‘The Chinese are not pendatang’

Stating the facts: Wong interviewing Sultan Ibrahim at the horse stable of the Istana in Johor. — GLENN GUAN/The Star

JOHOR BARU: The Sultan of Johor has paid tribute to the Chinese community in the state, describing them as a pillar of the state’s economy and that they must be recognised for their resilience and hard work.

“They are not pendatang. They were invited to Johor to cultivate our plantations. My forefathers understood the needs of our Chinese guests and they helped to cultivate our plantations.

“Let no one in Johor describe the Chinese as pendatang. They helped to build our economy and they have become Malaysians. They are just as Malaysian as everyone else.

“They are Bangsa Johor, like the Malays and Indians and others, ” Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar said in an interview in conjunction with Chinese New Year.

It has been reported the Chinese had come to Johor to trade during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties and by 1844, Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim had invited Chinese planters to plant gambier and pepper in the interior of Johor.

His Majesty said his forefathers had introduced the pioneering of the cultivation of land under the kangchu or River Master system. Planters who entered Johor obtained a permit known as surat sungai (river documents) from the Ruler.

The Chinese accepted the Johor Ruler’s permits to start plantations here and they arrived by cargo-carrying barges or tongkang through Segget River.

Narrating the history of the state and the Chinese, Tuanku said pepper and gambier were vital to the state’s economy in the 1800s with Europe as a major market.

In fact, Johor was the world’s largest producer of pepper and gambier between 1830s and 1850s. Downstream activities including leather tanning and cloth dyeing from gambier leaves put Johor on the world map.

Sultan Sir Abu Bakar Ibni Almarhum Temenggong Seri Maharaja Tun Daeng Ibrahim expanded the kangchu system with proper documents issued to the Chinese leaders who had set up riverside plantations in Johor.

According to reports, letters of authority (surat kuasa) were issued when the first Chinese leaders began settling in Johor during the 1850s, and a Kapitan Cina was also appointed.

“In fact, Wong Ah Fook, who was a contractor from China, was employed to oversee the construction of Abu Bakar’s Istana Tyersall in Singapore, ” His Majesty pointed out.

Sultan Ibrahim said he had revived the royal title of Mejar Cina (Chinese Major) in September last year because the late Sultan Abu Bakar had bestowed it to leaders of the state’s Chinese community in the 19th century.

Oil palm estate manager David Wong Khong Soon was awarded the title.

The restoration of the title was part of the Sultan’s decree for a continuity of Johor’s modern history.

In a statement, the Johor palace said Wong will carry out his duties and work with Yayasan Sultan Ibrahim and other Johor royal foundations, district officials, elected representatives, village heads and community leaders in distributing food aid to the Chinese community.

Sultan Ibrahim said he wanted the young to understand the history of Johor and how the palace had played a major role in the state’s administration and economy, as well as inviting the Chinese settlers to come to Johor.

“They chose to come to Johor from Singapore and Riau because they were invited by my forefathers who had the foresight to see their importance.

“The palace understood the skills and expertise in transforming the state’s economy and even taking in the world market, at a time when nobody imagined that can happen.

“This is the result of a special relationship between the Chinese and the palace, and the understanding that everyone must play their part to contribute to the economy, ” he said.

As a benevolent Ruler, he said Sultan Abu Bakar continued the goodwill started by Temenggong Ibrahim by providing them land to build their places of worship and for their burial.

In the late 19th century, a group of community leaders led by Tan Hiok Nee built the Johor Old Temple at Jalan Trus. He was appointed Mejar Cina and made a member of Abu Bakar’s state council in 1868.

Unlike other Chinese temples that are named after the deity, the Johor Old Temple is believed to be the first Chinese temple in Malaysia to be named after a state. This is attributed to the strong relationship between the Johor Ruler and the Chinese immigrant community.

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