From H.B.M.‘s Resident, Perak, to Colonial Secretary, Straits Settlements Residency, Kwala Kansa, December 14, 1878.
Sir — In reference to your letter of the 28th June last, directing, by command of His Excellency the Governor, my particular attention to the plan adopted in Selangor for the extinction of the claims against slave-debtors, by a valuation of their services to their creditors according to a fixed scale, and directing me to consider to His Excellency with a view to its being afterward submitted for the consideration of the Council of State:
1. I have the honor to state in reply that a copy of that letter and its inclosure was supplied to the Assistant Resident of Perak, and its contents communicated to the other magistrates, with instructions on all occasions in which such cases should be brought before them, to endeavor, with the consent of the creditors, to come to a settlement on such a basis.
2. The Toh Puan Halimah, daughter of the exiled Laxamana of Perak, and chief wife of the banished Mentri of the State, had invested most of her private money in advances of this description, which, up to the time of British interference, was the favorite form of security, and she is now the largest claimant in the country for the repayment of her money. Another, Wan Teh Sapiah, has also claims of a like nature on several families, and both these ladies willingly undertook to accept of liquidation by such an arrangement.
3. In the former case it has, I am sorry to say, fallen through, from the impossibility of inducing the debtors to work regularly, and from very many of them, who are living in entire freedom in different parts of the country, declining to come into the arrangement, though acknowledging their debts.
4. In many other cases the creditors from the first put forward the certainty of the failure of such a system from the above-mentioned cause; others have objected that they had no regular employment in which to place their debtors; others, that they are utterly ruined by the events of recent years, and that they would accede to the proposal if fairly carried out on the other part, provided the Government would advance money as the native Rajahs did to enable them to open mines or gardens in which they could employ their debtors; nearly all have declared themselves willing, and even anxious, to accept a just amount in payment of their debts, several suggesting that the State might conveniently undertake to do this, employing the labor in public works until the debtor should be free.
5. I cannot undertake to say what may have been the practice in former times, as to the treatment, in Perak, of this class of persons; but no case of cruelty or any great hardship has been brought to my notice since I came into the country. By far the larger number of the slave-debtors live with their families apart and often at great distances from their masters, enjoying all the fruits of their labor, rendering occasional assistance to them when called upon to do so, which, in the majority of cases, is of rare occurrence.
6. The circumstances of Perak would probably be found to differ from those of Selangor, which I understand has a much smaller population; was governed by an enlightened ruler under the advice of British Residents, who succeeded in introducing the present regulation immediately after the conquest of the district.
7. To introduce such a measure into Perak at the present time would, in my opinion, have a very disturbing effect, and although I do not think that it would lead to any extensive or organized armed resistance, I am sure that it would so shake the confidence which has arisen between the European officers and principal people that years would be required to restore it.
8. I confess that I am not able to devote all my sympathy to the weaker class in this question. I concur with the principal natives that the introduction of a measure which formed no part of the original contract would practically amount to a confiscation of their property, the value of the labor of this class of persons being scarcely more than nominal; and I adhere to the opinion that the just and politic course is, as has been done, to prohibit any extension or renewal of the practice either of slave indebtedness or slavery; to secure good treatment for the servile classes under penalty of enforced manumission; to reduce claims when they come before the magistrates to the minimum which justice to the creditor will permit; to await the increased means of freeing themselves which must develop for the poorer classes upon the extensive introduction of European capital into agricultural industries; and, finally, to purchase at a rate which, in consequence of the notorious discouragement with which every case is treated by the European officers and the courts, and the pressure of other influences, will, in time, be much diminished from what would probably be considered a fair equivalent. I have, etc.,
(Signed) Hugh Low, Resident. The Hon. the Colonial Secretary, Straits Settlements, Singapore.
From H.B.M.‘s Resident, Perak, to the Honorable the Colonial Secretary
Teluk Anson, April 26, 1882.
Sir — I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 14th instant, calling upon me for information as to the progress made toward the extinction of debt slavery in this State since 1879, for transmission to Her Majesty’s Secretary of State.
2. In reply I have the honor to report that the policy explained in my letters to your predecessor, dated 28th May and 14th December, 1878, has been steadily pursued in Perak; all slave debtors who have appealed to the protection of the courts having their cases adjudicated upon on the most liberal terms consistent with justice to the creditors, and a considerable number have availed themselves of the facilities presented to them and bought up the claims upon them.
3. Further and more intimate knowledge of the people has confirmed the impression that whatever may have been the case in former times, cruelty to slaves or slave debtors has been very rare since the establishment of settled government, and in every instance in which such has come to my knowledge or to that of the British officers, manumission without compensation was carried out.
4. Three such cases have occurred in the families of two very high officers of State, and these, with one other case, are all the instances of cruelty which have been reported to me.
5. An attempt was made in 1879 to procure a census of the population through the chiefs of the village communities. Each of these chiefs recorded the name of every householder in his district with the number of persons, distinguishing their sex and condition.
6. A total of 47,359 is thus arrived at for the free native Malay population. Of these 14,875 were males above, and 9,313 below, 16 years of age. The females numbered 14,761 and 8,410.
7. The number of slaves was returned as 1,670, of whom 775 were males and 895 females. The slave debtors were respectively 728 and 652, giving a total of 1,380; the two servile classes numbering, of both sexes, 3,050. I fear, however, that these numbers do not include all the bond population, as His Highness the Regent and one or two others with extensive claims did not give in returns.
8. I regret to state that the attempt which, as reported in my letter of the 14th December, was liberally made by the Toh Puan Halimah, chief wife of the ex-Mentri of Perak, to facilitate the manumission of her slaves and debtors by working off the just claims against them on fair terms, was successful only to a very inconsiderable extent. The Malays of Perak are, as a rule, so adverse to and so unaccustomed to steady labor, and can so easily provide for their wants, that they altogether decline, except for short periods, to perform services of any nature even for high wages.
9. The opinion of those having claims upon the servile classes is now pretty general in favor of manumission upon equitable terms, and although a few old Conservative families in such districts as Kinta would prefer to adhere to the former state of things, I have considered that the time has arrived when a general measure having this end in view may be taken into consideration in the hope of carrying it out completely in the year 1883.
10. His Excellency the Governor may have observed in the minutes of the March Session of the Council of State that the subject of manumission of slaves and debtors was brought to the notice of His Highness, the Regent by the Resident, and that a meeting of the Council was appointed for the 15th May, for the purpose of considering the terms on which such a measure should be based, and the manner in which it should be carried out.
11. My own idea is that a commission, consisting of one or two native chiefs and the principal European officer of each district, should be appointed to inquire, under written instructions, into the circumstances of each case, and award, subject to the approval of the Government, such compensation as may seem fair to both parties; that the money necessary to pay the amounts awarded shall be advanced by the Government; that the sum adjudged to be paid for manumission shall remain in whole or in part, as may be determined in Council, a debt from the freedman to the State, which he shall be bound to repay by a deduction of a portion of his wages for labor on the public works of the country, which he must continue until his debt is cleared off, should he be unable or unwilling to raise the money by other means; that male relatives shall take upon them the obligations incurred for the freedom of female relations who may themselves be unable to pay; and that, from the date of the completion of the measure, every person in the State shall be absolutely free, and slavery and bond indebtedness declared to be illegal institutions and forever abolished.
12. I have formerly stated it as the opinion of the best informed natives that a sum varying from $60,000 to $80,000 would be sufficient to meet the necessary expenditure, but I fear that the larger amount would be insufficient, as it would be advisable to deal with an institution involving so great a change in the habits of, and loss to the people, with a certain measure of liberality. I have, etc.
(Signed) Hugh Low, Resident. The Hon. the Colonial Secretary, etc., etc., etc., Straits Settlements.
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52