Sutan Puasa: Founder of Kuala Lumpur
Who was the founder of Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia? Textbook history credits the Bugis chief of Klang, Raja Abdullah, while the Chinese regard the third Kapitan China, Yap Ah Loy, as the legendary founder. But closer examination reveals that the founding myths of Kuala Lumpur have omitted the earliest chapter of the city’s history.
‘Pangkalan Lumpur’ was a Mandailing trading post at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers, controlling the land and river routes of the upper Klang valley. Due to the visionary leadership of Sutan Puasa, it developed into a multicultural town, attracting Sumatran and Hakka Chinese miners and traders.
Sutan Puasa was a mining entrepreneur, tin trader and agricultural pioneer. The Mandailing noble was among the adventurers and refugees who emigrated to Malaya in the aftermath of the Padri War (1803–1845) in central Sumatra. The post-Padri Mandailing and Rawa diaspora became embroiled in a succession of civil wars in Sungai Ujong, Pahang, Klang, and Perak in the Peninsula.
During Sultan Abdul Samad’s reign, Raja Mahdi’s bid for Klang’s chieftainship led to the Klang War (1866–1873), the longest civil strife in nineteenth-century Malaya. When Tunku Kudin mortgaged Selangor’s tin wealth to win the war against Raja Mahdi, Sutan Puasa fought alongside the Mandailing overlord, Raja Asal, as well as Syed Mashhor, Raja Mahmud, Raja Laut, and the Selangor patriots to defend the state’s sovereignty.
Klang, Ampang, Petaling, Ulu Klang, Kanching, Rawang, and Kuala Kubu became battlegrounds, but the war was ultimately decided by the ‘Battle of Kuala Lumpur’. War destruction, disorder and debt paved the way for British colonial intervention into Selangor in 1874.
Kuala Lumpur’s strategic location as the trading hub of a rich tin mining interior destined it to become the capital – first, of Selangor, then of the Federated Malay States, and finally, of Malaysia itself.