15th September 2020 - 5 min read
Malaysia Day is upon us, which means there’s no better time to get to know more about our beloved country. And what part of Malaysia does RinggitPlus know best? Her money, of course.
In its relatively brief history as a currency, the ringgit has gone through quite a bit of evolution over the years and we bet there’s a fun fact or six about it that you probably haven’t even heard of…
Back in the Portuguese colonial era, the type of money widely circulated was the Spanish silver dollar. The craggy and irregular edges of the coin were the distinctive features of this currency, so the Malays of the time would refer to them as “ringgit”, which means “the jagged ones“. Now that word is exclusively used to refer to the Malaysian currency.
If you’ve ever heard someone describe the price of something as “10 dollars” when you know it’s 10 ringgit, you probably think they’re just making a translation mistake. While they might be wrong now, if they had said that before August 1975, they would be correct.
Back in 1967, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, and Singapore began issuing their own currencies (all of them called the “dollar”) in place of the Malaya and British Borneo Dollar, which replaced the Malaysian Dollar and Sarawak Dollar back in 1953, which replaced the Straits Dollar back in 1939, which replaced the original Spanish silver dollar back in 1898.
So with this new Malaysian Dollar, Bruneian Dollar, and Singapore Dollar, the three countries decided to sign a Currency Interchangeability Agreement to make their dollars exchangeable at par with each other. However, Malaysia pulled out of the agreement later in 1973. Two years later, the official names of the Malaysian currency became Ringgit and Sen.
Despite this, the RM1 coin issued in 1989 still had the dollar sign ($) on it until 1993. Some changes take a while.
In 2008, a rounding mechanism was introduced where prices of the total bill of any purchase would be rounded to the nearest 5 sen, as a move to eliminate the 1 sen coin from circulation. By this time, the RM1 coin has also been demonetised for three years since we already have the RM1 banknote.
Despite this, if you have these coins in your purse or somewhere around the house, you can still use it as legal tender – but only for payments up to RM2. The seller would probably get annoyed and maybe even refuse to accept it though. So maybe it’s best to hold onto them or exchange them at the nearest bank.
If you take a look at the Malaysian Ringgit you have with you right now you should be able to make out the signature of a Bank Negara Malaysia governor. If that signature is that of a “Zeti Aziz”, that’s because she’s a former governor of Bank Negara who served for 16 years. Her term is only the second longest after Tun Ismail Mohd Ali, who served for 18 years from 1962 to 1980. That’s pretty impressive, since the average tenure is just 5 years.
Tan Sri Zeti Aziz was subsequently replaced by a new governor, Tan Sri Muhammad bin Ibrahim, and new Malaysia Ringgit issued from September 2016 bore his signature. There is very limited supply of those versions of banknotes at the time of writing, so not a lot of people are aware of this. In fact, the supply for these notes is so limited, people are already selling them on eBay for a giant markup. This supply is getting even more limited now since Tan Sri Muhammad bin Ibrahim has already been replaced by Datuk Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus in June 2018.
Back in 2006, the Malaysian state of Kelantan made their own coins out of gold, stating it’s closer to the practice of the prophet Muhammad and that the current fiat currency has been compromised by usury and other un-Islamic practices. These Kelantanese gold coins are called dinars and was implied by the state government that it should replace the use of Malaysian ringgit in the state.
However, Kelantan’s own religious authority issued a statement saying they can’t use the dinars as legal tender as states don’t have the power to make their own currency. Today, you can still find people who hold on to these dinars since they’re made of gold and have an actual value outside of its use as currency. Just don’t try to pay for ice cream with them.
The latest series of coins in circulation were issued back in 2012 and features gold-coloured 50 sen and 20 sen coins. What it also featured was a funky little security feature on it that you probably aren’t aware of. Tilting the coin on its reverse side shows a latent image of the number “50” and the word “sen”. Pretty cool since it’s often banknotes that get these extra security features – now we have it on our coins too.
As it turns out, the history of currency used in Malaysia from RM to Sen can be as rich and as interesting as the history of our food, music, and culture. Who would have thought? So remember, the next time you pull out your Malaysia money, know that you’re holding essential pieces of Malaysian history right in the palm of your hands.
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