Tok Janggut: From Traitor to Patriot
When he was killed in a fight with the British, Tok Janggut was labelled a rebel and his body hung upside down for public viewing. Today though, he has been recognised as a freedom fighter, writes SAGER AHMAD
HERE’S a twist to history. Ninety-two years ago, Merdeka was “declared” — in May, 1915 — in the district of Pasir Putih in Kelantan. That was 42 years and three months before the August 31, 1957, declaration!
It was rebel Malay leader Tok Janggut who declared the district of Pasir Putih free from British rule but the “declaration” was short-lived. Pasir Putih is the southernmost district along the east coast in Kelantan bordering Besut in Terengganu.
Tok Janggut and several followers were killed in battle by British soldiers summoned from Singapore. They came in a gunboat armed with large cannons.
His body was paraded in a bullock cart around Kota Baru and later, in a final act of indignation, it was covered with only a loincloth and hung upside down near the Kelantan River for four hours for public viewing. He was later buried on the opposite bank.
Tok Janggut, whose real name was Haji Mat Hassan bin Panglima Munas, was from Jeram, Pasir Putih. He had long since being reinstated as a national hero. His grave is now under a hut with tiled roof and surrounded by concrete walls. A Tourism Malaysia signboard tells about his exploits and untimely death on May 24, 1915.
A school in Pasir Putih has been named after him and there is a monument by the Semerak River, complete with keris, spears, tengkolok (head gear) and two pictures of the fallen hero but there is no signboard to inform outsiders what the monument is all about.
Tok Janggut shares a special place in history alongside other heroes who stood up against the British colonial masters.
Among them were Datuk Maharaja Lela and Datuk Sagor in Perak, Datuk Bahaman, Datuk Gajah, Mat Kilau and Mat Seman (Mat Kelantan) in Pahang. Datuk Dol Said in Naning, Negeri Sembilan, and Haji Abdul Rahman Limbong in Terengganu.
Others were Mat Saleh and Antanum in Sabah, and Sharif Masahor, Rentap, Banting, Asun and Rosli Dobi in Sarawak. The main bone of contention among the “rebels” was the excessive and unfair tax and insensitive meddling in local affairs and customs by the new “masters”.
Tok Janggut Trail
Recently, a group of journalists and tour agents went on a tour of various historical sites in Kelantan including to Pasir Putih. We stopped at Kampung Dalam Pupuh, the battle site between Tok Janggut and the British. Formerly a padi field, this is now abandoned and covered by small trees.
We met Yatim Awang, 96, a descendant of Tok Janggut. Yatim’s father (Awang) was one of the 43 villagers suspected of taking part in the rebellion. He was taken to Singapore where he died in prison.
We were shown a cluster of four coconut trees behind Yatim’s house where he said the bodies of local fighters Tok Hussin and Tok Abas, who were killed in battle, were secretly buried by villagers.
They dared not tell anyone about the graves for fear that the British would treat them like they did with Tok Janggut’s body. So instead of batu nesan (tombstones) to mark the graves, coconut palms were planted.
We also stopped at Pasir Putih to see Tok Janggut’s monument by the Semerak River, complete with pictures of his corpse – a close up shot of his face and another showing the body hanging upside down by the Kelantan River, guarded by a soldier.
The author of the book, Tok Janggut, Pejuang atau Penderhaka, Prof Nik Anuar Nik Mahmud of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia uncovered the pictures tucked away in the Bodleian Library Oxford, England when he went there to do research.
According to him, after the Tok Janggut rebellion episode, the British officer who documented the incident was told to destroy all records but instead these were secretly hidden and finally made their way to Oxford.
The book, published two years ago, also showed the execution of Berahim Teleng, one of Tok Janggut’s followers, by firing squad. Other pictures showed British soldiers resting after the battle.
We also saw Tok Janggut’s grave. Previously unmarked, it was given its due respect by the State government long after Merdeka.
At the Kota Baru War Museum, Nik Anuar said that the British exploited the Tok Janggut affair further by using their stooges in the government and forcing the palace to endorse their action.
Tok Janggut was portrayed as penderhaka (traitor) to the sultan even though he had explained that he was only rebelling against the British rule.
Nik Anuar said the prelude to the Tok Janggut uprising was the Bangkok Treaty on March 10, 1909, when Britain and Siam (Thailand) agreed to share the States of north and eastern Malaya without consulting the local chiefs and the people.
Britain took control of Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Terengganu while Siam took Patani, Menara, Jalor and Setol.
He said that earlier, in 1902, Siam had conquered Pattani, known in the Malay world as “Serambi Mekah” (the corridor of Mecca) by ousting its last ruler Tengku Abdul Kadir Kamaruddin.
“Sir John Anderson, the British governor of the Straits Settlement arrived at Kota Baru from Singapore on a gunboat in 1910 and forced Long Senik, local chieftain to accept the British direct rule over Kelantan,” he said.
“Long Senik was powerless to fight the British and on Oct 22 that year, he was forced to recognise the Bangkok Treaty and in return the British recognised him as Sultan Mahmud – IV. He was given $2,000 as allowance and $4,800 annually as pension.
“State administration was by order of British Advisors and administration of districts was under district officers (DO) who were outsiders, either British or locals. One such DO, Abdul Latif from Singapore, was given the mandate to rule Pasir Putih.”
His harsh and unfair rule was the last straw for Tok Janggut and his followers who caused the DO to flee to Kota Baru.
The British forced the locals to pay a high tax per head as well as tax on beetle nuts and coconuts. Some lost their land titles and inheritance. In protest, Tok Janggut and his followers boycotted the tax collection exercise.
“Tok Janggut went to Mecca to perform the Haj in 1914. There, he met with and received religious instructions from Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fatani who entrusted him with the task of launching a jihad (holy war) against Siam to free Pattani.
“His enlightenment against foreign exploitation and oppression of the Muslim world was further reinforced by a fatwa (decree) issued by the mufti of Ottoman Turkey that all Muslims must fight against British direct rule. World War I began that year and Turkey took Germany’s side against Britain.
“Alarmed, the British used every method to stop Muslims in its colonies from carrying out the fatwa. In Kelantan they forced the sultan to give a written support to the British government.
“The harsh treatment meted out to Tok Janggut and his followers was not only an insult to local customs but was also against basic human decency,” he said.
Nik Anuar, a direct descendant of Tok Janggut whose family emigrated from Pattani, said his book had put the facts down and that he was glad Tok Janggut had finally been given a rightful place in history as a freedom fighter.
AS we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Merdeka, let us not forget that we received deliverance from a series of exploiters and colonial masters over several millennia.
In the 14th Century, the Malacca Sultanate covered the Malayan peninsular as well as parts of Indochina and Sumatera. It was a prosperous free port for a century but the arrival of the orang putih (white men) ruined everything.
With the arrival of the Portuguese in 1511, Malacca was reduced from a big kingdom to its present size. After ruling for 130 years, they were ousted by the Dutch in 1641. In turn, Dutch rule ended and the British took over after the signing of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty in 1824. But the British first came here in 1786 with Captain Francis Light taking over Penang.
In the beginning, these colonial masters comprised, not the British government, but big corporations like The British East India Company and the North Borneo Charter Company together with their counterpart, the Dutch East India Company (VOC).
The British ruled Malaya for 120 years until World War II (Dec 8, 1941 to Sept 13, 1945) when they were chased out by the Japanese.
The Japanese Occupation lasted three years and eight months. Two weeks of lawlessness followed as the Bintang Tiga (communist) terrorised the country, taking advantage of the lull in transition between the end of the Occupation and the return of the British.
The British ruled Malaya again, successfully weathering the Malayan Communist Party’s military uprising (Emergency) for 12 years between 1948 and 1960.
In all fairness, the British were the most civil of the colonial masters as they left behind not only physical infrastructures but also acted as mentor to the fledgling nation.
The British helped mobilise personnel and resources during Malaya’s efforts to repel attacks from Indonesia during the Konfrantasi (confrontation) when President Sukarno protested against North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak’s plan to join Malaya. Nevertheless, they did and the nation became Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963.
Source: SAGER AHMAD,Travel Times, August, 2007