By Alan Teh Leam Seng | NEW SUNDAY TIMES | MALAYSIA |
GURDWARA Sahib Alor Star is packed with people by the time I arrive at noon. The heightened activity is understandable as the Sikh community will be celebrating the birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism and the first of the 10 great Sikh Gurus, in less than a week’s time.
Unable to find a suitable parking spot, I stop by the kerb, activate the hazard lights and make a call to my former classmate who I know is already anxiously waiting for my arrival. He appears almost instantly with several others and they proceed to unload the foldable tables from the boot of my car.
After thanking me for the generous loan, he hands me a vintage picture postcard depicting several armed Sikh guards. “This is right up your alley. Hope to hear more about the role of my community in the Malay States Guides when you come and join in the festivities this Friday,” he says before bidding me farewell.
Despite having seen this postcard more than once in the past, I’ve never actually taken the trouble to find out about its historical significance. I guess now is a good time to do so! Without further deliberation, I head off towards Alor Merah, a quiet suburb north of Alor Star, to do some research.
My decision to visit the National Archives library doesn’t disappoint. Accompanied by a sizeable stack of books and historical journals pertaining to the subject matter, I plunge headfirst into the annals of history.
The origins of the Malay States Guides can be traced all the way to Ngah Ibrahim, the influential Perak chieftain who held sway over Larut in the 19th century. Prior to 1872, he used a force of 200 well-armed Malays to maintain order among the Chinese miners from whom he derived revenue. But frequent fighting between the Ghee Hin and Hai San secret society factions during that year quickly diminished the number to just 40 men.
Incapacitated, Ngah Ibrahim persuaded Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy to resign from his Penang Superintendent of Police post and head off to Calcutta to enlist a small force for him. Speedy eventually returned directly to Larut with 110 discharged sepoys comprising Sikhs, Hindus and Pathans. The force had scarcely begun to restore order when the Pangkor Engagement was signed and Ngah Ibrahim’s period of virtual independence came to an abrupt end.
Sir Andrew Clarke, Governor of the Straits Settlements, made Speedy the Assistant Resident and instructed him to first discharge his men and then re-enlist them to serve as the Resident’s Guard.
Speedy made Kota, a small village by the banks of the Larut River near Taiping, his base and billeted the sepoys in Chinese houses. With the help of a non-commissioned officer, Inspector Deen Mohammed, Speedy maintained order among his men and began training local recruits. This expanded group of sepoys and 160 Punjabi, Malay and Chinese conscripts became known as the Larut Police Force.
Read the full story, Guardians of Peace-Keeping (New Sunday Times, 18 Nov 2018), here.
Once Sikhs landed in Malaya, how many never revisited Punjab? (Asia Samachar, 24 Oct 2017)