Happy Birthday to the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, who was born 8th February, one hundred and twelve years ago. Tunku was born to the Kedah Royal Family of Sultan Abdul Hamid and Che Menjalara, the fourth of eight children. He was instrumental in negotiating for Malaya’s Independence from the British and is aptly known as our “Father of Independence”. You can read the full biography of Tunku here

Meanwhile, here are 25 interesting facts about Tunku:

1. When Tunku was born, Kedah was still under Siamese sovereignty, making payments of bunga emas (gold flowers) to the Siamese Royal Family.

2. His mother and many of his siblings nicknamed him, “Awang”, a name usually given to boys with tanned skin who worked in the paddy fields under the sun while his father called him “Putra”.

3. He often escaped the palace compounds to play with boys his age in town; this ability to easily make friends was one of his key characteristics.

4. When he was twelve, Tunku went to live and study in Bangkok where his older brother, Tengku Yusof, worked for a brief spell.

5. At the Penang Free School, Tunku proved a diligent student and twice obtained promotions.

6. In 1919, Tunku sailed to Britain on a cargo ship, Rhesus, and suffered malaria for most of his journey.

7.He studied for the University of Cambridge Entrance Examination first in the English village of Little Stukeley, then in Cambridge.

8. He studied Law with a minor in History at St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge University, where he was the only Malay student in the entire university.

9. When he sat for his final History paper, he chose to write about the life of Prophet Muhammad PBUH.

10. He initiated the Malay Society of Great Britain with Tunku Abdul Rahman of Negeri Sembilan as President and Tunku himself as the Honorary Secretary.

11. It was Tunku who, when he was District Officer of Langkawi, pieced together the tragedy of Mahsuri and  searched for her grave.

12. As District Officer of Sungai Petani, Tunku opposed a state government scheme which required all taxi drivers to surrender their licenses and become members of a transport company.

13. Because of his opposition, he was transferred to Kulim as District Officer, and was escorted by forty grateful Sungai Petani taxi drivers to his new district.

14. When Tunku was the District Officer of Kulim, an Indian astrologer predicted that he would become the first Prime Minister of Malaya (everyone, including Tunku, laughed at the prediction).

15. When the Japanese invaded Kedah in 1941 and the state government decided to evacuate Tunku’s father, the Sultan, to Penang and Singapore, Tunku – believing the Sultan should be with the people – executed an “abduction” of his father to his home in Kulim and then to Sedim where the Penghulu sheltered the Sultan.

16. The Regent of Kedah was furious when Tunku refused to bring the Sultan to Penang (“over my dead body”, was what Tunku said) and ordered Tunku’s arrest. He then reversed the order when the Japanese bombed Penang.

17. In 1943, Tunku set up a shelter for Malayan labourers who escaped the Thai-Burma “Death Railway”; among those who helped him were Mohamed Khir Johari and Senu Abdul Rahman.

18. After the Japanese surrendered, Tunku was not given an official position in the state or federal government, and so returned to England to complete his Bar examinations. He was officially called to the Bar in 1947.

19. After he was elected as President of UMNOin 1951 and advised to drop some of his unhealthier habits, Tunku said, “People must accept me as I am: my bad habits and my virtues. At the age of forty-eight, I cannot change them.”

20. During the first Merdeka Mission to London, due to meager funds, Tunku shared a double room with T.H. Tan, the Secretary-General of the Alliance, at the Gloucester Road Hotel. Apparently, T.H Tan’s snores kept him awake.

21. The Merdeka Agreement was signed by Tunku and Lennox-Boyd, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, on Tunku’s fifty-third birthday in 1956.

22. After his meeting with leader of the Malayan Communist Party, Chin Peng, in 1955, at which Chin Peng rejected the terms of Tunku’s offer of amnesty, Tunku said, “The meeting taught me something. Malaya and Communism can never co-exist.”

23. Tunku was the one who proposed “Terang Bulan”, the former State Anthem of Perak in the late 19th century, be adopted as the National Anthem of Malaya, “Negaraku”.

24. Tunku declared Islam as the official religion of Malaya in 1960 and in 1961, Malaya hosted the first ever International Quran Reading Competition.

25. He was instrumental in the setting up of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and was its first Secretary-General. 

Note: The above were compiled by Perdana Leadership Foundation from the following sources which are all available in the Perdana Leadership Foundation Library (becoming a member is free, for more information click here

1. “Tunku, A Pictorial Biography” by Mubin Sheppard 

2. “K.Das & The Tunku Tapes” edited by Kua Kia Soong 

3. “Kenali Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj” by Maruwiah Ahmat 

4. Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj” by E.Yu