Not much is known
about the types of coins used by ancient Kedah prior to the introduction
of her own state coinage in the middle of the seventeenth century.
Evidence suggests the there was no standard form of currency in the
early days when trade in Kedah was conducted by barter. It appears that
cowrie shells (Cypraea moneta), known to have come from the Maldive Islands and Borneo, were the earliest form of currency and medium of exchange in Kedah.
Cowrie shells were used in Kedah for this purpose from about the
eighth century. It is likely that they continued in use until the end of
the fifteenth century as the fractional denominations required in
trade. The cowrie shells which represented the single standard unit,
were often cut at the back, or pierced with holes, so that they could be
threaded on to strings to form multiples of that unit. Higher
denominations were also obtained by the use of bigger shells, of
different species, some of which were fastened together in pairs. What
values these attained in the Malay Archipelago is not known, but
according to Lacouperie, in his Catalogue of Chinese Coinscontemporary
China, shells were used for denominations as great as 200 times that of
the basic unit. The acceptance of such shells as currency probably
developed form their widespread use as personal ornaments, fertility
charms and amulets to ensure safe childbirth. The cowrie shells were
supplemented with uncoined gold (gold dust) and silver, which were
normally used by the merchants of the time. From the eighth century, the
Chinese began to export substantial quantities of copper cash to the
eastern part of the Archipelago where, because of its more convenient
size and ready-made central hole, it gradually superseded cowrie shells
as the principal market money.
international trade became an important activity in the Malay Peninsula,
Kedah and the rest of the coastal states were introduced to a variety
of goods and types of currency by foreign merchants. There was
international trade between China, India, South-East Asia, the Middle
East and Africa as early as the second century.
and exploratory work by archaeologists in Kedah since the 1850s have
provided evidence of the existence of entrepot trade between the Chinese
and the Arabs in Kedah over a period of time from the fifth to the
thirteenth century. archaeologists have found artefacts such as T'ang
Dynasty ceramics, early Middle Eastern glass and beads in Merbok and
near the banks of the Sungai Emas in Kedah. This evidence suggests that
the Indians were not Kedah's only early international trading partners.
The Chinese, the Arabs and the Persians were also actively involved.
This was said to have resulted from two important factors. The
first was the discovery of the inland trade route across the Isthmus of
Kra, as a short cut to the trader's destinations or back to their
homelands. Kedah and its vicinity became a centre where they converged.
The second factor was the existence of powerful empires at both ends of
the trade routes: the Omayyad Caliphs (AD 660-749) and later the
Abbasids (AD 750-8200) in the Middle East and the T'ang Dynasty in
China (AD 618-907). Kedah's entrepot status meant that it functioned as a
transhipment centre for Muslim and Chinese traders and became a part of
what is popularly known as The Ceramic Trade Link. At
first the Chinese paid for spices, aromatic products, pearls and herbs,
with gold, silver and copper coins which became the common currency in
the Malay Archipelago. Ceramics entered the scene as an important item
of exchange in 1219 when the Song government of China decreed that only
porcelain, lacquer and textiles were to be used in trading transactions,
in order to prevent a drain of Chinese currency. Source:BNM