Hugh Charles Clifford.

In court & kampong; being tales & sketches of native life in the Malay peninsula online

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latter State had a difference of opinion, the former was
obliged to send to Kelantan for his drinking water,
since he could not trust his neighbour to refrain from
poisoning the supply, which flows from Jambe through
his kingdom. Uneasy indeed must lie the head which
wears the crown of Petani !

All the States, as far down the coast as Legeh,
are under the protection of the Siamese Government.
Kelantan and Trengganu still claim to be independent,
though they send the bunga dmas or golden flower
to Bangkok once in three years. Pahang was placed
under British Protection in 1888, and Johor is still
independent, though its relations with the Government
of Great Britain are very much the same as those
which subsist between Siam and the Malay States of
Kelantan and Trengganu.

The bunga amas, to which reference has been made
above, consists of two ornamental plants, with leaves
and flowers, fashioned from gold and silver, and their
value is estimated at about $5000. The sum necessary
to defray the cost of these gifts is raised by means of a
banchi^ or poll-tax, to which every adult male con-
tributes ; and the return presents, sent from Bangkok,
are of precisely the same value, and are, of course, a
perquisite of the Raja. The exact significance of
these gifts is a question of which very different views
are taken by the parties concerned. The Siamese
maintain that the bunga dmas is a direct admission of
suzerainty on the part of the Raja who sends it, while
the Malay Sultans and their Chiefs entirely deny this,
and hold that it is merely tanda s'pakat dan ber-sehdbat
a token of alliance and friendship. It is not, per-


haps, generally known that, as late as 1826, Perak was
in the habit of sending a similar gift to Siam, and that
the British Government bound itself not to restrain
the Sultan of Perak from continuing this practice if he
had a mind to do so. From this it would seem that
there is some grounds for the contention of Treng-
ganu and Kelantan that the bunga amas is a purely
voluntary gift, sent as a token of friendship to a more
powerful State, with which the sender desires to be on
terms of amity. Be this how it may, it is certain that
Sultan Mansur of Trengganu, who first sent the bunga
amas to Siam in 1776, did so, not in compliance with
any demand made by the Siamese Government, but
because he deemed it wise to be on friendly terms with
the only race in his vicinity which was capable, in his
opinion, of doing him a hurt.

Direct interference in the Government of Kelantan
and Trengganu has been more than once attempted
by the Siamese, during the last few years, strenuous
efforts having been made to increase their influence
on the East Coast of the Peninsula, since the visit of
the King of Siam to the Malay States in 1890. In
Trengganu, all these endeavours have been of no avail,
and the Siamese have abandoned several projects which
were devised in order to give them a hold over this
State. In Kelantan, internal troubles have aided
Siamese intrigues, the present Raja and his late brother
both having so insecure a seat upon their thrones that
they readily made concessions to the Siamese in order
to purchase their support. Thus, at the present time,
the flag of the White Elephant floats at the mouth of
the Kelantan river on State occasions, though the


administration of the country is still entirely in the
hands of the Raja and his Chiefs.

The methods of Malay rulers, when they are un-
checked by extraneous influences, are very curious j and
those who desire to see the Malay Raja and the Malay
raayat in their natural condition, must nowadays study
life on the East Coast. Nowhere else has the Malay
been so little changed by the advancing years, and
those who are only acquainted with the West Coast
and its people, as they are to-day, will find much to
learn when they visit the Eastern sea-board.

Until British interference changed the conditions
which existed in Pahang, that country was the best
type of an independent Malay State in the Peninsula,
and much that was to be seen and learned in Pahang,
in the days before the appointment of a British Resi-
dent, cannot now be experienced in quite the same
measure anywhere else. Both Trengganu and Kelan-
tan have produced their strong rulers for instance,
Baginda Umar of Trengganu, and the c Red-mouthed
Sultan ' of Kelantan but neither of the present Rajas
can boast anything resembling the same personality
and force of character, or are possessed of the same
power and influence, as distinguished Sultan Ahmad
Maatham Shah of Pahang, in the brave days before the
coming of the white men.

In subsequent articles, I hope, by sketching a few
events which have occurred in some of the States on
the East Coast ; by relating some characteristic in-
cidents, many of which have come within my ex-
perience ; and by descriptions of the conditions of life
among the natives, as I have known them ; to give


my European readers some idea of a state of Society,
wholly unlike anything to which they are accustomed,
and which must inevitably be altered out of all recog-
nition by the rapidly increasing influence of foreigners
in the Malay Peninsula.


I have eaten your rice and salt.

I have drunk the milk of your kine,
The deaths ye died I have watched beside,

And the lives that ye lived were mine.
Is there aught that I did not share,

In vigil, or toil, or ease,
One joy or woe that I did not know,

Dear hearts beyond the seas ?

KIPLING (adapted).

ALTHOUGH the States on the East Coast lie in very
close proximity one with another, the people who in-
habit them differ widely among themselves, not only
in appearance, in costume, and in the dialects which
they speak, but also in manners, customs, and character.
The Pahang Malay, in his unregenerate state, thinks
chiefly of deeds of arms, illicit love intrigues, and the
sports which his religion holds to be sinful. He is a
cock-fighter, a gambler, and a brawler ; he has an
overweening opinion of himself, his country, and his
race ; he is at once ignorant, irreligious, and unin-
tellectual ; and his arrogance has passed into a proverb. 1

1 Kechek anak Malaka ; bual anak Menangkabau ; tipu anak
Ranibau ; bidaah anak Trengganu ; pen-akut anak Singapiira ; pcn-
jclok anak Kelantan 5 sombong anak Pahang.

Wheedlers are the men of Malacca ; boasters the men of Menang-


He has many good qualities also, and is, above all
things, manly and reckless, as those who know him
well, and love him, can bear witness, but his faults
are very much on the surface, and he is at no pains to
hide them, being proud rather than ashamed of the
reputation which they cause him to bear. He is more
gracefully built than are most other natives on the
East Coast, he dresses within an inch of his life, and
often carries the best part of his property on his back
and about his person, for, like all gamblers, he is
hopelessly improvident. He is a sportsman as soon as
he can walk upon his feet without the aid of the
supporting adan ; l he is in love as a permanent
arrangement, and will go to any length, and run any
risk, in order to satisfy his desires ; and, as he is
exceedingly touchy, and quick to take offence, he
frequently seems to be in the condition which is
known as c spoiling for a fight.' He is apt to ' buck '
about the brave deeds of himself and his countrymen,
in an untamed way which would discredit the Colonel
of a Regiment who is privileged to c buck ' because
his officers cannot attempt to check him. He knows
many strange tales of 4 lamentable things done long
ago and ill done ' ; he is extraordinarily loyal to his
Rajas and Chiefs, who have not always acted in a
way to inspire devotion ; he is capable of the most
disinterested affection ; he loves his wives and his

kabau j cheats the men of Rambau ; liars the men of Trengganu ;
cowards the men of Singapore 5 thieves the men of K tin n tan j and
arrogant are the men of Pahang.

1 Adan = A hand-rail by means of which Malay children are taught
to stand and walk.


little ones dearly ; and, if once he trusts a man, will
do anything in the wide world at that man's bidding.
He is clean in his habits ; nice about his food and his
surroundings ; is generally cheery ; and is blest with
a saving sense of humour, provided that the joke is at
the expense of neither himself nor his relations. Like
many people who love field sports, he hates books
almost as much as he hates work. He can never be
induced to study his Scriptures, and he only prays
under compulsion, and attends the mosque on Friday
because he wishes to avoid a fine. He never works if
he can help it, and often will not suffer himself to be
induced or tempted into doing so by offers of the
most extravagant wages. If, when promises and per-
suasion have failed, however, the magic word krah is
whispered in his ears, he will come without a murmur,
and work really hard for no pay, bringing with him
his own supply of food. Krah^ as everybody knows,
is the system of forced labour which is a State
perquisite in unprotected Malay countries, and an
ancestral instinct, inherited from his fathers, seems to
prompt him to comply cheerfully with this custom,
when on no other terms whatsoever would he permit
himself to do a stroke of work. When so engaged,
he will labour as no other man will do. I have had
Pahang Malays working continuously for sixty hours
at a stretch, and all on a handful of boiled rice ; but
they will only do this for one they know, whom
they regard as their Chief, and in whose sight they
would be ashamed to murmur at the severity of the
work, or to give in when ali are sharing the strain in
equal measure.


The natives of Trengganu are of a very different
type. First and foremost, they are men of peace.
Their sole interest in life is the trade or occupation
which they ply, and they have none of that pride of
race and country, which is so marked in the Pahang
Malay. All they ask is to be allowed to make money,
to study, or to earn a livelihood unmolested ; and they
have none of that ' loyal passion ' for their intemperate
Kings, which is such a curious feature in the character
of the people of Pahang, who have had to suffer many
things at the hands of their rajas. When Baginda
tJmar conquered Trengganu in 1837, the people
submitted to him without a struggle, and, if a
stronger than he had tried to wrest the country from
him, the bulk of the people would most certainly have
acquiesced once more with equal calmness.

Study, trade, the skill of the artisan, 'and fruitful
strifes and rivalries of peace,' these are the things
in which all the interests of the Trengganu
Malay are centred. From his earliest infancy he
grows up in an atmosphere of books, and money
and trade, and manufactures, and bargainings, and
hagglings. He knows how to praise the goods
he is selling, and how to depreciate the wares he is
buying, almost as soon as he can speak ; and the
unblushing manner in which he will hold forth
concerning the antiquity of some article which he
has made with his own hands, and the entire absence
of all mauvaise honte which he displays when detected
in the fraud, have earned for him the reputation he
proverbially bears of being the best liar in the Penin-
sula. The Pahang boy grows up amid talk of war and


rumours of war, which makes him long to be a man
that he may use his weapons, almost before he has
learned to stand upon his feet. Not so the young
idea of Trengganu. Men go about armed, of course,
for such is the custom in all Independent Malay
States, but they have little skill with spear or knife,
and, since a proficiency as a scholar, an artisan, or as
a shrewd man of business wins more credit than does
a reputation for valour, the people of Trengganu
generally grow up cowards, and are not very much
ashamed of standing so confessed. In his own line,
however, the Trengganu Malay is far in advance of
any other natives on the East Coast, or indeed in the
Peninsula. He has generally read his Kuran through,
from end to end, before he has reached his teens, and,
as the Malay character differs but slightly from the
Arabic, he thereafter often acquires a knowledge of
how to read and write his own language.

But a study of the Muhammadan Scriptures is apt
to breed religious animosity, in the crude oriental
mind, and the race of local saints, who have succeeded
one another at Paloh for several generations, have
been instrumental in fomenting this feeling. Ungku
Saiyid of Paloh the 4 local holy man ' for the time
being like his prototype in the Naulahka^ has done
much to agitate the minds of the people, and to create
a c commotion of popular bigotry.' He is a man of
an extraordinary personality. His features are those of
the pure Arab caste, and they show the ultra-refinement
of one who is pinched with long fasts and other ascetic
practices. Moreover, he has the unbounded vanity
and self-conceit which is born of long years of adula-


tion, and is infected by that touch of madness which
breeds 'Cranks' in modern Europe, and 'Saints' in
modern Asia. He preaches to crowded congregations
thrice weekly, and the men of Trengganu flock from
all parts of the country to sit at his feet. The Sultan,
too, like his father, and his great -uncle, Baginda
timar, has been at some pains to ensure the perform-
ance of religious rites by all his people, and, as far as
outward observances go, he appears to have been
successful. Moreover, the natives of Trengganu love
religious and learned discussions of all kinds, and most
of them :

When young, do eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint and hear great argument
About it and about,

though, like poor Omar, they never seem to arrive at
any conclusions which have not previously been used
by them as a starting - point. All this makes for
fanaticism, which, however, with so cowardly a
people, is more likely to be noisy than violent, and
all such sinful sports as cock-fighting, bull fights,
gambling, and the like, are forbidden by law to the
people of Trengganu. In spite of all this, however,
the natives of this State do not really lead lives in any
degree more clean than is customary among other
Malays. Their morals are, for the most part, those
of the streets of London after eleven o'clock on a
Saturday night.

It is as an artisan, however, that the Trengganu
Malay really excels. The best products of their
looms, the brass and nickel utensils, some of the


weapons, and most of the woodwork fashioned in
Trengganu, are the best native made wares, of their
kind, in the Peninsula, and the extreme ingenuity with
which they imitate the products of other States, or
Islands of the Archipelago, is quite unrivalled in this
part of the world. Silk sarongs^ in close imitation of
those woven in Pahang and Kelantan, are made cheap,
and sold as the genuine articles. Bales of the white
turban cloths, flecked with gold thread, which are so
much worn by men who have returned from the Haj^
are annually exported to Mecca, where they are sold,
as articles of real Arabic manufacture, to the confiding
pilgrims. All these silks and cloths fade and wear
out with inconceivable rapidity, but, until this occurs,
the purchaser is but rarely able to detect the fraud of
which he has been a victim. Weapons, too, are made
in exact imitation of those produced by the natives of
Celebes or Java, and it is often not until the silver
watering on the blades begins to crack and peel like
paint on a plank near a furnace that their real origin
becomes known. At the present time, the artisans
of Trengganu are largely engaged in making exact
imitations of the local currency, to the exceeding
dolor of the Sultan, and with no small profit to them-

In appearance, the Trengganu Malay is somewhat
larger boned, broader featured, and more clumsily put
together than is the typical Pahang Malay. He also
dresses somewhat differently, and it is easy to detect
the nationality of a Trengganu man, even before he
opens his mouth in speech. The difference in appear-
ance is subtle, and to one who is not used to Malays,


the natives of Pahang, Kelantan, and Trengganu have
nothing to distinguish them one from another, whereas,
after a year or two on the East Coast, what at first are
almost imperceptible differences, are soon recognised
as being widely distinguishing marks.

The Kelantan man is, to the native of Pahang,
what the water-buffalo is to a short-horn. To begin
with, to the uninitiated he is wholly unintelligible.
He grunts at one like the fatted pig at the Agricultural
Shows, and expects one to understand the meaning
which he attaches to these grunts. This proves him
to be sanguine but unintelligent. He cannot under-
stand any dialect but his own, which is convincing
evidence to non-Kelantan Malays that he is a born
fool, and he is apt to complain bitterly of the accents
of strangers, whereas, to all but his own countrymen,
it is his accent which appears to be the real grievance.
He is plain of face, fat, ugly, and ungainly of body,
huge as to the hands and feet, not scrupulously clean
in his person and habits, and, like most very fleshy
people, he is blessed with an exceedingly even temper,
and is excessively happy, good-natured, and stolid.
He can break open a door by butting it with his head,
and the door is the only sufferer. [Awang Kepala
Kras Awang of the Hard Head who is a Kelantan
Malay, backs himself to butt a trained fighting ram
out of time!] He can lift great weights, walk long
distances, pole or paddle a boat for many hours at a
stretch, and can, and does, work more than any other

This huge mass of fleshy brown humanity is reared
on a pound or two of boiled rice, and a few shreds of


fish. To see him eat is to be attacked with a lasting
loathing for food. He takes in his rice as though
stoking a steamboat. The coal shovel is his pon-
derous fist, and the extent to which his cheeks are
capable of stretching alone regulates the size of his
mouthfuls. He is, in every way, coarser-grained than
any other Malay. He has much less self-respect j is
rarely touchy and sensitive, as are other natives of the
Peninsula ; and when he is brave, it is with the courage
of the blind, who know not the extent of the danger
which they are facing. An utter want of imagination
goes to the making of more heroes than it is pleasant
to think about, since people who cannot picture con-
sequences, and forecast risks, deserve but little credit
for the courage which they display, but are unable to

To his neighbours on the East Coast, however, all
the other remarkable characteristics of the Kelantan
Malay are lost sight of, or rather, are completely over-
shadowed, by his reputation as a thief among thieves.
In vain have successive generations of Kelantan rajas
cut off the hands, feet, and heads of detected or sus-
pected burglars and robbers ; in vain have all sorts of
stratagems been adopted by travellers as precautions
against thieves j and in vain have the families of con-
victed men been punished for the deeds of their
relations. Nothing, apparently, can stamp out the
instinct which prompts high and low, rich and poor,
to take possession of any property belonging to some-
one else whenever the opportunity offers. Men with
flocks and herds, and padi swamps, and fruit orchards,
steal if they get the chance just as much as does the


indigent peasant who has sold his last child into
slavery for three dollars in cash. Most of the great
chiefs of the country do not steal in person, but they
keep bands of paid ruffians who do that work for them,
in return for their protection, and a share of the
takings. The skill with which some Kelantan Malays
pick a pocket, and the ingenuity displayed in their
burglaries, would not discredit a pupil of Fagin the
Jew ; and robbery with violence is almost equally
common. Their favourite weapon is an uncanny
looking instrument called parang jengok or the
4 peeping ' knife which is armed with a sharp peak at
the tip, standing out almost at right angles to the rest
of the blade. Armed with this, on a dark night, the
robber walks down a street, and just as he passes a man,
he strikes back over his left shoulder, so that the peak
catches his victim in the back of the head, and knocks
him endways. He can then be robbed with ease and
comfort, and, whether he recovers from the blow or
dies from its effects is his own affair, and concerns
the thief not at all. It is not very long ago since
two men were found lying senseless in the streets of
Kota Bharu, each having put the other hors de combat
with a parang jengok^ striking at the same moment, in
the same way, and with the same amiable intention.
To save further trouble they each had their hands cut
off, as soon as they came round, by the Sultan's order.
This, when you come to think of it, was a sound
course for the Sultan to pursue.

The women of Kelantan are, many of them, well
favoured enough. They are, for the most part, fine
upstanding wenches, somewhat more largely built than


most Malay women, and they appear more in public
than is usual in the Peninsula. At Kota Bharu,
women, both young and old, crowd the markets at
all hours of the day, and do most of the selling and
buying. They converse freely with strangers, go
about unveiled, and shew no signs of that affected
bashfulness, which cloaks the very indifferent morals
of the average Malay woman, but which it is a point
of honour with her to assume when in the presence of

In Kelantan, both men and women dress differently
from Malays in other States. The men wear neither
coats nor trousers, but they bind a sarong and three or
four sashes about their waists. The sarong generally
comes down to the knee, and, when seated, the knee-
caps are often exposed, even in the King's Ealai^ a
practice that would not be tolerated in any other part
of the Peninsula. The women also dispense with an
upper garment, and make up the deficiency by a lavish
use of sarong and scarves. The shoulders and upper
portion of the chest, however, are left bare. These
and other practices, cause the Kelantan Malays to be
much despised by the peoples of other Native States,
who regard them as unmannerly and uncouth. Indeed,
prior to 1888, few Kelantan men dared to set foot in
Pahang, for, as an old Chief once said in my presence,
the only use a Pahang native had for a Kelantan Malay,
before the coming of the white men, was c as a thing
wherewith to sharpen the blade of his dagger,' and this,
be it remembered, is not a mere fa f on de parler.

After straining my jaws, doing violence to my
tongue, and racking my throat, I have acquired a


working knowledge of the Kelantan patois, and can
now understand and speak it almost as easily as I do
the more refined dialects. This has helped me to, in
some degree, understand the people, and, though they
have many bad qualities, I like them. In a rude,
rough way, and without the swagger ef the Pahang
Malay, they are sportsmen. I shot over one of them
for four years, and, until he went blind, he was as good
a retriever as one would desire to possess. At Kota
Bharu bull fights, matches between rams, cocks, quails,
and human prize fighters, are the chief amusement of
the people. The latter sport is peculiar to Kelantan.
The fights begin with the ungainly posturing, and aim-
less gesticulation, with which all who have witnessed a
Malay sword-dance are familiar, but when the fencers
come to close quarters the interest begins. They
strike, kick, pinch, bite, scratch, and even spit, until
one or the other is unable to move. No time is called,
catch as catch can, and strike as best, and where best
you may, are the simple rules of these contests, and
the sight is a somewhat degrading and unpleasant one,
though it excites the spectators to ecstasies of delight
and laughter. Most big Chiefs in Kelantan keep
trained men to take part in these prize fights, and
heavy bets are made on the result.

And the life of these people ? Whether in Pahang,
Trengganu, or Kelantan it is much the same. Up
country the natives live more chastely than do the
people of the capital ; they work harder, age sooner,

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