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Sultan Mansor Shah Palace

The king who ruled Malacca was described as the source and centre of all secular power. With the exalted position of the king in the system of government, the source of power possessed by him and the sanction conveyed by the attributes of sovereignty was channelled towards initiating the administrative mechanism and power.

The concept of sovereign power and its attributes in the context of fifteenth century Malacca was of course different from the concept understood today. In modern terms, sovereign power primarily refers to the missing government and to the nation that is governed. The figure and personality of the reigning monarch only represents a symbol of that sovereignty. When the 'supreme' laws that form the source which activate the government and its administration are written down and become a formal constitution, the monarch simply becomes a constitutional ruler.

During the early period in Malacca, sovereign power or sovereignty refers to or is related directly to the person and physical presence of the king on the throne. Wherever the ruler ruled (in a geo-political sense), sovereignty was not confined to the country or the place of authority where the ruler resided, but in the personality and the physical characteristics of the reigning ruler himself. A state was established only with the presence of a ruler. The Sejarah Melayu frequently uses such expressions as 'Raja Raden was the State', or 'Raja Husin was the State', while the declaration of loyalty became formally phrased as 'Long Live the King', (daulat tuanku) and not 'Long Live the Nation' (daulat negara) - incidentally making use of the word daulat or sovereignty. In war, a state would readily admit defeat if 'the king was dead'. This is made clear in the Sejarah Melayu by its reference to the words of Sultan Muhammad Shah - '...because of the tradition of royalty, the country is defeated (when) its king is dead'.

Sovereignty was also linked to the charisma of the king and to the 'good fortune' (tuah) that he possessed. When the country became peaceful, prosperous and rich, with traders and missionaries going about their affairs, with farmsteads and plantations flourishing and producing high yields, with an increase in livestock and human population, the king on his throne was held to be the fount of good fortune and the mystique of his sovereignty rode high. Similarly, if the situation was converse, the reverse would occur. The security, the prosperity and the peace and harmony in the state enjoyed by the people were not related to the skill or wisdom of the officials and administrators, and were not construed as the fruits of hard work and enterprise, or of the soil which was naturally fertile. They were regarded as the good fortune of the king who reigned so justly over them, even though this was not necesssarily the actual state of affairs.

Therefore, in terms of philosophy and theory, the ruler was described as being just and wise, the bearer of good fortune and endowed with the mystique of sovereignty. He was also regarded as being blessed, and this gave rise to the expression: ' the blessings and power of His Majesty' not because of the blessings of the intelligence and intellectual qualities of the important state officials or of the practical efforts of the ordinary people who laboured without respite.

As a person who represented 'the source of both order and prosperity in society' and who was regarded as 'the centre of patterned or formulatic behaviour', to take the view of a Western scholar, the position of the ruler was truly lofty and exalted in his system of government to the extent that his word or command had the force of law, his mere gesture likely to be taken as an order to be carried out, and whose actions and character were beyond reproach. He could override laws that existed in his administration. In fact, the ruler was the law. Therefore, king and kingdom (or the State/government) were synonymous, for figuratively speaking, the ruler was perceived as a shady tree where his subjects could take shelter. The respect of the ordinary people for their ruler was so high that the Sejarah Melayu states that: was the custom of the Malay subject that he would never seek to find fault with the wishes of his master (the king).

The personality and character of a reigning monarch were also linked to the elements of purity which he was supposed to possess. A person who went against the royal word and who refused to recognize his sovereignty would be considered 'traitorous'. It was believed that a traitor would be struck by calamity in two ways. Firstly, he would become the victim of disaster (probably in the form of a curse) as a result of having gone against the king. For example, Sang Rajuna Tapa, one of Raja Iskandar Shah's lords in Singapore, and his wife were reportedly turned into stone as a consequence of having incurred a royal curse for allowing the men of Majapahit to enter Singapore. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the people of the Johor-Riau sultanate, descendants from the Malay sultanate of Malacca, were warned that they would be visited by the curse of bisa kawi and would for ever be unsafe both in this world and the next if they attempted to betray the sovereignty of the reigning monarch.

The second affliction would emerge in the form of a physical reprisal taken by the state itself, that is to say that the person found guilty of treason would be 'scourged' in various ways. The offender would not be the only person to receive the punishment. His family and kinsmen would undergo similar chastisement to the extent that no progeny is left behind. Perhaps due to the handing down of these traditional beliefs, they became so ingrained in the heart and mind of a person that he become truly fearful of the retaliation which he might incur, for no one would like to be turned into stone. Neither would anyone wish to undergo the suffering of those who had incurred the bisa kawi curse, and lived in penury and misery for the rest of their lives. And surely no one would be prepared to withstand the punishment administered in a collective manner at the command of the ruler, which could mean death or suffering physical injury, on account of not observing the rules of the state or for allegedly being shown disloyal to the ruler himself, which was regarded as the gravest of offences in Malacca.

Murder was regarded as another very serious offence. An order of execution was the exclusive prerogative of the ruler. Furthermore, in Malacca, according to the Sejarah Melayu, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah was quoted as saying that no Malay should be killed, no matter great the crime. Hdwever, an execution was permissible if the crime involved high treason. Clearly no one would like to lose their life so easily, if treason was not regarded as a major offence!

Before the introduction of a written constitution for a state and its government, the attempt to instil the concept of sovereignty in the minds of the people, handed down from one generation to another solely in the form of belief and tradition, was no doubt a primeval indigenous means which was not only unique and simple but also paramount and very practical, symbolized by the presence of a ruler with sovereign powers. The concept was absorbed unconsciously but with great effect into the beliefs and thinking of the ordinary people. This acceptance by consensus became one of the conventions and institutions of the traditional political forms in Malacca.

There were, no doubt, a number of legendary figures in local history who rebelled against this tradition of sovereignty, such Hang Jebat (Hang Kasturi?) in Malacca, the men of Kampar in Kedah, Sang Rajuna Tapa in Singapore, and the Laksamana Megat Sen Rama in Johor. However, generally, they all failed to leave their own mark in history and vanished from the face of the earth as a result of having incurred the consequences of lese-majeste!

Whatever the means by which the concept and institution of 'sovereignty' came into being, its political purpose was to create an institution for the survival of the community and the state. It was also aimed at creating a normative way of life in a tolerant environment, but as far as possible with flexible conditions, although within circumstances where the administrative system was somewhat loose. The intention was to create, maintain and protect the safety of the members of society and to ensure a harmonious life under an organized system of government.

In an attempt to establish social standards, it was essential to have a small group of leaders to supervise the system and to administer the far greater number of people whom they led. Under these circumstances, it was also essential for this select leadership group to possess an element or nucleus of supreme secular power which was highly exalted, respected, in which full confidence and the mandate to rule could be reposed. It might also be feared (?) because the traditional belief handed down from the past which they came to symbolize (based on their origins, genealogy and personal leadership qualities). That element and nucleus was sovereignty. The holder of that sovereignty (which was difficult to perceive with the naked eye) was the reigning monarch. It was the ruler who provided the source of spiritual energy to initiate and maintain the working of the administrative machinery for the running of an organized community.

The process of the development of sovereignty ran concurrently with the political, cultural and historical development of the local society itself. Although there are very few sources which can throw light on the concept of sovereignty during the pre~Malacca sultanate period, some knowledge can be derived from the cultural and historical perspective of the pre-Islamic and islamic periods. The culture that was developed between these two perspectives was an indigenous one.

The concept of sovereignty began at the basic level of leadership, namely the 'head-man' (ketua, or in Sanskrit katuha). During the Hindu-Buddhist era, probably during the time of Sri Vijaya, the concept of sovereignty evolved when the headman became a symbol and was linked, politically and culturally, to the various Hindu myths regarding the origins, descent and genealogy, as well as the physical and spiritual qualities which the particular headman or king possessed. The lineage and ancestors of the king were regarded to have been metamorphoses of gods in the purest, most chaste and ineffable traditions of Hinduism-Buddhism. The king was revered according to customs and traditions but without any religious connotations. As time went by, the customs and traditions became more firmly entrenched and began to be accepted as official practice, and ultimately became the political doctrine of kingship within the state. The person who was revered was regarded as pure, as pure as the gods. These pure, spiritual and mystical elements of leadership were then linked to the physical and biological faculties of the recipient of the person. The elements of purity and mystery were merged with the physical and the biological. From this, the concept of the god-king ultimately emerged. Each word, gesture, action and movement of the person was taken as a symbol of the words and actions of a superior being embodying purity. Therefore his commands must be respected and obeyed.

By way of tradition and Hindu cultural influences, some foreign elements were absorbed to form part of the foundation for local politics. The reigning monarch was recognized as the owner of the land and the water on and around it, and became the lord of all the surrounding environment


The coming of Islam changed the way in which people think, but the political concept connected with the god-king was strongly entrenched in social beliefs and this traditional mentality could not be easily eradicated. Furthermore, based on the spiritual beliefs inherited from the past, this mentality ";,as highlighted' for rationalization with the Islamic doctrines of leadership. The traditional spiritual links of a Muslim ruler with the gods would disappear, but fresh links would be made with Allah and the Prophet together with the saintly band of spiritual leaders and practitioners. Whether they were deliberately created or otherwise,and whether they were true or false, today, we can still come across Malay manuscripts with the genealogies of the Malacca rulers which link them directly to the family and kin of the Prophet in Mecca.

When the editor of the Sejarah Melayu recorded the links between the rulers of Malacca and Allah and the Prophet in order to spread the doctrine of leadership in Islam, he quoted from the dying injunctions of the Bendahara Tun Perak as follows:

....and do not neglect to perform acts of service for your ruler. That is why the learned say, where there is a ruler who is as just as the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, he can be likened to a ring that has two precious stones set in it; such a ruler is like the surrogate of Allah in the world, for he is the Shadow of God on earth; to serve the ruler is to serve Allah, the Immaculate and Almighty. Therefore, perform good deeds for Allah and His Prophet and for the ruler... Do not forget this, so that the excellence of the world to come will he yours.

The excerpt above is taken from extracts, translations and free interpretations of a number of quotations from the Koran, but in certain places the concept of leadership has been adapted to circumstances.

There are three main issues which arise from these excerpts:

(a) concerning a just ruler

(b) the relationship between the ruler on his throne and Allah. The king is described as 'the surrogate of Allah in the world', and

  1. mankind must perform good deeds for Allah, the Prophet and the ruler.


If our supposition that this excerpt is a free interpretation of the concept and doctrine of leadership in Islam based on the lines laid down in the Koran is correct, then they are relevant to Chapter Four (Women) of the Koran, verses 58 and 59. Verse 59 explains the concepts of rights and justice in the laws of men:

Allah commands you to fulfill the trust of those who believed in you, and to pass judgement upon men with fairness. Noble is that to which Allah exhorts you. He hears all and observes all.

Verse 59 of the same Chapter explains the responsibility of all the faithful to be obedient to Allah, to the Prophet and to the leadership:

Believers, obey Allah and the Apostle and those in authority among you. Should you disagree about anything, refer it to Allah and the Apostle,if you truly believe in Allah and the Last Day. This will in the end be better and more just.

This verse also states that should any disagreement occur amongst the believers, they should refer to the laws of Islam and the judgement of Allah. This is obviously directed at Islamic states and governments.

According to the accounts in the Sejarah Melayu, when Malacca was under Islamic rule, several practices in its administrative institutions were based on Islam. Many of its laws (at least in theory) as laid down in the Undang-undang Melaka Cibe Laws of Malacca) and the Undang-undang Laut Melaka (the Maritime Laws of Malacca) were based on Islam. Therefore, Malacca might fulfilled the Islamic doctrines on leadership at that time.

Nevertheless, there was also quite a lot of 'substitution' and liberal adaptation. Leadership or 'those in authority among you' (al imam) in Islam comprises the ruler and the administrators around him. This concept was apparently a rationalization of local tradition. For the ruler who was selected to rule might not necessarily have the ability to lead or the justness to administer the law amongst his subjects, whereas a just and able leader as demanded by Islam need not necessarily have to be chosen from those of royal or 'blue' blood.

However, the political and cultural tradition of the Malacca Malays inherited from the Palembang era had become the norm and basis for leadership, where a king was selected by descent from the male line. The only change that took place was in terms of religious belief and practices and of the substitution of the Hindu doctrine of leadership for the Islamic one based on local custom and tradition. This transformation seemed to have worked very successfully and effectively for several centuries. Justice could not be achieved merely by depending on the character of the reigning monarch. Therefore, the officials, especially the Bendahara, would assist the ruler to ensure a just administration and control of the state. Collective decisions were regarded more superior to individual ones. Hence the concept of consultation and discussion became established through practice. The existence of these links of mutual authority demonstrated a balance in the control and administration of the government.

The concept of consultation, discussion and agreement by consensus between the ruler, his lords and officials formed the basis for achieving justice and fairness. In fact when this practice was mentioned in written records, it became a standard convention in the relations between the two parties. The Sejarah Melayu made reference to this when it quoted Sultan Mansor Shah:

...and you should come to an understanding with all your ministers and great lords, for however wise and knowledgeable the ruler may be, how will that wisdom and knowledge be made use of,if he does not consult with all his officials?

This could be linked directly to the heriditary traditions and political culture of Malay society itself, where cooperation and a sense of tolerance between the king and administrators on the one hand, and their subjects, the ordinary people, on the other, had been established since the early days. The Sejarah Melayu records the solemn pledge (waadah) made between Sang Sapurba Taram Sen Tn Buana (the ruler) and Demang Labar Daun (his subject) following the primordial tradition of Malay political leadership:

That is why Allah, the Immaculate and the Almighty, has accorded that all Malay rulers should never bring shame upon their subjects; however great their offences may be. They should not be scrutinized, held responsible or execrated with foul words. Should a ruler bring shame to a Malay subject, his realm will face ruin; and Allah, the Immaculate and the Almighty, has accorded that all Malays should never be disloyal to their rulers or shun them no matter how evil and cruel they may be.

These mutual ties came into being between the ruler as protector on the one side and the people as supporters of their protector on the other. The customs and traditions in governing which was probably practised during the period of Sri Vijaya continued to be preserved. Within the context of political culture, another element of mutuality founded on the close and systematic cooperation and interdependence between ruler and subject may be seen in the adaptation of a Persian maxim which was absorbed into the philosophy of leadership and the system of governing in Malacca. Based on the Malay-Islamic culture and political thought which probably took firm root in Malacea during the reign of Sultan Mansor Shah, the compiler of the Sejarah Melayu emphasised this point by citing yet again the words of Sultan Mansor Shah, as follows:

In the words of the Persian saying, 'Ar'ayat juna bakhsanat sultan Khasad', which means that the people are like the roots, and the ruler like the tree; just as there would be no tree if there were no roots, so there would be no ruler if there were no subjects.

The link and the interdependence between a tree and its roots became a fundamental analogy in the tradition and philosophy of Malay leadership in Malacca. It is a very simple philosophy but indeed practical - a tree cannot stand without its roots, and the roots cannot survive without a tree! It is through this interdependence can a society survive and a kingdom be established.

Nevertheless, it was the strength of the traditional foundations, the heritage of cultural processes, and the history of the indigenous culture itself which enabled the elements of purity, excellence and virtue to continue to become the crux upon which the attributes of sovereignty could be established and reinforced so that the status of the ruler would transcend secular laws. The analogy of the king and the Prophet being like 'two jewels set in a single ring', both of them hand in hand contributing to its splendour and ultimate beauty, no doubt fitted well into the local ethos of leadership. A king was likened to 'the substitute' of Allah on earth - or His shadow (zulillahi fi'l'alam or zulillahi fil'l ardh). It is at once understood that if we worship Allah and are faithful to the ways of the Prophet, then we must also serve and be loyal to the ruler. If we are disobedient and refuse to follow the commands of Allah or the ways of the Prophet, we will also be considered disloyal to the ruler. This is the primary interpretation.

Such arguments probably provided the most refined and highly effective political means used by the Malays to indoctrinate the ordinary people in order to command their respect and the belief in the sovereignty of their ruler.

The person who strongly supported, exalted and defended the sovereignty of the ruler was the Bendahara. This was appropriately so because the Bendahara was an experienced, elderly man who invariably was either the father-in-law or the uncle of the reigning monarch. Whatever may be the interpretations and opinions of researchers regarding the leadership qualities and characteristics of the Bendaharas as portrayed in the Sejarah Melayu, there are a number of accounts and episodes which shed light on several Bendaharas who frequently defended this 'custom' and political philosophy, even at the cost of their own lives, as in the case of Bendahara Sen Maharaja Tun Mutahir. The basis for upholding sovereignty was the maxim 'no Malay may be disloyal to his ruler'.

In short, the concept of ruling and the prerogative to rule which belonged to the ruler were primarily spiritual and represented a traditional heritage in the form of an accepted belief handed down through the ages. This tradition was influenced by changes in culture and in the perspectives of creed and religion.

This concept of ruling and prerogative to rule became established and, were channeled and put into practice through the physical authority and actions of the state officials and other administrators who supported and became part of the general institution of kingship. The physical authority and actions mentioned above were intended to emphasize amongst other things the establishment, supervision and perpetuation of the practice of state rites based on traditional usage and custom to ensure that they would be rigorously preserved; to prescribe and implement governmental as well as administrative rules and regulations; to define and establish an administrative system; to supervise, maintain and ensure the implementation of the law (which included customs and traditions as well as foreign elements - Hindu and Islamic); to supervise and enhance the social system and the supervision of state protocol on the whole; to ensure peace and harmony of society.

Since the state officials were the pillars that supported and ensured the stability of the institution of kingship and administration, they were provided with certain powers within the sphere of their respective authority based on certain social, political and administrative functions at court, on land, in the home waters of Malacca and in her dependencies.

The cooperation and the ties which existed between the reigning ruler and his state officials who formed the administrative machinery supporting the system of kingship and government could also be seen as one fundamental aspect of political culture. Indeed, following the traditional political philosophy of Malacca, the cooperation and the ties mentioned above were essential for ensuring the success of the whole governmental system.

The smoothness, harmony and success of the system were all dependent on the attitude of mutual support between both sides. Therefore, in order to secure the success of this, system, a political philosophy regarding this type of cooperation was instilled in Malacca, as reflected in the analogy of the ruler as 'the fire' and the state officials 'the firewood'. The Sejarah Melayu discusses this point, and quotes the Bendahara Tun Perak as follows:

And there was no harmony in the state, because a ruler is like fire and all his ministers are like firewood; if there is no firewood, how can the fire give its flame?

The overall concept of the close cooperation between ruler and his subject is likened to the relationship between a tree and its roots, while the concept of the mutual dependence between the ruler and his state officials is likened to the relationship between fire and fuel. These formed the basic philosophy and theory of the political, governmental and the administrative system of Malacca as a whole.

According to one scholar, the most interesting example of this concept of mutual dependence which is indispensable between the two sides in this kind of political machinery can be seen in the concept and viewpoint expressed in the Hikayat Hang Tuah, 'a historical novel utilizing symbols'. At the functional level, the book highlights the relations between the ruler of Malacca and Hang Tuah. This symbolizes the relationship between those in authority, in power and given the mandate to rule on the one hand, and those who accept, support and recognize that authority and mandate, on the other. The acceptance and recognition of this system was usually effected in a totally submissive way, with unquestioned and undivided loyalty to avoid any conflict or disturbance in implementing the authority in the administration. This is a unique example of how a Malay sultanate functions, and symbolizes the sublime link between the ruler (in this context the sultan of Malacca) and his subjects (Hang Tuah).

This may have been a concept and an opinion formed by the author of this famous manuscript. The word, summons and cornmand of the ruler emanated from his authority, and that command (through the acceptance and readiness to carry it out shown and manifested by the character, actions and deeds of Hang Tuah) must be obeyed, without any question or argument even to the extent of sacrificing a life. A ruler's command which was carried out and fulfilled traditionally would earn him a fine reward and recognition. The reward could take several forms, material and symbolic, which would be described as a bestowal of a royal favour.

Hence, the legal implication which arose from the use of this term, whether in the form of speech or in the act of bestowing an award, was that only the reigning ruler was permitted to name the award or to confer it upon someone. In other words, the bestowal of awards was the prerogative of the ruler. The Hukum Kanun Melaka (Clause 2:1) states that whosoever took upon himself the role (by speech or action) of bestowing an award, along with the usage of such words reserved for royalty such as Utah, patik, murka and kurnia, would incur the death penalty. Among the awards or honours which were generally conferred were official titles of honour and titles of ranks for offices of the Laksamana, Sen Bija Diraja and others, which served to contribute to and define the position and social and political status of an individual to the point of enabling him to achieve a level of social distinction and be called an 'orang kaya' (for although he had left office, he had attained a superior economic position); grants of land for the cultivation of rice or general farming; and grants of populated land (orchards, inlets, or streams). According to Clause 44:11 of the Hukum Kanun Melaka, to be made raja (i.e. chief or headman) in such places would mean becoming the local administrator, and collector of produce and taxes, and being allocated human beings (male or female) as followers and slaves. The smallest awards given were in the form of a suit of clothes (complete ceremonial dress) as a token of appreciation from those in authority, and whose political sovereignty was acknowledged by the people.

Therefore a two-way link was established between the ruler (who issued commands) and his subjects (who carried them out), and between the giver and the receiver so that all was effected with cooperation and harmony. This was the basis and foundation of the Malacca government. In the context and concept conveyed by the phrase primus inter pares, the spirit of cooperation, reciprocation, tolerance, of commanding and obeying manifested by the dramatis personae of the Malacca ruler and Rang Tuah, was what the Sejarah Melayu described in philosophical terms as the cooperation 'between tree and root'. If the root provides strong support and sustenance, the tree will be sturdy and firm. The same applies to the establishment of a state. On the other hand, if the roots are feeble and fail to provide support and sustenance, the tree will wither and die. In order to support and strengthen the tree, the roots are in turn trained to give their support and sustenance to the tree.

It is this positive spirit that is emphasized by the Hikayat Hang Tuah through the portrayal of Hang Tuah as a man who stands for the principle that 'no Malay may ever be disloyal to his ruler'! At a deeper level, the harnessing of manpower on a collective basis for various civil and military purposes (such as for war, building a palace, and repairing a fort) is an old concept and institution for 'the services or needs of the country' at that time. The involvement of manpower on such a large scale raises the problems concerning rewards (unless the ruler happens to be particularly wealthy and generous), and this is also closely related to individual responsibility, moral obligation (a moralist will not expect material reward) and status. The task of maintaining and preserving the state comprised amongst other things, the support of the rulers ambitions and ideals, the defence of the security of the society, the contribution to the development and improvement of the city for the benefit of all, the construction of ditches and drains to meet the needs of the people, the attendance of official festivals and royal ceremonies in order to fulfill the concept of sovereignty and the state.

These were included in the duties and collective responsiblity (in the spirit of cooperation or gotong-myong) for the kingdom. The willingness and readiness to answer the call for public work (which free us from any prejudice about elements of compulsion) was a sign of moral and physical support for the kingdom. It was a symbol of the people's recognition of the reigning ruler's sovereignty. If the kingdom was in trouble, the people would be in difficulty too. If the kingdom was in distress, the people would suffer equally. And if the kingdom was prosperous, the people would prosper too. Thousands of loyal soldiers participated in the series of military campaigns led by Hang Tuah. They were always loyal to the ruler and were very obedient to the orders of Hang Tuah. Sovereignty was developed and linked to the concept and the symbolic role of kingship. This symbolism was created in order to provide certain exclusive prerogatives and status to the ruler which were superior to those enjoyed by his subjects. Included amongst these symbols were:

(a) the traditional insignia

(b) the language

(c) the law

(d) the colour

(e) the protocol as well as customs and traditions

The traditional insignia consisted of objects that were displayed and served to 'uphold' the charisma of the reigning monarch. The display of these insignia at every official ceremony attended by the ruler demonstrated symbolically the exaltation of the royal office. For this reason these objects were called the insignia of royalty or regalia.

Ordinary people were forbidden from using such insignia except as an award from the ruler. Among these insignia were the cuspidor, the cruse (kendi), the fans, the banners, the betel caddy, the pawai, several kinds of weapons such as the keris, the sword, the spear, and the javelin, and various kinds of of porcelain dishes, the yellow sash (tetampan), and the umbrella. Collectively they were known as 'the royal articles'.

The royal regalia also included traditional musical instruments which were played at official court functions and ceremonies and according to the traditions of the kingdom. These instruments were used as 'Instruments of State' . Included amongst these musical instruments were the drum, the gong, the flute, the trumpet, the negara and the fife. Together they made up the royal orchestra or nobat. Only the ruler was permitted to own and use these instruments on all occasions privy to his person and which were connected with court and state ceremonies.

Insignia of secondary importance included the litter used by the ruler during his outings. The symbolic role of this item was not so prominent since it was also 'bestowed' to be used by the Bendahara and the Laksamana. The only difference was that when the ruler was borne by litter, he was accompanied by all the officials whose position in the procession was according to the order of their heirarchy. This would enable the people to distinguish that the litter borne in procession with all the officials in attendance was that of the reigning king or sultan of Malacca.

The elephant which was used as a form of land transport and the perahu as a form of water transport were also accorded symbols of royalty. Whenever the ruler mounted the elephant, the Iaksamana and the Temenggung would accompany him to ensure his safety. The royal ride would include the accompaniment of the beat of the drum of the royal orchestra (nobat). The royal perahu was also different from ordinary vessels. Only the perahu used by the ruler was allowed to have a foesle. Some of the royal regalia and insignia of state still form part of the royal heritage today and are used by the Malay rulers in the present system of monarchy.

There were also other items connected with the establishment of secular state 'laws' or conventions. Their purpose was to distinguish between the prerogatives of the ruler and the rights enjoyed and practised by the common people.

Certain items were classified as 'prohibited' (larangan) for use by ordinary people since those items were reserved for the use of the king and members of his family. For example, yellow was a royal colour, and the ruler's subjects were prohibited from using this colour for the embroidery on kerchiefs, for the borders of draperies, for cushion covers and mattresses, or for any form of household decoration. They were only allowed to Lse the colour in the making of ordinary cloth, tunics, and headeloths. White umbrellas were restricted for the use of the ruler alone, while the yellow umbrella was for the use of the ruler's sons. Only the ruler was allowed to live in a building with verandahs and tiang gantung, and to own resort homes.

In order to demonstrate the exclusiveness and elitism of the ruler and his family, the common people were not allowed to use sheaths of gold or silver for their weapons, including the keris, because these were also reserved for the use of the ruler and his family. The same was applied to golden anklets. The common people could only use these things if they were bestowed upon them and were approved by the ruler.

Language was also included under the royal symbol. For instance, according to Article 2.1 of the Hukum Kanun Melaka, there were five words which could only be used to connote royalty, namely titah (royal speech or command), patik (the personal pronoun in the first person used by a subject when addressing the ruler), murka (the royal expression for wrath or anger), and kurnia and anugerah (royal gifts or awards). A commoner who made fun of or who even uttered these five words or used patik out of context would incur the death penalty, or at the very least, would have his mouth 'pummelled'. Clause 2.2 of the same laws made it clear that only rulers could accept tokens of obeisance.

As for funeral ceremonies, no one was permitted to shade the deceased with an umbrella, or to provide a mat or to scatter coins near the grave except for the ruler. The basic purpose behind these special rights and marks of distinction was to 'exalt the ruler according to convention...' and to distinguish clearly between the ruler and his subjects, including the officials in his entourage.

None of this, however, included the order and practice of court ceremonies or state protocol designed to emphasize the concept and the institution of kingship within the sphere of sovereignty. A ruler had to follow certain standards of protocol when he went out to meet his people. It was not easy for a commoner to meet the ruler. When a subject came into the royal presence, he had to conform to and follow certain forms of etiquette, ceremony and ritual which had been laid down, and use the court language (with words like patik (when referring to himself), gering (sick), pacal (slave of the ruler), bersiram (wash or bathe) and santap (eat). This also included the manner and etiquette for sitting when making obeisance, the dress code when in audience with the ruler in the audience hall, and the regulations, formalities and etiquette prescribed when presenting his services to the ruler at court. These were devised, arranged, determined, and formalized to infuse charisma into the concept of sovereignty which had been created and reinforced in the person of the reigning ruler.

The determination and the actual pattern of settlement of the Malacca people, in the context of the establishment of the city's demographic layout, consciously or unsconsciously, also played a direct part in supporting the concept of sovereignty. According to Portuguese and Chinese reports, the most exclusive district was Malacca Hill (now Bukit Seri Melaka).

The royal palace was built on the top of this hill. Various types of halls were found in the palace (such as the audience hall, conference hall and the orchestral chamber.) The royal palace and its precincts were probably built during the reigns of the early rulers of Malacca, for the presence of the ruler was essential for carrying out the administration and the organization of the government (that is, by the process of consultation, discussion,debate and consensus). The great lords and high ranking state officials would have their official audiences with the ruler there, though not according to any fixed schedule. According to Tome Pires, the nearest royal residence for the ruler and his family was at Bertam, located upstream in the Malacca hinterland.

On the slopes of the hill surrounding the royal precincts were the houses of the great lords and high ranking State officials. At the foot of the hill, especially facing the sea front and the Straits of Malacea were found the dwelling places of the captains, soldiers and the Orang Laut. This pattern of settlement was both of strategic importance and very practical for the conditions prevailing then. The ruler and the great lords was always protected from the threat of frontal assaults from the Straits of Malacca. Should an attack occur, the ruler and his followers could always withdraw upstream into the hinterland.


Source: The Malay Sultanate of Malacca by Muhammad Yusoff Hashim

The Early Stages

The Administration


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