Ideals without Heat: Indonesia Raya and the Struggle for Independence in Malaya, 1920-1948



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Ideals without Heat: Indonesia Raya

and the Struggle for Independence

in Malaya, 1920-1948
Byungkuk Soh

Introduction
This study attempts to understand the development of Malay national awareness toward the attainment of Malaya's independence. In my view, if one is to reasonably understand the struggle for independent Malaya, it is necessary to chart the emergence and growth of new Malay intellectual groups as the driving force behind the development of the Malay independent movement. This study views the 1920s as the watershed in the development of Malay national awareness. It was during this period that the new social groups - the religious-educated intellectuals, the Malay-educated intellectuals and the English-educated intellectuals - emerged outside the traditional Malay hierarchies and began to visualize socio-political ideals that had the greatest impact upon the process of nation-building in Malaya, later Malaysia.
By and large, the English-educated intellectuals were aristocratic in their social origins and were pro-British. They enjoyed favorable treatment from the British colonial authorities. They are the backbone of the United Malays National Organization or UMNO, a party which played the most prominent role in achieving the independence of Malaya and which consequently has been in power since then. In contrast, the other intellectual groups were non-aristocratic, pro-Indonesian and anti-British. They suffered various setbacks due to British colonial suppression. When Malaya became independent, these intellectual groups became the political opposition to the newly formed national government but with many lingering disadvantages.
No doubt, the starkly different paths of the two intellectual camps inform the study of Malay nationalism. Until recently, historians have somehow neglected the struggle for independence of the anti-British and pro-Indonesian Malay nationalists. As a result of this oversight, efforts to better understand the development of Malay national awareness have been hampered. Indeed, since the 1920s, they exerted great effort to persuade the Malay masses to share their political vision for Malaya - Indonesia Raya or Melayu Raya (independence of Malaya within Greater Indonesia or Malaya). They vigorously vied with the pro-British Malay nationalists, forming two major intellectual streams toward independence.
In my view, it is not possible to reasonably understand the making of independent Malaya without fully examining the struggle for Indonesia Raya of the anti-British and pro-Indonesian Malay nationalists. This work focuses on the political ideals and the struggle for independence of the nationalists from the 1920s until 1948 when the British colonial government declared the Emergency Regulations under which they were subsequently paralyzed. This study is not a political history. It principally seeks what lay behind the political activity of the nationalists, using a historical approach sensitive to social and intellectual change. As yet there is no single piece of scholarship on the development of the anti-British and pro-Indonesian Malay nationalists and their struggle for Indonesia Raya, which began in the 1920s and ended around 1948. Existing studies are limited to one of the three distinctive time periods: prewar, interwar or postwar. This study is important in that it will be the first attempt to explore this neglected historical segment. This study will also contribute to a better understanding of Malay political opposition groups of post-independence Malaysia.
The Struggle for Indonesia Raya before the War
The emergence of the first group of new Malay intellectuals in prewar Malaya is closely connected with the religious and political developments in the Middle East, Indonesia and India. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the reformist movement in Islam spread widely throughout the Middle East as a reaction to Western colonialism. Two preeminent Egyptian intellectuals, Jamaluddin al-Afghani (1838-97) and Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) played dynamic roles in the movement. To face the challenge of the West, Jamaluddin emphasized the unity among Muslim communities through their return to the teachings of the two basic texts of Islam - Koran and hadith (Abdul Aziz 1972). Muhammad Abduh contributed to the more intellectual development of the reformist movement. In his view, one of the main causes of the general backwardness of Muslim communities all over the world was the communities’ misunderstanding of the Islamic religion, especially regarding modern progressive ideas (Radin 1959).
From the first decade of the twentieth century, Malay students returning from the Middle East introduced reformist ideas to Malaya. In order to enlighten the Malays regarding the sweeping changes of the times, the religious-educated intellectuals disseminated reformist ideas through the journals Al-Iman, Neracha, Al-Ikhwan and Saudara. Among the famous intellectuals of the period were Syed Sheikh bin Ahmad al-Hadi, Haji Abbas bin Mohammad Taha and Sheikh Muhammad Tahir Jalaluddin al-Falaki. Among the religious-educated intellectuals in prewar Malay society, there were Malay students who were involved in socio-political organizations in the Middle East. Under the influence of the general anti-colonial climate, the student organizations in the Middle East bore a strong tint of anti-colonialism. In addition, students also articulated the sense of unity between Indonesians and Malays (Roff 1970).
The religious and political development in Indonesia also was partially responsible for the emergence of the religious-educated Malay intellectuals. In Kelantan, the educational development took place without any direct intervention from the British administration during the early years of the century. The Majlis Ugama Islam dan Adat Istiadat Melayu (the Council of Religion and Malay Customs), which was formed in 1915, founded several schools in Kota Bahru, Pasir Mas, Pasir Puteh and Kutan between 1917 and 1920. The Madrasah Muhammadiah was one of them. With a modern educational system, this madrasah handled three types of education - Malay, English and Arabic (Khoo 1974). This school produced some outstanding religious-educated intellectuals in the 1920s. Among them were Abdul Kadir Adabi, Assad Shukri bin Haji Muda and Haji Nik Yusuf bin Haji Ismail. While studying at the school, they had easy access to Indonesian reformist journals such as Pedoman Masyarakat, Chenderawaseh and Pewarta Deli, which were introduced by sales agents of Indonesian newspapers and magazines in Kota Bahru. After graduation, the intellectuals devoted themselves to the dissemination of the reformist thought through the journals Pengasuh, Al-Hidayah, Kenchana and Putera (Mas 1983/84).
Another source of influence for the religious-educated Malay intellectuals was India. Some of the intellectuals had gone to India for continued religious study. One of them was Dr. Burhanuddin al-Helmy who became one of the most preeminent pro-Indonesian Malay nationalists during the postwar period. There were other intellectuals who were influenced by the literary works of Indian reformists in Islam, though they had never been to India. One of them was Haji Nik Abdullah bin Haji Wan Musa who was an active religious reformist in Kota Bahru. He was deeply influenced by Maluana Ubaidillah al-Sindhi, one of the famous Indian religious reformists (Azali 1985/86).
With Penang, Malacca, Singapore and other big cities like Kuala Lumpur and Kota Bahru as the center of their activities, the reformists questioned and criticized the socio-economic as well as religious problems in Malay society under colonial rule. In particular, they attacked traditional religious syncretism and advocated the return to the Koran and the hadith by practicing ijtihad (informed independent investigation) rather than taklid buta (blind acceptance of intermediate authority). As a result of the theological dispute, they were labeled the Kaum Muda (Young Generation) by the traditional religious establishment that called itself the Kaum Tua (Old Generation) (Roff 1962).
Since the British colonial government introduced Malay secular education in the second half of the nineteenth century, the growing number of vernacular schools required the training of Malay schoolteachers. Consequently, in 1878, the first Malay Training College was established in Singapore. This college operated only for 17 years and was closed in 1895. The British effort to train Malay schoolteachers was continued by the establishment of the Malay Training College at Malacca in 1900. Before 1922, the colonial government formed two other Training Colleges at Matang, Perak in 1923 and Johor Bahru in 1919 (Awang 1974).
Although these Training Colleges produced about 60 teachers every year, they failed to provide enough school teachers for the 30,968 pupils attending 556 Malay vernacular schools in the Straits Settlements or SS and the Federated Malay States or FMS in 1916 (Awang 1970). Under the leading role of R. O. Winstedt who was appointed Assistant Director of Education for the SS and the FMS in 1916, a Central Training College, named after the late Sultan Idris Marshid al-'adzam Shah of Perak was opened with "a teaching staff of three Europeans, seven Malay teachers, and one Filipino Basketry Instructor" and 120 students in November 1922 (Awang 1970).
The Sultan Idris Training College or SITC was designated as the "cradle of Malay nationalism," and it is necessary to examine its general environment in order to have a clearer understanding of what created progressive Malay-educated intellectuals.

The principal aim of the college, according to George Maxwell, the Chief Secretary of the FMS, is the following:


We really wanted to give the best possible education to the Malays of the village, and that would be the principal aim of this College, namely, to give the best possible education to the Malays of the agricultural class and fisher folk (Awang 1970).
This "rural bias" showed that the British colonial government did not deliberately create semangat perjuangan (the spirit or will-power of struggle) among the Malay-educated intellectuals. This argument will be more clearly substantiated in the discussion of the general environment of the college.
The curriculum of the college was never designed to produce progressive intellectuals. Originally, R. O. Winstedt recommended teaching English to the college students. However, his recommendation was ignored on the grounds that learning English might make the Malay students admire urban life. As a consequence, this colonialist consideration made the curriculum of the college predominantly rural-oriented. Agriculture, Gardening and Basketry occupied one fourth of the total periods per week. These three subjects were more emphasized than pedagogy (Awang 1970).
If this is the case, then what factors contributed to the designation of the SITC as "a cradle of Malay nationalism"? The first factor was the role of graduates of the Malacca Training College. The college was opened on March 1, 1900 with an enrollment of twenty-four students, sons of peasants and fishermen throughout Malaya, who passed a highly competitive entrance examination. When the college was amalgamated into the SITC in 1922, it produced about eighty graduates. Some of them became teachers in the SITC. Among them, Muhammad bin Datuk Muda Linggi, Abdul Hadi bin Haji Hassan, Ahmad bin Abdullah and Harun Muhammad Amin were known as influential mentors. They enhanced semangat perjuangan among the students of SITC by way of literary activities in various Malay journals and historical novels (Ahmad 1956; Allahy 1980; Khoo 1974).
A second factor that contributed to the establishment of the SITC as a nationalist breeding ground was its socialization process. In the Malacca Training College, provincial feelings (loyalty to one’s state) among the students were very common. When the SITC was opened in 1922, these provincial feelings were transferred to the college. However, these soon began to decrease in the new environment of the SITC. In the Malacca Training College, the students were accommodated according to their home state. In the SITC, they were intermingled in six blocks regardless of their hometown (Awang 1974). This mixed accommodation in the SITC gave the students a sense of oneness. They came from all over the peninsula but shared a common social background as children of peasants and fishermen (Radcliffe 1970). This intermixing helped each student understand the Malays of other states.
Another factor that encouraged semangat perjuangan was Indonesian literary and political influence. Given the lack of reading materials at the Malay schools, it seemed that the teaching staff and students of the SITC were impressed by and used Indonesian literary texts. In 1931, O. T. Dussek, the Principal of the SITC (1922-36) and Zainal Abidin bin Ahmad, better known as Za'ba, suggested that the colonial government enlarge the Translation Bureau "along the lines of Dutch Indonesia's Balai Poestaka. But this proposal was rejected " because the British thought they were more efficient than the Dutch" (Awang 1970). Meanwhile, journals from Indonesia such as Seruan Rakyat, Pedoman Masyarakat, Pandji Islam, Bintang Islam and Bintang Hindia were widely read by the students and the faculty of the SITC (Awang 1974). In these journals, the college students recognized Indonesian semangat perjuangan against Dutch colonialism.
Indonesian political influence was also prevalent in the SITC. When Soekarno founded the Partai National Indonesia or PNI (Indonesian Nationalist Party) in 1927, some of the students, namely, Ibrahim Yaacob, Hassan Manan, Abdul Karim Rashid and Isa Mohd. bin Mahmud joined the party as overseas members. In 1929, while Soekarno was under arrest, Haji Kassim Bakri contacted the teachers and students of the SITC to deliver Soekarno's message of struggle against colonial rule (Ibrahim 1957). These political influences led to the appearance in 1929 and 1930 of three political organizations at the SITC. They were the Ikatan Pemuda Pelajar (Alliance of the Young Student), the Ikatan Semenanjung-Borneo (Alliance of the Peninsula-Borneo) and the Belia Malaya (Youth of Malaya) (Kamaruzzaman 1985).
The beginning of the twentieth century saw the gradual emergence of the new Malay intellectuals principally as a result of the Malay response to the new social, political and educational circumstances created by the British colonial rule. As a new and distinctive social group outside the traditional religious-political hierarchy, they were inculcated with certain modern Western values that were subversive of certain traditional values. The religious-educated intellectuals known as Kaum Muda were distinctive from traditional religious intellectuals known as Kaum Tua mainly because the former advocated the Islamic Modernist Movement, which attempted to find modern values in Islamic doctrines and rejected traditional Islamic syncretism as unfit for modern progressive ideas. Most of the Malay-educated intellectuals came from peasant backgrounds. Largely as journalists or teachers of modern vernacular schools, together with many religious-educated intellectuals who were imbued with the anti-colonialism of the Middle East, they vociferously reacted to colonial rule and traditional authority.
As sons of peasants and fishermen or recent Indonesian immigrants, the new intellectual groups who belong to the lower social stratum and possessed shallow organizational roots in society were relatively excluded from various privileges or benefits by traditional authority and colonial rule. They were grouped together according to their social background despite their different educational backgrounds. They were called the “non-aristocratic” new intellectuals. The English-educated intellectuals who came from a higher social stratum and who secured their special privileges with deep organizational roots in the society were categorized as "aristocratic" new intellectuals.
While both intellectual groups commonly regarded non-Malays, the Chinese in particular, as one of the prime culprits responsible for the backwardness of Malay society, under these distinctive conditions, they envisioned different political ideals for the future of Malaya. The aristocratic new intellectuals were willing to compromise with British colonial rule. They believed that given the maintenance of their special privileges and the threat from the non-Malays, a close cooperation with the British who protected their special privileges and implemented pro-Malay policies would be the best alternative. In a later political period, this intellectual trend would be connected to their hope of obtaining independence within the British Commonwealth of Nations. In the meantime, the non-aristocratic new intellectuals viewed traditional authority and British colonial rule as major obstacles to their upward social mobility. Accordingly, they showed uncompromising attitudes toward these establishments. In the wake of the attainment of political freedom, they attempted to reconstruct Malay society with a revolutionary ideal - Indonesia Raya. They were convinced that within the greater politico-cultural entity, the non-Malays could never swamp the Malays and traditional authority as well as British colonial rule would not dominate. In the prewar period, this intellectual trend became more apparent after the Kesatuan Melayu Muda (Young Malay Union) or KMM was formed in 1937.
The KMM was pioneered mainly by the effort of a vociferous Malay-educated activist, Ibrahim Yaacob who was born to a family of Bugis descent in 1911. After finishing his elementary education at a Malay vernacular school in his kampung (village), Ibrahim entered the SITC in 1928. While in the college, Ibrahim was deeply imbued with the concept of Indonesia Raya and semangat perjuangan, partly by his mentors Abdul Hadi bin Haji Hassan and Hassan Manan and partly by nationalist movements in Indonesia. Subsequently, he sharpened his political ideas while contributing many pieces to Malay journals Warta Negeri and Chenderamata (Serikonah 1988/89). In addition, at the SITC, Ibrahim organized and led some student associations, such as the Ikatan Pemuda Pelajar, the Ikatan Semenanjung-Borneo and the Belia Malaya. Right after graduation, he worked for three years as a schoolteacher in a Malay vernacular school at Bentong, Pahang (Serikonah 1988/89).
In 1934, Ibrahim moved to Kuala Lumpur and was hired as a Malay instructor by the Pusat Latihan Polis Depoh (Center for Depoh Police Training) for the FMS. Unlike his kampung life, Ibrahim's new life in the federal city was a stimulating one in several ways. Through various newspapers, in particular the Fikiran Rakyat, which was an official organ of the PNI, Ibrahim had opportunities to become familiar with various social, political and economic issues. He also frequently met his former friends from the SITC and other progressive young Malays and discussed with them various Malay problems in Malay society. Ibrahim and his peers soon made their meetings a regular event by the beginning of 1937, holding one every weekend (Serikonah 1988/89).
While they holding regular meetings at the houses of Othman Muhamad Nor, Abdul Aziz and Hassan Manan, the young Malays decided to form a youth organization called the Persatuan Belia Malaya (Malay Youth Association). In a general meeting held at the Malay Hostel in Kampung Bahru in March 1937, the assembly declared the inauguration of the Persatuan Belia Malaya and Ibrahim was elected Chairman. In a speech, Ibrahim announced that he would invite all former students of the SITC throughout the peninsula and North Borneo to join this new organization (Serikonah 1988/89). In another general meeting of the young Malays held at Gombak Lane Malay School in Kuala Lumpur in May 1937, Abdul Samad Ahmad suggested that the assembly replace the name Persatuan Belia Malaya with the Kesatuan Melayu Muda. His suggestion was adopted and the first peninsula-wide Malay political organization and the first peninsula-wide Malay political organization came into being. The following were elected officials:
Ibrahim Yaacob, President; Onan bin Haji Siraj and Dr. Burhanuddin, Vice-President; Hassan Manan and Othaman Mohd. Nor, Secretary; Abdul Karim Rashid, Treasurer; Ishak Haji Muhammad, Propoganda; Ramil Haji Tahir, Abdullah Kamel, Bahar Abit, Pak Cik Ahmad, Zubir Salam and Thaheruddin Ahmad, Special Advisors (Serikonah 1988/89.).
The formation of the KMM marked a significant moment in modern Malay political history in that the non-aristocratic, anti-British and pro-Indonesian Malay groups began to express themselves in a more organized form through a peninsula-wide political organization. From this time onward, the new Malay intellectuals' various opinions regarding the future of Malaya would divide into two different political camps. The KMM and other non-aristocratic groups will intersect with the aristocratic pro-British groups.
The KMM as a bulwark of the struggle for Indonesia Raya declared Malay unity and non-cooperation with the British as the touchstones of its political activity. Ibrahim Yaacob gives the historical background of this struggle.
In fact, I can have an opinion regarding the feeling towards the idea of a Greater Malaya [Indonesia] in the recent period. Almost 500 years have passed since they [Malay race] had experienced civil wars, which resulted in the division of the Malay Peninsula into various states owned by different clans who were in rivalry with one another. Today, the desire to unite all the 2.5 million Malays in Malay land with the 65 million in Indonesia has emerged. They already showed the desire to unite themselves through various acts of cooperation.… (Ibrahim 1941). [Author's translation]
Toward this ultimate aim, Ibrahim and other KMM leaders thought that all Malays in the peninsula should abandon their strong provincial feelings and unite under one nation and one country against British colonial rule. The KMM took the slogan, "satu untuk semua dan semua untuk satu" (one for all and all for one) (Agastja 1951). Furthermore, they attacked the strong provincial feelings within the state boundaries of the traditional Malay aristocracy as "narrow nationalism." In particular, Ibrahim pinpointed "their tendency to exacerbate the cultural and ethnic differences between the local-born Malays (anak negeri) and the recently arrived immigrant Malays (referred to as anak dagang - traders, ie. aliens)" (Cheah 1979). He also criticized "the Malay's habit of classifying themselves provincially as orang Kelantan, orang Perak, or ethnically as orang Bugis, orang Minangkabau and orang Jawa" (Cheah 1979).
Simultaneously, pursuing the policy of non-cooperation with British colonial rule, the KMM leaders did not fail to condemn the British. They stressed that Malay “backwardness” was not due to their intrinsic “laziness” but due to British colonialism. They also attacked all pro-British elements within Malay society. In particular, the KMM leaders criticized the traditional Malay aristocrats, including the sultans and the English-educated bureaucrats, for leading self-indulgent lives, by cooperating with the British instead of leading Malay society forward (Cheah 1979.).

The Struggle for Indonesia Raya during the War
It seemed to the KMM leaders that the Japanese invasion of Malaya was a good opportunity to strengthen their shallow organizational roots in prewar Malay society. They tried to contact the Japanese invading forces through fifth column activities. The British soon discovered their activities and arrested most of the KMM leaders and many of its supporters shortly after the Japanese invasion. However, this did not lead to the termination of the KMM’s anti-British underground movement. KMM leaders like Onan Haji Siraj and Mustapha Hussein who managed to evade arrest quickly reorganized the KMM members into the Barisan Pemuda and played an important role in the military and social upheaval during the Japanese invasion and the initial months of the occupation. In Perak, Perlis, Kedah and Kelantan, KMM members voluntarily served as Japanese Army guides or interpreters, protecting the lives and property of the Malays who got into trouble with the invading forces (Agastja 1951).
The Japanese recognition of the KMM in the first few weeks of the invasion bestowed upon the KMM considerable socio-political power. Cheah Boon Kheng explains how the KMM gained many advantages.
During this period [between February and June 1942] KMM members emerged as the new privileged political elite, whose prestige superseded that of the Malay aristocracy and the British-trained Malay bureaucratic elite. With easy access to Japanese officers, political influence, special food rations, and allowances, they could extend protection and help to the Malay peasant masses and so become their new patrons (Cheah 1979).
However, the initial dominance of the KMM did not last long. In the first place, the subsequent decline of the KMM was partly related to a general political circumstance within Malay society. Before the war, politics in Malay society had been regarded as the prerogative of the sultan and his royal relatives, together with their representatives in the districts. By and large, the Malays believed that it was not the business of ordinary people. Furthermore, the war came before the KMM had firmly sunk its organizational roots into Malay society. The ascendancy of the KMM in early 1942, from the outset, did not rest on the inherent support of the Malays. Indeed, enjoying Japanese recognition, the KMM played a buffer role between the Malays and the Japanese military in the confusion and fear of the initial months of the occupation. Therefore it is not surprising that more than 4,000 members joined the KMM within a very short period (Bamadhaj 1975). However, as various hardships set in under Japanese rule and the KMM could not provide effective protection from these privations, many opportunistic Malays, who had joined the KMM membership just for their own safety, began to quit the KMM.
A more decisive blow to the KMM as a political group came from the Japanese. In June 1942, the Malayan Military Administration or MMA suddenly informed Ibrahim Yaacob of its decision to ban the KMM. The exact reason why the MMA disbanded the KMM is still a matter of controversy among scholars. A. J. Stockwell argues that the Japanese moved out of disappointment in the KMM’s performance, rather than out of worry over its popularity.
Those KMM members who were released from Changi [gaol] in the fall of Singapore

were dispersed throughout the peninsula to further Japanese rather than nationalist aims. Moreover, the KMM, which was received by the Japanese, differed from the body that the British had proscribed. The influence of hard-core nationalists was reduced by an influx of weaker brethren, while the movements of radicals were closely supervised and there were obstacles in the way of free access across state boundaries. Some members of the pre-war KMM became so disillusioned with their new role of claquers for Nippon that they withdrew from activity. Indeed, it was perhaps more because of its futility than because of its potential danger that the Japanese disbanded the KMM in June 1942 (Stockwell 1979).


In some respects, this argument seems accurate. When the Japanese invaded Malaya, the KMM was useful to the campaign of the Japanese Army because of its anti-British stance and propaganda activity for attaining support among the Malays. However, as soon as the MMA realized that Malay support for the KMM was mainly opportunistic and that even this support was undermined by the arrogance of some of its members, the MMA probably no longer considered the KMM as representative of the whole Malay community.
Yet the principal reason for the dismantling of the KMM seems to be more closely linked to the official Japanese attitude toward Malay nationalist groups. Right after the fall of Singapore, Ibrahim Yaacob, who had been released from prison, made the following proposals in a conversation with Fujiwara Iwaichi (War Office hereafter WO 203/6314).


  1. The YMA (Young Malay Association) should be open to all MALAYAN youths and should be extended throughout MALAYA.

  2. The JAPANESE should accord special protection to the MALAYS and should acknowledge their political and social superiority over the CHINESE and INDIANS.

  3. The newspaper Warta Malaya should be revived and should receive assistance from the JAPANESE.

  4. The status of the SULTANS of the various states should be reconsidered.

To these proposals, Fujiwara replied that except for the third proposal, the other proposals were not in conformity with the policy of the Japanese Military Administration. He suggested that


… it would be better for the Association to act as a cultural organization encouraging thrift and diligence rather than to pursue unattainable political aims by holding windy political meetings signifying nothing but that the Association was a collection of windy young men who neither knew what they wanted or how to attain it. They would be a nuisance to the Government and the inhabitants of MALAYA (WO 203/6314).
The official directive to invading forces was that “premature encouragement of native independence movements shall be avoided,” (Benda 1965) and this continued to be the Japanese official policy throughout 1942. Based upon these sources, we might speculate that it seemed bothersome to the Japanese, who planned to incorporate Malaya into their empire as a permanent colony, that the KMM was gaining greater socio-political influence among Malays.
1943 was a year of discouragement for the KMM. The first source of frustration was the dispersal of its central leadership. After the KMM was disbanded, most of the leaders like Ishak Haji Muhammad, Abdullah Kamel, Taharuddin Ahmad and Muhammad Zallehudin were employed by Berita Malai and other Malay publications issuing propaganda under the Sendenbu (Propaganda Department). In the meantime, other KMM leaders, such as Mustapha Hussein, Ahmad Boestamam, Idris Karim, Abdul Kadir Adabi and M. N. Othman left Singapore, mainly because they were dissatisfied with Ibrahim’s autocratic leadership and the role of Japan as a “liberator of Asia” (Cheah 1979).
Another cause of the KMM’s decline occurred in August 1943 when the Japanese announced that the four northern Malay states, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Trengganu would be returned to Thailand. All four states known as the Unfederated Malay States or UMS had a population that was mainly Malay in composition. Kelantan, in particular, was the center of a flourishing Malay press and of Islamic education and showed strong political consciousness. Furthermore, in Kelantan, there was an active branch of the KMM (Abd. Hamid 1972/73).
As the fortunes of war turned against the Japanese, the Southern Army Staff prepared an “Outline for the Organization of Native Armies” in September 1943. Following the plan, the Japanese instructed Ibrahim Yaacob to form the Giyu-gun or Pembela Tanahair (PETA: Defenders of the Motherland) in December 1943, eighteen months after the ban on the KMM. The Giyu-gun was to be a fighting force that would assist the Japanese Army in defence of all Malaya against the expected Allied attacks (Lebra 1977). As reflected in the name, Giyu-gun, the Volunteer Army was not going to be used to attain the independence of Malaya, but there was no doubt that its formation was viewed by the depressed leaders of the KMM as a good opportunity to restore Malay national dignity and prestige.
In order to arouse the interest of Malay pemuda (youth) in the new organization, the KMM leaders soon began to mount an aggressive publicity campaign through various Malay publications and personal contacts. The monthly magazine Fajar Asia appealed to Malay pride.
The Giyu-gun is a genuine Army which will consist only of Malays. The recruits must be those who genuinely wish to defend their motherland. The second unit has already been formed and only awaits the arrival of more dedicated youths who are prepared to carry out their responsibilities to the motherland. Malay pemuda must seize this excellent opportunity to show the world that within their breasts flows the blood of Hang Tuah [the Malay historic warrior] who once reminded us: “The Malays shall not vanish in this world.” Mr. Ibrahim Yaacob who has been appointed commander of the Malay Giyu-gun says he wishes to see every male Malay enlist as a soldier and establish the Army (Fajar Asia , December 1943).
In February 1944, Ibrahim, together with Onan Haji Siraj and Ishak Haji Muhammad, toured Johor and Malacca to recruit Malay pemuda. Through telegrams, Ibrahim Yaacob contacted the previous KMM leaders who had earlier left Singapore out of disgust with his leadership and the lack of Japanese backing for the independence of Malaya (Ahmad 1983).
In spite of the original Japanese plan, which envisaged the Giyu-gun as a multi-racial army, the Volunteer Army largely consisted of Malay pumuda under the officers who had previously been leaders of the KMM. By April 1944, 2,000 Malay pemuda had been recruited into the Giyu-gun (Cheah 1979). But the possibility of the Giyu-gun ever developing into a cohesive and effective military force, as the leaders of the KMM desired, was checked by the effective control exercised by the MMA (Bamadhaj 1975). In addition, while the Malay nationalist leaders did not have any actual power over the new organization, the PETA was strictly indoctrinated with Nippon spirit under the watchful eyes of the Japanese. The five guiding principles that had to be memorized by every Malay pemuda in Giyu-gun pledged total adherence to the goals of Dai Nippon (Great Nippon).


  1. We, the Malai Giyugun are to be loyal to the Empire of Nippon above all.

  2. We, the Malai Giyugun are to assimilate and to display the spirit of Nippon soldiers.

  3. We, the Malai Giyugun are to undergo training after the model of Nippon soldiers.

  4. We, the Malai Giyugun are to complete the defense of the peninsula with the Imperial Forces as the nuclei.

  5. We, the Malai Giyugun are to contribute to the attainment of the prosperity of Malai and the reconstruction of Dai Toa [Greater East Asia] (Cheah 1985).

Furthermore, contrary to its primary function, the MMA employed the Malay Giyu-gun principally for anti-guerrilla operations, contributing to the worsening animosity between the Malays and the Chinese. The KMM leaders’ disillusionment with the failure in organizing Malay pemuda into a strong military force for attaining their aspirations is well described in Samad Ismail’s novel, Patah Sayab Terbang Jua.


…People like us are no longer of any value. We are nationalists. So long as we remain so, we will be neglected. If we try to be active, we are obstructed. If we oppose, we lose our heads. Shamsuddin [Ibrahim Yaacob] knows. He wants an Army. The Japanese say, what’s the problem? But Shamsuddin has no authority. His Army is not a political Army. It’s an Army instilled with the Bushido [sprit of warrior] to serve only the Japanese… (Cited by Yahaya 1969). [Author’s translation]
In September 1944, the deteriorating war situation forced Koiso, the new Japanese Prime Minister, to arouse the Indonesian people through the bait of independence. While this political development in Indonesia heartened pro-Indonesian Malay nationalists in Malaya who were demoralized by the weakness of Giyu-gun, the Japanese, who expected an imminent attack by the Allied Forces, began to heighten this political mood. They turned their attention back to the KMM, which was the only anti-British nationalist group in Malaya, for the same reason as in early 1942. Under these new circumstances, during the early months of 1945, the KMM leaders began to emphasize their paramount goal, Indonesia Raya, in Malay publications.
In May 1945, the MMA encouraged the KMM leaders to organize a new volunteer force called Kekuatan Rakyat Istimewa or KRIS (Special People’s Force) under Ibrahim’s leadership and the supervision of two Japanese civilian officers, Itagaki and Akamatsu. On May 4 or 5, in a meeting held at Ibrahim’s house in Singapore, Itagaki appealed to the KMM leaders.
What I have to say tonight is unofficial, but I think the independence of Malaya is coming. To be ready for this, you should all start making preparations. Today I have secured the permission of the Chief of Staff, so that Ibrahim can function as leader of the Malay nationalist movement. I hope you will all think seriously about the idea (Cited by Cheah 1979).
Ibrahim and other KMM leaders, however, had to overcome many difficulties in convincing former KMM members to join KRIS. First of all, they needed to persuade Mustapha Hussein, who had been greatly disillusioned with the Japanese, to mobilize his 800 followers into the new volunteer forces (Cheah 1979). Secondly, they had to spend much time organizing KRIS branches throughout Malaya, making use of former KMM branches as nuclei, since their officials were now scattered and disorganized. Ibrahim Yaacob, who was then released from the Giyu-gun, toured the peninsula and personally kept in touch with former KMM members. The other KMM leaders also canvassed various parts of the peninsula to recruit new members. In addition, they also contacted some English-educated bureaucrats and the sultans of Perak, Pahang and Johor in order to convince them of the viability of a Malayan independence within Greater Indonesia (Arena 1980). In this way, the KMM leaders managed to organize the KRIS in July 1945.
In an effort to achieve Indonesia Raya, Ibrahim Yaacob soon sent three representatives to meet with Soekarno and make known to him the Malay people’s wish. According to Itagaki’s suggestion, he also planned an All-Malaya Pemuda Conference to be held on August 17 and 18 at the Station Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. At the meeting, KRIS was to announce its support for Indonesian independence and the Malay people’s wish for Indonesia Raya (Cheah 1979). In August when the Indonesian delegation headed by Soekarno and Hatta stopped in Taiping, Perak on their way back to Indonesia after their talks on Indonesian independence with Marshal Terauchi, the Supreme Commander of the Japanese Forces in Southeast Asia, Ibrahim Yaacob met the two famous Indonesian nationalist figures and told them that the Malays hoped to gain independence in union with Indonesia. Ibrahim Yaacob described their brief talks.
In their talks, Soekarno who accompanied Hatta shook Ibrahim’s hand and said: “Let’s create one motherland for those of Indonesian stock.” Ibrahim Yaacob replied: “We Malays will faithfully create the motherland by uniting Malaya with an independent Indonesia (Ibrahim 1957). [Author’s translation]
However, while the conference scheduled for August was busily being prepared, the sudden surrender of the Japanese foreshadowed the failure of the KMM’s struggle for Indonesia Raya. When the news of the unconditional surrender of the Japanese was reported on August 15, Ibrahim Yaacob convened the All-Malaya Pemuda Conference on August 16. At the session, the delegates discussed three major issues: “whether to push through Malayan independence within Indonesia Raya; how to prevent Chinese MPAJA [Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army] domination of the country and safeguard Malay rights within the administration; how to resolve the stigma of collaboration which hung over the KRIS delegates” (Cheah 1979).
In the meantime, Indonesians had already proclaimed their independence without including Malaya. It was time for the KMM leaders to make their own last bid for the independence of Malaya. At this critical moment, Ibrahim Yaacob, together with Onan Haji Siraj and Hassan Manan flew to Jakarta in August. Many disappointed KMM members once again dispersed throughout Malaya. The vociferous Malay nationalist figure’s exit to Indonesia is still a matter of controversy. The returning colonial regime and later the government of Independent Malaya under Tunku Abdul Rahman did not allow him to return Malaya, labeling him “a dangerous political activist,” and his life in Jakarta became a long exile (Cheah 1979).



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