The streets of Malaysia are more than just thoroughfares; most are living tributes to the nation’s heroes or changemakers who have contributed in one way or another. We chose nine iconic roads and streets in Malaysia, each with a rich narrative that illuminates the illustrious lives of its namesake.
#1: Jalan Loke Yew, Kuala Lumpur
A prominent road in Malaysia, it was named after a historical figure whose story is a classic rags-to-riches tale. Born Wong Loke Yew in the province of Guangdong, China, Loke Yew was the only son of a farming family. At the age of 13, he set off on a boat to Singapore.
Loke Yew found a job on Market Street and saved $99, which he used to open his own shop called Heng Loong. The shop proved successful, so he entrusted it to a manager while he ventured into the tin mining industry in Perak. This decision led to a stroke of luck, ultimately resulting in immense success and earning him the title of the most successful miner in Malaya.
Just as he achieved success in his thirties during the 1870s, the price of tin took a nosedive, resulting in losses and the suspension of the tin mining industry due to social unrest in Perak. Within five years, he faced bankruptcy. Loke Yew bounced back, leveraging on his initial venture, Heng Loong. The trading company expanded to Kuala Lumpur and gained widespread recognition.
It was in Kuala Lumpur that Loke Yew settled for the next three years, expanding his trade and building the luxurious Loke Mansion on Batu Road (Jalan Medan Tuanku).
Eventually, his influence spread beyond businesses, and never forgetting his past, Loke Yew was known for his charitable works in providing monetary aid to various charities at home and abroad. Loke Yew is also the founding father of the Victoria Institution, recognising the importance of education. For his contributions to various war charities in England, Loke Yew was honoured with Companionship of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.
He has also been credited as the pioneering father behind the development of Kuala Lumpur, and it was through these efforts that Loke Yew was honoured with a street named after him.
#2: Jalan Maarof, Kuala Lumpur
This stretch of road in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, is named after Maarof Zakaria, a lawyer and the founder of the Malay National Bank in 1947. During the British colonial era, only two banks existed: the British-owned Standard Chartered Bank and the Chinese-owned Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC).
However, both banks declined to provide loans to the Malay community during that period, which forced the community to resort to loan sharks who charged exorbitant interest rates.
Maarof, in an effort to address this issue, founded the Malayan National Bank, aimed at providing services to the Malay community and boosting the local economy. However, not everyone was pleased with this development. It eventually led to one of the most mysterious murders in Malaysia. There were near misses three months before the bank’s opening and culminated in Maarof’s kidnapping.
On December 4th, he went missing while en route to Kampung Baru after visiting his mother in Seremban. Three days later, he was found dead, hanging from a tree in a jungle along the Batu 13 Kuala Lumpur – Bentong highway.
In honour of his visionary efforts in standing up against an oppressive force, Jalan Maarof was named after the deceased lawyer.
#3: Jalan Foss, Kuala Lumpur
The road is named after Josephine Foss, the co-founder of Pudu English School, which is now known as SMK (P) Pudu, and the school still stands there today. Josephine was an Anglican missionary teacher who dedicated her life to humanitarian work .
Notably, she served as the school’s headmistress for an extended period, holding the position for sixteen years from 1926 to 1942. The school was notable for being one of the pioneers in providing English education to girls in the region.
Foss recognised the transformative power of sports, including badminton, tennis, netball, and basketball, as tools to break free from traditional gender roles in Asia. She believed that sports, combined with an English-speaking educational environment, empowered young women.
However, the outbreak of World War II in 1942 brought a tragic twist to Foss’s life as she was captured and held as a prisoner by Japanese soldiers.
#4: Jalan Koo Chong Kong, Ipoh, Perak
In honour of a fallen hero, the street near the Perak police headquarters was named after Tan Sri Koo Chong Kong. However, in 2001, it was renamed Jalan Tabung Haji shortly before being reverted back to Jalan Khoo Chong Kong
Tan Sri Koo Chong Kong was the former Perak police chief during the Communist Insurgency period (1968- 1989) in Malaysia. During the period, policemen and special branch personnel were targeted by the communists.
The Perak Police Chief met his untimely end in the hands of communists on 13 November 1975. Koo Choo Kong was on his way back to his home on his way back to Jalan Tower from Jalan Raja DiHilir for lunch, using his official vehicle along with a driver, Sergeant (posthumously) Yeung Peng Chong .
As the vehicle stopped at the traffic lights at Jalan Hospital, two men riding motorcycles, disguised as students wearing white uniforms, pulled up next to their car. These two communist terrorists continued to fire incessantly at the driver, Sergeant Yeung Peng Chong and also at Tan Sri Khoo Chong Kong. Sergeant Yeung Peng Chong died at the scene. Tan Sri Khoo Chong Kong passed away 28 hours later.
There is only toil, tears and sweat in any venture worthy of the supreme sacrifice; that I may leave behind an example and a tradition worthy of man and emulation by all ranks of the Royal Malaysia Police. – Tan Sri Khoo Chong Kong .
#5: Jalan Boo Bee, Taiping, Perak
The name may come across as slightly comical. However, the figure behind this old road in Taiping is nothing but. Jalan Boo Bee is named after a mining tycoon with heart, Ng Boo Bee. Hailing from Fujian, Boo Bee once owned half of Taiping and provided employment opportunities to Kamunting residents at his “the largest open-cast and best worked mine in the Federated Malay States” .
Boo Bee was also one of the earliest property investors, owning buildings in Taiping, Ipoh, Teluk Anson (Teluk Intan), and even in Penang. He dabbled in various enterprises, including brick-making, brewing, selling alcoholic drinks and running gambling dens, which were legal then.
He owned properties in Penang and Perak, especially in Taiping and Teluk Anson. I am told that at one time, he owned more than half the properties in Taiping. – Ng Teng Hin, Ng Boo Bee’s great-grandchild .
But his charity and philanthropic efforts should not be ignored. In his lifetime, Boo Bee channelled his fortune into welfare and education causes. When Taiping town was razed by fire in the 1880s, Boo Bee supplied the material for its reconstruction and actively participated in the project. He aided the construction of early railway lines, such as the one connecting Taiping to Port Weld (Kuala Sepetang) in 1885.
The Hua Lian High School was built by him on land that he donated. He brought in teachers from China to teach here. He gave a lot of money to charity. He helped establish Chinese schools and donated the land on which the Taiping Hokkien Association building stands today.– Ong Bok Kin, Ng Teng Hin’s wife.
#6: Jalan Za’aba, Seremban, Negeri Sembilan
To this day, he is heralded as an influential figure in Negeri Sembilan, with artefacts from his life immortalised at the Teratak Za’ba museum in his hometown in Batu Kikir.
Tan Sri Zainal Abidin Ahmad, or known by his moniker Za’aba, was a writer, philosopher, linguist and politician who hailed from Batu Kikir, Negeri Sembilan. The young Za’aba used to read and practised writing on banana leaves using twigs as his pencil. His father saw this and gifted him with a writing slate, which Za’aba used to sharpen his writing skills .
When Za’aba was serving as a teacher in The Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), he started a collection of Malay words inscribed in Jawi script and unified the diverse Malay spelling systems prevalent at the time. Soon, he introduced elements of English grammar and incorporated Arabic words into the Malay language .
His publication, Pelita Bahasa Melayu, led the guiding light for foreigners at the time to acquire Malay language proficiency .
Za’ba was one of the small numbers of Malays during his time, who had successfully placed himself in the professional field, despite coming from the rural areas. – Dr Shamsuddin Ahmad, Negeri Sembilan Museum Board director .
In addition to his contributions to Malay literature, Za’aba employed his pen as a tool in the struggle against colonialism, inspiring and rallying society to pursue independence. His essays highlighted the ills affecting the Malay society at the time, issues of poverty and religion. Za’aba was also once the first Secretary-General of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO)for a short while before returning to his true passion – writing.
#7: Hutton Lane, Penang
Today, Hutton Lane is a blend of old and new, with heritage buildings housing modern businesses, including restaurants, cafes, boutique hotels, and shops. The street was named after the first doctor in Penang, Dr. James Hutton.
Dr. James Hutton arrived in 1805, along with two military medical assistants during Francis Light’s reign on the island in 1786. The trio made up the pioneering medical staff providing modern medical services in Malaya.
#8: Jalan Ewe Hai, Kuching, Sarawak
Ewe Hai Street or Jalan Ewe Hai was named after one of the many first Chinese who came to Sarawak during James Brooke’s reign between 1841- and 1868, Ong Ewe Hai.In consideration of the ruling Rajah, Ong, or King in Hokkien, was dropped from the street name.
Ewe Hai started off as a petty trader in Singapore after migrating from Fujian, China. His hardworking nature was recognised by his older mentor, Lim Eng Moh. Together, they set off to sail to Borneo to begin a barter-trading business with the natives of Sarawak.
Even at the tender age of 16, the youthful Ewe Hai garnered the trust of the Sarawak community, thanks to his honesty while doing business. He forged a close friendship with a local chief in Kuching, and owing to his impeccable reputation, Singaporean companies extended credit to support his enterprises.
Ewe Hai personally shuttled back and forth between Singapore and Sarawak, transporting his merchandise, including gambier and pepper.
Ewe Hai contributed to the Sarawak community by establishing a Hokkien association in 1871 in Kuching. But, his greatest act that remained his legacy until today was the construction of a row of 40 two-storey shop lots following the Great Kuching fire of 1884 at Ewe Hai Street.
#9: Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Tun Fuad Stephens’ (born Donald Aloysius Marmaduke Stephens)’s legacy lives on in Sabah’s history. Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens in Kota Kinabalu is one of the many places named in his honour. The stretch of road offers a scenic waterfront view, but its namesake led a life committed to the nation and the people of Sabah.
In 1944, Fuad was arrested and imprisoned for his defiance and criticism of the Japanese occupation. Fuad was released following his mother’s tireless plea with the Japanese Kempeitai . In 1953, he established the Sabah Times newspaper. Being part of Kadazan, his writings highlighted the rights and cultural aspects of the indigenous communities of Sabah under various pseudonyms – Vox Populii, Walrus, and Roderick.
Tun Fuad Stephens founded the United National Kadazan Organisation (UNKO) in August 1961. He played a pivotal role in the negotiations for Sabah’s independence and the establishment of Malaysia. These negotiations involved figures such as Tun Mustapha of the United Sabah National Organisation (USNO), Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, and Tunku Abdul Rahman, the then Prime Minister of Malaya. Tun Fuad was the first Chief Minister of Sabah, a role he left to become a Cabinet Minister, the first Sabahan to sit in the position in 1964 .
However, 44 days after his successful election campaign under a new party, BERJAYA Sabah People’s United Front (BERJAYA) – Tun Fuad died in a tragic plane crash. The incident became shrouded in controversy and infamy, ultimately known as the ‘Double Six’ incident.
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