On a drive to Taman Negara with two old friends recently, we took a detour to visit the Mat Kilau historical sites.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t know anything about Mat Kilau until I saw the promos for the 2022 Malay-language epic historical biographical action film, ‘Mat Kilau: Kebangkitan Pahlawan’ (‘Mat Kilau: The Rise of a Warrior’).
So, we looked it up on Google and set off in the direction of Jerantut, Pahang. We stopped at three sites; first the cemetery where Mat Kilau, his family, and descendants are buried, then Mat Kilau’s birthplace, and finally the Mat Kilau Gallery.
We were early and the gallery in Pulau Tawar wasn’t open for visitors yet. Instead, we decided to visit the cemetery first after getting directions from a local. The path leading to the gravesite was an obstacle course, in trying to avoid stepping on cow pies. Is this how we honour heroes?
Then we get to what looked like his grave; but there were two graves in the small enclosure, and we wondered who the other person buried next to him might be. There was a board next to the grave, and we read it in the hope that we could solve the mystery. But sadly, no. It only provided a brief history of Mat Kilau, and no mention of the other grave. On the way out, we noticed that the cemetery had a corporate sponsor. Do they know that the site they sponsored is full of cow pies and the information board lacked crucial information?
Then, we headed to Mat Kilau’s birthplace. There was a sign at the turn-off which read “Tempat Lahir Mat Kilau” (Mat Kilau’s birthplace). We drove down the lane, and looked and looked for a sign which would indicate the house, but to our disappointment, there was none to be found.
We stopped and asked several locals, but none of them could provide a specific location. After much driving along narrow village roads, we came across a dilapidated wooden house, and to appease ourselves, decided that this must be it. But there were no signs to indicate the actual house, or even the plot of land where it had once stood. Didn’t it occur to anyone that a sign in front of the birthplace would be a good thing?
Finally, we headed to the gallery, which we found informative. My friends and I were the only visitors that morning at 10.30am. So, we were able to leisurely peruse and read all the historical documents on display. And Eureka! It was there, several kilometres away from the gravesite, that we learnt that the grave next to Mat Kilau’s is his mother’s! I don’t think any of us would have gotten any sleep that night if we didn’t solve the mystery of the nameless grave.
My takeaways from this little excursion:
1. To sponsors and potential sponsors out there, if you’re going to do it, do it right. Ensure that what you’re sponsoring is kept in good condition and is professionally set up. Otherwise, it reflects poorly on your own organisation.
2. Going by the number of local and foreign tourists visiting Taman Negara, I dare say that a Mat Kilau tour would be an interesting side trip. It would also spur more economic activity in the sleepy town of Pulau Tawar. Perhaps this is something the state government could look into.
3. Malaysia has so much potential for eco-tourism and history; we’re only scratching the surface at the moment. Instead of more shopping malls and skyscrapers, the focus should shift to nature and history.
After all, the Tourism, Arts and Culture minister was recently quoted as saying that self-drive tourism routes would enable tourists to enjoy the natural scenery, urban landmarks, historical contexts, cultural customs, and other attractions of different states in Malaysia, and will help to revitalise our tourism economy.
The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the writer and do not necessarily represent that of Twentytwo13.