1902 Encyclopedia > Malay Peninsula

Malay Peninsula

MALAY PENINSULA, MALACCA, or TÁNAH MALÁYU ("Malay Land"), the southernmost region in Asia, attached to Souther India by the isthmus of Krá, in 10º N. lat., whence it projects for about 600 miles, first south, then south-east parallel with Sumatra, to Cape Ramúnia (Romania) in 1º 23'N., within 95 miles of the equator; it varies in width from 45 miles at the isthmus of Krá, and again at Talung in 7º 30' N., to 210 at Perak in 5º N., and 150 at Selángor, 3º 20' N. The area is about 70,000 square miles, with a population of at least 650,000. [320-1] The peninsula, which is washed on the west by the Bay of Bengal and Malacca Strait, on the east by the Gulf of Siam and China Sea, belongs geographically and ethically rather to the eastern archipelago than to the Asiatic continent. Hence, whenever the proposed canalization [320-2] of the isthmus of Krá is carried out, this region will fall into its natural position as one of the great islands of Malaysia. In a wider sense the peninsular formation begins properly at the head of the Gulf of Siam, about the parallel of Bangkok. But this northern section between 10º and 13º 30' N. being.comprised within the limits of Siam proper and British Burmah, is not usually included in Malacca, whose political frontier towards the north-west is thus traced by the lower course of the river Pakshan, which there separates it from Tenasserim, the southernmost division of British Burmah. But east of that river there is no natural or political frontier towards Lower Siam, which embraces all the. land as far south as the river Muda on the west coast in 5º 33' N., and on the east side as far as the state of Pahang in 4º N. The seaboard, which is generally flat and overgrown with mangroves for 5 or 6 miles inland, is fringed with numerous islands and insular groups, of which the chief are Salanga (Junk Ceylon), Lanakawi, and Pulo Penang on the west side; Singapore, Batang, and Bintang at the southern extremity; Tantalem and Bardia on the east coast. All these islands, which may have a total area of some 5000 square miles, seem to have originally formed part of the mainland, of which they may be regarded as scattered geological fragments.

Although known to Europeans since the beginning of the 16th century, and nowhere more than 100 miles from the sea, the interior still remains one of the least known lands in Asia. D’Souza’s large map, prepared in 1879 for the British Government, is still in many places almost a complete blank ; the mountain ranges hre traced only for short distances, chiefly on the west side below Kedah; the river courses and political boundaries are often merely conjectured, while the elevation of some of the highest peaks is absolutely unknown. Accurate surveys, however, have since then been made, especially by H. S. Deane in the Perak and Selángor states, by D. D. Daly in most of the British native states, [321-1] by Dru in the extreme north, and by others in the extreme south about the Endau river basin and at several other points, from which a rough idea may be formed of the general orographic and geological features and hydrographic systems. The surface seems to be everywhere essentially mountainous, and considerably more elevated than had till recently been supposed. The land is traversed in its entire length by a somewhat irregular and ill-defined backbone, forming a southern continuation of the Arakan and Tenasserim ranges, but here falling to a mean elevation of perhaps 3000 feet, and constituting a distinct water-parting between the streams flowing east and west to the surrounding seas. The surface is further varied by numerous spurs and detached ridges running mainly north and south, besides isolated masses often vying in elevation with the central ranges. Little space is thus left for upland plateaus, broad valleys, or lowland alluvial plains of any extent, except about Tringgánu and Pahang on the east, and Selángor on the west side. The highest ascertained altitudes are the Titi Bangsa range (7000 feet), between Kedah and Perak; the Gunong Inas (5000) ascended in 1881 by Deane; the Gunong Bubu (5650), and Gunong Ulu Tumulang (6435), near the right and left banks of the Perak river; the Slim range (6000 to 7000) in south-east Perak; the Gunong Rajah (6500), in the main range; a peak (7000) in the Endau river basin, nearly double the height of Gunong Ledang, or Mount Ophir (3849), hitherto supposed to be the highest point in the extreme south. But an unexplored ridge towards the west frontier of Kelantan, with a probable elevation of 8500 or 9000 feet, is taken by Miklucho Maclay as the culminating land of the whole peninsula. These mountains are scarcely anywhere traversed by recognized beaten tracks, the natural passes between the eastern and western watersheds being still mostly overgrown by dense jungle. Deane, however, came upon a forest path across the main water-parting from Kedah to Patáni, and a route is said to lead from the Bernam river basin across the main axis to Pahang on the east side.

Owing to the formation of the land, the rivers, although numerous, are necessarily of short length, and, as their mouths are generally obstructed by bars and coral reefs, they are on the whole more useful for irrigation than as water highways. Nevertheless some are navigable by light craft for considerable distances, and in 1881 Deane steamed up the Bernam between Perak and Selángor to Kampong Chankat Bertiham, 76 miles from the coast. He proceeded by boat thence for 9 miles to Simpang, where the stream divides and shallows. For about 80 miles it is 10 to 17 feet deep, while the Perak, with its chief tributaries, the Plus, Kinta, and Batang Padang, presents a total navigable waterway of perhaps 200 miles. The Perak on the west and the Pahang on the east slope are by far the largest river basins in the peninsula, each draining an area of 5000 to 6000 square miles. The other chief streams are the Selángor and Klang on the south-west coast, the Johór facing Singapore, and on the east side the Endau, Kelantan, and Patáni.

As far as has been ascertained, the main geological formations would appear to be Lower Devonian sandstones and unfossilized clay slates, with a basis of grey stanniferous granite everywhere cropping out. Although no trace has been found of recent volcanic action, there are several isolated and unstratified limestone masses from 500 to 2000 feet high, of a highly crystallized character, with no fossils of any kind. Earthquakes also are frequent, while numerous hot springs attest the presence of still active igneous forces beneath the surface. In the south porphyry occurs, associated with granite and clay ironstone; and laterite, resembling that of the Malabar coast, abounds, especially along the west slope. The rich stanniferous granites forming the backbone of the peninsula render this region the most extensive storehouse of tin in the world. Vast deposits of tin ores, sometimes associated with gold and silver, [321-2] occur almost everywhere, and are continued in the neighbouring islands as far south as Banca on the Sumatra coast. [321-3] Gold, whence the land was known to the ancients as the Aurea Chersonesus, is also found in considerable quantities, either disseminated in quartz or in alluvial deposits, especially about Mount Ophir, in Pahang, Gomichi, Tringgánu, and Kemáman. The total yield has amounted in some years to 25,000 and 30,000 ounces. Iron ores abound especially in the south, and coal has recently been found in the isthmus of Krá conveniently situated for the future ship canal across the peninsula.

The climate, everywhere moist and hot, becomes oppressive and even malarious along the low muddy banks of the coast streams. Higher up, although cooler, it is not always more healthy, and the uplands, especially about Mount Ophir, have the reputation of being extremely dangerous to Europeans (Wallace). Yet the mean temperature, thanks to the general elevation of the land and the prevailing sea-breezes, is much lower than that of many Asiatic lands lying much farther from the equator. While the glass rises normally on the Makrán coast and in the Persian Gulf to 110º, 120º, and even 125º Fahr., the mean summer range in the peninsula scarcely exceeds 90º,while at an altitude of 2500 feet it is under 70º for the whole year, There is strictly speaking no winter, nor a distinctly marked rainy season, the alternate north-east and south-west monsoons distributinba the moisture over the east and west slopes throughout most of the year, The average number of rainy days is about one hundred and ninety, and the mean rainfall from 100 to 130 inches. The west coast is exposed to sudden squalls of short duration, known as "Sumatras" from the direction whence they blow, while the opposite side is often visited by tornadoes during the monsoons.

Except in some limestone tracts, especially in Perak and Kedah, the soil is generally poor, and the country, which may be described as of comparatively recent formation slowly undergoing decomposition, is incapable of growing sufficient rice even for the local demand (D. D. Daly). The land, however, is almost everywhere clothed with a magnificent tropical vegetation, in which the most conspicuous and useful plants are the gutta-percha (here first discovered), the camphor tree, ebony, sapan, ratan, eagle wood, bamboo, nibung, and nipa palm. Unfortunately the work of reckless destruction has already commenced, and the Chinese miners have in many places cleared extensive tracts, cutting down the finest trees to serve as fuel for smelting the tin ores. Of fruits the most characteristic are the durian and mangosteen; and of cultivated plants the most common are rice, the sugar-cane, cotton, tobacco, yams, batata, cocoa and areca palms. Tea and coffee might be successfully cultivated along the slopes of the Perak and Selángor rivers (Deane). A species of climbing indigo and the wild nutmeg are indigenous, and the true nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves have long been introduced, and thrive well (Newbold).

The fauna of the peninsula, which is unusually rich, is allied, like the flora and the inhabitants, rather to that of the Eastern Archipelago than the mainland. Here are the one-horned rhinoceros, Malay tapir (tánau), elephant, and hog, all of the same species as those of Sumatra. Here is also a small bear (bruarigh), found elsewhere only in Borneo, hs well as the Sunda ox of Java, besides two kinds of bison said to be peculiar to the peninsula (Crawfurd). On the other hand, the Asiatic tiger has extended his range throughout the whole region even crossing over to Singapore and other adjacent islands. Of quadrumanes there are no less than nine species, including the chimpanzee, (Simia troglodytes), the kukang (Lemur tardigradus), the black and white unka, but apparently, not the orang-outan, although the word is in common use among the Malays, who often apply it in its natural sense to the Sakai and other wild tribes of the interior. Of birds perhaps the most characteristic are the rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros), the bangu or Javanese stork, the argus and pencilled pheasants, birds of paradise (Paradisea regia and P. gularis), myna or grackle (Gracula religiosa), in murei or dial bird (Gracula saularis), the humming bird, besides king-fishers, flycatchers, doves, and pigeons in endless variety. The islands are frequented by the Hirundo esculenta, or swallow that builds edible nests, The forests swarm with coleoptera, lepidoptrea, and other insects, including the magnificent butterfly Ornithoplera Brookeana, till recently supposed to be peculiar to Borneo (Deane). The surrounding waters are inhabited by tbe halicore, or "mermaid," a sirenian whose Malay name duyong has been corrupted to dugong in our natural history books.

Politically the peninsula is partly held directly by Siam and Great Britain, and partly divided among a number of petty Malay states, either tributary to or in treaty with those paramount powers. The Siamese territory and states embrace the whole of the northern section southwards to 5º 35' N., and thence on the east side as far as the southern frontier of Tringgánu in 4º 35'N. A line drawn from this parallel on the east coast across the peninsula north-west-wards to Kedah on the west coast will thus mark the southern limits of all the land directly or indirectly subject to Siam. The rest of the peninsula is occupied by the British possessions grouped under the collective name of the STRAITS SETTLEMENTS (q.v.), and by the more or less independent Malay states proper, which may be regarded as forming part of the British system. Subjoined is a table of all the political divisions of the peninsula:—

Siamese Political System

Ligor, Sengora, These two provinces of Lower Siam proper comprise the isthmus of Krá between 7º and 10º N., with a coastline of 240 miles on the east and 260 on the west side ; area perhaps 17,000 square miles; population, 50,000 (?).

Kedah, between Ligor and Perak, 7º to 5º 35' N., with 120 miles on west coast; area, 3600 square miles; population, 30, 000.

Patáni or Raman, between Sengora and Kelantan, 7º to 5º 30'N,, with coast-line on east side 50 miles; area, 5000 square miles; population, 30,000.

Kelantan, between Patáni and Tringgánu, 6º to 4º N., 60 miles coast on east side; area, 7000 square miles; population, 20,000.

Tringgánu with Kemáman, between Kelantan and Pahang, 5º 30' to 4º N., with 80 miles coast-line on the east side; area, 6000 square miles; population 50,000 (?).

British Political System

Perak, between Kedah and Selárgor, 5º 30' to 4º N., with 80 miles coast-line on west side; area, 6500 square miles; population, 30,000.

Selángor with Kalang, between Perak and Malacca territory, 4º to 3º N., with 120 miles coast-line on west side; population, 15,000.

Johór, southern extremity of the peninsula from 2º 40' N. to Cape, Romania; area, 10, 000 square miles ; population, 20, 000.

Pahang, between Johór and Tringgánu, 3º to 5º N., 90 miles coast on east side; area, 3500 square miles; population, 20,000.

Jelébu, Sungei Ujong, Sri Menanti, Jumpól, Johól, Rainbau, Jelai, Segámat or Moar. These inland states, lying between 2º and 4º N., formerly constituted with Naning (Malacca territory) the so-called Negri Sambilan, or "Nine Lands," governed by panghúlus or chiefs, feudatory first to the sultans of Malacca and then to those of Johór, It is now proposed again to consolidate them in one state under the suzerainty of or in alliance with Great Britain. They lie surrounding Malacca territory, between Johór on the east, Pahang on the north, and Selángor on the west and north-west. Total area probably not more than 5000 square miles; population, 50,000 (?). The more important are Rambau (Linggi river basin), Segámat (Moar river basin), Johól (north from Mount Ophir), and Sungei Ujong (Lángat river basin).

Straits Settlements: parts of Perak, Malacca, Pulo Penang, and Singpore; total area, 1445 square miles; population (1881), 314,000.

Excluding the Chinese, Klings, Bugis, and other more recent arrivals, the inhabitants of all these states belong to three distinct stocks—the Tai (Siamese). Malay, and Negrito. The Siamese of pure blood occupy the extreme north with scattered communities as far south as the town of Sengora (7º 10' N.). A mixed Malayo-Siamese people, commonly known as Samsams, form the bulk of the population in the lower parts of Ligor and Sengora, and in the north of Kedah. Although entirely assimilated to the Siamese in speech, customs, and religion, these Samsarns appear to be allied physically much more to the Malay than to the Tai stock. Yet their national sympathies seem to be altogether with the dominant race and the people, especially of Ligor, have during the present century zealously co-operated with the Siamese in their persistent efforts to subdue the Malays of the neighbouring states. [323-1]

All the rest of the peninsula, from about 7º N. to Cape Romania, may be regarded as essentially "Malay land," as it is in fact called by the people themselves. But whether the Malays are here indigenous, or intruders from Sumatra, is a question still warmly discussed by ethnologists. Those, however, who support the latter view by appealing to the undoubted historic migrations of civilized Malays from Menangkabo or Palembang in the 12th century, or even to still earlier arrivals from Java, do not understand the point at issue. For the peninsula is occupied, not only by these civilized Orang Maláyu of cultured speech, Mohammedans and mostly no doubt originally from Sumatra, but also by the Orang Benua, that is, "men of the soil," or aborigines, of Malay stock and of rude Malay speech, nature worshippers, and settled here from prehistoric times. Similar uncultured Malay tribes, such as the Orang Kubu of Palembang, are no doubt also found in Sumatra. But it is unlikely that any of these people ever crossed the shallow intervening Straits of Malacca, which were probably dry land when the race was gradually diffused over the common area. Whether the migration proceeded eastwards or westwards is therefore a point which cannot be determined pending the settlement of the further and broader question of the origin and dispersion of the Malay race itself. If the Malays are a branch of the .Mongol stock, as many hold, then the Orang Benua must have passed through the peninsula southwards to the archipelago at a time when most of it still formed part of the Asiatic mainland. But if they originated in the archipelago itself, as others maintain, then the stream of migration must have been reversed.

In any case the Orang Benua are not the only aborigines in the peninsula. For the most recent research has fully confirmed the somewhat vague statements of earlier writers regarding the presence in this region of a Negroid element differing fundamentally from the Malay type, and apparently to be affiliated to the Negrito of the Andaman Islands and Philippines. "Purely anthropological observations and considerations lead me to accept the supposition of a ‘Melanesian’ element (a remnant of the original race), which through intermixture with the Malays is being more and more supplanted . . . . . In the mountains of Pahang and Kelantan as far as Sengora and Ligor, I have discovered a Melanesian [323-2] population. This people un doubtedly belongs to the Melanesian stock" (Miklucho Maclay in Ethnologische Excursion in Johor). [323-3]

The Malay and Negrito aborigines are collectively known to the civilized Malays as Semang and Sakei [323-4] respectively, although much confusion seems to have arisen in the use of these terms, nor is this surprising, seeing that the two races themselves, who have been in contact for ages, have become largely intermingled and assimilated in customs, and even in speech. The original Negrito dialects, which Maclay has compared with those of the Philippines, are everywhere yielding to the Malay, which is spoken throughout the peninsula, with little dialectic variety as far as 6º and 7º N., where it is replaced by Siamese. The aborigines, who are said not to number altogether more than some 10,000, are divided into a great many tribes, of which the best known are the Jakuns, widespread in the south, the Udai, Básisi, Sabimba, Mintira (Mantra), and Hala. All are in a very low state of culture, holding aloof from the settled populations, living entirely on the chase, and pursuing the game with poisoned arrows. It is noteworthy that even the more or less civilized Malays, especially of Rambau and other inland states, still hold to the tribal organization, the very names of many of their tribes, such as the Anak Achi ("children of Achin") and Sri Lummah Menangkabau, betraying their comparatively recent migration from Sumatra.

Other ethnical elements in the peninsula are the Bugis from Celébes, formerly powerful on the west coast ; the "Moors" (Arabs), now mostly absorbed by the civilized Malays ; the Klings [323-5] from India, chiefly traders in the seaports; the Topas (Topazio), half-caste Portuguese Christians, still numerous especially in Malacca territory, a few Europeans, Battas, and African slaves; and, lastly, the Chinese, by far the most numerous of all, who are gradually converting the Malay peninsula into a second China. They have already monopolized the mining and agricultural industries, as well as the retail trade and local shipping.

Although vaguely known to the ancients as the Aurea Chersonesus, and even by them already described as a "Regio Latronum," or piratical land, the Malay peninsula possesses no historic traditions earlier than the 13th century. According to the native writers the first settlement was made at Singa-pura, or the "Lion City," about 1250 by emigrants from the banks of a river Maláyu in Sumatra. Expelled from Singapore by the Javanese king Majapáhit, the colonists founded the city of Malacca on the south-west coast of the mainland in l253. From this point the cultured and Mohammedan Malays of Sumatra are supposed to have rapidly spread over the whole, peninsula, where they had already established a number of petty piratical states, when the Portuguese under Albuquerque reached Malaysia and reduced Malacca in 1511. Being thus, so to say, taken on the flank by the Europeans, while their progress northwards was barred by the Siamese continually pressing forward from Indo-China, the Malays of the peninsula, ever prone to piracy and lawlessness, have remained in a more or less unsettled state almost down to the present time. The Portuguese held Malacca for one hundred and thirty years, when they were supplanted in 1641 by the Dutch, who yielded in 1795 to the English, and finally in 1824 surrendered all their possessions on the mainland to Great Britain in exchange for Bencoolen in Java. Penang and Singapore had already been occupied by the British, who, by the suppression of piracy and the old monopolies, the proclamation of free trade principles, the example of a wise administration and treaties with the surrounding states, have gradually laid a solid foundation for the future prosperity of this distracted land. (A. H. K.)


320-1 A careful calculation made by T. J. Newbold in 1838 gave a total population of 375,000, since which date the British possessions have increased about fourfold, from 90,000 to 330,000. Hence, allowing for a slight increase elsewhere, the present population rnust be at least 650,000 (Political and Statistical Account of the British Settlements in the Straits of Malacca, London, 1839, vol, i. p, 418).

320-2 The several projects of canalization are fully discussed by M. Léon Dru in L’Exploration for March 9 and 16, 1882. The most feasible, but not the shortest. follows the line of railway already projected in 1861 by Fraser and Forlong across the.neck of the isthmus in 10º 30' between the estuaries of the rivers Pekshan and Champon. This scheme, which might be carried out for about £5,000,000, would shorten the sea route from India to China by four days, besides avoiding the dangerous navigation of the Straits.

321-1 A detailed account of Mr Daly’s surveys, which extended over the years 1875-82, appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society for July 1882. It is accompanied by a large map which fills up several gaps left in that of D’Souza. Yet the surveyor remarks that "there is a vast extent—more than half—of the Malayan Peninsula still unexplored," p. 409,

321-2 Although the Perak river is named from the Malay word perak, "silver," the presence of this metal has been doubted. M. Alfred Marche, however, who recently visited the west coast, found it in Laroot, associated with the rich tin ores of that district (Comptes Rendus of the French Geol. Soc. for April 14, 1882, p. 165).

321-3 "The alluvial tin deposits permeate the whole length of the Malayan Peninsula on the western side of the dividing rarge" (Daly).

324-1 The horrors attending the reduction of Kedah in 1821 were caused chiefly by the ferocity of the Samsams of Ligor in the Siamese service.

324-2 This writer applies the term "Melanesian" to all the dark races of the Oceanic area, and not merely to the natives of the Melanesian Archipelago.

324-3 See also the Field, April 23, 1878 ; Journal of the Straits Branch of the Roy. As. Soc. for 1878-81, passim : and the paper of Mr Daly, who says, "The true Orang Sakei is a Negrito, and reminds one of the Papuans of New Guinea, whom I have seen in Torres Straits," p. 409.

324-4 The aborigines of the neighbouring island of Billiton are also collectively known. as Sakah (Annales de l’Extreme Orient, 1879, p. 130).

324-5 The term Kling, a corrupt form of Telinga (Telugu), is applied throughout Malaysia to all the natives of India settled in that region.

The above article was written by: Augustus Henry Keane, F.R.G.S., Emeritus Professor of Hindustani, University College, London; late Vice President, Anthropological Institute; author of Stanford's Asia, Africa, Ethnology; Man, Past and Present; etc.

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