Formerly a member of the Straits Settlements, the former Crown Colony of Penang — along with the coastal strip known as Province Welleseley — became a state of the Federation of Malaya in 1949. When Malaya achieved its independence from the United Kingdom in 1957, Penang was integrated as part of the federation, which was renamed Malaysia when it merged with the territories 0f British Borneo in 1963. Located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia by the Malacca Strait, it had two parts — Penang Island, an island of 113 square kilometers (293 km²) where the capital city, George Town, was located, and Province Wellesley, a narrow hinterland of 290 square miles (75²) on the Malay Peninsula bordered by Kedah to the east and north (demarcated by the Muda River), and by Perak to the south.
The name of Penang comes from the modern Malay name Pulau Pinang, which means ‘the island of the areca nut palm’ (Areca catechu of the Palmae family). The name Penang may refer either to Penang Island or the State of Penang. Early Malays called Penang Island Pulau Ka-Satu, meaning ‘The First Island’, because it was the largest island encountered on the trading sea-route between Lingga and Kedah. The Siamese, then the overlord of Kedah, referred to the island as Koh Maak (เกาะหมาก), which meant the ‘Areca Nut Palm Island’. In the fifteenth century, Penang Island was referred to as Bīnláng Yù (槟榔屿) in the navigational drawings used by Admiral Zheng He of Ming China in his expeditions to the South Seas. The sixteenth-century Portuguese historian Emanuel Godinho de Eredia’s map of the Malay Peninsula in his ‘Description of Malacca’ in 1613 referred to the island as Pulo Pinaom.
Archaeological evidence shows that Penang was inhabited by the Semang-Pangan of the Juru and Yen lineage. Both of these are now considered extinct cultures. They were hunter-gatherers of the Negrito stock having short stature and dark complexion, and were dispersed by the Malays as far back as 900 years ago. The last recorded aboriginal settlement in Penang was in the 1920s in Kubang Semang.
The first evidence of prehistoric human settlement in what is now Penang were found in Guar Kepah, a cave in Seberang Perai in 1860. Based on mounds of sea shells with human skeletons, stone implements, broken ceramics, and food leftovers inside, the settlement was estimated to be between 3,000 and 4,000 years old. Other stone tools found in various places on Penang Island pointed to the existence of Neolithic settlements dating to 5,000 years ago.
The earliest use of the geographical term “Penang Island” may have been the ‘Nautical Charts of Zheng He’, dated to the expeditions of Admiral Zheng He during the reign of the Yongle Emperor of Ming China. Chinese sailors at the time used the nautical charts to navigate from Con Dao Islands to Penang Island; consequently, there were trade activities between Penang and Ming China as early as the fifteenth century.
Sixteenth-century Portuguese traders from Goa, India sailing to the Far East in search of spices found a small island where they replenished their water supplies. They called it Pulo Pinaom. In the seventeenth century, Penang’s location at the northern entry to the Straits of Malacca provided a sheltered harbor for Chinese, Indian, Arabian and European ships during the monsoon months; this, in turn, inevitably made it fertile hunting ground for pirates.
One of the very first Englishmen to reach Penang was the merchant-navigator Sir James Lancaster who in 1588 served under Sir Francis Drake as commander of the Edward Bonadventure against the nemesis of the Spanish Armada. On April 10, 1591, commanding the same ship, he set sail from Plymouth for the East Indies, reaching Batu Ferringhi in June 1592, remaining on Penang Island until September of that year and pillaging every vessel he encountered. He returned to England in May 1594.
In the early eighteenth century, ethnic Minangkabaus from Sumatra opened up a settlement on Penang Island. Haji Muhammad Salleh, known as Nakhoda Intan, anchored at Batu Uban and built a seaside settlement in 1734. Later, Arabs arrived and settled mainly at Jelutong. Arabs then intermarried with the Minangkabau; this gave rise to the Arab-Minangkabau admixture now described as Malay, as they have assimilated into the local Malay community.
Originally part of the Malay sultanate of Kedah, Penang was ceded to the British East India Company in 1786 by the Sultan of Kedah, Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah, in exchange for military protection from Siamese and Burmese armies who were threatening Kedah.
On July 17, 1786. Captain Francis Light, an English trader-adventurer of the British East India Company, landed on Penang Island. Fort Cornwallis was later built at the site where he first set foot. Light had previously been an East India Company Agent on the island of Jungceylon — present-day Phuket — in Siam and had tried to convince the British to colonize it. He departed Jungceylon on the eve of the Burmese invasion in February 1788.
For Light, Penang Island, situated in the middle of the maritime trade route along the Malacca Straits between China and India, was a “convenient magazine for trade”, and an ideal location to curtail French and Dutch territorial expansion in Southeast Asia. The British East India Company was also seeking a naval base in the region for the maintenance of Royal Navy ships. Meanwhile, Kedah was facing threats from its stronger northern rivals, Siam and Burma. Thus, Light endeavored to negotiate with Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah of Kedah regarding the cession of Penang Island to the British East India Company, in exchange for military assistance against Kedah’s foes.
With the negotiations successfully concluded, Captain Light hoisted the Union Jack thereby taking formal possession of Penang on August 11, 1786 “in the name of His Britannic Majesty, King George III and the Honourable East India Company”. He then renamed the island the Prince of Wales Island in honor of the heir to the British throne, and established the settlement of George Town at the northeastern tip of the island in honor of King George III. George Town was Britain’s first settlement in Southeast Asia, and was one of the first establishments of the British Empire after the loss of its North American colonies. In Malaysian history, the occasion marked the beginning of more than a century of British involvement in Malaya. It was called Prince of Wales Island until 1867.
Unbeknownst to the Sultan, Light had acted without the approval of the East India Company when he promised military protection. When the Company failed to aid Kedah when it was attacked by Siam (which renamed Penang Island “Koh Mak“), the Sultan tried to retake the island in 1790. The attempt was unsuccessful, and the Sultan was forced to cede the island to the Company for an honorarium of 6,000 Spanish dollars per annum. This was later increased to 10,000 dollars, with Province Wellesley being added to Penang in 1800. An annual honorarium of 18,800 ringgit continues to be paid by the Penang State Government to the Sultan of Kedah.
The settlement was first built around the harbor with Fort Cornwallis forming the island’s defense. Light became the first Superintendent of the Prince of Wales Island. To expedite jungle clearing by laborers, Light fired silver coins from his ship cannons into the dense vegetation, and the land was cleared in no time. The original four streets of George Town were Beach Street, Light Street, Pitt Street (now Masjid Kapitan Keling Street) and Chulia Street, all of which still form the main thoroughfares of the modern city. Other early roads include Church Street, Bishop Street, China Street and Market Street, and by the early nineteenth century also Armenian Street and Acheen Street.
Light declared Prince of Wales Island a free port to attract trade away from the Dutch who were then the colonial rulers of the Dutch East Indies. This strategy drew many immigrant traders to Penang. Settlers were allowed to claim whatever land they could clear. By 1789, Penang had 5,000 residents and this doubled by the end of the following decade. The first Chinese settlers in Penang came from an existing community in Kedah, with their leader, called a Kapitan Cina, being Koh Lay Huan, a Baba.
Light died of malaria on October 21, 1794. and was buried at the Protestant cemetery at the end of Northam Road (now Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah). His son, William Light went on to found the city of Adelaide in Australia. Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington) arrived in Penang to coordinate the island’s defenses. In 1800, Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Leith secured a strip of land across the channel from the island and named it Province Wellesley, after Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, Governor-General of India.
Early in the nineteenth century, Penang was used as a staging post for the opium trade between India and China. The East India Company auctioned off licences to gambling dens, brothels and opium traders (this alone accounted for approximately 60% of colonial Penang’s crimes). In 1796, Penang was made a penal settlement when 700 Indian convicts were transferred from the Andaman Islands.
In 1805, Penang’s colonial status was elevated to that of a presidency of British India, sharing similar status with Bombay and Madras. Stamford Raffles arrived in Penang to work as the Deputy Secretary to the Governor of Penang, Philip Dundas from 1805 to 1810. and subsequently founded Singapore in 1819. John Crawfurd had earlier resided on the island for three years and, while embarked on a mission to the courts of Siam and Cochin China, moored there from December 11 until January 5, 1822. He found the settlement in a state of alarm, after an invasion of the territory of the King of Kedah by the Raja of Ligor (Nakhon Si Thammarat.) As this had a direct impact on his mission, his account goes into considerable detail about the state of the island, including a census of the population by land of origin and the total in revenues contributed by each group. He also criticizes British administration policy on licences and taxation, both on the island and on the Continent.
When Singapore and Malacca were incorporated with Penang to form the Straits Settlements in 1826, George Town continued to serve as the seat of government. However, in 1829, Penang was reduced from the rank of a presidency, and in 1832, the capital of the Straits Settlements was shifted from George Town to the rapidly-booming town of Singapore. In 1867, the Straits Settlements became a crown colony under direct British rule and the first stamps were issued overprinting those of British India with a crown and change of denomination.
During the early nineteenth century, colonial Penang thrived from trade in pepper and spices, Indian piece goods, betel nut, tin, opium and rice. The Bengal Presidency was aware of Penang’s potential as an alternative to Dutch Moluccas as a source of spice production. Spice cultivation on Penang Island became the chief means of covering administrative costs in Penang. The development of the spice economy drove the movement of Chinese settlers to Penang Island, which was actively encouraged by the British.
However, the Port of Penang’s initial pre-eminence was later supplanted by Singapore owing to the latter’s superior geographical location. In spite of this, Penang remained an important feeder to Singapore — funneling the exports meant for global shipping lines by ocean-going ships which had bypassed other regional ports. The replacement of sailing vessels by steamships in the mid-nineteenth century cemented Penang’s secondary importance after Singapore. The tin mining boom in neighboring Perak towards the end of the nineteenth century also transformed the Port of Penang into a major tin-exporting entrepôt competing directly against the Port of Singapore, whilst also ushering in an influx of mercantile firms and banks. Penang’s most important trading partners were China, India, Siam, the Dutch East Indies and the rest of the British Empire, including fellow Straits Settlements, Singapore and Malacca.
The rapid population growth stemming from economic development created problems such as sanitation, inadequate urban infrastructure, transportation and public health. Main roads were extended from the capital into the fertile cultivated spice farms further inland. But to sate the severe labor shortages in public works, the government began the practice of employing Indian convict workers as low-cost laborers. A great number of them worked on the streets of George Town, draining swamps and clearing forests, constructing drainage ditches, and laying pipeworks for clean water. Indeed, convict labor was key to Penang’s successful colonization as many found employment in the civil service, military, and even as private servants to the colonial officials and private individuals.
In August 1867, George Town was gripped with civil unrest during what was known as the Penang Riots, nine days of heavy street fighting and bloodshed among the secret societies of Penang. The fighting spiraled out of control, until the British were able bring in reinforcements from Singapore. The two principal Chinese secret societies — the Cantonese-speaking Ghee Hin Kongsi and the Hakka-speaking Hai San — quarreled over commercial interests, especially in the lucrative tin-mining industry. Today’s Cannon Street was so named because of the hole made on the ground by a cannonball fired into the area from Khoo Kongsi. The British under newly appointed lieutenant-governor Col. Edward Anson put down the violence with sepoy reinforcements after nine days of chaos. After the elevation of the Straits Settlements into a British crown colony in 1867, the rule of law in Penang was better enforced, gradually putting an end to the Chinese triad activities that had plagued the settlement.
The opening of Suez Canal in 1869 greatly expanded British trade with the Far East. Colonial Penang prospered through exports of tin and rubber, which fed the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Penang’s prosperity attracted people from far and wide, making Penang truly a melting pot of diverse cultures. Among the ethnic groups found in Penang were Malays, Acehnese, Arabs, Armenians, British, Burmese, Germans, Jews, Chinese, Gujeratis, Bengalis, Japanese, Punjabis, Sindhis, Tamils, Siamese, Malayalees, Rawas, Javanese, Mandailings, Portuguese, Eurasians and others. Though many of them no longer impose a felt presence today, their memory lives on in place names such as Burma Road, Rangoon Road, Siam Road, Armenian Street, Acheen Street, Gottlieb Road, and Katz Street, and the Jewish Cemetery.
At the turn of the century, Penang, with her large population of Chinese immigrants, was a natural place for the Chinese nationalist Sun Yat-sen to raise funds for his revolutionary efforts in Qing China. These frequent visits culminated in the famous 1910 Penang conference which paved the way to the ultimately triumphant Wuchang uprising which overthrew the Manchu government.
Cosmopolitan Penang was already a thriving colony of the British Empire in the first decades of the twentieth century, counting among its eminent visitors Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Noël Coward, Hermann Hesse, Karl May, Count Friedrich M. von Hochberg and Hans Sturzenegger. Generally distinguished visitors stayed at the venerable luxurious Eastern & Oriental Hotel.
During World War I, there was a surprise naval attack in what is called the Battle of Penang. At about 04:30 on October 28, 1914, the German cruiser SMS Emden appeared off the George Town roads and attacked the harbor and vessels lying therein. Captain von Müller had disguised his ship by rigging a false smoke stack, which made Emden resemble the British cruiser HMS Yarmouth (1911). Once he had entered the harbor, however, he ran up the German naval ensign and revealed what ship the newcomer actually was. Before any of the Allied naval vessels could respond, a torpedo was fired at the Russian protected cruiser Zhemchug, followed up with a salvo of shells which riddled the ship. As Zhemchug returned fire, a second torpedo was fired. The torpedo penetrated the forward magazine, causing an explosion that sank the Russian ship. Casualties amongst Zhemchug‘s crew of 250 amounted to 88 dead and 121 wounded.
Zhemchug had been tied up in a state of non-readiness while her captain, Cmdr. Baron I. A. Cherkassov, went ashore that night to visit his wife (some sources say mistress). The keys for the ship’s magazine had been taken ashore and no lookouts had been posted. Cherkassov could only watch in helpless horror from the Eastern & Oriental Hotel as his ship sank to the bottom of the Straits. He was court-martialed for negligence and sentenced to 3½ years in prison, reduction in rank and expelled from the navy; his deputy, Lt. Kulibin, was sentenced to 1½ years in prison. However, Tsar Nicholas II changed both sentences to sending to the front as ordinary seamen. Both men later distinguished themselves in combat and were decorated with the Cross of St. George.
Returning to the harbor from a patrol was the French destroyer Mousquet, under the command of a Lt. Théroinne. The Mousquet set off in pursuit of Emden, but was quickly sunk by the German ship, 10 miles off Muka Head. Thirty-six French survivors out of a crew of 80 from the destroyer were picked up by Emden, three of whom later died from their injuries. They were buried at sea at the insistence of von Müller. Lt. Théroinne was amongst the Frenchmen lost aboard Mousquet. Two days later, the Germans stopped the British steamer Newburn and transferred the remaining Frenchmen so that they could be conveyed to Sabang, Sumatra, then part of the neutral Dutch East Indies. Emden continued its raiding mission for another ten days, before being severely damaged and run aground at the Battle of Cocos.
A total of 12 Russian sailors are buried on Penang and Jerejak. The monument honoring the sailors of Zhemchug was renovated by Soviet sailors in 1972 and 1987. The battle was mentioned numerous times by Vladimir Putin on his 2003 presidential visit to Malaysia. The Russian embassy in Malaysia holds memorial services twice annually in honor of the fallen sailors.
This incident aside, World War I had relatively little effect on Penang. On the Esplanade at George Town, there is war memorial commemorating the soldiers who fell in the war.
In the interwar years and during the Great Depression, the Penang business elites suffered numerous setbacks but also witnessed the rise of the nouveau-riche such as the legendary Lim Lean Teng. Rice-milling, opium syndicates, and pawnbroking were among the most lucrative businesses. In 1922, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) visited Penang amid much splendor.
World War II unleashed unparalleled social upheaval on Penang. With news of the imminent attack of the Japanese, the British withdrew to Singapore after declaring George Town an open city. The British also covertly evacuated Penang’s European population, leaving behind the majority Asian populace to the mercy of the invading Japanese. Historians would later argue that the withdrawal and the silent evacuation of the white race led to the loss of the British prestige, and that “the moral collapse of British rule in Southeast Asia came not at Singapore, but at Penang”. The British withdrawal left the defenseless island in the hands of a State Committee which had to subdue a three-day civil unrest.
Penang, then a British garrison, suffered devastating aerial bombardments and finally fell to Japanese forces invading from the north through Thailand on December 19, 1941, one of the key stages of the Battle of Malaya, days after having neutralized American sea power at Pearl Harbor. Three and a half years of rule of terror ensued. Many of the local populace fled to the interior and plantations to escape from Japanese atrocities, of which many were reported and documented. Penang under Japanese occupation was marked by widespread fear, hunger, and the Sook Ching massacres which targeted the local Chinese populace. Especially feared was the Japanese military police Kempeitai and its network of informants. During the occupation, Penang was governed by four successive Japanese governors, starting with Shotaro Katayama.
Penang also served as a vital U-boat base for Japan’s ally, Nazi Germany, during the war in the Far East. U-511, under the command of Kptlt. Fritz Schneewind, arrived in Penang, then under Japanese occupation in July 1943, followed by U-178 in August 1943. This essentially started the U-boat campaign in the Indian Ocean and also provided the Germans with penetration into the Pacific for the first time. Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Dommes became the first commander of the U-boat base, located in the former British seaplane base in Penang.
Between 1944 and 1945, the Allies launched bombing raids throughout Southeast Asia, including on Penang. The destruction of the Penang Secretariat building by Allied bombing in the final months of the occupation caused the loss of the greater part of the British and Japanese records concerning the island, causing enormous difficulties to compile a comprehensive history of Penang.
Following the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945, the Penang Shimbun published on August 21 the proclamation of surrender issued by the Emperor of Japan. Under Operation Jurist, the British Royal Marines accepted the surrender of the Japanese garrison in Penang on September 2 and liberated Penang Island the following day. Thus, George Town became the first city in Malaya to be liberated by British forces; the British would go on to recapture Singapore and the rest of Malaya in the weeks that followed. George Town’s historic buildings remarkably survived virtually unscathed despite Allied bombings.
Penang was put under military administration from 1945 until 1946, administered by two successive British military governors. In 1946, the Straits Settlements was dissolved, as the British sought to consolidate the different political entities in British Malaya under a single polity named the Malayan Union. Penang and Malacca become separate crown colonies in the Federation of Malaya, while Singapore became a standalone crown colony, separate from Malaya. These were merged into the Malayan Union along with the Federated Malay States and Unfederated Malay States, while Singapore was excluded from this union.
However, by then, British prestige and their image of invincibility were severely dented. After heated public opposition, the Malayan Union was replaced by the Federation of Malaya in 1948. The independence of Malaya as a united political entity seemed an inevitable conclusion. The idea of the absorption of the British crown colony of Penang into the vast Malay heartland alarmed some quarters of Penang’s population over economic and ethnic concerns. The Penang Secessionist Movement was formed in 1948 to preclude Penang’s merger with Malaya, and was spearheaded by, among others, the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Penang Indian Chamber of Commerce, and the Penang Clerical and Administrative Staff Union. The movement ultimately failed; a secession motion tabled in the Penang Settlement Council in 1949 was narrowly defeated by British official votes, while another petition sent to London in 1951 also met with British disapproval.
In 1955, Tunku Abdul Rahman held a meeting with the British to discuss the end of British rule in Penang with a merger with Malayan Union which was then replaced by Federation of Malaya.
George Town was accorded city status by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on January 1, 1957, becoming the first city in the Federation of Malaya. George Town continued to be the only city within Malaysia (other than Singapore between 1963 and 1965) until 1972, when Kuala Lumpur also obtained city status. The royal charter granting George Town its city status and the petition from the Penang residents to Queen Elizabeth II in this regard are still prominently displayed in the Penang State Museum.
On August 31, 1957, Penang formally gained independence from the British Empire with the rest of the newly independent Federation of Malaya (Persekutuan Tanah Melayu) and in 1963, became a member state of Malaysia.
Owing to its long colonial history, many British colonial buildings can still be seen today. Such buildings include the City Hall, the Town Hall, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (popularly known as the E. & O., established 1884), The Mansion, the Old Court House, Suffolk House built upon the pepper estate established by the first lieutenant for the island Francis Light and built by W.E.Phillips and subsequently used by governors until 1836 when it fell into private hands. Local conservationists are lobbying the state government to restore many other historical buildings but regrettably a number of them have dilapidated beyond repair.
Indeed, many public institutions and customs in Penang and Malaysia in general today are inherited and modified from the British such as formal education, use of English language, English loanwords, transportation systems — harbor, roads, railroads; form of government (Westminster system), English Common Law, and leisure — turf club, and recreation clubs.
Interestingly, in comparison to Kuala Lumpur, Penang still retains many colonial street names. These include King Street, Queen Street, Beach Street, Union Street, Light Street, Downing Street, Anson Road, Macalister Road, Magazine Road, Love Lane, Rope Walk, Gurney Drive, Weld Quay, Buckingham Street, Codrington Avenue, Gottlieb Road, Vermont Road and Western Avenue. Although many streets have been given ‘Malaysian’ names such as Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Kling, it is often better known locally by its former name — Pitt Street. Other notable names of suburbs and places are Fettes Park, Hillside, Island Glades, Brown Garden and Jesselton Heights.
In view of the colonial heritage, UNESCO awarded George Town, as well as the Straits Historical City of Malacca Town, the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Early mail connections with British traders in Malaya and the East Indies were made by casual ship as an extension of the services to India; Dutch mails were routed through Batavia. These exist from at least 1688 but letters are rare outside Duch archives before 1799. The earliest postal markings date from circa 1806 when a post office was established at Prince of Wales Island (Penang).
The first postage stamps used in Penang were those of British India which were available for use in Singapore from October 22, 1854. Indian stamps were used until March 31, 1867, throughout the Straits Settlements until March 31, 1867. The following day, a set of stamps was issued overprinted with a crown at the top and change to Straits Settlements currency surcharged at the bottom. One silver dollar was equivalent to 96 cents until 1880 when 100 cents became equal to 1 Straits dollar. Stamps mailed from the main post office in Penang bore the numbered cancellation B147. Malacca used B109 while Singapore was B172. Straits Settlements stamps were also available in Manila until 1862 and were cancelled in transit at Singapore.
The Straits Settlements joined the Universal Postal Union on April 1, 1877, and operated a local postal union with other Malayan territories under British influence until 1899. This was renewed in 1946. Successive stamp issues remained valid in the three main settlements until the Japanese occupation of World War II. They were also used in Province Wellesley and various other territories including the Dindings (from 1874), Christmas Island (from 1900), Cocos Islands (from 1903), and Labuan (from 1906).
Penang, along with the rest of the Straits Settlements, used Postage Due stamps issued by the Malayan Postal Union from 1936 until 1942.
During the Japanese invasion of World War II, all the stocks of stamps captured were handstamped with seals (chops) in Japanese or overprinted DAI NIPPON 2602 (the Japanese Year equivalent to 1942). Many of these were made and sold locally, but they could be used throughout Malaya.
The first stamps under the British Military Administration following the war were issued on October 19, 1945. These were stamps of Straits Settlements overprinted BMA MALAYA and used throughout Malaya, including Penang. Some of the values were issued in different colors and were specially printed to be overprinted. Gradually from 1948, the individual Malayan states began issuing their own stamps, but the BMA stamps continued to be used until 1951..
Between 1948 and 1963. each of the 11 Malayan territories issued their own stamps which were valid in each other’s territories.
Penang, which also administered Province Wellesley, issued its first stamps on December 1, 1948. These were part of the Silver Wedding omnibus and were inscribed MALAYA PENANG (Scott #1-2). The first definitive stamps issued by Penang were released starting on February 21, 1949, using the Straits Settlements King George VI type (Scott #3-22). On May 5, 1957, general issues for the Malayan Federation were introduced which could be used throughout the Federation and were used concurrently with the stamps of the states.
On March 15, 1960, the 1957 definitives were reissued with the Penang state crest and Areca-nut palm tree replacing the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. In September 1963, Penang became part of the new Federation of Malayasia. The first issue after the formation was on November 18, 1965, and the inscription was changed from MALAYA PENANG to MALAYSIA PULAU PINANG. Since that date, only low values have been issued.
Scott #46 was released in 1957 as part of a set of 11 definitive stamps bearing the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The 2-cent red orange stamp was engraved and perforated 13 x 12½. It portrays a man in a field of pineapples, a common design with that of Kedah which lies on the mainland directly to the east of Penang.
The pineapple (Ananas comosus) is a tropical plant with an edible multiple fruit consisting of coalesced berries, also called pineapples, and the most economically significant plant in the Bromeliaceae family. Pineapples may be cultivated from a crown cutting of the fruit, possibly flowering in 5–10 months and fruiting in the following six months. Pineapples do not ripen significantly after harvest.
This pineapple is one of the most popular fruit crops grown in Malaysia. The Spanish first introduced pineapple to Malaysia in the sixteenth century. The pineapple industry is the country’s oldest agro-based export-oriented industry dating back to 1888. Though relatively small compared to palm oil and rubber, the industry also plays an important role in the country’s socio-economic development. The pineapple industry in Malaysia is unique because nearly 90% of the crop is planted on peat soil, which is considered marginal for most other agricultural crops. More than 65% the pineapple area are managed by estates, which grow pineapple for canning purposes.
The word “pineapple” in English was first recorded to describe the reproductive organs of conifer trees (now termed pine cones). When European explorers discovered this tropical fruit in the Americas, they called them “pineapples” (first referenced in 1664, for resemblance to the pine cone). In the scientific binomial Ananas comosus, ananas, the original name of the fruit, comes from the Tupi word nanas, meaning “excellent fruit”, as recorded by André Thevet in 1555, and comosus, “tufted”, refers to the stem of the fruit. Other members of the Ananas genus are often called pine, as well, in other languages. In Spanish, pineapples are called piña (“pine cone”), or ananá (ananás) (for example, the piña colada drink).
Pineapples can be consumed fresh, cooked, juiced, or preserved. They are found in a wide array of cuisines. In addition to consumption, the pineapple leaves are used to produce the textile fiber piña in the Philippines, commonly used as the material for the men’s barong Tagalog and women’s baro’t saya formal wear in the country. The fiber is also used as a component for wallpaper and other furnishings.