The Administration of the Law and Justice in Brunei before the British Part V

The Borneo Bulletin on December 7, 2013 continued with BA Hussaimiya's article on the Legal History of Brunei Darussalam.

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Shifting sands of Brunei history: Issues of genealogy & chronology

Posted date: December 07, 2013 In: Features

B A Hussainmiya PhD

(Continuation of ‘On the travails of writing Brunei’s early history and the Boxer Codex’, published on Page 44 of the November 30, 2013 edition of the Weekend Bulletin)

ALTHOUGH Brunei’s official history scarcely refers to the 16th century Boxer Codex, its many revelations significantly buttress the fact that Islam originated much earlier than some Western writers like Father Robert Nicholl opines. According to him, the date of Islam in Brunei is somewhat coterminous with the advent of the Europeans in the early 16th century.

The problem of early Brunei historiography is not confined to the date of the coming of Islam only. Still some confusion prevails as to the chronology of the early Brunei Sultans as well. The conventional sources do not agree on this. The much cited Silsilah Raja-raja Berunai, the royal historical chronicle comes in two redactions, but both have placed the legendary ruler of Brunei Sultan Bolkiah as the 5th ruler. Now that list is under scrutiny. And thus, Pusat Sejarah, the official history centre now constrained to admit that Sultan Bolkiah, in fact, must be counted as the 6th ruler of Brunei. (See Letters to the Editor by Brunei History Centre published in the Weekend Bulletin on November 27, 2013)

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A modern painting of old (16th century) capital of Kota Batu  in Brunei

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Guardian figure at the tomb of Maharaja Karna (Ma-na-je-chia-na of P’oni) – (From Nicholl 1984b)
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Genealogical tablet of the Sultans of Brunei – 1807  -  COURTESY OF PUSAT SEJARAH
As is well known the transmission of the official royal genealogy underwent deliberate distortions due to several reasons. The most important being the infamous civil war in the history of Brunei that started in 1661 CE involving two contenders, namely Sultan Muhiyiddin and Sultan Hakkul Mubin which sapped Brunei’s strength and led to its slow decline later. The civil war also affected the writing down of the Brunei royal genealogy that later underwent certain degree of doctoring in support of each other’s rights to the throne.

Sultan Hakkul Mubin, one of the contenders, thus is omitted from the first list of Sultans in the first of Silsilah transcribed and edited by late Professor Amin Sweeney (1968), and also from the list on Batu Tarsilah carved in 1807.

In fact “the Brunei History Centre is actually holding on the genealogy of the Kings of Brunei written by Datu Imam Yaakub that derives information and evidence obtained from Sultan Muhiyiddin, the 14th Sultan of Brunei (1673-1690 AD), and Sultan Husin Kamaluddin, the 16th Sultan of Brunei (1710-1730 AD).” (See Letters to the Editor by Brunei History Centre published in the Weekend Bulletin on November 27, 2013).

The Brunei sources also name two sultans – Nasruddin and Husin Kamaluddin – of whom little is known as Graham Saunders (1994:64) admits. The problem of writing early Brunei history, hence, gets further complicated.

For a long time, Sultan Bolkiah was deemed to be the 5th Sultan in Brunei. Now he is pushed back to the 6th spot because of recently revised official history. The old Brunei oral traditions never mentioned that the first Sultan Muhammad Shah begot a son, namely Sultan Abdul Majid alias Manajekana) which does not occur in the Batu Tarsila (the Genealogical tablet) located in the Royal Mausoleum, Jalan Tutong. The issue came up with the information of one Maharaja Karna rendered as Manajekana from Brunei on his mission to the Chinese court passed away there in 1408 CE. The new researches carried out by the by the Brunei’s History Centre based on a discovery of a tombstone (situated at Jalan Residency, Bandar Seri Begawan) dated 826 AH, corresponding to 1422 CE of one Rokayah claims that she was the daughter ‘binti’ of Sultan Abdul Majid Hassan ibnu Muhammad Shah Al Sultan.

If the deceased Rokaya’s tombstone is properly documented scientifically and proven without any doubt it certainly is a big breakthrough in the writing of early Brunei history.

Into this confusion is thrown in evidence from the Boxer Codex in regards to the original founder of the Brunei kingdom.

The Boxer Codex is a description of Brunei affairs as witnessed in the late 16th century did not list kings as other Brunei sources do. Nonetheless, the Codex mentions a few names of the rulers who are not directly mentioned in the local sources. Among these are Sultan Ari Lula, Sultan Soliman (Sulaiman), Sultan Salan, and Sultan Nula Alan (Nurul Alam?). Apparently the writer of the Codex derived these information from ‘the information they (the Borneys) are able to remember’.

But the most important revelation from the Codex is the occurrence of the name Sultan Yuso (Yusuf) as one of the founders of the Brunei kingdom. It is better to give below the translation from the Spanish verbatim from the John Carroll Edition of the Codex (1982:4):

“… It begins three hundred years (ago), a little more or less, when from the parts and provinces of the Malaya language which lie toward Meca (came) a lord of a city called Cauin. The name of this one was Sultan Yuso (Arabic Yusof), who according to what they say was king of that said city of Cauin, and he and his subjects departed from his kingdom and land bringing with him a great quantity of people in many ships, discovering many lands, and calling himself always king and lord of all the people he brought and calling them slaves. Following his voyage he arrived at the island of Borney on which they had some battles with the native Uisayas (Bisayas) so that they occupied them [the lands]; and having succeeded them (the Uisayas) well, he was settled some days in which he took a tongue of land and the fruits of it and found camphor, which is now to exist in other parts except this kingdom.

“… At the end of some days, he made port in the land of China: and asking permission in order to go ashore, he disembarked and went to see the king of China, whom he recognised as a superior king; and the said king of China conferred in him the title of king and gave him the insignia and royal (coat of) arms which nowadays the said king of Borney has; And seeing that the said Sultan Yuso was a bachelor, he married him to a Chinese woman. Accordingly it appears that the reason he persevered in the said kingdom of (Borney) was that she was a relative of the king of China. The said Chinese woman was lord of a city which was called Namtay in the kingdom of China, and the said Sultan Yuso made this marriage. He bade (farewell) to the king of China; and bringing his wife and the people with him, he returned to Borney, leaving in the said city of Namtay (one) who had charge of the rent as and property of his wife; and so (it is) nowadays although the natives of Namtay do not come with anything (for) the kings of Borney, not because the lords of the said city of Namtay have quit holding them (the rents), and they say the current rents are being held guarded for when some king of Borney might go there for it, the legacy.

“The said Sultan Yuso went to Borney. He settled there with his said slaves or vassals that he brought, and he put the native Uisayas (into) subjection, making them pay tribute. He had sons with the said (Chinese) wife. He died very old: and when he died, he left a tablet of gold. According to what they say it would be a fathom square and thin, on which he left mandates and they inscribed and wrote the kings of descended from him; and so they inscribed this said tablet which the same king kept and by his hand he inscribed his name. This tablet was lost when Doctor Fransisco de Sande, the governor who went from (these) Philippine islands, sacked Borney. It is understood that the old king, father of this one in whose possession it was, buried it or threw into the sea; and since the said king died at that time, he left no clarity (clear information) about what he did with the tablet.”

So the Boxer Codex goes on. Needless to say that Brunei history, as it is currently written, needs to be amplified further with the statement about the origin of the Brunei kingdom as quoted above. It need not necessarily contradict the current versions of the third Sultan Sultan Sharif Ali’s story, but some adjustments can be made to reconcile his personality with that of Sultan Yusof mentioned in the Codex as the person who introduced Islamic way of life in Brunei.

(To be continued: Next part will resume in January 2014)

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