By: RaY KinZoKu

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Sunday, 17-Jun-2007 20:03 Email | Share | Bookmark
SIRI 50 TAHUN MERDEKA : The Istana Tengku Seri Akar

A Lonely Space in the Heart of Kota Bharu
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This piece is dedicated
to the " lost " family treasure,
to the slowly forgotten Langkasukan legacy,
and to our Nation's 50 years ( it's the country's, not us ) of independence.

Long live Mongolia ! Errk, no, i mean ..... Malaysia !

Grab your pillow now and hold tight.
Cuz here comes another history lesson !

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The Istana Tengku Seri Akar

Istana Tengku Seri Akar ? In Kota Bharu ?

Don't try recalling the name, I doubt that you could get it right.
Don't try looking for it either, because you won't be able to find it in Kota Bharu or anywhere else - anymore ...

I didn't know about it. I had no idea at all.
I grew up knowing nothing about the so called Istana Tengku Seri Akar - said to be well known among local historians and architects. It was already gone when I started knowing better of my surroundings. I was only made aware of its former existence when much of my past time readings on old Kelantan brought in details on the Istana.

From what I learned,
the Istana is named after the last owner cum inhabitant - Tengku Zainal Abidin bin Tengku Abdul Kadir Kamaruddin or better known by his court title as Tengku Seri Akar D'Raja. It is said to be unique, beautiful and very much historical but being absent for all the credits. It used to be in Kota Bharu, just a very short walking distance from the present day Istana Jahar and Istana Balai Besar. There's nothing there now. What was left was a street bearing the name Jalan Tengku Seri Akar at one side and another street - Jalan Tengku Putri, at the other. These two streets are much like Jalan Post Office Lama. You see the name, but you can't see why. The things that could explain the reason behind such names had long gone with time.

No matter how much reference I found on Istana Tengku Seri Akar, none described how it really looked like. What I got from my reading, were largely vague, general informations. I tried the internet, but nothing truly helpful comes out. Even the meeting with one of the late Tengku Seri Akar's daughters, though was mind opening, did nothing much for what I was hoping for. Well, the meeting was really a normal but rare " jallae juppo worghaeh " as she is actually a distant relative of mine. In fact, she was close to my late father, her childhood friend. A well educated lady who is currently in her eighties and still showing signs of amazing health and energy - quite uncommon for people at such age. She had long left her former home, the Istana, and now lives quite a distance from but still close to the town center. She speaks with sprinkles of Malay accent from the 50s or so ( I find it amusing ) and also with words and intonations that perfectly suit her royal background. She claimed that she is an artist and she keeps and decorates her house with various interesting things from the past, from old but beautifully carved wooden panels to a complete set of duit pokok pisang in photo frames. She even gladly took the length to explain the details of each of her collection - which I believe one of the things that she probably enjoy doing when dealing with curious young visitors like me.

It was during that rare chance that I gathered enough courage to asked her the question - out of the blue - if she has any in her possession, the photo of her former home. She was rather surprised at first, saying,

" tengok tuh, ghumoh burghok pong orghae bassor istano doh lonih ".

Deep inside I know that she's proud when I used the term " Istana " - which she herself probably never saw it that way before.

The real reply to my inquiry came shortly after.
No, she doesn't have any, so I was told, as it was not a custom in the old days for everyone to own a camera, let alone to snap one own house. Learning that, I gave up my search until a very rare visit to the local public library, resulted into this accidental discovery :

From " Panduan ke Tempat Tempat Bersejarah di Negeri Kelantan " ( Guides to Historical Sites in Kelantan ) by Abdul Halim Nasir. Published in 1979 by the Museum Department, Malaysia National Museum. A bilingual ( Malay / English ) guide book to historical places in Kelantan.

Well, well.
So this is the Istana Tengku Seri Akar. Some parts of it to be exact ( because I know it supposed to be a lot bigger ).

Judging by the book published year ( 1979 ) and the pitiful appearance as shown,
I believe that the undated photos, must be taken at least 30 ~ 40 years ago, on one of its final days.

The dilapidated state doesn't do justice to what the Istana was in its heyday.
Built in late 19th century, it was truly unique. From the way they set up the structures and joints to the way they prepared the interior with intricate carvings and parts - serving both ornamental and practical purposes, it was a magnificent example of old typical Northeastern Malay architecture, wood working and carving at their best. What really made it special is the fact that it was one of those few true traditional Langkasukan architecture ever survived ( until few decades ago ) the century of British intervention ( 1909 ~ 1957 ) in Kelantan - which saw many local architectural wonders and ages old but practical building methods gradually succumbed to Western ideas.

Since the day it was built, it stood well against the test of time and created history throughout the years until about 40 years ago - when decay finally set in. After enduring years of neglect and poor maintenance, the unique work of art - legacy of old Langkasuka, along with many beautiful carvings and decorative parts, were either lost to the elements or taken / kept away and what was left, was totally brought down, leaving an empty space in the heart of Kota Bharu.

The loss of the Istana Tengku Seri Akar was mourned by few.
To many, it was just another old house decaying and falling to the ground - nothing special - when in fact it was far more than that. The loss of the Istana have placed a lid on our sense of history. Shunning us from knowing a piece of the past that is so important but only known by the very few. Aside from the architectural aspects of it, which are no doubt, unique and genuine enough to be called our own, there is something else about it that we ought to learn - the untold stories of former inhabitants - who, in a way or another - shaped the nation that we know today.

The Istana was built in 1886 by Long Sulong ( the eldest son of Sultan Muhammad II ( 1835 ~ 1886 ) aka Long Senik Mulut Merah ), who came to power in Kelantan between 1886 ~ 1889 as Sultan Ahmad. It was meant for one of his daughters, Tengku Putri or Tengku Maryam Kembang Putri ( the reason why I would prefer the name Istana Tengku Putri over Istana Tengku Seri Akar ). She then married to the last ruler of independent Pattani - a now defunct Malay Sultanate in modern day Southern Thailand, transforming the place she lived, from a typical Ghumoh Ghajo ( feudal mansion ) to an Istana ( a King's palace ) like that of Istana Balai Besar.

It was there, at the Istana, that the last Sultan of Pattani, Sultan Abdul Kadir Kamaruddin ( aka Tengku Abdul Kadir Kamaruddin ) spent his final years in exile, after being forcefully evicted from his throne by the Siamese and it was also from there he fought unsuccessfully for liberated Pattani - until his death in 1938 :


    " In 1903, the Patani Malay aristocrat Tengku Abdul Kadir Qamaruddin revolted
    against Bangkok. He was defeated and imprisoned for nearly three years as a result.

    As soon as he was released he planned another insurrection against Siamese rule.
    The Patani Malays were angry with Bangkok for trying to impose Thai laws on them
    and Bangkok's refusal to recognize traditional Malay and Islamic laws in the region.
    After another failed revolt in 1915, Tengku Abdul Kadir Qamaruddin retreated to
    Kelantan (which was under British indirect rule) and attempted to regroup his forces
    with the help of the Sultan of Kelantan, Sultan Muhammad IV.

    In 1922, Tengku Abdul Kadir launched his biggest campaign against the Siamese
    government, in response to the new education policy introduced by Bangkok which
    made it compulsory for all Patani Malays to attend Thai government schools and learn
    the Siamese language. Tengku Abdul Kadir regarded this as a deliberate and calculated
    attempt to erase Patani-Malay identity and to convert the Patani Malays to Buddhism.
    But Tengku Abdul Kadir's rebellion ended in failure and a number of prominent Malay
    rulers were either killed or captured.

    From :
    Farish A Noor - " Southern Thailand: A bloody mess about to get bloodier "

His story did not end up there.
Who would have thought that the same Istana would brought up another Tengku Abdul Kadir. One of his sons, Tengku Mahmood Mahyiddeen, born in 1908 and brought up at the Istana, continued his late father's struggle.

During the World War 2, he served in the well known Force 136 guerrilla group against the Japanese, siding and fighting along with the British. He was decorated after the war for his wartime contributions and became well known. He was so confident that the British would give their full support in his course for Pattani ( the Thais cooperated with the Japanese during the war ), he actively lobbied for Pattani incorporation into British Malaya. However, the turn out was beyond his expectations. The British, fearing that a destabilized Thailand would invite Communism and would further on threaten Malaya, decided that Thailand should be left alone. The British saw Tengku Mahmood's proposal as a threat to their greater plan and had it turned down straightaway.

Bitterly crushed, he decided to move on with his fight, the decision that made the British to see him from a friendly ally to a new possible threat, putting pressures on everything he did. He went on with his fight with GEMPAR ( Gabungan Melayu Patani Raya or Patani Raya Malay Collition ) in 1948, but his death in 1954 at an early age was the greatest blow to the movement and the last nail was finally placed in the coffin for Pattani independence. Never he saw Malaya independence from the British in 1957, and never would he see a liberated Pattani too.

In modern day Malaysia,
this thing I just told you is too sensitive for public education or even equally sensitive to be discussed in public. Due to high probability of sparking diplomatic rows with the neighbor, we are not told about this part of history at school. There is only a very small note on Tengku Mahmood Mahyideen, particularly on his involvement in Force 136 and no mention at all about Tengku Abdul Kadir. With such treatment, both of them, and also the others who shared their goal, are slowly being forgotten, sinking in the darkest abyss of history forgotten figures. Taking along with them, the brilliant history of Langkasuka and the Malay Sultanate of Pattani. What is left is only the mark made by the recent occupier from the North, carved deeply into the bloody remain of the former Master of the Isthmus. This resulted many Malaysians to think that Pattani is simply Siam and has been Siamese all along when the truth is not even close. Worst, there are even people who thought that Kelantan is Siamese by origin and there are not few of them. I would like to call these people stupid but I can't blame them for what they didn't get to learn at school, and in reality.

So it seems that what the British and Siam had worked for in those days are coming to being in our own hands.

How ironic.

Far Left : Sultan Abdul Kadir Kamaruddin ( Tengku Abdul Kadir Kamaruddin ). Died in exile in Kota Bharu in 1938.

Middle : Tengku Mahmood Mahyideen ( 1908 ~ 1954 )

Far Right : The book " HARIMAU MALAYA : Biografi Tengku Mahmood Mahyiddeen ", by Mohd. Zamberi A. Malek and published by Penerbit UKM, dedicated to Tengku Mahmood Mahyideen's, his father's and all the people related to him on their fight for the future of Malaya & Pattani.

* From the book, " HARIMAU MALAYA : Biografi Tengku Mahmood Mahyiddeen ".

Detected a small factual error there.
I am not sure about Tengku Kembang but Tengku Petri ( aka Tengku Maryam Kembang Putri ) was definitely NOT from Pattani. She was the daughter to the late Sultan Ahmad, who ruled Kelantan between 1886 ~ 1889. She was also the sister to Tengku Bongsu ( aka Tengku Kalsum ), my great grandmother whose house I wrote about in my previous entry.

Having made my point,
all I have to say is that I really would love to see the return of Istana Tengku Seri Akar.
Hopefully, in the most authentic, original form as possible.

I am currently a man without the capacity to fulfill the wish.
But through a visitor some time ago, I was told that there are people out there who are currently interested and into the research on the Istana. I was even told that there are plans by those people to bring the palace back to its magnificence. But I was more surprised that the same people who restored my great grandparent's house were also deeply interested in bringing back the long lost national heritage. Later, I personally met with one from the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Ar. Mastor Surat ( I wrote about this in my earlier entry ) who is currently into building the exact life size replica of the Istana on the university ground, to study old Malay architectures. Already approved with govt. grant, the plan is probably under way by now. Soon it will be, using few drawings ever made, restored next to my great grandmother's house in Bangi, Selangor. Well, a great thing to know except that it will be rebuild in Bangi, Selangor and not in Kota Bharu, Kelantan !

To have it back on its former site or at least reconstructed somewhere in its native Kota Bharu ( preferably close to its former site ) would prove more relevant - with everything to relate to in vicinity, from geographical to historical - that could give a greater and much effective educational impact to the masses. To have it back would also be the best way to silently commemorate the silent and untold struggle for nationhood somewhere in the forgotten Northeast .... serving as a grim but very useful reminder on the importance of staying united, strong and knowledgeable.

Pattani and Kelantan is a great testimony to history of how two closely related, sister kingdoms were brought down on their knees then thorn apart by ruthless imperialism. Honestly I don't blame everything on the Siamese or even the British for what happened. This is what we got for simply being weak and divided. For fighting over silly internal affairs while neglecting the real threat from the outside. The weakest and the divided get the best chance to be manipulated by the strong and the united.

Sad, but nothing beats the reality.
I don't know how far we had learned from this thing
but I do know how we could learn something from it.

By bringing back Istana Tengku Seri Akar ...



Utusan Malaysia : Isytihar lebih banyak bangunan warisan


* Ar. Mastor Surat with the miniature version of Istana Tengku Seri Akar which he claimed to be the closest and the most authentic representation of the original structure. Soon, based on this model, it will be rebuild with the same manner as the past builders did, on the UKM ground in Bangi, Selangor.

* UPDATED 24 MAY 2009 :

Istana Tengku Seri Akar, dilapidated state. Date unknown. Image taken from 'The Encyclopedia of Malaysia', through En.Shaari's.

* UPDATED 24 MAY 2009 :

Istana Tengku Seri Akar - The Artist's Impression. Image taken from 'The Encyclopedia of Malaysia', through En.Shaari's.

* UPDATED 4 DEC 2009 :

Istana Tengku Seri Akar - most probably from the same set as the two photos shown
at the top of this entry, seen from a different angle. Taken from Warisan Kelantan XIII
( Muzium Negeri Kelantan, 1994 ; p.135 )

The caption accompanying this photo contains information on the background of the
Istana initial occupants but it seems quite contradictory to those presented by Mohd.
Zamberi A. Malek through his book " HARIMAU MALAYA : Biografi Tengku Mahmood
", ( Penerbit UKM Bangi, 1999 ).

Reader's discretion is advised.

* The former site of Istana Tengku Seri Akar at Jalan Tengku Seri Akar, Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Currently an open field with wild vegetations. It has been like this for many years as far as I could remember.

The structure seen at the center, is the Kampung Kraftangan, a tourist attraction, beautifully designed to resemble old Kelantanese kampung houses but with poor and cheap craftsmanship. An obvious example - bad imitations of Janda Berhias wall paneling - nothing like the original. Still, it's better to have, even a decent one than not to have at all. So, thank you for Kampung Kraftangan.

Next to it, is the Federal owned Tourist Information Centre.

* The piece of land had been sold away by Tengku Seri Akar's descendants, very recently.

Soon, a commercial building ( a Bazaar ) will be erected at the site where the Istana used to be. Sad, but who am I to comment. Hopefully, the new building won't inflict a death blow to the already dying old identity of Kota Bharu ( and hope it won't be an eyesore ).

* " Kota Darulnaim ", a very well known administration complex, the seat for Kelantan state government, located at Jalan Kuala Krai, Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Modelled after the Istana Tengku Seri Akar and the old Masjid Kampung Laut. Those who had visited the complex will see why after looking through this entry. Notice how amazing when our traditional architectures are appreciated in modern times - this complex appears to be so futuristic ( yet, retaining the traditional ambiance ) that it looks like coming out from one of Stargate episodes or something. Simply beautiful !

The above shot is "borrowed" from the internet.
For the note, I couldn't come up with my own shot as the complex itself is off-limit for any photo-taking on security reasons. More photos of the complex at ( an international online community for architects, planners, urban designers, landscape architects, conservationists, and scholars, with a focus on Muslim cultures and civilisations ).

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" terbacalah " aku dalam akhbar tempatan suatu ketika dahulu akan perihal berikut :

* Utusan Malaysia Online, Muka Hadapan - 19 Feb 2007. Dwi klik imej untuk sumber asal internet.

* Utusan Malaysia, Forum - 4 Jun 2007. Dwi klik imej untuk sumber asal.


Pada pandangan saya, jika ada pihak di negara ini meminta kerajaan Portugal membiayai kos pembinaan semula kubu itu, mereka mungkin sanggup mengeluarkan peruntukan yang lebih besar daripada RM12.8 juta. Kenapa mereka sanggup membayarnya? Sebab pembinaan semula kubu itu akan memberi kegagahan kepada sejarah penjajahan Portugis.

Para penyelidik mengatakan dokumen lama Portugis mencatatkan bahawa kubu itu dibina dengan batu-batu yang diambil dari masjid dan kubur di Melaka. Kubu itu sebenarnya didirikan daripada runtuhan simbol Melayu dan Islam.

Dan kini kita mahu membina semula ‘warisan’ tersebut semata-mata kerana ia satu ‘warisan’. Ia adalah satu langkah yang tidak kena. Setiap apa yang kita panggil warisan perlu dilihat dengan perspektif. Kita boleh melihat warisan dengan perspektif liberal dan sudut pandangan untuk menghargai apa juga ‘warisan’ tanpa mengambil kira latar belakangnya. Sedangkan warisan juga perlu dianalisis dalam konteks perspektif Melayu dan Malaysia.

Saya menilai cadangan untuk membina semula kubu itu sebagai usaha yang tidak sepatutnya dilakukan.

Tidak semua warisan perlu dikekalkan. Tidak cukupkah dengan Kota A Famosa (gambar), bekas kubur St. Francis Xavier dan warna merah bangunan Stadthuys di Melaka?

* Utusan Malaysia, Forum - 5 Jun 2007. Dwi klik imej untuk sumber asal.


Tidak guna nanti kita berasa gah dengan kubu yang dibina semula itu sedangkan ia tidak memberi sebarang makna kepada semangat kita sebagai sebuah bangsa berdaulat.

Elok kerajaan kaji balik rancangan itu.
Tak payahlah kita buat semula kubu penjajah tersebut.
Peruntukan yang disediakan untuk projek itu boleh dialihkan untuk pelbagai program melindungi warisan lain yang lebih berfaedah. Pada pandangan saya, tumpuan Kementerian Kebudayaan, Kesenian dan Warisan kepada Melaka sahaja adalah tidak adil.

Betul !
Kalau nak buat juga, pohon sajalah dari Kedutaan Portugal.
Pastinya mereka sanggup menyumbang lebih dari itu.
Boleh jadi siap dengan Taman Tema ala Universal Studio !
Cuma wataknya bukanlah Spiderman mahupun The Terminator,
tetapi watak Diego Lopez de Sequiera dan Alfonso de Albuquerque.
Tatkala itu bolehlah kita lihat anak anak muda kita meloncat loncat keriangan
mahu bergambar dengan wira wira mereka ...

Tetapi syukurlah
walaupun ketika itu
dalam berkerajaan, kita tidak setanding mereka
tetapi jati diri bangsa kekal gagah meluap luap.
Portugis, Belanda, Sepanyol malah Inggeris sekalipun
tidak berani menjarah kita sebagaimana Hernan Cortes menyapu bersih ketuanan Aztec
ataupun sebagaimana Francisco Pizarro menggilap licin kegemilangan bangsa Inca di Amerika Selatan.

Oleh itu setelah begitu sabar dan tabah
nenek moyang kita menempuh semua itu
mengapa sekarang kita mahu belajar menjilat semula kekotoran yang mereka
bersusah payah cuba bersihkan ? Atas nama warisan !!? Warisan siapa ?

Dan kini
setelah lima puluh tahun merdeka
apa yang kita dapat hanyalah
siaran laungan tercungap cungap Tunku Abdul Rahman
beralun alun berulang ulang di kaca tv dan corong radio,
kocek yang penuh berisi fulus ( jangan ditanya bagaimana ),
dan minda yang terus dijajah ....

Kerana sesungguhnya aku tak redha
duit cukai hasil titik peluh aku selama ini digunakan untuk mengagungkan
mereka yang pernah menyembam muka kita semua ke tanah
Lebih lebih lagi bila mana
dalam keadaan warisan sebenar yang lain
terkapai kapai
antara hidup segan mati tak mahu
di atas bumi sendiri ....

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