OUT of the many Malay warriors of Pahang who stood up against the British in the late 1880’s, only one lived to witness with his very own eyes the nation’s independence.
He was Mat Kilau, the son of local chieftain Imam Perang Rasu (aka Tok Gajah), and one of the Malay warriors who rebelled between the 1880s and 1890s when the colonial masters extended their rule to Pahang.
Mat Kilau even had the opportunity to shout the magical word “Merdeka” on August 31, 1957, something that his contemporaries Datuk Bahaman, Haji Abdul Rahman Limbong and Tok Janggut or the earlier ones like Datuk Maharaja Lela and Dol Said did not live to do.
But on that historic day, none of the hundreds who turned up at the state mosque field in Kuantan realised that the high-spirited but frail-looking centenarian standing among them was Mat Kilau, the man who once tormented the British.
Mat Kilau’s obscurity is equally legendary. The feared warrior went into oblivion for more than half a century as he was on the run after the British put a price on his head and branded him a traitor to the Sultan.
At the initial stages, Mat Kilau, Datuk Bahaman, Mat Kelubi, Awang Nong, Teh Ibrahim, Haji Mat Wahid and Mat Lela staged a formidable resistance that unnerved the British.
Mat Kilau and Datuk Bahaman’s names are etched in the nation’s annals as those responsible for the Lubuk Terua war where they attacked a police post set up by the British and fatally wounded two British policemen. They even conquered Temerloh.
However, with more reinforcement and a clever ploy of accusing the group of betraying the Sultan, the British succeeded in stopping more locals from joining the group and isolated it from the community. This eroded the group’s strength that at one time reached 600 and prompted them to flee.
The British continued to hunt them. Records show that his father Tok Gajah who was also involved in the resistance took refuge in Hulu Terengganu and died there, while Datuk Bahaman and several of his followers surrendered to the Siamese rulers.
What happened to Mat Kilau then is unclear till today but he definitely went through a lot of hardship especially when he had to move from place to place and take refuge under different names like Mat Dahan, Mat Dadu and Mat Siam.
After being on the run for many years, he returned to Pahang and settled in Kampung Batu 5, Gambang, Kuantan, under the name of Mohamed bin Ibrahim @ Mat Siam.
Mat Kilau’s real identity only came out into the open when he himself made a declaration after the Friday prayers at the Pulau Tawar mosque in Jerantut on Dec 26, 1969. After months of research and investigations, the Pahang state government finally confirmed that he was indeed Mat Kilau.
Unfortunately 10 days after the confirmation, Mat Kilau died on Aug 16, 1970, at his home in Kampung Batu 5. He is said to have died at the age of 122 based on his estimated birth year of 1847.
He was buried with full honours befitting a national hero at his birthplace, Kampung Masjid Pulau Tawar, Jerantut.
His adopted son who later became his son-in-law as well, Abu Bakar Awang, 80, said that before he revealed his real identity he was very evasive each time when asked about his background. Mat Kilau probably feared that he was yet to be pardoned for the allegations that he had betrayed the Sultan.
During the uprising, Pahang was under the reign of Sultan Ahmad Al-Muazam Shah.
He waited almost 12 years after independence to reveal that he was Mat Kilau as he feared the Sultan hadn’t forgiven him,” said Abu Bakar.
One of his daughters, Aminah, 80, when met at her home in Kampung Batu 5, confirmed that before Mat Kilau declared his actual identity, none of his children had the faintest idea that their father known as Mat Siam was actually a warrior dreaded by the English.
Aminah is among four out of Mat Kilau’s five surviving children who have settled around Kuantan. The others are Sabariah, Abdul Rahman, Salamah and Razali, while the eldest, Zaleha, married to Abu Bakar, died in 1978.
Continuing the story, Abu Bakar, despite his advanced age, recalled vividly Mat Kilau’s excitement on the run-up to the proclamation of independence.
“On that day (Aug 31, 1957), he woke up early and after the subuh (dawn) prayer he got ready to leave for Kuantan as he was aware that the proclamation was also being held in the states, other than at Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.
“I was wondering why he was so eager to go to the state mosque field. Even though he was more than 100 years old then, I noticed he was so excited to celebrate the historic occasion,” he said.
Abu Bakar who is the lead instructor of Seni Silat Tapak Setia Suci, the art of self-defence he inherited from his warrior father-in-law, remembered clearly how Mat Kilau had donned a white round-necked T-shirt with a grey overcoat and a kain sampin wrapped over the top part of his dark long pants. He wore shoes and his head was wrapped with a piece of cloth known as kain cindai.
“Even I was intrigued where he got all those things and what the kain cindai signified,” he said.
According to tradition, the kain cindai is a piece of silk cloth used by Malay warriors to wrap around their head before getting into the ring to confront their foes.
Abu Bakar said the bizzare clothing and behaviour prompted Mat Kilau’s wife Ajrah Bakar to reproach him, asking, “what’s wrong with you?”.
Upon getting ready, Abu Bakar and Mat Kilau left the house together and waited for the free bus ride made available by the authorities in conjunction with the celebration.
Though the bus was packed with people, nothing could deter Mat Kilau who was obviously impatient to get to the field.
“When we arrived at the field, we waited for the proclamation of independence. We managed to see the parade ... there were decorated cars too and he (Mat Kilau) was visibly exulted,” Abu Bakar recalled.
When the shouts of Merdeka began, Mat Kilau too joined in chorus.
While at the field Mat Kilau told Abu Bakar, “see, who would have thought I too will live to see this country’s independence”.
This made Abu Bakar wonder what this man was actually trying to say.
Abu Bakar, who lived with Mat Kilau since the age of 18, noted that his father-in-law felt contented with the opportunity to shout “Merdeka” at the field in Kuantan.
He was too feeble to go the Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur to witness the proclamation of independence there.
Abu Bakar said the declaration of Merdeka was probably the most defining moment for the warrior who tried to defend his race, religion and the sovereignty of his nation from occupation by foreign powers.
Abu Bakar now hopes that some historical texts especially those describing him as someone who betrayed the Sultan be revised.
“The English labelled Mat Kilau and his colleague Datuk Bahaman as rebels and traitors just to hoodwink the people so that they wouldn’t support their struggle,” said Abu Bakar, who is also the Kampung Batu 5 headman.
Mat Kilau’s grandson, Alhamadi Abu Bakar, 40, said though his grandfather did not leave any wealth, he left a legacy and unparalleled gallantry to be inherited by the coming generations in defending the nation from various forms of colonisation. – Bernama