Rabu, 26 November 2014

HISTORY KEDAH.



 


     It has been a wish of mine for several years already to write on that important person of Kedah history, His Highness Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah Ibni Al- Marhum Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin Mukarram Shah, the 26th ruler of Kedah Darul-Aman. However, work and the demands of family have spared me with little time to collate the little information that I have about him. As such it was a pleasant opportunity when the Firm that I work with decides to let everybody off on August 30th. Being a Monday and a day before the 47th Independence Day, that means I have 4 days off from work. And if I can plan my time such that I give ample focus on my second son who is taking his PMR examination in October and quickly attend to some family backlogs, I might just squeeze enough time for this web page.
               My interest in the Sultan has nothing to do with Kedah history. I am not an Historian and my knowledge of Malaysian and Kedah history is at best rudimentary. I am drawn more by his charisma and the many wonderful tales that are bandied from mouth to mouth about him being a Wali (or saint). A visitor to Alor Star may find many an Indian barber shop or a Chinese grocery adorning the wall with a potrait of the Sultan in full regalia. It is supposed to confer good luck. It is my main intention in this write-up to focus on the private life of the Sultan and in particular that part which will shed some light on his spiritual proclivities. However, information on this is very scant and I would have to resort to some conjectures.
              While I would like to steer away from history, a little of it is quite inevitable since the Sultan's long reign of 61 years was a defining point  - that of the transfer of suzerainty froommm Siam to the British and the gradual shift from a Monarchy system to one of Constitutional Monarch. It will aso provide a nice back drop to what I intend to do.
1882-1909
              The story of the Sultan takes us back to the closing years of the 19th century. Kedah was already a vassal state of Siam and the British had a foothold on Penang and parts of the adjacent mainland. As such, when the young (he was 19) Sultan took over the reign at the death of his brother Zainul Rashid in 1882, he was in the unenviable position of having to deal with two foreign powers, each with designs of it's own.
The ascension was confirmed by King Chulalongkorn, as Overlord on January 21st, 1882. The Sultan enjoyed very cordial relationship with the King and one is tempted to believe that there was a deeper personal friendship between the two. Be that as it may, one is quickly reminded of the harsh reality of international politics - something the Sultan would soon discover.
               In 1895 the King decorated the Sultan with the Order of the White Elephant First Class and bestowed the title Chao Phya Saiburi and later the additional title of Phya Riddisongkran Bhakti. He also sent two of the Sultan's sons to Europe for education. Tunku Yusuf in fact served the King upon return and Tunku Badlishah made a brief stay in Siam after graduating in economics in Oxford. 
                Good relations were maintained between the two states with Kedah sending the "Bunga Emas dan Perak" triennially to the Siamese Court in Bangkok as a token of Siam's suzerainty. Till his death in 1910, King Chulalongkorn extended great affection and held the Sultan in high esteem.
               On record the Sultan made four visits to Siam - in 1890, 1892, 1895 and 1903. King Chulalongkorn, on the other hand, visited Kedah in 1874, 1890, 1896 and 1904. 
                According to the collection of letters of the Sultan, King Chulalongkorn made one visit to Kedah in 1890. 
" On Friday, 9th of March, 1890 at about 9 pm, the Sultan left the Istana Kota Setar for Pulau Langkawi . On Saturday, the 10th of March at 10 am the Siamese King arrived at Kuah. At 1 pm the Sultan, the Siamese King's Representative in Kedah, Tunku Bahadur, Tunku Mahmud and Wan Muhammad Saman (the Prime Minister) met the Siamese King on his boat. In the afternoon, the Siamese King and consort travelled to Dondong (Kuah) on a buffalo cart to hunt. The King managed to capture seven mousedeers. On Sunday, the 11th of March at 10 am, the Siamese King proceeded to Burau and Telaga Tujuh, returning at 9 pm. On Monday, the 12th of March, in the evening the Sultan left Langkawi for Kedah in a  ship and reached Kota Setar at 7 am the following day. On the same day the King of Siam reached the Istana Anak Bukit and was welcomed with a 21 gun salute and the raising of the Siamese flag. When the King later proceeded to Kota Setar, he was welcomed with the Nobat...."
               The Diary also mentioned the visit of the King to Istana Kota Setar and to the Royal Mausoleum at Langgar using a horse drawn carriage. The King offered to restore the tomb of Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin Mukarram Shah. From Kedah, the King proceeded to Penang and other Malay Kingdoms on the west and east cost including Pattani and Singgora.
                From his ascension to the throne in 1882 till 1905, the Sultan was pretty well left alone and Siam did not interfere in the internal administration of the State. However in 1905 the State underwent a financial crisis and was forced to ask Siam for a $2,500,000 loan. The loan was extended with the proviso that a Financial Advisor from the court of Siam be accepted and a State Council be created to assist the Sultan in the administration of all public affairs. This resulted in the promulgation of a new constitution on July 29th, 1905. In the ensuing years the administration of the state was effectively ran by the State Council which was headed first by the Sultan's younger brother, the Regent Tunku Abdul Aziz (1905-1907), and then by another brother, Tunku Mahmud (1907-1914),  and followed by his sons Tunku Ibrahim (1914-1934) and Tunku Badlishah (1937-1943). The formation of the State Council meant the curbing of the Sultan's power. 
                   In 1909, in a strategic move to safeguard Siam's independence of foreign super powers (Britain and France), King Chulalongkorn signed the Anglo- Siam Treaty which transferred Siam's right of suzerainty over the four northern Malay states- Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu- to Britain. This was done  without a hint of consent of the Malay rulers and must have hurt the Sultan deeply when he lamented that " I can forgive the Buyer but I cannot forgive the Seller".











THE PRIVATE MAN
                A rare glimpse into the Sultan's personal life was recounted by Datuk James F. Augustine in his book "Bygone Kedah" :
               Although he was a recluse in the evening of his life, Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah (1882-1943) knew what was going on and never lost an iota of his dignity.
              He was first and foremost a man of prayer. Anyone who happened to pass by the Istana Kampung Bahru of a morning would see him stroll in the vicinity of the Istana or ride in his ricsha which was drawn by a Malay attendant. He sometimes walked ahead of the ricsha with the puller and the vehicle behind him. All the while he fingered his prayer beads ("tasbeh") in prayer.
               His Private Secretary for many years, the late Encik Mohammed Zain Ariffin, an oxenian, at times spoke of how the Sultan dressed for dinner. It was prepared by a Chinese cook named Ah Phum. The Sultan ate sparingly and in solitary state. At billiards he excelled and played almost daily in his private billiard room.
                Except when he went to the mosque for Friday prayers or for a drive in his Victoria which in course of time gave way to his canary coloured Rolls Royce, he seldom appeared in public.
               On Hari Raya it was customary for members of the ruling house and Senior Government Officers to pay their respects to him at the Istana Kampung Bahru. Visitors were ushered up to the drawing room upstairs where they sat in rows facing the chair prepared for the Sultan. Cigars were handed out and perfume sprinkled on handkerchiefs while the assembly waited for the Sultan.
               When he entered the room everybody stood up and bowed. Hardly a word were spoken on such occasions. After a short time the Sultan would rise and retire. In the evening of his birthday a garden party was usually held in the grounds of the Istana. The Sultan would grace the function with his presence and stroll about with yellow umbrella held over him.
                 This insignia of royalty gave rise to an incident when the Kedah Gymkhana Club held its first meet in Alor Star. Sultan Iskandar of Perak was strolling on the lawn with his royal umbrella borne over him when Sultan Abdul Hamid unexpectedly appeared. He had come down from the royal box to walk about and his umbrella-bearer held his umbrella over him. Sultan Iskandar promptly ordered his umbrella-bearer to fold up his umbrella. It was a striking example of courtesy and protocol.





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