The Formative Years (1888-1945)
Prior to 1888, Bentong was under the administration of the Pahang Sultanate which was modelled after the Melakan hierarchy of officers serving below a ruler known as a Sultan. In 1888, a residential system was established in Pahang by the British colonial empire following the example in other Malay states.
The principle behind this system was indirect rule, which required the cooperation of the traditional rulers in relinquishing their real power. In return, the rulers were compensated for their loss of traditional income with lucrative salaries and protection from usurpers.
In 1889, the then Resident of Pahang, Sir J.P Rodger, led a Military Police Force group which sailed from the royal capital of Pekan to explore the interior of Pahang. Sir Rodger’s month-long journey was recorded in a journal and it suggested that the town of ‘Bentong’ had yet to come into existence at the time.
In the course of the exploration, the British discovered significant deposits of valuable tin ore in the confluence of the Repas and Perting Rivers. According to the journal “A Tour Through Pahang”, there were only 300-400 labourers involved in small-scale tin mining at the time of J.P Rodger’s discovery. Having completed the expedition, the British quickly decided to jointly develop and excavate the area with local Malayan tycoons, Mr Loke Yew being one of the pioneers.
Armed with persistence and an adventurous spirit, Loke Yew expanded his business operations in Bentong especially in the tin mines along Perting River and Mersing River. To further maximise productivity of the mines, Loke Yew recruited thousands of workers from China to work in his mines.
Consequently, a substantial Chinese community began to form the backbone of the new town of Bentong. The town continued to rely on tin mining as its main economic driver until World War II.
The Transformative Years (1945-2000)
Up until the 1940s, Bentong’s economy was primarily driven by tin mining and other related businesses which flourished as offshoots of the mining industry. However, the 1950s saw a post-war economic revival in many countries around the world and marked a turning point in the global rubber market.
Demand for rubber which was essential for manufacturing consumer goods (such as car tyres) spiked. Along with incipient changes in Malayan economic aspirations and policies, Bentong began developing a strong presence in the rubber industry. Consequently, tin mining receded into secondary importance although it continued to play a role in the local economy for the next few decades to come.
Another important event which transformed the town after WWII was the Communist insurgency, which deeply affected the people of Bentong. In an effort by the British colonial government to grapple with the Communist issue, a state of emergency was declared in 1948. Consequently, Chinese residents in some parts of Bentong were forcibly relocated to designated areas known as ‘new villages’ to cut off potential expansion of communist influence amongst the local Chinese community.
By June 1955, Bentong was declared a ‘white area’, meaning that the town was deemed free from communist insurgent activities. It is worth noting that Bentong still has 15 ‘new villages’ today, providing tourists the perfect platform to experience this unique way of life.
Stepping into the 21st century, Bentong has gradually transformed itself from a primary sector economy dominated by small-scale agricultural and mining enterprises to a multifaceted, year-round economy which focuses on tourism and other service industries. This notable transformation has contributed to rising living standards for local residents.
Today, Bentong is a diverse and vibrant community which embraces modernism without forgetting its rich history.