Who really founded KL: Yap Ah Loy … or Sutan Puasa? June 27, 2019 – Posted in: Uncategorized

Rouwen Lin

Some authors have a long list of things they would like their readers to take away from their books. Not this author. Independent scholar 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.

Photos from nonfiction book Sutan Puasa: Founder Of Kuala Lumpur by Abdur-Razzaq Lubis
The book is a labour of love, says Lubis. Photo: Areca Books

“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 (1866-1873, fought between RajaAbdullah 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.

Photos from nonfiction book Sutan Puasa: Founder Of Kuala Lumpur by Abdur-Razzaq Lubis
Image of 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.

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.

Photos from nonfiction book Sutan Puasa: Founder Of Kuala Lumpur by Abdur-Razzaq Lubis
The photo of the house of Sutan Puasa’s nephew, Sutan Mangatas, on Chow Kit Road in the book is captioned, ‘Father’s house nearly finish, Jan. 1926’.

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.

This article first appeared in The Star on 11 July 2018.

Readers’ comments

July 11, 2018 at 12:35 pm
Historical facts is fact..
Who really founded KUALA LUMPUR !!!
There is always some so called historian want to rewrite history so let it be.
If they insist it is Sutan Puasa
so be it.
…No point to argue and fight over the founder.

.and be stressed over the claims.
Its aredy history..

July 11, 2018 at 1:04 pm

The truth will always remains. Unlike or otherwise to change the history is ashamed to those claims for names but lack of proof.

Reza hamid rhosky
July 11, 2018 at 1:48 pm

Not only the mandailings, the baweans and kerinchis also play a big part in the formation of kuala lumpur to the point that there are the only malay ethnic that has settlement well into the 20th century…. in fact, kg boyan and kg kerinchi was only demolished 20 years ago to make way for ‘developement’…

Abe Uda
July 11, 2018 at 3:17 pm

Hadiahkan kepada Menteri Pendidikan.
Menteri Pendidikan wajib perbetulkan Sejarah Negara kita .. generasi saya rasa tertipu.Jangan panjangkan penipuan sejarah ini sehingga entah berapa keturunan lg.

11, 2018 at 5:30 pm

Between, what is the meaning of founder? “developer” right? what does he developed in the first place? anyone can be founder if base on this book author claims, so long you are the leader of small group, you can be founder?

Melwyn Norbert Pereira
July 11, 2018 at 5:50 pm

The various grave found around KL that have not been destroyed tell a different story. So many roads name after them too. Don’t invent history.

Steve Teoh
Enough lah. I can only conclude the contribution of Mandailing for tin mining activities but NOT establishment of a large scale mining, settlement or township. No one can claim 100% contribution towards the development of KL. I think the British did more by modernising the settlement into a modern township with administrative and economy centre. This will be hard to swallow for the nationalist. History is factual and not racial anyway.

Daryl Tan
July 11, 2018 at 6:57 pm

I found this comment on MalaysiaKini about the founding of KL, the most informative and balanced:

Points to note – 1. Initially control of land is in the hands of Minangkabau. 2. Sutan Puasa is a trader but not land owner. 3. British finally forced their way through and establish admin and economy centre in KL.

Refer below:
In 1816, all land belonging to Mandailing was raided and taken over by Piduri people from Minangkabau.
Family of Sutan Puasa brought him to Klang.
1818, there are traces of recorded tin mining activities by Mandailing people in Sungai Lumpor.
In 1857, Raja Abdullah took in 87 labourer from China to work at tin mine in Ampang.
1959, Sutan Puasa persuaded Hiew Siew, a trader from Lukut to come over to kuala lumpur.
Hiu Siew 1st Capitan Cina 1859 – 1862 (large scale tin mining)
Liu Ngim Kwong 2nd Capitan Cina 1862-1869 (settlement)
Yap Ah Loy 3rd Capitan Cina 1869-1885 (built modern Kuala Lumpur Township from settlement)
In 1867, selangor civil war broke out:
Tengku Kudin + Yap vs Raja Mahadi + Chong
1872 Raja Mahdi won initially.
1873 Yap retake control of Kuala Lumpur.
In 1880, the British change the admin centre of Malaya from Klang to Kuala Lumpur.
In 1881, Yap Ah Loy reconstructed the wooden houses into brick and tiles houses.
Yap Ah Loy died in 1885.
Sutan Puasa died in 1905.

Pasha Sandu
July 11, 2018 at 8:52 pm

The history books are corrupted. Empayar Sri Vijaya, the hindu empayar encompassed indonesia and malaya. Do you find any mention of this ancient culture in modern text?

July 11, 2018 at 10:42 pm

Let History remain history. Please don’t bring religion to pollute the history just to have bragging rights.

Adam Alim
July 11, 2018 at 11:11 pm

How can you claim your ancestor, Sutan Puasa founded KL whence most local and foreign historians wrote that Yap Ah Loy was the guy who founded KL and developed the settlement from being a small town to be a city. Look at today situation can prove all factual arguments. Where on earth you can find a city with the majority of Malays in Malaysia? The majority of the inhabitants living in the cities are the Chinese and the Indians. They conducted various kind of business, even gambling dens and brothels, and this entice more people to settle down in big towns it cities. The Malays and other bumiputras tend to stay away and group themselves in their own communities in kampungs indulging in farming and fishing. Take for example Shah Alam, a Malay majority town…. till to-date still looks like a cowboy town unlike PJ, a Chinese majority town, booming with various business activities. Likewise, happenings in Puchong where in the past it was just a small Malay kampung. Maybe we can state that Yap Ah Lot us the father of modern KL.

July 12, 2018 at 12:18 pm
It doesn’t matter who’s the real founder. Of foremost importance is how the government may implement ways and means to improve the city from a haphazard, polluted and flood-prone one to an attractive, vibrant, modern, safe metropolitan where tourists from all over the world would like to spend time exploring.

July 11, 2018 at 11:14 pm

So all the previous scholars & historians were stupid, erroneous, misguiding…etc n this new guy is spot on..?

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