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KELATÉ 1890 : On a Raft Through a Forbidden State ( 1 )

The Opening Page
Kelantan in the Last Chapter

KELATÉ 1890 :

On a Raft Through a Forbidden State ( 1 )

The Intro

Just got my hands on this book :

    *A 2005 reprinted paperback edition by Elibron Classics - Adamant Media
    Corporation - acquired online.

    Consisting of 730 pages in 33 chapters, of mostly text and few photos.

" The Peoples and Politics of The Far East ",

by Henry Norman ( then Sir Henry Norman, 1858 ~ 1939 ) – a world travelling English journalist, author and politician on his “ travels and studies in the British, French, Spanish and Portuguese colonies, Siberia, China, Japan, Korea, Siam and Malaya ".

First published in London in 1895 by T.Fisher Unwin.

The author, attached to several leading news publications of the day, was primarily known in the West for his many updates on the conditions of the Far East during the late 19th century. His work appeared in many publications and news report, occasionally pushing him into the limelight as well - like this article, appeared in a prominent American newspaper, over a hundred years ago ( notice the word “ Kelantan “ ) :

    From : The New York Times Online Archive, 6 Nov 1898

    * Note :

    Sir Henry Norman was actually not “ the first European “ as described in
    the above excerpt.

    He was definitely among the first, probably the second or third to accomplish
    so safely after Carlo Ferdinando Bozzolo, an Italian entrepreneur, later a district officer
    serving the British in Hulu Perak, crossed the Peninsular into Kelantan in 1889.

    The author, not only admitted to the fact in the book but also met Bozzolo
    during his Malayan trip and had Bozzolo showed him the way into Kelantan.
    But unfortunately, unlike Norman, Bozzolo did not come up with any
    published work on his stay in Malaya thus nothing is known, at least
    so far, of his Kelantanese experience.

Back to the book.

The final chapter, Chapter XXXIII - On A Raft Through A Forbidden State, tells of the author's extraordinary voyage across pre-colonial Kelantan which took place around 1890 - roughly 13 years before the state came under British control.

It contains the most interesting reference on old Kelantan I found so far, since W.A. Graham's 1908 " Kelantan : A State of The Malay Peninsular " - answering many questions I used to have concerning late 19th century Kelantan and even revealing troves of information regarding my own root.

The author, Sir Henry Norman, was among the first Europeans ( probably the second or third ) to traverse the breadth of pre-colonial Kelantan, which during the time was among the least explored corners of the Malay Peninsular ( well, by the Europeans of course ). He started his three months journey in British occupied Perak, using the least popular route of the day – across the Peninsular, through the most unforgiving part of the Titiwangsa. He took off from Hulu Perak, crossing the mountainous thick jungle on elephant’s back and on foot, passing through the old Malay states of Reman and Legeh, before entering the Kelantanese realm through Pergau - in present day, Jajahan Jeli.

From there, he took a raft down the Kelantan River all the way to the state capital, Kota Bharu where he managed to get an audience with the Sultan of Kelantan but also found himself unintentionally involved in a plan to overthrow the Sultan by the Sultan’s traitorous brothers ( I find this part to be the most interesting ). He left for Singapore via Terengganu soon after, unscathed but badly shaken by an attempt on his life at Kuala Besar while sailing out of the state – an incident, he alleged to have occurred as a result from the unpleasant audience he had earlier with the Sultan.

What the author went through in Kelantan is interesting, noteworthy and served as a good reference on what really occurred ( and also giving clues to what might have happened ) in the state shortly before the arrival of the British. It is equally interesting to read from the author, of how Kelantan was negatively perceived by non-Kelantanese, both by other natives of the Peninsular and Europeans of the day. In the earlier parts of the chapter, he described Kelantan as a closed and forbidden corner of the Peninsular’s East Coast, seen by other Malays as a treacherous realm, ruled by xenophobic, cruel petty chiefs, warring mobs and gangs of highwaymen. A notion which I noticed, he tried hard to prove in his account on Kelantan.

From his words, one could simply tell how uneasy the author was when he started his journey and how unhappy he was when he made his way out the state. Nevertheless, from his words one could also tell how the author was enthralled and fascinated by Kelantan's vast potentials and interesting qualities – from the interior littered with gold, to the hustle and bustle of its lively towns.

Though not as detailed as that of Graham’s, Norman’s descriptions are certainly of different historical level and significance compared to Graham’s, that I believe might be pretty helpful when it comes to studying matters related to pre-colonial Kelantan. So, here I got some scanned parts of the book posted for those interested to learn more. Not many but more than enough to grasp much of the author's Kelantanese experience. These excerpts are from the first half of the author’s journey and I will putting up the rest in a different, upcoming entry.

So, please, do look forward for the next entry.

Not enough ? Need more ?

Maybe this or this could help ! *

* Spoiler : 730 pages with only around 30 pages on Kelantan ....

* The Where's Where of Henry Norman's time

An old map showing the political boundaries of several Malay states
( most are now defunct ) in the North-eastern corner of the Malay
Peninsular, prior to 1909 Bangkok Agreement.

Kelantan was also shown, interconnected with Legeh and Reman,
the two of which are mentioned in the book.

Source :

' Keturunan Raja-Raja Kelantan dan Peristiwa-Peristiwa Bersejarah '

( Abdullah bin Mohamed ( Nakula ), Perbadanan Muzium Negeri Kelantan, 1981 )

via Hikayat Usop's Siapa Long Yunus ?

Part 1 : From Perak into Kelantan

* The author, Henry Norman and the raft that took him to Kota Bharu.

Taken at an unknown spot on the Kelantan River, but judging by the width of the river in
the background, the location must surely be somewhere deep in the interior.

Probably Kuala Pergau.

* The author's opening words on Kelantan.

Here, the author cited Bozzolo as the first European who accomplished the feat that
he was trying to accomplish himself through the journey and also the difficulty of
gaining access into the state.

Notice how he described the Raja of Kelantan ( who he also referred to as the Sultan
of Kelantan ).

On " H.M. Becher ", I did some online research about the man and found out the following :


    1893 - H M Becher, seorang lagi individu yang dikatakan sedang memeriksa
    daerah itu memutuskan untuk berkhemah di atas sebuah pulau (beting pasir) yang
    terletak di tengah sungai Tahan. Becher mengabaikan nasihat penduduk tempatan
    yang mengatakan kawasan itu tidak selamat kerana sering dinaiki air. Ketika air
    pasang, beliau hilang selepas terjatuh ke dalam sungai ketika sampan yang
    dinaikinya karam.

    From :

According to the above, Becher drowned in Sungai Tahan ( River Tahan ) when his
encampment, built on one of the river's unsteady sandbanks was washed away by a
sudden surge of water. He was previously warned by the locals of the risk in doing
so but being an orang puteh, he probably thought that there is a lot of other
important things to consider than listening to the savages ..... until it was too late.

Becher was surverying the area ( in his attempt to gain access to the highest point in the
Peninsular – the Gunung Tahan ), when the accident occurred.

* In Kelantan, on The River Pergau.

As soon as the author left Legeh, he made his way to the Sungai Pergau
( River Pergau ), one of Kelantan River many tributaries and had a sturdy raft
constructed out of bamboo for the next leg of his journey - to the state capital,
Kota Bharu.

Of course, the author was not travelling alone. Along with him were two Punjabi
soldiers serving as his bodyguards, a Chinese guide and several anxious Malay
porters and assistants from the West Coast who the author described as :


    " There was nothing to prevent them deserting me, and the very name of Kelantan
    was almost enough to strike terror into them .....

    ( Chapter XXXIII : On a Raft Through a Forbidden State, page 571 )

The two kampungs or villages mentioned above, " Kampong Reka Bharu " and
" Kampong Reka Tua " were the first settlements encountered by the author
in his journey through Kelantan.

Located close to the River Pergau, not far from each other, they are still there today.
Only to be known ( spelled ) at present as " Kampung Reka Baru " and " Kampung
Reka Lama ", well, nothing much changed, located in modern day Jajahan Jeli.

If I am not mistaken, the word “ Reka “ is actually pronounced as “ Ghuh-kor “ which
according to the author, means " Echo " in English. Either the word is an archaic
Kelantanese term or it is just me with my not-so-rich Kelantanese vocabs, I have never
heard of such word being used with such meaning.

Can anyone clarify this?

And also ... where is this “ Bukit Pagah “ located ?

* Bird sniping with the headman and prospecting for gold.

The author, enjoying a relaxing moment at " Kampong Dusun Renda ".

The place, still exist today as " Kampung Dusun Rendah " is located by the
River Pergau, just a short distance downriver from Kampung Reka Lama and
Kampung Reka Baru in present day, Jajahan Jeli.

There, the author also met an old man who claimed to have served the British in
Selangor as a guide ( the Kelantanese have been venturing outside of their home state
for various reasons, since the olden days ! ) and at the time of the visit, was making a
living with gold collected from his private mine.

Kelantan was and still is famous for its gold bearing interiors.
The first Chinese settlement in Kelantan, the Gua Musang Pulai settlement was
established solely because of gold mining and the first formal British presence in
Kelantan was largely due to gold and other valuable minerals found in Kelantanese
deep interior ( The Duff Development Company, 1900s ).

By the way, I wonder, where is this Kuala Jinam, Kuala Tosi and Kuala Tuko ?

* Arriving at Tanah Merah.

The author, making a brief stop at Tanah Merah for provisions, and
of course, for some inspection as well.

Unknown to the author, Tanah Merah at the time was a frontier town,
which would be no surprise at all when he described the place as
“ the first time we saw signs of life and commerce “.

The modern version of Tanah Merah is located quite a distance from the river,
now serving not only an administrative township for the District ( Jajahan ) of Tanah
Merah but also a famous stop over point for those travelling the East-West Highway.

Interesting, there was blachang ( belacan ) but …. huh, no Budu !?

This is blesphemous ! Hahaha ..

* A sojourn at " Kampong Panah ".

" Panah " or in modern day spelling, Panau.

The hill mentioned by the author is Bukit Panau, a famous landmark in present day
Jajahan Tanah Merah, believed by some Kelantanese to be a place of mystic and
magic, of Puteri Saadong and Paduka Che Siti Wan Kembang.

Here's a good read on Bukit Panau.

* Henry Norman in Pasir Mas.

During the author’s visit, Pasir Mas was a thriving town of great importance
located close to the Kelantan River. The place, as reported by the author,
was teaming with activities and well cultured inhabitants, going around in
splendid colourful attire.

( Pak Zawi, your great grandparents might be among the crowd ! )

Pasir Mas, during its heyday, used to be regarded as just second to Kota Bharu.
Now, neighboring town of Tanah Merah appears to be more prosperous and vibrant.

On a different note, Galena is mineral primarily comprised of Lead Sulfide ( PbS ),
a chief source for Lead ( Pb ).

By the way, where is this place called “ Penei “ by the author ? Supposed to be
somewhere in Jajahan Pasir Mas. Any clue ?

* Reaching the late 19th century Kota Bharu.

I like the idea of walking around town with at least two keris tucked steadily at the waist.

Do that now, and you'll probably end up at the police station.

* Kota Bharu that Henry Norman did not see.

Foreground, present day Kelantan River and in the background, modern day Kota Bharu - circa 2008.

Snapped using a " borrowed " Nikon D80, with some image touch-up …


The Second and Final Part -

NORMAN'S KELANTAN : On a Raft Through a Forbidden State (2)

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