THE following story is dedicated to honesty, trustworthiness and integrity. Even before the fast food era, when we pay first, there was a man who would do just that when he dined at restaurants. This was in the 1920s and 1930s in Taiping, Perak. When asked why, he replied that he did not want to be in debt if he were to die while having his meal.
This is the story of Elyas Ahmad. Elyas was a forest ranger in Perak in the 1930s. At the age of 44 then, he received a salary of $70 a month from the coffers of the Federated Malay States.
|Elyas, who was based in the Larut Matang district, had his fair share of death-threatening situations. Aziz Ishak, in Mencari Bako In Search of Roots, 1983)
Elyas and his assistants kept an eye out for the illegal felling of mangrove trees.
The story goes that on his payday every month, Elyas would be “caught” in the grievances and misfortunes of his relatives and friends.
These people would get his sympathy, and by the time he reached his house, his monthly income would be much reduced along the way.
Then, few Malays held positions in the Forestry Department. The highest position was deputy assistant junior officer. Elyas was a senior forest ranger.
He was known to his British senior officers for his honesty, dedication and discipline. Corruption and being easily pandering to temptations were not his traits.
Elyas, who was based in the Larut Matang district, had his fair share of death-threatening situations. Aziz Ishak, in Mencari Bako (In Search of Roots, 1983) related the story of his uncle and his grandfather Ahmad Abdullah Jenaton. Aziz, who has written many books on his travels, his detention and his family, was the Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives under the Cabinet of Tunku Abdul Rahman.
As a forestry officer in Larut Matang, Elyas had to oversee, among others, areas resided by fishermen and the Chinese community in villages such as in Pasir Hitam, Kuala Jarum Mas and Londang.
The waters of the mangrove vegetation were bounty for the surrounding community.
It was incumbent upon the Forestry Department to protect the mangrove trees. These can be seen today in areas such as Matang, as we drive towards Kuala Sepetang (formerly Port Weld).
The department issued licences for the fishermen to cut the mangrove trees. They were under the watchful eyes of Elyas and his colleagues who were mindful of the frequent illegal felling of the trees.
When Elyas saw that illegal falling of the trees was rampant, he went into action.
While patrolling the area at Londang, he stumbled upon a group of Chinese illegally felling mangrove trees. There were 12 of them. With Elyas were two assistants. They were naturally overpowered.
All three were tied and taken back to the kampung in Londang. There they were shoved into a box and brought out to sea, hoping that they would sink at high tide.
The sea, as it turned out, refused to conspire. According to Aziz, the perpetrators would have to wait for four more hours for the tide to rise. Time was on their side when the leader of the perpetrators, who was in Taiping earlier, arrived, and ordered Elyas and his assistants to be released.
The leader pleaded with his men, and told them that Elyas was only carrying out his duty and has no intention of denying them their livelihood from the mangrove and the sea.
Later, Elyas charged the 12 men for stealing mangrove trees. He did not mention the crime of the attempted murder.
He left the Forestry Department when a young colonial officer, recently sent to work in Larut Matang, persistently made a litany of false accusations against him. He retired early and was not entitled to a pension. But as a mark of gratitude, he was given a pension. It was stated that the department’s first patrol boat was named Elyas bin Ahmad.
A popular story circulating among the family and his descendants was the incident when he arrested his father for pilfering mangrove wood without a licence. He arrested and brought his father to the court in Taiping and requested the magistrate to mete out the heaviest sentence possible.
The magistrate smiled, and fined Ahmad, Elyas’s father, $2. The maximum fine was $50. He paid the fine on behalf of his father.Elyas, the eldest of seven siblings, was well known in Taiping and Assam Kumbang before he died in 1964. I was told that Jalan Haji Elias in Taiping was named after him. A MURAD MERICAN - NST Learning Curve 28 SEPTEMBER 2014 @ 8:02 AM