Regional power politics and the birth of Penang


Any place that enjoys a prime location is bound to be caught in regional conflicts. Penang, possessing a safe harbour, was naturally involved in the power struggles of the late 18th century. Indeed, it evolved out of that painful process.

PENANG'S HISTORY is directly tied to that of Kedah, a sovereign — and the oldest — kingdom on the peninsula before its annexation by Siam in the 13th century. As tributary states, Kedah and its subsidiary state of Perlis sent bunga emas at three-year intervals to Siam in return for Siamese protection from external threats.

By the 18th century, the East India Company (EIC) was looking for a favourable port across the Bay of Bengal. The Sultan of Kedah, having been driven by the Bugis from his throne, was in desperate need of external assistance. Siam, his overlord at the time, was too busy fighting the Burmese to provide him any relief.

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