King’s Letters And Letters Of Law: Social And Economic Realities In Kedah, 1882-1940
This study aims to examine the socio-economic of the Malays in Kedah based on the collection of the King’s Letters, famously known as Surat Raja-Raja (SRR) and Letters of Law, famously known as Surat Undang-Undang (SUU). The collections of correspondence are the written record of the administration of the Kedah state during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah, the 26th
Keywords: Subordinatesocial realitieseconomic realitieslivinggovernment policy
King’s Letters (
Various interpretations were made about the life of the Malays in Malaya by scholars. The difference in interpretations were resulted by the used of different resources. Discussions pertaining to the Malays life based on local sources are rarely done. In this regard, this study uses SRR and SUU as a main resource to discuss the reality of social and economic life of the Malays in Kedah. During the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah, there was a change in the state administration due to the transfer of power from Siam to British administration. Various regulations and laws had been enforced to strengthen the Kedah's economic development. Since then, Kedah’s socioeconomic was rapidly developed, however, the livelihoods of the Malays are still lagging behind, and it seems like that the Malays were rarely involved in the socioeconomic development and modernization. In fact, most of the masses were still plagued with poverty and were often trapped with several social issues.
The original collection of
From the record of Perlis/Kedah State Archives of Malaysia, the first phase of transferring a part of the collection to the archives had begun with the Sultan Abdul Hamid correspondence (
Three SRR volumes were successfully transcribed and recorded. The SRR collection is registered in different names and years (Saari, 2015). SRR Book No. 1 is called 'Letter of the Kings of TH. 1306 TH. 1888 ', book no. 2 titled 'Copy of Letters to TH's Rulers. 1312 TM. 1895' and book no. 3 entitled 'Copy of Letters of Rulers TH. 1317-1329 (TM 1899-1911).' Studies shown that SRR contains not only the letters but also some memos (Kerajaan Kedah, 1895), list of lease results, expenditure statements, property censuses and census of property offenders in the mining area along with other letters (Kerajaan Kedah, 1888).
On the other hand, the SUU Collection comprised most of the Kedah people’s appeal letters. It also comprised letters from Penang merchants and quitters. In regard of the laws, the SUU also reveals that many decisions were issued by main courts, small courts and
The correspondence and contents of SRR and SUU clearly show "who the author and to whom the letter is about". For SRR collections, most writers are sultanates, relatives, rulers of the ruling elites in certain constituencies or
SRR also includes scraps, diaries, district budget statements, regulations and legislation. The SRR correspondence function may be slightly different from the SUU collection. Most of the contents of this collection are more directed to feedback letters or notices about a court decision being decided by the court or otherwise. This collection also contains notices, regulations and laws submitted to local authorities, district heads, job leaders or ordinary people. All contents in SRR and SUU are primary resources that can explain the reality of life of the Malay community in Kedah. Having viewed from the writing aspect of SRR and SUU, the characteristics of the writing are more into the letter. It reflects the culture of the authors and the recipients. The style of language and the writing between the sultan and the nobility of the state and his relatives, the district chiefs with the head of occupation, British officials or Siamese had a very little different. Every information was recorded in formal and orderly manner. From the records, it can be identified the social stratification between the sender and the recipient of the letter through the words of praise or individual title. For example, “
Most of literatures on the life of the Malays are based on the colonial reports. Thus, this study aims to look at the reality of the Malays’ lives in Kedah based on the perspectives of the local people through the SRR and SUU collections.
To what extent the SRR and SUU as local sources able to give a true picture of the social and economic reality of the Malays in Kedah from 1882 to 1940?
What are the effects towards the Malays in Kedah during the turmoil situation in Kedah?
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to provide new insights on the Malays in Kedah especially in social and economic aspects. This study may serve as a basis for the production of history writing using the local sources in order to provide a comprehensive perspective that may not available in official reports issued by the colonial.
This study applied a qualitative research method in which researchers extract and analyse the documents or sources from archives. This library study also used secondary sources from books, articles, journals, papers, theses, dissertations and other reliable sources.
During the era of Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah's reign, the Malays are actively involved with agricultural activities, especially in rice cultivation. Among of the important developments in the economic system in Kedah was the agricultural land. This activity had spurred Kedah’s economic, especially by the immigrants who were involved in rice farming activities. The migration did not only change the patterns of population and economic growth in Kedah but also affects the lives of the Malay people (Mahmud, 1966). Despite the positive development in the agricultural economy in Kedah, the Malays were continued to live in poverty. It is difficult to find any evidence through the SRR and SUU that shows the Malays are actively involved in the commercial economy.
The traditional Malays of Kedah are involved in planting and fishing. The basis of their economic development is self-sufficiency farming. The Malays rely on rice crops and the majority are farmers living in villages near the river or river delta. By the 19th century, paddy cultivation system in Kedah was influenced by Siam's technological system resulting in increasing Kedah’s paddy production. Nevertheless, not every year that the cultivation of paddy could produces a good income to the farmers. Sometimes, there were times where the paddy was affected by the diseases and insects, drought and damaged due to the natural phenomena (Hoo, 2003; Haji Omar, 1981). As a result, the income earned could not cope with everyday life needs. This situation caused Malay farmers to be trapped to debt problems, land problems and crimes.
The development of commercial economics since the 19th century that took place in Kedah did not favour the Malay farmers but instead benefited the upper classes, Chinese investors and immigrants. The information contained in the SUU shows that Chinese investors had the power to control the economic resources in Kedah. For example, a notice dated 26
In addition to farming activities based on rice cultivation, the information in SRR and SUU stated that Kedah's revenue comes from cassava, rubber, animal husbandry and forestry. The Malay elites are actively involved in providing leases to Chinese investors. The land acquired by the Chinese investors or the leaseholder, was cultivated with a massive commercial crop. On contrary, the Malay peasants are hardly engaged in commercial agricultural activities due to their lack of capital and the fact that commercial sources were dominated by the Chinese investors and Malay nobles.
The use of land among the Malay community before Siam and British administration was very simple. The use of land at that time was merely to meet the fulfilment of their necessities. Because of this, the Malay community did not establish a special and institutionalized land ownership system. However, in Kedah, there was a customary land law to facilitate the use of land. All lands, in general, were owned by the
The problems related to the replacement, sale or land mortgages activities in Kedah involved the Malay farmers. Money lenders among the Chinese and Indian are very common to lend money or to obtain farmer lands through auctions. The SRR and SUU discovered that the Malays always lost their land, especially the land of inheritance due to fraud tricks among themselves. For example, the SUU stated, there was a complaint from a woman named Mek Leha who complained about a man named Mat Hassan who had stolen her land ownership title. Although the Court of Appeal did not disclose the case, but the judge named Syed Hassan was given the power by the Supreme Court to make a decision (Kerajaan Kedah, 1909). The SRR reported that many Malay land for sale, auctioned, cheated, taken violently and lost land due to failure to obtain land ownership titles (Kerajaan Kedah, 1895). The Malays are certainly dependent on the land, although its size is small. Losing land means losing their life's guarantee for the future.
Besides the land, the forced labour system (
Based on SRR, there were many correspondence showing the Malay peasants involved with various forced labour activities. Among others, they were instructed to build a
Through SRR and SUU, credit practices in Kedah involve the government and the people. This debt issue became a serious issue that led to the pledge of land and property. Referring to the SRR, there are many correspondence recorded about debts in Kedah. For example, SRR No. 2 recorded a clerk named Sulaiman who owes a
In addition, Sultan Abdul Hamid himself had supported the application of a Chinese named Poh Ah Leong to give debt to the farmers. This action led the Malays especially those engaged in agricultural activities to be burdened with debt and living in poverty (Abd Aziz, 2011). The reality is that, the forced labour system causes the Malays to live in distress and poverty. Eventually, it became easier for them to be trapped in debt problems, crimes and social problems.
Typically, if the farmers who are in debt did not get income from their agricultural activities, then debt payments cannot be settled. Difficult and poor lives leave farmers with no other option to pay the debts. They were forced to mortgage their land, including the land of inheritance. In addition, with the existence of new regulations and laws, the situation becomes more difficult for the farmers living in the villages. The difficulties in life caused the Malays to engage with the crime and social problems.
The SRR and SUU shows that the people of Kedah are involved with criminal and social problems such as robbery, murder, stealing, kidnapping, gambling and others. This crime issue is not just the case in Kedah, but it also happened across the border. The crime occurred not only involving the people of Kedah but also involving the people of Penang, Perak and several provinces in southern Siam (Saari, 2015). The SRR and SUU stated that several criminal investigations were filed through the State Council to eradicate the crimes in Kedah.
By reading the SUU, researchers discovered records related to the law that sets out guarantees of the guilt and the others. This law was approved by the State Legislative Assembly in 1906 (Kerajaan Kedah, 1909). Crimes of stolen cattle such as cow and buffalo were the most cases reported in SRR and SUU. This activity really concerns the government because of life-threatening conditions and involves people’s properties.
The SRR and SUU contain a lot of important informations about the administration and community issues in Kedah, especially around the late 19th century until the early of 20th century. The contents cover various categories as well as highlighted the history of Kedah especially the Malays. In fact, through SRR and SUU, Malays in Kedah could be described as a society that has undergone a challenging transition period from traditional to modern times. Thus, the contents of SRR and SUU as a historical source need to be analysed and interpreted. Historical facts through the collection of correspondence came from the sultan, the chiefs and the Kedah officials. The authenticity of SRR and SUU content indeed provide authentic information on the Malays’ social and economic realities in Kedah.
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