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Mandailing movement to Malaysia

Millennium markers - Immigration

THE Straits of Malacca has never posed a barrier to human movement from Sumatra to Malaysia and vice versa. The Mandailings have been arriving in Pai Kolang, as they call Klang in Selangor, for centuries to seek their fortune and mine tin before heading back to their ancestral villages. The Mandailings in Sumatra still remember their Ompu Kolang, forefathers from Klang, today.

In fact, the mass migration of Mandailings to Klang and other parts of Peninsular Malaysia preceded any substantial migration of Mandailings to the east coast of their own island. The latter movement only occurred in the 19th century during and after the ''Padri War''.In 1820, the Minangkabau Padris (from the Portuguese word ''padre'' meaning father) invaded the Mandailing homeland. The socio-economic, political, ecological, environmental and spiritual disruption caused by the Padri War (1816-1833) triggered movements of people within and around Mandailing.

The Padri episode was one in a series of historical incursions by the Minangkabau people into the Mandailing homeland; it was during this time that many Mandailings came to Islam at the point of the sword. As it turned out the interpretation and application of Islam in Mandailing is very different from that of the Minangkabau. While the Minangs are matrilineal and adopt a position of custom based on Islamic law, the Mandailings are patrilineal and adopt a position of adat (tradition and customary law) co-existing equally with Islamic law. The latter understanding is closer to the Madinan than to the Shafi'e madhhab (school of thought) dominant today on the peninsula and the Indonesian archipelago.

When Padri War hostilities ceased, the Dutch, who had fought with the Mandailings against the Padris, took over the administration and economic development of the Mandailings. The Dutch began the process of colonisation by setting up administrative posts and collecting houses for local products as well as demanding corvee (unpaid) labour and more intensive production of cash crops. They built a road from the island's interior to Natal on the west coast of Sumatra in an effort to contain the Mandailings economically, by making them turn their backs on their trading partners across the Straits of Malacca. But it was too late. The Mandailing homeland was ravaged by war and could no longer support the remaining population, thereby forcing a mass migration.

The Mandailing are people of the west coast of North Sumatra, Indonesia.

One of the most vivid accounts of the exodus is found in Perpin-dahan Orang Mandailing (Shift of the Mandailings) by Pande Maradjar, published in 1923 in a newspaper entitled Mandailing.

The exodus route taken was from ''Kota Nopan Rao'' on the frontier of Mandailing-Minangkabau country and across the Barisan mountains to Siak Indrapura, or Bengkalis, on the east coast of Sumatra. There the travellers boarded a schooner to Malacca before proceeding to Pahang to mine gold, or to Sungai Ujong (Seremban today) and Klang to mine tin. Apparently, the Mandailings migrated together with the people of Rao (they are called Rawa in Malaysia) and the Talu people, a clan of the Minangkabau, who were also effected by the turmoil of the Padri War. Over time, the Mandailings found a shorter route to the peninsula via the port of Penang.

The journey from Rao to Bengkalis took between six and seven months. On the way, the Mandailings would stop at Romba or Tamoese (Tambusai) on the east coast of Sumatra to cultivate padi in order to raise the necessary funds to continue with their journey to Malaysia. Some of the Mandailings, after spending a year or two on the peninsula, would return to their homeland bearing gifts - such as the famed Pattani shawl. They brought tales of a better life on the peninsula, motivating other Mandailings to join the movement.

Pande Maradjar thought that the Mandailings who left during and after the Padri War actually pindah negeri (emigrated) while those who went to the peninsula during his time, the early 20th century, did so as merautau (sojourners) seeking their fortune outside the homeland.

Whatever their reasons for coming, the Mandailings were a recognisable social group in the peninsula by the 1860s, engaging in mining, trading, mercenary activities, and economic and political mediation.

What is most striking about the Mandailing migration in the 19th century as opposed to earlier movements is that it was largely led by the Namora Natora (the nobles and elders) who fled their troubled homeland. Many of the Mandai-lings in Malaysia today - including this writer - are descended from these immigrants.

In keeping with the tradition in Sumatra, the Namora Natoras moved whole clans at the same time under a united command, leading a band of followers to a new site. Unlike the Chinese arrivals who consisted mainly of single male immigrants, many Mandai-ling immigrants brought their relatives with them, including womenfolk and children.

The Namora Natoras and their clans practised the Mandailing form of governance in their new land, making collective decisions through traditional modes of consultation. They perpetuated their genealogical knowledge based on the clan. Their social structure and customary law tied the new settlements symbolically, politically and by kinship to the old. Due to these strong connections, many ''Malaysian'' Mandailings retain the memory of their ancestral villages in Sumatra, and are known to make cultural pilgrimages to Sumatra from the 19th century to this day. These visits were only interrupted by World War II and Malaysia's Confrontation with Indonesia in the 1960s.

The arrival of large groups of Mandailings caused shock waves and changed the political and socio-economic landscape of the peninsula in the 19th century, the effects of which can still be felt today.

When they arrived, the Mandailings became embroiled in several civil wars on the peninsula: the Rawa War of 1848; the Pahang War (1857-1863); the Selangor War (1867-1873) - better known to the Mandailings as Porang Kolang, or War of Klang - and the Perak War (1875-1876). As a result, the Mandailings on the peninsula were feared and viewed with suspicion. They gained a notorious reputation as trouble-makers, rebels and insurgents, a stigma that afflicts them to this day. Many went ''underground'', concealing their identities by changing their names and dropping clan names to avoid detection by the victors of those 19th century wars.

The Eurasian J.C. Pasqual, who wrote about the Rawa War based on an account from Raja Allang Raja Brayun, stated that: ''At this time Raja Brayun, a Mendeleng from Sumatra, invaded Sungai Ujong and attacked Datoh Klana Sendeng, because a friend of Raja Brayun was murdered and Datoh Klana Sendeng refused to pay the blood money of $400....''

The Hikayat Pahang text implicates the Mandailings in the Pahang War. It reported that the ''Mendeheleng Rawa'' in Raub were out to create ''a big fight in Pahang...''. The civil war spilled over into Selangor where the warring parties took sides in the Selangor War. The Mandailing-Rawa elements who were booted out of Pahang then launched lightning raids from across the border. Wan Ahmad of Pahang was convinced that there would be no peace in his country until these freebooters were crushed. He gained British permission to attack them in Selangor, then under the pro-British ''Viceroy'', Tengku Kudin. Wan Ahmad sent thousands of troops, by land and sea, to flush out the Mandailings and Rawas in Selangor, who were only a few hundred strong.

The Mandailing had been involved in Selangor politics from the late 18th century. They played an instrumental role in helping Raja Abdus-Samad gain the Selangor throne. According to Pasqual, ''When Sultan Mahomad was dying, Abdus-Samad, Raja Brayun and Tuanku Panglima Raja, also known as Raja Berkhat Rio, went to his bedside and Raja Brayun and Raja Berkhat Rio drank the ayer sumpah (water of fealty) and appointed Abdus-Samad Sultan of Selangor''. It was during the reign of Sultan Abdus-Samad that the Selangor War broke out. Raja Asal, Raja Brayun and many other Mandailing leaders were active players in the war.

But thereafter, the Mandailings became such a threat to the political stability and economic life of Selangor during the war that they earned the condemnation of Sultan Abdus-Samad, who declared them a menace and ordered their removal from Selangor.

''... We (Sultan Abdus-Samad) have granted our son, Tengku Kudin, this letter under our seal, and he has undertaken to vanquish the Mandilings and their allies. Now, therefore, the above (chiefs of Selangor) will obey our son who is also appointed leader of all foreigners, and whosoever does not obey his orders will be treated as a rebel according to the law. All Chinese and Malays engaged in commerce in the interior shall assist Tengku Kudin and his adherents with gunpower and weapons. No towkay (businessman) shall assist the Mandiling people and if, by Allah's grace, the disturbances are settled, the possessions of the Mandilings shall be divided among such the aforesaid as assist Tengku Kudin.''

A British governor, Sir Frank Swettenham, described Raja Asal, the warlord of the Mandailings in the Selangor War, as a great disturber of the peace - so much so that his removal from Selangor was celebrated. The Resident of Selangor at the time, J.G. Davidson, reported that, ''But for him (Raja Asal) the last disturbances in this country would have been easily put down'' and ''that the Mandaling men were the strongest party in opposing the Viceroy (Tengku Kudin) during these disturbances''. In Davidson's estimation, ''Raja Asal has the greatest influence among the Mandaling men, and is a very clever and very energetic old man''. Davidson wrote to J.W.W. Birch, the first British Resident to Perak, asking the latter to arrest ''Raja Asal at once'', adding that ''you know how powerful and how dangerous a man he is''.

The Selangor War dislodged the Mandailings from their stronghold in Kuala Lumpur, Ulu Klang and Ampang. They fled to Perak, Malacca, Batu Pahat in Johor, and Asahan on the east coast of Sumatra. The Chinese Hakka clan (Kah Yeng Chews), the Mandai- lings' partners in business and in war, followed in the footsteps of the Mandailing warlords when they fled Selangor for Perak.

Having undergone a century of war, the Mandailings chose peace in Perak, but had to make many compromises. Among them was the decision to accept British sovereignty in Malaya as well as Dutch sovereignty in Indonesia. Consequently, they had to go along with colonial social engineering and the colonial definition of the political-economic functions of the various ethnic migrant groups.

The `Gopeng Continget`, comprising Mandailing troops led by Imam Perang Jabarumum, was summoned by the British Colonial Government to put down the Pahang uprising in 1892

At this point in time, the Mandailings were probably thinking of their safety and their existence as a people. A life of warfare, from the Padri War in Sumatra to all the wars on the peninsula, was not the way to bring up a family and guarantee their survival. Although in Pahang and Selangor the Mandailings found themselves fighting against the proxies of the British, in Perak, the Mandailings made a strategic decision to change sides and become British allies. They served as the storm troopers and bounty hunters of the British in the Perak War and were rewarded with mines, lands and positions as tax collectors. In contrast to their previous unsettled existence, they now buka negeri (founded settlements) and became rubber and coffee cultivators.

The Mandailings have not quite been forgiven by the Perak Malays for this turnaround, and accusations of treachery still ring out to this day.

By the 1940s, Mandailing immigrants to British Malaya were political refugees seeking asylum from Dutch intelligence working against Indonesian nationalism. Notable among them was Kamaluddin Nasution, who was involved with the Sumpah Pemuda (Youth Oath) movement that initiated the struggle for Indonesian independence. Like many Mandailings before him, Kamaluddin changed his name to avoid detection, and was known as Abdul Rahman Abdul Rahim.

Mandailing immigrants still make their way to Peninsular Malaysia to this day, some sponsored by their Malaysian relatives. They settle in traditional Mandailing immigrant states such as Perak and Selangor. They earn a living as jamu (traditional herbal preparations) sellers, textile traders, butchers and petty traders. Unlike the earlier wave of immigration, many of today's Mandailings come as individual economic immigrants instead of in large clans. These latter-day travellers do not form communities with allegiance to their raja (king) and ''mother-village''. Some marry local women and their descendants have never lived within the adat; as a result, many members of the new generation born here do not even know what it means to be a Mandailing.

In the name of ''administrative convenience'', the Mandailings have been labelled ''Malays'' or ''Malay-Mandailing'' in Malaysia and as ''Bataks'' or ''Batak-Mandailing'' in Indonesia. On both sides of the Straits of Malacca, this racial fiction has been reinforced by the population census in the service of communal politics. After independence, Malaya followed a deliberate policy of ''Malay-isation'' of the Nusantaran people (the different South-East Asian peoples labelled as ''Malay'') in Malaysia through the instruments of nation-building, such as national education and cultural policies. The outcome of this is that the younger generation of Mandailings is losing its cultural identity and succumbing to globalised mass culture like everyone else. The Mandailing identity is being erased and this crime has largely gone unnoticed.

The Mandailings now face an identity crisis in both Malaysia and Indonesia. Due to the strong genealogical tradition, many Mandailings in both countries can still trace their origins. Not recognised as a people, they now have a choice of recovering their cultural identity and patrimony following the revival of ethnic groups all over the world in the face of globalisation, and of contributing to the recovery of endangered human diversity.

* Abdur-Razzaq Lubis is the Malaysian representative of the Sumatra Heritage Trust and the Mandailing Cultural Studies Foundation (Yapebuma) as well as the project leader of a Toyota Foundation research grant on Mandailing history, governance and cultural heritage. He is also the creator of the Mandailing website, Horas Mandailing, at www. mandailing.org.Millennium Markers is a weekly series that looks at events and happenings that shaped Malaysia and the surrounding region over the last 1,000 years; it is coordinated by Dr Loh Wei Leng, Universiti Malaya.


Notes: STF -: For centuries the Mandailings, an ethnic group from the island of Sumatra, have travelled across the Straits of Malacca to seek their fortune in Malaysia. Millennium Markers continues its focus on minorities this week with ABDUR-RAZZAQ LUBIS's article tracing the Mandailing movement and the huge impact these people have had on Malaysia.

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