Friday, July 16, 2010

Papan(甲板), Perak

Talking about Tronoh, I suddenly remember the old town of Papan in Perak ,which is near to Tronoh and Pusing(布先), also close to Batu Gajah(华都牙也)town. I have visited the old town at least more than 3 times. Whenever I come to Batu Gajah or nearby town, I will introduce my friends to this old small town. The history, the story, the shop houses,the people.....

Papan Town or Pekan Papan(甲板)

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Papan(甲板) is a small town. It was an ex-mining town. Located near Pusing(布先) and Batu Gajah(华都牙也),16km from Ipoh. By using Ipoh-Lumut Highway(E19) or Route 5 from Ipoh city, when arrived at the intersection of E19 and Route 5, continue Route 5 until you reach T junction of A188. Follow A188 will lead you to Papan town.

History of Papan Town
Papan means "plank" in Malay and probably refers to its early days in the mid 19th century when the settlement came into being as a timber town. Plank Town was the place where chengal was sawn in the 1840's. The chengal woodcutters were said to be Malays while the people who sawed the timber into planks in Papan Town were Chinese. In Cantonese Papan is "Ka Pan"(甲板), which means "first wood" after the wooden water-wheel(Note: Ka-pan 甲板 in Chinese is actually means deck of a boat or ship; in old days, the deck was made of wooden plank, may be from Chengal wood; another meaning means first class wood, may be Chengal is consider the No 1 hard wood). The Chinese characters and the Cantonese and Hokkien pronouncation of the place name is derived from the Malay.At the time about 200 Malays and 200 Chinese worked there in a lumber settlement. Then immigrant Mandailings from West Sumatra came to Papan after the Klang War, and settled in late 1870s and early 1880s, after their leader, Raja Asal was awarded mining rights to the land and later the penghulu-ship.

By the 1880s Papan was an important area for tin mining, with 13 mines in operation. A dam was built by the Mandailings, possibly with the help of the Chinese, to supply hydraulic power to the mines. More Chinese arrived in Papan to work in the mines and the town grew. Due to the abundant alluvial tin, Papan grew rich. In 1886, Raja Bilah signed an agreement written in both Jawi and Chinese with one Hew Ng Hap (presumably the same as "Hew Ah Ang") and two others. It is possible that the contract was made during a time when there was a fresh influx of Chinese miners to Papan, and the old miners wished to secure their claim to the water reservoir from contending Chinese miners.

The leading Chinese miner of Papan Hew Ah Ang, who was previously doing well with a wooden chain pump, saw the advantages of a steam pump. "Hew Ah Ang came to confer with Raja Bilah, he asked for help to apply to the government to buy an engine, so Raja Bilah presented the matter to the Government. So the government helped to buy the first engine which was used in the Chinese mines in Papan".

Papan Riot 1887
Raja Bilah's allies, the Kar Yin Hakkas, belonged to the Ghee Hin faction. The Ghee Hin headman was based in Papan while the Hai San headman was based in Gopeng, although the leaders of both settlements were Mandailings. In November 1887, a brothel skirmish in Papan escalated into a secret society riot. In the official report of the Protector of the Chinese, the disturbances in Kinta was said to have started "from quarrels between a brothel bully (belonging to the Hai San Society) and between some Ghee Hin men."

According to family tradition, the culling took place in Papan on November 29th, 1887. Some of the Chinese women and children in Papan took refuge with Raja Bilah's wife, Ungku Na'imas, whom people called "the warrior woman". Ungku Na'imas, was an expert shooter brandishing a sporting rifle with an eight-sided cartridge.

Streets were laid out by the 1890s and, by the turn of the 20th century, the main street had more than 100 shophouses and public buildings. Morning markets were held at the lower end of town. There was a school, post office and government dispensary. Entertainment was confined to the upper end of town, where there was a Cantonese opera theatre, brothels and opium dens.

The Papan mosque was completed in 1888, built in the character of the mosques in Mandailing. It has a large timber hall raised on piles and a double-tiered roof. The mosque still stands today, next to the Rumah Besar, which was built in 1896. The original Kwan Yin temple was built in 1874. Many of the mansions and other buildings are still in existence today.

The town grew in population during the Japanese Occupation. Thousands of war refugees fled to Papan in December 1941, after the Japanese bombed Ipoh. Papan acquired the reputation of being "a bad place" during the Occupation, for the MPAJA and Force 136 operated here. It was during this period that Sybil and her husband ran their clinic.

(source: Extract from &

Papan Today
Today Papan town is an abandoned town, the tin mining activities has stopped. Half of the town lies in ruins. Many have moved out after the decline of tin mining. Most of the young people has left the town, and what is left is old people, and may be some young people who are farmers. You can considered it a dead town but not ghost town, it is quite and peaceful but some activities still going on. The only annual activities when people are flowing into the town, is on the Cheng Beng festival where the residents will come back to pray to their ancestor. Most of the residents are Chinese Hakka, less than 1,000 people.

At the entrance of the road to Papan(A188), are giant rain trees growing along a winding stream, and nearby mining ponds. The road follow the at the side of the stream. A hill slope which is cemetery with Chinese graves appeared on the right, opposite on the left is a Kuan Yin Temple. The temple is managed by Tokong Kuan Yim dan Tanah Perkuburan Papan(甲板观音古庙义山委员会), Perak. 86, Jalan Besar, Papan, 31550 Pusing, Perak. The cemetery hill is big, compared to the current population of the town, this revealed that the old Papan town must be once a populated town, when tin mining is at its peak. In Papan, the dead is more than the living; no wonder some said this is Ghost town, and some houses are said to be haunted(included NO.2).

Once you enter the town, the one-street town appeared, there are two row of shop houses on either side of the road. But some shops had collapsed and abandoned. Trees are growing in the abandoned shops. Some have been used as residence, and handful of the shops are inhabited. A typical view of nineteenth century mining town. The main road still have a Chinese primary school SJKC Papan(甲板华文小学), near the famous No.74, the ex-clinic of Sybil Kathigasu. The clan association of Tsen Lung or Papan Tsen Lung Fui Kuon(甲板增龙会馆) is located at 69 Main Road, 31550 Papan; Tong Onn Association(霹雳甲板东安会馆) at 53, Main Road, Papan.

Just off the Main Road on the left, after the Chinese school, is the house of Raja Bilah (died 1911), the headman of Papan. The Sumatran nobleman's of Mandailings race, has remarkable career as miner-trader-adventurer and leader of his people. The great house has been restored by the National Museum.

The hills around Papan belong to the Hijau range, was once used guerrilla hide-outs. They were first used by hill rat miners, then by the Papan armed resistance and finally by Communist insurgents during the Malayan Emergency.

When you follow the main street out of the town, you will find a sign for Hutan Lipur & Taman Herba Papan, 3 km awat is the waterfall. The road runs along a small river.

Papan Town

I have no opportunity to visit NO 74, as whenever I arrived there, the house was closed. No 74 is famous, many people know the house. However I have visited the house of Raja Bilah, which is at the left of the main road if coming from No 74, a small side lane after the Chinese school lead to the house. A kind Malay old woman staying at a smaller house beside the Raja Bilah house allow us to go in. It is a beautiful Malay house. Few people from Perak know about this house, the local call it Istana, in Malay it literally means palace.

Istana Raja Bilah

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I try to locate the location of the town in Goggle map, but did not find the place. Its geographical coordinates are 4° 31' 0" North, 101° 1' 0" East. I just come back from USA, and I am very surprise and please with the way the country preserve their old mining town. I was in Mid West of England some time ago, I visited an old iron mine, it is also well preserved. When I stand and visit the gold mine in California near San Francisco, the first Malaysian town I remember was Papan,Perak; then remember Sungei Lembing, Pahang... what a sad story, the ex-mining towns in Malaysia have different fate as their better managed ex-gold mining town.

I was worry did the history of Papan has lost in Malaysian memory?....

Another history fact we will never forget about Papan, is this is the town who with the Bukit Merah(红泥山)town, near Menglembu(万里望). They stand up bravely to protect their home from radioactive contamination against the authority to put up . Some of the resident leader were put under ISA under Operation Lalang. The Papan & Tanah Merah residents become world famous, as a hero of environmentalists. How can we forget?......The simple people with big hearts, to fight against the big guns.

I will never forget Papan.....

Papan's Stories
I search the name of Papan in the internet, at least my heart is being comforted by the article " Perak heritage: Papan" at At least, Papan still in the website, and the story will still go on.

1. Perak heritage: Papan" at An article with title "Sybil Kathigasu's Clinic: 74 Main Road, Old Papan". The article is a must read for readers interested in history of Papan.

2.HORAS MADINA: A Trip Down Memory Lane in Papan, Perak,

Papan & Mandaling
3.The History of Papan & The Mandailing People, by Abdur-Razzaq Lubis,
An article by historian, Abdur-Razzaq Lubis, a Mandailing himself.

4.Bumi Bebas: Book Review: Raja Bilah and the Mandailings in Perak (1875-1911),

5.Papan-Gopeng, Past & Present Part 1 & Part 2, A video by The Star on-line TV. Note: video having sound problem

6. Papan's century-old legacy , NST,

7. Raja Bilah and the Mandailings in Perak: 1875-1911(2003), by Abdur-Razzaq Lubis & Khoo Salma Nasution, published by Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (MBRAS), Kuala Lumpur, This is a good book by the famous heritage historian couple, Abdur-Razzaq Lubis & Khoo Salma Nasution, a must read on Papan. But the book may be on the history of Mandailings in Papan, may nt include Chinese mining history. By the way Mr Abdur-Razzaq Lubis is a Mandalings.

Papan & Environment protection
8. Hornbill Unleashed April 4, 2009 Najib and Taib: An Arresting Couple,

This is an interesting political article on Operation Lalang, October 27, 1987 was the last time the ISA was used on a “megaproject” scale – the biggest crackdown since May 13, 1969 by Mahathir Mohamad, the author mentioned that the ex-PM used ISA against his opponents, when his position as Umno president was challenged by Tengku Razaleigh. One of the first detainee was Tan KK , who was Vice President of the Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia. He had the unwelcome privilege of being the first ISA detainee to be arrested.

Tan was an academic from Taiping, intelligent and meditative, but humorous and kind, too. He worked for the rights of Dayak people in Sarawak, at a time when massive logging and land-theft was already spreading like cancer. He campaigned against the Bakun Dam megaproject. He raised awareness that the greed of Sarawak’s timber companies was causing suffering among rural Dayaks, that land was being seized from Dayak communities who had been surviving off the forest. He was a true “anak Perak, bangsa Malaysia”. Tan had also worked for the people of Papan, Perak, to expose the poisoning of their soil and water, by a company manufacturing semicondutors for TV sets. The company, Asian Rare Earth (ARE), partly owned by Mitsubishi and Tabung Haji, was protected by Mahathir and his cronies, but ARE lost its licence, after the people of Papan held public demonstrations and won people’s support all over the country, with the help of the printed press (the Internet was still an expensive toy in those days).

In Papan, exactly as in Taib Mahmud’s aluminium megaproject in Bintulu, local communities were told the industry was safe and would bring them “development”. But the cronies owning the factory cared only about profit, not health, nor development. Radioactive ARE chemicals leaked into the water. The rates for leukaemia among children, and abnormalities in pregnant mothers and newborns, were higher in Papan than elsewhere. Eventually, ARE went out of business.

Read another interesting article by blogger,,

(i)Ex-PM tells of buried nuclear waste in Perak,

(ii)Dumpsite danger, by FOONG THIM LENG, The Star dated 13-6-2010,

(iii)Mahathir did not reveal all about radioactive waste issue ,

(iv)A matter of conviction, A personal account of Meenakshi Raman, another Operation Lalang ISA detainee of Asia Rare Earth (ARE) case.

For your information, the mentioned Asia Rare Earth case is a classic case for environment protection. It was known by the whole world. Malaysia gained negative reputation because of the case.

The Star has discovered that 80,000 200-litre drums containing radioactive waste are currently being kept at the dump located in the Kledang Range behind Papan town. The site is about 3km from Bukit Merah and Papan and about 15km from Ipoh. And the waste is thorium hydroxide, not amang.

“The waste was never buried and the amount is not small. I would also like to remind Dr Mahathir that the radioactive waste came from a company approved by the Government to process rare earth,” he said.

Perak Anti-Radioactive Committee chair­man Hew Yoon Tat, whowas arrested under the Internal Security Act during Operation Lalang in 1987. Now aged 66, is a butcher from Bukit Merah, added that the ARE factory extracted yytrium from monazite, one of the minerals found in amang (tin tailings), which were exported for use in high technology products.

In the production process, thorium hydroxide was produced. Both monazite and the waste contained thorium, which has a half-life of 13.9 billion years.

“Cancer-causing radon gas is released during decay

ARE, which started production in 1982, had constructed the facility in the Kledang Range after former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Musa Hitam declared a proposed dumpsite on a durian hill near settlements in Papan unsafe and ordered the company to look for an alternative site. Hay, he is Musa Hitam, ex-deputy PM(the bold step to go against his boss, but what happen to him, history will reveal the true story on day). Although the ARE factory ceased operations in 1994, the company still maintains an office in a Menglembu housing estate.

Countering Dr Mahathir’s statement that “perhaps the public is not aware” of the waste, Hew said: “People involved in the series of protests, court case, and those whose lives were affected by ARE will never forget.

The Star has learnt that it was only nine years later, between 2003 and 2005, that a decommissioning and decontamination exercise was carried out at the factory.

ARE was now carrying out a project to construct another engineered cell (EC2) next to EC1 to store the thorium hydroxide accumulated during ARE’s operations between May 1982 and July 1984. The EC2 will decommission the use of the present storage facility and dispose of everything underground to a depth of 10m, similar to EC1. ARE had appointed US-based environmental and geotechnical engineering design and construction services specialist GeoSyntec Consultants Inc and its Malaysian subsidiary, GSM Consultancy (M) Sdn Bhd, with the management and implementation of the project. EC2, scheduled for completion in 2013.

Papan-Pusing-Siputeh Anti-Radioacative Waste Dump committee chairman Low Tong Hooi, 69, is also astounded by Dr Mahathir’s statements. He asked “Why is it only now that he has admitted the radioactive dump is dangerous? In 1984, he maintained that the poorly constructed trenches for the waste in Papan in 1984 were safe". At that time, experts from America, Britain, Canada and Japan brought in with the help of Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Consumer Associa­tion of Penang and the Environmental Protec­tion Society of Malaysia declared the factory and the dump unsafe but the Government preferred to heed another view. Why, Dr M?..

Incidentally, I know the progress of the dumping site, as when I worked in Ipoh I have befriend an engineer working in the dump site. The story is not that easy. I also did some research on Amang, tin tailing from tin mining. It is not simple story that Amang is radioactive waste. There are still Amang mining in Perak from the tin waste dump site, the black color slag left by the mine companies. It is lucrative business with high profit, as Amang is free waste.

Wikipedia explains the risk posed by radioactive waste:

According to a 2007 story broadcast on 60 Minutes, nuclear power gives France the cleanest air of any industrialized country, and the cheapest electricity in all of Europe.[65] France reprocesses its nuclear waste to reduce its mass and make more energy.[66] However, the article continues, “Today we stock containers of waste because currently scientists don’t know how to reduce or eliminate the toxicity, but maybe in 100 years perhaps scientists will… Nuclear waste is an enormously difficult political problem which to date no country has solved. It is, in a sense, the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry… If France is unable to solve this issue, says Mandil, then ‘I do not see how we can continue our nuclear program.’”[66] Further, reprocessing itself has its critics, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Did the ex-PM telling the truth?...may be he is too old to remember the old incident of Operation Lalang, The Asian Rare Earth, Papan & Tanah Merah, cancer-victim from radioactive dump....all happen during his time as Prime Minister: but we will remember....

New Film on life of Sybil
9. Lights, Camera, Action!

Astro has chosen to produce an eight-part series on the life of Sybil under its ‘Suatu Ketika’ programme to be screened over the Citra Channel before the middle of next year.

According to Astro Executive Producer (Dra-ma) Rohayah Ibrahim, Sybil’s story was selected “for her desire to help the sick and injured and as result she and her family were tortured for doing so.”

Hence Astro has now titled the series ‘Apa Dosa Ku’ or ‘What Is My Sin’. The series will be in Bahasa Malaysia though the dialogue will be in English, Chinese and Japanese with accompanying subtitles. The production of the series was given to Production House, Red Communications.

The actress who will play the role of Sybil, is her own grand niece, local actress Elaine Daly.

Papan must not be lost: It is Historical Site not Toxic Dumping Site
That is enough of internet search on Papan. I hope Papan will remain as a heritage, for younger generation. To remember their contribution in the tin mining history, to remember a role they played in WW2, to remember their fight for clean environment. They reserve a memorial for their spirit...

Papan must not be lost in history.....

Related articles:

1. Japanese Multinational Corporations and the Export of Pollution: The Case of Bukit Merah(2005), by Fumitaka FURUOKA & May Chiun LO, Electronic journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies,
2.因闹鬼传闻而被重视的村落 - 霹雳甲板村 (Papan) , you know Chinese, this is interest read)
3, Papan Waterfall,
4. Papan memories(2007),by LIZ PRICE,
5. Keeping alive the memories of a courageous couple(2007), by Tan Ju-Eng,
6. Papan, Perak memory ~~ that's great, photo of the town, including the school)

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Very informative. I should have read this before I go to Ipoh. Too bad I'm back already -.-"