During the 13th May 1969 tragedy, a well-known Imam in Kampung Baru by the name of Dahlan made an amulet to protect his brother, Abdullah (a.k.a Abdullah Botak) who was a senior police officer, from harm as the racial clashes escalated. Abdullah declined and asked Dahlan to use it to protect himself saying:
Don’t be fooled by the Chinese. I have seen what they are capable of in Bekor!
Not many young Malaysian would know where Bekor is, let alone what had happened there. But Bekor was witness to what was to come 23 years later.
The incident in Kampung Bekor, near Manong in the district of Kuala Kangsar was not the first incident that had involved the killing of Malays by the Chinese, led by the Malayan People’s Anti Japanese Army. What is even sadder is the fact that some Malays were also involved in assisting the Chinese slaughter their own kind. To understand the mood of the day, we would need to go back in time to when migrant Chinese workers started flooding into the Malay states.
According to a paper jointly written by Mohamed Ali Hanifa and Mohammed Redzuan Othman of the History Department, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the University of Malaya, the Chinese immigrants first came to the Malay states in 1777, and first settled in the state of Perak in 1830 (Patrick Sullivan, 1982: 13). Within 44 years, they numbered 26,000 in Perak alone. In 1921, the number of Chinese immigrants in the Malay states numbered 1,171,740. Ten years later, it was 1,704,452. In 1941, it became 2,377,990 while the Malays were at 2,277,352 (Paul H Kratoska, 1997:318). The explosion of numbers of Chinese immigrants brought about social ills. In 1901, the ratio of Chinese women to men were 1:100 in the Federated Malay States alone (Victor Purcell, 1948: 174) and this brought about the setting up of prostitution dens. According to the Straits Settlement Annual Development Record 1906, there were 543 prostitution dens in the Straits Settlement alone, employing 3,894 women (Siti Rodziah Nyan, 2009:200). The Malays remained a minority in their own land until 1970.
When the Japanese invaded Malaya, they portrayed themselves to the Malays as liberators, getting rid of the pseudo-colonialistic British, and began hunting for the Chinese whom were known to have sent money back to assist the Chinese in their war against the Japanese. As such, the Malays did not face as much hardship as the Chinese did during the Japanese occupation. Although the Malays and Chinese share the same hatred towards the Japanese, it was the Chinese that ran a boycotting campaign against the Japanese. This led to the execution of 70,000 Chinese in Singapore labelled by the Japanese as Communists (Colonial Office Records CO 537/3757: 27-28). As a result, many Chinese formed the Malayan People’s Anti Japanese Army (MPAJA), a subversive organisation that was administered by the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) (War Office Records WO 172/9773, No 23: 384).
After the war, the Sino-Malay relations took a turn for the worse. The Chinese, known for their coarse and rude behaviour began upsetting the Malays. Kenelm O.L Burridge quoted the Malays as saying:
Before the war we and the Chinese lived in peace. But now they want to swallow the people (makan orang). We Muslims do not chase money. That is the Chinese way. They are not Muslims and they do not have the same understanding (faham). If they became Muslims it would be all right (Kenelm O.L Burridge, 1951:163)
Economic competition caused the Chinese to spread rumours about the Malays to put the latter in bad light (War Office Records WO 172/9773, No.30:479). In Batu Pahat, Johor, there was a community that did not respect the local culture (Kenelm O.L Burridge, 1951: 166) and brought about the culture of drinking alcoholic drinks and gambling, and were often found meddling in the affairs of the Malay customs (Seruan Ra’yat, 17 November 1945: 2).
Between the Japanese surrender in August 1945 and the formation of the British Military Administration on 12 September 1945, the MPAJA/CPM left the jungle and occupied police stations and towns and displayed its authority (WO 172/1784, No.51: 180). They took the opportunity to take revenge on the Malays. Throngs of Imams, religious teachers, Malays who had worked in Japanese offices, and commoners were captured and executed. Many Malay houses were burnt at night while their occupants were fast asleep (Mohamed Ali & Mohammed Redzuan, 2011:280).
The violation of the sanctity of Islam also became a factor in the bloody Sino-Malay conflict (WO 172/9773. No.30: 478) when the Bintang Tiga/CPM disrupted religious activities in Muslims places of worship. This started in Batu Pahat, Johor, just before the surrender of the Japanese occupiers, during the Muslim month of Ramadhan. Muslims were forbidden from congregating at mosques or suraus to perform the Terawih prayers (Hairi Abdullah, 1974/5: 8-9). The same occurred in Perak and some parts of Batu Pahat where Muslims were gunned down and burnt together with the mosque they were in during Friday prayers. Mosques and suraus were often used as places of meeting for the Chinese community (WO 172/9773, No.30: 478) and were tainted by incidents such as slaughtering of pigs, and mosques’ compound was used to cook pork, where Malays were forced to join the larger Chinese groups. Pages were torn from the Quran to be used by the Chinese using these mosques as toilet paper.
Facing the atrocities by the Chinese communists, and the betrayal by the British through the formation of the Malayan Union, the period between 1945-46 saw the Malays struggling for the survival of their race and religion.
According to Dr Cheah Boon Kheng, a historian at the School of Humanities, University Sains Malaysia, who is also the author of “Red Star over Malaya”, the Sino-Malay conflict in Johor began between march and August of 1945 (Cheah Boon Kheng, 1981:109). In May 1945, a Moain bi Saridin @ Shahidin, and a Hassan Akasah were brutally murdered by the Chinese communists. When found, they were just a mixed pile of bones without their head. They were murdered for not supporting the CPM. In another incident, a group of Chinese communists attacked the house of the penghulu of Kampung Sungai Tongkang near Batu Pahat, where 30 Malays sought refuge and shot them repeatedly before burning down the house. This conflict spread to the towns of Semerah and Sungai Balang.
On 10th June 1945, the Chinese killed the District Officer of Batu Pahat, Ismail Abdullah; the Kadi of Batu Pahat, Tuan Haji Hasbullah; and Dr Woodhull, the Medical Officer for Batu Pahat) while they were negotiating with the MPAJA Chinese in Benut, Johor (Ho Hui Ling, 2006: 3). In response. Kiai Salleh from Simpang Kiri in Batu Pahat, who happens to be the grandfather of a close friend, united the Malays, the Javanese and the Banjars to form the Tentera Sabil Selendang Merah (Holy War Army of the Red Bands) to protect the Muslim community. Assisted by Kiai Wak Joyo, Kiai Kusin, Kiai Mashudi, Kiai Mayor, Kiai Saudi, Kiai Maskan, Kiai Sarbini, Kiai Mustahir, Kiai Haji Shamsuddin and Kiai Haji Shukor, Kiai Salleh waged war against the Chinese, the MPAJA and their Malay counterparts (CO 537/1580:3).
When the Japanese announced their surrender on 15th August 1945, the CPM assisted by the Chinese in the MPAJA began to round up Malays suspected of working or assisting the Japanese. Many Malays had their hands and feet bounded and put into gunny sacks before they were thrown into the sea alive (Ibrahim Mahmood, 1981: 32). The Chinese community in Kampung Koh, Sitiawan, Ipoh, Kampar, Langkap and Chuchap assisted the Chinese community in Sungai Manik. Several small skirmishes ensued. In one incident, two of my granduncles were slaughtered by the Chinese near the Sungai Manik railway bridge, while their friend was put into a suitcase alive before he was thrown over into the Bidor river. In another incident, two Malay men returning to Sungai Manik were attacked by a group of Chinese who stabbed and slashed to death one of them while the other jumped into the Bidor river and hid for four days, moving only at night, before he reached safety.
In Bekor, near Manong in the Kuala Kangsar district, alarmed by the growing attacks by the Chinese, the villagers united and held a discussion with the Chinese in January 1946. Pressured by the Chinese who outnumbered them, the Malay representatives stated three demands to the Chinese:
Sa-orang guru Tauhid di-Manong di-dalam suatu mashuarat antara China dengan Melayu kerana hendak mendamaikan perkelahian di-situ telah mengeluarkan 3 tuntutan dengan chakap yang keras dan menghentam-hentam meja dengan tinju-nya sa-hingga China-China yang di-dalam mashuarat itu puchat muka-nya (Suara Ra’yat, 7 Januari 1946: 1)
The first demand was to return all the Malays captured by the Chinese and held in the jungles. If they were executed, the Malays demanded that their grave be shown. The second demand was for the return of their belongings confiscated by the MPAJA, while the final demand was for the Chinese to surrender all their weapons to the government.
Shamsiah Pakeh, a former Quran teacher, and member of the Communist Party of Malaya, approached the villagers of Kampung Bekor to persuade them to join the CPM. In a blog by Amam Fuadi, a descendant of one Haji Hassan bin Khatib Mat Sin who was present when the Chinese attacked Kampung Bekor, he described the story as told by the late Haji Hassan:
” Shamsiah Pakih pakai baju kebaya putih datang kerumah mengajak Tok masuk komunis Tok tak mahu. Pada masa itu siapa yang tidak mahu masuk kominis akan di bunuh. Orang Bekor banyak terlibat dan berdosa kerana bersubahat dengan kominis dan membunuh orang melayu yang tidak mahu masuk kominis. ” (Akhirnya mereka juga mati dibunuh komunis dalam perang Bekor- Penulis)
” …………….dibekor Ada telaga yang di panggil telaga lubang raya tempat memancong orang yang tak mahu masuk kominis.”
”Tok ngah juga hampir hendak dimasukkan kedalam lubang.
Salah seorang penduduk Semat yang mati dalam lubang raya ialah yeob tali”
On 5th March 1946, the Chinese began their attacks on Kampung Bekor. At 10am, approximately 100 armed Chinese attacked the village, but this attack was repelled by the defending villagers (WO 172/9773, DT00 07:281). This attack was believed to be the CPM’s gauging the village’s defence.
On 6th March 1946 is what Abdullah Botak was talking about to his brother, Imam Dahlan, on 13th May 1969.
Between 5am to 5.30am, Kampung Bekor was again attacked by the Chinese, assisted by the CPM. All roads leading in and out of the village were guarded by members of the CPM while the Chinese, reinforced by 500 Chinese from Kelian, attacked the villagers. It was a well-planned and orchestrated attack (CO 537/1580: 21 and Majlis, 24 Februari 1947:5).
The attack lasted two hours. 57 men and women who were about to leave the Kampung Bekor mosque after Subuh prayer were murdered by the Chinese (WO 172/9773, No.19: 234-235). From this figure, only one had gunshot wounds while the rest had slash and stab wounds. 24 children were murdered while they were sleeping in their homes, while 15 men, seven women and eight children were missing. The defence of Kampung Bekor was quickly organised by Tuan Haji Abdul Rahman bin Abdul Manan, Tuan Haji Kulub Alang, Tuan Haji Salleh bin Abdul Manan and a few others who managed to kill several Chinese attackers. The Chinese moved in three waves: the front-most attacked, followed by a second wave whose duty was to retrieve bodies and injured Chinese attackers, then move behind the third attacking wave to carry out the dead and wounded. As a result, not one single body of the Chinese attackers could be found in the aftermath of the attack.
The above was what senior police officer Abdullah Botak had described to his brother, Imam Dahlan.
More Malays were attacked and killed by the Chinese in Kota Bharu (Kelantan) on 19th September 1945, in Alor Gajah (Melaka) on 26th September 1945, in Selangor, the districts of Selama, Taiping, Parit, and Sitiawan in Perak, and in Terengganu. In Batu Malim, Raub (Pahang), a skirmish at the local market on 11th February 1946 involving 200 Malays and 150 Chinese caused the death of 30 Chinese including 10 children, while 16 Chinese and 10 Malays were injured.
So heightened was the anger of the Malays towards the Chinese that when the British formed the Malayan Union and planned to grant Chinese and Indian immigrants with automatic citizenship, the Malays united for a common cause, and that is to return the power of the Sultans and reinstate the ownership of the land to the Malays. Left behind economically and lacking education, as well as being the minority in their own land, the Malays never saw any good in granting citizenship to the outsiders. To appease the Malays, the administration saw it fit for the Chinese to be sent back to China. Some 15,000 were sent back until Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China in October 1949. This led to closure of ports, and subsequently beaches, to prevent overseas Chinese from returning. Hence, the Chinese in Malaya had no choice but to learn to live with the Malays. The administration insisted that only those Chinese who would pledge loyalty to Malaya would be granted citizenship.
The Malays and Chinese lived peacefully side-by-side. But when China launched the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party of Malaya issued a directive on 1st June 1968: Hold High the Great Red Banner of Armed Struggle and Valiantly March Forward. This brought about the Second Emergency and again, the Malays being minority, prepared to defend themselves and their religion. Almost every weekend strikes and rallies would be organised by opposition parties, supported by the Communist Party of Malaya, and this culminated in the 13th May 1969 tragedy.
The history of Malaysia, contrary to belief, has been filled with bloodshed. We, as a growing nation, have seen more than enough to last us a life time. And as time goes by, piece by piece our history is being forgotten. When we are a nation without a past, we will become a nation without soul. The above demonstrates how dangerous racial strife can be, and how easy it is to explode again if sensitivities and assimilation is not done or handled well. I strongly believe that both vernacular schools and Islamisation of the National schools do not benefit anyone in Malaysia, and will only contribute to greater rift between the races. Children who do not grow up together will never learn about or respect each other.
As for the Malays, we seem to feel comfortable hiding behind the fact that we make up 71% of the population of this country (including the Bumiputras of Sabah and Sarawak) but we fail to see that we are in fact split into various groups. I doubt if ever an event such as the above were to happen, that the Malays would unite, as we now have the Malay liberals, the so-called Islamists, and the pro-Malays. I won’t be surprised if only 20 percent of the Malays would be prepared to defend their race and religion again.The Malays, are once again, minorities in their own land. But this time, they are asleep as the villagers of Kampung Bekor were almost 68 years ago.