Treasures of Kelantan, Malaysia

By Raymond JG Wells

Kelantan, located just south of the Isthmus of Kra, is an exotic corner of eastern Peninsular Malaysia. The unique state showcases an enchanting combination of culture, color and traditional Malay folklore.

There is Kelantanese batik known for its graceful, stylised motifs, the famous rebana -or drum -whose powerful beat is heard at just about all traditional celebrations be it a family wedding, festival or state parade and wayang kulit – literally skin theater – so–called because the intricately made puppets are made of leather, stiffened and mounted on sticks to be held-up against a single bright light. The old puppet masters in Kelantan are living storehouses of colorful traditional fables involving captivating characters from epics which have been handed down from one generation to another.

Besides batik, rebana and the wayang kulit, Kelantan is renowned for its perahu -or brightly painted boats – you will see them in all their glory in the various fishing villages dotting the coastline. The Kelantanese are also skilled in the making of highly elaborate wau -tasseled kites that fly the skies with deceptive ease and for famous filigree silverware. Silverware from Kelantan is renowned for its very intricate designs and workmanship. Items range from the functional to the purely ornamental and include fruit bowls, tea sets, brooches and bracelets.

A Wau
A Wau

In Kelantan, most of the leading businessmen are women -tough -headed traders who do not hesitate to haggle and haggle some more for every cent of profit. They certainly add a real dash of color to every market, with their brightly made-up faces and very colorful costumes and head-dresses. The markets in the state capital of Kota Bharu are hives of activity with all their offerings of fresh produce, preserved foodstuffs, dried seafood, and sweetmeats.

Another great Kelantanese product is the songket – cloth of gold – a proud legacy of the early Kelantan court. Once used by royalty the songket is nowadays used for ceremonial occasions and at weddings. The songket, richly woven with gold or silver is the result of the early trade with China, from where the silk came from and with India that provided the silver and gold threads. A songket-weaving factory is located at Kampung Penambang, just outside Kota Bharu.

Top spinning is a traditional pastime in Kelantan, especially among villagers after the rice harvest. There are two main types of competitions: the “,..spinning contest ..” and the “…striking match..”. The winner is when the top which spins the longest time – they have been known to reach two hours. The competitions are made more exciting by the participants trying to strike opponent’s tops to topple and stop them from spinning.

There you have it a round up of just a few of the treasures of exotic Kelantan in Malaysia.

Raymond JG Wells is a British-born economist and writer currently living and working in Malaysia, He has published in various print magazines such as Day & Night, Frequent Traveller, The Rotarian, International Living and Far East Traveler and in electronic publications including the Literary Review, MadsDogs Breakfast,,, Human Beams and the-vu.

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