PETALING JAYA: During the Malayan Emergency from 1948-1960, a military plan was devised by British general Harold Briggs to defeat the Malayan National Liberation Army by cutting off their support among the rural population.
Named the Briggs Plan, it is believed at least 500,000 people were forced to relocate from their homes into heavily guarded concentration camps known as “new villages”.
Yew Bon Tew and his family were among those who had to make a new home in the Jenjarom New Village, which was established on Aug 21, 1951.
“The British government commanded that we had to leave by Aug 21, failing which, they would burn our house. They were even authorised to kill those who did not follow the command,” the 83-year-old told FMT Lifestyle.
Their home in Tanjung Dua Belas was approximately 10km away. While it may not seem very far, they might as well have been worlds apart as the new village was rife with fear and suspicion.
“One day, they summoned all the young men to the Chinese primary school. The people who confessed to being communists were separated and taken away,” he recalled.
There were no roads when the Yew family arrived, and the entire village was fenced in. “The British government assigned lots to different families, and we had to build houses on the plot of land,” Yew said.
In the early days, there were approximately 590 houses in the village. Yew’s house was small and cramped as he had 11 other siblings.
Living conditions in the village were deplorable, and there was no sewage system in place. “There were only buckets that served as toilets. These buckets would be collected and used as fertiliser on the farms.”
Most of the villagers were Chinese; Yew estimates that 90% of them were Hokkien, while the rest were Hakka, Teochew and Hainanese. Family associations were formed to take care of their clans.
Although women were allowed to make a living by working in farms outside the village, they were subject to strict curfews and had to be back by 2pm.
They, however, were prohibited from taking food out with them as the British wanted to prevent any supplies from reaching the communists in the jungles.
Despite these harrowing memories, Yew has fond recollections of collecting ang pows and wearing brand-new handmade clothes during Chinese New Year.
Thankfully, he said, things got better after independence. In 1967, he married Lim Ah Bee, who had also grown up in the new village.
He initially made a living as a farmer but, in 1972, tragedy struck: while riding his motorbicycle, he was involved in a serious accident involving a bus.
Yew ended up in hospital for over 100 days and, upon being discharged, became a hawker. He retired around 14 years ago.
A happy village
While the Jenjarom New Village has long stood as a reminder of the early days, it eventually became known for gangsterism and drugs. In 2015, some of the villagers decided to band together to launch the “Happy Village” initiative to change this perception.
Yew was the first chairman of the organising committee and served for two years. Since then, every Chinese New Year, activities such as calligraphy and singing contests have been organised to draw visitors to the village.
Indeed, the Lunar New Year has become a vibrant affair in Jenjarom New Village, today known as Kampung Sungai Jarom. Preparations, Yew said, typically begin in late December. For him, traditions include painting words of blessings in Chinese calligraphy for his fellow villagers.
He always looks forward to gathering with his family for the festivities: he and his wife have nine children, 20 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
All in all, Yew’s early days in the new village may have been immensely difficult, but he has come to deeply love his new home – his happy village.
“I hope that the people of Jenjarom get better over time, that they are all happy and prosperous. I love the people of Jenjarom and they love me, too,” he concluded.