The Legend of Baharom

Look at me, I’m a blogging machine! Seriously, the only reason I’m posting so much stuff to my blog this week is that Leen has been away. I’ve only been doing two things in her absence: working and blogging. I haven’t even been doing much of the former, so the latter has occupied a considerable amount of my time. That’s OK, tomorrow I’m going to hitch a ride to Muar with Leen’s aunt and uncle, Bibik and Wak Jo. I always enjoy spending time with Leen’s family. At one time they were against the idea of Leen marrying a blue-eyed devil, but they came around and now treat me as one of their own.

Genealogy, the study of one’s family history, has been a hobby of mine for a number of years now. I’ve discovered quite a bit about my own family, and I was interested in Leen’s family history right from the start. It’s certainly a lot more difficult to find your family history here in Malaysia, given the lack of available records and the fact that Malays don’t use family names. Still, I didn’t back down from the challenge and immediately sought out the family members who had knowledge of the family’s history. What I found was an amazing story. I’m not sure how much of it is true and how much is myth, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Leen’s late paternal grandfather, Hj. Baharom Bin Hj. Fadzil, was an enigmatic figure. Several of Leen’s aunts and uncles have given different accounts of his life, but it is generally acknowledged that Leen’s uncle Pak Ndak is the one who knows the most about the man and his origins. According to Pak Ndak, Hj. Baharom Bin Hj. Fadzil was born Raden Baron Bin Raden Falali. He was born in or near Pekalongan, in the northern part of Central Java, Indonesia. The story goes that many years ago the family was nobility and followed a local religion. The earliest known member of the family was a man whose name was something like Raden Ipuk. He had a son named Peroyo, who had seventeen wives. Raden Peroyo was said to have had only one son, Raden Rais. Rais converted to Islam and married into a family of kiai (religious scholars) and had a son named Raden Falali. Being of nobility the family had wealth, land, stables, etc. One version of the story has it that Falali’s son Raden Baron ran away as a young lad with a group of local villagers who were leaving to look for a better life in Malaya. According to Pak Ndak’s version, there was some kind of uprising in Central Java against the sultans and many of the noble families. Fearing for the safety of his only two sons, Baron and Selamat-Selamat (seriously, that was supposedly the other son’s name, or maybe it was a nickname), Falali put them on a boat that was heading for Malaya. Once there they changed their names and lived in relative poverty.

It would be difficult to find the truth about the origins of Baharom. Some members of the family found relatives in Pekalongan but were not recognized or acknowledged by them in any way. I’ve got a copy of some handwritten documents, written in jawi by Baharom himself, that give some details about the family tree. Anyway, it’s the Malaysian chapter of the story that is really interesting and mythical, not the Indonesian one. According to the story, before sending them to Malaya, Falali gave Baron (Baharom) and his brother each a special talisman. Baharom’s brother was captured by the Japanese during WWII and sent to Burma to work on the infamous death railway, and stories began to circulate about his ‘special powers’, which were attributed to whatever was given to him by his father. He was supposedly boiled in water without suffering any injuries or pain.

Baharom’s talisman was a simple slip of paper. He claimed it bore the name of a jinn named Salma (which was a male, despite the name). He carried it on him at all times, usually tucked into the inside of a hat. Salma would protect Baharom and provide for him, and there are many stories about this. One story has it that a rich man in a Mercedes hit Baharom while he was riding his bicycle in Muar. Horrified by the thought that he had killed someone, the man got out of the car and was surprised to find Baharom standing next to the mangled bicycle, without so much as a scratch. Incredulous, the man asked how that could be possible. When Baharom explained it to him, the man asked him to pass on his special knowledge. They became friends, but Baharom began to dislike the greed that motivated people to learn what he knew. One day he buried the slip of paper, fearing it would cause him too much trouble as up to that point he had only used his ‘powers’ for good and had never made more than a modest living. The rich man dug it up and, as the story goes, soon after became MB of Johor.

Most of that story seems pretty far-fetched, I know. I’d love to uncover the truth. What is definitely true about him is that he had many jobs during his life, the longest being a stint as operator of the ferry that went across the Muar River. He married Jamiah Binti Yusuf, also of Javanese descent, and together they had sixteen children (including a set of triplets). It’s likely that most of the stories about him are more myth than truth. However, Leen remembers being a bit freaked out by him as a child, because she said he would often be in one place, such as inside the house, and when she turned around he’d be somewhere else, like outside, in the blink of an eye. Very interesting….


Haji Baharom Bin Haji Fadzil
Haji Baharom Bin Haji Fadzil



One thing’s for sure, everyone in the family looks like him. His genes are pretty strong. I always tell Leen that if we ever have kids they probably won’t look much like me, they’ll just look like Baharom. That’s OK with me because I really love Leen’s family. Interesting history aside, they’re really great people. They must be, if they can love this crazy orang puteh like one of their own:)