13 Jun 2009


Johan Jaafar

After all, they are not “Johoreans” but “Muarians”. Johoreans are from Mars, they from Venus. There is a world of difference being a Muarian and a Johorean. Muarians seldom claim they are from the state of Johor anyway.

The latest reason for Muarians to gloat? The prime minister’s roots. Tell Muarians that Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak hails from Pahang or, more precisely, Pekan. Wait a minute, take a look at his mother’s side. Tun Rahah Mohd Noah was born and bred in Muar. So Najib has as much a Muar root as he has the Pekan one.

Remember, Rahah came from an established Muar family. Her father, the late Tan Sri Noah Omar, was one of the first Muarians to study abroad. He went to Beirut, thus in Muar he was known as “Noah Beirut”. He later became chairman of Umno Johor and a member of the Federation Legislative and Johor State Council. One of the roads in Muar (Jalan Juned) was named after his grandfather.

Like many established Muar families, they were of Bugis decent, just like Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, whose ancestors came to Pahang from Sulawesi in 1722. When Razakwas sent to London to study law, he befriended the late Tan Sri Taib Andak who was six years his senior. Taib was married with four children then. He, too, came from an established Muar family.

Taib was Razak’s close confidant throughout his tenure as prime minister, which sadly was relatively short.

Taib, a career civil servant, became the first chairman of Felda and helped make Razak’s vision of providing “land for the landless and jobs for the jobless” a reality. An indefatigable crusader himself, Taib was instrumental in making Felda a success, especially in those difficult early years. For his tireless dedication to Felda, one of the schemes in Johor was named after him, Gugusan Taib Andak, near Kulai.

He later became chairman of Malayan Banking until 1981, the year the bank celebrated its 25th anniversary. He was at the helm since 1969. Such was the trust and close relationship between Razak and Taib over the years. Little wonder that when Razak was looking for a wife in the early 1950s, Taib played an instrumental role.

According to the book by Kalsom Taib, one of Taib’s daughters, it was Razak’s father, Datuk Hussein, who instructed Taib to help look for a girl suitable for Razak. According to the book, Hussein wanted Razak to marry “a Johorean”. The Muar girl Rahah was 18 at the time. As narrated in the book Taib Andak: In A Class Of His Own, Taib himself brought Razak to catch a glimpse of Rahah, who was then studying at the Convent School in Johor Baru. It was love at first sight.

According to the book, they were engaged for nine months. They were allowed to go out together only three times, even then they had to be chaperoned. The great day was Sept 4, 1952, when the akad nikah ceremony took place.

But Muarians being Muarians, they have a different version of events. Why place the first meeting between Razak and Rahah in Johor Baru? The local version has it that their first encounter was at a house belonging to Busu Zilah in Parit Bakar. See, Muarians are at their best when claiming credit for the legitimacy of being Muarians. After all, Muar (locals pronounce it “Mu-o”) is no ordinary town. Call it a pensioners’ abode, for it can be quiet and boring, and Muarians will take offence.

You think Muar is never a bustling centre or the intellectual capital of Johor? It had a railway service in the late 19th century. And Parit Jamil was home to one of the oldest printing presses the country had ever known.

Hey, the Malayan flag was raised only in 1957; Muar’s own flag had been around since 1905 or so, in fact, it is still in existence. It would not have been called Bandar Maharani for nothing. The Johor royalty have had their istana by the river since time immemorial. Muar is known as

Padang, too. If the record in the Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) is to be believed, the town was once known as Biawak Busuk, a resting place before Parameswara, the king from Singapura, decided to call Malacca home.

Muar is the birthplace of many of Johor’s illustrious sons and daughters. Many of them became political leaders and excelled in other endeavours.

Muarians will proudly tell you that to qualify to become the menteri besar of Johor, one has to come from Muar and be a former student of “Muar High” (er, Muar High School). All MBs in recent memory fit the bill — Tan Sri Othman Saad, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Ghani Othman.

There was someone from another district who became an MB not too long ago but he did not last a term, for he was not from Muar. A new district, Tangkak, was born to split Muar, thanks to Ghani, who hails from Bukit Kangkar “on the other side of Muar”. Muarians don’t mind the departure.

They were never true-blue Muarians in the first place.

Imagine a people of their own uniqueness and style (or so they claim) living in an enclave they call Muar. They speak with a different accent, formulating their own lingo (the “ek”and “o”) and even having their own culinary specialties — asam pedas and mee bandung. Asam pedas outlets are big hits with outsiders. So, too, mee bandung, which ironically did not come from Bandung in Java. Who else takes satay in the morning, except for Muarians and, perhaps, Kuchingites.

Muarians love to tell stories about the grandeur of the town and its place in history. One thing about Muarians is that they are spinners extraordinaire. No PM has come from Muar but at least our deputy PM is a Muarian. And Muarian Noah fathered two daughters who later became
wives of PMs and was grandfather to the sixth PM of the country.

Talk about being proud, Muarians know the word better than most people in the country.

The writer, born in Muar, went to Muar High School, but resides in Petaling Jaya.

SOURCE: © NSTonline JUNE 2009

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