I must admit of being astounded by the claim by Professor Datuk Dr Zainal Kling that Tanah Melayu had never been colonised by the British, save for the period when Malayan Union was introduced. For the record, this is his claim:
The good Professor rested his claim as such on the fact that the Pangkor Treaty of 1874 between Raja Abdullah and the British Governor in Singapore did not mention that Perak was to be colonised but was only to be “protected” as a “protectorate” of the British. The Professor went on to say that the only states which were colonised by the British in Tanah Melayu were Singapore, Penang and Melaka.
The good Professor may be correct in so far as historical terminologies go. But history is not about terminologies and semantics. True history is about facts and reality. Of course, facts may be looked at from different views, angles and perspective resulting in different interpretations and conclusions. Realities may also be subjected to the same treatment giving rise to the term of “administered reality”.
With all due respect to the good Professor, the British entry into Tanah Melayu and their subsequent entrenchment in Tanah Melayu’s administration leading to at least a de facto colonisation of the whole of the Tanah Melayu peninsula and her surrounding islets cannot be viewed solely from and within the effect of the Pangkor Treaty alone. That would tantamount to an attempt to define the whole cosmos just by looking at the moon alone and nothing else.
Let’s however begin with the Pangkor Treaty 1874 (as the Professor had relied his thesis on it).
For the record, prior to the Pangkor Treaty, the British, through the British East India Company, were already deeply entrenched in Tanah Melayu. It “colonised” Penang in 1786. Penang was later confirmed to be a possession of the British in 1800 by the then Sultan of Kedah. In 1819, Stamford Raffles took it upon himself to bring Singapore into the British fold.
Later in 1824, the British and the Dutch, presumably under the mandate of some godlike creatures residing somewhere within the mountains of Scotland, decided among themselves to divide the Malay Archipelago into two, thereby giving away Melaka to the British and Indonesia (Sumatera) to the Dutch.
In each of these three little states which the British saw fit to do as it please, they had a Governor who governed for the British. In 1867, these so called “settlements” became the “Crown Colonies” and came directly under the purview of the Colonial Office in London.
Meanwhile, in Perak, upon the death of Sultan Ali in 1871, a palace power struggle was brewing. The Raja Muda of Perak was Raja Abdullah. He should have gone on to take the thrones. As events would have it, the Raja Bendahara, Raja Ismail was pronounced as Sultan.
Perak was a rich tin producer at that time. The British were itchy to get their greedy hands on Perak. They were waiting for an opportunity. That opportunity presented itself when Raja Abdullah wrote to the Governor of Singapore, Sir Andrew Clarke, spelling out his desire to place Perak under British protection, and "to have a man of sufficient abilities to show (him) a good system of government."
The British surely did not need further motivation but to lend their generous helping hands to a Malay ruler in need of course. With that, the Governor very kindly entered into the Pangkor Treaty with Raja Abdullah on 20th January 1874. With that agreement in hand, Raja Abdullah was made Sultan of Perak (although Raja Ismail was earlier appointed Sultan by the Malay palace).
Raja Ismail (the then Sultan) of course did not attend the signing of the Pangkor Treaty as he did not recognise the agreement for obvious reason. But faced with the might of the very big and terribly friendly and generous British, Raja Ismail could not do anything other than seeing the throne being taken by Raja Abdullah. Sir W W Birch was appointed, pursuant to the agreement, Perak’s 1st British Resident.
(It was with considerable irony that Raja Abdullah – later Sultan Abdullah – was later thrown out to the Seychelles for conspiring to murder Birch).
Professor Datuk Dr Zainal was correct to say that the Pangkor Treaty did not say Perak was a colony of the British. But surely that does not mean that Perak was not colonised by the British.
So what if the British had said Perak was only a “protectorate”? Does it mean anything at all? What if the British had said that Perak was a “paradise where everybody could smoke opium till they laugh and laugh and laugh and they die”? Does that mean Perak was a “paradise where everybody could smoke opium till they laugh and laugh and laugh and they die”? Just because the British had said so?
The British, for whatever reason, chiefly because they had wanted to classify their dominions throughout the world for economics and social purposes (and also for qualification for British citizenship) had categorised its “conquests” into three classes, the colonies, the protectorates and the protected states. Semantically of course there are differences between the three. But factually, it does not take a rocket scientist, or a learned bunch of thick-spectacled history professors to know that there were not much of a difference between them.
A colony is of course a state which the British had “annexed” or “settled” in. This state was presumed to be a jungle or a barren state where civilisation did not exist. And the very civilised British had of course “discovered” that state, just like Stamford Raffles did Singapore or Francis Light did Penang.
A “protectorate” is a state which the civilised and friendly (and generous) British had not annexed or settled in. This is a state where the British came in at the request of the helpless ruler of that state. It is a state where the British came to help or came to administer not through force but through agreements or treatise. Yes. That is a protectorate.
A “protected” state on the other hand, is a state which is protected by the British, again at the request of the ruler of that state. However, according to the British, in a protected state, the British did not involve themselves with its governance.
Yes. That is the difference between the three classes of the British conquests. Who said so? Well, the British said so. So, if the British said so, it must be correct right? Well, the British also said that Maggie Thatcher had balls. Remember?
Relying on semantics – and these semantics were coined and used by none other than the British themselves – the good Professor said according to the Pangkor Treaty, Perak was not colonised.
Well, is it really? Let’s look at the terms of the so called treaty.
First of all, Raja Abdullah was proclaimed by the British as the Sultan of Perak in place of Raja Ismail, who was already proclaimed in accordance with the “adat dan istiadat Raja-raja Melayu Perak” as the Sultan. Now, may I ask, on what authority did the British make that appointment? On the fact that they are white men with guns and ammunitions far better than the collective keris and parangs owned by the Perakians? Now, if that is not annexation of Perak, tell me what it is.
Then, why don’t we (and the good Professor) loom at the salient terms of the so-called treaty.
- Raja Abdullah was acknowledged as the legitimate Sultan to replace Sultan Ismail who would be given a title and a pension of 1000 Mexican pesos a month.
- The Sultan would receive a British Resident whose advice had to be sought and adhered to in all matters except those pertaining to the religion and customs of the Malays.
- All collections and control of taxes as well as the administration of the state would be done in the name of the Sultan, but the Sultan was to govern according to the advice and consent of the Resident.
- The Minister of Larut would continue to be in control but would no longer be recognized as a liberated leader. Instead, a British officer, who would have vast authority in administering the district, would be appointed in Larut.
- The Sultan, and not the British government, would pay the salary of the Resident.
- Perak ceded Dinding and Pangkor Island to the United Kingdom.
Is this what a protectorate is all about? Does it not sound to all of us that Perak was as good as being annexed in a war with the British? Just consider the fact that the Sultan was to govern the state in accordance with the advice and consent of the British Resident. Perak was not colonised you say, Professor? Well, last night I saw pink cows flying over the crescent. Very nice.
Throughout the British presence in Tanah Melayu, we had three categories of states. The straits settlements, namely, Penang, Singapore and Melaka. Then we have Federated Malay States, ie, Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang. These states were all not “colonised”, according too the British. They were just protectorate. Yea, right.
Then we have the Unfederated Malay States, which were Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, Trengganu and Johor. They were also termed as protected states by the British. Again, that does not mean that they were not colonised by the British.
Under intense pressure by the British for example, Johor accepted a treaty of protection by the United Kingdom in 1885. With that Johor accepted a British “advisor.”
The way Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Trengganu came under the “protection” and became branded as Unfederated Malay States is an insult to every Malaysians. And for the British to insist that they had never – officially and technically, that is – been colonised by the British is an act of colonial arrogance.
How did Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Trengganu become protected states of the British? Well, just as in 1824 when the British gods decided to divide this part of the world with the Dutch, in 1909, the British did the same with Thailand in the Anglo-Siamese Treaty 1909. In this treaty, these two gods divided the northern Malay states into two.
Under this treaty, Pattani , Narathiwat, Songkhla, Satun and Yala remained under Thai control, while Thailand relinquished its claims to sovereignty over Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis and Terengganu which integrated into the British realm in Tanah Melayu as protectorates.
Now, who gave the authority and mandate to the British and Thais to willy nilly decide among themselves who to own what? The Pope? The British queen?
The mere act of unilaterally dividing these collection of Malay states which even predate Melaka among themselves is incontrovertible proof that these states were under the whims and fancies of these two people, ie, the Thais and the British.
All the terms coined and marketed about by the British were only what they are, namely, terms. Semantics. That is all. The effect is the same. They came into our country either through uninvited settlements or request by some people with vested interests. Under the pretext of lending their hands to assists us, they raped, plundered and stole our resources. They invited and brought people from foreign lands (I have to stress that I do not have anything against them) to work here. They then divided all of us and ruled us. Now, if that is not colonisation, I do not know what is.
The mere fact that they could come back to Malaya after the Japanese – who kicked them out earlier in about 5 days – surrendered and forced the Malay Rulers and everybody else to accept the Malayan Union (where they consolidated the Straits Settlements; the Federated Malay States and the Unfederated Malay States into one Federation – is proof enough that they regarded Tanah Melayu – regardless of their semantic classifications – as their possession, as theirs to do whatever they liked.
Isn’t that a trait of every colonial Master, Datuk Dr Professor?
If they had not controlled the whole Tanah Melayu other than the Straits Setllements, how did they manage to force every state to accept the Malayan Union. How did they manage to compel all our Malay Rulers to submit to their arrogance habit of dividing this territory as if we are some bunch of grapes which were to be graded and stomped on by their feet whenever they please?
What authority did the British have to “administer” us? To submit too their system? To their sense of justice? To their system of civil service? I am not saying that their systems are bad but under what authority did they manage to make us adopt their systems other than a systematic colonisation of our land?
Dear Professor, perhaps you should read the British Parliament hansard when they were debating the Malayan Independence Bill. In the first place, if they did not colonise us, why and under what authority did they have to pass an Act of Palriament in their Parliament to give us “independence”?
Sometime, people show their true colours when the speak. This is what the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Alan Lennox-Boyd, in a Freudian moment, said:
“Today, we are setting the seal on this work. We can, with Edmund Burke, rejoice that our ancestors have made the most extensive and the only honourable conquest not by destroying but by promoting the wealth, the number and the happiness of the human race.” (emphasis is mine).
Yes. That was, and still is, how they saw us.
Their honourable conquest.
And we were not colonised you say?