Reconnecting the Malay World: Ibrahim Yaakob’s Re-suturing of Pahang and the Rest of the Malay Archipelago 8 November 2018 – Posted in: Book Excerpts

Despite Hugh Clifford’s boast that he had managed to acquire for the Empire a vast territory of fifteen thousand square miles that was Pahang, it turned out to be too small a place for Ibrahim Yaakob. Eager to locate himself in the broader canvas of the Malay world, he viewed Pahang in the wider context of the Malay-Indonesian world.

In 1941, Ibrahim Yaakob was forced to leave the editorial board of Majlis when the newspaper was taken over by a new conservative editor, Tengku Ismail.81 Out of work and yet anxious about the State of affairs in his homeland, he took to the road and wrote the first volume of his work, Melihat Tanah Air (‘Surveying the Homeland’).82 During his six-month tour of the peninsula, he surveyed the state of the Malay kingdoms while also engaged in several covert activities like negotiating with Malay rulers and the British while preaching his ideology of radical nationalism.83

Ibrahim’s account in Melihat Tanah Air, of how and why he decided to embark on his tour of the homeland, gives us an insight into the way in which he perceived the problem of the Malay people and his emotional response to their condition under colonial rule then:

‘… hak kebangsaan orang Melayu jadi sangat lemah. Orang-orang Melayu menjadi bangsa yang tersingkir di luar bandar tidak ada di daerah perniagaan di tanah airnya sendiri. Hal inilah yang menimbulkan kesedihan hati saya melibat tanahair saya dan bangsa saya yang menjadi bangsa yang ditakluk dikuasai orang asing. Menjadi bangsa yang miskin tenggelam didalam kekayaan tanah airnya sendiri. Tak ubah seperti ayam mati kelaparan di kepuk padi. Perasaan hati inilah yang membawa saya berjalan melibat tanahair menjelajah Malaya yang belum dilakukan oleh orang-orang yang dahulu’.84

Ibrahim ended his travels in Singapore where, with Japanese funding, he resumed his career in journalism.85 He intended to commit his thoughts and opinions to writing. Unfortunately, only the first volume of his work would see the light of day. The second would be stopped by British Internal Security services who detained the errant journalist-activist during the opening stages of the Second World War (October 1941), just before the arrival of the Imperial Japanese Army.86

Melihat Tanah Air was Ibrahim Yaakob’s first serious attempt to understand and describe the economic and political malaise of the Malays and his homeland. It offered precisely what the title of the book claimed: a survey of his homeland from the point of view of a Malay from Pahang. But Melihat Tanah Air was written at a time when Ibrahim’s narrative had to be written with care to avoid attracting the gaze of the colonial censor. It is this mixture of sentiment and urgency that characterised the nature and content of Ibrahim’s Melihat Tanah Air.

The socio-political circumstances surrounding Melihat Tanah Air could account for its two most outstanding features: (1) Ibrahim’s tendency to tone down his critique of British rule, and (2) his inclination to harbour the belief that the traditional Malay elite were still capable of playing a role in protecting the interests of the Malays. The following passage describes his impression on how the Federal Council of the Federated Malay States was managed:

‘Sesungguhnya, kadang-kadang hairan memikirkannya Mesyuarat Kerajaan Persekutuan ini boleh diiktirafkan majlis mesyuarat yang tertinggi bagi menjalankan segala pentadbiran keempat-empat negeri Melayu yang masuk bersekutu, (tetapi) bahasa yang di-pakai itu ialah bahasa Inggeris semata-mata. Ketertiban mesyuarat sama dengan mesyuarat Undangan Negeri Selat, bahkan pekerjaannya hampir juga’.87

Ibrahim’s feigned bewilderment comes in stark contrast to his description of the hollow pomp and ceremony that celebrated the arrival of the Malay Sultans of Pahang, Perak, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan to the Federal Capital of Kuala Lumpur earlier. Ibrahim’s account of the proceedings of the Federal Council left no doubt that it was the British who were actually the de facto rulers of the land.

At this stage of his political development, Ibrahim held the belief that the Malay rulers could still protect the Malay community and interests, provided their powers were not compromised by colonial intervention. This naive and wishful belief accounts for his positive observations of the non-Federated Malay states of Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Trengganu, where he felt that Malay customs and mores were still upheld and respected.88 He was particularly impressed by Trengganu, where he concluded: ‘kuasa Sultan Trengganu lebih besar daripada kuasa semua Raja-Raja Melayu berkenaan dengan hal pentadbiran negeri masing-masing,’89 and it was on the person of Tengku Omar of Trengganu that Ibrahim pinned his hopes for the revival of the Malay Sultanate of Riau-Lingga.

Whether Ibrahim was right to entertain such hopes has been questioned by scholars like Shaharil Talib (1984), who argued that the reality of life in the Unfederated Malay States (UFMS) was far from idyllic.90 Although Ibrahim did criticise the administration of some of these states, like in Kedah where he observed the tendency to create a top-heavy religious bureaucracy, and the decline in the number of Malay youths (particularly girls) being sent to school,91 Ibrahim’s survey failed to penetrate the internal politics of the Unfederated Malay States, and he failed to include an account of why those relatively ‘independent’ Malay states experienced a number of uprisings (like that of To’ Janggut of Kelantan in 1915 and Haji Derahman of Trengganu in 1928). Consequently, the critical edge of Melihat Tanah Air was blunted by Ibrahim’s tendencies towards self-censorship and his hopes that the Malay rulers would, in the end, save the day.

The true merit of the work, however, lies in his critique of the economic and political condition of the Malay masses, which invariably implicated the British and the native elite. He was acutely aware of the deleterious effects on the Malay masses caused by the rapid capital exploitation and the politics of divide and rule by the British:

‘Sesungguhnya akibat membuka Negeri Melayu ini telah mendatangkan berbagai kesan yang membawa bencana kepada kehidupan Bangsa Melayu, oleh sebab desakan modal dan buruh daripada luar itu. Jadinya bagi umat Melayu negerinya meskipun dibuka akan tetapi oleh beberapa sebab yang tertentu tidaklah dapat mereka merasai nikmat tanakairnya sendiri. Diantara sebab-sebabnya ialah (1) Orang Melayu tidak mengerti cara-cara pentadbiran modal, (2) Orang Melayu tidak faham akan muslihat-muslihat yang datang dari luar, ialah oleh sebab mereka telah lebih lima ratus tahun ditindih di bawah kezaliman Kerajaan Raja-Raja dengan peperangan sama mereka sendiri’.92

Here we find the nucleus of Ibrahim’s radical thought, the full potential of which would flower with his increasing disillusionment of the British and Malay rulers whom he once regarded as protectors. But with his arrest and detention by the security forces in 1941, the first phase of Ibrahim Yaakob’s political career came to an end. The colonial subject’s work was brought to a temporary standstill, and none of his plans or undercover negotiations with the British and the Malay rulers came to fruitation.

Ibrahim’s travels across his homeland had not been in vain, though. Having seen the desperate plight of the Malay masses, he came to the conclusion that there was only one solution to the abysmal conditions: the expulsion of Western colonial powers from the region and the creation of Malaya-Raya (Greater Malaya):

‘Pada masa yang akhir-akhir ini iaitu lepas daripada lima ratus tahun lamanya mereka (orang Malaya) menghadapi peperangan saudara bingga Semenanjung Tanah Melayu ini terbagi kepada beberapa puak yang bernegeri dan berlawanan diantaranya sendiri, maka pada masa ini mulailah datang cita-cita hendak bersekutu semula. Bukanlah sahaja di antara umat-umat Malaya dua juta di Tanah Melayu ini, tetapi dengan umat (rumpun) Melayu di Indonesia seramai enam puluh lima juta itu. Mereka ingin hendak bersatu berkerjasama menggerakkan ikatan kebangsaan bersama menuju Indonesia Raya. Tetapi hari ini hanyalah satu perasaan sahaja baru dan sebahagian ramai dari pihak kaum pertuanan atau darah Raja-Raja yang masih memegang teguh dengan perasaan lamanya sangatlah menentang perasaan-perasaan baru hendak mempersatukan umat (rumpun) Melayu semuanya itu’.93

By the time he was free again, Ibrahim’s world was shattered beyond recognition. The Japanese Occupation allowed Ibrahim to regroup with his comrades of the KMM.

During this period, Ibrahim chose to side with the Japanese as part of his attempt to create a new Malay political movement to reunite the Malay world.94 Ibrahim agreed to help the Japanese by purchasing the Malay newspaper Warta Malaya (with the help of Japanese Ends) in August 1941, in order to launch a sustained anti-British campaign in Malay. Meanwhile other radicals like Ishak Haji Mohammad returned to their careers in journalism.95 If the British colonial authorities had sought to relegate him and his people to the margin of the Malay world, here he had the opportunity to lead himself, his people and Pahang back into the mainstream of Malayan-Indonesian politics.

It was during the Japanese Occupation that Ibrahim articulated the dream of a ‘Greater Malaya’ the loudest. The conception of the Malay world, dunia Melayu, upon which it was based, predated the arrival of the Western powers. It recognised none of the artificial geopolitical boundaries drawn by them. But the dream of Malaya-Raya also sought to reinvent and re-contextualise the Malay world, creating a unified, sovereign and independent state united by bonds of language, culture, religion and tradition, and a unitary state apparatus.

The two main characteristics of the Malaya-Raya project were (1) its conception of Pan-Malayanism which regarded all the indigenous Indonesian-Malay peoples as having the same broad racial and cultural identity, and (2) its willingness to bring down the divisions between the different racial groups (between Malays and non-Malays) by insisting on a broader concept of Malay culture. It was this that allowed the Malay radicals to work with the nationalists and radicals of Indonesia as well as the non-Malay left-wing and communist movements in Malaya at the time. These features remained part of the Malay radicals’ political agenda, even after the war.

In July 1945, under the watchful eye of the Japanese, Ibrahim Yaakob and other leaders of the Malay nationalists were allowed to launch the Kesatuan Rakyat Indonesia Semenanjung, KERIS (Union of Indonesian and Peninsular Malay Peoples) under the leadership of Dr Burhanuddin al-Helmy. This short-lived project was the closest the radicals ever got to realising their cherished dram.96 By Ibrahim’s own account, he had by then become too dangerous for the Japanese.97

Caught up in the internal politics of the Malay nationalists, Ibrahim missed his opportunity to leave Malaya with the Indonesian nationalist leaders, Sukarno and Hatta, when they flew back to Indonesia, in time to proclaim independence on 17 August 1945. By the time he arrived in Indonesia, the British were back in power in Malaya and the Malay nationalists had regrouped under the banner of the Partai Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya, PKMM (Malay Nationalist Party of Malaya), under the leadership of Mokhtaruddin Lasso and Dr Burhanuddin al-Helmy.98

Ibrahim Yaakob spent his remaining years in Indonesia where the Malay nationalist from Pahang was seen and regarded as an ‘Indonesian’ in the broadest sense of the word — meaning a native of the Indonesian-Malayan archipelago and a Southeast Asian citizen. Then in 1948, a book entitled Sedjarah Dan Perdjuangan Di Malaya99 (The History and Struggle of Malaya) appeared in Indonesia. Its author was recorded as IK Agastja, but a cursory glance at the biographical details made it clear who the mysterious author was: Ibrahim Yaakob.

In 1948, Ibrahim Yaakob lived in Indonesia as Iskandar Kamel. The Malay journalist-turned-anti-colonial-activist identified himself as a ‘nasionalis progressive‘ (as opposed to the conservative ‘nasionalis feudalist‘). The Indonesian editors of the Sedjarah would claim that in his nasionalis veins flowed the blood of a Bugis.100 This transformation in him was partly due to his ‘adoption’ by the left-wing nationalists of Indonesia and the result of his own political maturity and disillusionment with developments in Malaya.101 But the transformation of Ibrahim Yaakob to IK Agastja, and the Pahang-Malay activist to the nasionalis progressive, was not merely a nominal metamorphosis. In the Sedjarah we find Ibrahim at his most critical and incisive, the gender style of the past giving way to sharper and more explicit condemnation of the machinations of the British. The journalistic style of his earlier works like Melihat Tanah Air (1941) gave way to a systematic analytic approach and showed a deeper understanding of the problems facing the Indonesian-Malay peoples of the archipelago as well as the dy. namics of domination and exploitation.102

In Indonesia, Ibrahim Yaakob developed his polemic against British rule and the politics of neo-colonialism, which he saw being established by the departing colonial powers all around the region. He warned of the next phase of neo-colonial rule with Britain attempting to retain its hold on Malaya by the creation of universal Malayan citizenship and the promotion of a ‘Europeanised’ culture in Malaya, leading to a ‘semi-European state’, the final bastion of neo-colonialism in the Third World.103 He would continue to take on an increasingly polemical and bitter stand, pointing his finger not only at the British but also at those whom he regarded as their cronies: the migrant capitalist and labour classes, the forces of Western capital, the indigenous feudal and conservative go-betweens, and the new Western-educated conservative-nationalists led by the likes of aristocrat Onn Jaafar (who in 1953 was made honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire).104

Ibrahim Yaakob, being unable to return to Pahang, spent the rest of his years living in exile in Indonesia. With the failure of PKMM in Malaya, the party’s chief advisor, Dr Burhanuddin, gave his approval to relocate PKMM to Indonesia. In 1950, the move was made and PKMM was proscribed in Malaya. Based in Jogjakarta, under the leadership of Ibrahim Yaakob, PKMM was renamed the Kesatuan Malaya Merdeka (Independent Malaya Union). Ibrahim Yaakob spent many years helping the Indonesians in their campaign to discredit the newly created Malayan Federation as a neo-colonial entity. During the period of confrontation (Konfrontasi) between Indonesia and Malaysia (1963-65), the son of Pahang, who was Still committed to the belief that Indonesian-Malayan world was one, aided the Indonesian effort as a propagandist, calling for the reunification of Malaya with the rest of Indonesia. At a time when colonial stereotype of the passive, backward and hopeless Malay native was still in circulation, even in academic and political circles,105 Ibrahim Yaakob showed that a native from a ‘remote’ corner of Pahang could transcend both the epistemic and political borders that confined him.

Ibrahim Yaakob’s Melihat Tanah Air (1941) and Sedjarah Dan Perdjuangan Di Malaya (1948) can be seen as an attempt to restore Pahang and its people to a sense of historical unity that was shattered by colonial intervention. Though none of Ibrahim’s works were composed in a spirit of intertextual dialogue or critique, they remain interesting and important counter-narratives to the pseudo-scientific works of colonial explorer-colonisers like Clifford.

Ibrahim Yaakob’s works relocate Pahang into a broader Malayan-Indonesian archipelago with shared geographical, historical, economic and cultural bonds. Ibrahim Yaakob does not posit Pahang as the centre of the world, but rather as part of it — namely, the Indonesian-Malay world. By doing so, he renders irrelevant considerations of centrality and periphery, collapsing temporal and geographical distance in a cultural-historical continuum.

Yet, it is ironical that Ibrahim Yaakob’s efforts to bring the Malay world together were undone by the rise of ethno-nationalism in both Malaysia and Indonesia. Despite his labours, the Malayan-Indonesian archipelago remains divided, politically and geographically, in accordance to the borders set by the British and the Dutch.


81. The Majlis would henceforth assume a more conservative outlook, made increasingly obvious by the tone set by its editorials. By the end of the war, Majlis was clearly identified as the newspaper for the Malay conservative and traditionalist camp. The radical voice of the Malay intelligentsia would be taken up by Utusan Malaya, which was established in 1939.

82. Ibrahim Yaakob, Melihat Tanah Air, Percetakan Timur, Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia, 1941 (1st edition), 1974 (2nd edition). All quotes and references to Melihat Tanah Air are drawn from the 2nd edition of 1974, with Romanised Malay spelling.

83. In his Sedjarah dan Perdjuangan Di Malaya (1948), Ibrahim wrote about his secret negatiations with British military and intelligence officers like L M Wyne, Head of Political Intelligence in Singapore, about the possibility of setting up Riau-Lingga as an independent Malay buffer state against a possible Japanese invasion from the South. The British considered the proposal because they were uncertain about the Dutch commitment to the war and the ability of their forces to hold a Japanese attack from the sea. The Sedjarah states that: ‘Dalam hal itu IBHY bersetudju djika dapat mengembalikan Keradjaan Riau buat sementara sebagai negeri alat di-selatan Singapura agar dapat memudahkan djalan-nja menghadapi serangan Djepang jang amat berbahaja itu. Tudjuan usaha itu semata2 kebangsaan dan bersih dari pengaruh2 lain, oleh itu segala pekerdjaan disusun olehnja agar sesuatunja dapat berdjalan dengan baik… Maksud jang tersembunji dari IBHY masa itu ialah menurut fahamnja ‘Kesatuan harus ada asas’. Oleh itu kalau kita berdjuang dengan ada negara sekalipun selebar tapak tangan dahulu, tjukup, untuk mengasaskan kekuatan, dari sana baru kita bergerak madju meluaskan kekuatan itu’ dan kelihatan njata usahanja itu ialah akan melahirkan negara Melayu di-Riau jang duduknja diperantaraan kuasa2 Pacific agar supaya dapat didjadikan satu kesempatan untuk mengudjudkan kekuatan Melayu dan memudahkan berhuhung kepada Indonesia dimasa kuasa dunia didalam mengadapi peperangan itu’. (Trans: ‘In that matter IBHY (Ibrahim) agreed that sovereignty ought to be returned to the Malay state of Riau that lay to the south of Singapore, so that Riau may serve as a buffer in case of an attack by the Japanese. But this proposal was without conceit and it was motivated only by nationalist aspirations, thus IBHY set about the task in earnest… The idea that was behind it all was that ‘an organisation needs a foundation’. Therefore, when one is engaged in a struggle for one’s homeland — even if it is no more than the size of your palm — it is enough: it provides one with a basis upon which the struggle can he developed; and thus it is clear that his (Ibrahim’s) efforts were to set up an independent Malay state in Riau that would stand between the Pacific power and serve as a foundation for Malay organisation and bridge with Indonesia when the superpowers were engaged in their own conflict later on’.) This had long been a cherished dream of Ibrahim’s. During his six-month tour of his country, he entered into secret negotiations with the Malay rulers as well. He approached the Chief Minister of the Sultanate of Trengganu, Tengku Omar, with a set of historical documents that clearly proved that he (Omar) was in fact the descendant of the royal family of Riau-Lingga. Ibrahim begged Tengku Omar to accept the title of Sultan of Riau as his birthright, and proposed that an independent Malay State be set up there. But it would seem that the British authorities became suspicious of the Malay nationalists’ aims, and the proposal for an independent Malay buffer state in Riau was abandoned just before the Japanese invasion. [Sedharah Dan Perdjuangan, pages 82-83.]

84. Trans: ‘… the rights of the Malays have been compromised. The Malays have been reduced to a rural population that no longer has a role in the economy of their homeland. It is this that causes me such grief having to see mypeople reduced to subjects colonised and ruled by a foreign power. Reduced to poverty amidst the riches of their own country, like a chicken left to die starving amidst padi. It is this emotional anguish which compels me to take to the road and survey my homeland as it has never been done before‘. (Melihat Tanah Air, page 30.)

85. During his travels, Ibrahim discussed with many of his colleagues about the impending threat of a Japanese invasion. It seemed to them that an attack was imminent and that the over-confident British were bound to be defeated. As such, they felt that the Malay radicals ought to show support for the Japanese. Rolf noted that the Japanese may have approached Ibrahim directly (pages 234-235); and that he did receive funds to buy a local newspaper company to stir up anti-British sentiment. In August 1941, Ibrahim bought the Malay newspaper, Warta Malaya, from its Arab owners. The anti-British campaign in Warta Malaya never really took off, because Ibrahim and his colleagues were shortly arrested by the Special Branch.

86. Ibrahim was arrested with many other leaders of the KMM, like Ishak Haji Mohd, Ahmad Boestaman, Hassan Manan and Sultan Djenain. As fate would have it, they were sent to the newly completed Changi prison in Singapore, which would soon be used by the Japanese forces to house British prisoners. In Sekitar Malaya Merdeka, Ibrahim noted that the British Special Branch arrested nearly 150 leaders in October 1941, along with him (Yaakob, page 26).

87. Trans. ‘Truly, it is bewildering when one thinks of it… The Federal Council can be regarded as the highest administrative council that administers the four Malay states which are part of the FMS; yet the language used in the proceedings is exclusively English. And the conduct of the Federal Council is no different from the Council for the Crown Colonies, and the work is similar’ (Melihat Tanah Air, page 33).

88. In Kedah, for instance, he noted with approval that ‘pemerintahan dan pentadbiran negeri semata-mata didalam mesyuarat Kerajaan yang mempunyai kuasa penuh‘ (Trans: ‘the rule and administration of the state remains in the hands of the royal government which still possesses full powers‘) (page 40).

89. Trans: ‘the power of the Sultan of Trengganu exceed that of all the other Malay rulers in the sphere of administration of their states‘ (page 42).

90. Shaharil Talib’s study of the internal politics of Trengganu between 1881 and 1941, sheds much light on the role and activities of the Trengganu elite, that would question the optimism of Ibrahim Yaakob’s views. Shaharil noted that the Trengganu elite’s reaction to modernisation and colonial-capitalist interference was not to challenge it but to accommodate themselves to them and use ‘with advantage the traditional political machinery and its coercive apparatus to gather personal wealth in these ways from the expanding economy‘ (page 220). Rather than respond to the challenge of colonial-capitalism, the Trengganu elite ‘locked itself into a market system and accumulated considerable fortunes over a brief period‘ through the use of traditional taxation and coercive labour. Thus, rather than the nationalistic and patriotic leaders that Ibrahim hoped for, the Trengganu elite made up of the Kerabat DiRaja, Kerahat Am and the Orang Keistimewaan were engaged in a competition to exploit their resources and people. Shaharil also noted that ‘by contrast, the Ulama element of the upper class failed to acquire state rights from the Sultan during the period of economic boom‘ and this might explain why the peasant uprising of 1928 was led by disgruntled sections of the Ulama, like Haji Drahman. The combination of increased colonial penetration and the external pressure to modernise the economy forced the reluctant elite of Trengganu to change their style of administration. But this did not lead to a radical change in the political culture of the State, which remained feudal. Shaharil concluded that the Trengganu elite were not as strong or independent as Ibrahim thought: ‘in its pursuits of wealth it remained a consuming class rather than genuinely entrepreneurial class‘ (page 221) that lived at the expense of its subjects. [Shaharil Talib, After its Own Image: The Trengganu Experience 1881-1941, Oxford University Press, Singapore, 1984.]

91. Melihat Tanah Air, pages 73-74.

92. Trans. ‘In reality, opening of the Malay states to foreign investment brought about a number of catastrophic effects due to the pressure of foreign capital and labour. As such the Malays are unable to reap the benefits of their own homeland, though it is opened to all. The reasons for this are: (1) The Malays have yet to learn the ways and means of financial administration of capital, and (2) The Malays are not prepared to deal with the machinations of outsiders after they have been oppressed for five hundred years by the cruelty, internal feuding and civil wars by their own rulers.‘ [Melihat Tanah Air, page 48.]

93. Trans. ‘For five hundred years the Malay people have been engaged in internecine struggle and civil wars, to the point where the Malay Peninsula today is divided into state: (negeri) against each other; but today there is a wish that they will become united once more. Not only does the wish want to unite the two million Malays of the peninsula, but also the other 65 million people in the Indonesian islands. The wish is to work together to form bonds of cooperation for the creation of a Greater Indonesia. But this is still a new idea and everywhere we will find masters and royals steeped in tradition and who will want to thwart such dreams of uniting the Malays’. [Melihat Tanah Air, page 20.]

94. After being released from detention in February 1942, Ibrahim Yaakob and the Malay radicals found that the Japanese military, establishment that claimed to have come to ‘liberate’ them had banned KMM. Open discussion on Malayan independence and public display of the Indonesian flag, the Merah-Putih (which had become the political standard of the Malay radicals) were also outlawed. Nevertheless, the Japanese courted the radicals and invited them to play a role in the development of Malay civil and paramiliv tary forces, in hope to consolidate their rule in Malaya. Before the Japanese landed, KMM used prOStitutes and bartenders to obtain information from the British. They had also used aboriginal people to monitor British troops in the rural interior and locate their camps. In short, they formed an ‘intelligence branch’ to collate information for the Japanese under Fujiwara Kikan (Fujiwara office), which supervised intelligence gathering from Malaya and Thailand. After the Japanese consolidated their hold on the peninsula, Ibrahim and the other ex-leaders of the KMM, like Ahmad Boestaman, were invited to join and lead the Japanese-sponsored native militia and armed forces, the Giyugun and Giyutai. The Japanese formed the Giyutai (volunteer paramilitia) and Giyugun (volunteer army) in January 1944. Both units were made up of Malay soldiers under Malay officers, selected and approved by the Japanese. Not surprisingly, their commanders were mostly from the radical anti-British group, many of whom were members of KMM. The Giyugun was a professional army, with a base and training camp at Johor Bharu. The troops were given uniforms and arms by the Japanese army, which also trained its members. It was led by Ibrahim Yaakob, who was made its lieutenant-colonel, and many of the soldiers he commanded were ex-KMM members. The Japanese relied on the Giyugun for its local defence force, though they were poorly armed. At its peak, it had about 2,000 members. The Giyutai, on the other hand, was a semi-professional unit that served as homeguards and was organised on a voluntary basis. Its units were dispersed all over the peninsula and it did not have a central administration. Its members were given only the most rudimentary form of military training. The young Malay activist, Ahmad Boestaman, was its leader, and at its peak it had about 5,000 members.

95. Ishak Haji Mohammad worked for the‘Japanese controlled paper Berita Malai (Malay News) and was even posted to Tokyo for a period.

96. KERIS never managed to get very far in its activities, due in part to the decline of fortunes for the Japanese army. By 1944, the Japanese High Command was already contemplating granting independence to Indonesia. The Malay nationalists were keen that independence was granted to the Malay peoples of the peninsula as well. In July 1945, KERIS was formed and during a brief meeting in Taiping, Perak, the leaders of the Indonesian nationalist movement, Sukarno and Hatta, met the leaders of the Malay radicals, Ibrahim Yaakob and Dr Burhanuddin al-Helmy. However, the defeat of the Japanese meant that the members of KERIS were not able to put their plans into action. Indonesia declared its independence unilaterally on August 17. The Malays of the peninsula were left to continue their struggle while supporting the newly independent Republic of Indonesia against Dutch and British aggression. [See: Ahmad Boestaman, Carving A Path to the Summit (Merintis Jalan ke Punchak), Ohio University Press, 1979.]

97. Sedjarah Dan Perdjuangan, page 112.

98. Ahmad Boestaman has noted that PKMM (MNP) was the first and only party formed after the Japanese defeat. He insisted that Ibrahim Yaakob did not take part in the establishment of PKMM, as he was already living in exile at the time (Boestaman, 1979, page 26). Ibrahim’s decision to leave Malaya was probably motivated in part because he had worked with the Japanese in the Giyugun and was judged a collaborator.

99. Sedjarah Dan Perdjuangan Di Malaya, IK Agastja, (@ Ibrahim Hj Yaakob) Penerbit Nusantara, Jogjakarta, Indonesia, 1950.

100. Sedjarah Dan Perdjuangan Di Malaya, pages 1-2.

101. The political climate in Indonesia in the post-war years was radically different from Malaya’s. Indonesia had proclaimed her independence unilaterally in 1945, while Malaya was still under Britain. The ideological complexion of the Indonesian nationalists was more radical and there was certainly less cordiality between them and the powers of the West. There was less respect for the traditional institutions of power in Indonesia than there was in Malaya. In Indonesia, the Kerajaan elites were accused for collaborating with the Dutch and were removed from the political arena. Ariffin Omar noted that in Indonesia ‘the Kerajaan was put even more on the defensive… The pressures on the Kerajaan were even stronger than in Malaya. There was no meaningful moderating influence between them and the radicals as there was in Malaya in the form of the conservatives‘ (page 213). The absence of a conservative buffer (and the colonial censor) in Indonesia partly accounted for Ibrahim’s less restrained polemical style in Sedjarah and his subsequent writings.

102. While Ibrahim’s Melihat Tanah Air (1941), a travelogue, offered a personal assessment of the lives and lot of the Malays, Sedjarah offers a broader analysis of the Malay condition in a more rational and systematic way. It looks at the history of the Malays (going back to the earliest stages of mass migration of the Mongolian and Aryan races southwards into the archipelago), the rise and fall of the early Malay kingdoms (explained not only historically, but analysed in geo-politic and economic terms), and the period of early contact and resistance between the Indonesian-MaJay people and the Western powers. Ibrahim’s analysis and documentation was also different: it was less anecdotal and general, its scope was broader and deeper. He documented the decline of the Malays, but explained it in a broader critique of colonial capitalism and the rise of Western imperialism.

103. Ibrahim referred to the plans to create a ‘Malayan Malaya’ as the final attempt to secure a British hold: (Trans.) ‘The concept of ‘Malayan Citizenship’ in reality only caters to the Anglo-Malays who are mentally inclined to see themselves at semi-European, and as such it will create a nation of European descent which regards itself as European in identity which also see itself as having higher status to the other Asian races. This attitude is being taught and cultivated today in the same way that the distinction between Black and White was instilled in the Union of South Africa, and it will inevitably become an obstacle to the ascendancy of the Asian races in Southeast Asia in the future‘ (Sedjarah Dan Perdjuangan, pages 123-124). Behind the seemingly liberal gesture of offering citizenship to all Malayans, the true objective of Britain was to ensure its economic hold on the resources and capital in the country, and to protect the Anglophile non-Malays who dominated the economic sphere. Chandra Muzaffar noted that ‘the offer an extremely liberal terms of citizenship to what was then a recently-domiciled immigrant population had one clear objective: to ensure continuity and stability in the rubber and tin industries (where non-Malays dominated)‘. Chandra further pointed out that this had even more importance in the immediate post-war years in order to help Britain, the Mother-Country, rebuild itself (Chandra, 1979, pages 55-56). The sincerity of the British colonial authorities to help accommodate the non-Malay communities was shown to be patently superficial during the Emergency of 1948-1960, when they targeted them (the Chinese, in particular) as potential communist supporters and inflicted upon them forced relocation and mass repatriation to China. [Rez Hua Wu Yin, Class and Communalism in Malaysia, Zed Press, London, 1983.]

104. Onn Jaafar came from a prominent Malay aristocratic family in Johor. His father and grandfather had both served as Chief Ministers in the Sultanate. Onn himself was educated at MCKK and later served in the colonial bureaucracy, and took up writing as well. In 1946, he wrote an appeal in the Malay press that led to the first Malay Congress and the creation of UMNO. However, in 1951, Onn left UMNO to form his own Independence of Malaya Party (IMP) when he failed to persuade the Malay members of UMNO to extend membership to non-Malays. To Ibrahim Yaakob, Onn Jaafar was the Europeanised, Anglophile Malay aristocratic-ruler whom the British were keen to promote. The desperate attempt by the British to help Onn Jaafar’s Independence of Malaya Party (IMP) only reinforced Ibrahim’s claims that the British were not about to leave until they had secured their interests. In 1953, Onn Jaafar was made honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, though this would be counterproductive in the end, for it only made him look like a British puppet (Miller, page 123). After the defeat of IMP at the 1951-52 elections, he formed the Parti Negara (National Party).

105. As late as 1960, European social scientists and academics were still lamenting the fate of the ‘disabled’ Malays. In his survey for the Fabian Society, socialist thinker John Lowe described the Malays as ‘an unsophisticated, technically underdeveloped rural people, while the Malayan Chinese are technically resourceful and economically energetic’ (page 1). Lowe’s condemnation of the Malays was blanket: ‘The mass of the Malay peasantry are traditionalist, suspicious and often superstitious, offering formidable resistance to change‘ (page 22). Lowe also suggested that as an ex-imperial power that still wielded enormous influence on the independent state, Britain should make an effort to promote secular modernisation in the ex-colony and ‘British business should take care not to encourage and support traditionalist elements or local vested interests against modernising movements‘ (page 37). [John Lowe, The Malayan Experiment, Fabian International and Commonwealth Bureau, Research Series no. 213, The Fabian Society, London, 1960.]

Excerpt Source

“Chapter 2: Inventing ‘Pahang’: Mapping the Geography and Society of Pahang in Colonial and Anti-Colonial Discourse.” From Inderapura to Darul Makmur: A Deconstructive History of Pahang. By Farish A. Noor. 1st ed. Kuala Lumpur: Silverfish Books, 2011. 71-79. Print.

About The Author

Farish A. Noor (b. 15 May 1967, Georgetown, Penang) is a political scientist and historian and is Associate Professor at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies as well as the School of History (SoH) of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

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