Sungai Pahang: A river of history, culture, and community

The river was also the main means of transportation for rulers visiting their subjects all over the state.

05 May 2024 03:01pm
Photo for illustration purpose only. - File photo by Bernama
Photo for illustration purpose only. - File photo by Bernama

KUALA LUMPUR - Sungai Pahang, Peninsular Malaysia’s longest river, has a charm of its own and is rich in history too.

A long time ago, the 459-kilometre long river and its tributaries were the lifeblood of the local communities - serving not only as vital transportation arteries but also as crucial sources of livelihood and water.

The mighty river’s impact on the local people was such that it even influenced the way they spoke, according to folklore. Those residing in the upper reaches of Sungai Pahang, such as Ulu Tembeling, Lipis and Raub, speak rapidly - as swiftly as the rushing waters - while inhabitants downstream, like in Kuantan and Pekan, tend to speak more slowly.

Sungai Pahang begins in the Titiwangsa Mountain Range at the confluence of the Jelai and Tembeling rivers in Jerantut district in the western part of Pahang and drains into the South China Sea at Kuala Pahang, near Pekan town.


Going by the historical accounts of the Pahang sultanate, the river was also the main means of transportation for rulers visiting their subjects all over the state.

It was said that the late Sultan Abu Bakar Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mu'azzam Shah, who was the fourth sultan of modern Pahang and reigned from 1932 to 1974, looked forward to traversing Sungai Pahang every year to meet and mingle with the people.

Sultan Abu Bakar, the grandfather of the present Pahang ruler Al-Sultan Abdullah Ria’yatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, also travelled by boat to Perak to ask for Tengku Ampuan Besar Raja Fatimah Almarhum Sultan Sir Iskandar Shah Kadasullah’s hand in marriage.

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Sungai Pahang played a significant role even during the times of the earlier rulers. According to the annals of history, Sultan Ahmad Al-Muadzam Shah, who ruled Pahang for 33 years from 1881 to 1914 and was known to be a people-centric ruler, moved from one place to another around the state using river transportation, and on an elephant when travelling on land.

Now, decades later, the Pahang state government has organised an expedition on Sungai Pahang in an effort to "replicate” the journeys undertaken by past rulers as well as appreciate the historical significance of the river.

The inaugural Mahkota Sungai Pahang Expedition 2024, from March 3-6, was led by Tengku Mahkota Pahang Tengku Hassanal Ibrahim Alam Shah Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah.

The Crown Prince was, undoubtedly, excited to head the expedition as it was his desire to personally experience how rulers traversed the state in the past before the advent of roads and other facilities.

The expedition involved 150 participants from the Royal Malaysian Police, Pahang Fire and Rescue Department, Civil Defence Force, Irrigation and Drainage Department, Tourism Pahang and media organisations.


The 400-km expedition saw the participants travelling in a "convoy” of 18 engine-powered perahu kajang and boats to the districts of Maran, Bera, Temerloh and Jerantut. They embarked on their journey at Pekan Riverfront in the royal town of Pekan, ending it in Kampung Tanjung Gahai in Lipis district.

The expedition marked a historic moment for the Pahang Royal Family as it was all about recollecting the glory of Sungai Pahang which was the principal waterway that interconnected people in ancient eras, with the perahu or boat serving as the primary mode of transportation.

As for Tengku Hassanal, the Mahkota Sungai Pahang Expedition also provided him with the opportunity to take a look at the conditions of riverine villages and their surroundings.

Enduring the elements while navigating upstream in a boat on a river as massive as Sungai Pahang can be a challenging affair as not many can withstand the scorching heat or relentless rainfall. But Tengku Hassanal took it all in his stride cheerfully and enthusiastically.

At one point during the journey, the expedition had to be halted temporarily due to shallow water. This was to prevent the boats from getting stuck in the mud or hitting a sandbar. The expedition only resumed a few hours later after the tide rose.

The long journeys by boat throughout the expedition were rather exhausting but it did not deter Tengku Hassanal from engaging with the local communities at the villages where they made a stop. They included a group of people living in poverty in Kampung Belimbing, Pekan. He also attended a kenduri or feast in Bera, visited the Lipis heritage trail in Kuala Lipis and attended a camping session at the Chenor Heritage House in Maran.

At each place they stopped, Tengku Hassanal and the expedition participants took the opportunity to talk to the locals. It was quite clear from the conversations that Sungai Pahang remains a source of food and income for many of them.

In Temerloh, the participants came across several villagers scouring for shrimps in certain sections of the river. Some villagers were also seen engaged in cage fish farming with most of them rearing ikan patin or catfish, a local favourite.

Meanwhile, the Tengku Mahkota Pahang has asked the Pahang museum authorities to document various historical facts related to the backgrounds and origins of settlements as well as districts in the state, including the villages he visited during the expedition.

"Our stops, including the various villages, not only provided an opportunity to approach the people but also enabled us to hear their stories and the historical tales of the local places.

"We also want to document the history of Pahang and if possible, share stories from ancient times. I will ensure that the Pahang Museum records the appropriate history," said Tengku Hassanal.


The Mahkota Sungai Pahang Expedition also attracted the attention of hordes of people residing in settlements near the river. Many people could be seen at the riverbank, patiently waiting to catch a glimpse of Tengku Hassanal.

State Communication and Multimedia, Youth, Sports and Non-Governmental Organisations executive committee head Fadzli Mohamad Kamal, who also participated in the expedition, said the people were so thrilled they were willing to wait for hours at the riverbank and jetty just to take a closer look at the Crown Prince.

In Kampung Durian Hijau, Jerantut, villagers could be seen waving the Pahang flag and chanting ‘Daulat Tuanku’ the minute they spotted the royal perahu heading towards them.

The locals also did not miss the opportunity to take photographs and present gifts to Tengku Hassanal.

"The Tengku Mahkota Pahang is deeply concerned about the needs and desires of the people. Despite feeling tired, he remained cheerful and engaged with the people.

"Tuanku’s determination and capabilities are truly remarkable as (during the expedition) he experienced firsthand how the people lived. Tuanku is willing to leave his comfort zone,” Fadzli told reporters.

Tengku Panglima Raja Tengku Amir Naseer Ibrahim Shah Ibni Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah accompanied Tengku Hassanal on the expedition. - BERNAMA

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