JUST like many other towns in the peninsula during the late 1800s, Mantin in Negri Sembilan grew to prominence on the back of the tin mining industry.
If local legend is to be believed, the town’s very name – Mantin – is derived from a corruption of the words ‘mine tin’, a moniker bestowed by the British in reference to the area’s mining boom.
The town lies in the sub-district of Setul, and many believe that Setul – the name of a plant that grew abundantly in the area – was Mantin’s original name.
The town is located in a valley 16km northwest of the state capital, Seremban.
Ringed by emerald green hills with the small towns of Lenggeng to its east, Pajam to the west and Beranang, Selangor, to the north, Mantin lies close to the Negri-Selangor border.
Historical records state that the Lenggeng Valley, between Kajang and Seremban, was occupied by settlers from Minangkabau, Indonesia since the 1860s, but it is not known if these settlers had worked in Mantin’s mines.
However, a plaque on a monument erected in Kampung Gebok, a village close to Mantin town, claims that the village was founded in 1887 by Abdullah Dam Dam and it says he was a worker in one of the area’s mines, which corroborates the suggestion that tin mines were already in operation here at the time.
Historians also believe that when Chinese towkay Sheng Ming Li (also known as Seng Ming Lee), the Kapitan Cina of the tin mining district of Sungei Ujong (today, Seremban), was slain in 1860 during a war between the opposing Hai San and Ghee Hin secret societies and that his descendants relocated to Mantin in search of refuge and new beginnings.
Also in search of greener pastures and work in newly established tin mines in the area, were waves of migrants from Huizhou in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.
These new arrivals – the Hakkas – built a settlement of makeshift shanties in town, which later evolved into Kampung Hakka or Hakka Village.
Hastening the area’s economic boom was the opening of the railroad from Kuala Lumpur to Seremban.
Constructed in the early 1900s, the track passed through nearby Batang Benar town – located along the Negri and Selangor border.
During this period, other communities began to trickle in to Mantin too.
Among them, were Sikhs, who were employed as watchmen in the mines.
The early Sikhs laid the foundation for a place of worship, the Gurdwara Sahib Mantin and with the arrival of more Sikhs with the police force (a police station was built in 1910), it became a prominent place of worship.
Less than 1km from the gurdwara, and along Mantin’s Jalan Besar or main road, is the Church of St Aloysius, which was erected in 1901. This impressive neo-Gothic structure once housed a nunnery.
The church remains an important place of worship for the town’s Catholic community.
Interestingly, St Aloysius lies across the street from Kampung Hakka, the once-bustling heart of Mantin, and residence of the town’s pioneering community.
The 13ha village was, just a few years ago, at the centre of a legal tussle.
Despite its century-old history, the villagers were forced to concede to development.
Today, little remains of the village but for a few still-standing wooden houses, miraculously left untouched by development.
From the estimated 300 families that once called Kampung Hakka home, there are now fewer than 30 households.
But development was not always unwelcome in this little town.
In fact, long after the end of its tin mining glory days, the town remained a household name among motorists who plied the Kuala Lumpur-Seremban trunk road.
Mantin’s strategic location along this route made it an important pit-stop for motorists travelling from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur until the completion of the North-South Expressway in the early-1980s.
Predictably, the once-bustling town lost much of its former lustre with the opening of the expressway.
With the commercial downturn, many locals tried their hand at agriculture.
With vast tracts of fertile land and lush vegetation in the town’s fringes, it was only a matter of time before farming became a source of revenue in the following decades.
Today, Mantin is known for a variety of produce, including the King of Fruit – durian.
The younger generation has even improved the quality of produce through organic farming methods.
For a taste of fresh and delicious produce, Mantin’s daily pasar pagi – or morning market – is the place to head to.
For tasty Hakka-style culinary treats such as yong tau foo (tofu and vegetables stuffed with pork) and woon chai koh (steamed rice cakes), the old Mantin Hawker Centre is not to be missed.
Today, Mantin is slowly gaining momentum once again, and in a twist of fate, this renewed attention is mainly thanks to the opening of the 44.3km Kajang-Seremban Highway or LEKAS, which connects Kajang in Selangor to Seremban.
This new highway, which was aimed at easing southbound traffic congestion along the North-South Expressway, has put Mantin on the map again.
The town has also benefitted from its proximity to several prominent educational institutions.
Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar, modelled after a traditional British public school, was established in lush grounds a short drive away.
The co-educational residential school provides primary and secondary education.
The University of Nottingham’s Malaysia campus is also only 30 minutes away in neighbouring Semenyih, Selangor.
Other colleges include Linton University College and The International Institute of Science, Mantin.
Without a doubt, these institutions have set up base here to take advantage of the area’s conducive environment.
And these days, visitors to Mantin will notice a familiar face on the walls of several abandoned buildings in town.
Tintin, the popular character from Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin colours the walls of these derelict buildings, adding interest to this seemingly sleepy town.
The murals by 24-year-old artist Kweh Zi Jian were praised by Deputy Education Minister Datuk Chong Sin Woon during a recent visit to the town.
“Mantin and Tintin rhyme nicely. I am happy that attempts are being made to make Mantin livelier,” he said of the creative public art.
Well, one can only hope that this mining town is restored to its former glory, and perhaps, one day becomes a household name like the famous comic book character with the tuft of orange hair.