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Sunday, January 12, 2003

Tin mining town strikes gold


THE story of Kampar is not only about the spirit of its early tin pioneers but also the resilience of its residents in facing hardship and crises. But the birth of the town is unquestionably linked to tin. 

According to local historian Chye Kooi Loong, 73, two enterprising French mining engineers, Brot de Saint Paul-Lias and Errington de la Croix, visited Perak in 1880 and made an extensive tour of the tin rich areas of the Kinta Valley. 

They were particularly impressed by the tin boring results of the unknown virgin Sungai Kampar valley to the west of the Gunung Bujang Melaka ridge and predicted that this new tin field would be one of the richest in Perak and deposits would last 100 years. Their predictions have proved accurate as there is still plenty of tin in the Kampar area today. 

When news of the new tin field filtered out, Chinese miners from Lahat, Pusing, Gopeng and Batu Gajah poured in and set up camps along the banks of Sungai Kranji, a tributary of Sungai Kampar. 

At the same time, an enterprising Sumatran penghulu, Imam Prang Jabor, established himself in the area with his followers. 

The Chinese miners and the Malay group eventually came together to form a settlement known as Mambang Diawan (Fairies among the Clouds) in 1886. According to a Malay legend, the fairies among the clouds came down from the mountain and pointed out where tin was located to the early Malay prospectors. 

MINING LEGACY: War historian Chye Kooi Long at the former house of Tok Jabor in Kampung Abdullah. Tok Jabor, the most successful Malay tin miner owning extensive land in Kampar and other parts of Perak.
(This Mambang Diawan, named after the mountain that overlooks the village, is located at Jalan Tokong and is not to be mistaken for the Mambang Diawan new village near Kampar, which was set up during the Emergency.) 

Incidentally, Prang Jabor, known also as Ngah Jabor, Mohamed Jabar Bardot, and Tok Jabor, was the grandfather of former inspector-general of police Tan Sri Mohd Hanif Omar. 

One day, he rode on his pony from Mambang Diawan to Batu Gajah, capital of Kinta District, to inform district officer J.B.M. Leech about the new tin field there.  

Leech wasted no time in subdividing the land at the new township of Mambang Diawan into lots.  

Within a year, all the lots were sold and shophouses made of planks, corrugated zinc sheets and Chinese tiles sprung up. 

The construction of the town coincided with the coronation of Sultan Idris Murshid Al-Azzam Shah as the Sultan of Perak in 1887, and one of the two main roads in Kampar was subsequently named Jalan Idris – with the other named Jalan Gopeng. 

Leech, who felt that Mambang Diawan was too long a name for the fast growing town, renamed it Kampar after Sungai Kampar. 

However, the Chinese tin miners called it “Kam Poh,” which means “precious as gold.” 

Among the early Chinese towkays who made their fortune from tin in Kampar was Eu Tong Sen, better remembered today because of his Eu Yan Sang Chinese medicine shops. 

Tok Jabor turned out to be most successful Malay tin-mining pioneer, owning extensive land in Kampar and other parts of Perak. 

His former house can still be seen in Kampung Abdullah, a village named after his eldest son, though it is in a state of disrepair. 

By 1911, over 30 giant tin dredges were operating in the Kampar area, but tin prices plummeted with the Great Depression in the 1930s. Many mines closed and thousands lost their jobs while rubber prices also dropped drastically. 

“This was a dark period for the people of Kampar – many tin mine and rubber estate owners and rubber dealers went bankrupt,” said Chye. 

After the Depression, Kampar prospered and grew to be the fourth largest town in Perak after Ipoh, Taiping and Teluk Intan. 

Then came World War II and the epic Battle of Kampar, which saw the British army holding the powerful Japanese forces for four days from Dec 30, 1941 to Jan 2, 1942 on the three low ridges just north of the town. 

The Emergency period saw Kampar, marked as one of the blackest areas in the country, surrounded by high barbed wire fencing and many people dying at the hands of the terrorists. 

Kampar grew quietly but steadily in the years following Independence, with the population climbing from 15,000 in 1940 to 80,000 in 1980. 

The town braced itself for another crisis when the mining industry collapsed in 1984, causing mines to shut down and thousands to become jobless. 

Many left their homes to work in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, the United States and Europe, while former mine workers who stayed back became hawkers and farmers. 

Today, the legacy of the early pioneers which includes over 20 Chinese clansmen guilds and associations is found along Jalan Gopeng and various temples around town. 

Its historical links with the tin industry aside, Kampar is also known for its food – favourite items include chicken biscuit, curry chicken bread, claypot chicken rice, choy yuen (a cross between sawi and kai lan), prawn noodles, and loh shee fun (rice noodles). 

CB Red Label Confectionery, producer of the famous Kampar chicken biscuits which were first sold at the Wing Lok Yuen Coffeeshop, has expanded its business to Ipoh. 

Kampar certainly has had its share of ups and downs, but it can look forward to better days in the 21st century with the Perak campus of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman coming up near the town. 

It is hoped that with this development, the fairies among the clouds will descend to bless the town and bring good fortune to its residents again.  

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