Friday, January 23, 2015


(by Joe Chelliah)

Seremban as we know it today was not always like what it is today both in physical form as well as in population demographics.  This is also true of almost all Malaysian towns in the west coast of peninsular Malaya and more so of those that have a tin mining historical past.  These towns saw better development of infrastructure in line with the economic needs of the time.  Only the roads in Seremban remain with mostly changed names supposedly displaying a more Malaysian identity.  The prominent roads had names like Birch Road, Paul Street, Wilkinson Street, Cameron Street, Channer Road, Carew Street, Dunman Road and so on.

Birch Road in the 1960's

Seremban was and still is to some extent essentially a Chinese dominated town comprising mostly of the Cantonese speaking variety.  They even had their own name for Seremban as “Fuyong”.  They dominated almost all the big and small business ventures in the towns while others grew vegetables in the areas surrounding the town principally in the Rasah, Paroi and  Sikamat areas which also house the new villages.  Probably a little tin-mining continued with some Chinese as dulang washers along the Sungai Linggi areas. This river flows through Seremban. 
The Dulang Washers
The “dulang” was used to scoop earth mixed with water and by careful swirling the mud was swept away and the heavier tin ore remained.  This is not surprising as Seremban began mainly as a Chinese dominated tin-mining entity. The huge number of man-made lakes to be found around Seremban even today bears testimony to this assertion.  Many smaller lakes nearer to town have been covered up and houses built on them.  Some had been converted to lake gardens by the British, a Britsh legacy in towns with a mining past like Kuala Lumpur, Taiping and Ipoh.

The Sermban Lake Gardens

The Seremban market was almost entirely run by Chinese with some Indian Muslims selling mainly mutton or beef.  There were also exotic animals that were easily available to suit the prevalent Chinese tastes of the time – tortoises, snakes, iguanas and what not. The Chinese had so many secret societies – 03, 04, 08, 18 Immortals, Long Foo Thong etc.  These people mainly provided protection for the business community and often had gang fights for territorial control.  They also ran brothels and massage parlors and illegal lotteries.  Needless to say, there were opium dens and illicit samsu sales too that were done in the back lanes which was essentially a Chinese social problem of the times.  Mahjong was their popular game.  Very few Chinese worked in government jobs although some educated ones worked as teachers and also in the police force, especially in the special branch which helped combat the communist insurgency.  A handful of Chinese also did a very important social service at the town council which no other community wanted to do – the job of a “night-soil” collector – a highly paid job too.  The human waste was collected at night and “distributed” / sold to the surrounding vegetable farms as manure. The rest was just dumped into the  Sungai Linggi.

Malay presence in Seremban was somewhat very restricted to the few small Malay kampong areas that surrounded the town essentially in Ampangan and Rasah areas mainly.   Most Malays in Seremban at the time were from the police force and lived in quarters provided for them.  Others were in the Malay Civil Service as district officers and clerks or technicians.  Unlike today, the three army camps in Rasah, Paroi and Sikamat were populated by British troops including Gurkhas at the Sikamat Camp.  Of course today these camps have been taken over by the Malay dominated military.  Even as late as the early 1960’s, there was not a single Malay eating shop in town.  I remember there were only two in the mid-60’s – Kak Yan Restaurant and another beside the Plaza theatre.  Earlier on, the Muslims could only eat at one or two public Muslim restaurants run by Malabaris ( Indian Muslims from Malabar in Kerala) such as Ally's Cafe.  Other than that, there was row of Indian Muslim (we wrongly call them mamaks now) mee goring and rojak stalls in the lane beside the Rex theatre which was a popular venue for Malay and Tamil movies.  There were only two mosques in Seremban at the time and that too were built by the Indian Muslim community – one in town and another in Rahang.

A Malabari Stall

Besides the Chinese and the Malays ,  Seremban also had a significant number of Indians of different Indian ethnicity too which significantly added to the non-Malay segments of the Seremban population.  One such group dominated mostly all the civil service, railways and utility boards.  These were the more English educated Ceylon (Sri Lankan) Tamils who held almost all the middle-management and supervisory posts in all the government departments.  The lesser educated Tamils manned the public works departments and worked mostly as laborers or lower posts like peons at the Public Woks Dept. (PWD), Telecoms, Electricity Boards and Town Council.  These folks were housed in laborer quarters in Lobak.  Of course there were exceptions to the rule. The Indian Muslims also traded in groceries and the food business. 

There was also a very small Chettiar community that functioned as registered money-lenders.  It was customary for the Chettiar community to build temples wherever they resided..  The biggest Hindu temple in Seremban town was more often referred to simply as the “Chettiar kovil”.  Its real name is Sri Bala Thandayuthapani Temple and was first built in 1895 even before Seremban developed fully.

Sri Bala Thandayuthapani Temple today

Then there was a small Pakistani and Punjabi community too in Seremban which comprised of mostly retired policemen.  The Punjabi community also had some wealthy businessmen who owned mostly transport companies running lorries and many of the bus companies too – Utam Singh, Seremban Town Bus Service,  Ganasan and so on.  One of the bus company bosses even drove a Buick car with the number plate NA 1.  But the bulk of the ex-policemen worked very hard as watchmen at night while by day the reared cows, drove bullock-carts, sold cow-dung as manure besides being the sole source of fresh cows’ milk.  This community was extremely frugal but placed heavy emphasis on education and sent their children to study medicine mostly and also law.  Today there is a kampong in Seremban named Kampong Singh.

National coach - Peter Van Huizen

There was another prominent community in Seremban in the 60's - the Portuguese Eurasians. Most of them lived in Temiang and also at the government quarters in Rahang Square, Melaka Road, Hill Road and Bland Road. There were so many of them at the time especially in the government services. This group played a significantly disproportionate role in the fields of sports and music at the time in Seremban.  Many excelled in hockey and even became national coaches.  In music this community produced quite a few family bands - The Woodens, The Sparklers, The Monotones, The Starlings and the Danker family had many drummers. Understandably, the boys attended St. Paul's Institution and the girls where else but The Convent.  There were many Eurasian families too - the Sta Marias, Van Geyzels, Lazaruses, Van Huizens, Hoseys, Dankers, Valens, Especkermans, Freemans, Henderofs, Jacksons, Woodens, De Mellos, Nonis, Sequerahs, etc. Many from this community migrated to UK too in the 60's..

That in a nutshell is how I personally witnessed the kaleidoscope of Seremban through my personal observation and experiences in Seremban since 1955 till now.