya), “Yap’s name is synonymous with Kuala Lumpur because if not for his contributions, the city may not be the national capital today.”

Sutan Puasa was neither an “originator” nor a “prime mover” in the origins and development of Kuala Lumpur.

He lived near the tin mining settlement of Ampang whereas Kuala Lumpur grew from the original trading post established by Hiu Siew (the first Kapitan Cina) and his business partner, Ah Sze, a fact clearly ascertained by both Middlebrook and Gullick.

Dr. Ranjit Singh Malhi

Indeed, C. Mary Turnbull in her book, A History of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, has stated that Ampang and Kuala Lumpur in the 19th century were two distinct geographical areas.

In terms of developing Kuala Lumpur, Sutan Puasa pales in comparison with Yap Ah Loy who, in the words of Gullick, was a “leader in war, an administrator and a mining magnate”.

DR RANJIT SINGH MALHI, Kuala Lumpur

This letter was first published on Thursday, 28 Mar 2019 in The Star

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