PETALING JAYA: At first glance, Jerantut, the biggest district in Pahang, may seem like a peaceful and uneventful location. Most people know it as a gateway to Taman Negara, the country’s first national park.
Flip through the pages of Jerantut’s history, however, and you might be surprised to find this place of quiet beauty has ties to two legendary Malay freedom fighters: Pawang Nong and Mat Kilau.
These heroes fought valiantly to defend our country from foreign oppression, and it is thanks to their sacrifices that Malaysia is what it is today.
While Pawang Nong, Mat Kilau and their comrades may have passed on decades ago, there are places in Jerantut today that honour their legacies.
So, if you’re thinking of domestic travel, why not make a visit to this historic destination in Pahang and pay tribute to them?
Kampung Ulu Cheka: The Pawang Nong Heritage Gallery
The sleepy village of Kampung Ulu Cheka was established in 1907 by Pawang Nong (1874-1977) and seven of his companions.
Born Haji Nong Taib Bin Santan, this folk hero was renowned as a shaman, martial-arts master and healer who defended his homeland against communist and Japanese threats.
Visitors can celebrate the life of this legendary warrior and visit his tomb at the Pawang Nong Heritage Gallery in Kampung Ulu Cheka. This small but welcoming gallery features comprehensive displays on this historical figure and celebrates the heritage of the village he founded.
The spirit of Malay nationalism burns bright in this place, which also highlights other local freedom fighters such as Dol Said, Mat Salleh, and Datuk Maharaja Lela.
A small section is dedicated to Pahang Malay silat – an art form that also originated from Pawang Nong – as well as three major battles in which Kampung Ulu Cheka was involved, namely the battles of Perlok (1948), Kuala Terbol (1952), and Bukit Batu (1952).
Of course, it’s not all conflict here: the gallery also features an impressive array of local artefacts from its early pioneer days in 1907 up until the 1980s. These range from farming and fishing tools to cooking utensils and storage materials.
One of the most impressive items is a set of traditional Malay wedding attire from the 1960s, intricately patterned and sewn from fine kain songket. Look for this beautiful display in one of the rooms located behind a bright beaded curtain.
The gallery’s proximity to the community centre means you might run into Ahmad Shah Jamlus, the fifth headman of Kampung Ulu Cheka. He’s a kind and jovial fellow who is more than eager to show you around.
“This gallery is a great way to gain insight into the struggles of the older generations,” he shared with FMT. “We can admire their local wisdom, how they could come up with so much innovation despite being limited by the technology of the past.”
If all this has made you especially curious to learn more about the colourful history here, the gallery has a special corner for books on Kampung Ulu Cheka, as well as a guide to the district’s unique dialect. Did you know, for example, that the word “antai” means “where”?
Before you leave, don’t forget to snap a selfie with the distinctive mural of two keris fighters on the gallery’s exterior wall.
Pulau Tawar: The Mat Kilau Gallery Complex
Legendary freedom fighter Mat Kilau recently became a household name with the release of last year’s blockbuster “Mat Kilau: Kebangkitan Pahlawan”, the top-grossing film in Malaysian history.
Those who want to learn more about this famed personality can head to Kampung Masjid in Pulau Tawar, Jerantut, the birthplace of this brave son of Pahang.
The Mat Kilau Gallery Complex, established in 2015, is devoted to Mat Kilau Rasu (1865-1970), who resisted the British Empire during the Pahang Uprising of 1891-1895.
Upon entering the complex, visitors are greeted by a large diorama depicting Malay warriors in combat with red-coated British soldiers. On the walls around it are detailed write-ups of crucial moments in Mat Kilau’s life, from his humble beginnings to the height of his anti-colonialist struggles.
One section is specially devoted to the heroism of Mat Kilau, detailing how the legendary warrior and his men would sometimes fight with just wooden sticks, sharpened bamboo, or their bare hands.
History buffs will enjoy reading the story of Tok Gajah, a fellow freedom fighter during the Pahang Uprising, and learning about places such as the Parit Dalam Fort and the Ancient Well, both significant locations in Mat Kilau’s life.
The gallery also frequently screens a documentary on the life of this heroic figure, usually at 10am, noon and 3pm daily.
After their time here, visitors can head on over to the Tomb of Mat Kilau, located in a tranquil cemetery about a 10- to 15-minute drive away.
According to Jerantut council tourism unit administrator Suhizal Zaidin, galleries like this are crucial to remind future generations not to take the sacrifices of the past for granted.
“Mat Kilau and his men truly gave all they had for their religion, people and country,” he said. “His story teaches us the importance of perseverance and of building good character, so we cannot let his name or legacy be forgotten.”
Pawang Nong Heritage Gallery
Arena Ulu Cheka,
Kg, 27030 Jerantut, Pahang
Mat Kilau Gallery Complex
Kompleks Galeri dan Sukan Komuniti,
Jalan Pulau Tawar, Durian Hijau,
This article is written as part of Ulu Cheka Exploration 2023 organised by Tourism Malaysia Wilayah Timur.