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The Selangor Civil War

The Lukut Massacres


It is thought that the civil war that erupted in Selangor after the death of Sultan Muhammad may well have been avoided had there not been a dispute in the succession. According to the Victorian traveller Isabella Bird, it was recognized that Sultan Muhammad had no legitimate offspring, "but it was likely that at his death, his near relation, Tunku Bongsu, a Rajah universally-liked and respected by his countrymen would have been elected to succeed him." Unfortunately for Selangor, the fate of 'Tunku Bongsu', more widely known as Raja Busu, was to prove as tragic as that of his State.

Raja Busu was a son of Sultan Muhammad who, in 1824,came to Lukut with his followers from Selangor, Kedah and other States to develop its rich tin resources. He encouraged Chinese miners, especially from Melaka, to settle in the area and work the tin mines. He was an effective administrator and Lukut prospered, with more and more Chinese miners arriving and expanding the output of the mines.


In 1834, Raja Busu decided to impose a ten per cent levy on all tin extracted and exported from Lukut. This greatly angered the local Chinese miners, as well as their financial backers in Melaka. One dark, rainy night in September, 1834, this anger erupted into rage when some 300-400 Chinese converged upon Raja Busu's palace and surrounded it, angrily shouting and demanding that he either come out or they would set fire to his home. Raja Busu defiantly shouted back "Muslims are not afraid to die - do what you like!"

Upon hearing this, the mob attacked the Palace and the houses of Malays nearby, with hundreds being robbed and killed. Not a single soul in the palace survived. In the words of Isabella Bird, "these miners rose upon their employers, burned their houses, and massacred them indiscriminately, including this enlightened Rajah; and his wife and children, in attempting to escape, were thrown into the flames of their house. The plunder obtained by the Chinese, exclusive of the jewels and gold ornaments of the women, was estimated at 3,500 pounds. This very atrocious business was believed to have been aided and abetted, if not absolutely concocted, by Chinese merchants living under the shelter of the British flag at Malacca."

As survivors fled into the countryside and news of the atrocity spread, Malays in the region converged upon Lukut. The Chinese attempted to escape over the border to British Melaka - but they were ambushed and killed. Villages and mines in Lukut were deserted for years.

In 1846, a Bugis prince from Riau, Raja Jumaat, was officially appointed by the Sultan to rule Lukut on his behalf. While Raja Jumaat made great efforts in trying to win the support of locals and miners, he was also mindful of the district's bloody history and firmly stamped his authority. There was no clearer reminder of this authority than the construction of a fort in 1847 that, today, remains as one of the most well-preserved Bugis forts in existence.

The fort is located on the summit of a hill known as Bukit Gajah Mati (Hill of the Dead Elephant) or Bukit Raja, and was accessible by a winding road from the foot of the hill. The fort overlooks Lukut town and gave an unhindered view of the Lukut river, its surroundings and even the Straits of Melaka.

Built by convict labour, it was square in shape and measured about 200 metres by 170 metres.

Its red laterite stone walls were surrounded by a moat eight metres wide and between eight to ten metres deep. A forest of bamboo stakes were planted at the bottom of the moat and the barricaded stone walls were ringed with the latest Dutch-made cannons. Cannon were also placed at the main entrance to the fort, on the north wall, and a smaller entrance on the west wall.


The fort was further enlarged and fortified during the reign of Raja Bot, Raja Jumaat's son, and the Malay garrison stationed there was strengthened with the employment of 30 Arab mercenaries. A 'sepak raga' court within the fort provided the garrison with sporting entertainment.

The British Resident of Melaka, Captain MacPherson, reported that the troops in Kota Lukut wore uniforms similar to those found in Melaka and that their conduct was "very orderly and disciplined"

A palace was built in the middle of the Fort for Raja Wok, the daughter of Raja Jumaat. Water pools were located at each corner of the fort's perimeter, which were replenished with water brought from the river up to the fort by bullock cart.

However, the royal household had exclusive use of a walled well, called the Princess' Well, which was under guard at all times. Another well located outside the fort was called the Perigi Beracun or Poisoned Well, and was used for the execution of criminals, who were lowered down the shaft into a deadly mix of water, latex and poisonous tree saps.

Raja Jumaat's reign was one of peace and growing prosperity and ended with his death in 1864. During Raja Bot's reign, however, Raja Sulaiman of Sungai Raya attempted to overrun Lukut, resulting in the fort being used as a refuge for women and children fleeing hostilities.

A battle ensued at Kampong Cina and Raja Bot's forces had to withdraw to the fort when every one his Arab mercenaries fled the field after one of their number was killed in the fighting. However, the fort's Malay defenders forcefully threw back Raja Sulaiman's assault and he was forced to flee back to Sungai Raya.

Further unrest bewteen Malays and Chinese in later years, as well as dwindling tin production, led to Lukut's slow decline. By the time Lukut fell under the control of Sungai Ujong in 1878, it was in financial ruin and the fort was abandoned.






Sources:

  • “Kota-Kota Melayu”, Abdul Halim Nasir, 1990, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka
  • “Sejarah Selangor”, Haji Buyong Adil, 1981, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka
  • "A History of Selangor" J M Gullick, 1998, Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Monograph No. 28
  • "The Golden Chersonese" Isabella Bird, 1883, John Murray


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