Article

A tale of that state in the north

Note: the featured image is the flag of the old Sultanate of Kelantan

When I was in school, I often heard how my peers and even their parents hated history. The reason was simple: history was often associated with memorizing dates and people were often uncomfortable with numbers. Admittedly, for a time, I too felt this way. Then I read a few history books and I realised that, ‘hey! These are story books and the tales they told were much more intriguing than works of fiction”

There was however a problem: the history taught in school was very limited and the stories they told were often mind-numbingly boring because they were tales that we had heard often. They coverage was very narrow, we learnt about Melaka and a little of other states. We did not hear much about such states as Kelantan. I wanted to know more about Kelantan and I found that literature on the state was scarce.

Kelantan is in the northeast of the Malay Peninsular. I think historical accounts of the state’s history is scarce because they did not have a proper tradition of recording events back them. Earliest mention of the state can be found in Chinese and Thai records. Chinese records called the place Ch’ih t’u in the seventh century and Chi-lan-tan in the 13th century. Earliest Thai record of Kelantan was in ‘Phongsawadan miiang Kelantan (chronicles of Kelantan) which is one of the texts in a collection called Sala Lukkhun (Balai mentri / a minister’s court) circa 1914.

Kelantan was a centre of interest in the Siam-Britain dispute 1981-1910 which basically revolved around Siam’s desire to expand southward which conflicted with the British policies in the norther states. Kelantan’s history is inextricably linked to Siam / Thailand. Sultan Mansur who became the sultan in 1891 after a conflict involving himself, Tengku Long Senik and Tengku Petra (Long Ja’afar). Sultan Mansur was recognised by Bangkok as the Sultan in 1897 and referred to as Phya Phipit Pakdi. Tengku Long Senik became the Raja Muda / Raja Kelantan and referred to as Phya Decho.

Upon returning from Bangkok in 1894, the minister Dato’ Maha Mentri was murdered. Three assailants were arrested by the Siamese authorities, Tuan Kundor, Awang Chik, and Ibrahim Chandu. They claimed to have been hired by the Sultan’s brother, Tuan Long Mahmud. The Siamese authorities however did not take action on the accused. The books said that they did so because by releasing them, the Siamese could destabilize the region and thus making them dependent on Bangkok.

An example of this was when Sultan Mansur passed away in 1899. The ensuing threat of unrest prompted Bangkok to send three senior officials (Phya Sukhun, Kang Mirik, and Kang Pha) to maintain order until a new Sultan could be placed on the throne.

I was surprised to learn that the history of Kelantan is also inextricably linked to a company called the Duff Development company which was involved in commercial development and, consequently, political developments in the state. It’s involvement was actually brought to the British parliament and later directly led to the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1902 which states in its Article 12 that Siam will not interrupt in commerce while the English shall not, “molest, attack, or disturb those states upon any pretense whatever”. This line is important because it led to the Tok Janggut Rebellion of 1905.

The rebellion started when the British established a district office in Pasir Puteh then proceeded to disrupt the traditional trade, commerce, and interactions between Pasit Puteh, which is in Kelantan, with their traditional trading partners and closest neighbour, Terengganu. This also dislocated the authorities of the Jeram traditional chief and a rebellion ensued. It was led by Engku Besar of Jeram, Haji Mat Hassan aka To’ Janggut of Nering, Penghulu Adam of Kelubi, Haji Sa’id of Cherang Tuli, and Inchek Sahak of Nering. It was called a rebellion because the British claimed to have been acting under the authority of the Crown which was under the influence of the British. This is a familiar theme if we read the history of colonial era.

The history of Kelantan is incredibly complex and this grossly simplified account is not even a drop in the ocean.

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