From Our Archives

The Capture of Malacca, A.D. 1511 (NEW!)

The Malacca Sultanate

Meteorological Report, 1885

Notes on Names of Places in Singapore and its Vicinity

History of the Translation of the Bible into Malay

The Philippine Claim to Sabah

Recent Publications


Dear Members & Friends of MBRAS,

Please contact our Administrator, via WhatsApp, at 011-5410 2148, between 10am to 4pm, Mondays to Fridays except public holidays; or email her at Please state your name, your contact number and your query.

Our apologies for the inconvenience caused.



Reprint 35: The Malay Keris: Artistry in Iron

  Reprint 35: The Malay Keris: Artistry in Iron. Compiled by Paul H. Kratoska. Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 2020. 150x230mm; 260 pp.; illustrations.

With its sinuously waved blade and damascened surface, the fabled Malay keris is one of the most recognizable weapons in the world. Once routinely carried by men throughout the Malay world, both as part of formal ceremonial dress and as a fighting weapon, the keris today has become a family heirloom and a museum piece. The present collection of articles, most of which were originally published in the JMBRAS, explains the design and manufacture of the keris, and some of the traditional lore associated with it.

This much-anticipated reissue comes with a new and exclusively written Introduction by Datuk Prof Emeritus Dr Ahmat Adam, one of Malaysia's most distinguished historians and leading authority on Malay culture and history, who is also an MBRAS Council member.

CLICK HERE for more details.
Please contact us to reserve your copy.



Please note that for urgent personal reasons, Mr Woo Kum Wah, who has served MBRAS for many years, has been obliged to resign at short notice.

We have set up a new email:

Please use this for all future communications with the Society.

If you have sent any emails to the old email address ( which have not been answered, please resend to the above address at and we will deal with them as swiftly as possible.

Dato' Henry Barlow
Hon. Treasurer, MBRAS


In accordance with the instructions of the National Security Council, the MBRAS Office will be closed for the duration of the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) as one of the measures to lessen the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

However, our personnel will be working from home with limited resources
and therefore there may be some delay in matters which require our attention.
Please bear with us. We will do our utmost best to accommodate all enquiries.


   Latest Journal Issue

JMBRAS June 2021


The JMBRAS June 2021 issue offers a captivating selection of articles ranging from the Hadrami and Malay diasporas, through to the turbulent early years of PETRONAS, Malaysia's state-owned oil and gas firm. Other highlights of this issue include an article on female communist defectors and the social system governing the tin mines of 19th century Larut.

Nicolas Weber in the first article writes about the rarely-examined Malay diaspora in the Indochinese Peninsula, where the Malays, a nation famed for their martial exploits and prowess, once held positions of influence as warlords, officials and adventurers. The Kong-moon system in 19th century Larut is examined in great detail by Pek Wee Chuen, who advances the view that it was an elaborate system that governed the social relationships of a migrant community within a larger Malay feudal polity.

Syed Farid Alatas in a seminal article on the Al-Attas clan of Hadramaut reveals their vital role in the intellectual, cultural, economic and political spheres of the Malay World over the centuries. Important personalities belonging to this clan are highlighted in an article that will become a reference point for research into the Hadrami diaspora of Southeast Asia, particularly in the eastern end of the Indian Ocean world in which the community continues to negotiate points of influence, identity, nationalism and affiliation.

Mahani Musa in her article on female communist defectors, offers a well-deserved platform for the oft-silenced voices of the female sex in the communist narrative of Malaysia. Utilising oral history and focusing on subaltern figures of ordinary rank-and-file members, the article delivers a competing narrative to the official view of the Malayan communist struggle, at times painted in unabashedly romantic and heroic terms.

Thamboosamy Pillai was one of the outstanding pillars of the Kuala Lumpur social circuit in the late 19th century. However he was too often dismissed as a colonial appendage and an agent acting to further the interests of the colonial establishment. While this was partly true, it also obscures other aspects of his life and his contributions to his own Indian community. Sivachandralingam Sundara Raja seeks to revive interest in this oft-misunderstood individual through his timely article.

The fascinating article by Shakila Yacob on the genesis and early years of the Malaysian state-owned oil and gas concern, PETRONAS fills a significant gap in the economic history of Malaysia in the immediate post-New Economic Policy period. The article also offers a detailed summary of important milestones achieved by the firm under successive leaders, making the article indispensable reading for those interested to examine the extent of government role in capitalist ventures within a specifically Malaysian context.

An unexpected treat comes in the form of a series of sepia-toned illustrations produced by artist Bryn Barnard during his sojourn in Penang. The charming images offer much-needed relief for the reader from the formidable intellectual labour invested in digesting the foregoing articles.

An account of a journey made in February 1881 to explore the River Pluss in the Perak interior near Kuala Kangsar has been deftly translated by Colin Dyer from the original written by Xavier Brau de St. Pol Lias (1840-1914), a French prospector and explorer. This is followed by a translation of a quaint Japanese article on the population and nutrition of Malaya based on observation made during the Japanese occupation, reflecting entrenched prejudices of the occupying power. Rounding up the section on Documents in Malaysian History is the account by Leonard Wray of the political situation in Larut and the persistent bouts of instability wrought by ceaseless fighting between the warring factions of the Chinese secret societies which precipitated British intervention in Perak, ostensibly to secure trade and commerce in the region.

An unusual but welcome inclusion in this issue is the invigorating roundtable discussion generated by the publication of Juno Salazar Parreñas' book Decolonizing Extinction, prepared by Faizah Zakaria, a Singapore scholar at Nanyang Technological University.

On the cover of the June issue is an illustration of a colonial-era bungalow, one of many that used to be littered about the suburbs of George Town, Penang and in this case, was once located on Dunn Road and long since demolished. The drawing is by Bryn Barnard whose works feature in a special section in this issue.

CLICK HERE to view the list of contents of the June issue.



   NEW from MBRAS

Jacques de Morgan's Explorations in the Malay Peninsula, 1884

  Jacques de Morgan's Explorations in the Malay Peninsula, 1884. Edited with commentary by Andrée Jaunay, Christine Lorre, Antonio Guerreiro and Antoine Verney. Kuala Lumpur: MBRAS, 2020. 210x270 mm; 225 pp.; maps and illustrations.
PRICE: RM200 (member)/RM220 (non-member) in Malaysia; Singapore: S$81; Brunei: B$91; Australia: AUD$108; UK & Europe:£66; US$73 for USA & rest of the world.

SPECIAL PRE-LAUNCH PRICE for MBRAS members: RM180 (until 30 April 2020 only).

In 1884 a young French mining engineer named Jacques de Morgan (1857-1924) explored the interior of the state of Perak, searching for locations suitable for tin mining. His journey was gruelling but at all times exciting, passing through dense forests and mountainous terrain, and crossing fast-moving rivers with spectacular waterfalls. He took meticulous notes on the flora and fauna, the physical environment, and in particular the people he encountered, many of whom had never before set eyes on Europeans. It was a world known only to the aboriginal people living there, who proved extremely hospitable hosts to his party.

Jacques de Morgan’s beguiling account of his journey, together with excerpts from several scholarly articles published afterwards upon his return to France and commentary by prominent French scholars, was published in 2003 in a French-language edition (Paris: CNRS Éditions). This material has now been translated and is published in English for the first time. The volume is heavily illustrated with drawings by de Morgan himself, and includes a day-to-day account of his extraordinary journey. The picture of the Malay Peninsula in the 19th century that emerges from this book will be a revelation to modern readers. This volume will be one to cherish and makes a sumptuous gift for those enthralled by the natural wonders and inhabitants of the lush tropical forests of Southeast Asia.

CLICK HERE for more details.
Please contact us for your copy.




MBRAS Index 1878-2020

List of Articles

  Thoroughly revised, substantially improved and fully updated, the Index to the JMBRAS - from the first issue of its precursor the Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (JSBRAS) in 1878 until June 2020 - can now be accessed on this site. The Index - virtually an extension of the Index Malaysiana and its Supplements, of which printed copies are still available - is offered completely free of charge in easily downloadable PDF format and will enable users to refer to all published JSBRAS/JMBRAS articles under the relevant heading and subject matter.

Also included here - as a separate file - is the entire List of Articles of the JSBRAS and the JMBRAS, from the earliest to the latest issue - a useful tool for quick reference, particularly for those seeking out relevant articles in chronological order.

Please click on the respective titles above to download.




Khoo Kay Kim (1937-2019)

  Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim - historian and former President of the Society - passed away on Tuesday, 28 May 2019 at 82. An authoritative figure on Malaysian history, Prof Khoo has served on the Council since 1974, elected in 1981 as its Vice President in which capacity he then served for 11 years before being elected as President in 1992, a post he held for two terms until 1995. Prof Khoo then served again as Vice President between 1995 and 1999 before leaving the Council permanently. Following the illness and subsequent death of Tan Sri Mubin Sheppard, Prof Khoo served as JMBRAS editor between 1994 and 1998, when Dr Cheah Boon Kheng took over. Prof Khoo's demise represents a significant loss to the Society and to Malaysian history in general. The Council notes his passing with the greatest sorrow and prays for the repose of his soul.



A Commemorative Tribute to the Life and Work of Dr Cheah Boon Kheng (1939-2015), Editor Emeritus, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and Historian

  Dr Cheah Boon Kheng, former Vice-President of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, passed away on 27 July 2015. He first joined the Society in 1976 and became its Vice-President in 1991, a post he relinquished in 2014 upon being diagnosed with cancer. Boon Kheng also served, with great distinction, as editor of the JMBRAS for nearly two decades, and handled the production of a large number of Monographs and Reprints.

In April 2017, the Society announced the creation of the Cheah Boon Kheng Memorial Fund, to be used to support MBRAS publications. The first volume to be financed by the Fund will be a selection of Boon Kheng’s articles - a prodigious intellectual output on Malaysian history over a period of more than 30 years - that will reflect his major scholarly concerns. The commemorative volume is being compiled and edited by our Hon. Editor Dr. Kratoska who is toiling ceaselessly to see the work through in its final stages.

In view of the impending publication of this handsome tribute to Boon Kheng, the Society is once again inviting contributions to this fund. Remittances can be sent through PayPal, or by a bank transfer or a cheque payable to the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Details for a bank transfer are as follows:

Name of Bank : Maybank
Address : 66, 68 & 70 Jalan Maarof, Bangsar Baru, 59000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Account number: 514123165660
Account name : Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society
Swiftcode : MBBEMYKL

For payments made by bank transfer, we ask that donors send MBRAS a scanned copy of the receipt by e-mail at along with their postal mailing address in order that we may publicly acknowledge the donation and send a receipt.



Mencari Malaysia Reading Group

  On behalf of the Society, University of Malaya and our partners from the National University of Singapore, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who attended the inaugural "Mencari Malaysia: Readings in Historiography and Historical Sociology" event at the History Department, University of Malaya on Friday afternoon, 13 April 2018.

We had a very encouraging turnout of some 80 people, from diverse backgrounds and who participated very actively. We will be writing to those who were kind enough to leave their email addresses to thank each of you and also to update you about what is next in the project.

The late Dr Cheah Boon Kheng's paper was a good point of departure to better understand how the past was conceived, defined, taught and advocated. Whilst the objective was to explore together the process of "history-making", Dr Cheah's 1996 paper yielded a very lively debate. We particularly appreciated the thought provoking views from the audience pointing out the many hazards in trying to develop a historical narrative. Pitfalls involving inherent biases, particular perspectives and the writer's political agenda are what makes history so controversial, contested and interesting.

There were many issues and points of view on how future reading sessions should evolve. We would like to thank Professor Syed Farid Alatas for his commitment to a scholarly methodology. He assiduously kept to a logical framework sharing examples of the usefulness of theory, in this case, a sociology of history, when developing narratives.

This led to a lively discussion of what motivated Dr Cheah when he wrote the 1996 piece on Malaysian historiography. Can one be objective when recounting the past? Whilst many of us were impatient and "jumped the gun", these reading sessions are designed to help us address what motivates an historian and what influences him/her when developing histories.

We would also like to acknowledge the differing view points particularly from Professor Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Datuk Ramli Ibrahim and others. We will try to accommodate all suggestions as Mencari Malaysia is definitely a multi-faceted project requiring different modes of enquiry.

For the historiography reading sessions, the focus area will be on the issue of "Euro-centricity" for only by understanding what this means and why Cheah Boon Kheng highlighted the concept, can we arrive at a point of departure offering alternative narratives to "find" Malaysia. We expect the next session to be after Hari Raya on 22 June 2018.

Please also follow us on Facebook and watch this space as there are plans to do a live stream feed of the sessions to allow our members to follow the discussions.

Neil Khor
Hon. Secretary, MBRAS



MBRAS Obituaries

The obituaries of former Society members which used to appear on the homepage may now be found under the heading About Us . Readers looking for the obituaries should scroll down the page until they come to a section called In Memoriam, which appears just before a section featuring Past Illustrious Members. The obituaries may be accessed simply by clicking on the images of the individuals appearing in that section.

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