By: RaY KinZoKu

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Sunday, 10-Feb-2008 17:00 Email | Share | Bookmark
FILLER ENTRY : The Cannons of Istana Balai Besar

The Cannons of Istana Balai Besar

Nothing much.

Just a filler entry to fill the widening gap.

( For the note, an entry is a filler when I am not putting too much effort in it .... )

I realized very recently, that one of four sizeable cannons,
located near the main entrance of Istana Balai Besar in Kota Bharu, has a peculiar marking that I think worth a mention here. I wonder how many people out there, who used to hang out near those cannons, are aware of what I am going to explain next.

Okay, first, here are the four big guns ......

Look carefully at the cannon in the last photo ( above ).

There is a logo at the lower part of the gun, near the touch hole.
A uniquely arranged alphabets, with the letter A on top of the letter V with an O on the left and a C on the right leg.

A - V - O - C.

Emmm .. which points out to one thing,
that this piece was casted by the once powerful, also notorious European trading company, the Dutch United East Indian Company, Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or the VOC ! And, as for the additional A on the logo, it refers to " Amsterdam ", a city in Europe where the company was established and operated from, so in this case " A V O C " means, to be specific " The Amsterdamn Chamber of the VOC " !

Left : The VOC logo.
Right : A Dutch cannon in Dejima, Nagasaki, Japan, with the manufacturer's logo on it.

From History books we know that the VOC took over Malacca from the Portuguese and continued to colonize much of Malay Archipelago ( major parts of modern day Indonesia ) and in the process, left its mark in many parts of Asia, from India to Japan.

The cannon shown above is one good example of VOC's former influence in Asia and could also be found, for instance, in Dejima, Nagasaki, the one and only port in Japan, opened for trade to Westerner during Japan's long isolation period ( sakoku jidai, 1633 ~ 1853 , in fact, the only Westerner ever allowed to anchor in Japan during the period were the Dutch ! )

Regarding its origin, I have no idea where it was brought from and how it managed to end up here, in Kelantan, right in front of Istana Balai Besar. All I know is, until a hundred years ago, Kelantan was not favored by any European power, at least not in their preferred list. However, further inspection revealed an interesting clue, a four digits number " 1686 " is visible on one surface, next to some hardly readable inscription in Dutch.

Historical records show that, in the 17th century, the Dutch, through the VOC maintained some sort of trade contacts with nearby Malay Sultanate of Pattani. In fact, not only the Dutch, historical records also tell of Portuguese, British, Chinese and even Japanese presence in Pattani - getting involved in various forms of trade. Even if it was not related to Pattani, the Dutch were also active elsewhere in the Gulf of Siam during the time and there's high probability that the cannon was brought to the shore of Kelantan through such contacts. Somehow, eventually ended up in Kota Bharu, becoming a proof to the long gone era.

But again, it was only a theory of mine and needs to be clarified through further research. Who knows that the cannon is in fact a recent addition ? Bought by someone from an antique dealer from somewhere in the World and had it placed there, merely for ornamental values ? Who knows that it is in fact, a replica of recent manufacture !?

Honestly, history lesson won't be fun without some taste of mystery.

Despite that, I still find the year " 1686 ", as interesting.
From what I read, the VOC was established in 1602 and finally went bankrupt and dissolved in 1800. If the cannon is proven to be a genuine piece and the year casted on it refers to the year of its manufacture, then it must be casted, probably in the Netherlands, during the company's heyday, when Malacca was still a Dutch occupied territory ( 1641 ~ 1795 ).

First, the history and second, you might be looking at the oldest proven object in town !

Wow .... isn't that truly something ?

Especially when it appeared to you that
your great great grand daddy was probably looking at it, centuries ago ?

( or ... maybe not )

The other three guns might as well have their own shares of interesting past, but for the time being, none of them are ready to share theirs with me.

I doubt they ever will.


Firearms in the Malay World is not of recent introduction.

Firearms, mainly in form of artillery pieces, namely the cannon, had been used extensively throughout the Malay Archipelago even before the arrival of Europeans. Some say that the Arabs and Indian traders were the first to introduce them, while others insisted that it was the Chinese, who first came up with the black powder.

Whoever it was, cannons, in a way or another, had affected and somewhat shaped the Malay World in many unique ways. In Kelantan, these are what W.A. Graham had noted :

Note 1 :

William Armstrong Graham's " Kelantan : A State of The Malay Peninsular " ;
Chapter XI : Trade, Commerce, And Industries, page 64. First Published in 1908 by James Maclehose & Sons, Glasgow ( Scotland ).

For The Note :
In Kelantan, the unit for length measurement was " Depa " before it was changed into the present day system of acre and hectare. If you have the chance to go through old Land Grant ( those written in Jawi ) measurements are often stated in Depa. For instance, 500 depa is equivalent to 0.5 acre.

Believe it or not, in Kelantan, there was a time when the standard for " Depa " was set according to the length of a cannon kept by the Raja, as described by W.A. Graham.

Note 2 :

William Armstrong Graham's " Kelantan : A State of The Malay Peninsular " ;
Chapter VII : Religion, page 32, 33. First Published in 1908 by James Maclehose & Sons, Glasgow ( Scotland ).

So, should I comment on this one ? No, thank you !


The grandest and largest cannon perhaps ever constructed in the Malay World was the Meriam Seri Patani, made in the former Malay Sultanate of Pattani ( a province in present day Southern Thailand, close to Kelantan ).

It was built in response to Siamese military buildup against Pattani and is reported to be casted with the help from a Chinese Muslim by the name, Lim To Khiam ( 林 道乾 or better known as Tok Kayan ) in the early 17th century.

The cannon was made along with two others, the same in size Seri Nagara and a smaller, Mahalela. Despite all that, Pattani was finally subjugated in an invasion which occured in 1785, and the cannons were then taken to Bangkok as spoils of war. The Seri Nagara however, fell into the sea during transportation and never seen again.

The remaining two continue to remain in Bangkok to this day, currently on display in front of Thailand Ministry of Defence building.


Phraya Tani (Thai พญาตานี) or Sri Patani (Malay) is a historical siege cannon from Pattani in southern Thailand. It is the largest cannon ever cast in Thailand, measuring 9 feet and made of brass. It is now on display in front of the Ministry of Defence, opposite the Grand Palace in Bangkok. The cannon is still the symbol of the Pattani Province.

The cannon was cast in the early 17th century by a craftsman of Chinese descent named Tok Kayan. The ruler of Pattani at that time, Raja Biru, ordered the construction of firearms in response to rumors of a forthcoming attack from Siam. Three cannons were cast, two large ones named Sri Patani and Sri Negara, and a smaller named Mahalela.

After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, Pattani tried to liberate itself from the tributary status to Siam. However in 1785 the army of Siam under leadership of the vice-king Boworn Maha Surasinghanat defeated Pattani. The two large cannons were taken as booty, however Sri Negara fell into the sea while being loaded to the ship.

In 1787 King Rama I ordered the casting of a similar-sized cannon named Narai Sanghan, to be a pair with the captured Phraya Tani.

From :

Further Reading :

The Rise and Fall of Pattani Malay Sultanate


A famous Thai movie director, Nonzee Nimibutr ( the director of Nang Nak ) had just came up with a movie that might stir up some attention down the Peninsular, scheduled for release in March 2008.

The movie, " QUEEN OF LUNG GASUKA ", is an epic, action fantasy based on real life historical figures, on former rulers of now defunct Pattani Malay Sultanate. An adaptation on four well known female rulers or queens ( the " Ratu ", or sometimes referred as " Raja " ) in Pattani history by the name Biru, Hijau, Ungu and Kuning, who ruled the kingdom between 1584 and 1686.

The movie was initially named, " Queen of Pattani " but due to possible political sensitivity, it was renamed as it is, " Lung gasuka " or " Langkasuka ", after the powerful, fabled Malay Empire of the Isthmus, that Pattani is thought to succeed. Though much of it is truly fictional, the storyline echoes a historical event when the kingdom was defeated and subjugated by the Thais in 1785, with its great cannons captured and taken away.

The most interesting and catchy part of the movie, aside featuring Meriam Seri Pattani, is the part when the actors donned themselves in traditional Malay costumes, from the unique " Che Siti Wan Kembang " outfit to the usual tengkolok, keris and sampin. A very very rare treat indeed from the Thai film industry !

Sadly however, the movie is 100% in Thai and not the much anticipated Jawi ( Yawi ), the local Malay dialect which sounds much like Kelantanese. Would appeal better that way though.

Interested ?
Here's the synopsis and some trailers ( click image for YouTube broadcast ) to go with it :


War rages on … Princes of neighboring dynasties have formed a coalition with rebel pirates, plotting to seize the powerful cannon from the Land of Lankasuka. The mass destruction juggernaut, capable of obliterating foes in a matter of seconds, is much coveted by any party seeking to tip the balance of power to their advantage.

Artillery is deployed, the infantry is mobilized, the Doo Lam force is unleashed ... The clash is critical. The three princesses of the Land of Lankasuka must at all cost protect their realm from the evil clutch of the ongoing wave of invaders – even with their lives on the line.

From :

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