Sep 2018 Kelantan Silver


KELANTAN SILVER – Wednesday 5th September, 2018


Kelantan silver was the topic for our talk by Suryani Senja Alias on 5th September. Through her social enterprise Senijari (art hands), Suryani has been encouraging the few remaining master silver craftsmen of Kelantan by offering new alternatives for their expertise. She provides opportunities for the artisans to preserve their heritage and improve their livelihood.  She is facilitating new life being breathed into ancient crafts through the infusion of modern designs.

Suryani talked us through the history of silverwork which has been practised in Kelantan for hundreds of years.  Metalwork has been found in Malaysia from as early as the 1st century AD. Bronze and silver were used for ornamentation and the craft expanded and grew under royal patronage.  In the 6th century the ancient northern kingdom of Lanka Suka thrived under Thai influence with influences also from Vietnamese and Cambodian courts.  Land was later lost to Thailand and the area became known as Petani.  In the 7th century AD city gates were inlaid with gold and silver and likewise wooden furniture was highly ornamented with the precious metals.

At that time there was a combination of Buddhist and Hindu cultures.  Silver belts were inlaid with diamond dust (Intan) especially jewellery like earrings, hair slides and brooches.  Sultans wore silver medals and emblems and silver artisans had plenty of commissions flowing in.


The peak of the Petani kingdom was 15th-17th centuries and Suryani delighted us with tales of the four warrior Queens who dominated the culture from 1584-1635.  This was a glorious period of stability and prosperity led by the Queens of colour – Red, Blue, Violet and Yellow who carried silver daggers (kris) and swords.

The last Sultans of Petani enjoyed Thai protection and in return sent Kelantanese Golden Flowers which were trees made of silver and gold as gifts to the Thai King annually for one hundred years (1801-1901).

The Kelantanese silversmiths are individualists not following patterns but mostly using the inspiration of local flora and fauna to adorn their pieces.  Flower motifs are central on wedding tray decoration and highly decorated scabbards indicate past royal ownership.

With the passing of the Petani kingdom and from the early 20th century, the silver craft contracted until now only five to ten masters are left practising their skills in Kelantan.  All the filigree and repousse work is done by hand with no machines used.  The National Craft Institute still trains some young people in silver-smithing, but few have the desire and patience to take up the art these days.


For this reason Suryani has taken their plight to heart and is promoting their cause via Senijari.  We hope we may long be able to see Kelantanese silver in Malaysia and beyond, maybe in its latest forms of modern takes on jewellery and home goods but with the classic skill of Kelantanese masters still leading the way.



Melanie Bolland