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In search of Megat Terawis

Putri Zanina Megat Zainuddin chronicles her quest to discover her ancestral roots in a book

LARA Croft. And suddenly an arresting visual of the insanely gorgeous Angelina Jolie in that skintight dark ensemble as the titular character of the Tomb Raider franchise floats deliciously into my vision. “Hahaha... well, maybe not quite!” the sound of bemused chuckling slices into my reverie and the image of the sexy tomb raider dissipates as swiftly as it had appeared.

Seated before me, the corners of her kindly eyes creasing in amusement, is another type of “raider”, one who had been scouring the length and breadth of the country and yonder not for treasures that glitter but better — knowledge.
The family of Megat Omar bin Megat Muhammad Ali from the family branch of Megat Abu Kassim, the last Bendahara Megat. Megat Ainuddin Megat Mohd Nordin (centre), The Grand Silat Master and descendant of Megat Terawis with his disciples from the Pertubuhan Istiadat Pewaris Penjurit- Kepetangan Melayu.


Eyes dancing under her glasses, Putri Zanina Megat Zainuddin, former editor of NST’s Travel Times, exclaims delightedly: “Oh, you noticed that part in the book?” The part Putri is referring to can be found in her latest book, Megat Terawis: Journey To Our Roots, which chronicles her quest to discover her ancestral roots.

Beaming, she shares: “Lara Croft looks for artefacts right? And in a way I felt just like her, especially when we were in Bukit Tinggi and Pagar Ruyung ... discovering the tombs of the Raja Raja Alam, all by chance. Of course we didn’t discover any prized treasures or anything but the knowledge we gained was simply priceless.”

The award-winning writer is the 13th-generation descendant from Perak’s Megat Terawis bloodline.

Driven by a deep need to discover where she came from and her family background, this youthful mother-of-four embarked on a journey which took her to Pagar Ruyung in Sumatera and the seat of Minangkabau rule, to trace the footsteps of the legendary Megat Terawis and his early descendants in Perak.

For 230 years, penned Putri, from the establishment of the Perak Sultanate in 1528, the Megats were the Sultan’s Bendaharas or royal custodians, kingmakers and trusted generals.

From the book, which combines a travelogue, historical accounts, genealogies of the Megat family, and a smattering of folk tales and legends, we learn of the significant impact of the powerful Bendahara Megats on Perak’s history and also on the Malay Nusantara of old.

WHO AM I?

“Why do we have this urge to find our ancestral roots, this need to discover something that has long been gone? . For many of us, we trace our roots mainly to satisfy our curiosity. We are doing this for us, for our own preservation, so that we may understand the why and what of who we are.” And so the quandary is posed in the opening preface of Putri’s labour of love. “Before I embarked on this book journey, I hadn’t really known much about my family’s story, “ begins Putri, recalling the early days. “My father told my siblings and I that we were descendants of Megat Terawis, a historical figure in Perak and that he was a warrior. That was it.”

She was still too young to appreciate the significance of what her late father was trying to tell her, recalls Putri. At the time, ancestor stories and history never captured her interest and “...eventually he stopped telling the stories,” she confides.


Megat Ainuddin Megat Mohd Nordin (centre), The Grand Silat Master and descendant of Megat Terawis with his disciples from the Pertubuhan Istiadat Pewaris Penjurit- Kepetangan Melayu.
As the years passed, the question of ‘who’ she really was began to nag. Brows furrowing, Putri says: “I am a Putri. Why am I a Putri? When I asked my parents, especially my mother, she’d say, ok, you’re a Megat but the Megat married a commoner and so the daughters are Putri, while the son is known as Tun.

Because my father was a Megat and my mother was a so-called commoner, the son became ‘Tun’, and daughter, ‘Putri’. I have to carry this title for life. Why? And so the desire to know who I am grew stronger.”

She adds: “I was also curious about why I tend to behave in certain ways. For example, it’s not easy for people to get close to me.

Sometimes I envy people who can just instantly click with those whom they have just met and become familiar with each other. I’ve never been able to. I wondered why I always tended to put some distance between myself and the next person. Could it be because of my bloodline?”

The trigger which led to the eventual quest was a chance discovery of a lone grave. “It was a November evening in 2000. Dusk was descending.

My husband and I went on a lazy drive near Kampung Gajah and we stumbled upon a signboard by the roadside.

On it was written ‘Makam Megat Terawis’. I remember gasping at the sight of a name that I recognised.” Suddenly, the couple’s leisurely drive in the interior of Perak took an exciting turn.

“It was thrilling because I am a descendant of Megat Terawis, the legendary hero and an important figure in Perak’s early history,” shares Putri, her excitement at the recollection palpable.

“Perhaps it was my father’s oversight for not telling me that our ancestor’s grave could be found in Pulau Tiga.
The grave of Megat Terawis II who served as the Perak Bendahara from 1720-1728.
A desolate place, it’s tucked deep in a forested area interspersed with oil palm estates running almost parallel with Sungai Perak.”

Their curiosity piqued, husband and wife decided to follow the signboard. Recalls Putri: “We went in and found a kampung. And then we saw the lone grave next to a house. I was completely overwhelmed by this discovery.”

Adding, Putri says: “Later when I learnt that he came from Pagar Ruyung, my interest was piqued again. Did this place exist? So I started another research. Suddenly it became important to reach the places which had touched my ancestors.”

According to Putri’s husband ­— and partner in crime — the ever cheerful Mohd Za’abah Mohd Johar, there’s not been much written about Megat Terawis up to this point despite his significant role in Perak’s history. “

There have been some paragraph mentions in books that touch on the history of Perak, books written by the colonialists, and that’s pretty much it.

Through the course of our research, we discovered many inaccuracies and inconsistencies,” shares Za’abah. Nodding in agreement, Putri interjects: “So on top of everything else, there was that compulsion to try and correct history too. Along the way we found certain facts and we tried to rectify the information.”

THE PROCESS

The writer (right) with Puti (Puteri) Reno Raudhatuljannah Taib.
When they first started out on the project, it was more a case of stumbling upon things. Shares Putri: “Our primary sources were gathered when we visited sites and talked to people along the way.

A lot of these old stories had been passed down by word of mouth. Then we started reading up on Perak’s history, the Malay Annals etc and from there, we began to form a picture.

Then we had a few rounds of interviews with Megat Osman Megat Abu Bakar and Megat Iskandar Megat Zaharuddin, who’d started researching earlier than us. They shared their knowledge and research findings.”

As they began to list things down chronologically, it became possible to match certain things, says Putri. “For example, later on in our research we discovered that there was a Megat Terawis I and Megat Terawis II, a discovery that threw off a lot of the earlier historians’ stories about Megat Terawis as they never identified the year.

We counterchecked information before piecing them together and inserting our own logical thinking to form a story. One of our major sources of reference was a book called Salintas Minangkabau, which contained a lot of the early history of Pagar Ruyung.”

The final lap in the process of putting the book together took two years.Despite stumbling upon the grave in 2000, nothing concerted was done.

“Everything was done in spurts, “ confides Putri. “We only came across family members from the Megat Terawis Descendants Association of Malaysia about three years before the book was ready. It was quite late. It was then that I found that they had wanted to produce a book since 10 years ago. But somehow it was never realised.”

MEMORIES AND MAGIC

Suffice to say, the journey towards discovering self and root has been a memorable one for the gentle-natured former journalist.

Something that will forever be etched in her memory is a chance meeting with a kindly-looking woman on her visit to the Palace of Selindung Bulan in Pagar Ruyung.
Putri and Za’abah.
During their encounter, the lady was clad in a batik sarong and simple cotton blouse with floral prints.

Who was she? Putri smiles, before replying: “Her name was Puti (Puteri) Reno Raudhatuljannah Taib and her simple demeanour belied her true status. She’s the 17th Yang DiPertuan Gadih and belongs to the 33rd generation of Pagar Ruyung royalty.”

Raudha, as Putri calls her, isn’t only a Yang DiPertuan Gading, she’s also the bundo kanduang (mother figure) for Pagar Ruyung, a position that has the highest authority and holds the veto power on matters concerning Minangkabau customs.

Continuing, Putri shares: “A feeling that I had never felt before passed over me when we met. I had chills down my neck. And I saw her rubbing her neck too. It probably meant that we’re distant relatives who are meeting for the first time. And perhaps it was because we share the same bloodline, a strong one.

The fact that we met by chance made it all the more magical.” Raudha’s personality, adds Putri, mirrors her own. “A bundo kanduang isn’t only strong, she also holds the family together, loves nature, customs and traditions and to a certain extent, they have a level of piety to balance their life. And I actually embrace all those traits but without realising it.”

THE JOURNEY CONTINUES

Now that the book is completed and copies are nestling on bookshelves for lovers of history to leaf through, is that the end, I ask Putri. Her eyes flash and she replies: “Ohhh, I know there’s still more to come.

The bulls’ eye for us would be to locate the grave of Megat Terawis I. No one has been able to find it until now. The one in Batu Tiga that we stumbled upon belonged to Megat Terawis II.

There are a few theories on where he might have died or disappeared that can’t be proven. But we do have some info. That might be next!” The couple is also working on the Bahasa version and hopes to have it available by end of this year. “Oh, and there’s something else we’d like explore — to shoot a documentary on the story.

The filming process would be amazing. Now that would be something!’ concludes the 13th generation-descendant of the formidable Megat Terawis bloodline, eyes dancing.

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