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The Saga of the “Squatter” in Malaya:


A Preliminary Survey of the Causes, Characteristics and Consequences of the Resettlement of Rural Dwellers during the Emergency between 1948 and 1960.

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* These notes are based on field-work carried out in 1961 and 1962. During the course of the field-work I received unstinted support from a number of people who prefer to remain anonymous, and I wish to place on record my indebtedness to these helpers. I must also thank my fellow graduates of the University of Malaya, now the University of Singapore, for their valuable suggestions and assistance in the field. Finally, it would be unfitting if I did not also record my debt to the Department of Labour and Industrial Relations, Johore, and the Chinese Affairs Officers of the State Secretariats of the Federation of Malaya for their co-operation in my search for information.

1. A state of emergency, later popularly referred to as “The Emergency”, was proclaimed on 16th June, 1948, following the outbreak of an armed Communistled revolt to overthrow the British Government and set up a “People's Democratic Republic” in Malaya. This state of affairs ended twelve years later on 31st July, 1960.

2. Unless otherwise stated the term “Malaya” refers only to the Federation of Malaya.

3. See for example L. A. Mills, Malaya: A Political & Economic Appraisal (London, 1958); Ginsburg N. & Roberts C. F. (ed); Malaya (New York, 1958); and International Bank, The Economic Development of Malaya (Singapore, 1955).

4. A Good example of these are Robinson J. B. Perry, Transformation in Malaya (London, 1956); Purcell V., Malaya: Communist or Free? (London, 1954); “Resettlement and Development of New Villages in the Federation of Malaya, 1952”, FLCMCP (1952/1953), Paper No. 33; Corry W. C. S., A General Survey of New Villages, 12th October 1954 (Kuala Lumpur, 1954); Markandan P., The Problem of the New Villages of Malaya (Singapore, 1954) and Dobby E. H. G., “Recent Settlement Changes in South Malaya”, Malayan Journal of Tropical Geography, Vol. I (1953), pp. 18.

5. Mr. Anthony Short of the History Department, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur has been commissioned by the Malayan Government to write an official history of the Emergency.

6. Purcell V.Malaya: Communist or Free? (London, 1954). pp. 7383.

7. Robinson J. B. Perry, Transformation of Malaya (London, 1956), pp. 71115.

8. See for example FLCMCP (1950/51) 8 pp. B 89–101; FLCMCP (1952/53), B 311–22, FMAR (1950). p. 2; and PFLC (1948/49) pp. C 5331534.

9. “Padi Cultivation by Chinese”, Letter from Commissioner of Land and Mines, Johore, to British Advisor, Johore, 27 March, 1939. (Johore State Archives, G.A. 350/39).

10. Federation of Malaya, Report of the Land Administration Commission (Kuala Lumpur, 1958) pp. 12, 80–83.

11. For this, see de Moubray G. A. de C., “Report on Wild Life Reserves, Johore,” (Mimeo. Johore Bahru, 1938) p. 5; M. V. del Tufo, Malaya: Report on the 1947 Census (London, 1949), p. 33; Mills L. A., British Rule in Eastern Asia (London, 1942) pp. 241242.

12. Robinson J. B. Perry, p. 76.

13. “Report of the Committee Appointed by H. E. the High Commissioner to Investigate the Squatter Problem” P.F.L.C. (1948/1949), p. C 534. (Hereafters Squatter Committee).

14. del Tufo , p. 58.

15. Laukeh, a Chinese colloquial term for a person who had lived in Nanyang (Chinese for “Southeast Asia”) for some time and had passed the sinkeh (Chinese for “greenhorn” or a “fresh arrival”) stage.

16. Onn Chin Kee, Malaya Upside Down (Singapore, 1946) pp. 4760; The Shyonan Times (Singapore). 9.7.2602 (9.7.1942), and 30.7.2602 (30.7.1942).

17. The British Military Administration was the Government of post-war Malaya till the inauguration of the Malayan Union in 1946. Popular slander read B.M.A. as “Black Market Association”.

18. FLCMCP (1950/51), p. B 102.

19. Squatter Committee, pp. C 534–5.

20. “Recent Settlement Changes in South Johore”, by Dobby E. H. G., Malayan Journal of Tropical Geography, Vol. 1. (1953), p. 5.

21. Firth R., Report on Social Science Research In Malaya (Singapore, 1948), p. 32.

22. Hanarahan G. I., The Communist Struggle in Malaya (New York, 1954), p. 49. At the time of surrender, the MPAJA consisted of eight regiments, each of about 1,000 men, nearby all of them Chinese.

23. Federation of Malaya, Anatomy of Communist Propaganda (Kuala Lumpur 1949), pp. 1–24.

24. The Fight Against Communist Terrorism in Malaya (HMSO, London, 1951), p. 10.

25. Purcell V., pp. 171172.

26. FLCMCP (1950/51) pp. B 90, B 95; (1953/54) Paper No. 24, pp. 6–18; Federation of Malaya Communist Banditry in Malaya (Kuala Lumpur, 1951), pp. 29120.

27. Patterson, G. S. “Masai Settlement Area” (Mimeo, Johore Bahru, 1950) p. 6. (only 10 men aged between 21–40, out of a total of 171 males of all ages, were among the 326 squatters moved to Masai in 1949).

28. Squatter Report, pp. C 535–539; FLCMCP (1950/1951) pp. B 90–91.

29. FLCMCP (1950/1951), p. B 94.

30. Advisor, Chinese Affairs, Negri Sembilan, “Squatter Resettlement in Negri Sembilan” (Mimeo, Seremban, 1950) pp. 1–4; Cunningham-Brown, “Squatter Resettlement in Johore,” (Mimeo, Johore Bahru, 1950), p. 9.

31. There was an earlier “evacuation” of squatters in Perak from the Sg. Siput area in October 1948 to an unprepared site at Pantai Remis, Dindings. But it was “essentially an ad hoc affair — the clearance of a battle ground rather than a relocation of a section of the community”. Perry Robinson, p. 85.

32. By “settlement” was meant the granting of title to land occupied illegally at time of action.

33. The Briggs Plan is discussed on p. 157 et seq.

34. Government White Paper No. 33, “Resettlement and Development of New Villages in the Federation of Malaya, 1952”.

35. FMAR (1950) p. 2.

36. Statistics that follow were collected in the field. They may not agree with those submitted by other writers, such as J. B. Perry Robinson, W. S. Corry, R. Stead. Out of 480 New Villages, only 6 are known to have been abandoned.

37. Interviews with the Chinese Affairs Officers, Johore and Negri Sembilan, and the Chinese Liaison Officer, Kulai, Johore. These three officers were intimately associated with the relocation programme from its inception.

38. In practice, these loans were written off as part of the resettlement costs.

39. Lalang, Malay for coarse perennial grass.

40. lopak, Malay for intermittent fresh water swamp.

41. Kg. = Kampong, Malay for a collection of houses, a hamlet or a village.

42. Chinese Affairs Office, Trengganu. “Report of the Chinese Affairs Officer, Trengganu, December 1, 1955.” (Typescript, Kuala Trengganu, 1955).

43. State Secretary, Penang, “List of Resettlement New Villages and Regroupment Areas in the State of Penang” (Typescript, Penang, 1962); “Report of the Committee on the Problems resulting from Resettlement in Kluang.” (Mimeo, Kluang, 1951).

44. Kongsi, Chinese for a barrack-like communal dwelling.

45. Markandan P., The Problem of the New Villages in Malaya (Singapore, 1955), p. 14.

46. Dobby E. H. G., “Recent Settlement Changes in South Malaya”, (Singapore, 1948), p. 32.

47. FMAR (1950), p. xiii; G. C. Madox, “Jungle Forts” Straits Times Annual, (Singapore 1961), pp. 70–73.

48. FMAR. (1954) p. 418.

49. There is as yet no satisfactory definition of the term “urban” which could be uniformly applied in any part of the world. In Malaya, for census purposes, urban areas are taken to be towns or large villages which have 1,000 or more inhabitants.

50. Corry W. C. S.. A General Survey of the New Villages, 12 October, 1954. (Kuala Lumpur, 1954). p. 2.

51. Sandhu K. S., “The Population of MalayaJournal of Tropical Geography (Vol. 15, 1961), pp. 8995.

52. Corry W. C. S., p. 12.

53. District Officer, Kluang, Johore-personal communication to the author.

54. pikul, a Malaysian measure, the equivalent of 133⅓ lbs.

55. FLCMCP (1952/1953), p. B 317.

56. Only 6 out of the 480 New Villages created have been abandoned.

57. The Straits Times, 08 3, 1950, p. 5.

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Journal of Southeast Asian History
  • ISSN: 0217-7811
  • EISSN: 2398-7375
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