Y is for Yang Di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA)

by Casper Kaun


Malaysia is unique among the countries of the world as it adopts the constitutional monarchy system through a parliamentary democracy. The Head of State in nine of its component States is a constitutional monarch, a Malay ruler, known as Sultan, Raja (Perlis), or Yang di-Pertuan Besar (Negeri Sembilan), while the other four states (Melaka, Penang, Sabah, Sarawak) are represented by a Yang di-Pertua Negeri, or Governor.

The nine royal houses of Malaysia are Kedah, Perlis, Selangor, Perak, Johor, Kelantan, Terengganu, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang. At least one of the nine royal houses can trace its lineage as far back as 800 years. Malay kingship can be traced to the pre-Islamic period when they had systematic system of governance.

The birth of the modern Malaysian Monarchy followed the inception of the Federation of Malaya in 1948. This united the nine Malay states and the former straits settlements of Penang and Melaka and was the stepping-stone to independence in 1957. It was at independence that the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA), or paramount ruler, was elected as the Head of State, from and by the Malay rulers for a five-year term.

The first YDPA was Tuanku Abdul Rahman ibni Almarhum Tuanku Muhammad of Negeri Sembilan, and the current YDPA (16th YDPA to date) is Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah ibni Almarhum Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Al-Musta’in Billah of Pahang.

This appointment is systematic and each of the nine Sultans has the opportunity to ascend the throne of YDPA based on his turn in the cycle. This arrangement has been important in playing a substantive role in forging national unity.

Tuanku Abdul Rahman of Negeri Sembilan, the first YDPA of the country. Image attribution: Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Role of the King

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is a symbol of unity. His role is that of a constitutional monarch. The extent of his powers as the Federal Head of State is defined in the Federal Constitution and Parliamentary Acts.

  1. Appointments
    • The YDPA has the executive power to appoint the Prime Minister. With the Prime Ministers help and advice, the YDPA appoints the other members of the cabinet. He also has the power to dissolve the cabinet and elect the members of the election commission.
    • The YDPA also appoints the Yang di-Pertua Negeri (Governors), of the states of Penang, Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak, at his discretion, after considering the advice of the state’s Chief Minister. The YDPA also appoints the Mayor and City Council of Kuala Lumpur, which is a Federal Territory.
  2. Head of Islam
    • Under the Federal and State constitutions, the YDPA and the Rulers of the Malay States are the heads of Islam, the religion of the Federation.
  3. Safeguarding Malay and Indigenous Rights
    • The Rulers also have the constitutional responsibility of safeguarding the special position of the Malays and the legitimate interests of other communities. The indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak are afforded the same special position as the Malays under the guardianship of the YDPA.
  4. Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
    • The YDPA is the Supreme Commander of the Federation’s Armed Forces.As Supreme Commander, the YDPA appoints the Chief of the Armed Forces Staff alongside the service heads of each of the three branches of the military forces.
  5. Judiciary
    • The YDPA also has the power to grant pardons and appoints the Chief Justice of the Federal Court.
The Oath of Office of His Majesty, the XV Yang di-Pertuan Agong

Appointment of the King

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is formally elected to a five-year term by and from among the nine rulers of the Malay states (nine of the thirteen states of Malaysia that have royal rulers), who form the Conference of Rulers known as Majlis Raja-raja. After a ruler had served as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, he may not stand for election until all rulers of the other states have also stood for election.

In the event of a vacancy of the office (by death, resignation, or deposition by a majority vote of the rulers), the Conference of Rulers elects a new Yang di-Pertuan Agong as if the previous term had expired. The new Yang di-Pertuan Agong is elected for a full five-year term. The position rotates among the nine Rulers. The selection of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong initially followed an order based on the seniority (calculated

The Letter of Appointment of His Majesty, the XV Yang di-Pertuan Agong

Coronation of the King

During his coronation, he will be presented with a Quran, to symbolize that he is the head of Islam of the country. The Prime Minister will read a proclamation of installation whereupon the newly appointed YDPA will be given a long royal Kris as a symbol of his commitment to the protection of the Malays and to serving the interests of the nation as a whole. Then the YDPA is presented with an oath that he will read and sign in the presence of all the rulers and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will then read a message of felicitation and pledge of loyalty to the new YDPA on behalf of government and the people.

Queen Consort

The Queen Consort is known as the Raja Permaisuri Agong. She represents Malaysian women at the highest level. According to the Federal Constitution, the Raja Permaisuri Agong shall take precedence next after the YDPA over all other persons in the Federation. Just like the YDPA, the Raja Permaisuri Agong is not allowed to hold any appointment carrying any remuneration or actively engage in any commercial enterprise.

Deputy YDPA

The Deputy YDPA, also known as Timbalan Yang di-Pertuan Agong, is to assume the role of the YDPA during a vacancy in that office or under any other circumstances enumerated in the Federal Constitution. There have been a few circumstances in which the Deputy YDPA had to assume the YDPA’s office throughout the years. The Deputy YDPA holds office for five years and may resign from office by writing under his own hand addressed to the Conference of Rulers.

Conference of Rulers

The Conference of Rulers, also known as ‘Majlis Raja-Raja,’ began with the first Durbar that was first held to convene British Officers and the Rulers of the Federated Malay States (FMS). The states are Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang. The Durbar initially served as a type of consultative and advisory council; it also served to improve relations between the Malay Rulers and the British Officials. The Durbar was later replaced by the Conference of Rulers where the first meeting took place on 15th February 1948.

Today, the Conference of Rulers includes the nine Rulers of the Malay States and four Yang di-Pertua Negeri. However, the four Yang di-Pertua Negeri are not involved for matters relating to the election of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, his removal and so on. The chairmanship of the Conference of Rulers rotates among the rulers. These Rulers are each accompanied by their respective Chief Minister (Menteri Besar). On the second day of each meeting, the YDPA is accompanied by the Prime Minister.

According to the Federal Constitution, the Conference of Rulers plays an important role in the constitutional process. The main functions and power of the Conference of Rulers are: electing the YDPA and Deputy YDPA; agree and disagree to any religious Acts religious observances or ceremonies to the Federation as a whole; consenting or withholding consent to any law and giving advice on any appointments that requires the Conference of Ruler’s consent; appointing members of the Special Court (court of justice for offenses committed by the YDPA or any Malay Rulers); and granting pardons, reprieves, and respites, or remitting, suspending, or commuting sentences.

Any amendments to the constitution that affects the Ruler’s privileges, position, honour or dignities will not become law without consent of the Conference of Rulers. The Conference of Rulers provides and effective forum for consultation, participation, and in some cases sanction of the Federal-State relationship, thus reinforcing the concept of Federation.

Tengkolok diraja (royal headdress). The headdress worn by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong follows the design of ‘Dendam Tak Sudah’ (Unending Vengeance), but it is black with gold embroidery.


The Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia plays a unique role, as he is the embodiment of the nation’s history and tradition. His Majesty not only plays an important role in national unity, but also shapes the relationship between state, people and law.


The Rulers of Malaysia, Editorial Advisory Board chaired by Tun Ahmad Sarji bin Abdul Hamid

Display at Gallery D, Muzium Negara.


DZULKIFL, F. Z. & MOHD ZAMERI, N. D. 2010. The Functions of Constitutional Monarchy in Malaysian Political System: Th e Perceptions of Malay Community. Proceedings Seminar on Nasional Resilience (SNAR 2010) “Political Managements and Policies in Malaysia”, 353-369.

Ampun Tuanku: A Brief Guide to Constitutional Government, Zaid Ibrahim, 2012

In this Series

Click HERE for a list of articles in the ‘A-Z at Muzium Negara’ series.

Gamelan: A Cultural Trace in the Malay Archipelago

by Inge-Marie and Dr. Hans Peter Holst (phD)

On our travels around Sundanese Java to research about the art and life of Otto Djaya (1916-2002), the indigenous visual artist and folk painter from Banten, West Java[1], our growing awareness of the Gamelan[2] music[3] and the Wayang theatre[4] increased and the two art forms became peripheral research objectives on their own. It heightened our interest that in Malaysia, where we live, the two art forms are similarly traditional and wonderful.

Gamelan and, more so, Wayang theatre may be vanishing in Malaysia. However, visual evidence produced by YouTube search suggests that currently there is some Gamelan activity in all the states in Malaysia. In fact, Gamelan seems to be attracting a keen amount of interest among the people and the scholars in several States. On the other hand, the Wayang theatre in Malaysia is threatened with imminent extinction. We wanted to know more about the big picture.[5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

In this article, we focus on the music, the Gamelan, because recently we discovered and acquired two ink drawings by Otto Djaya of the Babar Lajar Gamelan ensemble visiting Paris. Both the Ensemble and Otto Djaya were based in Amsterdam at the time.

The signed drawings of Babar Lajar in “Parijs” enabled us to date Otto Djaya’s visit to Paris to exhibit his paintings to December 1947 and to anchor his interest in the Gamelan music[10].

The Gamelan would turn out to be an unparalleled Indonesian cultural treasure similar to the visual arts treasure, painting, contributed by Otto Djaya and his generation of peers. The Babar Lajar Gamelan ensemble was founded in Amsterdam in about 1943. The ensemble was unique by its founder[11], the local manufacture of its instruments during wartime, and its musicians, who were young and musically gifted, and none of whom were Indonesians[12], suggesting the almost hypnotic, cult-like, appeal of Gamelan in the aftermath of the horrors of World War II.  

Indonesian President Sukarno introduced government funded Gamelan schools during the 1950s and 1960s, same as what he did for the visual arts earlier on, in order to encourage and sustain national art forms. “Some Indonesians objected to this elevation of a musical style associated primarily with Java and Bali as a “national” art form – as in a multi-ethnic, multicultural country there are no universal cultural properties”[13].

The indigenous music as well as the visual arts became important propaganda for internationally showing Indonesian culture in the runup to the Netherlands handing over sovereignty to Indonesia in 1949; Indonesia was no longer a colony.

Otto Djaya. 1986. A people inspired by the sea. Serenading water, bliss and sunset; a Sundanese flute, one of the Gamelan instruments. 27×39 cm. Gouache on paper.
Demung, a Gamelan instrument. Note the likeness with the bow and stern of the boat above.
Otto Djaya. 1986.  Fishing boats and fish vendors by the flamboyant tree. 27×39 cm. Pastel on paper.
Gambang, a Gamelan instrument. Some Gamelan designs are inspired more or less by the boat shapes.

Otto Djaya was a Sundanese of West Java. Besides painting Gamelan ensembles into his many paintings of folk dancing and festivals, the boats in his paintings are Sundanese and show an unmistakable resemblance to Gamelan instrument architecture. The Sundanese were captivated by water: stream, lake, ocean. Otto Djaya’s paintings imparted a union of popular culture and music.

Gamelan, an Indonesian Institution

The ‘Gamelan Sari Oneng Parakansalak’ ensemble of Perakan Salak

The “Gamelan Sari Oneng Parakansalak[14] of Sumedang, West Java travelled far from its birth place, a tea plantation in Sukabumi to, first, The International Exposition in Amsterdam in 1883, second, The World Exposition in Paris in 1889 and, third, The World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

In a remarkable coincidence, sixty years after Chicago, at the end December 1945, a 29 years old Otto Djaya, the artist, now a company commander with the rank of Major in the revolutionary Indonesian forces, and his troops played a key role in stopping an advancing British/Dutch tank column at the Bojong Kokasan Ridge, Sukabumi, east of the Parakan Salak area and the tea plantations, the origin of the Gamelan Sari Oneng.   

“Kampung Jawa”, the Javanese village on the Netherlands’ site at The World Exposition in Paris 1889. The Gamelan Sari Oneng performed there with Javanese musicians.

Gamelan music was formally staged in Europe at the 1889 Paris Exposition. Javanese musicians performed Gamelan in the East Indies section of the Netherlands’ pavilion[15] [16]. In 1993, Gamelan was introduced to USA at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois[17]. Western composers and musicians were intrigued and interested to listen and to experiment with the new sound.

In 2021, Indonesian Gamelan was listed by UNESCO on its Representative List of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. In comparison, Wayang was listed in 2003, two decades earlier.

In Indonesia, particularly in Java and Bali, Gamelan is the most popular form of traditional music. A Gamelan ensemble typically consists of a variety of metal percussion instruments, usually made of bronze or brass, including gongs, xylophones, and drums. It may also be extended with bamboo flutes, stringed instruments, and vocalists, but the focus is on the percussion.  Metal instruments are expensive to make, compared with those of wood or bamboo. However, they will not deteriorate or change tune in a hot, humid climate. Some scholars suggest that this may be one of the reasons that gamelan developed, with its signature metallic sound.

Gamelan was a feature of court life among the Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms of Java, Sumatra, and Bali. The Buddhist monument of Borobudur in central Java has a bas-relief depicting a Gamelan ensemble from the time of the Srivijaya Empire, 600s-1200s; the musicians play stringed instruments, metal drums, and flutes.

The Majapahit Empire (1293-1597) had a government office in charge of supervising the performing arts, including Gamelan. The Gamelan ensemble was important to court life. Inscriptions and bas-reliefs from Bali, also under the control of the Majapahit emperors, show that the same types of musical ensembles and instruments were as prevalent there as in Java. The gong made its appearance in Indonesian Gamelan during this era as did the stitched-skin drums and bowed strings, at first probably imported as trade goods.

Islam came to Java during the 1400s by Muslim traders from Arabia and south Asia. The most influential strain of Islam then introduced was Sufism that values music as one of the pathways to experiencing the divine. Had a more conservative strain of Islam been introduced, Gamelan in Java and Sumatra might not have flourished.  

In keeping with Sufi teachings, Javanese Gamelan tended to be slower in tempo and more meditative or trance-like. Most of the rhythms are generally soft and reflect the harmony of life, the principles of life generally adopted by Javanese society. Gamelan has become inseparable from Javanese customs and human life and is almost always there in every Javanese ceremony, to accompany dances, dance dramas, theatre, puppets, rituals, events and festivals. In general, no two gamelan ensembles are the same, and those that originated in prestigious courts have their own style and tuning. Varieties of gamelan are distinguished by their complement of instruments and use of tunings, repertoire, style, voice, and cultural context.

There is a principal division between the styles favoured by the Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese. While Javanese Gamelan has soft and slow tones, Sundanese gamelan with its sound of flutes makes it both soft, mellow and romantic[18]. Balinese gamelan has strong and dynamic tones with fast rhythms. Perhaps it can be said that Javanese Gamelan is played for formal dancing and ceremony, Sundanese Gamelan is played for dreamers and lovers, and Balinese for rituals.

Bali is Different

Bali remained predominantly Hindu, wherefore Java and Bali developed different forms of gamelan. Balinese Gamelan emphasizes virtuosity and quick tempos, a trend encouraged by the Dutch colonists. Balinese instruments are built in pairs tuned slightly apart to produce interference beats, ideally at a consistent pace. This concept communicates the idea of repeating rising and falling waves of music.

Bali with its Kebyar[19] music broke away from the Javanese gamelan and the ceremonial gamelan. The Balinese refashioned their music and dance style by Kebyar, which originated in North Bali villages a century ago and spread rapidly over Bali’s music and dance landscape. Soon, ensembles in Central and South Bali were refashioning their ceremonial Gamelan orchestras of suspended gongs, bronze-keyed metallophones, tuned gong chimes, and drums to accommodate the new style[20], additional keys were added to extend ranges, some instruments were melted down and re-forged to respond to Kebyar requirements. Musicians wanted lighter bronze keys and more of them, and longer racks of gong chimes, to play the rapid melodies and sharp accents. Playing techniques and innovations in one realm led to innovations in the other. Kebyar dancing embodies the music’s restless energy and vice versa. It was popularly said that Kebyar is a modernist’s hallucinogenic dream, cast in bronze.[21]

Today most Indonesians have embraced the Gamelan as their national sound and it is heard frequently on the air. Even so, stand-alone gamelan concerts are unusual.  

Gamelan Melayu

Gamelan is said to have originated late in the Srivijaya Empire around the 900s and to have migrated to the Riau-Lingga Sultanate, a long stone throw from Johore. Gamelan[22] instruments were brought to Pahang in the 1800s making it one of the oldest musical instruments found in Peninsular Malaysia today. Gamelan music existed primarily amongst the ruling class at the Pahang, Terengganu, and Johor palaces, as an accompaniment to the traditional dance known as Joget[23], usually performed for guests of the palace, at elaborate ceremonies and festivals.

Since then, Gamelan has continued to be played among the people and has spread to other states[24]. Having little to no function in Malaysia outside of ceremonial performances, Gamelan Melayu is now largely entertainment music to practitioners, performers, and audiences/connoisseurs[25]. We noted that there are many enthusiastic Gamelan performers in Peninsular Malaysia.

Before 1982, Gamelan instruments in the UK existed only at the Indonesian Embassy. Today, the interest in Gamelan flourishes. Today, there are some 150 Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese Gamelans in the UK. Clearly, the British did not think as much of Gamelan during colonial times as the Dutch did.

Contemporary compositions of Adrian Lee for the Rhythm in Bronze ensemble[26], Ng Chong Lee [27], Marzelan Salleh [28], and Junita Batubara [29] are immensely interesting and uplifting.

Adrian Lee, Hakikat Air from Arus Gangsa, performed by Rhythm in Bronze

A Gamelan Symphony Festival was held in 2018 at the Sultan Alam Shah Islamic College as a showcase of Gamelan Melayu, with six local Gamelan groups from both secondary and tertiary education institutions participating. In 2019, the project called for a Gamelan competition, bringing in competitors from a total of eight secondary and tertiary education institutions, with the host emerging as the winner. In 2020, the Virtual Gamelan Symphony Festival (VGSF), aimed to make Gamelan Melayu accessible to the masses, through simple and easy-to-follow video lessons[30] .

Gamelan travelled from Indonesia and inspired others

When western composers presented music inspired by the Gamelan they were met with both derision and enduring admiration at the premiere as, typically, within days, the confusion among audiences and critics had turned into pleasure. 

Was it mere coincidence that the formation of vast stylistic ecosystems came into being simultaneously with modernists in Western music and the first Gamelan presenters coming together? The musical scale was different but the musical characteristics were similar. The Western composers and the Gamelan artists must have shared some deep cultural commonality and instinct of sounds, tuning, and timing. We shall not know, but ecosystems continue to grow. The attraction of Gamelan to Western composers and audiences resulted in both adaption and adoption [31].

The most significant characteristic of Asian music is the use of pentatonic scale and gong chimes, also used in western music along with other instruments. This describes the relationship between Asian and Western music[32] [33]. In Javanese Gamelan music, the slendro scale has five tones per octave, of which four are emphasized in classical music. The pelog scale has six or seven tones, and is generally played using one of three five-tone subsets in which certain notes are avoided while others are emphasized. [34]

We find in our travels that music is spanning the world across cultures. With music compositions of today, especially what suggests to be symphonic, it is difficult to tell if Eastern heritage instruments and tonal systems are inspiring Western heritage or the other way around. Either way, the output is typically capturing the ear and senses and does not give reason to reject classical Western music and/or music and composers of previous centuries and of antiquity. It is deeply satisfactory to witness by ear that music makers have tremendous ambitions and see few boundaries ahead of them.

The tonality and rhythm of Indonesian Gamelan contributed to the ‘atonal’ ideas and compositions by Western composers from around 1900 onward, for instance, Debussy, Erik Satie, Francis Poulenc, Benjamin Britten, Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok, and many others.  

Erik Satie (1866-1925). The composers Satie and Debussy were the earliest to use the exotic and highly dissonant Gamelan scales. Satie’s Gnossiennes compositions for piano are among his earliest compositions and evokes ‘another world’ by its “highly original modal harmonies, pure simplicity, and monotonous repetition”[35]. The originality and simplicity could possibly have been influenced by Debussy – or it was Satie who influenced Debussy; both were thinking in terms of Gamelan scales in the late 19th century.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)[36], Pagodes[37], 1903.

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), String Quartet in F by the Hagen Quartet.

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra[38], with Poulenc and Jacques Février on the pianos, 1932.

Colin McPhee (1900-1964)[39]. Returning to North America from Bali end of the 1930s,   he composed Tabuh Tabuhan for 2 pianos and orchestra, without a single Gamelan instrument in the orchestra.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)[40]

Lou Harrison (1917-2003)[41], Concerto for Violin with Percussion Orchestra and Varied Trio (1987).

The Otto Djaya images in the article are the property of the authors and may be copied for educational purposes. The authors borrowed the pictures of the Gamelan instruments from


[1] We are currently writing on our final edition of a book about Otto Djaya (1916-2002):   http://archive.ivaa-online.org/files/uploads/texts/OTTO%20DJAYA,%20THE%20CHRONICLE,%2015-06-2019.pdf

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamelan

[3] https://lsa.umich.edu/content/dam/cseas-assets/cseas-documents/gamelan/JavaneseGamelanMusic.pdf

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayang

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malay_gamelan

[6] https://www.esplanade.com/offstage/arts/joget-the-popular-ever-evolving-music-of-dance

[7] https://www.prestigeonline.com/my/people-events/people/made-in-malaysia-pak-dain-fusion-wayang-kulit/#:~:text=Malaysia%20has%20always%20identified%20with,200%20to%20250%20years%20ago.&text=The%20Ramayana%20and%20Mahabarata%20held,art%20from%20long%2C%20long%20ago.

[8] There are four types of wayang kulit in Malaysia, namely Wayang Kulit Jawa, Wayang Kulit Gedek, Wayang Kulit Melayu and Wayang Kulit Kelantan, http://mpunasilemak.blogspot.com/.   In Malaysia, the culture of wayang kulit is slowly dying out as the younger generations are less interested in this wonderfully expressive culture.

[9] “In Malaysia, Wayang Kulit Kelantan is the pre-eminent form of shadow puppet theatre. However, it is threatened with imminent extinction nowadays. There were more than 300 dalangs (shadow puppeteers and narrators) in the 1960s but the number decreased tremendously to 11 in 1999.” Khor, Khengia (2011). Segi University. The Use of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) to Capture the Visual Styles of Wayang Kulit Kelantan, in International Journal of the Arts in Society, No. 4, pg 203-214.  Wayang was placed on UNESCO’s Representative List of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003. In comparison, Gamelan was not listed until 2021.

[10] Gamelan musicians were to appear and accompany in many motifs of his paintings.

[11] https://heindegraaff-nl.translate.goog/babar-layar/?_x_tr_sl=nl&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=sc

[12] http://www.indischmuziekleven.com/index.php?lang=14&dept=95&article=203

[13] Dr. Kallie Szczepanski, Ph.D. History, Boston University, is a history teacher specializing in Asian history and culture. She has taught at the high school and university levels in the U.S. and South Korea. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-gamelan-195131, updated on June 26, 2019.

[14] The pictures of the Gamelan Sari Oneng are borrowed from https://sukabumiupdate.com/posts/83123/sari-oneng-gamelan-sukabumi-yang-tampil-di-peresmian-menara-eiffel-paris

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposition_Universelle_(1889)

[16] The first appearing at the 1899 Paris World Exhibition when the Netherlands’ exhibited of its East Indies colony.  The British pavilion at the Exhibition did not have a similar Malaya element.

[17] On an area of approx. 700 acres at Jackson Park and Midway Plaisance. Pavilions were built by 46 countries; some 27 million people visited the expo. It was synonymous with a world’s fair celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus. The ‘Syndicate Java Chicago’, formed by two West Java tea plantations, arranged to send a Gamelan with musicians to the Expo. The Gamelan and the free servings of Java tea was enthusiastically received.

[18] Encyclopedia Jakarta. December 2020.

[19] Kebyar means “to flare up or burst open”, and refers to the explosive changes in tempo and dynamics characteristic of the style. It is the most popular form of gamelan in Bali.

[20] McPhee, Colin. Music in Bali. Yale University Press; First Printing (April 1, 1966).

[21] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndnhbvBolH8

[22] https://gamelansymphonyfes.wixsite.com/vgsf

[23] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joget

[24] Kelantan:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfBn5oUMNio
Perlis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFXZm1JFxYs
    Perak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PP9wZY_Yjjo
    Malacca: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_F5j7QIHJLY
Negri Sembilan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfMBFuKQzLc

[25] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Z7NxzTk2hI

[26] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bI9SU0jXkvQ

[27] Ng Chong Lim, Shadows,performed with the Gamelan trio of Kamrul, Shafic and Susan Sarah John at the ASEAN Chopin Competition 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rcfW5CH-2k
Dragonfly, piano by Celestine Yoong, ASEAN Chopin Competition 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vM8IKJGRaBk
Ng Chong Lim, piano and Ion Mazur violin, 2020, performing Claude Debussy’s Violin Sonata in g minor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onI03ahJm10
A Distant Voice of Rain Forest, piano by Nicolas Ong https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yMcdpFJqBM

[28] Marzelan Salleh, Si Pencuri Epal (A poor boy with his stolen apple). Conducted by Tazul Izan Tajuddin. Performed by UITM Student Chamber Ensemble at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU4RBUHVb08
Puteri Gunung Ledang, Piano Solo performed by pianist Jamie Tan for the 7th Malaysian Composers Concert Series 2016, at Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C89D79HeNBQ

[29] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3q19x2U-vIM&t=229s

[30] https://gamelansymphonyfes.wixsite.com/vgsf/about-vgsf

[31] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P63CpTSy7_4&t=112s

[32] Batubara, Junita. Story of Tjong A Fie: Programmatic Music Composition Combining Chinese, Malay and Western Music Elements, in International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, Vol. 7, No. 9, 2017.

[33] https://latitudes.nu/the-influence-of-gamelan-on-western-modern-music/ 2017

[34] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZG3b6aluBk.   

[35] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_Satie

[36] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8TAVT-Fvas

[37] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfYEkk9nir4   Insight!

[38] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V87wGyfUQiQ

[39] Colin McPhee and Benjamin Britten play Balinese Ceremonial Music for Two Pianos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3PacNDMneE

[40] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usztkkF8gVI

[41] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gn-GP8KUJB4

X is for Xing Bao

by Dennis Ong

A star was born on Saint Valentine’s feast day in 1890 – the Xing Bao (also Sing Pau, Sing Po or Sing Poh), literally Star Newspaper, or Xing Newspaper – “Xing” as in Xing Jia Po or Xing Zhou (variations of the word for Singapore in Chinese). The first issue of this eight-page spread came hot off the press at the Koh Yew Hean Press located at Nos. 100, 101 and 102 Teluk Ayer Street, Singapore.

Published daily, except on Sundays and public holidays, the newspaper’s political agenda has been described as either vague or unclear, although it did take on a pro-China political stance while retaining its commercial interests as a business. Politically strategic and functional at the same time, it displayed three dating systems on its front page – the imperial calendar showing the regnal calendar of the Chinese emperor, the lunar calendar, and the Gregorian calendar. From this, we are able to take a learned guess of the composition of its target market and the general cosmopolitanism of the area in which the newspaper was circulated.

Layout and components of the newspaper’s front page.
Source: NUS Digital Libraries, https://libportal.nus.edu.sg/frontend/ms/sing-po/index

Through Huang Nai Siang’s contribution as chief writer of Xing Bao, readers had for themselves a medium through which they could be informed and ponder about the current affairs in China while better understand their civic roles within the local Chinese community. Alongside him was Lin Hengnan (a.k.a Lim Kong Chuan), founder and editor of the newspaper. Lin, who was also the father-in-law of Dr Wu Lien-Teh and Dr Lim Boon Keng, both distinguished personalities in Malaya-Singapore, likely envisioned Xing Bao to share the same entrepreneurial optimism he had for Koh Yew Hean Press. This press had been well known for its respected printing and publishing repertoire, such as the Tong Yi Xin Yu, a Chinese-Malay dictionary published in 1877, which secured a reprint in 1883 as Hua Yi Tong Yu; the first volume of the Straits Chinese Magazine in 1897; and the second edition of Hikayat Abdullah in 1880.

A spread of the Xing Bao newspaper dated 4 November 1890.
Source: NUS Digital Libraries, https://libportal.nus.edu.sg/frontend/ms/sing-po/index

From the song ti font of the individual Chinese characters and the meticulous, strict typesetting in the content, we can very certainly tell that Xing Bao was printed using the letterpress printing technique – a technique that although was mechanised still relied on the skilful and tedious attention of the printer to align the letterpresses, to say the least. On the other hand, a striking visual contrast is conjured in its branding where a thicker kai ti font is used for the newspaper’s masthead. Content wise, it was evidently written in relatively modern classical Chinese style. Characteristic of classical Chinese literature, Xing Bao’s contents boasted no punctuation marks albeit with sparring section breaks between titles and sections, with vertical and horizontal lines, white spaces or with advertising visuals. Helpful to one while navigating the pages, the newspaper came with a simple table of contents.

The story of Xing Bao cannot be disassociated from Koh Yew Hean Press, which remained in business for over a century until 2006. The last reported owner of the Koh Yew Hean Press was Zhang Gensong, who revealed that the 70-80 year-old business had been managed by his family – his father and grandfather. Over the course of over a century, the business had put up its book press, hand press, lithographing machines, cutting, perforating and rolling machines, and English and Chinese type for auction at least two to three times. By comparison, Xing Bao was short-lived, being in circulation for roughly nine years until 1898 and succeeded by Rixin Bao of the same Press, for just four years. While the peak of its daily circulation at 970 in 1896, beating Lat Pau, it was Lat Pau (founded in 1881 by See Ewe Lay) that fared better at the endurance category, having lasted in business for 52 years. Be it Xing Bao or Lat Pau, these newspapers played a crucial role as a source of information and a vehicle to transport ideas, not only for those in the past but also those in the present, in a way, they are our time-machines.

Koh Yew Hean Press when it was located at No. 18 North Bridge Road, Singapore. Source: PictureSG, https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/pictures/Details/0f0f51b9-c15c-4ed4-9355-c097eaa4b711

You can access digitised copies of Xing Bao in the digital realm here: https://digitalgems.nus.edu.sg/collection/1524


Jaime Koh, Koh Yew Hean Press, https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_2016-04-06_161840.html

Bonny Tan, Lat Pau (Le Bao), https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_33_2005-01-11.html

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Malay Architecture & Traditional Houses

On 22nd January 2022, Ar. Ahmad Najib Ariffin (Nadge) hosted a talk on “Malay Architecture and Traditional Houses” for MVJMM. Following the talk, he gave a detailed tour of Istana Satu, located on Muzium Negara’s grounds.

Below are writeups on the talk and the tour
Evocations of Serenity – by Annie Chuah
Istana Satu – by Aishah Nadirah

Attribution: K. Kamal, Lilawati Abdul Wahab, A. Ahmad. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Climatic-design-of-the-traditional-Malay-house-to-Kamal-Wahab/7d2b00a22070e3090fa592dbc50bae8559c4454e

Evocations of Serenity

by Annie Chuah

In our haste to embrace the ‘modern’ and the ‘progressive’, Malay houses in rural areas have been and are being abandoned in favour of modern structures in the city. However, some scholars and traditionalists have come to appreciate the intrinsic philosophy and beauty of Malay houses not only in Malaysia, but also throughout Nusantara and the wider Malay World.

Elevated dwelling spaces built with organic materials, these examples of vernacular architecture are prone to the ravages of climate, and many have not survived the centuries. Conservation efforts are being undertaken to preserve some fine examples of built structures, which stand testimony to the architectural mastery and artistry of the peoples of the Malay World.

Ar. Ahmad Najib Ariffin (Nadge), Director, Nusantara Academy of Development, Geoculture & Ethnolinguistics, is at the forefront of preservation and conservation of some of the existing structures of traditional buildings in Malaysia. Historian, conservationist and educationist, this zealous architect is fervent in his mission to raise awareness of the value of Malay architecture and tradition.

In a talk to Museum Volunteers on 22 January 2022 titled Malay Architecture & Traditional Houses: history, traditions and transitions, he explained how architectural heritage plays an important role in providing a wealth of materials in comparative forms of styles and their applications in structures meant to be comfortable dwelling spaces in harmony with the natural environment.

In his opening slide of a Malay Kampung in Klang, Nadge introduced the setting as ‘one of the most environment-friendly civilisations in the history of Earth’.

Attap houses close to the banks of the Klang River, circa 1920. Attribution: Cheah Jin Seng. (2011). Selangor 300 Early Postcards (p. 160). Editions Didier Millet.

In a virtual experience with Nadge, we heard five Malaysian stories spanning 15,000 years. He spoke on:

  • Sundaland, the submerged continent.
  • Sungai Batu in Kedah. Dating to the 8th century BCE, it is Southeast Asia’s oldest-known built site. It was an iron smelting and export complex made of brick structures.
  • The Melaka Empire, which was the centre of trade and religion in the region until the Portuguese conquest in 1511. 

Through these stories, Nadge shed light on the architectural origins of the Malay House. The layout of traditional Malay houses is seemingly random and gives a non-uniform look but the wisdom behind Malay architecture surprises the uninitiated. The well thought out design, use of natural resources and the overall functionality represents the identity of a people who have lived in harmony with nature since ancient times.

Raised on stilts, the post and lintel structure with wooden or bamboo walls, topped by sloping roofs of thatch with gables on both sides, the typical Malay houses are a fine example of sophisticated rural domestic architecture.

Stilts ensure minimal impact on the ground, the earth space they respect, to avoid human-animal conflict. The raised dwelling is also a safeguard from floods. Height of stilts of hard, durable wood such as cengal, vary according to location – inland or coastal. Being in the tropics with generally high daily temperatures, the earth-floor space allows temperature regulation, ventilation and unimpeded air circulation. A member of the audience commented that it also facilitates sweeping the floor with the dust and dirt passing through the gaps of the wooden floor to the ground beneath!

Of the three sections of the house, the main section is the Rumah Ibu where the family eats, relaxes and entertains guests. The length of this section is determined by the span (depa) of the mother’s/matriarch’s arms. Windows along the walls are long and the entrance is through a short flight of steps or stairs.

Rumah Dapur is the kitchen annexe. It is a separate building but linked to the main section by a passageway. It is an ingenious plan for when the kitchen catches fire – the stilts are cut off and thrown away from the house to be doused or into the river if there is one nearby.

Rumah Tengah is the area for sleeping. The rooms are partitioned off, usually by curtains. The lavatory and bathroom are not within the main house, but built some distance away. The outside of the house is usually shaded with trees and vegetation. A short flight of steps or stairs leads to the elevated main section. The steps may be plain or decorated with tiles.

Example of a Malay house in Kampung Bharu

It can be observed here that the house is of a modular construction. As the family expands, additional units are added on, as in the longhouses of Sarawak.

Every region has its own style and this is most prominent in the style of the tropically suited roof – the long ridge roof with slopes for humble dwellings. Wealthier families have the five-ridge roof. Carved panels below the roof edges cut glare during the day while they adorn and add a touch of finesse to the home.

Sometimes a crossed frontal structure is used to anchor and stabilise the roof edges against strong monsoon winds and heavy rain as experienced in the east coast although this crossbeam is a feature on palaces and public/government buildings. Look out for this in Museum Negara’s front entrance.

Traditional Malay houses have their own form of geomancy. The ‘tiang seri’, a freestanding pillar without any joints, is the main pillar of the house and is in the main section.

A defining characteristic of the traditional Malay house is its construction without nails or metal supports. Builder artisans are adept in the art of cutting wood in such a manner that pieces slide together and solidly interlock. Interlocking edges and ends of wood are tightened by wedges. What a genius of wooden carpentry! Such a construction can withstand earthquakes. Another advantage is that it can be easily dismantled and rebuilt in another location.

Traditional Malay construction methods have been applied in palace and mosque architecture, with details that are more intricate, scale and complexity. Nadge cited Istana Kenangan in Kuala Kangsar, Perak, and Istana Sri Menanti in Negeri Sembilan as buildings with great cultural aesthetic value.

Istana Lama Seri Menanti, an elegant five-storey timber palace, was built in the 20th century by expert Malay craftsmen and carvers. Designed by two skilful local master builders, no piece of iron nail or metal screw was used. It is recognised as the tallest wooden palace in Southeast Asia. Recently restored, this architectural gem was opened as a Royal Museum in July 1992. A visit by Museum Volunteers with Nadge as guide is scheduled on 2 March 2022 for an on-site study of the elements of Malay architecture incorporated in its construction.

Istana Kenangan was once a royal residence, but now the Royal Museum of Perak. This 2-storey building was built in 1925 without a single nail. Its facade is beautified in its state colours of yellow, white and black. The elements of Malay architecture – the stilts, long windows for ventilation, multiple roof ridges and carved overhangs – are plainly  evident.

The flexibility of Malay architectural designs in traditional mosques is another fascinating area of observation and study. Built of wood, old traditional mosques are in need of conservation. Among these are Masjid Lama Kampung Kuala Dal in Kuala Kangsar, Perak and Masjid Tanjung Sembeling Lama Seri Siantan in Negeri Sembilan.

Masjid Tanjung Sembeling Lama Seri Siantan before and after conservation. Image credits: http://seriesiantan.blogspot.com/2011/01/masjid-lama-tanjung-sembeling-dalam_18.html

Other extant examples of palaces, mosques and houses with designs and range of Malay craftsmanship can still be seen in Malaysia. With increased awareness in the value of these buildings comes renewed interest in their conservation.

Restoration of Rumah Empang Batu, Negeri Sembilan. Images taken from Nadge’s presentation slides.

Internationalisation and mechanisation leading to shorter building time have led to rejection of traditional architecture. Ardent architects such as Nadge and those of like mind draw attention to the Malay contribution to the technology of architecture. The Malays were among the pioneers in the art of modular construction and prefabrication long before these ideas re-surfaced in architectural journals.

Let us not forget and discard previous knowledge of principles of building construction that were very suitable in the circumstances where people lived. Although some may appear outdated, it is only because we have forgotten the wisdom that came with traditions. Have modern designs and technologies that replaced those solved present living problems while creating new unsustainable ones?

Next: Istana Satu


Presentation Slides – Malay Architectural Houses History Tradition Transitions Najib Nadge Ariffin.pptx 2022. https://openarchive.icomos.org/id/eprint/2475/



W is for Wickham

by Fazlin Azrimi Abu Hassan and Dennis Ong

The history of planting rubber trees or Hevea brasiliensis in the Malay Peninsula does not date back very far. We think of rubber when we talk about British botanist Sir Henry Wickham. There was a time when demand for rubber was elevated by industrialisation and the rubber business boomed when British inventors Charles Macintosh and Thomas Hancock figured out how to make good raincoats from rubberized fabric.

A photograph of Sir Henry Wickham.
Source: Library of Congress, USA

Later, due to the properties of rubber, which melted in hot weather and was stiff in the cold, an American inventor named Charles Goodyear invented the vulcanisation process by accident in 1839 after dropping some latex in sulphur. The vulcanisation process essentially allowed rubber to become more durable and elastic, thus making it more attractive for commercial use. While capitalists and inventors saw great potential, the biggest problem with rubber, however, was that there was still a scarcity of the material. At the time, the world’s rubber was mainly harvested in South America and Africa.

That was about to change in 1876 when about 70,000 rubber seeds wrapped in banana leaves arrived in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London. Collected by locals at its source in the hills and plateau in Boim, Brazil, the seeds were purchased at a price of £10 per 100. The expedition was financed by the government of (British) India, and led by Wickham who was then 30 years old.

A sketch of Wickham as a young man.
Source: http://www.bouncing-balls.com/timeline/people/nr_wickham1.htm

Bearing the responsibility to re-establish his family’s fortune after his father’s death due to a cholera epidemic, the option to become a planter during that time was one of few viable options to get rich. Finding rubber trees in the Amazon for Britain proved to be promising. Wickham had experience in the Amazon prior to Boim. At 20 years old, he embarked on an exploration in Central America and spent nine months collecting exotic birds whose feathers had been sold and appropriated for millinery use. Subsequently, he returned home and revisited the Amazon where he tapped wild rubber trees as part of his adventure. One can very much see that Wickham had an appetite for thrill and exploration.

Life happened and he married a woman named Violet. It is commonly believed that the publishing business Violet’s family ran helped make Wickham’s travels possible. Wickham’s interest in the Amazon evinced in the first book he published, which has a rather long title: Rough Notes of a Journey Through the Wilderness from Trinidad to Pará, Brazil, by way of the Great Cataracts of the Orinoco, Atabapo, and Rio Negro.

A back profile of a woman believed to be Violet, whom Wickham had sketched in some of his journals. She was in Wickham’s company to Boim whence the rubber seeds were collected. Source: http://www.bouncing-balls.com/timeline/people/nr_wickham1.htm

Britain’s intention was simple – to germinate the seeds and plant them for rubber. Soon enough, botanists at Kew successfully germinated some 2,800 seeds. Most of the lot was sent to Ceylon, Singapore, and Java. Then came H.N. Ridley (aka “Mad Ridley”), a botanist at the Singapore Botanic Gardens who zealously propounded the idea of planting rubber as a cash crop. Although there were supplies of seeds, no planters took up cultivation with the exception of Thomas Heslop Hill in Negeri Sembilan. In 1897, the price of rubber shot up. This coupled with recommendations by experts in Ceylon and elsewhere led many planters to begin planting rubber trees. Convinced by Ridley’s proposal, Tan Chay Yan started the first rubber plantation in Malaya with seven million seeds.

Despite the thriving industry in the Far East, Wickham suffered significant drawbacks in his life. This included having to pay his debts from loss of possession during his period in Queensland where he planted tobacco and coffee. He then clinched a position as a civil servant in British Honduras. Wickham’s constantly wandering mind yet again got the better of him when he was slapped with a legal problem, which forced him to sell his property, upon which, he returned to Britain. Undeterred, he ventured into other prospects but failed. During these times, Wickham continued to suggest recommendations cultivating rubber trees and even proposed several tools for rubber tapping. However, his ideas were deemed either unsuitable or as impractical failures.

H.N.Ridley with an assistant posing next to a rubber tree tapped using the herringbone method. Source: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Henry_Nicholas_Ridley

Necessity is the mother of invention. The herringbone method for tapping rubber trees was introduced by H.N. Ridley. It left V-shaped channels on the trunk, removing only a thin layer of bark each time, thus allowing a smooth flow of latex. The methods became so efficient that latex can be collected three times a day. On the flip side, this also meant that labourers in the industry were at the mercy of ensuring efficiency and productivity. They were also subject to potential risks at the workplace. To say the least, the industry was reliant on a constant stream of labour to maintain its processes.

Three photographs depicting Indian labourers who made up the majority of the manpower of the rubber industry in Malaya. These labourers were recruited based on the Kangani system and were largely subject to unfair exploitation. The subject of class and employment power structure often form the crux of the historical debate in topics relating to colonial economy.
Source: https://aliran.com/thinking-allowed-online/the-real-story-behind-those-faded-photos-of-tamil-plantation-workers-in-malaya/

At the end of 1905, there were 40,000 acres of planted rubber trees in the Federated Malay States and more than 85,000 at the close of 1906. By January 1907, there were 10,000,000 trees planted. The output of dry rubber was about 130 tons in 1905 and three times as much in 1906.

By 1910, Malaya was one of the biggest producers of rubber. Expectedly, the combined production of rubber across Britain’s colonies exceeded that of Brazil’s, causing it to lose its monopoly in the rubber industry.

A fun fact about the rubber tree cultivated for latex.
Source: Wonder Book of Rubber, 1947.

However, there has been a debate about whether Wickham’s actions qualify as an unethical act of smuggling or an act of formal exchange between governments. Laying out the facts, sources have described that Wickham had misrepresented his cargo as ‘exceedingly delicate botanical specimens specially designated for delivery to Her Britannic Majesty’s own Royal Gardens at Kew’ in order to be granted permission to export.

Notwithstanding the trials and tribulations in Wickham’s life, he was knighted for “Services in connection with the rubber plantation industry in the Far East”. Wickham passed away in 1928, regretfully perhaps, with an unfulfilled dream for enterprise.

Bust of Wickham at Muzium Negara.


Bouncing Balls. (n.d.). Sir Henry Alexander Wickham. Bouncing Balls. http://www.bouncing-balls.com/timeline/people/nr_wickham1.htm

Schurz, William Lytle; Hargis, O.D.; Manifold, Courtland Brenneman & Marbut, Curtis Fletcher. (1925). Rubber Production in the Amazon Valley (p. 169). Washington, Govt. Print. Office.

Sims, Shannon. (2015). The Rubber Thief of Brazil. OXY. https://www.ozy.com/true-and-stories/the-rubber-thief-of-brazil/60424/

Veloo Saminathan. (2020). The real story behind those faded photos of Tamil plantation workers in Malaya. Aliran. https://aliran.com/thinking-allowed-online/the-real-story-behind-those-faded-photos-of-tamil-plantation-workers-in-malaya/

Wright, ArnoldCartwright, H. A. (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. Lloyd’s Greater Britain Publishing Company, Limited.

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V is for VOC Plate

by Daniela Barrier

From Portuguese carracks to Japanese kilns, the power of a company logo

This blue and white porcelain plate is showcased in Gallery C of the National Museum, Malaysia. It sits on a marble-topped wooden table, a typical furnishing of a Dutch family home in Melaka during the Dutch occupation (1641-1795, then 1818-1825). The so called “VOC plate” itself was probably part of a complete porcelain service. These services were used by officers of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie – VOC) throughout their colonies, imparting status to the owner and contributing to the dissemination of the VOC’s brand image.

The VOC plate at Gallery C, National Museum, Malaysia.

Surrounded by flowers, fruit and deer motifs, the VOC monogram stands out in the centre – a lean capital V with a superposing O on the left and C on the right. It was perhaps the contrast of its clear, simple lines (one could say, almost contemporary) with the exuberant details of the baroque style monograms of the time, which turned the VOC logo into one of the first worldwide recognisable company labels. It was applied with no parsimony to most VOC possessions and everyday objects, from building facades and canons to swords, coins and plates such as the one in Gallery C. [1]

VOC logo on various objects
top-left: VOC logo on a sword. Musée de l’armée, Paris, France.
top-right: Façade of the Castle of Good Hope, South Africa. Image credit: Martinvl, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
bottom-left: VOC logo on a coin, circa 1760. Image credit: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
bottom-right: Canon with VOC logo, 1764, Port of Dejima, Nagasaki, Japan. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Researchers have written extensively on the VOC’s innovative business model, considering it the forbearer of modern corporations (the VOC was the world’s first formally listed public company). The VOC’s idea of producing porcelain services with its own mark on them, however, might have been borrowed from the Portuguese and from a different type of company: The Society of Jesus (or the Jesuit Order, founded in 1540).

Jesuits are thought to be at the source of the introduction of new techniques and of European scenes on Chinese porcelain, in particular under Emperor K’ang Hsi (1654-1722), who held Jesuit priests in high regard (one Father Thomas Cardosa was a personal friend of the emperor and was appointed a mandarin of the highest rank). During this period, it became more and more fashionable in Europe, amongst nobles and high-level clergy, to have their coat of arms painted on their porcelain services and to order specific designs from potters in China. Huge quantities of undecorated porcelain began to be shipped from Jingdezhen (Ching-te-chen) kilns to Canton where they were painted under the supervision of European agents and re-fired.

From left to right:

  • Pedro de Farias bowl, 1541, captain major of Melaka. Portuguese nobles had their coat-of-arms painted on Chinese porcelain.
  • Jesuit Chinese Vase with Company of Jesus monogram, circa 1800. Image credit: Nicolas Fournery.
  • Late 18th century plate in European style with VOC ships. White painted porcelain from Jingdezhen. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Kraak porcelain from Japan

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, with more and more Dutch trade ships anchoring in Asian ports, the Portuguese monopoly on porcelain trade was broken. In 1602, the Portuguese carrack Sao Tiago was captured by the Dutch and its porcelain cargo taken back to Holland for the first time. The carrack Santa Maria suffered the same fate in the Straits of Melaka a year later, its cargo being sold to European royals, including Henri IV, king of France, and King James I of England. The Dutch named them kraak porselein because the Portuguese ships in which they were found were called carracks.

Between 1602 and 1682, VOC ships delivered three million pieces of porcelain to Holland and over 12 million were distributed over the Dutch East Indies, of which approximately eighty percent were blue and white wares (kraak) [2].

Kraak blue and white porcelain were thus mostly associated with the Dutch East India Company. They were made of fine porcelain with cobalt blue decorations under a shiny and slightly bluish glaze, and had central themes which included flowers, birds, insects and deer, as well as having the well and the rim of the dish treated as one and divided into panels that were mostly filled with flowers and symbolic motifs.

Like European royals, Japanese tea masters also ordered kraak pieces (called fuyode ware in Japan) from China, which were transported to Japan on VOC ships. These ended up being copied by Japanese artisans and sold all over Europe, often for higher prices than the Chinese originals. However, there was one design the Japanese only produced for the Dutch India offices: it was overall similar to other karrak designs, only it had the VOC logo in the centre. These wares were usually small – less than twenty centimetres in diameter – but some pieces were larger and measured fifty centimetres or more across. That is very likely the provenance of the VOC plate displayed at the National Museum.

VOC plate produced in Japan, late 17th century. In the collection of Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore.

[1] In The Portuguese Porcelain Trade with China, by Jorge Graca, Arts of Asia, November-December 1977.

[2] In Porcelain and the Dutch East India Company, by T. Volker, cited in Chinese Ceramics carried by The Dutch East India Company, by Effie B. Allison, Arts of Asia, November-December 1977.

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A Very Rough Guide to Taboh Naning

by Eric Lim


Dato Dol Said Mosque Taboh Naning is a well known local landmark, located along Lebuh AMJ. Photo source : Portal Masjid v1.0

I woke up this morning to the news that Barisan Nasional had scored a landslide victory in the Melaka 15th state election. They had captured 21 seats out of the 28 seats that they had contested. So, I thought it was timely to visit Taboh Naning, a state constituency located in the northern part of Melaka, bordering Negeri Sembilan. Tampin is just 11 km away via Federal Route 19 (Jalan Kampung Taboh-Kampung Ulu Kendong) and Federal Route 1 (Jalan Seremban-Tampin) while the state capital is 37 km south via Lebuh AMJ (Alor Gajah-Sentral Melaka-Jasin Highway) a.k.a Federal Route 19. This constituency covers a large area and it includes the following mukim (sub-districts): Taboh Naning, Brisu, Sungai Buloh, Melekek and Ayer Paabas. And, Taboh Naning is within the municipal borders of Alor Gajah.


State of Naning and position of Taboh pre 1511 / Photo source : Dol Said Pahlawan Naning

Naning has existed since the time of the Melaka Sultanate and it was under kingdom’s suzerainty. Taboh was one of the main settlements in the state. When Melaka fell to foreign powers, Naning was protected by the Sultanate of Johor. Later, when Raja Melewar became the first Yamtuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan in 1773, Naning was one of the original nine states of this loose confederacy. However, due to its position as the most southerly district and its close proximity to Melaka, Naning was disunited from the other states in Negeri Sembilan during the long and distinct period of the Portuguese, Dutch and finally, the British in Melaka.

The Malacca Territory (showing Naning – spelt ‘Nani’ in the top left quadrant of the map – as part of the Malacca Territory) from ‘The Description of Malacca’, a report written by Manuel Gordinho de Eredia in 1613. This report was published in the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, volumn 8 part 1 in April 1930. / Photo source : Buku Naning in Melaka – Jonathan Cave | PDF

Immediately after the capture of Melaka by the Portuguese in 1511, Alfonso De Albuquerque sent an expedition into Naning as part of their mapping exercise to determine the circumference of Melaka; Naning was made an integral part of the Melaka’s territory. Alfonso de Albuquerque then left for Goa where he later became the Viceroy. Though obligated to the Portuguese during its long reign, Naning retained its independence and territorial integrity until the arrival of another foreign power to Melaka.

Dutch Malacca circa 1665 / Photo source : Wikimedia Commons

By the start of the 17th century CE, the Dutch were already making their presence felt in the region and ready to challenge the Portuguese for control of the spice trade. In 1606, the Dutch under a corporation that was formed in 1602 named Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (VOC) and the Johor Sultanate concluded an alliance against the Portuguese and immediately after, the VOC fought the Portuguese in a naval battle at Cape Rachado (today Tanjung Tuan). However, it took the VOC another thirty-five years to break the dominance. On 14 January 1641, VOC together with the Sultanate of Johor and a new ally, the Achenese, took control of the fortress of Melaka.

Unlike the Portuguese, the Dutch did not send an expedition to Naning in the year they conquered Melaka. It was two years later, in 1643 that the Dutch invaded Naning and as a follow up action, Naning had to render tribute of one tenth of its produce to the Dutch. However, it was never enforced as the state was small and poor, and furthermore, it was not cost effective to do so. In 1701, Johor relinquished Naning to the Dutch following the conclusion of the Treaty of Protection. During the 18th century CE, the Dutch were enjoying a monopoly of the tin trade in the peninsula. Then, in 1765, the Dutch reduced the tenth to a yearly nominal tribute of 400 gantang of paddy, equivalent to 1/1000 of its total crop produce. Still, the Dutch allowed Naning self-rule.

Malacca town and fort at the time of the British takeover in 1795 
Photo source : Governor Couperus and the Surrender of Malacca, 1795

Moving forward to 1795, the French Republican armies were emerging as the new power in Europe. The Dutch was a refugee in England and while there, signed the Kew Letters, which gave Britain the right to protect Dutch possessions in the East, which included Melaka. British troops under Major Brown landed in Melaka and duly took possession of the fort from the Dutch. The British would take custody of Melaka while the war in Europe lasted, and return it to the Netherlands after the war ended.

Prior to the takeover, Melaka was facing a period of declining trade and revenue. In 1801, Naning saw a change in leadership when a 26-year old Abdul Said Bin Omar (Dol Said in short) was chosen as the new Penghulu Naning and the appointment was confirmed by the British authorities in Melaka. Both parties then inked a treaty where the British will receive one tenth of Naning’s total crop produce, similar to the Dutch treaty of 1643. This treaty was regarded by the British as proof that Naning was part of Melaka. The following year, the Treaty of Amiens ended the war in Europe and this provided for the return of Melaka to the Dutch but the resumption of war in May 1803 forestalled any British withdrawal. Dutch finally returned to Melaka in 1818 following the restitution of possessions to the Dutch by the Treaty of Vienna. The Dutch return lasted only six years. On 17 March 1824, Britain and Netherlands signed the Anglo Dutch Treaty in London, which put an end to the long period of territorial and trade disputes between the two nations in Southeast Asia. Melaka was ceded to the British and, in return, the Dutch took possession of Benkulen (Bencoolen) in Sumatra.

In 1826, the East India Company united the settlements of Penang, Melaka and Singapore into an administrative unit called Presidency of the Straits Settlements. Robert Fullerton, who was the Governor of Penang (1824-1827), was made the First Governor of Straits Settlements (1826-1829). He assumed that Naning was part of Melaka and hence subject to its land laws, judicial system and the delivery of the tribute of produce. Dol Said resisted and demanded the recognition of Naning’s autonomous status. However, Fullerton’s demands were kept on hold as it was met with counteractions from the other British officials until the final approval came from the Director in London in 1830. By this time, Fullerton had returned to Europe and he was succeeded by Robert Ibbetson (1830-1833). Ibbetson received fresh approval the following year to take action and the stage was set for an invasion of Naning.

Proclamation for the arrest of Dol Said and his supporters, written in Jawi and romanized Malay. Photo source : Buku Naning in Melaka – Jonathan Cave | PDF

In July 1831, the British moved in with a force of 150 sepoys and 2 six-pounders drawn by bullocks, led by Captain Wyllie. Dol Said managed to fend off the attack with help from the neighbouring Malay states of Rembau, Sri Menanti, Sungai Ujong, Johol and Muar. These states feared that after the capture of Naning, the British would levy the same tax on them. Furthermore, the Malays were notably better trained for jungle warfare than the British were.  Prior to the second attack, the British signed a treaty with Rembau on 30 November 1831, which marked the accession of Rembau to the British side in the Naning War. This was closely followed by another treaty on 28 January 1832 signed at Simpang. And as a final push, on 9 February 1832, the British issued a proclamation for the arrest of Dol Said and four of his supporters; the reward was $1,000 and $200 per supporter respectively. These manoeuvres duly changed the cause of the war. The second attack, started in March 1832, was led by Colonel Herbertwith far more superior weaponry. This was coupled with the arrival of Syed Syaaban, the son in law of Raja Ali of Rembau, with a force of Malays to help the British capture the stockades. On 16 June 1832, Taboh was captured and it effectively ended the conflict.

(L) Camp near Alor Gajah in March 1832 (R) Attack upon the first line at Taboh in 1832.Photo source :  Buku Naning in Melaka – Jonathan Cave | PDF

Dol Said managed to escape to Sri Menanti. Two years later, Dol Said surrendered on the promise of pardon. He was given a house, a pension and liberty to live freely in Melaka. He became a farmer, trader and a doctor/healer. He died in 1849. After the war, Naning was offered to Raja Ali but he turned it down. For his service to the British, Syed Syaaban was rewarded with a site for a house in Melaka town and given a pension. It proved to be an expensive and unprofitable venture for the British – they spent 100,000 British pounds to secure the paltry annual revenue of $100! This costly lesson discouraged British expansion in Malaya for the next four decades until the start of a new period with the signing of the Treaty of Pangkor in 1874.

Places of Interest

The most convenient and popular local landmark of Taboh Naning is Dato Dol Said Mosque Taboh Naning [1] (top photo) which is located near the Simpang Ampat toll plaza, along Lebuh AMJ toward Federal Route 1 intersection to Seremban-Tampin. The mosque was built in 1955 with public funds and was inaugurated by the 18th Penghulu/Dato Naning, Dato Mohamed Shah Mohamed Said. The significance of this mosque is the tomb of Dol Said, which is sited at the cemetery behind the mosque. He was believed buried near the graves of earlier Penghulu/Dato Naning and the site was a rice field.  (Note: A smaller mosque goes by the name of Masjid Taboh Naning at Kampung Cherana Putih)

Tomb of Dol Said / Photo source : www.mpag.gov.my (tourism)

Located further along this highway, just before reaching Kampung Cherana Putih, is the Datuk Tua Megalith [2] site. The Alor Gajah district is the major megalithic site in Melaka and there are more than 100 of these ancient stones or ‘batu hidup’ to the locals, which can be found in this district.

Datuk Tua Megalith / Photo source : https://malaysiamegalithic.blogspot.com

Coming to something more modern, located at Kampung Cherana Putih is the Cherana Putih Hot Spring [3]. It is actually a hot spring-cum-waterpark and a smaller version of the Toji Waterpark in Japan. In 2019, the park went through some repair works and as a result, it is one of the cleanest hot springs in the state. Admission fee is RM 6.50 for adults and RM 5.00 for children.

Cherana Putih Hot Spring / Photo source : Cherana Putih Hot Spring Facebook page.

On the other end of Lebuh AMJ, heading just past the Simpang Ampat police station is the Naning Heritage and History Museum / Muzium Peradaban dan Warisan Naning [4]. The museum is housed in the former Official Residency and Hall for Penghulu Naning, which was constructed in 1951. It was first used by the 18th Penghulu/Dato Naning, Dato Mohamed Shah Mohamed Said in 1953 until his death on 13 June 2004. Perbadanan Muzium Melaka took over the building on 9 April 2015 and soon after started conservation work. It was completed on 30 June 2015 and it is established as the museum today.

Naning Heritage and History Museum / Photo source : www.mpag.gov.my (tourism)

Further south from Simpang Ampat on Lebuh AMJ is the town of Alor Gajah. There are sites here that are closely linked to the Naning War. Found within the compound of Sekolah Kebangsaan Alor Gajah 1 and just beside the school canteen is a fenced enclosure containing three tombstones. The one in the centre is the grave of Ensign George Holford Walker who was killed in an attack on a stockyard on 3 May 1832 (second expedition of the Naning War). He was just 18 years old. The other two are graves of his horse and dog, which stood loyally beside his dead body until they too died of thirst and grief.

The school is located in the centre of the town, next to the Dataran Keris. Also within the vicinity is the Muzium Adatistiadat Alor Gajah / Tradition & Custom Museum. Dol Said is well remembered for his anti-colonial stance and in commemoration, there is a street in Alor Gajah named Jalan Dato Dol Said, as well as a school, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Dato Dol Said.

(L) Grave at SK Alor Gajah 1 / Photo source : www.mpag.gov.my (tourism). (R) Grave at Dutch Graveyard, Melaka / Photo source : Dutch Graveyard – St. Paul’s Hill, Melaka.

Moving on to the capital city of Melaka – located at the foot of St. Paul’s Hill is the Dutch Graveyard. This site was used in two stages, during the Dutch era from 1670 to 1682 when it was known as St. Anthony’s Kerkhof (graveyard), and the British era from 1818 to 1838. Two casualties of the Naning War are buried here, namely Lieutenant James White who was killed on 20 August 1831 and Lieutenant E.V Harding, killed on 29 March 1832. Both were in their mid-twenties when they died. Their grave is the only one marked with an obelisk.

Getting There

From Kuala Lumpur city centre, use the North South Highway (E2 South) and exit at Exit 227 Simpang Ampat. After the toll plaza, turn right to join Lebuh AMJ (Alor Gajah-Sentral Melaka-Jasin Highway) a.k.a Federal Route 19 to Taboh Naning. Dato Dol Said Mosque Taboh Naning is not too far from this junction (see the map above).


Portal Masjid v1.0 

Dol Said Pahlawan Naning

Buku Naning in Melaka – Jonathan Cave | PDF

Governor Couperus and the Surrender of Malacca, 1795

Robert Fullerton | Infopedia



www.mpag.gov.my (tourism)

The Malayan Peninsula embracing its history, manners and customs of the inhabitants, politics, natural history, etc. from its earliest records : Begbie, Peter James : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Nutmeg Books – Ensign George Holford Walker Few people… | Facebook

Dutch Graveyard – St. Paul’s Hill, Melaka

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U is for UMNO Kuala Kangsar’s Letter

by V. Jegatheesan

Achieving independence from the British was a significant moment in Malaysia’s history. The three political parties, United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC), had formed the Alliance Party and won the first General Election on 27 July 1955. This was a clear mandate given by the people to the Alliance to fulfil their commitment to gain independence within four years.

On 1 January 1956, the then Chief Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, leading a large delegation, sailed to Karachi from Singapore and then flew to London. Negotiations began on 18 January 1956 and it is remarkable that the negotiations ended after just three weeks on 8 February 1956, with Britain agreeing to independence for Malaya, as it was at that time. The agreement was signed on 11 February 1956. The delegation then flew directly to Singapore arriving on 19 February 1956.

It is common knowledge that Tunku Abdul Rahman went to Melaka the next day on 20 February 1956 to announce that Malaya had been given independence. In front of a rousing crowd on Padang Bandar Hilir, recorded as 100,000, he announced that Malaya’s Independence Day would be 31 August 1957.

Tunku Abdul Rahman at Dato’ Sir Tan Cheng Lock’s house before leaving for Padang Bandar Hilir, Malacca

But why Melaka and not Kuala Lumpur, which was the Federal Capital? The average Malaysian will assume that Tunku decided on this himself. However, this just may not be the case.

Among the various images on the information boards about Malaya’s Road to Independence in Gallery D – beside the picture of Tunku with Dato’ Sir Tan Cheng Lock’s family and just above the glass cases with newspaper clippings – is a letter from UMNO Kuala Kangsar. Dated 14 January 1956, the letter is from the UMNO Secretary of the Kuala Kangsar Branch to the Secretary General of UMNO Malaya. The subject is ‘Return of the Independence Delegation from England’.

The following is a translation of the letter.

The Working Committee had an urgent meeting on Friday 13 January 1956 and an agreement was made as follows:

This branch has resolved that the UMNO Malaya Headquarters urgently send a wire (telegram) to London, requesting that when the delegation headed by Y.A.M Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra brings along the date of independence of Malaya from England, they should arrive in Malacca.

This resolution has been made after carefully weighing considerations and taking into account the politics in respect of the history of Malacca as follows:

(a) Raise the status of the history of the Malay Empire of Malacca.
(b) The statement “Never will the Malays disappear from this world” was originated in Malacca by Laxamana Hang Tuah, a gallant and mighty Malay warrior who fought for the nation and homeland.
(c) It was in Malacca that western colonisation was enforced in our homeland on 11 July 1511. 
(d) It was on the collapse of Malacca that the soul of our independence awoke, according to a Malay leader, Dr. Burhannudin Al-Hilmy in 1946.
(e) UMNO had 100% in the General Elections resulting in Y.A.M Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra to be sent to England is also the decision of the Emergency General Meeting of UMNO Malaya in Malacca
(f) For these reasons, let the date of independence be brought to Malacca

However, UMNO Branch Kuala Kangsar is confident that this suggestion will receive support from UMNO all over Malaya.

The letter is signed by Haji Meor Samsudin, Secretary of the UMNO Kuala Kangsar Branch.

Tunku would surely have been informed of this letter by way of that telegram. But it will never be known if Tunku made this decision based on this letter or whether he had it in his mind all along. Tunku being Tunku, we will never know!

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T is for Tiles

by Farida Jamal

According to a 2003 publication, 40 Tahun Muzium Negara 1963-2003, construction of the National Museum was initiated in 1958 by the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra. It was to be a showcase of the heritage and history of the nation, incorporating Malay architectural traditions and motifs. The third Yang di Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Syed Putra Al- Haj ibni Almarhum Syed Hassan Jamalullail, officially opened the museum on 31 August 1963. Over the years, it has expanded and undergone several renovations. The single-storied original building currently comprises the entrance hall to the four main galleries. Its original tiled floor has also been preserved and is a stunning tapestry in ceramic. Although an integral part of the overall ambience of the museum, the floor tiles speak of their foreign origin.

Exquisitely hand crafted, the eggshell white tiles with azure and ink blue motifs measure 12 by 12 inches. They are laid out in repeated square motifs formed by four tiles and each motif measures 2 by 2 feet. Within the hall, there are thirty- four motifs lengthwise and twenty-four motifs along the width, covering 3264 square feet of the floor. The remaining original stretch of the floor has been incorporated in the landing platform outside of the front entrance. This is a rectangular space, which is partitioned into three sections by two latticed brick- walls. The tiles cover 240 square feet of the floor area, and each section displays twenty motifs. Beneath the two-latticed walls, one can discover the origin of the tiles through marble plaques laid out on the floor, in Bahasa Malaysia and in English. The tiles were a gift from the Government of Pakistan.

Nawabzada General Sher Ali Khan Pataudi was the first High Commissioner of Pakistan to Malaysia (1957-1962). As the construction of the museum began during the same period, it is likely that he was instrumental in facilitating the gift of floor tiles from his government. National gestures of goodwill are a part and parcel of diplomacy, but often involves special people and special relationships. A Google search on Sher Ali Khan Pataudi revealed a remarkable personality and an extraordinary life. Born an Indian prince, he had studied at Sandhurst, was in the Indian armed forces and had opted to move to Pakistan when India was partitioned in 1947. Ten years later, aged 43, Sher Ali Khan retired from the army and he was appointed Pakistan’s first High Commissioner to the newly liberated country, Malaysia.

In one of his books, The Story of Soldiering and Politics in India and Pakistan, the retired general turned scholar described his years as a diplomat. He and his family had made many friends in Malaysia and developed special friendships with YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra and members of Malaysian royalty. Sher Ali Khan does not mention the gift of museum tiles in his book, though. Documents pertaining to the construction of the National Museum at the National Archives may contain some information. In the meantime, the floor tiles of the museum foyer remain a token of this special relationship and continue to delight and surprise visitors.


Farida Jamal. (2016, 18 September). Beyond a Gift of Friendship Plush Heritage, New Sunday Times, pp. 6-7.

Jabatan Muzium dan Antikuiti. (2003). 40 Tahun Muzium Negara 1963-2003.

Nawabzada Sher Ali Khan Patuadi. (1988). The Story of Soldiering and Politics in India and Pakistan (3rd Edition). Syed Mobin Mahumud & Co.

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S is for Sukhothai & Si Satchanalai

by Karen Loh

The Cities

Location of the old cities of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai.
Image credit: Kamarul Shah B. Bakar, Maritime Archaeology and Shipwreck Ceramics in Malaysia.

The old city of Sukhothai is situated along the Yom River, one of the main tributaries of the Chao Phraya River, in the northeastern part of modern day Thailand. The city started out as a small settlement outpost under the Khmer Empire (802-1431 CE), with the design of its temples, building structures and canals very much influenced by Angkor, the capital city of the Khmer empire. The Empire began to weaken in the early 13th century, following the death of their ruler, Jayavarman VII (1181-1218 CE). Seeing a weakened regime, the people of Sukhothai soon started challenging their overlords. Under the leadership of Si Inthrahit (also known as Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao), and together with his friend and ally, Pho Khun Pha Meung, the people of Sukhotai started to gather their forces, rose up and revolted against Khmer rule. They finally succeeded in driving the Khmers out in 1250 CE, thereafter establishing the Kingdom of Sukhothai. The capital city was also called Sukhothai, meaning Dawn of Happiness, and Si Inthrahit was crowned their first king. In Thai historiography, Sukhothai is considered the first kingdom in Thailand.

Sukhothai. Image credit: © Vyacheslav Argenberg / http://www.vascoplanet.com/, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sisatchanalai or Si Satchanalai was another Khmer outpost located 55 kilometres north of Sukhothai city, along Yom River. This city was formerly called Chalieng, meaning “city of good people”. Si Satchanalai rose to importance as an associated city to Sukhothai after the people’s independence from the Khmers. However, it was not until the reign of the kingdom’s third king, Pho Khun Ram Kham Haeng (1279-1299 CE) that the society, administration, religion and arts in the kingdom of Sukhothai flourished. In addition, the invention of the Thai alphabet in 1283 marked this period as Sukhothai’s Golden Era. Si Satchanalai reached her peak prosperity during the reign of Phra Maha Dhamaraja I (1347-1374 CE).

The 13th Century Thai City of Si Satchanalai. Image credit: Gary Todd, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sukhotai & Si Satchanalai: export-oriented pottery centres

Left and centre: Si Satchanalai Celadon dish, and jarlet recovered from the Royal Nanhai shipwreck c1460 CE. Right: Si Satchanalai bowl recovered from the Nanyang shipwreck c1380 CE.
Note: Please refer to L is for Longquan to look at more Si Satchanalai ceramics

The 14th and 15th centuries saw many large potting centres producing Thai ceramics, mainly stoneware, scattered across the northern part of Thailand. During this time, the Thai kilns around the city of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai (also known as Sawankhalok) flourished, exporting ceramics in large quantities as evidence of Thai ceramics can be found across South East Asia and from shipwrecks salvaged around the region. Sukhothai kilns produced mostly underglaze black ware, which were very similar in design and decoration to the pots made in the Cizhou kilns in northern China centuries earlier. Popular designs from the Sukhothai kilns were underglaze black plates decorated with lively fish with an arched back and tail thrown upwards, flower or cakra or starburst motifs, and various upright shapes like vases, bottles, jars with underglaze black fish or flower motifs.

The Si Satchanalai kilns on the other hand produced mostly celadon ware: dishes, bowls, and ring-handled jars in various sizes. At the height of its celadon production, the Si Satchanalai potters were producing high quality celadon ware, decorated with incised lotus petals, lotus blossoms, and chrysanthemum flowers on dishes with foliated mouth rims and similar incised lotus and chrysanthemum flowers on the bigger ring-handled jars. Many of these jars were completed with beautifully carved vertical striations on the lower body.

Other famous kiln sites producing Thai ceramics, mainly storage jars, were situated at Singburi (also known as Maenam Noi) and Suphanburi.

Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai ceramics at Gallery B, Muzium Negara, recovered from the Turiang (c. 1370).
5: Si Satchanalai vase with vertical striations.
6: Sukhothai black glazed decorated flower dish.
7: Si Satchanalai black glazed ring-handled jar.
8: Sukhothai black glazed decorated jar.
9: Si Satchanalai green glazed ring-handled bottle.

The Ming Gap

Questions have been raised on why Thai ceramics only began to be exported towards the end of the 14th century. One of the reasons might be due to the first Haijìn (Ming ban or Sea ban;1371-1509 CE), a policy ordered by Ming Dynasty’s first Emperor, Hongwu in 1371 CE where all exports and private overseas trading were prohibited. The Emperor proclaimed that all merchant ships were to be destroyed and anyone caught smuggling goods out of China would be executed. It is believed that these isolationist policies caused many of the Chinese potters and Chinese shipbuilders to migrate to various cities or towns in Southeast Asia to continue their trade. In her book, The Ceramics of South-East Asia, Their Dating and Identification, Roxanna Brown wrote that the migration of the potters may have actually started earlier, i.e. during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 CE) under Mongol rule, where many Song Chinese sought refuge in the Sukhothai kingdom. Evidence of this could be found through the trade route. She wrote in her book, “It is about this time, the end of the thirteenth or by the middle of the fourteenth century, at any rate, that Sukhothai’s ceramics industry moves from being purely domestic to testing itself on international South-East Asian market. The local potters could not have done this on their own. Somehow they were linked to the Chinese Trade network; and this must have been done by the Chinese. For Thai ceramics appear at the same South-East Asian sites as Chinese wares; the Thai did not forge new trading routes”.

There is an ongoing study on whether the trading of Thai ceramics began before or after the founding the new Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya(1351-1767 CE). It is also interesting to note that there was an absence of blue and white ware from the Thai kilns. A valid explanation may be that cobalt, the blue pigment used by Chinese kilns at Jingdezhen from around the 1320s to produce blue and white porcelain, is a relatively rare mineral. Cobalt may have been difficult to acquire and was expensive, while iron, the black oxide used in underglaze black ware was common and plentiful in Sukhothai. The last of the kilns in the old kingdom of Sukhothai finally closed down after the Burmese invasion in the 1580s. It is reported in the Glass Palace Chronicle of Burma that their ruler, King Bayinnaung (1516-1581 CE) ordered all the artists, artisans, and craftsmen of Sukhothai kingdom to be relocated and settled in Pegu (today Bago).

Stylistic evolution of Si Satchanalai dishes from four shipwrecks arranged in chronological order (from the Kildegaard Galbo collection):
a) Turiang c1370 CE
b) Nanyang c1380 CE
c) Longquan c1400 CE
d) Royal Nanhai c1460 CE
Image credit: Sten Sjostrand, Maritime Archaeology and Shipwreck Ceramics in Malaysia.


Brown, Roxanna M. (2000). The Ceramics of South-East Asia: Their Dating and Identification. Art Media Resources.

Brown, Roxanna & Sjostrand, Sten. (2004). Maritime Archaeology and Shipwreck Ceramics in Malaysia. RECCEX Sdn Bhd.

Miksic, John (Ed.). Southeast Asian Ceramics, New Light on Old Pottery (pp. 27-33). Editions Didier Millet, 2009.

Siripon, Nanta (ed), Thai Heritage – World Heritage. Thailand, Graphic Format Ltd, 2000.

Tan, Heidi (Ed.). (2012). Marine Archaeology in Southeast Asia, Innovation and Adaptation (pp. 23-29). Asian Civilisations Museum.

Vecchia, Stefano. (2007). The Khmers, History and Treasures of an Ancient Civilization. WS White Star Publishers.

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