CIRCUMFIXES AND CROWNS
In 1957 all the British-dominated territories in Malaya, with the exception of Singapore, came together in one independent country. From then until 1963 most of the country’s stamps bore the words Persekutuan Tanah Melayu.
1961. Installation of the third King
Tanah Melayu means Malay Lands, but what of Persekutuan? The word has nothing to do with persecution; it means Federation. A minority of issues used English instead: Federation of Malaya. In 1963 the federation was expanded with more territories and became Malaysia, but there was no mention of the word Persekutuan on any of the many stamps that followed.
English has some standard word-making prefixes (eg in + expensive = inexpensive; in + variable = invariable) and suffixes (eg censor + ship = censorship, friend + ship = friendship). Indonesian/Malaysian has prefixes and suffixes too, but also circumfixes, which are like pairs of bookends. Persekutuan on the stamp consists of per + sekutu + an. Sekutu means ally and when bookended by per and an the word which means federation is formed. Other examples of this standard per + .. + an circumfix are perjalanan meaning journey, made by bookending jalan meaning road; and pertanyaan meaning question, by bookending tanya, the verb to ask.
BTW The last letter of the front bookend, can change or be dropped depending on the first letter of the word it encloses. Thus pengadilan meaning law court is made by bookending adil meaning just (adil begins with a; this causes per > peng); pekerjaan meaning occupation is made by bookending kerja, the verb to work (kerja begins with k, this causes per > pe). Scholars of linguistics describe such phenomena as morphophonemic.
The Indonesian/Malaysian language has one other standard circumfix with the same function of building nouns: ke + .. + an. For example, kerajaan meaning kingdom is made by bookending raja meaning king; keturunan meaning lineage is made by bookending turun meaning to descend.
Is there some logic to the use of these two different noun-making circumfixes? Does one of them convey some slightly different element of meaning from the other? No. The word for a mountain range is pegunungan, made by using the per and an bookends to enclose gunung meaning mountain, while the word for an archipelago is kepulauan made by using the ke and an bookends to enclose pulau meaning island. There seems no good reason why the language uses pegunungan rather than *kegunungan but kepulauan rather than *pepulauan.
The constitution of present-day Malaysia is much the same as that of the pre-1963 Federation of Malaya. The country contains nine states that each have a hereditary ruler, mostly with the title of sultan. This ruler has the role of a constitutional monarch in the affairs of their state, and so exercises some formal, though limited, power. In Indonesia, by contrast, some of the descendants of the former royal rulers of some parts of the country may still be prominent culturally, but they have no formal power.
Every five years (or earlier if a vacancy occurs through death or abdication) the nine rulers elect one of themselves as a new head of state of the whole country. In practice, the rulers’ voting is usually determined by a certain rota which ensures that each state gets its turn at the job; thus the first head of state was from the state of Negeri Sembilan and so was the tenth; the second head was from Selangor and so was the eleventh; and so on. If, however, the ruler of the next state according to the rota is generally considered to be particularly unsuitable – perhaps because of great age or a scandalous private life – then the election procedure makes it possible to pass over him.
The title of the head of state is Yang di-Pertuan Agong, which means ‘He who is esteemed as supreme lord’. English-speakers tend to reduce that whole mouthful to the word King. Despite the grand title this king has much the same limited powers as a constitutional monarch in Europe. However, he does have the power to reprieve criminals or reduce sentences. Occasionally the world becomes aware of this when a foreigner is condemned to death for drug offences and makes a final appeal for clemency to the king.
Since 1957 it has been the custom to make a new stamp issue (one stamp or a set) whenever a new king of the country is installed, ie roughly every five years. Also, albeit less consistently, there has been an issue for the installation of a new sultan in one of the states. Between 1957 and the present, a period of 64 years, there have been 14 king-making stamp issues and 15 sultan-making issues. There have also been two issues commemorating an anniversary of the installation of a long-serving sultan
So far there have been 16 kings since the office was set up. The first king produced by the constitution appeared on an issue commemorating the first anniversary of independence, and the second king died before there was time for him to appear on a stamp issue. For all the other 14 kings the installation has been commemorated with a stamp issue.
1958. First King. Anniversary of Independence
Installation of some of the Kings:1966, 1976, 1994
The sultans of the states have not been represented on stamps quite so thoroughly as the kings of the country. For example, the installation as Raja of the present ruler of the state of Perlis in 2001 did not result in a stamp. This may well be related to the fact that through the working of the rota system this ruler had progressed within a year to become King of the whole country, and so he appeared on the king-making stamp. Much the same happened to the present Sultan of Pahang. He became Sultan in 2019, and within a month was elevated to King since the previous holder had abdicated unexpectedly and it was Pahang’s turn to provide the next King.
Installation of Kings from Perlis (2002), Pahang (2019)
Back in 1896 stamps from the state of Johor were overprinted kemahkotaan to celebrate the coronation of a new sultan. The word kemahkotaan meaning coronation is made by using the ke + .. + an circumfix to enclose mahkota meaning crown.
1896. The Johor overprint: kemahkotaan
The next action on this front came in 1961 with the stamp at the top of this article for the installation of the third king. But this does not contain kemahkotaan; instead it uses pertabalan, a word where the other noun-making circumfix per + .. + an encloses tabal, the verb for installing somebody in some important function. Why do that king-making stamp and all the others without exception use pertabalan and not kemahkotaan as on that Johor sultan-making stamp of 1896?
That question is associated with another: Why is it that the sultan-making stamps differ? Some, though not all, since 1957 use pertabalan like the king-making stamps but some use kemahkotaan as in the Johor issue of 1896.
Sultan-making issues with pertabalan: Perak 1963; Negeri Sembilan 1968; Trengganu 1999
Sultan-making issues with kemahkotaan: Selangor 1961; Kelantan 1980; Johor 2015
Here is an explanation of the relationship between pertabalan and kemahkotaan :
• Pertabalan applies to any ceremony for installing a person in a royal function. It does not necessarily imply that a crown is used. Kemahkotaan applies to such a ceremony if and only if a crown is used. Thus Pertabalan is the more general term. Every Kemahkotaan is a Pertabalan, but not every Pertabalan is a Kemahkotaan.
• For the ceremony of installing the King of Malaysia there is regalia but it does not include a crown. As shown on a number of stamps the king does wear a royal headdress, but, though stylish, it is essentially a hat made of cloth with jewels attached rather than a crown.
• Consequently all the 14 king-making stamp issues use the word pertabalan.
• Some of the states actually possess a crown which is used at the installation of their sultan, and some do not.
• The states of Johor, Kelantan and Selangor do possess a crown for their sultan, and their sultan-making stamps use kemahkotaan.
• The states of Kedah, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak and Perlis don’t possess a crown and so their sultan-making stamps use pertabalan.
• The state of Trengganu does possess a crown but its sultan-making stamp of 1999 (pictured above) uses pertabalan. This seems an anomaly.
That little analysis fits the facts about stamps, regalia and vocabulary, except in the case of Trengganu. Perhaps somebody was careless and used the broad term pertabalan that is found on all the king-making stamps and also on many of the sultan-making stamps when kemahkotaan would have been more exact.
How come four of the states on the Malay peninsula today possess a crown and five do not? It seems that for much of their history none of the states had a crown, even though some states elsewhere in the archipelago that were culturally similar possessed a crown for many centuries. For example, the crown of Sumedang in West Java is said to have been made in the time of a Hindu king of Pajajaran who reigned 1357-1371 and to have been brought to Sumedang in 1578 by fleeing royalty as the Pajajaran kingdom was destroyed by its enemies. The crown of the kingdom of Gowa in south-west Sulawesi is said to have been made in the 13th century and to have been worn by 36 kings in turn. Comparison with the history of the English monarchy shows that this count makes sense.
The crowns of Sumedang (left) and Gowa (right)
The states of the Malayan peninsula have no crowns that are anything like that venerable. The oldest is the crown of Johor which was made in London in 1886. The sultan of the time was an Anglophile and the crown’s design resembles the St Edward’s Crown of the English monarchs, although it includes Islamic crescent moons and stars.
The crown of Johor
Probably inspired by Johor, the Selangor sultans obtained a crown in 1903; Trengganu followed in 1920 and Kelantan in 1921. They are all different but closer to European models than to the ancient crowns of other parts of the archipelago.
The crowns of three other states: Selangor; Trengganu; Kelantan
So far this text has been about Malaysia and linguistic discussion has been about the Malaysian form of the Indonesian/Malaysian language. Just as there are differences of vocabulary between the British and American forms of English, so there are differences between the Indonesian and Malaysian forms of the common language. It so happens that this semantic field of the installation of royalty contains some interesting differences.
The text at the start of this article implied that one or other of the two noun-making circumfixes was normally used for a certain meaning, but not both; thus kepulauan exists and *pepulauan does not. The word for coronation built from mahkota meaning crown seems to be an exceptional case. Kemahkotaan and pemahkotaan both exist. However, kemahkotaan, which is found on the stamps, is the more common. A Google search yields six times as many hits for kemahkotaan as for pemahkotaan. I haven’t found evidence of any difference in meaning between the two forms, but there may well be a difference of usage. I suspect that pemahkotaan is normally used in Indonesian and kemahkotaan in Malaysian. However, I haven’t found enough evidence to be really sure about that.
The word pertabalan – which appears on the majority of the stamps discussed here – exists in Malaysian but not Indonesian. In Indonesian the equivalent of pertabalan is penobatan. Penobatan is built from the verb nobat, to install somebody with ceremony. (BTW Penobatan is not to be confused with pengobatan, meaning medical treatment, from obat, meaning medicine.). Indonesia differs from Malaysia in that the heirs of the old sultanates no longer have any formal place in the country’s constitution. Nevertheless some elaborate ceremonies are still held in a few places and penobatan is the word normally used. To see this, search YouTube on penobatan together with Cirebon or penobatan together with Yogyakarta, for example.
In any situation where a speaker of British English says autumn it is pretty certain that a speaker of American English will say fall; where pavement, sidewalk; where lorry, truck; where nappy, diaper; and so on. These are pairs of equivalent terms in those two forms of the English language. But the relationship between Malaysian and Indonesian terminology in this semantic area is more complicated than that.
In Malaysian usage:
• The word pertabalan applies to any royal installation ceremony.
• If and only if a royal installation ceremony involves use of a crown (ie it is literally a coronation) then kemahkotaan is a more precise term to use than pertabalan.
But in Indonesian usage:
• The word penobatan applies to any royal installation ceremony.
• There is no separate word which is restricted to a royal installation ceremony that involves use of a crown (ie it is literally a coronation).
• The word pemahkotaan meaning coronation does exist but is not normally used for ceremonies within Indonesia (eg at Cirebon or Yogyakarta). As a YouTube search demonstrates, it is normally applied to coronations elsewhere, eg in Malaysia or in England in 1953.
The above seems to make a coherent little model that fits the observed facts. Yet it is not rock-solid knowledge. I worked it out by merging the evidence of the stamps and the regalia with some input from native speakers and definitions and examples from online dictionaries and analysis of Google and YouTube search results, and applying some deduction. I’d be happy to hear from anybody who is in a position to propose an improved model.