Wilkinson’s treatise of the history of pre-British Perak

R.J. Wilkinson was the general editor of a government publication entitled ‘Papers on Malay Subjects’ in 1908 at the time when he was in the FMS Civil Service. The first two parts of this publication were entitled ‘Part I. Events Prior to British Ascendancy’ and ‘Part II. Notes on Perak History’. In his preface, Wilkinson attempts to describe the history of Malaya prior to the arrival of the British, which is detailed in this SembangKuala post, and in the second part deal with matters related to the British intervention in Perak.

An artist's impression of the attack on Gangga Negara by Raja Suran (Rajendra Chola Dewa I).

According to Wilkinson, the history of Perak may be divided into four periods. Of the first period was during which the seat of Government was at Beruas[1] of which the British scholars at that time knew next to nothing. Wilkinson states, “… a few carved tombstones represent all that is left of this very ancient capital and even these are of late Achehnese make and throw no light whatever on the early history of the country.

“If Malay tradition is right in saying that the great arm of the sea at the Dindings[2] was once an outlet of the Perak river we can easily understand the importance of Bruas, combining as it did the advantages of a perfect landlocked harbour with a commanding situation at the mouth of the greatest waterway in the western half of the Peninsula. Although Bruas was powerful, the ‘Malay Annals'[3] tell us, before even the mythical ancestors of the Malacca dynasty appeared on the famous hill of Siguntang, it had begun to decline as the river silted up. In the days of Sultan Mahmud (A.D. 1500) Bruas had so far fallen that its king did homage to Malacca in mere gratitude for assistance against a petty rival village. After the Achehnese invasion the place entirely disappears from history.

“The second period of Perak history stretches from the coming of Sultan Muzaffar Shah I, the reputed founder of the long line of Perak kings, down to the extinction of his direct male line in the wars with Acheh. This period covers a century — from A.D. 1530 to 1630 — and is marked by the reigns of nine Sultans.

The Chura Si Manja Kini. (Photo source: Laman Rasmi Pejabat DYMM Sultan Perak)

“Perak tradition (as we have seen) identifies its first Sultan, Sultan Muzaffar Shah, (with) a son of Sultan Mahmud I of Malacca, who was born about in 1505 and was at one time heir to the throne of Johor but was passed over in favour of his younger brother, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah II. It goes on to tell us that this disinherited prince after having first settled in Selangor was invited to fill the throne of Perak, and that he reached his new kingdom after various adventures, such as the slaughter of the great serpent Si Katimuna[4] with the sword Chura Si Manjakini.” We agree with Wilkinson that this narrated story of Perak history has taken some liberty in borrowing some aspects of the story of Sang Sapurba.

Wilkinson then added, “Sultan Muzaffar Shah was succeeded by his son Sultan Mansur Shah.  After the death of this latter prince, his widow and children were taken prisoners by Achehnese invaders and carried off to Kota Raja where fortune favoured them in that the eldest son — another Mansur Shah — succeeded in marrying the Queen of Acheh.” This Mansur Shah was then styled Sultan Mansur Shah of Acheh and not to be confused with Sultan Mansur Shah II (1619-1627).

“After restoring his brothers to Perak, Sultan Mansur Shah (of Acheh) perished in a revolution in 1585. Early in the seventeenth century the great Sultan Iskandar Muda or Mahkota Alam, Sultan of Acheh, conquered Perak, and led ruler after ruler to captivity and death until the direct male line of Sultan Muzaffar Shah had completely died out and Perak had become a mere province of his empire. About the year 1635, Sultan Iskandar Muda died, and his successor, Sultan Mughal, sent a certain Raja Sulong (who had married a Perak princess) to govern Perak as a tributary prince under the name of Sultan Muzaffar Shah II. This event begins the third period of Perak History.”

Wilkinson then went on to describe, “The third period of Perak history begins with the accession of Sultan Muzaffar Shah II (A.D. 1637) and goes down to the death of Sultan Muzaffar Shah III (A.D. 1765)”. Interestingly, Wilkinson describes a difficulty in describing the events during this period of Perak history – the question is whether or not the description in the ‘Malay Annals’ is accurate. During this 128-year period, the ‘Malay Annals’ described the reign of three sultans, one of whom (Sultan Mahmud Iskandar) reigned for 111 years. However, according to the official records held by the Sultan of Perak’s Office, whilst Sultan Mahmud Iskandar did mangkat at the age of 120 years, he only reigned for 67 years.

The ensuing years between 1637 and 1765 were those of civil war in Perak. Wilkinson continued his description of the events that occurred, “In 1650, the Dutch opened a factory on the Perak river ; in 1651 the factory was destroyed and its inmates massacred… to the Dutch, the country produces more tin than any in India, but the inhabitants are so treacherous, faithless and bloody that no European nation can keep factories there with safety. The Dutch tried it once, and the first year had their factory cut off. They then settled on Pulau Dinding, but about the year 1690 that factory was also cut off.” R.J. Wilkinson added , “In justice to the Malays it should be added that the Dutch, in their anxiety to secure a trade-monopoly, treated the selling of tin to anyone but themselves as a serious offence and even as a casus belli[5]. It is not, therefore, surprising that disputes were frequent and sanguinary.

“The first half of the eighteenth century in Perak was marked by internal anarchy and foreign invasions. ‘I’here were three Sultans in the State — the Sultan of Bernam, the Sultan of Perak, and the Regent[6]; the chiefs were at war with each other and the Bugis kept raiding the country. In 1757, things had so far settled down that the Dutch were able to establish a factory at Tanjong Putus on the Perak river. They subsequently sent a mission to Sultan Iskandar Dzulkarnain in 1764 and concluded a treaty with his successor, Sultan Mahmud Shah, in 1765.”

The fourth period described the lineage of the Perak starting from the reign of the 18th Sultan, Sultan Ahmaddin, following which “…(there appears to be) a curious law of succession under which the three branches of the royal house take it in turn to provide the reigning Sultan” – the three branches in this case being the three sons of Sultan Ahmaddin: Raja Abdul Malik (later Sultan Abdul Malik Mansur Shah), Raja Inu (father to Sultan Shahabuddin Riayat Shah) and Raja Abdul Rahman (Raja Kechil Besar and father to Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah I).

[1]According to Wikipedia, in ancient times, before the area was known as Perak, it was a kingdom named Gangga Negara with its capital in Beruas (alt. spelling – Bruas). Gangga Negara is mentioned in the Malay Annals (Sejarah Melayu) and the kingdom covered present day Beruas, Dinding and Manjung in Perak. The kingdom was believed to be founded by Raja Ganjil Sarjuna of Kedah or the Khmer royalties around the second century AD. Raja Gangga Shah Johan was among the kings. The kingdom collapsed after an attack by King Rajendra Chola I of the southern Indian Chola empire around year 1025.
[2]The Dindings refer to the district of Dinding, now known as Manjung.
[3]The Malay Annals or Sejarah Melayu in this instance refer to work written in captivity in Acheh by Tun Bambang, commissioned by the regent of Johor in the 17th century.
[4]Si Katimuna or Saktimuna was a serpent-dragon that wreaked havoc in the state of Minangkabau, as described in the ‘Malay Annals’.
[5]casus belli – a Latin expression meaning the justification for acts of war.
[6]The regent described by Wilkinson here is Yang Di-Pertuan Muda (later Sultan) Muhammad Shah ibni Yang Di-Pertuan Muda Mansur Shah.

Reference: Wilkinson RJ. Part I. Events Prior to British Ascendancy. In Papers on Malay Subjects, Part I-V. Kuala Lumpur: FMS Government Press; 1908. p59-62.

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