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KELATÉ 1890 : On a Raft Through a Forbidden State ( 2 )


KELATÉ 1890 :

On a Raft Through a Forbidden State ( 2 )

( The Part Two i.e. the final part - as promised. Sorry for the very long " pause " )

Part 2 :

Henry Norman, Kota Bharu and The Sultan of Kelantan

* " The Raja of Kelantan will not dare to touch one hair of my moustache "

Sir Norman, arrogantly responding to the warning given to him by a group of local
Chinese whom he came across on the Kelantan River, somewhere between Kuala
Krai and Tanah Merah, while on his way to Kota Bharu.

In his previous notes, he described how the group of Chinese warned him by
communicating through one of his men that the news of their illegal entrance into
Kelantan, without the Sultan's consent had reached Kota Bharu and that a vessel
loaded with armed men is heading towards them to finish them off.

But of course, being an orghae puteh ( white man ) who was fully aware of his
position in the World's greatest empire of the day, Sir Norman took the warning very
lightly and decided to dismiss it as harmless and nothing more than just a " Chinese lie ".

He was right after all as nothing happened afterward, reaching Kota Bharu unscathed.
Despite his claim, his words however reflect otherwise. Somewhere between those
lines, I could sense his feelings of uncertainty and insecurity, which he tried to
extinguish by relating such threat to the outcomes of two well known incidents of his day.

( One being the Assassination of Perak British Resident, J.W.W Birch ( 1875 ) and
the other being the mysterious killing of a British subject, a Chinaman by the name Goh
Hui in 1888, whose body was found in the Sultan of Pahang's ( Sultan Ahmad ) palace
ground. Both events resulted in serious retaliations in Perak and Pahang .... )

Here is another interesting remark by Sir Norman on the Sultan of Kelantan, as quoted
from the same chapter :


    " .. the Sultan of Kelantan, whose mere name sent a shudder through the natives

    even here in another State ....

    ( Chapter XXXIII : On a Raft Through a Forbidden State, page 562 )

( Only God knows how proud I am with the author’s statement ! Ha ha ha )

* Setting His Foot On Kota Bharu

Sir Norman, describing his first time in Kota Bharu.

Meeting the Sultan of Kelantan was the very first thing in his mind upon
reaching the capital. However, with all the disturbing thoughts he had on the
Kelantanese ruler, he decided to wait and see, lying as low as possible from the
Sultan’s sight ( like told above ). He was hoping that someone of status, preferably a
member of the ruling house, could help him arrange a formal meeting with the Sultan,
in order to explain his peaceful intention. For this, his Chinese guide introduced him to
a minister by the name, Sri Paduka Wan Yusof who I will describe later.

As for the Malay town mentioned above, I strongly believe that it refers to the present
day Kubang Pasu-Sungai Keladi-Sungai Budor while the Chinese town is unmistakably
Kampung Cina at what is now Jalan Pantai Cahaya Bulan.

* Kampung Cina, 1905 ( Photo credit : W.A. Graham )

" Kota Bharu is very much like other Malay towns except for its big mosque ".

The big, old, wooden mosque of Kota Bharu, which Sir Norman saw during his visit
to the capital of Kelantan, serving not only as a place of worship but also an institute of
learning i.e. an Islamic seminary. Perhaps the grandest traditional mosque in the
Peninsular, during its time.

The mosque was brought down in mid 20th century, in favour of a new colonial style,
brick building, we all now know as " Masjid Muhammadi ".

( I hope that it could be restored, rebuilt again one day, in Kota Bharu .... )

* Note :

The first photo was taken in 1905 by W.A. Graham whereas the second photo shows
the remaining part of the old mosque, as taken in 1940s.

The concrete building seen on the extreme right in the second photo is in fact, a part of
the present day Masjid Muhammadi, one of its minarets - built on the site of the
previously demolished parts of the old mosque.

* Making an appointment to meet the Sultan.

Sir Norman meeting a minister, Sri Paduka Wan Yusuf, requesting for an appointment
with the Sultan of Kelantan.

From the above, one would instantly notice that Sri Paduka Wan Yusuf was not an
ordinary minister. For a man capable of arranging such meeting, he must had been a
State Secretary or at least a special advisor to the Sultan.

The name “ Sri Paduka Wan Yusuf “ sounds very familiar, it rang a bell. I decided to do
some quick research on this man mentioned by Sir Norman and it did not take long for
me to recall a very similar name from an online article I previously read in the
Perbadanan Muzium Kelantan's website ( on the Kelantan World War II Memorial or the
Bank Kerapu ).

So, I went to the site again, and there it was, a description of a man that very much
resembles Sri Paduka Wan Yusuf, only with slightly different name. Didn’t take long for
me to realise that the one mentioned in the article ( see below ), is exactly the same man
whom Henry Norman described as :

" a big heavy man with a cruel shaven face and cropped hair "

( For those who claim to be his descendant, now you know how your great granddad looked like ! )



    Tapak asal bangunan ini dimiliki oleh Nik Yusoff bin Nik Abd. Majid yang bergelar Dato'
    Sri Paduka Raja. Beliau lebih dikenali dengan Pak Nik Soh Pak Nik Ad atau disebut
    juga Sri Paduka Nik Yusoff atau Nik Sri Paduka. Beliau adalah seorang Pembesar
    Kelantan yang terkenal sejak zaman pernerintahan Sultan Ahmad (1886-1889) dan
    zaman Sultan Muhammad 111 (1889-1890). Beliau telah dilantik menjadi Menteri Besar
    Kelantan dari tahun 1894 hingga 1900.

    Tanah tapak bangunan itu telah dibeli oleh syarikat bank "The Mercantile Bank of India
    Limited yang membina sebuah bangunan bank cawangannya di Kelantan. Bangunan
    bank itu dibina dan siap serta digunakan pada tahun 1912. Pengurus yang pertama
    ialah Encik Muir iaitu seorang Inggeris.

    Dinding bangunan tersebut ditampalkan dengan simen yang berkerutu. Dalam bahasa
    daerah Kelantan keadaan tidak licin itu disebut 'kerapu'. Daripada itu bank tersebut
    telah dikenali sebagai Bank Kerapu hinggalah sekarang ini.

    Source :

    Perbadanan Muzium Negeri Kelantan - Bank Kerapu ( Memorial Perang Dunia Ke-2)

* A plan for rebellion

The day before Sir Norman was scheduled to meet the Sultan of Kelantan, two strangers
came to him and introduced themselves as the brothers to the Kelantanese ruler.

What amazed him so much was the nature of the surprise visit which he described
in his book as;


    " .... one of my strangest Eastern experiences ....

    .... two visitors who made to me the most remarkable proposal it has
    ever been my lot to receive ....

    ( Chapter XXXIII : On a Raft Through a Forbidden State, page 578)

The above excerpt explains all.

( See ' Conclusion ' for more explanations )

* Coming face to face with the Sultan of Kelantan.

Sir Norman finally got his chance to meet the Sultan of Kelantan, through a formal
reception at the Istana, arranged to his wish by Paduka Sri Wan Yusuf.

( Notice how he described the scene in the reception hall ( Balai ), the clothing,
the people and all that .... )

Unfortunately, the meeting turned out to be a rather unpleasant experience for Sir
Norman. He was expecting that the Sultan would greet and receive him like a state
guest but what he got was totally the opposite. The unfriendly air of the reception
and the way he was expected to appear before the Sultan, as described above had
left Sir Norman with the impression of being most unwelcome. I have no idea what
the Sultan of Kelantan had in mind about Sir Norman at the very moment he laid his
eyes on him but one thing for sure, the latter was already gearing up for the worst.

From what he wrote, we know that Sir Norman came before the Kelantanese ruler
with already much reservations and hard feelings, all arose from the words he heard
while in Perak, the “Chinese Lie“ incident on the Kelantan River and some other
small incidents with the latest, took place just a day before the meeting, being the
treacherous proposal made by the Sultan own brothers. ( It seems that he himself
was partly if not entirely responsible for the uneasy experience ! )

The author managed to translate some of those feelings by refusing to sit on the
bare floor, reacting in a way that almost cost him trouble. Lucky for the author, the
Sultan remained unperturbed and the conversation that followed later between the
two, appeared to be nothing beyond extraordinary. There were no hard talks, deep
discussions or anything close. Just a casual chat, simple exchange of questions
and answers in which the Sultan denied all the allegations that he had given out
order to stop foreigners especially Europeans from entering the state, and that
the people whom the author met were just exaggerating things.

( Though the Sultan later told the author how he was deeply upset by an incident
involving a European man which occured some time before the author's arrival. The
man came to Kota Bharu and took away the wife of a local chief ...... )

Unsurprisingly, Sir Norman chose to remain cautious, maintaining his suspicion
in the Sultan. The meeting ended as fast as it started.

* Leaving Kelantan with a “ parting gift “.

Sir Norman did not stay long in Kota Bharu.
He did not state exactly how long, maybe a few days or so as suggested in his writing.

At the end of the meeting with the Sultan, he requested a guaranteed safe passage out
of Kelantan for him and his men. He asked for two boats. One for him and his Indian
bodyguards to take to Kuala Terengganu where he would later take a steamer to
Singapore, and the other boat for the rest of his men to take to Pattani.

The Sultan granted his wish and a few days later, he found himself sailing out of
Kelantan, again down the Kelantan River. When he reached Kuala Besar, where the
river meets the South China Sea, an incident took place that almost cost the author his
life. In the dark of the night, a gang of armed men attacked his boat. Luckily, he
managed to resist the assault with the help of his two bodyguards and the skirmish
ended with the attackers fleeing the scene with one casualty on their side.

Though it might be nothing more than a case of piracy ( considering that he did not
make up the entire incident ), the author decided to link his bad experience with the
Sultan of Kelantan and Sri Paduka Wan Yusuf - accusing the two for the attempt on his
life. I have no idea how far this is true. From his words, it is obvious that the author
was merely assuming it and that he himself had no idea who was the real culprit nor
the real reason behind the attack.

The author arrived in Kuala Terengganu days later.
By then, it was already three months since he left Hulu Perak. He stated in the book
how he was well received by the Sultan of Terengganu, and was far better treated than
what he went through in Kota Bharu. Terengganu was merely a short stopover for the
author ( nothing like Kelantan is described about Terengganu in the book ). From there,
he took a steamer and left for Singapore, summing up his Malayan trip for good.

CONCLUSION : Learning From The Past ....

Go through the chapter and it won’t take long for one to realise that Sir Henry Norman, apart from describing his adventure across Kelantan, also made many bizarre remarks concerning the Sultan of Kelantan of the day. Most are very critical, many are offensive and some are even prejudice in nature.

Still, I could sense some level of fairness and honesty from his writing. Having gone through the chapter, I have to admit that his descriptions on Kelantan had provided me with a more clearer picture on what really went on during the years leading to British involvement in the state. Indeed, his accounts have helped much in improving my personal understanding of the very little known political episode pre-colonial Kelantan, especially during the late 19th century.

Kelantan, at the time of the author’s visit, was ruled by Tengku Ahmad Bendahara, one of many sons of Sultan Ahmad ( Sultan Tengah ) who took to the throne after his father’s death in 1888. He took the title Sultan Muhammad III and ruled Kelantan amidst his brothers’ disapproval and protest. The Sultan ruled Kelantan for a relatively very short period. His death has never been explained and remains a mystery to this day. Having read Sir Norman’s, that would be no surprise at all as it seems to suggest a probable cause which I chose not to describe.

Sultan Muhammad III was succeeded by his brother, who took the title, Sultan Mansor. Though not mentioned by name in Sir Norman’s book, he was said to be, according to W.A.Graham ( “ Kelantan : A State of The Malay Peninsular “, Glasgow, 1908 ), the prince who asked Sir Norman’s help in overthrowing his brother, Sultan Muhammad III - whom Sir Norman described as a “ young man of great intelligence and kindliness of character “ in his book ( as already quoted above ). Ironically, his reign was much shorter than his brother. He died after three years on the throne and like his predecessor, with a cause that was lost to history.

W.A.Graham did a better study on this matter and had a lot more to share. Graham continued from the point where Sir Norman left hanging. He had the episode described much further in his book, in good details, in a chronological order starting from the death of Sultan Tengah up to his presence in Kelantan, parts of which are posted below :

Having gone through both sources, I started to ponder to myself.

I do not wish to have those thoughts put in words here, since I do not wish them to be misinterpreted. However, looking at the current Malaysian political scenario, I strongly feel the need to express, to state here that no matter how true, important or sincere our political agenda would be, staying united and working for the good of all is still the top priority. History taught us how personal ambitions and the attempt to achieve it through foreign hands had brought forth many dreaded events in the history of the Malays. The 1876 Pangkor Agreement and Raffles acquisition of Singapura are some fine examples.

My conclusion is simple. Let bygone be bygone. But at the same time, let the past be the teacher. A teacher who will lead us into a better future. A future with dignity. Mistakes are made to be learned from, and never to be repeated.

Only those who learned from the past, from history, shall find his way through thousands of uncertainties of the future.


    " Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human
    events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they
    are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same
    passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.
    " - Machiavelli

Note :

Kelantanese Sultans from late 19th century to early 20th century, in chronological order :

1) Sultan Ahmad ( Sultan Tengah ) ibni Sultan Muhammad II

2) Sultan Muhammad III ibni Sultan Ahmad ( Sultan Tengah )

3) Sultan Mansor ibni Sultan Ahmad ( Sultan Tengah )

4) Sultan Muhammad IV ibni Sultan Muhammad III

* ref :

* Sultan Ahmad Tengah ( aka Sultan Ahmad ibni Sultan Muhammad II, died in 1888 ) was the father of Tengku Bongsu ( * read : " Lost and Found : Rumah Tengku Bongsu " ), my great grandmother on my father's side - which makes Sultan Muhammad III ( according to W.A. Graham's account, he was also known as Ahmat Bendahara or Sultan Ahmat ), my great granduncle.

RELATED : Something To Ponder …


    'Amir bin Said dari bapanya berkata bahawa : "Satu hari Rasulullah S.A.W telah
    datang dari daerah berbukit. Apabila Rasulullah S.A.W sampai di masjid Bani
    Mu'awiyah lalu beliau masuk ke dalam masjid dan menunaikan solat dua rakaat.
    Maka kami pun turut solat bersama dengan Rasulullah S.A.W.

    Kemudian Rasulullah S.A.W berdoa dengan doa yang agak panjang kepada
    Allah S.W.T :

    Setelah selesai beliau berdoa maka Rasulullah S.A.W pun berpaling kepada kami
    lalu bersabda yang bermaksud :

    "Aku telah bermohon kepada Allah S.W.T tiga perkara, dalam tiga perkara itu cuma
    dia memperkenankan dua perkara sahaja dan satu lagi ditolak.

    1. Aku telah bermohon kepada Allah S.W.T supaya ia tidak membinasakan umatku
    dengan musim susah yang berpanjangan. Permohonanku ini diperkenankan oleh
    Allah S.W.T.

    2. Aku telah bermohon kepada Allah S.W.T supaya umatku ini jangan dibinasakan
    dengan bencana tenggelam (seperti banjir besar yang telah melanda umat Nabi Nuh
    a.s. ). Permohonanku ini telah diperkenankan oleh Allah S.W.T.

    3. Aku telah bermohon kepada Allah S.W.T supaya umatku tidak dibinasakan
    kerana pergaduhan sesama mereka (peperangan, pergaduhan antara sesama Islam).
    Tetapi permohonanku telah tidak diperkenankan (telah ditolak).

    Dipetik dari :

RELATED :Henry Norman and Kelantan

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