KUALA LUMPUR: An academic has dismissed historical accounts that credit the founding of Kuala Lumpur to Yap Ah Loy or Raja Abdullah as having “nothing substantive” to them.
Abdur-Razzaq Lubis, who recently published a book detailing the contributions of a third figure, Mandailing noble Sutan Puasa, told FMT the “colonial-era” and “state-sponsored” narratives were misleading.
“The idea that Yap was Kuala Lumpur’s founder was imposed by British colonial rule,” he said. “His biography was released before our independence and incorporated into textbooks without question.
“Then the Malay nationalists said Raja Abdullah was the founder, but they have nothing to back that up.
“There is nothing substantive to validate these claims.”
Yap, who held the high-ranking government position of Kapitan China, is known for what has been described as his “monumental role” in rebuilding Kuala Lumpur in 1881 after parts of the original settlement were destroyed in a fire and, later, swept away in a flood.
The official account in government-approved history texts has long cited Yap as the capital city’s founder and Klang Bugis chief Raja Abdullah as a central figure in its development.
Sutan Puasa, a mining entrepreneur and tin trader, is not mentioned. But Lubis insists that he should be the central figure in the narrative.
He spoke of the man as a visionary leader, saying it was he who attracted Sumatran and Hakka Chinese miners to Kuala Lumpur and was thereby responsible for its development into a multicultural town and tin port.
Lubis, who is a direct descendant of a contemporary of Sutan Puasa, urged the government to consider the merit of his work and validate his version of history in new textbooks.
He said his work, which refers to historical documents and photographs from reputable institutions such as the Oxford and Cambridge libraries, was academically defensible and could be verified by other scholars.
However, he said he recognised the difficulty the government would have in giving official recognition to his work, such as incorporating his narrative in mandated textbooks, because Yap was Chinese and Sutan Puasa was not.
“The Pakatan Harapan government is heavily dependent on the Chinese,” he said. “These people won’t accept the fact that a non-Chinese founded Kuala Lumpur. They won’t even read my book.”
He noted that neither Sutan Puasa nor Raja Abdullah, unlike Yap, is memorialised in the name of any road or building in the city and he urged the authorities to correct this.
“Of course, changing road names to reflect their contributions is definitely not enough,” he said. “They should be recognised for what they did. But that isn’t my objective. I’ve just done the work. Now you follow through on it.”
Lubis’ work has renewed debate among Malaysian historians as well as laymen on the founding of Kuala Lumpur.
Yap’s family has questioned his claims, citing Yap’s extensive role in Kuala Lumpur’s development in the 1880s.
Lubis writes in his book that Kuala Lumpur, originally called Pangkalan Lumpur, was a Mandailing trading post at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers.
He spent five years researching for the book and writing it.
He has now set his sights on documenting the histories of Cameron Highlands, Kampar and Kajang.