Sunday, May 20, 2007

13 Mei 1969; The Kampung Baru Stories

Part of the blame should be squarely on the Government and the police at that time because gangs were controlling KL at the time. Whether Chinese gangs or Malay gangs.
These gangs were ruthless.
This is from Malaysiakini.

‘Glorious days’ of Kampung Baru old timers
Fauwaz Abdul Aziz
May 19, 07 5:37pm Malaysiakini

special report An afternoon chat over teh tarik with some elderly gentlemen in Kuala Lumpur’s Kampung Baru revealed something more than ambivalence among many Malays regarding the May 13 racial riots in 1969.

Many residents of Kampung Baru - when asked regarding their views of May 13 and whether the episode should be re-examined by the government and re-debated by the public - said the episode was a “dark spot” in the communal history of Malaysia and urged for “the past to remain in the past.”

Resurrecting May 13, they said, would be like digging up the graves of the tragedy. Official records claim the two-day riots - which saw the worst destruction in Kampung Baru - led to the death of 137, 342 injured, 109 vehicles burned, 118 buildings destroyed and 2,912 persons arrested.

“What we should be doing is talk of more pressing current issues, such as the price hike of basic goods,” said one 51-year old resident, who wanted to be identified only as Abdul Rahman.

“I bought a glass of coffee this morning and was charged as much as RM1.70! Why rationalise May 13 any further? The fear that it conjures is enough,” he added.

Paramilitary units

A conversation with some other old-timers, however, turned quickly into a session of reminiscing - as old soldiers do of their exploits in battle - of those days 38 years ago when a number of them, then active members of the notorious Kampung Baru gangs, became ‘champions’ of the Malays.

Their eyes lit up and their voices gained a tone of youthful excitement as they recalled the days when they were in the ‘frontlines’ of the May 13 clashes against gang members from the Chinese-dominated area of neighbouring Chow Kit.

Sixty-year old ‘Alang’, recalled with glee when he - armed with a crudely-made ‘sword’ hammered into shape out of a metal pipe and wearing the selendang merah (red sash) of his silat/gang group - and other machete-wielding Malay gangsters and other youths from Selangor and other states served as Kampung Baru’s self-appointed paramilitary units.

Many other silat/gang group members wore blue selendang. Regardless of what they wore, however, only those who had been in gang fights before May 13 could endure the violence, said Alang.

“We were already used to fighting. That is why we could be in the frontline of the May 13 clashes. Those who had not known violence already could not get used to it. They could not even stand the sight of violent death,” said the father of nine.

“One person, for example, was at first very spirited when Dato Harun (Idris, then menteri besar of Selangor) first called for Malay youths to rally at his house. He had sharpened his keris and whispered all sorts of invocations over the blade.

“But when the time comes to face them (the Chinese gang-members), he fainted out of fright before anything even happened!” he said laughing.

Alang invoked, predictably, the name of legendary warrior of 14th Century Malacca, Hang Tuah, as if to sanctify the semangat Melayu (Malay spirit) that had rampaged Kampung Baru and laid to waste Chinese homes and shoplots.

“Violence and death, when you’ve familiar with it, becomes thrilling. The clash and the chase for your enemies actually becomes fun. You are not afraid of death any more,” said Alang.

Seventy-year old ‘Syed’, who was then a staff-sergeant in the Royal Malay Regiment’s intelligence division, boasted of how he rescued Malays - including his pregnant wife - and Chinese trapped in buildings and caught between the impending clashes of warring groups.

Even Syed, however, spoke admiringly of those gang leaders who had risen to “take back” Malay rights and forced the government to pay attention to the Malays’ socio-economic conditions. Kampung Baru, then and now, is among the poorest sectors of Kuala Lumpur.

Gang leaders were united

Among such gang leaders, said Syed, were those who went by such names as ‘Ahmad Chicago’ who controlled one part of Kampung Baru, ‘Mat Whiskey’ (not his real nickname) who controlled “this side of Kampung Baru”, and ‘Mat Seram’ who controlled yet another part.

“If not for May 13, would there have been the Felda schemes?” asked Syed, citing the Federal Land Development Authority and other affirmative-action policies for bumiputeras.

Other gangs who had a field day during May 13 were Long Futong, ‘2-4′, ‘Sampat’, and ‘0-8′. Leaders of some of the gangs went on to become senior political leaders and government figures.

“Kampung Baru, which was known then as a ‘black area’ ruled by gangs where not even the police would set foot in. Alang was feared,” said Syed of his friend.
“An outsider stepping into this side of Kampung Baru was sure to get it from him!” he laughed as Alang grinned in acknowledgment.

Among the highlights of May 13, said Alang, was the uniting of gang leaders and members who previously had bad blood between them.

“We can never forget the day when Ahmad Chicago and Mat Whiskey hugged each other and made peace in front of the mosque,” said Alang. PAS members from Kelantan and Umno members from Johor also forgot their political differences and united.

The elderly gentlemen lamented the subsequent extinction of semangat Melayu and the spirit to “stand up for the community” among the next generation of Malays.

“The only thing Malay youth are notorious for nowadays are being Mat Rempits and getting high on drugs. They’re oblivious to the fact this land is no more referred to as tanah air Melayu (Malay land). Even (Rail operator) Keretapi Tanah Melayu is now only known as KTM Bhd.

“Soon, everything else Malay in this country will be lost,” he said bitterly.

Syed spoke highly of then deputy premier Tun Abdul Razak who, after May 13, took over as prime minister from Tunku Abdul Rahman and put into place the New Economic Policy (NEP).

“Tunku had given too much face to foreigners,” said Syed.

Let bygones be bygones

“May 13 itself and afterwards brought the Malays many blessings. Unfortunately, we’re not much better now than we were four decades ago. If May 13 happened again, most Malays would not be ready,” said Syed disapprovingly.

Shaking her head in disagreement, 56-year-old ‘Hamidah’ urged for all parties, especially academics and political leaders, to let bygones be bygones.

“Let it go. We ordinary people have no space to talk of such issues. It’s only the ruling and opposition political parties that still argue about May 13,” she said quietly.

In agreement with her, Abdul Rahman, the resident who had witnessed May 13 as a 12-year-old, suggested that while the popular masses had gotten caught up in the emotions of the times, it was the political leaders who did and still exploit communal issues for political gain.

“There is no need to relive the issues. The only lesson May 13 teaches us is that ordinary people like us ‘freak out’ over the issues that are raised, but are still used as pawns by the political elite.

“Now, they’re doing it again by raising the past instead of solving current problems,” he said.


Anonymous said...

Do you know that Zam (yes our Info minister) was a journalist/stringer for Utusan Malaysia then and he had virtually the whole of Kampong Baru to report? Would be good if Malaysiakini can get him to relate what he saw irrespective of whether it is biased or not. Perhaps Malaysiakini should also trace some of the old members of the Chinese gangs and interview them and I am sure what they say would be equally interesting. Stretching this a bit further, why not talk to some retired Malay regiment soldiers then who are retired now. Just my two cents worth.

The Oriental Express said...

You are right. How could simple folks like you and I, including all the lovely Malays, Indians and Chinese in our kampong ever start a fight? We are used as pawns.

The truth must prevail someday. However, in the unveiling of the truth, it does not mean we do not forgive. We only want a closure to the crux and truth of the matter, so that the air of suspicion and paranoia can be cleared, and understanding, acceptance and unity can take place. Learning of historical truth will help make us realise our mistakes and strengths.

mak jun yeen said...

Thank you for sharing this artcle on what the Malays thought and felt.

I was only 8 months old at the time, and my family lived in Brickfields.

But my maternal grandmother had just moved from Princess Road to brickfields in 1968. They used to stay at one part of the roll of Chinese owned shops (still there) at the edge of Kg Baru. Family folklure informed us that my grandfather "Panjang Tan"'s friend from Kg Baru told my grand mother that Malay-Chinese reckoning will come soon. My grand mother moved to Brickfields closer to a large number of Hailams.

My uncles studied in Lai Ming School(beside Pakistan Embassy) J.Ampang in the early 60s and they used to cross Kg Boyan and the river (on a titi) to go home. They had to walk cross Kg Baru every day and were never felt they were in danger.

10 years after May 13, My uncles came back from ENgland and they visited the pasar minggu in Kg BAru, my mom took me and my uncles there where we had nasi padang, (the taste of the beef rendang still lingers on my tongue as I wrote) and I did not feel any tension and in fact the proprietor of the shop were friendly and spoke in good English. My uncles was reminiscing with the boss of their child hood days.

I realise now that what damage our political masters can do when they turn neighbours against each other.

nooryahaya said...

wonderful story, thanks for sharing. If we all could write up all stories like this...
There is a human face to such tragedy, of fear, lost lives and difficulties.
we are all the same after all. colour is only skin deep.

I _Love_All said...

I was 15 years old and lived next to the hotspots of conflict then. Suffice to say there were untold miseries and fear amongst all races. I saw and heard many events/tales of sufferings and heroism,with many occuring as acts of courage across races.

It has been 40 years, so let things be. Just know that no one has the right to raise the spectre of threat anymore with respect to May 13. What we must do is to work positively in our little way to ensure that such an event will not even remotely occur.

How to do that? Start by learning about the culture and respecting the other races.Truly respecting not just saying in a shallow way with disdain.

Try this approach. Offer your time and care for little orphans of another race. I have seen how Malay ladies offer their time to educate Indian and Chinese children at an orphanage and I would like to encourage Chinese and Indian to offer their time and love to Malay children who are underpriviledged, not only in orphanages. Try to nurture one Malay child to be a success in school through care and love even if it means forsaken weekends. Learn to look into their forlorn eyes and see the goodness in them. If we take care of the other races with sincerity and love, we are ,in our small way,contributing towards true nation building.

We have a blessed nation. But some politicians and greedy people are destroying it.Let us work together instead of depending on politicians to weave the best of the various races into a truly fair and peace-loving nation.

May God Bless Malaysia.

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