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Malay keris

It has often been said that much of the impact left behind by Malacca has been in the form of traditions of government and in the provision of a socio-political legacy which is related to the scope and concept of the sultanates in modern Malaysia. Furthermore, when we discuss various aspects of the sultanate in several states, and of the monarchy in this country, Malacca usually becomes the focal point of reference in the discussion. This line of thinking is not without a base, and if we take a historical perspective, the reasoning becomes quite evident.

Probably because of his own particular understanding of history, when viewing the traditional framework of political relations in the fourteenth century, whereby a strong suzerain power like Majapahit succeeded in subjugating another declining suzerain power like Sri Vijaya, Paul Wheatley regards Parameswara, a leading royal figure from Palembang who was forced to pay homage to Majapahit, as a traitor against the sovereignty of the central power in Java for his attempt to assert his independence. Having failed in his bold attempt, Parameswara left Palembang and went to Singapore where he once again (in Wheatley's view) became a traitor by killing the ruler of that island.

But other historians take a different point of view. Professor Wang Gungwu and O.W. Wolters, for example, lay great stress on the elements of continuity in the concept of history. They look upon all the events and the political experiences which Parameswara underwent from a broader viewpoint and historical vision in the context of Malay historical and political development in the region. They claim that Parameswara was an exceptional Malay political figure, who in terms of leadership and ability was peerless in all the Malay Archipelago. Having successfully founded and established a seat of power in Malacca around 1399/1400, Parameswara left behind two successors who proved to be equally capable. These two successors were Megat Iskandar Shah and Seri Maharaja who displayed the same administrative and political abilities at the helm of a newly established state. These three leaders laid down the traditions of government and planted the roots of Malay historiography which was to become a heritage not only of their successors until 15l1, but a tradition which was continually practiced not only in spirit and form, but in the sociopolitical and governmental aspects by the sultanates in several states in this country.

The political ability and special leadership qualities shown by Parameswara in the context of the establishment of the Malacca government were not abnormal, but were coincidental. Parameswara had intrepidly defied the authority of the powerful Majapahit ruler. After having been expelled from Palembang,he went to Singapore and killed its ruler. He then reigned as ruler in Singapore for a number of years before founding Malacca. As Tome Pires acknowledged, all these were regarded as a first-hand experience and a political adventure for a man of talent and potential at that time, thus enabling him to become the founder of a new state, who was resolute enough to face all eventualities.

Parameswara's experience as ruler for several years in his own homeland in Palembang followed by his five year reign in Singapore, provided him with great practical experience and the knowledge to handle political affairs. In fact, there was nothing exceptional about this since that political knowledge was a legacy that had been handed down to him and which he inherited from members of his own family and from the political circles at Palembang. Palembang was his birthplace and the place where his leadership skills were nurtured in order to govern the affairs of the Malay Sri Vijaya empire.

The political and administrative experiences that Parameswara acquired whilst ruler in Palembang and Singapore became the basis for his ability to govern and plan the development of Malacca. Subsequently, his successors merely continued along the path which he had marked out for them. The political principles and policies of Palembang (Sri Vijaya) and Singapore became the model for his own dynamic measures in Malacca.

Whilst at Palembang, Parameswara's success in controlling the Straits of Malacca was the prime and determinant factor for the economic survival and dominance of Sri Vijaya to the extent that the members of his own family had to encounter with the power of Majapahit (throughout the fourteenth century). In Singapore, Parameswara had to face the immense power of Siam which strove to control the Straits of Singapore. In Malacca, Parameswara and his successors once again had to protect the Straits of Malacca from Siamese and the Portuguese control. The Straits of Malacca had become the key factor in the economic survival and dominance of Malacca. Sri Vijaya, Singapore and Malacca shared a common and repetitive historical perspective and evolution because they were highly dependent on the Straits of Malacca and Singapore and their adjacent waters. These three states were maritime powers and it was imperative for them to control the sea-lanes and their traffic, because trade formed the basis of their economies, supplemented at a secondary level by the fruits of agricultural activity.

The factors that should be taken into account and which determined Parameswara's success as ruler of Malacca was his charisma as a ruler. He had inherited the attributes of sovereignty from the rulers of the Malay-Palembang or Sri Vijaya empire. Besides this, other factors included the presence of the Malay nobility who had been with him since he was ruler of Palembang, and the support of the Orang Laut (Orang Selat) throughout his reign in Palembang and Singapore until the early period of his settlement in Malacca. All these factors formed the basis that contributed towards the creation of a state with an orderly administrative and political system.

Assuming that we can accept all these factors as valid, then Parameswara was in reality the pioneer who established the link in the grand Malay historiographical tradition in the Straits of Malacca area, that is between the Malay tradition of the Sri Vijaya empire, whose geo-political centre was at Palembang or iambi, and the Malay tradition of the Malacca empire whose geo-political centre was at Malacca itself. When discussing the elements of continuity in the historiographical traditions from the early seventh century until the break-up of the Johor-Riau Empire in the nineteenth century, Parameswara constitutes the historical link during a period lasting twelve centuries. In reality, the historiographical tradition of Malacca in the Malay Peninsula is a continuation of the historiographical tradition of Sri Vijaya based in Sumatra. The factor which probably forms the main basis of differentiation between these two historiographical traditions is that of religion, that is Hindu-Buddhism on the one hand, and Islam on the other.

In other words, the political and administrative experience possessed by Parameswara, his supporters and followers who comprised the ministers and lords since his reign in Singapore and Palembang formed a vital base and source of knowledge, fundamental to and beneficial for the building of a new kingdom in Malacca. Other than the discovery of several inscriptions, until today no written sources have yet been found which could explain the administrative and political traditions of the old Sri Vijaya empire at Palembang-Jambi. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to carry out a comparative study on the two Malay governments to find out similarities and dissimilarities in the relevant fields.

The concept of sovereignty' (i.e. daulat which is taken from the Arabic/Ottoman term 'daulah') in the context of the governmental politics which forms the symbol of sovereignty of a reigning monarch, need not necessarily originate from or exist in Malacca. It should also be seen in terms of the tradition of continuing the pre-Malacca and pre-Islamic forms of Malay government during the Sri Vijaya period. A leader who rules and is styled 'king' will have elements of sanctity, purity and distinction attributed to him, and perhaps, as in the case of the ancient Javanese kings, other extraordinary qualities would also be bestowed upon him. Such elements were important in the beliefs of the common people especially those regarding the traditional political institutions of the state. As a result there arose the concept of the 'god-king', where the belief in, and the existence of genealogies of kings which had been 'invented' (by word of mouth or in written form), were connected with the gods who had descended from their abodes; and metamorphosed as Shiva, Vishnu or Brahma, of genies and fairies and other spirits invisible to the eye. These were linked to the origins and traditions of descent of their ancestors. They were a legacy of Malay-Hindu tradition.

An ancient inscription found at Telaga Batu in Sumatra, provides an important evidence of the existence of an organized system of government during the Sri Vijaya period at Palembang and throws light onto the question of whether these 'god-kings' represented indigenous political elements of yore or whether they represented Hindu influences which had been absorbed and incorporated into local traditions of government. According to the inscription, subjects who proclaimed their allegiance to the ruler were required to take an oath by drinking water that had been poured on to the blade of a keris. Whosoever refused to take his oath of loyalty and opposed the king would be driven insane.

This helps to explain and provide evidence on the concept of kingship and on the political position of the Sri Vijaya ruler. It also provides an explicit outline of what 'sovereigny' (daulat) meant to subjects who rejected that sovereignty after having broken their oath and forsworn their loyalty. A man who had gone insane was doubtless the victim of the misfortune that befell those who abjured the oath which had been sealed by the ruler himself. This was one indigenous way of building up 'sovereignty' (in spiritual and doctrinal terms) in the activities of the state in order to create and manifest the political links between the ruler (who was called 'king') and his subjects.

The inscription found on the upper reaches of the Batang Hari near Jambi, namely Sri Vijaya's second capital after Palembang, also gave a list of high ranking posts such as the court officials, the noblemen, tax-collectors, keepers of the state treasury, judges, scribes, architects, merchants, and officials who were in charge of the royal wardrobe. The details given on this inscription indicate that a complex administrative system had existed during the Palembang period.

It goes without saying that Parameswara who had reigned at Palembang for several years must have been invested with symbols and bestowed with special elements of socio-political traditions as a ruler who was considered to possess the attributes of sovereignty before his subjects. The charisma of being king and chief administrator was already present. The expenience of arranging a system of administration in order to establish a government within a political framework was possessed by Parameswara since his Palembang days. His charisma as king with full sovereignty at Palembang, and the leadership abilities which had been his during his reign in Palembang and Singapore prior to 1400 became the main stimulus which inspired and drove him to exploit the yet greater political openings in the Straits of Malacca at the end of the fourteenth century or the beginning of the fifteenth century.

It was these factors that enabled him to open up Malacca and establish a new kingdom there. The royal, political and cultural elements were already present in him. Parameswara's charisma and attributes of leadership would of course have been meaningless without the noblemen who accompanied him. The foundations of the political authority and leadership Which Parameswara possessed were fully supported by his lords and ministers. It was not known whether they had shared the vicissitudes of Parameswara when he was hounded by Palembang and whether they were still loyal to him, or otherwise (for there are no sources to support these arguments). The Sejarah Melayuclearly states that during his reign in Singapore, Parameswara ( one or several kings including Iskandar Shah or Parameswara?) was supported by his great lords who acted as the agents of the ruler for maintaining '...the old customs'. Generally speaking, the hierarchy of court officials was as follows:


(a) The Bendahara

The first Bendahara was reported to have been the younger brother of the reigning monarch. When the king was away, the Bendahara acted in his stead, which showed the importance of the Bendaharas status and political authority. Two Bendabaras of Singapore were:

(i) Tun Perpatih Permuka Beijajar

  1. Tun Perpatih Tulus

According to custom and tradition, the Bendahara was always the father-in-law of the ruler, since the ruler was married to his daughter.


(b) The Perdana Menteri

It is difficult to establish the exact status and political role of this official. In the audience hall the Perdana Menteri is said to have sat facing the Bendahara. One of the Perdana Menteri of Singapore was Tun Perpatih Permuka Segalar.


(c) The Penghulu Bendahari

This official was described 'as seated below the Bendahara', showing that his political status was inferior to that of the Bendahara. One of the Penghulu Bendahari of Singapore held the title of Tun lana Bunga Dendang. Below him there were several bendahari, amongst whom was the famous Sang Rajuna Tapa (title), a leading figure in the political crisis which occurred during the MalayJavanese conflict in Singapore.


(d) The Hulubalang Besar (Captain-in-Chief)

This official was said to have sat next to the Penghulu Bendahari and is in charge of all the captains or military commanders. He was known by the title Tun Tempurung Gemerentak.


(e) Other Lesser Ministers comprised:

i. The Orang Kaya-kaya (lords/noblemen)

ii. The ceteria (royal bodyguards or knights)

iii. The sida-sida (palace attendants/courtiers)

iv. The bentara (heralds)

  1. The hulubalang (captains)

All these official were said to have accompanied Parameswara when he withdrew from Singapore to Malacca. When Parameswara went to Sening Hujung, he left behind a minister there. When he stayed in Bertam, Malacca, he was said to have been surrounded by 'all the officers of the realm'. The presence of these former high ranking officials and ministers from Singapore enabled Parameswara (The Sejarah Melayu uses the title Raja Besar Muda, the son of Parameswara) to form an administrative system that enabled him to establish a new kingdom after the founding of Malacca. The king, as mentioned in the Sejarah Melayu '...ordered the establishment of the royal seat of government according to tradition'. Parameswara is also described as the first Malacca ruler to appoint ministers responsible for the affairs in the audience hall. He also appointed forty heralds to carry out his orders and created the post of Biduanda Kechil (royal page) to bear the state regalia during processions.

In Malacca, the hierarchical system of the ministers and the system of administration became all the more complex as a result of the intricacy of the political and the socio-economic conditions in Malacca itself. Tome Pires stated that Parameswara took up residence in Bertam, located up the Malacca River. The Sejarah Melayu records that the watering places along the shores of Malacca and Bertam could be reached by this river, and formed the route used by Parameswara, the royal family and the senior state officials. All official business was carried out in the city of Malacca. It was here that the audience hall and all the traders and foreign (Muslim) missionaries were found. According to Wake, this was a strategic and very practical measure to avoid external attacks from the enemies. At the same time the Orang Laut or Orang Selat (called 'Celates' by Tome Pires) formed the backbone of Malacca's security.

Going back to the Sri Vijayan period, Wolters believed that the strength and development of the government of Parameswara's predecessors was the result of the existence of close relations between rulers in authority and the Orang Laut who always provided them with their loyalty and naval support. The cooperation between these two groups saw the success in the elimination of piracy which was rampant in the Straits of Malacca. Once conditions became safer, the foreign traders were free to go to Palembang and conduct their business activities there. The Sri Vijaya government was able to control the activities of the Orang Laut and guide them so that they lived in an organized manner and did not perpetrate outrages on traders. In this way, the safety of all traders sailing through the Straits of Malacca was guaranteed. L.Y. Andaya regarded this as one of Sri Vijaya's great achievements.

In fact Parameswara was sensitive to and conscious of the part played by the Orang Laut. Moreover, in Malacca, the position and role of the Orang Laut became more formalised when Parameswara made them a part of the institution and system of government. Their loyalty to the rulers who were descended from the Palembang and the Sri Vijayan line continued until the eighteenth century during the time when Raja Negara di Laut Singapura (King of the Maritime Kingdom of Singapore) became their leader. The military strength of the Orang Laut was utilized by the rulers of Sri Vijaya whenever threats to the security of the empire arose. Indeed, their role was so vital that several Sri Vijaya rulers dubbed them 'The Kings of the Ocean Lands'.

Tome Pires himself reported that when Parameswara and his party retreated from Palembang to Singapore, and then from Singapore to Malacca, he was accompanied by thirty Orang Laut 'protecting his life'. During his stay in Muar, it was the Orang Laut who proposed that he should settle at Malacca. When Parameswara agreed to this proposal, the Orang Laut pledged their allegiance and loyalty to him and his new kingdom. According to Tome Pires, they also declared that:

We too belong to thy ancient lordship of Palembang; we have always gone with thee; if the land seems good to thee, it is right that thou shouldst give us alms for our good intention, and that our work should not be without reward.'

Parameswara assured them that he '...could give them honour and assistance... He agreed to this and said that it was his wish to do this for them'.

The above excerpt reveals the mutual cooperation that had existed between the two parties, the suzerain and the Vassal state. The Orang Laut recognized the sovereignty of Parameswara as the heir of the Palembang rulers and would serve to protect him, and in return Parameswara would preserve their honor and undertook to look after their welfare. Therefore, the Orang Laut were willing to form part of the Malacca naval strength to maintain the peace and security of Malacca so as to encourage foreign traders to call at its port. As a result, the most important source of manpower needed to help upkeep the stability in the administrative system was secured.

From the socio-political point of view, Parameswara had already possessed the attributes of sovereignty ever since his reign in Palembang and Singapore. With the support of the state officials available then, these attributes could also be extended to Malacca. The changes that occurred were geo-political in nature i.e., from Palembang to Singapore and then to Malacca, whilst still possessing the charisma and sovereignty as ruler. In Malacca, his sovereignty became reinforced and further safeguarded by a pledge of loyalty given by the Orang Laut. This became the most vital source of naval strength and an enduring element in the security of their kingdom. According to Tome Pires and de Barros, the Orang Laut settlements were centred at Bentan, Singapore and Lingga.

The Sejarah Melayu mentioned that the offices of the high ranking state officials had already existed in the administrative system established by Parameswara (Raja Iskandar Shah) in Singapore. If this information proves to be reliable and accurate, then generally, very little disparity could be found between the offices available in the administrative system of Malacca during its early stages of establishment and those found in Singapore. The most important offices of state that were inherited and perpetuated by Malacca were:

(a) The Bendahara

The Bendahara was the father-in-law of the king. The first figure to hold this post was the Sen Wak Raja.

(b) The Perdana Menteri

The holder of this office was also a member of the royal family, namely the

Raja Anum (Muda). He held the title Sen Amar Diraja. The 1612 version of

the Sejarah Melayu mentioned that the second person to hold this post was the

Tun Perpatih Besar, the son of the Tun Perpatih Permuka Berjajar, the first

Bendahara of Singapore.

(c) The Penghulu Bendahari

The Penghulu Bendahari was the son-in-law of the Bendahara. The holder of this post, namely the Raja Kechil Muda, was also from the royal family, and held the title Sen Nara Diraja.

As was mentioned earlier, the holders of these offices were supported by the lesser officials who were of lower status such as the heralds, the palace attendants and the royal pages.

At the apex of the system was the ruler. He held the title 'King' (raja) or 'Overlord' (Duli Yang Dipertuan). The title 'sultan' was first introduced when Seri Maharaja became the ruler of Malacca and took the name Sultan Muhammad Shah. The king was surrounded by members of the royal family, which included the Bendahara and the Penghulu Bendahari. The first Penghulu Bendahari was the younger brother of Parameswara. What was meant by 'members of the royal family' was probably his children, wives and closest relatives. Tome Pires reported that when Parameswara moved from Muar to Malacca, he had said '...with my wife and household'.


Source: The Malay Sultanate of Malacca by Muhammad Yusoff Hashim


The Administration

The Political Functions


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