Perak State

Perak State

Located in the central region of Malaysia, Perak is a state that has much to offer its visitors.

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Perak, which is the Malay word for silver, is a state that seems at ease with itself. It exudes an old world charm and a laid back pace of life, even commonplace at times. Situated between Penang and Selangor, Perak has traditionally been overshadowed by interesting attractions in other states. Most visitors know Perak for only two things: Pangkor Island and the city of Ipoh.

Historically, Perak has been at the center of the political saga that started with the fall of Malacca and ended with the birth of Malaysia. In its heyday, the state was booming with tin mines and endured several local wars. Perak is dotted with famous landmarks that serve as reminders of the many success stories and tragedies that fill its history. Kuala Kangsar, the royal town, and Ipoh, the state capital, prospered during the tin era and the many beautiful buildings that are still a part of the cities are a testament of the wealth at the time.

Although interest in the state died down with the dwindling supply of tin, Perak today actually has very much to offer its visitors. Marvelous natural marvels, like its limestone caves, its rainforests and beaches, its rich history and culture, along with lovely cuisine and fruits all make Perak a memorable place to visit.

The Perak Sultanate is one of two Malay sultanates descended from the Malacca Sultanate that fell to the Portueguese. Established in 1528 by Raja Muzaffar Shah, the eldest son of the last Sultan of Malacca, the state began on the banks of the Perak River. The state, though blessed with an abundance of tin, felt that it was more of a burden as it was constantly threatened and ocassionally attacked by foreign powers that coveted its resources.

The first foreign power who attempted to monopolize the tin trade in the 17th century was the Dutch. They were unsuccessful in their attempts, which began with their arrival in Perak, after capturing the Straits of Malacca. After their initial attempts to influence Sultan Muzaffar Shah were unsuccessful, the Dutch finally compelled the sultan to sign a treaty which allowed them to build their plant on Kuala Perak in August 1650, a move that was not well received by the local populace. This resulted in an attack on the plant and its subsequent destruction.

The Dutch was not discouraged by this setback and in 1655 they sent a representative to Perak to renew the agreement and also to seek compensation for the plant. Perak did not honor the treaty and with the help of Acheh, launched another surprise attack on the Dutch. The Dutch, undeterred by the attacks, came back to build Kota Kayu on Pangkor Island in 1670. Initially Perak agreed to the construction as rumors of an impending attack from Siam were heard. In 1685, Perak launched a final assault on the Dutch, forcing them to close their headquarters and retreat. The state did not respond to the Dutch's further attempts at renegotiation.

Although the Dutch were gone, Perak was still plagued by the chaos caused by tin. The Chinese immigrants brought in to work the mines in Larut started a turf war which resulted in total chaos. To make matters worse, the Perak Sultanate at that time was embroiled in a succession dispute between Raja Ismail and Raja Abdullah. These events were to lead up to a pivotal point for Perak, and alter the course of the Malay states forever.

In order to consolidate his control over Perak, Raja Abdullah sought assistance from the British Straits Settlement Governor Sir Andrew Clarke. The astute Governor used this as an opportunity to expand British influence in the state and organised a meeting between the various Chinese clan leaders and Malay aristocrats on Pangkor Island, where a treaty was negotiated. The treaty, known as the Pangkor Treaty, resolved the succession dispute by acknowledging Raja Abdullah as the Sultan of Perak on the condition that a British Resident would advise him in all matters except for those pertaining to Malay culture and religion.

This radical change resulted in tragedy when the first British Resident, J.W.W. Birch was assassinated by several Perak noblemen in 1875. After a short-lived war, Perak continued with the Resident system under the administration of its second Resident, Sir Hugh Low, who relied on his extensive knowledge of Malay language and customs during his tenure. The success of the Resident system in Perak ushered in an era of British intervention in the rest of the Malay states, and by 1896, the British organised Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang into the Federated Malay States, a precursor to the Federation of Malaya in 1948.