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Monday, December 28, 2009

Mat Kilau (Pahang Warrior and Patriot)

Mat Kilau was born in 1847 in Kampung Masjid Pulau Tawar, near Jerantut, Pahang, son of Khatib Rasu (later Imam Perang Indera Gajah) or Tok Gajah, who was one of the district chiefs of Pahang.

He married Yang Chik binti Imam Daud of Kampung Kedondong, when he was 20 years old, and had three children, one of whom, Omar, was to help him when he re-emerged from silence in 1969.

It was said that Mat Kilau learnt the finer art of silat and spiritual knowledge only after his marriage and one of his masters was his father.

His father, Tok Gajah or Imam Rasu bin Shahrom, fought many victorious battles for Sultan Ahmad, and is reputed to be able to lift a house by himself.

portrait of mat kilau at the pahang heroes muzium
Mat Kilau also studied religion and spiritual matters under the tutelage of Haji Osman, also known as Haji Muntuk, the religious man who later was to be appointed as Mufti of Pahang.

Mat Kilau joined the rebellion against the British imperialism (Pahang Rebellion 1891 – 1895) when he was 44 years old. Tok Gajah (his father) and the Panglima Kakap and later Orang Kaya Pahlawan Perkasa Semantan, Datuk Bahaman bin Dato’ Imam Noh, were some of his famous comrades-in-arms against the British during the period.


Mat Kilau showed his talent and genius while still young. He was an excellent Quran reader as a child, knowing various forms of Quranic recitation styles. In his teenage years, he excelled in the Malay traditional games of top spinning and "berlaga buah keras" and was always appointed the captain of his kampung team against neighbouring village teams.

It was as chief of his kampung’s game (animal) hunting that exposed him to the secrets of the jungle. And this intimate knowledge of the forests and jungle stood him in good stead when he later fought the British imperialists in the late 1880s.

But he is awed and respected by his followers because of his unusual or supernatural abilities in the physical and spiritual realms.

Amongst others, it is said that:-

  • He can kill a person with just his bare hands.
  • He can lift and carry a cow or bull alone by himself.
  • He can eat fish with the bones intact, without internal injuries.
  • He can drink poisonous drinks without any effect.
  • He only used a stick and bamboo during fights with the British army, who used gunfire.
  • He can make himself looked real dead and disappear from enemies.


The British had actually been misled by Mat Kilau into thinking that he was dead, ending their various pursuits in the jungles of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan, which they tried in vain many times previously.

mat kilau at 122 years old
There were actually two versions of his death recorded in the history books. One version is that he died during an ambush by Siamese soldiers at a ceremony in Kelantan . Another version is that he died on the way to the Kuala Reh beach. These deaths were believed to have occurred around 1895.

It is interesting to note on the first version that he actually pretended dead, since he possessed this supernatural ability to stop heart and breathing movements for a few hours, making his death looked authentic, even upon examination. It was said that a banana stem was later inserted in place of his body into the grave.

When he re-emerged in 1969, the public was informed that he had made a pledge to Sultan Abdullah of Pahang, to stay peacefully in the state and not to reveal his true identity to anyone.

Mat Kilau led a quiet life at Kampung Batu 5, Jalan Kuantan, Pekan for more than 35 years. During this quiet period he assumed various names, including Mat Siam.

He came out in the open on 26th December 1969, accompanied by his son, Omar bin Mat Kilau, and announced his true identity at the Masjid (Mosque) Pulau Tawar, near Jerantut. He was about 122 years old then.


As news reports proliferated on the emergence of this legendary warrior, the Pahang State Government subsequently formed a special Committee on the 8th of January 1970, to check the veracity and authenticity of his claim.

Counter-checks were made on his history and stories of his plights and ventures were corroborated and other evidences submitted before the Committee made the final decision.

His smooth and correct answers to the Committee’s deep queries on historical matters and made without hesitation, plus his mannerism and conduct and comfortable use of uncommon palace language during his meeting with the Sultan of Pahang, were substantial proofs of his genuine claim.

Physically, the big mole on his right cheek, a long mole below the left shoulder and visible, old bullet scars on his shoulders and body, plus an additional flesh on the small toe of his foot, tallied with his old identity and history.

He also has a special short stick with the hilt of a carved head of a bird. And it was said that he actually only use the stick and sometimes a sharp bamboo ("buluh runcing") when fighting or going to battle with the British.


The stick or sharp bamboo he used as a weapon is actually the "sulur bertam", a cane –like plant that grows high on the mountains in Pahang.

The sulur bertam is dangerous to humans, and it may cause paralysis when one is hit by the cane.

It is said that another legendary Malay warrior, the Orang Kaya Semantan, Datuk Bahaman, also used this sulur bertam as his weapon.


After close to seven months of investigation, on 6th August 1970, the then Menteri Besar of Pahang, Tan Sri Haji Yahaya Mohd Seth, announced the Committee’s findings and verdict.

The Committee declared and officially verified that the said Mat Siam is truly the legendary Pahang warrior and patriot Mat Kilau, the son of Tok Gajah.


But as destiny would have it, just four days after the announcement of the Committee’s findings, Mat Kilau died. The great man passed away before the public had even then to fully digest from the mouth of the man who made history himself, more stories of his exploits and deeds.

But life’s like that sometimes.

He was buried at Kampung Kedondong, a village about two miles above Pulau Tawar, near the grave of his mother, Teh Mahada.

A grandson, Ibrahim bin Omar, about 70 years old now, still lives in Kampung Bukit Rang, Pulau Tawar.

Well, Mat Kilau, a legendary warrior, a valiant fighter and patriot, and a true son of Pahang, is no more.

But his name and exploits shall forever be etched in the annals of Malaysian history, for his indefatigable leadership and bravery against heavy odds.

He may have lost the battles against an imperial power but he had won the ultimate endearment of all patriots, not only of Pahang but everywhere in Malaysia.

His fighting spirit and valor in times of national need shall perhaps be a model for future generations to follow.

He is depicted in the Pahang Heroes Museum (Muzium Tokoh Pahang) in Kuantan, and a brief history of his stoic resistance against the British imperialism can be read there.


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