Taiping - Perak

My landlord has a dream of returning to Taiping, retiring to the town he grew up in, where its rich tapestry of historical milestones are stitched into the fabric of his childhood memories.

Don't blame him for wanting to leave the city, really. It has become so impersonal and sprawling. Neighbours are names to faceless shadows. Back in Taiping, old neighbours become steadfast friends, the butcher at the old market place becomes a reliable golf buddy, a daily walk in the evenings around the lake with other retired comrades or a lifelong partner is an addiction, A pint before dinner at the old club in the evening is not a must but a social event eagerly awaited. Life goes on at a pace where the finer things in life are not only found on money. Unfortunately, fast growing economies like Asia and the U.S. tend to forget, that life is not about fast cars, large mansions and lots of admirers. This is not reality TV, this is life and not everyone needs 15mins of fame in his or her lifetime.

Taiping's History

cigar manufacturing. a small industry in taiping, first brought in by a burmese merchant who hired burmese ladies to roll the cigars..very much like how it's still being handrolled in burma now. does this building still house the business..i wonder. photo taken in 1997.

But ironically, Taiping was built on money, greed, power and was embalmed in civil wars, spilt blood and sufferings. In the late 1800's , Malaya was a treasure island dripping with riches off leaves of the trees with timber, tin and other natural resources aplenty and many Chinese were brought in from China to mine for tin. Majority of the mines in peninsula Malaysia were alluvial mines. Areas especially in the state of Perak were so rich, many were just panning the river for tin. One day, while bathing in a stream, Long Ja'afar found himself sitting in a pool laden with tin. He had come to the Larut District on an exploratory trip and with this find; he immediately re-tracked to Penang for supplies and to recruit Chinese miners to mine the area known later as Klian Pauh. News spread fast and another group of Chinese miners arrived. Whilst working on clearing parts of land, folklore has it that a working elephant broke loose and stampeded into the jungle. After a long search, the workers managed to locate the bewildered pachyderm and brought him safely out of the wooded area. They noticed that the elephant's feet were caked in mud rich with tin ore and hence a new mine was opened and the area named Klian Baru.

Isabella Bird, a British adventurer and the first woman to be elected as a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, came to the Malay Archipelago in the late1870's in which she documented her travels and stories during her stay in a book called 'The Golden Chersonese and The Way Thither'. British government officials graciously extended their invitation for her to stay with them as she travelled her way to various destinations in Malaya . She had first hand reports and information on the situation in through the eyes of officials such as Sir Hugh Low, Mr W.E. Maxwell etc. (if not a little heavily opinionated on the side of the British).

All Saint's Churchmany derelict shophouses were torned down and replaced in the past decade

She wrote that in 1871, an estimated 30,000 chinese miners were stationed in the Larut mines. More Chinese miners came over to work and each time a new group of miners set up their camps in the area, scuffles between gangs became more frequent. These groups usually each from different dialects, brought along their secret societies. Ngah Ibrahim, the son of Long Ja'afar eventually had to seek help from a soldier and a soldier-of-fortune by the name of Captain Speedy. Speedy and his troop of Indian soldiers were promised a salary plus share of the tin revenue if they were to succeed in quelling the "Larut Wars". But with only a handful of soldiers and four Krupp guns in possession, their efforts to restore law & order were futile. Moreover, several factions of the Chinese miners were supplied with guns, ammunition, military stores, and food from their financial backers in Penang in hope that their faction would have a fighting chance to claim the mining territory and its wealth. Isabella Bird wrote that it was believed about 3,000 miners were killed in one day during the early days of the war.

The situation was so degraded until Sir A. Clarke, the Governor of the Straits Settlements decided to intervene before the bloodshed became infectious. A Chinese businessman residing in Singapore by name of Kim Cheng had persuaded a Malay Chief called Abdullah, to approach the British with a proposition that he had desire to place Perak under British protection, and "to have a man of sufficient abilities to show him a good system of government"(Isabella Bird) in which he would make good his desires if he were officially appointed Sultan.

raintrees line the pathways and roads encircling the lake gardens

During the time of disturbances in Larut, the Malays were living relatively peaceably under the rule of Ismail, the Malays' elected Sultan and Abdullah's rival.

Sir A. Clarke, called for a meeting between the British Officials, the Malay Chiefs and the Chinese Triad headmen at Pulau Pangkor and a treaty was signed on 20 th January 1974 , with the appointment of Abdullah as sultan. The Malay Chiefs were unhappy with decisions made and although they seemingly did not oppose to Abdullah's usurpation during the meet at Pulau Pangkor..by way of miscommunication some people say. After the signing of treaty, peace came to Larut. It is reported that in 1876, the export of tin had was 144,000lbs which rose to 436,000 lbs in 1881 and Chinese immigration increased the population of Chinese miners, shopkeepers, vendors from twenty thousand in 1879 to forty thousand in 1881.

The Pangkor Treaty of 1974 also stated that Sultan Abdullah should receive an English Resident and Assistant Resident, whose salaries and expenses should be the first charge on the revenue of the country, whose counsel must be asked and "acted upon" on all questions other than those of religion and custom, and under whose advice the collection and control of all revenues and the general administration should be regulated. The first Resident appointed was J.W.W. Birch, a rather pompous officer who was in poor standing with the Malay chiefs. Since Captain Speedy had a lot of experience and influence with the Malays and the Chinese, he was appointed as the Assistant Resident at Larut. He set aside 2 towns one named the Taiping or 'everlasting peace' for the Hakka Chinese and Kamunting for the rival group.

All Saint's Churchwar cemetary at the base of maxwell hill

A year went on, and the storms of discontentment were brewing among the Malay Chiefs. The newly appointed Sultan was of no help to the situation either, which greater fuelled the feelings of the people. Sir Frank Swettenham wrote on his visits to Perak at the time, that Sultan Abdullah was not living up to expectations as a ruler. He spent much of his time and new-found situation just indulging in opium-smoking, cock-fighting, and other vices. Eventually, he lost all respect from his supporters as well as his advisors. In 1875, several of these disgruntled chiefs plotted to return Upper Perak into the hands of the Malays by murdering J.W.W Birch whilst Frank Swettenham narrowly missed death by jumping into the river and escaping downriver during the confusion.

The British eventually rounded up the participating Malay Chiefs and banished Ismail to Johore; and Sultan Abdullah , Ngah Ibrahim and others to Seychelles .