By Noor Anis Adila Omar
A bizarre monument depicting a “floating pair of hand-chiselling a rock” elevated in the centre of town square holds monumental impacts and values for this small settlement of Batu Pahat.
Batu Pahat is known as a notable town stacked with well-preserved heritage buildings, enjoying fast economic growth and populated with multiracial communities.
However, not many of us might know the stories behind that or have merely seen this picturesque monument as the namesake of Batu Pahat town. But it carried a great historical significance reviving this petite town which evolved extraordinarily till these days.
How did Batu Pahat” get its name?
The name Batu Pahat which means “chiselled stone” was derived from the quarries near the estuary which encapsulated legendary theories behind its name. The origin of this name holds a superstitious belief among locals.
In 1456, Siamese troops led by Admiral Awi Di Chu chiselled stones at the rocky coast in the village of Minyak Beku, with the faith to get fresh water after surrendering the siege at Malacca (Melaka). In fact, the Siamese troops were chased by the Malacca troops led by Tun Perak, the Bendahara of the Malacca empire. And Batu Pahat became the place they camped before launching an attack on Malacca.
Another legend was told about the origin of its name after the Portugese successful capturing of Malacca when they constructed “A Famosa” fortress of granite rocks which were taken from the mouth of Sungai Batu Pahat.
In addition, Batu Pahat formerly well known as a town of salt-makers, the name of Bandar Penggaram was indicated as the namesake of the main economic activities of salted fish productions in the golden days of its town. In the end, the name Bandar Penggaram no longer become a word-of-mouth among youngsters yet old-folks are still familiar with that name.
The origin of Batu Pahat town
Formerly in 1834, Batu Pahat was known as Pulau Kundur and Sungai Batu Pahat was called Sungai Kundur. These small settlements were explored among high ranked and well-known people including village head men (penghulu) and leaders bestowed as village leaders.
One event happened during the reign of the Sultan Hussin in Singapore and Johor where two leaders who were Daik’s leaders and Simpang Kiri leaders known as Rapang, a descendant of Orang Besar Pahang, had a meeting and agreement with Sultan Hussin to elect them to become village heads.
Despite its small-town, in 1885, three passionate English men named Stiple, Jackson and Watt explored a plantation to cultivate an immense coffee plantation at the foothill of Bukit Penggaram near Pengkalan Jeram. Lim Soo Poon, a Chinese man who worked as a wholesaler successfully expanded the growth of the plantation and built four brick houses near Sungai Batu Pahat.
The effort to develop Batu Pahat town extensively did not stop there as in 1888, Dato’ Yahya bin Awaluddin endeavoured some locations including Bukit Senangin and Kampung Tambak on the right bank of Sungai Batu Pahat. Even so, due to economical struggle and geographical structure his efforts were unsuccessful.
Furthermore, urban myth believed that some areas were incapable of being set up as town due to the superstitious belief that small towns would end up “inflated” (masuk angin), eventually the place would be left uninhabited. Another particular event that depicted superstitious belief among communities was a man named Dato’ Yahya Rendah who attempted to open up a town in Senangar but unfortunately, his attempts also failed as the old superstitious was saying that “you will end up dumbfounded”.
At last in 1893, the town was officiated by Datuk Bentara Luar – Mohamed Salleh Perang – on the order of Sultan Abu Bakar Temenggong Ibrahim who was the great-great-grandfather of the current Johor Ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar.
As Commissioner, Datuk Bentara Luar also made the initiative to improve traditional administrative duties and encouraged local villagers to cultivate plants for self-sustenance and spurred investments from Chinese entrepreneurs to set up plantations and carry out trading in Batu Pahat. Endeavouring these efforts, Batu Pahat improved its economy significantly in 1910.
Hand chiselling a stone, the monument of pride
The iconic Batu Pahat’s monument encapsulates the “floating pair of hand-chiselling stones” given this land comprises the town of meaningful historical events, enlightens the small settlement yet gives significant impact to the town’s development.
The unique monument was built at the centre of town square giving its main picturesque for the local mesmerising the town’s centennial celebration in the early 1990s. Instantaneously, the floating pair of “hand-chiselling stone” monument became the landmark of pride for its town located at Jalan Rahmat, Batu Pahat.
Famed as ‘Little Paris’ town for being a red-light town in the 1960s and the 1970s, the quaint landmark is a freshly refurbished town square for locals to enjoy the vibrant nightlife on weekends, a recreation place for playing kites, jogging and a place for festive public celebrations.
Although this unsettled monument with a pair of hands, chisel and stone is floating in the centre of town square, it has such remarkable stories behind it, as valiant efforts were made by prominent figures to enhance the town’s development for the sake of future generations.
The town flourished gracefully as it owed to manufacturing industrial activities improving economic growth through textiles production which was one of the main industrial activities in Batu Pahat. More than 300 textiles and fabrics garment operated actively in this place.
Apparently, the histories behind the monument retain countless positive aftermaths to the Batu Pahat’s town development. Through economic development, the spirit to revive the town’s identity as a prominent industrial manufacturing town in Malaysia was able to attain.
Nonetheless, the courage from the past notable figures to revamp the town although there were formidable hurdles, should not be taken for granted. As locals we owe to ourselves to protect the identity and dignity of this peaceful town that has been well-structured.
Besides, the outstanding heritage buildings and wall sculptures still retained their old-traditional structures despite being a bit refurbished yet they are still able to commemorate the golden days of its town.
All in all, it is undeniable that every monument has its own stories behind it, but what is more important is that the matter of knowing and acknowledging the significant meanings of the monument. Reminiscing the glory we have achieved so far guides us today to know how important the construction of this town has come to life.
It is important, particularly for the younger generation, to appreciate the monument as it helps us to understand and respect the values of history. With this, the locals also need to hold accountability to preserve the heritage of the Batu Pahat monument as it helps us identify where our own roots and cultures belong to.***
(This article is written as part of the individual assignment series for Feature Writing class)