When the Rakyats saved the Sultan

May 21, 2020

The period of 1911 till 1957 , was a period of subjugation.

My father was born in 1914. My mother was born ten years later. In Bagan, the second Penghulu Orang Kaya had been appointed.

I was told personally by my primary school teacher Cikgu Muhamamd Masrom, the first Penghulu Orang Kaya, Penghulu Sidek bin Ismail was murdered. Later this information was corroborated by Tarikh Johor written by Datao Bentara.

The person who was raising money for the construction of Bandar Penggaram was killed in 1895 over an unpaid debt of 30 Strait Dollars. Was this an unfulfilled crowd funding promise? That date was significant to determine the date the first school was established Sekolah Beringin. Because Penghulu Sidek and Haji Ibrahim was credited for the establishment of the school, that made the year of establishment to be in the circa of 1895.

This was the school my mother went to. I went to that school too when all Malay schools were nationalized in 1963. Sekolah Beringin, Sekolah Perempuan Bagan, Sekolah Lelaki Bagan and Sekolah Orang Kaya Bagan were amalgamated to become Sekolah Kebangsaan Bagan.

The only school not amalgamated and went its separate way was sekolah Cina Tong Ching.

In addition there were other schools in the kampong, Sekolah Melayu Gambut Melayu kajang and Sekolah Melayu Sekawan Desa Those 5 schools located within 1 km radius gave us some ideas of the scale of interests and enthusiasm in education by the new community.

Eighty years later in the eighties and nineties Bagan took pride in having the highest number of Proffessors, Engineers, doctors and other professionals. Within one km radius, I counted 4 of my contemporaries who became full proffessors; Prof Azman Awang, Prof Mahbub Salim, Prof Latif Samian (both were my cousins), Prof Lokman Saim .

There was however a gap of at least half a century from the time Bagan was developed to the time the schools were functioning. Consequently, the generation of my father and grandfather did not have the benefit of proper schooling to become Clever Malays.

Two lost generations.

Due this I believed that the wealth created by the first generation of migrants could not be leveraged to its potential.

Compare that to the ruling class who had the benefits of Sekolah Teluk Blangah or St Joseph or other English schools in Singapore. The Batu Pahat High Schhol was established in 1914 and the English College was established in the same year 1914.

It was not until the seventies after the overhaul of the education system and making it accessible for all citizens, that education became the route for social mobility.

Nevertheless we shall see how those early investment in education with the building of schools in the second decade of the twentieth centuries proved to be the saving grace for the state from being handed carte blanc or forced to hand over the state to the British by Sultan Ibrahim.

Fought he did to maintain the sovereignty of his Sultanate, but Colonial Malaya was becoming too powerful for Sultan Ibrahim. The British with the critical mass in the form of the Federated Malay States under their belt, was literally camping at the Palace gate..


The 1911 agreement by Sultan Abu Bakar to accept British Administration was mild compared to the worse to come. After 1911 Johore flourished economically with the opening of British plantations and mines in the state.

Then the second world war erupted.

The Japanese came

The British abandoned Malaya and Singapore.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced the Japanese to surrender.

The MPAJA, the intorrogum and the country was at the brink of either becoming communist or joining Indonesia Raya.

The British came back and subsequently the Emergency was declared.

Law and order was restored albeit at a slow pace.

On 20th Oct 1945 Sultan Ibrahim signed the Malayan Union treaty.

With that treaty, he surrendered the sovereignty of Johor to the Queen .

The Malayan Union was formed.

To the people of Johore Sultan Ibrahim breached his contract with his subjects. The contract his subjects was referring to was the Johor State Constitution which said the Sultan had no authority to sign any treaty without getting the sanction of the Johor Council.

The people of Johore rebelled. By then UMNO was already formed.

This time there were just too many Clever Malay Boys for the British to ignore.

This time the subjects saved the sovereign. Those boys and girls who had the benefit of proper education returned their favour to the state by initiating and leading the process of getting independence.

My father was one of those who gathered in the town padang to listen to Dato Onn Jaafar who was the district officer ofBatu pahat then. This, I personally heard from my father

“ tak kisah kita nak panngil parti kita ni dengan apa nama sekali pun, mengkaung ka….” I giggled when I heard the word mengkarung

During the silver Jubli celebration of his reign in 1955 put up by the state of Johore, which was narrated in detail in the book Sejarah Johore he spoke about the fight for Independence and his reluctance to be in Johore .

“Kalau Mau Merdeka mana kapal perang dan mana meriamnya?’

 “kerana tidak bersatu hati dan bekerjasama sebab itulahnegeri sentiasa huru hara tak ada keamanan”

 “Saya kalau tidak didesak saya tak mau balik lagi”

 Clearly that sounded like a complete subjugation or was it anger?

It seriously bothered me that Ibrahim the Sultan who fiercely resisted the meddling of the British in his adminstration in 1811 had become so compliant to the British cause.

It was during these search that I came across the name Cissie Hill.

There was a BBC documentary filmed in Oct 2015, The sultan and the showgirl: A tragic tale of star-crossed love. The dancing girl was Cissie Hill and the man said to be in this love story was Sutan Ibrahim.

Wikipidia had a very well researched entry on this personality. Presented here are excerpts of Miss Cisie Hill which I found on the internet.

I had the privileged of living in Parklane during my University days. My university Hall Goldsmid House was a few blocks away from Grosvenor Hotel, Sultan Ibrahim’s favourite domicile in London. It was here that she met Cecila who was a beautiful and accomplished dancer and entertainer.

One of the richest Sultan on the planet in love with a show girl and he intended to marry her. The only problem, he was still a married man. t was initially a secret but it was blown opened when the Residence of Cecilia was burgled in 1937.

The British press went overdrive. The scandal went viral. The high society in London, Singapore and Johor Bharu reacted unkindly to the Sultan.

He was adamant, and the British diplomatic machinery went high gear. The Sultan henceforth was denied invitation to the British High Society, a kind of social bullying took place,

 “A cabaret-girl-Sultana the sahibs considered quite impossible. Social royalists, they ganged up and put moral pressure on the precedent-breaking Sultan by unanimously refusing his invitations, although Miss Hill was properly chaperoned at the palace by her mother.

 The Sultan had his revenge, by ordering the sahibs off his golf course, their children away from his bandstand”[22] “. . .

 When Singapore’s British society behaved stuffily toward his show-girl fiancee, the Sultan struck back by firing all the Britons in his service and planting shrubs on the fairways and greens of the golf course used by the sahibs, which was on his property.”[37

 We did not know the kind of black mails the Sultan was subjected to.

That viraling of the Sultan keeping a mistress and the scorns by the British socialite must have put a tremendous amount of pressure on the Sultan.

Was he given an ultimatum to abdicate? I personally believe so.

The signing of the Malayan Union was the finale and the anthem Allah Peliharan Sultan, sang by all his subjects saved the day.

In any case damage was done, In 1941 in a twist of fate Cecill was killed when the store she was in was bombed by the Germans.

Moving on He married Sultana Marcella. They had a princess Puteri Mariam, adored by many Johorean.

Understandably after the Malayan Union fiasco, he preferred to spend more time in London than in Johor Baharu. In one footage of his birthday celebration in 1946 he was seen among his circle of friends, some caucassian amd many Indians most likely the once upon a time maharanis and Maharajas of Indian states.

He spent most of his time at the Grosvenor.

A few blocks from the Grosvernor Hotel was the Dorchester. It was owned by another Malay Sultan, the Sultan of Brunei.

I could only afford a bowl of laksa and a cup of java at the Dorchester to sooth my craving for Johore.