Tracing the Royal Kelantanese lineage
A chance discovery of a 1968 letter detailing the birthday celebrations of Sultan Yahya Petra in Kota Baru piques
THE Pos Laju van pulls up in front of my house and I’m instantly alerted to the sound of its tyres grinding incessantly against the loose gravel on the driveway. “Finally!” I mutter while walking out to meet the smartlydressed delivery man who has just alighted from his vehicle with a small cardboard box under his left arm.
After dispensing with the necessary verification procedures, I quickly head indoors and excitedly spill the contents of the box on the dining room table. The reason for my excitement is simple. The Ipoh vendor who sold me the item on social media merely described it as a collection of Malayan postal history from the 1960s and only appended a solitary photograph depicting a bundle of used envelopes. When pressed for more images, he haughtily gave the excuse that there were better things for him to do than attend to such a trivial matter.
The only thing that spurred me to complete the sale was his unbelievably low asking price. It was only after inspecting the envelopes did I finally understand his reluctance to provide more details. More than half of the covers had missing stamps! That imperfection alone decreases the value of the items by more than half. The perceived bargain purchase is fast turning out into a disaster.
Downcast, I start shifting my attention to the letters in the envelopes. Recalling stories heard from fellow collectors, there have been instances where descriptions of important historical events have helped to dramatically elevate the value of otherwise ordinary letters or postcards.
The first paragraph begins with the sender, who merely signs off as Yong on the penultimate seventh page, congratulating Yussof on the successful apprehension of a thief at his college and at the same time advocating continued vigilance to prevent history from repeating itself.
My heart starts beating significantly faster by the time I finish reading the second paragraph. It tells of a joyous double celebration in Kota Baru to commemorate the coronation of Crown Prince Tengku Ismail ibni Sultan Yahya Petra and the birthday of Tengku Ismail’s father, the ruling monarch of Kelantan at that time, Sultan Yahya Petra ibni al-Marhum Sultan Ibrahim.
The well attended three-day celebrations began on the morning of July 10, 1968 with the coronation of Tengku Ismail and the awards presentation ceremony at the Istana Balai Besar in Kota Baru. Constructed to replace the older Istana Kota Lama, Istana Balai Besar and the fort surrounding it was built in 1844 by Sultan Muhammad II using timber from Pasir Puteh and Ulu Kelantan. According to Yong, the monarch decided to call the place Kota Bharu upon completion of his new fort. That name has remained ever since.
Later that evening, members of the public were treated to dance and song performances organised by Radio Malaysia Kota Bharu at the school field in Sekolah Kebangsaan Padang Garong. Among the notable artistes who took to the stage that night were M. Ibrahim, Norjanah Ayob, Junaidah Jaafar and Wan Salman. Yong and the other trainee teachers also joined in the festivities, contributing a dance number entitled Ayam Didek with the accompaniment of two singers and a popular local band called ‘The Shean’.
Pausing momentarily to consult my reference books regarding the performance venue, I discover that the school was originally known as Sekolah Melayu Padang Garong. Until today, it holds the enviable honour of being the first Malay school in the state after it was established by the Kelantan State Government in 1904.
Returning my focus to the letter, I discover that the same air of merriment was also felt at the nearby Kota Bharu Stadium. Renowned artisans from all over the state showcased the best of Kelantanese culture on 11 specially constructed platforms. The crowds, together with officials from the Ministry of Youth and Sports from Kuala Lumpur, were treated to batik printing and weaving demonstrations as well as wayang kulit and menora performances. CLOCKwISE FROm TOp: The Royal Crown of Kelantan was worn for the first time by Sultan Ismail during his coronation on April 28, 1921;
The Kelantan coat of arms was introduced in 1916; The souvenir card commemorating the installation in the booklet; The official installation programme booklet from 1961.
The next morning, a boat racing competition was held at the Kelantan River. Response from the public was so overwhelming that many people, including Yong, had to leave disappointed. He failed to find standing room near the river bank and could hardly see anything from the roadside.
More stage performances were in store for the Kota Bharu people on the third and penultimate night of celebrations. The main crowd puller was a police tattoo held at the Kota Bharu stadium. Those who attended were treated to an elaborate show involving acrobatical theatrics and musical recitals.
The remainder of Yong’s letter details the