Humble Beginnings (1854-1860)
When Yap Ah Loy landed in Malacca, he was received by a distant relative, Yap Ket Si. It was usual for the Chinese to help their newly-arrived relatives or clansmen settle down in a foreign land, they would accommodate them until they had found a job. If their passage money was unpaid, the passengers were not allowed onshore, and the relatives would have to pay for the passage money on their kinsmen's behalf. With eighty dollars, Yap Ah Loy probably had enough to pay for his passage money.
Yap Ket Si found Yap Ah Loy a job at a tin mine in Durian Tunggal, Malacca. Trade however was bad in Durian Tunggal, and after 4 months, Yap Ah Loy went to Kesang to work in a shop owned by another distant relative, Yap Ng. Yap Ah Loy remained in Kesang for a year. Then, either business was not good or Yap Ah Loy was not a good shop assistant, Yap Ng gave Yap Ah Loy his own savings of about one hundred dollars, and instructed him to return to China. Yap Ah Loy dared not disobey the commands and sailed for Singapore to catch a ship back to China.
On his way to Singapore, Yap Ah Loy lost his money in gambling. Unable to return to China and too ashamed to seek further help from his relatives, he walked with Yap Fook, a cousin of Yap Ng's, to Lukut in the state of Selangor in search of a living.
At that time, Lukut was the busiest town in Selangor. In the 1840s, rich tin fields were found in Lukut. Raja Jumaat, a Riau royalty and son-in-law to Sultan Muhammad, allowed the mining of the area and with the arrival of Chinese workers, tin mines were opened and Lukut flourished. In 1860, Captain Macpherson, Resident Councillor of Malacca described Lukut as follows:
"The contrast between Lukut and Selangor is very striking; indeed the former can well bear comparison with any European Settlement; and it is equally striking and gratifying in the midst of a dense jungle to come suddenly upon the footprints of advanced civilisation. The roads are well formed and macadamized; the only street of China town is uniformly built of brick and tiled roof, kept scrupulously clean and well-drained; the godowns on the river's banks are large and massively built, and both the people and the place have an air of contentment and prosperity."
This description would not be applicable to Kuala Lumpur even twenty years later.
Yap Ah Loy reached Lukut in 1856 and found work as a cook and handyman under Chong Chong, a Fei Chew Hakka who was to become Yap Ah Loy's chief opponent in the early stages of the Selangor Civil War. Working as a cook had its advantages, besides free food and a wage, he received a commission on all the food he bought on behalf of his employer. In addition, it was the custom for the mine workers to give a few cents extra to the cook when they received their wages. After 3 years, he managed to save some money and with financial help from Yap Fook, he started a small business. He bought pigs to sell in the tin mines in exchange for tin, which he in turn sold to tin merchants.
Yap Ah Loys trading prospered and he extended his business to nearby Sungei Ujong and eventually to Rasah (part of present day Seremban in Negri Sembilan). Whenever he went to Rasah, he lived with Liu Ngim Kong, a Fei Chew Hakka and one of the two panglimas to Shin Kap, the Kapitan Cina of Sungei Ujong. It was also this time that he met Yap Ah Shak, who was to become an important ally and his succeeding Kapitan Cina. With the recommendation of Yap Ah Shak, Yap Ah Loy became an assistant panglima under Liu Ngim Kong, and thus joined Shin Kaps clique.
In early 1860, a conflict between 2 Malay chieftains on local mining rights erupted into open warfare. The Chinese became divided into 2 cliques, each allied with a Malay chieftain. Shin Kap was a leader of one of the cliques.
Shin Kaps clique was poorly armed, and was soundly routed in the ensuing warfare. Many of his supporters were killed, the fortunate ones escaped to Lukut where they found refuge with Raja Jumaat. Liu Ngim Kong was wounded in the leg by cannon shot, and took refuge in Yap Fook's Kongsi house for several weeks to nurse his wounds.
Kapitan Shin Kap and a few of his men got lost in the jungle and run out of food. He decided to return to Sungei Ujong to seek help from Malays who had been friendly to him, but unfortunately he was captured by the enemy chieftain and was beheaded. It was reputed that when he was beheaded, the blood that gushed out was white in colour. Upon seeing this miracle, his Malay enemies begged for forgiveness. Kapitan Shin Kap's headless body was later found by his clansmen and brought back to Malacca for burial.
When it was clear that his Kapitan would be defeated, Yap Ah Loy escaped into the jungle and found refuge with a family of charcoal burners. A gang of Malays found him and attacked the hut at night with their guns, Yap Ah Loy was wounded in the thigh but managed to escape into the forest. He was found the next day by his friends, badly injured and weak from loss of blood. When it was safe, they escaped to Lukut guided by gong beaters sent out by Raja Jumaat to help the fugitives.
During this war, as many as four thousand Chinese were killed within six months.
After the battles had ended, the Malay chieftains and the Chinese made peace. An election for the next Kapitan Cina of Sungai Ujong was made, and Yap Ah Shak was unanimously elected. However, Yap Ah Shak wanted to concentrate on his businesses and soon made Yap Ah Loy his successor.
Hence, in the short span of 7 years, Yap Ah Loy rose from an unknown immigrant to become a Kapitan Cina and the headman of a settlement of several hundred Chinese inhabitants.
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