A Brief History of Money in the Malay Peninsula
By Enzo SimSeptember 2021 FEATURE
BEING A PLACE where the winds meet, the Malayan Peninsula has witnessed the use of many types of currency. For example, the Malacca Sultanate made use of wang pitis in the early 15th century. These were coins made from tin and gold, and moulded in the shape of crocodiles, roosters, elephants or turtles. They were called jongkong timah and jongkong emas, the latter being more highly valued. After Sultan Muzaffar Shah (1446-1459) came to power, wang pitis was phased out in favour of silver coins.
Following the Sultanate's collapse in 1511, a monetary system was put in place by the Portuguese. Tin coins bearing the Portuguese coat of arms and the royal insignia of King Emmanuel (1495- 1521) and later, of King João III (1521- 1527) were issued.
When the Dutch took control of Malacca in 1641, Johan van Twist, their first Governor, ordered the minting of coins bearing the insignia of Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the Dutch East India Company.
In the 1800s, Spanish "Reals" were widely used throughout the region. In 1898, the British, now well entrenched on the Malay Peninsula, introduced banknotes known as the Straits Dollar, along with coins that had been in circulation since 1867. These banknotes, printed with the portrait of King George V and the words "Straits Settlements", came to be used in all the territories controlled by the British, i.e. the Straits Settlements, Federated Malay States, Unfederated Malay States, Sarawak, British North Borneo and Brunei, effectively replacing the Spanish Real and the Indian Rupee.1 The Straits Dollar remained in circulation until 1939 when a new currency, the Malayan Dollar, was issued.
In October 1938, in order to standardise currency issuance for British Malaya, the Board of Commissioners of Currency Malaya was established. In July 1941, banknotes in denominations of $1, $5 and $10 and square- and round-shaped coins were minted for shipping to Malaya. But these came to little use. Malaya was occupied by the Japanese five short months later. The Japanese instituted their own currency, known as "banana money", but its overprinting led to hyperinflation and to its total loss of value.
In 1952, the Board of Commissioners of Currency Malaya and British Borneo was formed following an agreement between the administrations of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak North Borneo and Brunei to be included in a single currency union.
A new series of banknotes were issued in 1953, carrying the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1959, a new series of $1 and $10 notes came into being and remained legal tender in British Malaya, British Borneo, Sarawak and Brunei until June 12, 1967 when Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei introduced currencies of their own.
Bank Negara Malaysia issued the first series of Ringgit Malaysia banknotes on June 8, 1967, portraying the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Abdul Rahman. A second series followed in 1982, a third in 1996, and a fourth in 2012.
- The Indian Rupee had previously been in use in the Straits Settlements.
is a Mass Communications graduate who has an unwavering passion towards international relations, history and regional affairs of Southeast Asia. His passion has brought him to different Southeast Asian capitals to explore the diverse cultural intricacies within the region.