History of Kelantan

Monograph 21
History of Kelantan
By Shahril Talib
243pp. Size: 140x220mm. Softcover

Shaharil Talib's meticulous documentation of the changes affecting Kelantan between 1890 and 1940, along with the transition from Siamese to British protection bears all the distinct marks of a budding historian. The monograph has its origins in a Master of Arts thesis submitted to the University of Malaya in the 1970s but has since been thoroughly revised for purposes of publication while maintaining the same basic structure of the original draft. Readers unfamiliar with the political history of Kelantan in the 19th century need not fear of losing their way in the dense maze of events and individuals - British administrators and Kelantan palace officials feature prominently in the narrative - which are introduced throughout the book. The author, already betraying the unmistakable mark of a popular historian, guides his reader gently by introducing them briefly to the geography, socio-economic situation and political structure of the indigenous government in the first two chapters to allow readers to familiarise themselves with the historical terrain. Henceforth, the author launches directly into crises and events that precipitated British intervention in Kelantan which culminated in the introduction of the first British Adviser, W.A. Graham, in 1903. Readers are treated to a lively account while the author attempts a methodical dissection of internal affairs of the Kelantan state, from the palace intrigues to the desperate appeals from the Sultan for British protection, with the spectre of a Siamese invasion similar to political events that led to the emasculation of the ancient neighbouring Malay kingdom of Pattani, looming ominously over the horizon.

Shaharil Talib does not overlook the sinister side to colonial intervention globally: that it was nothing less than a naked race to gain the resources of the native states and to further the economic imperatives of colonial powers. The part - instrumental though controversial - played by the Duff Development Company which were granted concessions to exploit the natural resources of the state reveals striking parallels to present-day patron-client politics introduced by the New Economic Policy after 1970. A balanced view is taken by the author who lists also the more positive aspects following British intervention in the largely rural state, namely the marked improvement in public and communication infrastructure that was instrumental to ending Kelantan's relative isolation with the rest of the Malay Peninsula. Two areas in which the author argues that the influence of British protection had the most impact in Kelantan, land and education policies, are discussed at great length, setting out the facts in the way which allows the reader to judge the historical events for themselves.

The book is illustrated richly with photographs of key figures of the Kelantan royalty in that period. Of particular value are several appendixes thoughtfully included by the author in the form of various memorandums by, among others, Sir Frank Swettenham and Sir Hugh Clifford, which record the assessments and impressions prevailing among the British establishment of that period. These few documents will help paint a stark picture of how colonial governments sought to enhance their influence and implicitly reveals their considerations and motivations in doing so. The History of Kelantan, may have the appearance of a modest and unassuming book, but its thoroughness in documenting this pivotal period in the modern history of Kelantan is unsurpassed and does credit to one of Malaysia's eminent historians.

'History of Kelantan 1890-1940 is primarily concerned with the political and administrative development of modern Kelantan under the influence, first, Siam and then Britain. In Malaysian politics, post-independence Kelantan has attracted considerable attention because it does not fall in line with voting trends in other parts of the country. It is, therefore, important that Kelantan's past should be better understood in order to comprehend the current situation. It is hoped that this monograph will also serve as a foundation for more serious inquiry into various aspects of Kelantan society.'

Professor Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim

About the Author:

Dato' Dr Shaharil Talib is one of Malaysia's leading historians. After completing his PhD in History at Monash University, he embarked on a long professional career at the University of Malaya which culminated in his appointment as Professor and Head of Department for Southeast Asian Studies. He was subsequently appointed as Executive Director of the university's Asia-Europe Institute during which he oversaw the development of innovative postgraduate courses in social sciences of international calibre. In 2005, Dato' Shaharil was appointed to head the Special Research Unit, then a newly-established outfit at the Attorney-General's Chambers. He has published in a broad range of subject areas, most notably in studies of Kelantan, the royal families of Southeast Asia and contemporary Southeast Asian historiography. His magnum opus After Its Own Image: The Trengganu Experience 1881-1941 remains a masterly and unrivalled study of a Muslim feudal kingdom in the east coast of the Malay Peninsula caught up in the throes of modernity in the late 19th and early years of the 20th centuries. This formidable scholar was a Visiting Fulbright Researcher at Cornell University in 1983 and was also a Fellow at Kyoto University's world-renowned Centre for Southeast Asian Studies in 1990.


  1. Introduction
  2. Indigenous Government
  3. Crisis and Settlement in Government, 1890-1902
  4. The Beginnings of the Advisory Systems, 1903-1909
  5. The Consolidation and Extension of British Administration 1909-1939
  6. The Impact of Colonial Rule on Kelantan Society 1909-1939
Illustrations (between Chapter V and VI)
Royal Genealogical Table
14 Plates
Appendices A-L

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