N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s travels in Malaysia and the second expedition into the jungles of the Malay Peninsula (June-October 1875)

N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s travels in Malaysia and the second expedition into the jungles of the Malay Peninsula (June-October 1875)


The second expedition to Malacca N.N. Miklouho-Maclay started on 15 June 1875 in quite difficult conditions. Dissatisfied with high taxes, the local residents of Perak, Selangor and Negri Sembilan (now the same name State in Malaysia) opposed the colonial authorities. Well-wishers warned the Russian scientist that he was in danger, since the actions of the colonizers caused hostility to Europeans throughout the Peninsula, and he could pay with his life if he was mistaken to be an English spy. But, on 15 June 1875, the traveler left Johor Bahru for a new expedition, despite all the fears of others. The Russian scientist always went on trips with peaceful intentions, so he had nothing to fear. Moreover, Abu Bakar of Johor again helped him.

By the Johor and Endau rivers the traveler reached the northern edge of Abu Bakar’s domain – the border between the Johor and Pahang Sultanates, where he started again his research.

N.N. Miklouho-Maclay treated the locals with respect, so he resorted to tactics that helped him in the first period of his stay on the Maclay Coast: approaching a village, he warned in advance of his appearance and tried to show his peaceful intentions. But this time he did not whistle, as he used to do in New Guinea, but sent a few Malays to the village. They reported to the local landlord: «Dato (in Malayan «highborn») Maclay travels around the countries of Malay and other countries to learn how people live there, how princes and poor people live, people in villages and people in forests; to get acquainted not only with people, but also with animals, trees and plants in the forests». The Russian humanist scientist also used his knowledge in medicine and, just as on the Maclay Coast, healed the local residents of the Malay Peninsula.

Then the Russian researcher arrived in Pekan (now the same name city in Malaysia), the capital of the Pahang Sultanate, where he met the local Sultan of Pahang and told about his intentions, so the Sultan decided to help the traveler.

Then N.N. Miklouho-Maclay went up the Pahang river to the Tembeling river, crossed a low mountain range on foot and reached Labir riverhead. Here, in a rough area, at the borders of the Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu Sultanates, Miklouho-Maclay found the «forest people», in his opinion, close to the natives of New Guinea in anthropological features. Living as nomads, moving under the pressure of the Malays further into the mountains and forests of the Peninsula, their race remained unmixed and they spoke their original language. The Lebir river is a tributary of the Kelantan river, the name of which was given to the Sultanate (like Johor and Pahang). Along this river, the traveler reached its mouth, near which was the capital of the Sultanate – Kota Bharu (now the same name city in Malaysia, the capital of the Kelantan State). Humanist scientist was impressed with Kota Bharu, famous for its buffalo fights and handicraft art, and sketched the Sultan’s Palace built in the traditional Malay style.

Without abandoning its main goal – the study of the population of the Malay Peninsula, – N.N. Miklouho-Maclay deepened down into the study of culture, customs and traditions of the Malays and the relationship of the Sultans. N.N. Miklouho-Maclay in four days crossed the Peninsula at its narrowest part and arrived in Alor Setar (now the same name city in Malaysia, the capital of the Kedah State). Then, after visiting the port of Malacca on the west coast of the Peninsula, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay arrived in Singapore on an English steamer, on 9 October.

His diaries, drawings and dictionaries of key words of local dialects are a great contribution to the anthropology and ethnography of Malays. During the second expedition on the Peninsula, Nikolay Nikolaevich also became a discoverer of the Senoi tribes Semelai and Temoq, as well as a small Semang tribe Batak, representing the household and cultural type of nomadic hunters and gatherers. N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s records on these tribes are a unique ethnographic source.

At the same time, after returning to Singapore after the second expedition, Miklouho-Maclay knew that armed riot had begun in Perak and later in other Sultanates. Local authorities aggressively suppressed the riot, what really shocked Miklouho-Maclay. The traveler seriously thought about what might happen on the Maclay Coast (the northeastern coast of New Guinea) in case of arrival of British settlers.

Being sure that the local colonial authorities would use the information collected by N.N. Miklouho-Maclay about the inhabitants of Malacca for their own purposes, the Russian scientist decided not to publish or give the collected materials to anyone and sailed off on a regular steamer to Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia).

Nowadays, we can easily note another interesting fact: N.N. Miklouho-Maclay has visited 6 of the 13 States of the present Malaysia (Johor, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Kelantan, Kedah). Moreover, the Russian humanist scientist and traveler maintained friendly relations with Maharaja Abu Bakar, who is considered one of the first Malay Rulers of the new model. One of Abu Bakar’s ancestors was Abdul Jalil Shah IV, who ruled Johor in the early XVIII century. While in power, Abu Bakar promoted developing of the virgin jungle in the depths of the Sultanate, and also carried out administrative reform, entrusting leadership positions to educated Malays, with whom he once studied. The Sultan of Johor was also a skilled diplomat: he participated in the affairs of neighboring Malay States, defended his interests and, at the same time, maintained friendly relations with the Great Britain. In 1865, he went to England and was granted an audience by the Queen Victoria, what elevated his status in both Southeast Asia and Europe. In his domain in Johor Bahru and Singapore, Abu Bakar built luxurious palaces in the European style, where he received distinguished guests. In the last years of his life he started the construction of the mosque that is named after him now.

N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s travel over the Malay Peninsula once again confirms that the Russian scientist followed his humanistic ideas of the equality of all people on the planet in every place of the world, opposed colonization and was a true friend to the indigenous population, who always came with peace.


The article is based on the book of an outstanding Russian ethnographer and leader of the Soviet ethnographic expeditions to the northeastern coast of New Guinea in 1971 and 1977, Daniil Tumarkin, “Miklouho-Maclay: dve zhizni “Belogo Papuasa””, and on the materials of the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation.