Monday, September 17, 2007

Wan Hassan Yunus @ Tok Janggut - Kelantanese Patriot

Thanks to the New Straits Times for the information.

When he was killed in a fight with the British, Wan Muhammad Hassan Wan Muhammad Yunus aka Tok Janggut (Longbeard) was labelled a rebel and his body hung upside down in Kota Baru’s town field for public viewing.

Today though, he has been recognised as a freedom fighter and a national hero of his home state, Kelantan.

Tok Janggut was perhaps the first Malaysian to declare his state independent (Merdeka) from British rule.

He did so in May 1915, in his hometown, Pasir Putih, close to the border with Terengganu.

However, the declaration was shortlived.

British soldiers came in three gunboats from Singapore, and attacked Kelantan. He was killed alongside most of his followers.

His body was paraded in a bullock cart around Kota Baru and later, in a final act of indignation, it was covered with only a loincloth and hung upside down near the Kelantan River for four hours for public viewing. He was later buried on the opposite bank.

Tok Janggut’s grave is now under a hut with a tiled roof and surrounded by concrete walls. A Tourism Malaysia signboard tells about his exploits and untimely death on May 24, 1915.

A school in Pasir Putih has been named after him and there is a monument by the Semerak River, complete with kris, spears, tengkolok (head gear) and two pictures of the fallen hero.

Yatim Awang, 96, a descendant of Tok Janggut said his father was imprisoned for life in Singapore after being arrested as a follower of the resistance fighter.

Behind his house are the graves of some of Tok Janggut’s followers. They are unmarked, and for a good reason. The villagers did not want the British to desecrate the heroes’ bodies.

Tok Janggut, he said, was driven to revolt against British rule by heavy taxation imposed by the foreigners, and his replacement as Pasir Putih district head by an arrogant Singaporean named Abdul Latif.

Historian Nik Anuar Nik Mahmud, another direct descendant of Tok Janggut, said he was glad that the Malaysian government had duly recognised Tok Janggut as a national hero.

Kedah-born actor Ismail Din, the late, great Gene Hackman of Malaysia, portrayed Tok Janggut in an acclaimed TV series over Radio Television Malaysia Channel 1 in the late 1970s.

Ismail, the brother-in-law of one of my colleagues, lensman Mokhsin Abidin, mastered the Kelantan Malay dialect in order to play the martyred headman.

I met Ismail in 2005, at a press preview of one of his last movies, Lady Boss, which starred him and singer Ning Baizura of Ipoh.