Sultan Tengah, the first and only Sarawak Sultan

Someone asked me why have I not blogged for quite a while. The easy answer is it is the fasting month - terawih prayers and all that plus the need to go to sleep early to wake up early for sahur. In addition to that over the last two weeks I was away in Kuching to accompany my minister to attend the 10th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution and then I was in Hanoi to attend the 21st ASEAN Senior Officials Meetings on Environment. It has indeed been quite busy for me.

I had some spare time in Kuching, namely at 7 o'clock in the morning on the day we were flying back to Brunei, to rush to Santubong to visit the Sultan Tengah grave. Santubong is about an hour's drive from Kuching. But the visit was worth it. One of MOD's architect helped design the mausoleum. With the space frame technology, the in thing when it was first built looks a bit dated now.

Sultan Tengah was the first and only Sultan of Sarawak. I actually wrote an article about Sultan Tengah in the Brunei Times which was published way back on 28th December 2008 and is one of the articles in my book, The Golden Legacy Brunei Darussalam Volume 2. The photograph is the Makam of Sultan Tengah in Sarawak. It was visited by His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah in August 2007 when he officially visited Sarawak.


ABOUT 200 years before the Brookes became the White Rajah of Sarawak, Sarawak was under the control of the Brunei Sultanate. Not much has been known how Sarawak was governed by the Brunei Sultanate but presumably there was an equivalent of a governor then.

Not many know that around 1598, Sarawak had its first and only Sultan. How did this come about?

When Sultan Muhammad Hassan, Brunei's ninth Sultan who reigned from 1582 to 1598 died, the throne was ascended by his eldest son, Sultan Abdul Jalilul Akbar.

Sultan Abdul Jalilul Akbar had a younger sibling named Pengiran Muda Tengah Ibrahim Ali Omar Shah or was better known as Raja Tengah.

According to oral tradition, Pengiran Muda Tengah wanted to become the Sultan of Brunei as well. He argued that his elder brother was born when his father was not yet the Crown Prince whereas he was born when Sultan Muhammad Hassan was anointed as the Crown Prince. This, argued Pengiran Muda Tengah, made him more suited to be the Sultan than his elder brother.

Sultan Abdul Jalilul Akbar was a wise man. He understood his younger sibling's intention and he tried to accommodate his brother's wishes. One way out for Sultan Abdul Jalilul Akbar was to appoint Pengiran Muda Tengah as a Sultan somewhere else. And so Pengiran Muda Tengah was appointed as the Sultan of Sarawak, since Sarawak was then owned and governed by Brunei.

According to the Salsilah Raja-Raja Brunei, Pengiran Muda Tengah accepted the appointment and he made preparation to go to Sarawak. When he went to Sarawak, more than 1,000 warriors of Sakai, Kedayan and Pulau Bunut origins accompanied him. A few nobilities went along with him to help him administer the new country. Many of these are the forefathers of some of today's Malay community in Sarawak.

In Sarawak, the new Sultan and his men built a palace and a fort to surround the palace. Sultan Tengah began to appoint his senior officials. Among them was Datu Petinggi Seri Setia, Datu Shahbandar Indera Wangsa, Datu Amar Setia Diraja and Datu Temenggong Laila Wangsa. After everything was done, Sultan Tengah coronated himself as Sultan Ibrahim Ali Omar Shah, the first Sultan of Sarawak. According to Sambas History, Sultan Tengah was also known as Sultan Abdul Jalil.

Around 1599, Sultan Tengah visited Pahang which was then part of the Johor Empire to visit Raja Bonda who was Sultan Tengah's aunty who had married Sultan Abdul Ghafur Muhyiddin Shah ibnu Sultan Abdul Kadir Alauddin Shah.

During his stay, Sultan Tengah was asked to a dance but during that dance, the handkerchief of his dance partner nearly hit Sultan Tengah's face. He became so angry that he slapped his partner. That caused Sultan Johor to be so upset that Sultan Tengah was advised to leave Johor as soon as possible.

According to the Sambas History version, Sultan Tengah was forced to leave Johor because he refused Raja Bonda's offer for him to marry Sultan Johor's princess known as Encik Zohra.

On his return to Sarawak, Sultan Tengah's ship ran into a hurricane which caused the ship to lose its main sail. The ship ran aground in Sukadana in today's Kalimantan, Indonesia. Then Sukadana was governed by Penambahan Giri Mustika, Sultan Muhammad Saifuddin who had just converted to Islam helped by Sheikh Shamsuddin from Makkah. Sultan Tengah also studied under Sheikh Shamsuddin during his stay there.

In Sukadana, Sultan Tengah married one of the princesses, Puteri Surya Kesuma, the younger sister to Sultan Muhammad Saifuddin. Sultan Tengah stayed on in Sukadana and asked to be allowed to help spread Islam around the area. It was decided that he should do it around the Sambas River. And so around 1600, Sultan Tengah left Sukadana via the Sambas River with about 40 boats all equipped with weapons.

At the Sambas River, they landed at Kuala Bangun and by then Puteri Surya Kesuma gave birth to a prince named Radin Sulaiman. Two other princes were also born later. The second prince was known as Pengiran Badaruddin who later became Pengiran Bendahara Seri Maharaja and a third prince, Pengiran Abdul Wahab who later became Pengiran Temenggong Jaya Kesuma.

Sultan Tengah eventually arrived at Kota Lama. There, he was welcomed by Ratu Kota Lama, Ratu Sepudak who greeted him with all the royal protocol. Sultan Tengah found that Ratu Sepudak allowed him to spread Islam around the area even though he was not a Muslim. Later on during his stay, Sultan Tengah's eldest son, Radin Sulaiman was married to the daughter of Ratu Sepudak, Puteri Mas Ayu Bongsu. The couple had a son named Radin Bima who later became Sultan Muhammad Tajuddin.

When Ratu Sepudak died, he was replaced by Pengiran Prabu Kenchana who appointed Radin Sulaiman as one of his viziers. It was also said that Ratu Sepudak wanted the throne to be given to Sultan Tengah as he had the experience of running a country but that was opposed by the royal family.

Around 1630, Sultan Tengah went to Matan. In Matan, he married one of the Matan Princesses who later gave birth to Pengiran Mangku Negara. Pengiran Mangku Negara eventually became the Sultan of Matan.

After a few years' stay in Matan, Sultan Tengah went back to Sarawak. On his return to Sarawak, he stopped at a place called Batu Buaya in Santubong. It was there he was killed by one of his followers.

When news of his death reached Sarawak, Datu Petinggi, Datu Shahbandar, Datu Amar and Datu Temenggong came to Santubong to complete the funeral rites according to royal Brunei tradition. It was said that he died in 1641 around 10 years after Radin Sulaiman became Sultan Muhammad Saifuddin I in Sambas. Sultan Muhammad Saifuddin I was replaced by Sultan Muhammad Tajuddin I, then followed by a long lineage of the Sambas Sultanate until the modern times.

Meanwhile, Sultan Tengah was buried in Santubong in today's Kampong Batu Buaya. The grave stone marking the grave was fit for a Sultan. With Sultan Tengah's death, came the end of the Sarawak Sultanate made up of the one and only Sultan. But the titles given to the nobilities of Sarawak carried on until today.

During his visit to Sarawak, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam visited the mausoleum of Sultan Tengah in Santubong in August earlier this year.


Anonymous said…
i just knew this.interesting article.RIP Tuanku.
Anonymous said…
I guess Jalan Sultan Tengah (a road in Kuching City) is named after him, right?
Anonymous said…
No wonder Bruneians feel superior to Sarawakians, especially Mirians. Brunei Sultanate is a history in Sarawak mates! A new management, replacing the ineffective one, has come to play. Sorry, but it is the truth! So please... don't do stupid things in Miri.
Unknown said…
Just curious..was there any Sakai tribe in Brunei/Sarawak/Borneo previously? Nice article. Visited Sultan Tangah mausoleum at Santubong last year. Look grand. The myth of Puteri Santubong doesn't have anything to do with the late Sultan?
Unknown said…
Wowww i just knew about this.

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