Siam and the northern Malay states

The headline news in today’s papers were mostly about the start of talks between Thailand and the southern insurgents which was signed yesterday at PULAPOL in Jalan Semarak, and the meeting between PMs Najib and Yingluck. I hope and pray that this will be start of an eventual peace settlement in that troubled area.

At AUA, one of the subjects used for the teachers to speak in Thai is history. These history lessons constantly remind me of the lessons I received in secondary school on the Siamese influence over the northern Malay states. It is unthinkable today to imagine the current northern Malay states being under Thai sovereignty; the socio-cultural framework, language and religion is quite different from the Thai-Buddhist mainstream, and yet this was the reality about 150 years ago. These states eventually joined the bigger Malay hinterland, whilst the status quo remained for some Malay states in the deep south of Thailand.

At the start of the 19th century, following its victory over Burma, the Siamese kingdom (Chakri dynasty) wanted to consolidate its power over the Malay states in its periphery. The sultanates of Perak, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu were vulnerable to this. Siam ordered Kedah to attack Perak in 1818 as Sultan Perak refused to pay tribute to Bangkok. Kedah acquiesced in fear of attack from Siam over its own territory, and was able to conquer Perak. Nonetheless in 1821, Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin of Kedah was called to Bangkok to answer against some allegations but he refused, resulting in Siam attacking Kedah. Siam managed to overcome Kedah but was not able to overpower Perak. 1n 1822, Perak managed to expel the remnant of Siamese influence with the assistance of Selangor.

The Siamese state persisted and via its southern proxy Nakorn Sri Thammarat (Negara Sri Dharmaraja/Ligor in Malay), remained keen on having influence over Perak and Selangor up until 1826, when it signed the Burney Treaty. It was an agreement between King Rama III (Phra Nang Khlao) and Capt. Henry Burney of the East  India Company. Essentially it prevented the spread of Siamese influence over the rest of the Malay states the British themselves had an interest in, particularly Perak and Selangor. Siam was given a free reign over the affairs of the remaining Malay states. Thus the northern Malay states were informally incorporated in the bigger Siamese kingdom. Governor Robert Fullerton, the governor of the Straits Settlements (which was then still based in Penang, having yet to move to Singapore) criticised the Burney Treaty, as the sultans, particularly the Sultan of Kedah, were seen to be particularly ill-treated in the whole affair.


This royal emblem originated from the time of King Chulalongkorn. The three headed elephant represents Siam. The single elephant represents Laos. The keris กริช, represents the Malay states. The official royal Thai emblem has been changed, but one can still see this old state-of-arm still in use in the badge of Royal Thai police cap.

To be continued…


2 responses to “Siam and the northern Malay states

  1. Very good info Sany!

    • 🙂 Itulah, spending time in KL this week made me feel very rooted. I’m currently watching Anugerah Filem Malaysia showing live on TV2 right now! 😛

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