Day 20 of The Round Malaysia Road Trip 2020 | Travels with my wife through Asia and beyond. Join us as we explore history and culture. And after thirty years in Asia, we are now back in the UK. What next?

Travels With My Wife

Still talking after all these years!

Day 20 of The Round Malaysia Road Trip 2020

We are in Janda Baik for this video and in many ways giving a bit of a promotional boost for our pal, Hanis's Radiant Retreats company.


The village of Janda Baik was only founded in 1930 after the 1926 floods forced three families to relocate from Bentong to higher ground. It got called The Three Haji, (Tiga Haji), referring to the three families.

The Sultan of Pahang for some reason did not like the name. Perhaps he had a different idea about what it was really called. Maybe he wanted to call it Picnic Island, because, well he used to picnic on a little island in the Ceringgin river. Anyway, in 1933 the British district officer, Henry Peacock, suggested Janda Baik.

The story most often told, is that the name is taken to refer to the dispute between a local Orang Asli chief, Tok Batin Wok, and his wife Seah. Batin means something like "spirit" so Tok Batin means a traditional healer, a shaman of some sort, and thus a certain amount of mystique would envelop anything that involved him.

The story goes that after planting their rice fields, the couple argued about the treatment of her skin disease picked up working the fields. In a state of great annoyance they left the village by different roads. She was probably complaining that she worked all day in the padi fields while he was off smoking medicinal herbs and communing with the spirits. And she said she was buggered if she was going to work in the fields again and he said screw you, to hell with the your fields, I'm going to go get stoned. Or something like that.

But this seems a little odd. Why would both leave behind their land? One version says that they were a couple of orang asli employed by one of the three Haji's, thus making the story no older than 1926.

Whether they owned the land or not, they thought better of running away, and both returned to claim their share of the rice, no doubt thinking they would be damned if they let the other take it all. They met at a spot in the local river, Pulau Santap, that is Picnic Island in Pahang Royal speak, and under the influence of such an idyllic, royally blessed place, cured her skin problems and returned to the village and lived happily ever after. And thus the villagers named the place, "The Village of the Returning Divorcees", i.e. Janda Balik! Which somehow got corrupted to Janda Baik. No doubt that British District Officer didn't know any better.

At least this is the story told by one of the grandson's of the original Tiga Haji.

However, there is another story and this one involves none other than the Grandmother of ex-Prime Minister, Najib Razak! In 1934 she was Orang Kaya Shahbandar Dato Hussain, i.e. district officer and wanted the question of the name settled and held a poll. The descendants of the Tiga Haji were offered three proposals: Tiga Haji, Hulu Benus, and Janda Baik.

But the Janda Baik story that was talked about when this poll was taken pushes the name further back in time and has nothing to do with skin disease or arguments over rice planting. In this story Tok Batin was a very wealthy Orang Asli who had the hots for a young woman from Negeri Sembilan. And unlike his old wife, this one was a virgin and as wealthy men do when confronted by young virgins, he runs off with her.

The young virgin, also as young virgins who run off with old men do, bleeds the old man of his wealth and Tok Batin falls into poverty at which point the beautiful young wife, no longer a virgin one assumes, runs away from him and Tok Batin heads back to Janda Baik. There he finds that his "widow" has been loyally waiting ready to receive him back. And thus they live happily ever after. Hence forward the village is named Janda Berbaik, meaning the Widow Returns, i.e. returns to her husband.

Janda Berbaik turns into Janda Baik as over time the local accent dropped the Ber bit. Whatever the derivation of Baik, the poll went in favour of Janda Baik thus complying with the Sultan's objection to Tiga Haji!

But maybe Henry had not misheard. Because Janda means Widow, not divorcee! And although if one's husband runs off with a young virgin one might consider him as good as dead, there is a version of the story that indicates that the Janda Baik name has been around since the 1870's and has less of a fairy tale component.

Janda Baik translates as The Good Widow and seems to have been coined during the Selangor civil war back in the 1870's.


Who this particular widow was is unknown, but the story is that some Pahang soldiers coined the name on the way home from helping Yap Ah Loy recapture Kuala Lumpur from Syed Mashoor, a supporter of Raja Mahadi's claim on the Selangor sultanate. Essentially there was a struggle between Sumatran settlers and the Bugis for control of Selangor and the Bugis won, with more than a bit of help from Yap Ah Loy and the Chinese community.

The soldiers had stopped in the region and been kindly received. The area then got marked down as a place to stop because of the hospitality of a local woman, who was a widow: hence the name, Janda Baik.

All over the country along various routes, one can see local women manning food stalls so it isn't outside the realms of possibility that all we are really talking about here is a little side business looking after travellers that made a mean Nasi Lemak. Maybe the name on the stall was The Good Widow.

What one does find buried in all these stories is the sense that tending the fields is women's work, the expectation that a good wife will tolerate anything from her husband, the respect for the Sultan, the decisive if perhaps confused nature of the British, a fascination with potions, virgins, and food.

One should also note that Sultans found Janda Baik a playground, and so have many of Malaysia's politicians. Dr Mahathir keeps fit by horse riding in the hills and many a political plot has been hatched in the UMNO training centre that lurks in the area.

I will tell you a bit more about the Selangor Civil War when I get on to talking about our visit to Port Dickson later on in our Malaysian Road trip play list.

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