[My article was published in my Brunei Times column, the Golden Legacy last Sunday, 24th August 2008. This is based on two earlier blog entries which I wrote last year.]
One of the interesting islands in Brunei Bay is a small island called Pulau Cermin (cermin means mirror in Malay). Pulau Cermin as many Brunei historians know, is the site of the temporary palace of Sultan Abdul Hakkul Mubin, the 13th Sultan of Brunei and is the site of the only civil war in Brunei History.
Sultan Abdul Hakkul Mubin stayed there for a while, retreating from Brunei’s capital in Kampong Ayer. Another Sultan, Sultan Muhyiddin took up the throne in Brunei’s capital while Sultan Abdul Hakkul Mumin stayed at Pulau Cermin. It was the only time that Brunei had two Sultans.
How did the civil war come about?
The civil war between the two Sultans was described vividly in a Brunei Malay novel entitled ‘Mahkota Berdarah’ (The Bloodied Crown). It was in fact quite a bloody time in Brunei history. Yura Halim wrote the book in the mid 1960s and the book was quite popular during its hey days and is considered a classic today.
The bloody episode was sparked off by a cock fight between the son of the Sultan, Pengiran Muda Alam and the son of the Bendahara. The Bendahara was Abdul Hakkul Mubin. The Bendahara, in the old days, is always the Sultan’s right hand man. He can be considered as the Deputy Sultan or in these days, the equivalent of the Prime Minister. For Brunei, the Bendahara was the most senior of all the viziers (wazir) until the appointment of the Perdana Wazir in 1970.
During the cockfight, the cock belonging to the son of the Bendahara Abdul Hakkul Mubin won. It defeated the cock belonging to the son of the Sultan, Pengiran Muda Alam. Pengiran Muda Alam was so enraged by the loss that he took out his keris and plunged it into the chest of the son of the Bendahara. The son of the Bendahara died from the fatal stabbing.
Bendahara Abdul Hakkul Mubin was said to have loved that son so much that he too was enraged when he was informed of his son’s death. He marched to the palace to confront the Sultan. The Sultan at that time was Sultan Muhammad Ali. The Bendahara asked for his son’s death to be avenged.
According to some, he was denied by Sultan Muhammad Ali. Though in the book, ‘Mahkota Berdarah’, the Sultan allowed him to enter into the palace to search for himself, Pengiran Muda Alam. By the time he went in, Pengiran Muda Alam had escaped from the palace.
The Bendahara was so enraged when he could not find Pengiran Muda Alam. He lost his temper and went amok and started killing the people inside the palace including the Sultan’s family. The Sultan who waited in the hall was shocked to see that the Bendahara had been on a killing spree. He tried to stop the Bendahara but the Bendahara will no longer listen to reason.
The Bendahara and his men took the Sultan and killed him by garroting him to death. His body was left lying on the grass lawn and up to now he is known as ‘Marhum Tumbang Dirumput’. This death was to have taken place in November 1661.
The Bendahara took the throne for himself. He crowned himself the Sultan of Brunei as Sultan Hakkul Abdul Mubin, Brunei’s 13th Sultan.
As Sultan, Sultan Abdul Hakkul Mubin tried to foster peace between him and the followers of Sultan Muhammad Ali by installing the latter's grandson Pengiran Muhyiddin as the new Bendahara.
At first there was peace in the country. But underneath the peace, there was still simmering hatred for Sultan Hakul Abdul Mubin. Many of Sultan Muhammad Ali’s followers implored to Bendahara Muhyidin to rebel against Sultan Hakkul Abdul Mubin.
At first Bendahara Muhyiddin felt that it was not the right thing to do. But over time, he agreed and plan for the removal of Sultan Hakkul Abdul Mubin. The first thing he and his men did was to create a disturbance for the palace as well as the houses in the area. They did the disturbances by poking their spears into the palace and houses. This was called ‘mengarok’. Since many of these rebels were also working at the palace, it was not difficult for them to carry out the attacks.
When Sultan Hakkul Abdul Mubin asked for Bendahara Muhyidin’s advice, he was duly advised that it would be better if he went off to Pulau Cermin while waiting for the attacks to dissipate. The Sultan immediately ordered for a new palace to be built there and move as soon as it was ready.
Bendahara Muhyiddin in the meantime was installed as the new Sultan in the capital. When Sultan Hakkul Abdul Mubin’s men came ashore to seek out why the Bendahara has not taken up his residence at the island, they were shocked to see that the Bendahara had raised the Sultan’s yellow flag for himself.
There was no way that Brunei can have two Sultans. A battle ensued between the two Sultans and at first Sultan Abdul Hakkul Mubin retreated to Kinarut in Sabah.
While in Kinarut, Sultan Hakkul Abdul Mubin built a fort about 10 miles away from Kota Kinabalu. From here with the assistance of the local Bajaus and Dusuns he managed to repel attacks from Sultan Muhiyiddin even killing a few of Sultan Muhiyiddin's Cheterias.
The fort was strategically placed on top of a hill with two rivers flowing beside it and a view that can oversee a few small island in the South China Sea. The fort was so good that according to legends Sultan Hakkul Abdul Mubin stayed for about 10 years becoming the Sultan in Kinarut where he among others also managed to curtail piracy activities in that area.
There were several attacks carried out by Sultan Muhyddin. In a final attack at Kinarut, Sultan Muhyddin’s forces failed to defeat Sultan Hakkul Abdul Mubin. The two went back to Brunei with Sultan Abdul Hakkul Mubin going back to Pulau Cermin.
Pulau Cermin itself is fairly unremarkable but what makes it a very strong fortress is that it is in the middle of the entry into the Brunei river. Control the island means you control access to the food supply coming in from the sea. In those days, Bruneians were also fishermen and they could not go out to fish during the civil war.
Sultan Muhyiddin worried that the war was going to drag on and created more difficulties for the citizens of Brunei, called for the assistance of Sultan Suluk to help defeat Sultan Abdul Hakkul Mubin promising them independence as well as the territory of Sabah to be given to Sultan Suluk.
The Suluks came and took up places at Pulau Keingaran to help bombard the island but according to legends did not do much fighting and only took up the fight towards the very end. While Sultan Muhyiddin’s men bombarded Pulau Cermin from Tanjung Kindana before launching a final assault on the island.
During the battle, Sultan Abdul Hakkul Mubin knew that he was going to be defeated and be killed. Rather than surrender the crown and the throne, Sultan Abdul Hakkul Mubin shot the crown and other royal regalias from Pulau Chermin across the sea. Though some say that these were all still buried somewhere on the island.
Pulau Cermin is now protected by the Antiquities and Treasure Trove Act and is now inaccessible to visitors unless they have permission to visit the island.