KUANTAN: Mention Mat Kilau and almost instantaneously, an image of a Malay warrior will come to mind.
However not many know that at the age of 92, in 1957, Mat Kilau was among the crowd of people in Pahang crying out 'Merdeka' on Aug 31.
While he was not able to utter the sacred word in Stadium Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur, Mat Kilau was nevertheless excited that he was able to be part of the auspicious occasion at the former pasar lambak site (now Taman Kerang), along Jalan Mahkota, here.
Mat Kilau, unlike other fighters in his time, Datuk Bahaman, Tok Gajah, Haji Abdul Rahman Limbong and Tok Janggut, was in a way privileged as he could be part of the crowd that welcomed the nation's departure from British rule.
However, on that day, Aug 31 in 1957, not one of the many people in the crowd with him, knew that the 92-year-old among them was the revered warrior Mat Kilau.
This was because prior to that, he had 'disappeared' for more than half a century after the British who accused him of betraying the Sultan had begun hunting him down.
Mat Kilau's grandson, Mohd Alhamadi Abu Bakar, 52, said his late father told him that on that auspicious day in 1957, Mat Kilau was up early and made his way to Kuantan after performing his Subuh prayer.
This was after he found out that besides the main proclamation of independence in Stadium Merdeka, a state level event was also to be held in Kuantan.
"My father found it weird that Aki (grandfather) was very excited about going to Taman Kerang to celebrate the historical day. He wore a round-neck white t-shirt, a grey coat, slacks and sampin, shoes, and wrapped a cindai cloth over his head.
"My father did not know where Aki obtained the complete clothing set and the significance of the cindai cloth wrapped around his head," Mohd Alhamadi who is also the headmaster of Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Padang Garuda in Permatang Badak, here, told NSTP.
Mohd Alhamadi who is also the main heir to the Silat Tapak Setia Suci martial art inherited from Mat Kilau himself said, according to tradition, the cindai cloth is a type of thin silk used by Malay warriors as a headwrap or belt when they go to battle.
He then said that his father Abu Bakar also followed Mat Kilau to Kuantan where they both boarded a free bus provided by the authorities in conjunction with the occasion.
"My father said Aki was extremely happy and excited as he waited for that moment to cry out 'Merdeka' and the two of them braved the crowd to see the procession and floats," he said.
Mohd Alhamadi, at five years old, was by his grandfather's side when the latter revealed himself as Mat Kilau.
He said the cry of 'Merdeka' for his grandfather was a reflection of the feelings of a warrior that had to go through hardships in his life for the sake of defending the honour of his people and religion as well as sovereignty of the land he called home.
He expressed hope that the younger generation was able to appreciate the sacrifices made by Mat Kilau and other Malay fighters and to continue strengthening their love for the country.
"In 1969, about a year before he died, Aki said 'jaga agama, jaga keluarga, jaga negara jangan sampai bangsaku tiada negara' (take care of the religion, take care of the family, take care of the country, do not let my race be without a country)," Mohd Alhamadi said.
Facts about Mat Kilau:
1. Mat Kilau passed away on Aug 16, 1970, just some two weeks shy of Malaysia celebrating its 13th National Day, at his home in Kampung Batu 5, Paya Besar at the age of 104.
2. Born in 1865, Mat Kilau's real name was Mohamad Rasu Abdul Salam, but he was also known by several other nicknames such as Mat Siam, Mat Dahan and Mat Dadu.
3. He was the son of Imam Perang Rasu Abdul Salam (Tok Gajah) who rose to fight British rule in Pahang in the late 1800s.
4. Mat Kilau revealed his true identity to the public after Friday prayers at the Pulau Tawar Mosque in Jerantut on Dec 26, 1969.
5. He was laid to rest in a funeral befitting a warrior at the Pulau Tawar Mosque Muslim cemetery in Jerantut. © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd