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KELATÉ 1837 : Abdullah, Kelantan and the First World War ....


KELATÉ 1837 :

Abdullah, Kelantan and the First World War !


Today, the 28th of June 2010 ...

... marked the 96th year since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

in the hand of Gavrilo Princip on the street of 1914 Sarajevo.

An incident which eventually spiralled into a massive, all out war in Europe,

a great human tragedy that went down in History as the First World War ...

Dedicating the current entry to the War, the Kelantanese ... and Abdullah Munshi !


When Abdullah Munshi first stepped foot in Kelantan in 1837, he saw a state drenched in political turmoil ...

The local princes were at war between themselves, an internal power struggle following the death of their father, the Sultan, who passed away without naming any successor to the throne.

For Abdullah, it was a no surprise as he had been made aware of the matter prior to the trip. In fact, Abdullah was purposely sent to Kelantan to help negotiate the release of four Sampan Pukat ( merchant vessel ) belonging to some Singaporean merchants, detained by one of the warring royals. It was a failed mission though, as emphasized by Abdullah himself in his travelogue, but that would be another story than what I am going to share next ....

So it happened that at one time, while Abdullah was still in Kelantan for the task, a nobleman, introducing himself as Panglima Basar ( " Basar " as in Abdullah's own spelling = Besar ), came before Abdullah and asked the Munshi for the exact recipe in making the excellent gunpowder. It was for his master's campaign, said the man, who was serving under the Raja Bendahara, one of the war partisan.

Abdullah in response claimed that he has no idea, trying to dodge away any further request by explaining to the man that the book that holds all the information, had been kept away back at his home town in Melaka.

Instead of suggesting options, Abdullah criticized the conflict, saying that such is nothing more than a child’s play, contributing none but unnecessary hardships and sufferings to the innocent, non-partisan population.

He even went further by commenting on the Kelantanese battle tactic, ridiculing the warring factions for entrenching themselves, fighting from the safety of their own hideouts with sporadic and random artillery bombardments and musket fire, rather than going face to face in what he believed should be a straightforward, decisive battle.

Interestingly, in the same exchange of words, Abdullah, even went on by exclaiming to the Terengganu born Panglima Besar,


    " Jikalau orang putih, tuan tahu, dalam sa'hari bulih jalas ini pu-kurja-an "

    * Translated :

    If this war is waged by white men, you know sir, they would have it swiftly settled in
    just a single day !

... which he quickly argued :


    " Ada-kah orang bur-prang bulih takut mati ? dan mung-gali lubang, masing masing
    duduk dalam tanah ? maka dalam sa'hari di-tembak ampat lima puchuk, dan diam
    sa'blah munyablah duduk makan minum, kumdian mun-embak pula ? Jikalau bagitu,
    sampei sa'puloh tahun-pun balum lagi bur-alah manang ....

    * Translate :

    Why must a fighting man be afraid of dying ? Digging holes to hide themselves in ?
    Firing just 4 ~ 5 shots, and then another same amount of shots for the rest of the day,
    stopping in between for some drinks and meal ? If this persist, even if ten years gone
    by, I doubt you can tell who’s winning or losing !

... as can be read from the following excerpt, derived from Abdullah's own travelogue ' Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah bin AbdulKadir Munshi Dari Singapura ke Kelantan ' (Singapore, 1838) page 104 & 106 :

I often grin whenever I come to that particular part ....

Yes, Abdullah was undeniably an admirer of anything European.

Reading through his works, one would immediately realise and see how Abdullah really loves to praise and make examples out of the “ orang putih ” well over his own kind. He seems to be much mesmerized by the Westerners' many achievements and indeed, to be fair to Abdullah, he did have some really good reasons to be so …

However, in this case, unfortunately for Abdullah, he did not live up to the First World War, or else he probably had to reconsider what he wrote and commented on the Kelantanese battle tactics ...

He he he he ~ and why ?

Because, ironically, the very " orang putih " whom Abdullah praised so much for being brave enough to come face to face in battle, eventually realised that the " gentleman's duel " they engaged in for so long in their many fightings, proved to be not a smart choice after all. The reality of war is so grim that it is not about the bravest but the most cunning. War is something much to do with trickery, deceit and the strong will to survive as only the survivor can call it a day. In the heat of war, every man is for himself and it is either killed or be killed, well .. depending on which comes first and for that, digging a hole to hide in and to go for the surprise kill when seeing the chance, is not a bad idea after all ....


    Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the
    Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military
    control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was
    dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne.

    Both sides then dug in along a meandering line of fortified trenches,
    stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier with France. This line
    remained essentially unchanged for most of the war.

    Source : Wikipedia

Simply put, in the First World War, it finally came to the mind of the “ bright ” Europeans to do exactly like the Kelantanese had done back in the 1830s Kelantan !

The same tactic ridiculed by Abdullah, now adopted by the people whom Abdullah praised so much for not doing so. An ironic twist I would say. While I don't think that the Europeans took direct lesson from the Kelantanese in this case, I strongly believe that it actually got nothing to do with " racial preferences " but rather driven by every man’s natural instinct to fight and survive at the same time, and that Abdullah should instinctively know about this himself when he criticized his Kelantanese host … hehehe ~

But Abdullah was right when he believed that a war, waged in such fashion, will only drag itself through an uncertain length of time, into an unknown end, as proven by the European themselves in the First World War. It took about four years for the conflict to cool down, from 1914 to 1918, killing millions in the process.

He he he .. so much for the,

Jikalau orang putih, tuan tahu, dalam sa'hari bulih jalas ini pu-kurja-an ” !

I believe, if Abdullah had lived through the conflict, he might have thought through it all over again, later wrote something related to it for his Western audience and had the following boldly stated :

" Orang Kelantan, tuan tahu, sudah lama berpurang sa-rupa ini ",

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ~

* For the note, Abdullah died in 1854 in Jeddah ( in present day Saudi Arabia ) at the
age of 58 years old .. and of course, considering our own average life expectancy and
the much shorter life expectancy of people in those days, it would be normally
impossible for Abdullah to live up to the First World War even in the best of conditions .....

( We all need to be at least, a Galapagos tortoise to live that long ... he he .. )

Apa apa pun, Al-Fatihah untuk Abdullah Munshi ...

* Trench warfare of the First World War ....

Quoting Abdullah,

" Ada-kah orang bur-prang bulih takut mati ? dan mung-gali lubang, masing masing duduk dalam tanah ? "

" Jikalau orang putih, tuan tahu, dalam sa'hari bulih jalas ini pu-kurja-an "

( Image courtesy, pictureshistory's blog )


Still something to do with the above ...

Other than commenting on the Kelantanese trench warfare, Abdullah also made another equally interesting remark on " unconventional " warfare.

In the same meeting, Abdullah was then asked by Panglima Besar, on the best way to neutralize the opponent's Balei Madat ( watch / turret tower ) without risking the lives on his own men.

Amazingly, despite his " anti-war stance " in his earlier response, Abdullah gave what seems to be his best, most helpful advice to Panglima Besar's war effort. He shared his experience witnessing the British Resident of Malacca, Major General William Farquhar (1808~1818), demolishing with ease the Dutch fortifications of Kota Melaka through the use of well planted barrels of gunpowder, right underneath the structures.

Relating to the experience, Abdullah explained that the problem could be easily taken care of by tunnelling from Raja Bendahara's side, all the way to the other side. Then, a massive load of gunpowder is to be silently and neatly placed beneath the desired target, before setting it off from a distance, from the safety of Raja Bendahara's enclave.

The following excerpt, taken from the same travelogue, page 108, tells the details :

I specially love the part when Abdullah said,


    " Sutalah sudah, maka kira kira marika itu sakalian wuktu makan atau bur-kampung,
    maka chuchuh-kan api di-sumbu itu, maka dalam satu saat itu naschaya samoa-nya
    habis turbang ka-langit ...

    * Translated :

    Upon doing that, when the time comes for them to eat together or assemble, light
    the fuse and in a second, believe me, you will be seeing all of them high up in the sky …

However, there's no indication from Abdullah in the travelogue or anywhere else, that his idea had been put to use by Panglima Besar.

But one thing we all could be sure of is, some 80 years later, the very suggestion put forward by Abdullah to Panglima Besar, was put to work by the British and French coalition troops, who at the time, were pitted in the stalemate of trench warfare against the mighty Kaiser's army, in the European theatre of the First World War.

The desperate British and French, tunnelled right under the German trench and placed bags of high explosive right beneath it. Not one but at around 20 different, well calculated places.

All was detonated at the same time with tremendously deadly result. In a flash, over 10,000 Germans were killed, in what historians refer to as the largest planned explosion ever in history, exceeded only by the American atomic test in the desert of New Mexico in 1945.

The event was known as the Battle of Messines, which took place in Mesen (Messines) in West Flanders, Belgium in 1917, the details of which are quoted in the following :


    The Battle of Messines was a battle of the western front of the First World War.
    It began on 7 June 1917 when the British Second Army under the command of
    General Herbert Plumer launched an offensive near the village of Mesen (Messines)
    in West Flanders, Belgium. The target of the offensive was a ridge running north from
    Messines village past Wytschaete village which created a natural stronghold southeast
    of Ypres.

    One of the key features of the battle was the detonation of 19 mines
    immediately prior to the infantry assault, a tactic which disrupted German
    defences and allowed the advancing troops to secure their objectives in rapid
    fashion. The attack was also a prelude to the much larger Third Battle of Ypres,
    known as Passchendaele, which began on 11 July 1917.

    Read more @

He he he .. though I much doubt that the idea is initially Abdullah's ...

.... well, what can I say ?

Thumbs up, Cikgu Abdullah !!


Some shots of British or colonial influenced constructions from around the First World War, and still standing, in Kota Bharu :

* An early 1930s postcard featuring the Padang Bank ( now, Padang Merdeka ) of Kota Bharu.

Also seen from this shot is the " Tiang Tanda Peringatan " or memorial cenotaph, purposely built by the British
to remember the British officers who were killed during World War I, who were previously in service with the Kelantan Government.

Seen at one end, is one of Kota Bharu famous historical landmark – the Istana Jahar.

( Image taken from Northernmalaya blog )

* Present day " Tiang Tanda Peringatan " ....

.. still standing in the ground of Padang Bank / Padang Merdeka, seen here with Kota Sultan Ismail Petra Arch
and The Inland Revenue Board ( Lembaga Hasil Dalam Negeri @ LHDN ) building in the background.

I noticed that a small plaque, that supposed to be just beneath the plaque, the one facing the camera
is missing. The plaque, that were placed to remember the Kelantan Second World War dead, should appear like this in this 2005 shot ...

I wonder where had it been ? Scrap theft ? Memorabilia hunter ?? God forbids !

* What it is really all about ....

The monument has each of its four surfaces, metal ( brass ? ) plaques with inscriptions in Malay (Jawi), English,
Chinese and Tamil ( Hindi ? ), all with the same dedication, like mentioned in this one, in Jawi :

    " Peringatan bagi mereka yang telah pergi
    dari Kelantan dan menyerahkan jiwanya
    di dalam Peperangan Yang Besar 1914 ~ 1918 ....

    E. A. Cleaver
    L. P. Cowan
    N. Gardner
    T.C. Hutchings
    J. F. Lambert
    A. C. Lowe
    J. M. Mansell-Pleydell
    J. H. Marks
    V. Nicholson
    G. R. F. Sayle
    J. Stuart-French
    V. S. Thorlund
    R. A. Toller

    dan jua

    C. A. H. Keenlyside
    H. E. Pennington

    yang dahulunya bekerja di dalam jawatan Kerajaan Kelantan "

Beneath it, another plaque, attached much later probably in the end of 1940s, following the Second World War
to commemorate those in and from Kelantan who died in the war, that reads :

    Dan kepada mereka-mereka yang meninggal daripada Kelantan tahun 1939 hingga tahun 1945

* The smallest piece that tells a lot ….

A small plaque, attached to the base of the monument, as to point to the foundation piece or the " Batu Asas "
that was laid down by the then Sultan of Kelantan, Sultan Muhammad IV ( 1900 ~ 1920 ).

It reads :

    " Batu asas bagi Tiang Tanda Peringatan

    ini telah diletakkan oleh Duli Yang Maha Mulia

    Al-Sultan Muhammad Ke-4 K.C.M.G.

    Yang Dipertuan Negeri Kelantan pada

    19 haribulan Julai 1919

* K.C.M.G = Knight Commander of St Michael & St George ( United Kingdom, 1818 )

* The Sultan died in the following year, in 1920 ..

* The rare First World War Era façade of Kota Bharu ..

What appears to be the last remaining, British colonial influenced shophouses from the First World War era.

This row of old Chinese shophouses, now renovated for bird-nest farming, were first built around 1913,
according to the year moulded onto one of the shops front.

Some still maintaining the exact shape and look of the era, like the one seen here, at the corner.

* The World War II Memorial of Kota Bharu ...

... or better known among the locals as simply, " Bank Kerapu ".

( " Kerapu " [ ker-gha-poo ] local term for " coarse, grainy, uneven surface " referring to the wall finishing )

Built in the year 1911 and was first used as a bank - " The Mercantile Bank of India Limited " in the following year.

This building is probably among the first British colonial construction built in Kelantan, that still survive as it was to this day.

For the note, the British got actively involved in Kelantan's political scene after the Bangkok Agreement of 1909.


WIKIPEDIA : The Trench Warfare

PICTURE HISTORY's Blog : The First World War Trench Warfare

TOK JANGGUT : Antara Cukai, Feudalisme dan Nasib Dunia Islam

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