Bahau (Chinese: 馬口) is the principal town of Jempol district, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. The town's name is believed to have been derived from a Chinese phrase. Bahau is literally translated as "Horse's Mouth" while the nearby town, Mahsan means "Horse's Body" in Cantonese.
The earliest recorded role of the area around Bahau is as a town along the "Denai Penarikan", a water-land route through the interior of Peninsular Malaysia, linking Muar in the West Coast, to Pekan, Pahang in the East Coast. The "Denai Penarikan" or the "Pulling Route" is a land route where merchants would pull their boats across land from Sungai Muar which flows westwards to Sungai Serting which flows eastwards.
The town did not flourish until the arrival of Chinese settlers moving inland in search of tin ore. The Chinese settlers established the town of Bahau and nearby Mahsan, and the town grew as the rubber, palm oil and timber trade (fading industry) began to dominate the town's economy.
During the Second World War, preparations were made to evacuate people from Singapore to Johor and Negeri Sembilan. Singapore was then overcrowded and the food situation critical. Eurasian emigrants were brought to Bahau after the success in bringing the Chinese to Endau. However malaria proved to a constant scourge, and the emigrants discovered that the area had not been adequately prepared for their arrival. The Syonan-to government could not extend to Bahau the same assistance given to Endau because the former became the responsibility of the Negeri Sembilan authorities. The residents here also enjoyed less freedom than their counterparts in Endau.
Three hundred Eurasian families and 400 Chinese catholic families left Syonan for Bahau. The former could not adjust to the hard life as pioneers n an agricultural colony. Catholic nuns together with the orphans in their care were reduced to eating a stew made from snail and grass. A high death rate claimed many, including the leader of the project, Bishop Devals.
The project at Bahau came to an end when the Allied Southeast Asia Command dropped supplies of food and medicine. Bahau was classified as a "displaced person's camp" and majority of its inmates were temporarily transferred to Sime Road Camp in Singapore by the British.
As for the schools, there are 14 Tamil schools in the outskirts of Bahau. While, there are 2 main Chinese schools in the middle of the Bahau town.
The population of Bahau is made up of mainly Chinese, Malays (from the Felda areas in the outskirts of the town) and Indians, who live in town and the estates on the outskirts.
Bahau is linked by federal and trunk roads to Kuala Pilah, Tampin and Gemas in Negeri Sembilan and Kemayan or Sg. Lui in Pahang.
Bahau is accessible by train, being one of the major stations on the East Coast Line, which stretches from Gemas in the south to Tumpat in the north. The railway station is located near Taman Kwang Hup.
Mahsan, Jelai and Rompin, in the outskirts of the town are a comfortable short distance drive from Bahau.
The major source of income of the town of Bahau was timber industry which has contributed to the growth of the town in the past few decades. The cultivation of palm oil and rubber also had a significant impact on the town's economy and today, a prominent estate in the town are the IOI group, Sime Darby (Golden Hope), KLK and small holder is speeding up.
In addition, industry in the town is also currently growing. Bahau's industrial area is located near Taman Kwang Hup. Car workshops, mechanics, spare-parts and accessories shops dominate the business in town because of the flourishing timber trade around the area. Hence, trailers and lorries usually frequent the town for repairs.
The town centre is the commercial centre of the district since shops were built there in pre war. The town centre is known to locals as the 'Main Road' or 'Jalan Besar'. The shops there are mostly run by Chinese traders and suppliers. The shophouses still bear the architecture from the colonial era, when Bahau was a Chinese settlement. Today, more commercial areas are being built outside town as the town grows and "Upwell" is the largest supermarket in town. Locals and visitors alike frequent the many restaurants and coffee shops in town. However, due to the increasing rent rates in the town centre, some old coffee shops have been closed down and some of these shops have moved to other places around and in the outskirts of the town. Econsave Supermarket was opened in the town in August 2008.
Among the notable foods in town are the chicken and mutton soup that is cooked with traditional herbs. There is also "chendol", a Malaysian dessert made from shaved ice, "chendol", a green, stringy jelly, a "gula melaka" (a type of brown sugar). The nearby town of Mahsan offers exotic food like wild boar, squirrels, lizards and bats. Malay hawkers will offer visitors the famous Negeri Sembilan cuisine, "Cili Padi Masak Kuning", a spicy curry with chicken. A restaurant in town (next to primary school) is famous for its "Oyster Sauce Chicken" and "Steamed fresh water Prawns". "Ami Laksa", "wan tao long" and "Ah Soon chau kui tiao" situated in hawker center offered fantastic thrill of taste. "3 sister rojak" next to Catholic Church and "Fei Chai Yi Tao Bihon" at Taman Meranti is a must stop over location. "Low Mei, Tok Tok or Ham Sa Lei " behind Hong Leong Bank provides something extra. There is also famous Thai and Kelantan cuisine located opposite of the Railway station called Wan Tom Yam.
- Eunice Thio, “The Syonan Years, 1942 – 1945”, in Ernest C.T. Chew and Edwin Lee (eds), A History of Singapore Singapore: Oxford University Press, (1996), p.95-114