The Mandailings have been coming to the Kinta Valley, the heart of Perak, Malaysia, since the early 19th century. Their presence in the state was noted at the point of British intervention. The Mandailings probably first started to move into Perak in the aftermath of the Padri War (1821-1837).
Kulop Riau’s father had been mining at Jelentoh in Gopeng since 1861 with a group of Mandailing miners. Kulop Riau himself brought Chinese miners to reopen Gopeng Hilir. The intensive mining methods used by the Mandailing were documented by French mining engineers and explorers.
During the so-called Perak War of 1875, two Mandailings, Raja Asal and Raja Uteh assisted British troops in the pacification of Perak. The removal of Perak nobility inimical to British rule left a power vacuum in Gopeng, Papan and Tanjung Tualang. As a reward, the Papan mines belonging to ex-Sultan Ismail was given to Raja Asal, whose following included not only the Mandailing, but also Angkola, Rawa, Talu and Kah Yin Chew Hakka. Raja Asal’s nephew Raja Bilah succeeded him as Penghulu of Papan.
Agricultural colonization by ‘foreign Malays’ saw hundreds of Mandailings taking up agriculture and establishing settlements in Kinta. Raja Mahmud Mandailing was the foremost agricultural colonist of his time. Gopeng was transformed into a padi-growing area by Imam Prang Jabarumun. Known as bondar saba, the Mandailing irrigation system constructed was two and a half miles long subsequently know as ‘Tali Air Imam Prang’.
The initial growth of Ipoh was attributed to ‘Sumatran Malays’, a generic term covering the Mandalings, who came as traders. Tok Setia Raja was the foremost Mandailing in Batu Gajah. Imam Prang Jabarumun was instrumental in the founding of Kampar. Indeed the Mandailings became the most predominant miners, agricultural settlers and traders in Pusing, Siputeh, Chemor, Tronoh, Lahat and Tanjong Tualang.
Prominent Mandailings from Kinta include:
- Adam Malik (Batubara) the Vice-President and Foreign Minister of Indonesia
- Aminuddin Baki (Lubis), the Father of Modern Malaysian Education
- Abdul Aziz Zakaria (Nasution), the director-general of the Malaysian public services and author of several books
- Mohd. Zain bin Mohd. Salleh (Nasution), the Vice-Admiral of the Malaysian Navy and a nephew of the famous Indonesian General Abdul Haris Nasution
- Abdul Wahab Abdullah (Lubis), journalist, author and magistrate
- Mahmud bin Sheikh Abdul Majid (Nasution), president of Pertubohan Bumi Puthra and member of the Perak State Council in the 1950s
- Amir Hamzah (Nasution) @ Malungun, novelist and journalist