Treasuring our Pepper & Gambir Heritage


In a conversation with Dato Dr Abdul Rahim Ramli, President of the Johor Royal Court Council, he said that the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association had invited him to launch their book on Johor’s Pepper & Gambir Heritage compiled, translated into Malay and published as, Perkembangan Penanaman Gambir diJohor.


Dato Dr Abdul Rahim Ramli and Ho Sow Tong
unveiling the giant book to officially launch it

Dato Rahim, who graciously wrote a glowing Foreword for Book Three of My Johor Stories, is familiar with my interest in this subject as I had already documented it in my 2017 MPH Non-Fiction Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


Members of the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association who were aware of my interest in this subject, showed me their exhibition dubbed Sharing the Hardship presented at the Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum and when they organised a campaign to replant gambir plants in Johor, I had the privilege to be part of this important event.


Dato Rahim planting a gambir sapling in a pot

This was documented in, Gambir planting revival in Johor, published in the August 2017 issue of The Iskandarian.


Then in 2018, I had the privilege to participate in an event organised by Yayasan Warisan Johor or the Johor Heritage Foundation, where I had an enlightening experience hearing from learned speakers on Johor’s proud heritage in Pepper & Gambir.


This experience was documented in Sharing our Pepper & Gambir Heritage, published in the May 2018 issue of The Iskandarian.


Dato Rahim handling ancient equipment used
by early planters for the processing of gambir
So when Dato Rahim had agreed with the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association on a date for their book launch, I received an invite to witness this special event.


When I looked at the map to guide me to the event venue at SJK (Chinese) Pu Sze, I did not recall that it was the same Chinese Primary School where I witnessed the replanting of gambir plants back in 2017.


[It was much later, when I joined the Guest of Honour and the entourage on a tour of the gambir nursery that I suddenly remembered that I have been here before!]


In front of the Bangsa Johor wall mural

On arrival, I met with members of the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association and its President, Ho Sow Tong, representatives from Johor Heritage Foundation and Dato Prof Kassim Thukiman.


By chatting with Ho Kuek Kuwang, Chairman of the Committee for Promoting Knowledge and Planting of Gambir in Johor, I garnered some information about the publication of the book that was to be officially launched that morning.


He helped me understand that this book was produced several years ago in Chinese language to document the Association’s experience in reviving interest in gambir plants and its significance in Johor history.


Dato Rahim admiring the plants
on that plot of land

Ho said that this Malay version of the same book aimed to share the knowledge with other communities who should read and appreciate the value of our shared history.


A great deal of research had gone into the preparation of the contents of this book and it should be used as a Reference Book for Bangsa Johor especially students, youths and under-graduates in universities, to gain knowledge on Johor history.


In his official address, Dato Rahim shared a brief history on the foresight of the Johor Ruler who invited Chinese planters to move to Johor and open up the land to cultivate pepper and gambir.


He said that the Johor Rulers from Temenggong Daing Ibrahim to Maharaja Abu Bakar, had worked closely with the Chinese community to develop the state of Johor through agriculture, mainly in the cultivation of export quality gambir.


The wall plaque signed by Dato 
Rahim to mark his visit here

The cooperation and relationship established between the Johor Rulers and the immigrant community was further strengthened through the concept of Bangsa Johor during the reign of Sultan Sir Ibrahim.


The cultivation of pepper and gambir in the development of Johor’s economy was so significant that in the reign of Sultan Abu Bakar, the motif of these two agricultural commodities was adopted as Johor icons.


In fact, the Johor Government was in the process of registering the pepper and gambir motif as patent for exclusive use. Then under the law, any other use of this motif would require written approval from the Johor Government.


In a simple ceremony Dato Rahim officially launched the book, Perkembangan Penanaman Gambir diJohor, when he unveiled a giant mock-up of the book.


Dato Rahim and Dato Prof Kassim planting
gambir seedlings into seedling trays
Escorted by key personnel in the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association, Dato Rahim was introduced to exhibits of equipment used by early planters for the processing of gambir leaves to extract its juices for various uses.


He was also escorted to the garden across the field where a plot of land had thriving gambir plants growing there.


[When I turned to look at the school building’s façade, I recalled that this was a familiar place and the very plot of land was where I witnessed students and teachers planting young saplings of gambir plants here, back in 2017. And now those saplings have grown into sturdy plants!]


This school had also designed a wall mural that outlined the origin of Bangsa Johor that was based on the cultivation of pepper and gambir in an interesting history of the strong relationship between the Johor Rulers and Chinese planters.


Presenting a pot of gambir plant to Dato Rahim
to take home and add to the plants in his garden

To mark his visit to the school, Dato Rahim was invited to sign on a wall plaque mounted on an adjacent wall.


In the nearby nursery, gambir saplings were carefully nurtured and prepared to be planted in every school throughout the state and beyond.


At the close of the event, Dato Rahim and Dato Prof Kassim were invited to plant gambir seedlings into seedling trays.


Just as he was about to leave, Dato Rahim was presented with a pot, planted with a gambir plant for him to add to the many plants in his garden at home.


Congratulations and best wishes to the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association for their initiative to document this precious part of Johor history in the book, Perkembangan Penanaman Gambir diJohor, that will benefit Bangsa Johor and its future generations.


My Johor Stories 3: Proudly Johor, Then and Now, will be released by MPH nationwide on 15 December 2022. Available from MPH bookstores nationwide and online from

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