Kelantan is positioned in the north-east of Peninsular Malaysia. It is bordered by Narathiwat Province of Thailand to the north, Terengganu to the south-east, Perak to the west, andPahang to the south. To the north-east of Kelantan is the South China Sea.
Kelantan is a land of colourful traditions and scenic beauty. Located in the north-eastern corner of the peninsula, Kelantan, which is said to translate as the "Land of Lightning" (see alternate theories below), is an agrarian state with lush paddy fields, rustic fishing villages and casuarina-lined beaches. Kelantan is home to some of the most ancient archaeological discoveries in Malaysia, including several prehistoric aboriginal settlements.
With the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) in power for many years, Kelantan is also Malaysia's most socially conservative and Islamic state.
The name Kelantan is said to be a corruption of gelam hutan, i.e. the Malay word for thecajuput, or swamp tea tree (Melaleuca leucadendron). Other theories claim the name comes from the Malay word kilatan, 'shiny/glittery' or kolam tanah, 'clay pool'.
The early history of Kelantan traces distinct human settlement dating back to prehistoric times. Early Kelantan had links to the Funan Kingdom, the Khmer Empire, Srivijaya andSiam. Around 1411, Raja Kumar, the ruler of Kelantan, became independent of Siam, and Kelantan became an important centre of trade by the end of the 15th century.
In 1499, Kelantan became a vassal state of the Malacca Sultanate. With the fall of Malacca in 1511, Kelantan was divided up and ruled by petty chieftains, paying tribute to Patani, which in turn was a vassal of Siam ruling from Ayuthaya. In 1603, most of these petty Kelantan chiefs became subject to Patani.
Around 1760, a chieftain of Kubang Labu in Kelantan succeeded in unifying the territory of the present Kelantan. Shortly thereafter, in 1764, Long Yunos was appointed as thePenghulu of Kota Bharu while his brother, Nik Muhammadiah, ruled as Sultan Muhammad I of Legeh in Ayer Lanas. Nik Muhammadiah or Sultan Muhammad I, officially became the first sultan of Kelantan.
In 1812, Long Senik, the adopted son of Mohammad I, sided with the Thais and was appointed by them as the Sultan of Kelantan, known as Sultan Muhammad II. He broke from Terengganu's influence and became a tributary of the Thais. In the 1820s, Kelantan was one of the most populous and prosperous states in the Malay Peninsula, having avoided the wars and disputes which plagued the southern and western states. Thais continued to play their role in manipulating Kelantan throughout the 19th century.
Under the terms of the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909, the Thais surrendered its claims over Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis to Great Britain, and Kelantan thus became one of the Unfederated Malay States with a British Adviser.
Kelantan was the first place in Malaya to be occupied by the Japanese, who invaded onDecember 8, 1941. During the Japanese occupation, Kelantan came again under control of Siam, but after the defeat of Japan in August 1945, Kelantan reverted to British rule.
Kelantan became part of the Federation of Malaya on February 1, 1948 and together with other states attained independence on August 31, 1957. On September 16, 1963, Kelantan became one of the component states of Malaysia.
Rising high on the slopes of Gunung Korbu, the second highest peak in Peninsular Malaysia, the Nengiri River flows east to merge first with the Galas, and then with the Lebir — the latter born in the wilds of Taman Negara National Park — before turning decisively northwards and emptying into the shallow waters of the South China Sea. From Kuala Krai the conjoined streams become the Kelantan River, a broad, mud-coloured stream which dominates the fertile coastal plains and defines the geography of the region. The Kelantan River valley is a fertile rice-bowl, rich in hardwoods and rubber and lush with tropical fruits.
For centuries, Kelantan was all but separated from the rest of the country by the Titiwangsa Mountains, a mountain range running from north to south through the peninsula. Weeks of hard travel were required to reach Kelantan. The "easy way" to Kelantan was to sail around the peninsula, braving the sea and pirates. For this reason Kelantan's history often involves the sea, and boats. Even today, many of its people are very much tied to the sea. A discussion with many coastal residents will confirm that their ancestors, as far back as they know, were "of the sea."
In the early 1980s, trunk roads were built to link it with nearby states. Presently, one can travel by road from the capital city Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bharu through the mountain range within 5 hours.
Kelantan has a chiefly agrarian economy dominated by rice, rubber and tobacco. Fishing along its 96-kilometre coastline is also an important economic activity. Cottage industries which employ traditional skills in handicraft production such as batik, woodcarving and songket weaving are also evident. Logging activities are active given the vast remaining area of forest. In recent years, tourism, especially to offshore islands, has increased in importance. A few reputable hotels have been established and more modern shopping malls have been opened to cater for urban folks.
Kota Bharu, the capital, is the major urban centre, and there are also plans to open up the southern portion of the state under an ambitious multi-million-dollar development project. The main market at the city centre is a top attraction.
Kelantan has a GDP per capita at about RM6000, which is about one-third that of other richer states like Selangor and Penang. But, it is a well-known fact that many Kelantanese are involved in small and medium businesses and enjoy good income, but not reflected in the GDP calculation since in most cases the income is not reported.
Starting from 2008, Kelantan will have its own airline company, Amrose Air, with Sultan Ismail Petra Airport as its hub. Amrose Air plans to service both domestic and international routes, with the international destinations including Bangkok and Jeddah.
The Constitution of Kelantan came into force in 1949 and is divided into three sections:
The Sultan of Kelantan is the Constitutional Ruler of his State. The role, duties and powers of the Sultan are as laid out in the State's constitution and other state laws. The Constitution proclaims that the executive power of the state is vested in the sultan, that he is the Head of the Religion of Islam in the state and that he is the source of all honours and dignities in the state. The current ruler of the State is Duli Yang Maha Mulia Tuanku Al-Sultan Ismail Petra bin Almarhum Al-Sultan Yahya Petra.
The State Executive Council is established by the constitution. It is composed of the Menteri Besar, who is its chairman, and ten other members. The Menteri Besar and other members of the council are appointed by the Sultan of Kelantan from members of the State Assembly. The current Menteri Besar is Dato' Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat (Tok Guru), a religious teacher and Mursyidul Am (spiritual leader) of PAS.
A part of the deeply conservative Malay heartlands, Kelantan has been ruled by the opposition Islamic Party of Malaysia(PAS) since 1990, with re-elections in 1995, 1999 and 2004. It is currently one of five Malaysian states not ruled by theBarisan Nasional coalition after the 2008 elections.
Almost all PAS members are Malay Muslims, as are about 95% of Kelantan's population.
The state of Kelantan is almost synonymous with PAS, as Kelantan has been under PAS rule for two lengthy periods. (Neighbouring Terengganu has also been under PAS rule twice, but for short periods each time [1959–1962 and 1999–2004].) The first period of PAS rule in Kelantan began two years after independence, in 1959, and lasted 18 years (1959–1978); the current period is 18 years long and counting.
The interval between the two periods of PAS government, when the Barisan Nasional Party ruled the state, was only about 12 years (11 March 1978 to 21 October 1990). In the 1990 General Election, PAS returned with an overwhelming victory, winning all the 39 State and 13 Parliamentary seats. The victory was achieved through the PAS-led opposition coalition, called Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (APU). In the following General Election in 1995, PAS won again, though with a reduced majority. PAS won big in 1999, due in significant part to Malay anger over the treatment of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim by then–Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed and other officials of the national government. However, PAS very nearly lost control of Kelantan, retaining it with only a 1 seat majority, in 2004, when Barisan Nasional, under the new leadership of Abdullah Badawifollowing Tun Mahathir's retirement, won by a landslide nationally. However, after the Malaysian general election, 2008, PAS regained the two-third majority of seats in the state assembly.
For years, PAS has attempted to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic Law on Kelantan. It has succeeded in imposing certain social strictures such as single-sex queues in supermarkets; separate public benches for men and women; and limiting entertainment centres to prohibit "salacious behaviour". Proposals to institute punishments such as amputation of limbs for thievery and execution for blasphemy (collectively known as Hudud Law), however, have been blocked by the national government on constitutional grounds.
One of the most controversial steps PAS has taken in Kelantan is to place tough restrictions or outright bans on the traditional performance of syncretic Malay theatrical forms, such as Wayang Kulit, Makyong, Dikir Barat, and Main Puteri. Modified versions without the traditional references to Hindudewa–dewi and traditional Malay hantu (spirits or ghosts) and otherwise in keeping with orthodox Islam are, however, tolerated in certain cases. Also restricted are public performances by women: Aside from Quran recitals, such performances are completely banned if any men are in the audience. While PAS has maintained that these steps were essential to promote Islam and put an end to immoral behavior among the Muslim population, many consider them an act of defiance against Barisan Nasional's laws — which are more tolerant or laxer, depending on one's viewpoint — and also a major loss to Malay traditional arts.
There have been allegations that the Federal Government deliberately withholds funding for development projects in Kelantan as one way to pressure the voters of Kelantan into voting Barisan National back into the State Government.
The people of Kelantan are known for their hospitality. The largely rural state preserves rich Malay traditions such as kite-flying contests, top-spinning contests, and bird singing competitions, and traditional handicrafts such as batik, songket, and silver crafts. As a border state and former vassal state of Thailand, Kelantan has absorbed influences from Thai customs and traditions that help to make the state's culture distinct from those of other states of Malaysia. The Kelantanese people, regardless of ethnic origin, are very proud of their state and its unique local culture and dialect.
All the ethnicities generally live together harmoniously in Kelantan. For example, members of the Thai community received a permit to build a very large statue of the Buddha without any objection from the Malay community or the PAS government that granted the permit.
Kelantan Malays consider themselves an unusual breed. Many have some Thai ancestry, as intermarriages between the Thais and Malays have been and remain common. Kelantan Malays also note differences between themselves and the Malays of other states. The Patani Malays of southern Thailand are closely related to the Malays of Kelantan.
Kelantanese Malay dialect is distinguished from standard Malay as well as other Malay dialects by its unique grammar, pronunciation and figures of speech.
Kelantanese Malay is the only lingua franca of the state, is used in the local mass media, and is so commonly used for daily communication that some Kelantanese cannot speak the standard form of Malay, as promoted by the Federal Government. The dialect is also prevalent beyond the state borders into southern Thailand and in Besut, the northernmost district of Terengganu. Whilst the Arab script called Jawi has less influence in the other parts of Malaysia, it is still widely used in writing and printing the Malay language in Kelantan. Signboards in Kelantan are written in both Jawi and Rumi. To a certain extent, Thai is also used.
95% of Kelantan's population are ethnic Malay, and under the Malaysian Constitution, all Malays are Muslims; therefore, Islam is the most influential religion in the state.
To most Malaysians, Kelantan is synonymous with Malay arts and crafts. Kota Bharu, as the state capital, is a popular centre for such pursuits as silat,martial arts, and kertok drumming. Here, too, more than any other place in Malaysia, the traditional pastimes of top-spinning — known as gasing — and the flying of giant, elaborately-decorated kites called wau, are still much in evidence.
The ethnic Thai inhabitants of Kelantan are mostly centered in an area around the coastal town of Tumpat, site of most of the state's two hundred or so Buddhist temples, and noteworthy for its number of relatively well-off Siamese villages.
The dialect of the Thai language spoken in Kelantan is called "Tak Bai", after the southernmost coastal town Tak Bai of Narathiwat Province, just across the Golok River from Malaysia. Tak Bai dialect differs substantially from standard southern Thai and other regional Thai dialects, and it seems certain that the Kelantan Thais are the descendants of an original enclave of Narathiwat settlers established in sparsely-populated Malay territory as long as four centuries ago.
Chinese assimilation in Kelantan is manifested as: "Malay behaviour as frontstage and Chinese behaviour as backstage". "Frontstage" or public behaviour includes speaking Kelantanese Malay even when among themselves, adopting Malay-style clothing, and observing certain Malay customs and holidays. "Backstage" or private behaviour includes maintaining certain traditional Chinese beliefs and customs confined only within the home. Many Kelantanese Chinese feel a sense of separateness from other Malaysian Chinese people due to their illiteracy and lack of fluency in Chinese.
In Kelantan, the Chinese see themselves as either Cina Kampung (village Chinese) or Cina Bandar (town Chinese). Famous Chinese villages in Kelantan include Kampung Tok'kong (300 year old temple), Kampung Jelatok, Kampung Temangan, Kampung Mata Ayer, Kampung Tawang, Kampung Balai, etc.
In other parts of Malaysia, the Chinese see themselves as Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, identifying themselves by the Han subgroup their ancestors were part of in China. However, this is not so in Kelantan. Descendants of the earlier waves of small-scale migration are known as Orang Cina kita (our very own Chinese) and the elders are seen as Orang Kelantan betul (true Kelantanese). Speaking the Kelantanese Malay dialect with fluency unites both Cina Kampung and Cina Bandar.
The Chinese in Kelantan have native speaker competence in the Kelantanese dialect. It is impossible to tell a Malay from a Chinese by just listening to his speech in the Kelantanese dialect, without looking at the person.
The accommodations of the Chinese population have made communication between Chinese and Malays in Kelantan both easy and common. As a consequence, Kelantanese and Chinese view each other as individuals, rather than simply as representatives of cultural categories. The ability of the Chinese in Kelantan to accommodate Malay culture has facilitated significant entrepreneurial activities.
Much of Chinese culture still continues until today; such as lion dancing during the CNY, temple celebration, religious celebration.
In addition, there are Orang Asli, mostly Temiar, a people who have lived in the forests of Kelantan and Perak for thousands of years. Some of the Temiar maintain traditional beliefs in their natural surroundings and other forms of animist elements, while some of them have embraced Islam, instead.
The Kelantanese cuisine, heavily influenced by Thai cuisine, is quite popular among Malaysians. In fact, many visitors come to Kelantan just to taste the special delicacies that cannot be found elsewhere. The use of sugar is a must in every Kelantanese kitchen, and thus most Kelantanese dishes are sweet.
Apart from delicacies imported from Thailand, there are delicacies which are invented by the Kelantanese themselves such as:
This is a mix of white rice and brown glutinous rice (special glutinous rice) which is cooked with coconut milk (santan), blended onions and garlic and some spices (such as fenugreek) (Malay: halba). Fish or chicken curry comes as an add-on to complete the dishes together with mildly brown sugared sambal (chili paste), so it's recommended to take only a small portion as it is extremely filling. The Nasi Dagang is one of the tastiest dishes in Kelantan and goes well with fish curry, pickle, hard-boiled eggs. See here for the main article about Nasi Dagang
Nasi Kerabu literally means "salad rice". Kelantan has a variety of Nasi Kerabu. Nasi kerabu biasa (normal) or nasi kerabu putih (white) which comes with its own sambal tumis (a special coconut milk based gravy with local herbs and spices, with a hint of chillies) or Nasi kerabu Hitam (black) though the actual color is blue (after the rice is soaked and cooked with a local flower although some people use artificial equivalents) and nasi kerabu kuning (yellow) which use tumeric in the preparation of the rice. Nasi Kerabu Hitan and Kuning does not require a sambal tumis, instead, it has a watery chilly sauce which makes it slightly hotter. The “kerabu” (salad) could be any vegetables or edible leaves though the more or less standard version will have daun kesum, taugeh (bean sprout), thinly cut; long green beans, bunga kantan, cucumber (connoisseurs will insist “seeded”), and daun kadok. Apart from that it is also served with fried breaded fish, keropok keping, salted egg, "solok lada" (fish fillet and coconut-stuffed chillis), and pickled garlic (local gherkins)
Wood-fire broiled chicken dressed with sweet coconut gravy. Ayam Golek/Ayam Percik is eaten with white rice in major family dishes and serve during a feast.
Most Kelantanese have Nasi Berlauk as their breakfast. Nasi Berlauk is rice served with fish or chicken and vegetables cooked with tumeric and galangal infused yellow gravy.
Ulam is the local term for raw vegetables - the meal consists of white rice served with a variety of raw vegetables, and is considered one of the healthiest dishes found in Malay cuisine.
Also termed as chlorophyll rice, the Kau-Jam is a green rice cooked using up to seven types of herbs, and served with raw vegetables (such as bean sprouts, cucumber, and long beans), fish flakes and local Keropok. The meal is often accompanied by Budu and sometimes served with deep-fried fish.
These are Kelantanese fish crackers. Their texture and colour are noticeably rougher and darker than the usual variety found on the West Coast of Malaysia. Like the curries, the crackers are influenced by Thai cooking and produce a sharper, saltier taste.
These are Kelantanese fish sausages. Made by combining fish flesh and sago, keropok gote is rolled into long firm sticks and then steamed or boiled. To enjoy it, one has to cut it into desired bite sized and deep fried. Different from Terengganu's keropok lekor, the Kelantan variety is thicker and longer in size and has to be fried to be eaten. Keropok Gote is probably the one snack which all Kelantanese children grow up with. It is a must at all school canteens.
The Laksa dish, white noodles served with gravy (curry or otherwise) and vegetables, is made differently in every state in Malaysia. The laksa Kelantan employs the creamy white gravy which is richer and has full-bodied flavour. The main ingredient is fish flesh, although connoisseurs would certainly prefer the ones made of eels. Laksam is another version with thicker noodle (similar to kuey teow). Laksa or laksam is served with ulam similar in nasi kerabu, with a pinch of salt and belachan for added taste
In English, 'Chocolate Banana' which is supposedly the favourite flavour of ice cream in the Kelantan district.
Perhaps the most characteristic Kelantanese-Thai dish is 'kaeng matsaman'—a mouth-watering beef curry cooked with peanuts, potatoes and chopped red onions in a thick coconut milk sauce. Other Kelantanese-Thai specialties include: 'kaeng phanaeng kai'—savoury chicken and coconut curry. 'Kaeng som nom mai dong'—hot and sour fish ragout with pickled bamboo. 'Pla see siad haeng thawt'—deep fried semi-dried pla see fish. 'Khao yam pak tai'—an intriguing breakfast salad. The presentation is exquisite. A small pile of fragrant boiled rice, accompanied by finely chopped heaps of lemon grass, peanuts, bean sprouts, green beans, sour mango and chopped makrut or kaffir lime is served with spicy chilli pepper, fresh lime and a piquant sweet-sour sauce. It's unusual, elegant, and very typical of Kelantan. Kelantanese dishes, like central Thai, are usually accompanied by generous helpings of 'khao suay', or "beautiful rice"—the best of which, 'khao hawm mali', or jasmine-fragrance rice, is steamed until each grain is tender but separate. When something tastes this good, the Thais utter in full emotion:-"Pisek!"
Somtam is a papaya salad with a salty, spicy, and sour taste. The main items in it are young, unripe papaya, soy sauce, groundnuts, fish sauce, lime juice, and chilies. These items are combined in a mortar, pounded with a pestle for few seconds and served. The salty and lime juicy taste is very popular. This light dish is widely available in regions with large numbers of ethnic Thais, such as Tumpat and Siamese wats.
Cholek Unlike popularly thought; Cholek, does not just merely mean dipping sauce. The cholek itself can literally means dipping sauce. However, Cholek is in essence roughly means "snack eaten with sauce". Cholek comes in various forms - meaty cholek (cholek ayam (chicken), cholek perut (cow intestines), cholek pelepong (paru-liver) etc. Also the variation of cholek buah (fruits) - cholek pauh (mango) etc. The sauce or "the cholek" comes in various forms. • One is cholek mnise (with brown sugar), • and it also has a sweet, sour and very mildly hot version. This cholek is different from other chili sauces because cholek is very thin and rather sweet. This dipping sauce is used for any kind of chicken, but also goes well with shrimp, fish cake, spring roll, sausage, etc.
Budu is a salted (fermented) anchovy sauce eaten with rice, grilled fish and vegetables/salads (ulam). A bit of lemon juice, hot chilis and onions are added on for taste. Also, tempoyak (fermented durian) or fresh durian is added for good measure. Once so combined, the purple-brownish condiment has a blend of salty and sour taste. Nowadays, other types of fish are also used to create Budu. Famous budu maker villages are kg tawang, bachok and Kg Penambang near Kota Bharu. It is worth noted that similar sauce are also found in the Philippines, and Indo China (Vietnam, Cambodia etc)
Tempoyak is a fermented durian dip, used for example with your normal white rice but not in “special rice” (i.e. Nasi Kerabu or nasi dagang or nasi tumpang or nasi pulut etc). Most unforgettable is eating the 'tempoyak+budu+ulam'. Those with high blood pressure should beware of the high salt content of this condiment, however.
Districts in Kelantan are called Jajahans, though in actual fact the direct translation of Tanah Jajahan in Malay to English is 'Occupied Territories'. Kelantan was a divided feudal state, a common situation in the Malay Peninsula, with separate petty local rulers. However, a strong one managed to rise and conquer all these small petty territories. In the end, Kelantan became united under one Sultan.
The jajahans, from left to right, are written in Roman and Arabic
The Goanese Bandmaster of the Kelantan Police Band, Haji Mohamed bin Mohamed Sa'id (1888–1939) was ordered to compose a song (only tunes) to be played to the then-Sultan of Kelantan, Ismail, on July 5, 1927. Subsequently, the words were composed by Mahmood bin Hamzah (1893–1971), who was the State secretary at that time.
Original Malay version
Lanjutkan usia Al-Sultan kami
Kasih dan taat setia disembahkan
Translated English version
Prolong may be the life of our Sultan
Love and loyalty we offer
Historically, Kelantan had a strong relationship with the Pattani Kingdom. Pattani and Kelantan are geopolitically divided but culturally united. Kelantanese and Southern Thais cross the border frequently to visit their relatives and transport goods for small business.