The Mandailings1 have been coming to the Kinta Valley, the heart of Perak, Malaysia, since the early 19th century. Their presence in the state was noted at the point of British intervention. The Mandailings probably first started to move into Perak in the aftermath of the Padri War2 (1821-1837).
During the Perak War in 1875 after the assasination of J.W.W. Birch, the Mandailings were recruited to assist the British to maintain peace in Perak. Two prominent figures emerged, Raja Asal and Raja Uteh.
With the removal of pernicious leaders who were against the British Government, there was an administrative vacuum in several districts of Perak. Some of the affected areas in Perak includes Gopeng, Papan3 and Tanjung Tualang. Raja Asal grabbed this opportunity and aligned himself to the British.
Raja Asal had the backing of the Mandailings, Rawas, Angkolas Talu and the Kah Yin Chew Hakka. As a reward for their cooperation to the British and also in assisting to restore peace to these areas, the deposed Sultan Muda Ismail’s mine in Papan was given to Raja Asal. The British also appointed him as penghulu, and also made him to the envy of the others, a tax collector. He was the right ‘foreign’ Malay, in the right place at the right time, to prosper mightily.
Raja Asal did not have any children of his own, and Raja Bilah was his sole heir and successor. He passed away on 14 November 1877. Raja Bilah was in his early 40’s when he assumed duty as the leader of the Mandailing people. Raja Bilah, first recruited by the police as a peace-keeper, became a strong ally of the police in enforcing the law.
Raja Bilah gained the trust of H.W.C. Leech, the police magistrate of Kinta stationed in Pengkalan Pegoh. Leech was the first to authorise Raja Bilah to collect tin duties, from which he would be paid commission. He issued a public notice in Jawi, dated 29 July 1878, instructing “all the Chinese who are working in the Papan mines and Sungai Johan River (to) pay duty (chabut) on every bahara $3 rial to Engku Raja Bilah”.
Raja Bilah was officially appointed penghulu for the Belanja district in 1882 by Sultan Yusuf Sharifuddin Muzaffar Shah. He was also the mediator between the Sultan, the British and his people.
Raja Bilah was married to Enche Na’mas Binti Maharaja Mandailing. They had 5 children, Raja Rabiah, Raja Muhammad Ya’qub, Raja Kamariah, Raja Sitiawan and Raja Shahabudin. He served as Penghulu for 26 years until 1906 when he retired.
Raja Bilah died in 1912 and was buried at the Muslim burial ground which he endowed near the Rumah Besar4.
Raja Muhammad Ya’qub bin Raja Bilah took over his position as penghulu of Papan. He was a renaissance man in that his interest was diverse. He was a gardener, a stamp collector, a photographer, he spoke and read in several languages, and subscribed to the leading magazines of the day. Raja Ya’qub authored the Tarikh Raja Asal dan Keluarganya in 1933, which charts the family history as well as the movements of the followers of Raja Asal throughout Malaya. This work is indispensable in writing the history of the Mandailings in Malaya as he has identified most of the main players, in particular in the 19th century, as well as dates of some of the watermark historical events.
1. Benjamin G, Chou C. Inter groups relation in North Sumatra. In Tribal Communities in the Malay World: Historical, Cultural and Social Perspectives 2nd ed. Singapore: Institute Of Southeast Asian Studies; 2003. p388.
2. Padri War. (2007). Wikipedia. Retrieved (2010, February 25) from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Padri_War
3. Rodgers, Susan. (2007, June). Raja Bilah and the Mandailings in Perak, 1875-1911. [book review]. Retrieved from http://bumibebas.blogspot.com
4. Lubis AR, Nasution KS. Raja Bilah and the Mandailings in Perak, 1875-1911. Kuala Lumpur: Areca Books; 2003.
- The Mandailing is a traditional cultural group in Southeast Asia. They are found mainly in the northern section of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. They came under the influence of the Kaum Padri who ruled the Minangkabau of Tanah Datar. As a result, the Mandailing were influenced by Muslim culture and converted to Islam. Previous to their conversion, they practised Hinduism and Parmalim (Batak native religion). There are also a group of Mandailing in Malaysia, especially in the states of Selangor and Perak. They are closely related to the Angkola, who are mixed between Muslim and Christian adherents.↩
- The Padri War (also called the Minangkabau War) was fought from 1821 to 1837, in West Sumatra between Dutch troops and the indigenous population.↩
- Papan was originally a lumber town. It was so named because they used to make timber planks there.↩
- The Rumah Besar functioned more like a council hall. It was used as the Mandailings and other Muslims who would come to Raja Bilah with their problems and proposals, especially after Friday prayers.↩