A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ROYAL HASHEMITE SULTANATE OF SULU

Historical Map of the Sultanate’s Territory

The Sultanate of Sulu Dar-al-Islam (Arabic: سلطنة سولو دار الإسلام‎) was an Islamic, Tausug State, that ruled over many of the islands of the Sulu Sea, in the southern Philippines, and several places in northern Borneo. The sultanate was founded in 1457, by a Johor-born Arab explorer and religious scholar, Sayyid ‘Abu Bakr Abirin, after he settled in Banua Buansa Ummah (ummah is an Arabic term for “settlement” or village), Sulu.

After the marriage of ‘Abu Bakr and local Dayang-dayang (princess) Paramisuli, he founded the sultanate and assumed the title Paduka Mahasari Maulana-al-Sultan Sharif-ul-Hāshim. Sharif ul-Hāshim was a direct descendant of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (SAWS). Currently the issue of whom would be the legitimate Sultan of Sulu, which is disputed by the Aranan-Adinda and Kiram branches of the Royal Family, although the line of succession fell, illegally, on the Kiram branch of the royal family in 1823.

Pre-establishment, the earliest known settlement in the areas soon to be occupied by the sultanate was in Maimbung, Jolo. During this time, Sulu was called Lupah Sug. The Principality of Maimbung, populated by Buranun people (or Budanon, literally means “mountain-dwellers”), was first ruled by a certain Rajah who assumed the title Rajah Sipad the Older. According to Majul, the origins of the title Rajah Sipad originated from the Hindu Shri Paduka, which symbolizes authority. The Principality was instituted and governed using the system of Rajahs. Sipad the Older was succeeded by Sipad the Younger.During the reign of Sipad the Younger, a mystic, named Tuan Mashā′ikha, arrived in Jolo, in 1280 AD. Little is known about the origins and early biography of Tuan Mashā′ikha, except that he was a Muslim “who came from foreign lands” at the head of a fleet of Muslim traders, or he was the issue of a stalk of bamboo and was considered a Prophet, thus he was well respected by the people.

Other reports, however, insist that Tuan Mashā′ikha together with his parents, Jamiyun Kulisa and Indra Suga, were sent to Sulu by King Alexander the Great of Macedon (he is generally known as Iskandar Zulkarnain in Sejarah Melayu). However, Saleeby dismisses this fact by concluding that Jamiyun Kulisa and Indra Suga were mythical names. According to tarsila, during the coming of Tuan Mashā′ikha, the people of Maimbung worshiped tombs and stones of any kind. After he preached Islam in the area, he married Sipad the Younger’s daughter, Idda Indira Suga and bore three children: Tuan Hakim, Tuan Pam and ‘Aisha. Tuan Hakim, in turn, begat five children.

From the genealogy of Tuan Mashā′ikha, another titular system of aristocracy called “tuanship” started in Sulu. Apart from the Idda Indira Suga, Tuan Mashā′ikha also married into another “unidentified woman” and begot Moumin. Tuan Mashā′ikha died in 710 AH (equivalent to 1310 AD), and was buried in Bud Dato near Jolo, with an inscription of Tuan Maqbālū. A descendant of Tuan Mashā′ikha named Tuan Mai, also, begot a son named Datu Tka. The descendants of Tuan Mai did not assume the title Tuan, instead, they used Datu. It is the first time Datu was used as a political institution. During the coming of Tuan Mashā′ikha, the Tagimaha people (literally means “the party of the people”) coming from Basilan and several other places in Mindanao, also arrived and settled in Buansa.

After the Tagimaha came, the Baklaya people (which means “seashore dwellers”) and believed to have originated from Sulawesi, and settled in Patikul. After these came the Bajau people (or Samal) from Johor. The Bajau were accidentally driven towards Sulu by a heavy monsoon, some of them to the shores of Brunei and others to Mindanao. The population of Buranun, Tagimaha, and Baklaya in Sulu created three parties with distinct systems of government and subjects. In 1417, according to Chinese annals, three kings (or monarchs) ruled three civilized kingdoms in the island. Patuka Pahala (Paduka Batara) ruled the eastern kingdom, he was the most powerful; the west kingdom was ruled by Mahalachi (Maharajah Kamal ud-Din); and the kingdom near the cave (or Cave King) by Paduka Patulapok. The Bajau settlers were distributed among the three kingdoms. Moumin’s descendants, the son of Tuan Mashā′ikha populated Sulu.

After some time, a certain Timwai Orang-kaya Su’il was mentioned by the second page of Tarsila, that he received four Bisaya/Visaya slaves from Manila (presumably the Kingdom of Tondo), as a sign of friendship between the two countries. The descendants of Timwai Orang-kaya Su’il then inherited the title Timwai, which means “chief”. On Tarsila’s third page, it accounts for the fact that the slaves were the ancestors of the inhabitants in the islands of Parang, Lati, Gi’tung, and Lu’uk respectively. The fourth page then narrates the coming of the Buranun (addressed in the Tarsila as “the Maimbung people”) Tagimaha, Baklaya, then the Bajau immigrants from Johor. This was the situation in Sulu before Islam arrived in the area. The islands are inhabited by several cultures, and were ruled over by three independent kingdoms consisting of the Buranun, Tagimaha, and Baklaya people.

Similarly, the socio-political system functioned by the Rajahship, Datuship, Tuanship and Timwaiship. The coming of Tuan Mashā′ikha hence established a core Islamic community in the islands. Islamization and the establishment, at the end of 14th century, a notable Arab judge and religious scholar named Karim-ul-Makhdum from al-Makkah, arrived in Melakka. He preached Islam to the people, which is why the populace, including the ruler of Melakka, converted to Islam. Sulu and other Muslim sultanates were introduced to Islam by Chinese Muslims and Arabs. Chinese Muslim merchants participated in the local commerce, and the Sultanate had diplomatic relations with M’ing Dynasty in China, being involved in the tribute system, the Sulu leader Paduka Batara and his sons moved to China, where he passed away and Chinese Muslims brought up his sons.

In 1380 AD, Karim-ul-Makhdum arrived on Simunul island, from Melakka, again, with Arab traders. Apart from being a scholar, he was a trader and believed to be a Sufi missionary whose origins were in al-Makkah. He preached Islam in the area, and was thus accepted by the core Muslim community. He was the second person who preached Islam in the area, since Tuan Mashā′ikha. To facilitate easy conversion of nonbelievers, he established a mosque in Tubig-Indagan, Simunul, which became the first Islamic place of worship to be constructed in the area, as well as in the Philippines. This was later known as Shaykh Karimal Makhdum Mosque. He died in Sulu, though the exact location of his grave is unknown. In Buansa, he was known as Tuan Sharif Awliyā. On his alleged grave in Bud Agad, Jolo, an inscription was written as “Mohadum Aminullah Al-Nikad”. In Lugus, he is referred to Abdurrahman. In Sibutu, he is known by his name. The different beliefs regarding his grave locations are due to the fact that Karim ul-Makhdum travelled to several islands in the Sulu Sea, to preach Islam.

In many places in the archipelago, he was beloved. It is said that the people of Tapul built a mosque honouring him and claimed descent from Karim ul-Makhdum. Thus, the success of Karim ul-Makhdum in spreading Islam in Sulu enlightened the Islamic history in the Philippines. The local customs, beliefs and political laws of the people were changed and customized to adopt the new Islamic tradition.

Spanish and British annexations in the 18th century, Sulu’s dominion covered most of northeastern part of Borneo. However areas like Tempasuk and Abai had never really shown much allegiance to its earlier ruler, in Brunei, subsequent, similar treatment was given to Sulu. Dalrymple, who made a treaty of allegiance in 1761 with Sulu, had to make a similar agreement with the rulers of Tempasuk and Abai on the north Borneo coast in 1762.The territory ceded to Sulu by Brunei, initially, stretched south to Tapean Durian (now Tanjong Mangkalihat) (another source mentioned the southern most boundary is at Dumaring), near the Straits of Makassar (now Kalimantan). However by 1800-1850, these areas had been effectively controlled by the Sultanate of Bulungan in Kalimantan, reducing the boundary of Sulu to a cape named Batu Tinagat and Tawau River.

The island of Sulu and its dependencies (excluding North Borneo) were annexed to the Spanish crown on 19 April 1851. The Sultan of Sulu “granted and ceded” to Alfred Dent and Baron von Overback in 1878, all his rights and powers over: “to all the territories and lands being tributary to [him] on the mainland of the Island of Borneo, commencing from the Pandassan River on the west coast to Maludu Bay, and extending along the whole east coast as far as Sibuco River on the south,…, and all the other territories and states to the southward thereof bordering on Darvel Bay and as far as the Sibuco River, …, [9 nautical miles] of the coast. Weapons and the Slave trading Chinese who lived in Sulu ran guns across a Spanish blockade to supply the Moro Datus and Sultanates with weapons to fight the Spanish, who were engaging in a campaign to subjugate the Moro sultantes on Mindanao.

A trade involving the Moros selling slaves and other goods in exchange for guns developed. The Chinese had entered the economy of the sultante, taking control of the Sultanate’s economies in Mindanao and dominating the markets. Though the Sultans did not like the fact that the Chinese had almost exclusvie control over the economy, they did business with them. The Chinese set up a trading network between Singapore, Zamboanga, Jolo and Sulu.The Chinese sold small arms like Enfield and Spencer Rifles to the Buayan Datu Uto. They were used to fight the Spanish invasion of Buayan. The Datu paid for the weapons in slaves. The Chinese population in Mindanao during the 1880s was 1,000. The Chinese ran guns across a Spanish blockade to sell to Mindanao Moros. The purchases of these weapons were paid for by the Moros in slaves in addition to other goods.

The main group of people selling guns were the Chinese in Sulu. The Chinese took control of the economy and used steamers to ship goods for exporting and importing. Opium, ivory, textiles, and crockery were among the other goods which the Chinese sold.The Chinese on Maimbung sent the weapons to the Sulu Sultanate, who used them against the Spanish and to resist their attacks. A Chinese was one of the Sultan’s brothers in law, the Sultan was married to his sister. Both he and the Sultan owned shares in the ship (named the “Far East”) which was used to smuggle the weapons. The Spanish launched a suprise offensive under Colonel Juan Arolas in April 1887, by attacking the Sultanate’s capital at Maimbung in an effort to crush resistance. Weapons were captured and the property of the Chinese was destroyed while the Chinese were deported to Jolo.

North Borneo (Sabah issue) Sultan of Sulu and SuiteIn 1865, the United States Consul to Brunei, Claude Lee Moses, obtained a ten-year lease for the territory of North Borneo from the Brunei. However, the post-Civil War United States wanted nothing to do with Asian colonies, so Moses sold his rights to the Hong Kong-based American Trading Company.

Besieged with financial difficulties, the company had to its right on North Borneo Consul of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Hong Kong, Baron Von Overbeck. Von Overbeck managed to obtain a ten-year renewal of the lease from the Temenggong of Brunei. On 22nd. January 1878 the ruler of Sulu, His Majesty Sultan Jamal-ul ‘Alam, signed a treaty, under which he leased the territory of North Borneo to Baron Gustavus von Overbeck, an Austrian who was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s consul-general in Hong Kong, and to his British partner Alfred Dent, residing in London, as representatives of the British North Borneo Company, without giving away his sovereign rights, and for as long as they desire to use these coastlines. Von Overbeck procured the necessary firearms and also promised to pay to His Majesty Jamal-ul ‘Alam, his heirs and successors the sum of $5,000 rental a year payable every year.To finance his plans for North Borneo, von Overbeck found financial backing from the Dent brothers – Alfred and Edward Dent. However, he was unable to interest his government in the territory. Von Overbeck withdrew in 1880, leaving Alfred Dent in control. Dent was supported by Sir Rutherford Alcock,, and Admiral Sir Harry Keppel. In July 1881, Alfred Dent and his brother formed the British North Borneo Provisional Association Ltd and obtained an official Royal Charter on November 1st. the same year. In May 1882, the British North Borneo Chartered Company, replaced the Provisional Association. Sir Rutherford Alcock became the first president, and Alfred Dent became managing director.

In spite of some diplomatic protests by the Dutch, Spanish and Sarawak governments, the British North Borneo Company proceeded to organize settlement and administration of the territory. The company subsequently acquired further sovereign and territorial rights from the Sultan of Brunei, expanding the territory under their control to the Putatan river in May 1884, the Padas district in November 1884, the Kawang river in February 1885, the Mantanani islands in April 1885 and the additional minor Padas territories in March 1898.

In 1888, North Borneo together with Sarawak and Brunei became a protectorate of Great Britain. Its administration however remained entirely in the hands of the British North Borneo Company, with the crown reserving control over foreign relations. On January 7th.1883, a letter from the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Lord Granville confirmed the position that the “takeover” of the British of Sabah, a Sulu property was a lease, not a purchase. It states: “The British Charter [representing the British North Borneo Company, therefore, differs essentially from the previous Charters granted by the Crown… by the fact that the Crown in the present case assumes no Dominion or sovereignty over the territories occupied by the Company, nor does it purport to grant to the Company powers of government thereover; it merely conveys upon the persons associated the status and incidents of a body corporate, and recognizes the grants of territory and the powers of government made and delegated by the Sultan in whom the sovereignty remains vested.

It differs also from previous Charters in that it prohibits instead of grants a general monopoly of trade.”As regards the general features of the undertaking, it is to be observed that the territories granted to the Company have been for generations under the government of the Sultanate of Sulu and Brunei, with whom Great Britain has had Treaties of Peace and Commerce.” In retrospect, the British Foreign Affairs communique conceded that the matter of sovereignty remained vested in the Sultan of Sulu and could not be delegated to any party because the Deed of 1878 expressly prohibited it.

Perhaps the thorniest item in the Sabah / Sulu agenda was whether the Overbeck-Dent pact with the Sultan of Sulu was a lease or sale (Padjak=Lease? or locally in north Borneo mean buy or lease ALL, and not part of something, paying rental of $5000 per year is the clear evident of lease and not sale). Scholarly sources, including those officially issued by Britain and the US, pointed out that the sovereignty over Sabah, as stipulated in the Philippine claim, was never, at any time in the past and present, relinquished in favor of any person, organization, or entity. Legally and technically, it remained to this day as the exclusive property of the heirs of the sultanate of Sulu. This statement confirms the observation that the transfer of rights made by the lessees to the British North Borneo Company was ab initio flawed and illegal.In 1963 when a negotiation was made in London with Britain for the recovery of North Borneo.

The British, in defense of their own argument, insisted the covenant entered into by Overbeck and Dent with Sulu Sultan Hadji Mohammad Jamalul Kiram was a sale, not a lease. What came out as a strong proof in favor of the sultanate was when US Governor General Francis B. Harrison, on February 27, 1947, furnished Philippine vice-president and foreign affairs secretary Elpidio Quirino a photostat copy of the lease document, which was later translated from Malay language and the Arabic script by Professor Henry Otley-Bayer of the University of the Philippines. Moreover, Overbeck and Dent, in a statement before the Royal Colonial Institute on May 12, 1885, admitted that the deal they forged with the rightful owners of Sabah did not forfeit the sovereign rights of the Sultan of Sulu and Brunei over the territories administered by the British Borneo Company. Dent declared openly: “As to the Charter, some friends of the enterprise seem to believe that the enormous powers we hold were given by Her Majesty the Queen. It is not so at all.

All our powers were derived entirely from the Sultan of Brunei and Sulu, and what the British Government did was simply to incorporate us by Royal Charter, thus recognizing our powers, which recognition is to us, of course, of vital importance.”Although a referendum sanctioned by the United Nations brought the part of North Borneo called Sabah into Malaysia in 1963, its status is disputed by the heirs of the Kiram branch as well as by the Philippine government; meanwhile attempts to resolve the issue at the International Court of Justice is blocked by unwillingness of the Malaysian government. This is because to the people of Sabah and Malaysia, it is a non-issue as there is no desire from the actual people of Sabah to be part of the Philippines or of the non-existent Sultanate of Sulu.