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Kedah - Malaysia

Kedah sits in the northwest corner of Peninsular Malaysia. The state is fairly small, covering an area of 9,425 sq km that consists mostly of expansive padi fields and gently rolling hills. Off its coast are the isles of Langkawi, and rising to meet the western shoreline is the mountain of Gunung Jerai (1,200 meters above sea level). Kedah's population of about one million is primarily Malay, though there are significant Chinese and Indian minorities.

Kedah has the distinction of being the "Rice-bowl of Malaysia" - a term that takes on aesthetic significance when one sees the rice fields for themselves: the flat expanse of padis against a backdrop of rolling hills provides a picture of utter serenity that lulls the senses.

Off Kedah's western shores are clusters of sun-drenched islands that comprise the legendary archipelago of Langkawi, easily the most popular resort location in the country. More than a land of mere scenery, however, Kedah is also the site of Malaysia's most extensive ruins. In the Bujang Valley are the sprawling remains of a Hindu kingdom believed to date back to the 6th century A.D.

Like Malaysia's other states, Kedah has its share of rich cultural traditions, songs and dances. Due to its close proximity to Thailand, some of these traditions are Thai in influence and origin, and faces of Kehah's people often bear signs of Thai or Achinese ancestry.

HISTORY

Kedah emerged as a major kingdom on the Malay Peninsula in the 5th century, with archaeological evidence suggesting that Kedah is the site of Peninsular Malaysia's oldest civilization. The economic abundance of Kedah drew, throughout its history, the attention of many outside forces. Before the sea route around the peninsula was firmly established, trade between India and China was conducted across the peninsular isthmus. One of the primary trading centers for this overland trade was a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom that flourished from the fourth to the seventh century in the Bujang Valley, just south of the peak of Gunung Jerai (and thus easily located by early Indian mariners). Like Malacca a thousand years later, the Bujang Valley civilization attracted a cosmopolitan population of merchants and traders, including Indians, Chinese, Achenese (from Sumatra), Burmese, and Arabs. With the arrival of Arab traders, Islam arrived on the Peninsula for the first time, though the most substantial cultural influence came from Pallava India.

As was the case with many of Malaysia's greatest trading civilizations, the Bujang Valley kingdom's prosperity made it an attractive target for outsiders. The region came under the influence of the Sumatran kingdom of Sri Vijaya in the 7th and 8th century, although Kedah was able to maintain some degree of autonomy for a brief period, Achinese attacks in 1618 led Kedah to seek protection from its former Siamese overlords, a period during which Kedah was dominated by the Siamese states to the north. Kedah's ancient civilization waned in importance by the 15th century, when Malacca assumed a more dominant role. The establishment of Islam in Kedah was due to Malacca's influence.

When Malacca fell to the Portuguese, the influence of its Sultanate over Kedah weakened. However, other powers soon asserted themselves in Kedah, including both the Portuguese and the rising Achinese, and by the end of the 18th century the Thai threat arose once more. The external pressures from Bugis, Siam and Burma increasingly weakened Kedah. The situation was exacerbated by a power struggle that sparked off a civil war in 1724. Raja Haji, a Bugis leader, took advantage of the internal chaos and invaded Kedah in 1770.

Fearing renewed domination by its northern neighbours, Kedah, via Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Syah, appealed to the British for assistance. Sir Francis Light was appointed as his representative to achieve this, armed with the guarantee of the exclusive leasing of Penang to the British East Indies Company. On 11th August 1786, Light was sent to Penang to found the first British settlement there.

In 1788, when it became apparent that the British had no intentions of aiding him, Abdullah tried to expel Light from Penang. Light, anticipating such a move, managed to repel this challenge and consequently forced Abdullah to sign over Penang on 11th May 1791. In 1800, a tract of land on the peninsula mainland, Butterworth, was signed over to the British as well.

In 1821, the Siamese conquered Kedah and ruled it for the next 20 years. Several attempts were made by the disposed Kedah Sultan to amass military support and restore the kingdom. Eventually Siam acquiesced, but not before separating Perlis from Kedah to form a separate vassal principality. Kedah itself remained a Siamese vassal state until 1909.

On 9th July 1909, the Bangkok Agreement, which was ratified by the British and Siamese, effectively delivered Kedah to the British. Upon the appointment of Sir George Maxwell as Kedah's British adviser, Kedah officially became a British colony. This lasted until the Japanese Invasion in 1941. British rule resumed on 1 September 1946 and Kedah was placed under the British Military Administration.

In London the British formed the Malayan Peninsula Planning Unit in 1943, and on 10th October 1945, the Malayan Union scheme was laid out before the British Parliament. A day later, Sir Harold MacMichael was sent to the Malayan Peninsula to obtain the agreement of the Malay Rulers. According to this agreement, Penang, Malacca and nine other Malay states were united under the Malayan Union.

Malay opposition groups derailed the Malayan Union plan, and the Malays formed the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) under Dato' Onn Jaafar's leadership on 11 May 1946. The Malay Federation was founded on 1st February 1948 and on 31st August 1957, independence was declared.


Flag

Emblem
Red, the traditional colour of Kedah, which forms the background of the flag indicates the prosperity of its people and its land. The wreath of paddy, yellow in colour, signifies the state's main produce while the green crescent moon is the symbol of Islam, the official religion of Malaysia. The shield is the emblem of the Ruler who is the protector and guardian of his subjects.

 

The wreath of paddy symbolises Kedah's main agricultural plant. The green-coloured crescent moon is the symbol of Islam, and the shield stands for the strength and authority of the Sultan, the ruler of the state.

 

TOWNS AND CITIES

Alor Setar

The capital of Kedah is approachable from all parts of the Peninsula by all transport means. Alor Setar has many modern structures and shopping complexes of historical significance. Its long association with Thailand is evident in the Thai temples around the city. Nonetheless, it is still very much a Malay city with fewer Chinese and Indians than other west coast cities. In Alor Setar town, many old buildings still exist in their original form together with other historical relics. Masjid Zahir which was built in 1912, portrays Moorish architecture and standing majestically in front of it is Balai Besar, built in 1898. It is used for royal and state functions.

ALOR SETAR is pronounced "Alor Star" and is the tiny state capital of Kedah, the last major stop before the Thai border. It is a city that is keen to preserve its heritage, the many royal buildings and museums bear witness to this. The history of Kedah is evident in Alor Setar today since many Thais still live here, worshipping in the splendidly restored Thai temple and running businesses and restaurants. This apart, Alor Setar is like most Malay towns found on the west coast, sustained in part by the predominance of Islam that, throughout the years of Kedah's external domination, played an important part in the maintenance of traditional Malay values. It is also the hometown of two of Malaysia's Prime Ministers: Tunku Abdul Rahman and Mahathir Mohammed.

The Sungei (River) Kedah runs along the western and southern outskirts of Alor Setar. The main sights are located to the west of the town around the padang, which has a large modern fountain at its centre. The Masjid Zahir dominates the western side of the square, its Moorish architecture highlighted at night by thousands of tiny lights. Facing the mosque, on the opposite side of the square, stands the elegant Istana Balai Besar (Royal Audience Hall) that was the principal official building during the eighteenth century. The present two-storey, open-colonnaded structure only dates back to 1904, when the original hail was rebuilt to host the marriages of Sultan Abdul Hamid's five eldest children. So grand were the refurbishment and so lavish the ceremony, that the state was nearly bankrupted.

Just behind the Balai Besar, the old royal palace now serves as the Muzium Di, an excellent way of preserving this dainty little 1930's building. The museum has its fair share of memorabilia, with medals and fond recollections of the current sultan's salad days, and some of the rooms have been kept exactly as they were used by the sultan and his family.

Across the way stands a curious octagonal tower, the Balai Nobat, housing the sacred instruments of the royal orchestra. Played only during royal ceremonies, such as inaugurations, weddings and funerals, the collection consists of three ornate silver drums, a gong, a long trumpet and a double-reeded instrument similar to the oboe, which combine to produce the haunting strains of "nobat" music. The word nobat is derived from a Persian word for a very large keffle drum, played in royal palaces. Since the instruments are regarded as the most treasured part of the sultan's regalia, so the musicians themselves are given a special title, Orang Kalur, relating to the time when they were also keepers of the royal records. The Kedah Nobat, the oldest and most famous, played at the installation of independent Malaysia's first constitutional monarch in 1947. Unfortunately, the tower, together with its priceless contents, remains closed to the public.

The Balai Seth, an art gallery directly across the padang from the tower, displays largely works showing the influence of traditional Malay culture on contemporary artists: rural scenes abound are aplenty. South of the padang, across the Sungei Kedah, at 18 Lorong Kilang Ais, is Ruinah Kelahiran Mahathir, the birthplace and family home of Dr Mahathir Mohammed. It is now a museum, documenting the life of the local doctor who became the most powerful Malaysian Prime Minister of modern times.

The most modern sight in Alor Setar is the Telekom Tower on Jalan Kanchut, just north of the padang, a mini-version of the one in KL, with a fast-food restaurant and viewing gallery. East from here, along Jalan Telok Wanjah, is the Nikhrodharam Buddhist Temple. The building of this glittering temple complex, decorated with many colourful statues, mosaics and paintings, began in the 1950s and was only finished in 1995; it's a match for many in Thailand and testament to the continuing influence of Thai culture in the city.

Langkawi

The 99 Legendary Islands of Langkawi - each with a beauty and attraction of its own. A unique natural beauty - rich in myths and legends - Langkawi Island located in the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia has now become a world tourist centre.

PLACES OF INTEREST

Balai Besar

Balai Besar is situated in the Cultural Centre, next to the Zahir Mosque in Alor Setar. The majestically designed hall was built by Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Abidin Shah II (1710-1760) in 1736. Constructed from cengal emas wood, the intricately carved walls of the hall are painted gold and the roof is made of glass imported from China. The hall also boasts 42 main pillars. The building was damaged during the war but in 1904, Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah ordered its reconstruction. Today it is primarily used for official royal and state ceremonies.

Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum

The Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum is located on Bukit Batu Pahat, Merbok. The museum, which was built in 1978, stands on a historical site which boasts evidence of the earliest civilization in Peninsular Malaysia. The museum houses an array of ancient historical artefacts and items, proving beyond doubt that Kedah is one of the oldest states in the region.

Kedah Royal Museum

The Kedah Royal Museum was formerly a palace and was known at different times as the Kota Setar Palace, Mak Wan Besar Palace and Pelamin Palace. Built in 1736, it was also the mausoleum of Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Abidin II. During the ruling period of Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin Mukarram Shah, the palace was called the Pelamin Palace because it was the venue of several royal weddings. In 1983, the palace was converted to the Kedah Royal Museum. Its numerous galleries feature the Rumah Pelamin exhibit, the "Pameran Sultan Kita" exhibit which features Tuanku Sultan Haji Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah, the present ruler; and the Royal Collection of artefacts donated by members of the royal family.

Zahir Mosque

Zahir Mosque is among the most beautiful mosques in Malaysia. Situated in the middle of Alor Setar town, it is Kedah's official mosque. The late Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Abidin II lent inspiration to the design of the mosque that reflects strong Moorish influences. Built in 1912, the mosque bears 5 domes.

Gunung Jerai

Formerly known as "Kedah Peak", this forest-clad Gunung Jerai is a massive limestone outcrop that rises 1200m above sea level. As the highest peak in the state, it adds a touch of variety to the scenic flat plains seen throughout the area. There are a number of legends and historical facts attached to this mountain. During the Hindu-Buddhist era, it was a sacred mountain. Ruins of Hindu and Buddhist temples were discovered at the foot of the hills. Varied tales of a "Raja Bersiong" (the King with Fangs) also abound. He had once held power over an ancient kingdom near the mountains. Recent archeological findings revealed the existence of the "Temple of the Ninth Water Pool"; many believe that it was Raja Bersiong's private pool. Amidst such majestic surroundings, it is indeed difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Balai Nobat

Balai Nobat was built in 1907 during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah. Also known as the Pentas Di Raja (Royal Dais), this is where the royal musical instruments -- the nobat-- are kept. The nobat is only played in royal ceremonies such as the installation of a ruler, weddings and funerals.

Dataran Lang

Dataran Lang or Eagle Square is one of the major landmarks in Langkawi and is located near the Kuah jetty. Visitors who enter Langkawi by ferry will not miss this giant sculpture of an eagle, the symbol of Langkawi Island and the animal from which the island's name is derived. The square is colourfully lighted up at night.

Makam Mahsuri

Makam Mahsuri sits in a village which lies about 12 km from the town of Kuah. This mausoleum was built as a sign of respect for Mahsuri, a beautiful and well-mannered local woman who lived on the island some 200 years ago. Her beauty was envied by many and the extreme sense of jealousy that developed amongst the villagers caused her to be wrongly accused of adultery. As punishment, she was stabbed to death with her family's keris, or sword. Legend has it that blood that flew from her veins was white, a true testament to her innocence. Before she exhaled her last breath, she cursed the island to 7 generations of tragedy and ill-luck. The mausoleum was built on the initiative of the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putera Al-Haj. One can also visit an original Kedah Malay house as well as the Telaga Mahsuri (Mahsuri's Well) within the compounds of the mausoleum.

Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells)

The Seven Wells is located in the northwest of Langkawi Island, about 23 km from Kuah. It is a series of 7 natural wells and its waters flow continuously and uninterrupted from one well to another. Its lush green surrounding is both refreshing and peaceful. According to a myth, these fresh water wells were once the bathing and play area of seven fairies. Water from the well is believed to have curative properties. A cascading waterfall, formed by the waters of the connected wells, adds to its appeal.

Taman Lagenda Langkawi

Taman Lagenda Langkawi is a one-stop park highlighting all of Langkawi's myths and legends. The park is built on 50 acres of reclaimed land and stands near the Kuah jetty. Among the many legends depicted here is the duel between Mat Raya and Mat Chincang that resulted in the creation of various places on the island, such as Gunung Raya, Gunung Mat Chincang, Belanga Pecah, Kuah, Ayer Hangat and Tanjung Cincin. Anyone unable to visit the numerous attractions of the island will gain much knowledge and beauty by paying the park a visit.

RELIGION

While the official religion is Islam, other religions freely practised include Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Christianity. Freedom of worship is guaranteed under the Federal Constitution.

CLIMATE

Tropical - sunny and humid all year round. Temperature ranges from 210C to 310 C.

Annual rainfall ranges from 2,000 mm - 2,500 mm, with showers generally in the afternoon.

MAJOR PORTS

Kuala Kedah and Telok Ewa Langkawi

STATISTICS

Area : 9,426 square km
State Capital : Alor Setar
Administrative Divisions : 11
Namely:- Baling, Bandar Baharu, Kota Setar,
Kuala Muda, Kubang Pasu, Kulim, Pulau Langkawi,
Padang Terap, Sik, Yan, Pendang

Population

: 1,572,107 (2000)

Breakdown of Races (1995)

:
Malay
Chinese
Indian
Other
Other Bumiputeras
:
:
:
:
:
1,079,300
235,500
105,800
24,200
1,500
RESOURCES - 1999  

HUMAN RESOURCES

Labour Force
Employment
Unemployment Rate

650,000

2.6%

FOREST RESERVES (ha.)

342,260

AGRICULTURAL LAND (ha.)

509,826

COASTLINE (km.)

 

- Mainland
- Langkawi Islands

233.6
135.34

MINERALS

 

Limestone (metric ton)
Marble (metric ton)
Granite (metric ton)
Quartzite (metric ton)
Tin (kg)
Iron Ore (ton)

2,630,969
15,194
1,167,227
354,414
73,220.4
65,189.0

LAND USE

(Hectares)

Cropland
Forest land
Grassland, Scrub Forest
Swamps
Urban area
Others

509,826
343,771
31,407
14,817
21,379
28,691

POPULATION

 

1999

Kedah ('000)
Malaysia ('000)
% of Malaysia

 

1,579.8
22,711.9
7.0

 

 

 

AREA AND POPULATION BY DISTRICT (1999)
(based on Population and Housing Census
of Malaysia 1997 & 1999)

 

 

 

1999

 

District

Population ('000)

% Dist.

 

 

 

Baling
Bandar Baharu
Kota Setar
Kuala Muda
Kubang Pasu
Kulim
Pulau Langkawi
Padang Terap
Sik
Yan
Pendang

135.07
38.705
387.208
314.380
191.629
160.507
54.819
61.77
66.35
70.93
98.42

8.55
2.45
24.51
19.9
12.13
10.16
3.47
3.91
4.2
4.49
6.23

 

 

 

Total :

1,579.79

100.0

LAND COVERAGE
 

Kedah
Malaysia
% of Malaysia

9426 sq km
329758 sq km
2.9%

 

AREA BY DISTRICT

District

Area (sq km)

% Dist.

Baling
Bandar Baharu
Kota Setar
Kuala Muda
Kubang Pasu
Kulim
Pulau Langkawi
Padang Terap
Sik
Yan
Pendang

1529
269
665
923
948
765
467
1357
1635
242
626

16.22
2.85
7.05
9.79
10.06
8.12
4.95
14.39
17.35
2.57
6.65

INDUSTRY

INDUSTRIAL ESTABLISHMENTS (Number of)

1999

Plywood Factories
Oil Palm Factories
Rice Mills (BERNAS)
Rice Mills (Private Sector)
Textiles/Garments Factories
Electrical/Electronics Factories
Rubber Products
Cement Factory
Marble Factory
Furniture Factories/Units
Tobacco Barns
Steel Products

10
4
15
59
14
116
16
1
1
13
549
14

AGRICULTURE
1999

AREA UNDER MAJOR CROPS (ha.)

Crops

Rubber
Oil Palm
Sugarcane

192,300
45,328
12,051

Paddy

155,280

- Main Season
- Off Season

77,636
77,644

Tobacco
Orchards
Coconuts
Vegetables
Others

630
15,992
2,142
1,450
1,342

Production Output

Rice (metric tons)
Rubber (metric tons)
Oil Palm (metric tons)
Tobacco (kg)
Fish (metric tons)
Beef (metric tons)
Chicken (metric tons)
Rubber logs (cub. metres)
Logs (cub. m.)
Sawn Timber (cub. metres)
Plywood (cub. metres)

498,501
131,704
128,701
219,000
85,228
6,177
190,306
48,860
231,512
67,061
53,340

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