[Note: An edited version of the following article was published in The Golden Legacy column in Brunei's national newspaper, The Brunei Times dated 28th April 2007.]
There are two islands on Brunei Bay which are more interesting than all the others. One is called Pulau Pilong-Piolongan and the other very much smaller, more like a raised sandbank called Lumut Lunting.
Lumut Lunting is situated in between Pulau Sibungur and Pulau Berambang and is located at the mouth of the Brunei River whereas Pulau Pilong-Pilongan is out in the sea nearer to Muara.
Both islands - Lumut Lunting and Pulau Pilong-Pilongan have been associated with an old legend that stretched back in time to more than 500 years ago.
The origin of both islands have been chronicled in the Syair Awang Semaun, which is equivalent to the local folklores or in English known as the oral tradition of Awang Semaun’s epic poems. The story was said to have taken place in the early days of the first sultanate of Awang Alak Betatar around the 14th century. In those days, Brunei Darussalam was still a vassal state of the Majapahit Empire.
Awang Alak Betatar was the first ruler of the new Brunei Sultanate and as a vassal state, Brunei pays an annual tribute to the King of Majapahit. The tribute was made up of 40 ships laden with camphor to be paid to the Majapahit Empire from Brunei. Brunei’s camphor was considered to be among the best in the region then. Though some legends talk about a much smaller amount of 40 kati (roughly equal to about 24 kilograms).
During that time, a rooster owned by Awang Senuai, a nephew of Awang Alak Betatar was known for its ability to win all the cockfights that it competed against. A cockfight is of course a fight between two specially trained and conditioned roosters with spectators betting on the outcome of the fight. Most fights end up with the death of one or both roosters.
This came to the attention of Raden Angsuka Dewa who also owned another rooster named Asmara which is said to be equal to Mutiara. Asmara was well taken care of by his owner – eating from a golden plate that was hung high and given a special coop. Asmara was said to be strong, smart and possessed a special power. When he crowed upon entering Brunei, the local cocks were so terrified that they did not crow for several days.
The King of Majapahit dictated that should he lose he will give the 40 ships laden with goods to Brunei; but should he win, he will gain more territories of Brunei which it owns and controls then. Another version talked about should Brunei lose, it will continue to be a vassal state of Majapahit.
Both Asmara and Mutiara were both meticulously trained for the cockfight in front of the Sultan’s Palace.
On the day of the fight, many people came to watch it. The fight commenced with the roosters pouncing, pecking, attacking and kicking each other cheered on by the excited spectators. Suddenly Asmara flew out of the ring followed by Mutiara. Asmara had been stabbed during the fight and was seriously injured. Asmara fled out of sight and succumbing to his wound, fell down into the sea turning into a rock becoming an island (Pulau Pilong-Pilongan). Mutiara who tried to give chase, fell into the river cursed by the King of Majapahit. He too turned into a rock and became an island (Lumut Lunting).
It has been said among the elders in Kampong Ayer dwellers that Lumut Lunting will never be under water no matter how high the water level rises. If it does, then that signals a bad omen such as the death of a king or the occurrence of an untoward incident.
This tale chronicled the earlier days of the current Sultanate. According to historical sources, the reign of Awang Alak Betatar who eventually became Sultan Muhammad, the first Sultan was from 1393 AD. If this tale is true, then it must have occurred around that period.
Before Sultan Muhammad, not much is known about the previous Brunei rulers even though in the Chinese annals, Brunei had contact with China as early as the 5th Century.
Most likely this tale is a symbolism of what happened in those days. There could have been a struggle between the new rulers of Brunei and Majapahit. There could have been an actual battle, or at least a struggle of some sort by the new rulers trying to overthrow the yoke of the oppressing powers of the Majapahit.
As by the time of Sultan Abdul Majid, who is the immediate descendant after Sultan Muhammad, whose tomb is found in China, Brunei had already turned its allegiance back to the Chinese Empire.
The cockfight tale signifies the beginning of the ‘new’ Brunei Empire and it marked the existence of the country we lived in now.