Brunei and Malacca in the 15th Century

Rozan Yunos
Bandar Seri Begawan
Sunday, January 10, 2016

ONE of the best sources for Malay history is the “Sejarah Melayu” or in English is known as the “Malay Annals”. The subjects covered in the work included the founding of the kingdom of Malacca and its relationship with neighbouring kingdoms, the advent and spread of Islam in the region, the history of the royalty in the region as well as the administrative hierarchy of the Malacca kingdom and its successor states. It is regarded as the finest literary and historical works in the Malay language. It was originally written in the Classical Malay in the old Jawi script.

The original version of it was said to be written during the reign of the Malacca Sultanate in Malacca. It was brought together when Sultan Mahmud Shah fled from Malacca in 1511. In 1528, the original document was brought to Johor from Kampar. In 1536, the document was seized by the Portuguese but it was later brought back to Malacca.

The original script was rewritten in 1612 commissioned by the regent of Johor, Raja Abdullah who later became Sultan Abdullah Mu’ayat Syah ibni Sultan Abdul Jalil Syah.

Today, despite the fact that there are a number of versions, Malay historians have considered this text as a primary source of historical information on past events as the events are verifiable by other historical sources.

One of the best translation of the “Sejarah Melayu” or the “Malay Annals” in the English version was done by John Leyden and published in 1821. John Leyden’s translation was from this version of the Annals dated 1612 and coded Raffles MS number 18, which is considered the oldest and most faithful to the original.

There is a possibility that Raffles MS number 18 version was developed further from a past genealogical list of kings complete with the periods of reigns and dates. This list of kings was subsequently enlarged by various stories and historically relevant material which was inserted into it in suitable places, but at the same time the dates of their reigns were removed.

It was theorised that this list could have been originally derived from other unknown Malay texts titled “Soelalet-Es-salatina” or “Su lank alatu’l-Salatina”, that was referred to by Petrus Van der Vorm and François Valentijn in their works “Collectanea Malaica Vocabularia” (Collection of Malay Vocabulary) (1677) and “Oud En New Oost Indien” (“A Short History of East Indies”) (1726) respectively.

However, in the introduction of Raffles MS number 18, it was described that the manuscript originated from another manuscript known as “Hikayat Melayu”, which can trace its origin to the time of the Malacca Sultanate (1400–1511).

The manuscript was brought together when the last ruler, Sultan Mahmud Shah fled from the Portuguese invasion in 1511 to Kampar.

In 1536, during the Portuguese attack on Johor Lama, where the exiled sultan established his base, the manuscript was seized by the Portuguese soldiers and brought to Goa, Portuguese India. It was decades later, in the early 17th century, that the manuscript was returned to Johor from Goa by a nobleman known as Orang Kaya Sogoh.

The Annals among others contain the genealogical origin of Sang Sapurba (said to be the father of the Royal dynasties of the Malay World) from Raja Iskandar Zulkarnain (Alexander the Great); the adventure of Sang Nila Utama from Palembang to Temasek, and the founding of Singapura; the legend of Badang, a man with an unusual strength; the story of Hang Nadim, the saviour of Singapura attacked by swordfishes; the fall of Singapura to Majapahit; the founding of Melaka; the story of Tun Perak, the most revered Bendahara of Melaka; the saga of Hang Tuah and his companions; the Legend of Puteri Gunung Ledang; and the Portuguese conquest of Melaka.

However, many of us in Brunei do not realise that Brunei was mentioned in the Malay Annals. Many assumed that the Malay Annals only contained tales of the Malaysian states and their royal families. But Brunei was indeed mentioned in the Malay Annals.

It is in the XVth chapter that Brunei appeared. According to the translation done by John Leyden and published in 1821, the text about Brunei read as follows:

“…Then, Tun Talani sailed away for China, when a violent storm arose, and carried him with the mantri Jana Petra, to Burne. When the Sangaji of Burne was informed of the circumstance, he sent to call them into his presence, and Tun Talani and the mantra Jana Petra were brought before him.”

“Then, the raja of Burne said to the mantri Jana Petra, ‘What is the stile of the raja of Malaca’s letter to the raja of China?” Tun Talani replied, ‘I, his servant, (sahaya) the raja of Malaca, to the Paduca of my father, the raja of China.” (“Sembah sahaya Raja Melaka, datang kepada Paduka Ayahanda Raja China”)

The raja of Burne enquired, “Does the raja of Malaca send this humble salutation to the raja of China, as an inferior?”

Tun Talani remained silent, but the mantri Jana Petra pushed forward and said, “No, Sire, he does not greet him as an inferior, for the meaning of (sahaya) the word used in the address, signifies slave in the Malayu language, and of course the phrase ‘Sahaya Raja Malaca datang kapada Paduca Ayahanda Raja China, ‘signifies ‘we the salves of the raja of Malaca, humbly salute the Paduca our father, the raja of China’.”

“Then said the raja of Burne, ‘Does the raja of Malaca send a humble salutation to the raja of China?”

Tun Talani was again silent, and the mantri Jana Petra pushed again forward and said, “No, Sire, he does not send a humble greeting to the raja of China, for the phrase Sahaya Raja Malaca denotes all of us here, who send the greeting, not the raja of Malaca,” on which the raja of Burne remained silent.

“When the monsoon for returning arrived, Tun Talani and the mantri Jana Petra asked permission of Sangaji of Burne, to return, and the raja of Burne sent a letter to Malaca, couched in this style, “May the greeting of the Paduca Anakanda arrive beneath the majesty of the Ayahanda.” (Paduka anakanda empunya-nya sembah datang ka-bawah Duli Paduka Ayahanda)

“Then Tun Talani and the mantri Jana Petra returned, and then they reached Malaca, they presented the letter of the raja of Burne to Sultan Mansur Shah, and related all the circumstances which had occurred to them, to the great satisfaction of the raja, who rewarded highly Tun Talani and mantri Jana Petra, and presented them with honorary dresses, and he highly praised the mantri Jena Petra…”

According to the book “Sejarah Berunai” written by Yura Halim and Jamil Umar published in 1951, the Sang Aji mentioned in the Malay Annals was Sultan Sharif Ali. Though judging by the years of reign of the various Sultans of Brunei now, there is clearly a difference of years during the reign of Sultan Sharif Ali of Brunei and Sultan Mansur Shah of Malacca during which this tale was told.

Sultan Manshur Shah reigned from 1459 to 1477 but Sultan Sharif Ali reigned from 1425 to 1432. The possibilities then the Sang Aji mentioned in the book are Brunei Sultans reigning after Sultan Sharif Ali which are Sultan Sulaiman (1432 to 1485) or Sultan Bolkiah (1485 to 1524). If all the dates are correct then the Sang Aji Brunei mentioned in the Malay Annals is the then Sultan Sulaiman, the fourth Sultan of Brunei.

What is clear and important to note, as stated by Yura Halim and Jamil Umar in their book “Sejarah Berunai” is that there was no other mention of Brunei in the Annals.

Even though Brunei and Malacca did a diplomatic exchange, there was no indication that Brunei was a vassal state of Malacca even though the Malacca Malay Empire during that period was at its peak.

The Brunei Times


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