Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Abdullah Munshi

The voyage of Abdullah, translated by AE Coope.

This book gives insights into what the States of Pahang, Trengganu, and Kelantan were like in about AD 1838. These States are all now in the new country called Malaysia.

I wish to just quote a few paragraphs from the book.

“I saw that the country of Pahang looked like an orchard; there were no market places or shopping centres; nor were there any regular paths, except in Kampong China where there was a practicable path about 100 yards long. I was sorry to see how neglected and overgrown the country was owing to the laziness and slackness of the people. But anything you sow or plant will grow, and all the trees looked fruitful”

“As for the people, as far as I could see, not one in ten did any work; the majority of them loafed about all day in poverty and vice. And each man carried four or five kinds of weapons and never parted from them”

“There were some who liked to make themselves smart and wore fine jackets and trousers, but they did not earn their living by work”

“Many of them were thin and pale – obvious opium smokers”.

"The people’s houses were all made of thatch; some were large and some small, all of them on dry land. The surroundings of the houses were thick with undergrowth, and they were sighted higgledy-piggledy, some in the jungle, some on the shore. Some of the compounds were fenced, some not; each man followed his own fancy. There were clusters of houses at intervals all along the river front”

“Under the houses was a lot of filth; each house had under it a puddle and piles of rubbish; when one entered a house, the stink seemed to fill one’s nose. Some people just let the undergrowth grow. Some lit smudges every day under the house to smoke out mosquitoes; if one went into these houses, one at once had achoking feeling and ones eyes watered and smarted”

The question is, has the above changed?

Of Trengganu he said,

"I question the Head of Customs …………".

“’There is no market at this time of day,’ he said. ‘The market is held only in the evening. As regards the laws of the country, you must not keep an umbrella up when passing the house of a Raja. And you must not wear shoes or yellow clothes of fine muslin. All these are absolutely forbidden’”

“But when it comes to prohibitions which are sensible and beneficial to mankind, nothing is said! What about the smoking of opium, which ruins people! What about all the different kinds of gambling that go on, and bad customs learned from the Chinese! There is no doubt that they ruin the people, but they are not forbidden”.

“What about clothes stiff with dirt, not washed for four or five months! (Full of lice too – sit awhile and catch some lice as you sit!) That is not forbidden.”

“And all through the town there are puddles and rubbish and filth and undergrowth full of snakes and almost high enough to harbour tigers. But that does not matter!”

“The houses were scattered about without order or arrangement; each man had built as pleased, and the fences of compounds were not aligned. The houses were high and thatched, and surrounded were filthy, and under the houses was rubbish and also stagnant water. Most of the houses had piles of coconut husks under them; they used to light it with at night to smoke out the mosquitoes. All around the houses were coconuts. In each cluster of houses was a chapel, also thatched.”

“The houses had no regular frontage; some had their backs to the path, some their front, some were built on a line with it; in some places the path between the houses was so narrow that one could only squeeze through.”

“The people’s clothes were poor and dirty, and their persons were unclean. But everyone carried four of five javelins and a kris and cutlass. Their work consists of carrying weapons hither and thither! It is the women who sell in the market and act as hawkers and do all the work necessary for the earning of a living. But the men are drones; they eat and sleep and repair their weapons – that is they do.”

Has the custom changed todate?

On Kelantan then.

“The shore was thick with thousands of people, all armed; every man had six or seven javelin, a chopper or cutlass or sword, and a kris at his waist; some had guns – they bristled like the branches of dead trees.”

“I notice that among all those thousands of men there were none really fair skinned; one or two were fairly light-brown, the rest quite black.”

And later in the book,

“As we went along I saw many trees which had been shattered or had their branches broken by shot; some indeed had collapse. And many houses had been riddled with shots”

“In distance the cannon roared uncreasingly”
“On top of the fortification were two large cannons which were continually firing and registering hit on the Bendahara’s house”

And the stories in Kelantan was most interesting.

Nothing really has changed in all the three States, except that now instead of using weapons, they use political will.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what I was looking for, thanks