Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Famous names in Malaysia who show the way

The busy Jalan Lock Yew as seen in 1979.

an Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Jalan Tun Dr Ismail, Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin, Jalan Tun Sambanthan, Jalan Tan Cheng Lock, Jalan Loke Yew, Jalan Tun Perak... we see these road signs or rattle off these names practically every day as we traverse the roads in the city, paying little heed to who the personalities on these signposts were.

The names taking pride of place on the street signs are of people whose contributions to our nation should be etched in stone.

But, as time slips by, many of these names evoke vague memories of history lessons "over and done with" in school while some others draw a complete blank.

When Streets asked a dozen people in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya who these people were, they were familiar with Tuanku Abdul Rahman and P. Ramlee. But, for the rest of the names, their mention drew a puzzled stare or "tak tahu tetapi memang orang terkenal" (don't know, but must be someone famous) answer.

Rozario, Robson, Chan Ah Tong, Travers, San Ah Wing... who are these people on our street signs?

How many of us know why these roads were named in honour of them and what services they had rendered to the nation?

In conjunction with the Merdeka celebration today, we decided to tell the stories behind some of these street names.

Sieving through old newspaper cuttings to unearth information about some of these road markers was like taking a trip through the annals of Malaysian history.

The earliest chapters date back to the time of the Sultanates as well as legendary warriors like Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat and Hang Kasturi.

But actually, many of these names only found their place on our street signs way after the British left and most colonial street names were replaced with local names.

Davidson Road became Jalan Hang Jebat, Shaw Road bowed out for Jalan Hang Tuah, Jalan Hang Kasturi took over from Rodger Road and Jalan Hang Lekir replaced Cecil Street when many street names were changed in the 1960s and 1970s.

The royal families of the country have been honoured on signboards like Jalan Sultan Abdul Samad, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Jalan Raja Chulan, Jalan Raja Laut and several more.

Mountbatten Road was erased when it was renamed Jalan Tun Perak after the fifth bendahara of the sultanate of Malacca who served four sultans, Sultan Muzaffar Shah, Sultan Mansur Shah, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah and Sultan Mahmud Shah from 1456 to 1498.

In an ironic twist of fate, Maharajalela who was one of those hung for the murder in 1875 of J.W.W. Birch, the first British Resident of Perak, took over the latter's place on a street sign. Jalan Maharajalela was earlier known as Birch Road.

Jalan Brockman was changed to Jalan Dato Onn in memory of Datuk Onn bin Jaafar in 1963 way before many British names were changed in the 1980s as part of a nationalistic fervour led by then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

In fact, according to Prabhakaran S. Nair and Liang Poh Chu in a 1991 article found in the New Straits Times' archives, the Sultan of Selangor in 1971 as well as the then Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak felt that English names should be changed to Malaysian ones.

Only a few of the streets in Kuala Lumpur still bear the names of British individuals.

But, for how long? Many people feel that some of the colonial names should not have been changed as they bear historic significance and are part and parcel of our nation's evolution and a tourist draw.

Names that still remain untouched from colonial times are streets bearing the names of, among others, Conlay, Davis, Scott, Stonor, Travers, Templer, Belfield, Cochrane, Galloway and Robson.

Turn another page in history and we come to the time when Kuala Lumpur boomed as a mining town. Yap Ah Loy, Yap Kwan Seng and Yap Ah Shak were all Chinese Kapitans who are credited with laying the foundations of Kuala Lumpur.

The now bustling Jalan Doraisamy which is home to some of the hippest night clubs along Asian Heritage Row was named after R. Doraisamy Pillay, a well-known tin miner and contractor. Jalan Robson was named after J.H. Robson, the founder of The Malay Mail.

Who can overlook Jalan Chow Kit made famous in the late Sudirman's song? The road was named after Loke Chow Kit, a well-known miner and municipal councillor.

Curious about streets with names such as Thamboosamy and San Ah Wing? Well, they were actually named after K. Thambusamy Pillai who founded the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in 1873.

He was a well-known Indian community leader, businessman, tin miner and justice of the peace. He is credited with installing the statue of Sri Subramania Swamy in the temple cave of Batu Caves.

San Ah Wing was the son of San Peng after whom Jalan San Peng was named. While San Peng was a miner and contractor, San Ah Wing was a banker, miner, merchant and justice of peace.

Not all who were honoured on our street signs were prominent politicians, big businessmen or great leaders. Some were merely hardworking people with ordinary jobs.

According to veteran journalist Balan Moses, who wrote a book titled Brickfields: A Place, A Time, A Memory, Jalan Rozario was named after F.L.D. Rozario who was a chief clerk to the British Resident of Selangor, Sir William Treacher.

Jalan Chan Ah Tong bears the name of another chief clerk in the civil service of the Federated Malay States.

Jalan Ang Seng in Brickfields paid tribute to a contractor who built some of the major buildings in town like the Sultan Abdul Samad building, using bricks from Brickfields.

*Taken from NST Online

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