Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Jajahan System under Brunei

This is a short history lesson… facts with a pinch of fiction thrown in...because a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down..tralala..tralala...

 “Who was Dato Shah Bandar Foo Mah Kang?” My nephew, Justin Wong, wants to know. He found the man’s grave somewhere in Kuala Penyu and wondered what position this fellow had held that he deserved a grand grave and had a hall named after him.

Picture courtesy of Justin Wong (Click to enlarge)

Long past long ago, before our great-great grandfathers were born, before the White Men knew there was this paradise called Sabah, the Bruneis were lord and master of our land. According to this man named Ranjit Singh, Brunei already established relations with the Middle Kingdom in 518 AD and by the ninth century trade between the two countries had increased.

 Brunei, apparently, was an ideal place because of its good harbour and its location on the ‘shipping routes’… although it also meant Brunei became a regular stop-over for pirates and slave traders from Sulu!

Probably long before the other parts of northern Borneo were peopled, Brunei was already a thriving and civilized city run and administered by a government. I imagine that  the population multiplied and spread along the coasts southwest to Sarawak and northwards to Sabah. There was a need, therefore, to administer the territories—the outstations—outside Brunei proper.

 (Remember, Sarawak—or whatever its ancient name was—had been under Brunei before the Sultan gave away the land to James Brooke as a thank you gift/reward for curbing piracy. Why such a big chunk of territory was given away, leaving a tiny crumb to remain Brunei, nobody has told me… yet. The western part of Sabah was also Brunei land.)

Fast forward to more modern times!

In the 16th and early 17th centuries, Brunei devised a system whereby its territories were divided into jajahan (dependencies) for administrative purposes.

From the 1870s to 1880s Brunei’s principal jajahan were:
Panglat (sic)
Padas-Klias (Kuala Penyu is here)
Note: Each jajahan (dependency) was actually the valley/plain through which the river and its tributaries flowed—from the source to the mouth. That’s why the jajahan was also simply called sungai.

Okay, who were the rulers of these dependencies/jajahans/sungais?
The rulers and administrators of Brunei consisted of:
I.                   The Sultan or Yang di-Pertuan. He was the supreme authority in the State.
II.                Directly under the Sultan were 4 Ministers of State or Wazir. They were usually chosen from members of the royal family or nobility (Pengiran).
1.      Pengiran Bendahara (Chief Minister)
2.      Pengiran Temenggunng (Minister in-charge-of justice and defence)
3.      Pengiran di-Gadong (Minister of finance)
4.      Pengiran Pemanca (Minister in-charge-of diplomatic affairs)
III.             Ceteria
The highest post is that of Pengiran Syahbandar (Officer in-charge-of commerce)
IV.      Menteri
V.                Community leaders/tribal leaders/village headman (chosen by communities but given official recognition by government)

Now let’s skip back to this territory called jajahan aka sungai.
A jajahan was divided into two main categories;

i)       sungai kerajaan belonged to the ruler (Sultan) or the Crown
ii)       sungai kuripan belonged to the Wazir--- there were four, remember?

B)    PERSONAL or hereditary domains (or sungai tulin or pesaka)
These were private lands and could be held by the Sultan, Wazir or Pengiran (nobility)

The owner/overlord (a) governed his tulin privately and collected revenues/taxes. He owned both land AND the residents (known as hamba!). The more households in the tulin, the more taxes—which were based on the number of households—could be collected. The Brunei overlords were very smart. They kept track of their hamba so even if the hamba had moved, say from Papar to Putatan, the hamba still paid his poll-tax to Papar!
The owner/overlord also (b) administered the tulin and paid taxes to the Sultan (Crown).

Note: Unlike official appanages, tulins were inheritable and could be bought and sold by local people. Foreign buyers needed consent from the Sultan. (I thought that was very smart.)
Now, although the tulins were personal territories of the Sultan, Wazirs or pengirans, these owners lived in the capital (negeri). Maybe living in the outback was no fun… it would be like orang KL transplanted in Tongkod or Ambong or my kampung. So the overlords appointed local people as proxies! Very clever… eat your cake and have it, too. The owners of the tulins ‘remote-controlled’ the local proxies to administer in their absence.

Did the proxies get mad and asked ‘why me?' Why would they when they enjoyed certain perks, were recognized by the government and were conferred titles of Datuk or, the less grand, Orang Kaya? Example: Datuk Amir Bahar of Papar; Datuk Setia of Putatan who was setia to his overlord, Pengiran Muda Tajudin.
Not all overlords practised ‘remote-control’ from Brunei/the capital/negeri. The Mengkabong overlord, Pengiran Abdul Rauf administered his jajahan himself. He also had officers under him: Datuk Bandar, Datuk Temenggung, Datuk Pemanca, Orang Kaya Laksmana.

Grave of Dato Shah Bandar Foo Mah Kang. (Courtesy of Justin Wong)

So who was Dato Shah Bandar Foo Mah Kang (1808 – 1876) of Kuala Penyu?
He was probably a local resident who was chosen by the community or appointed by the overlord of the tulin Padas-Klias (who happened to be Sultan Abdul Mumin in the 1870s) to be in-charge-of commerce… the equivalent of present-day Minister of Trade and Commerce? Town Mayor? 
Such a long answer to a short question!

p.s. Please leave comments if there's more to add about jajahan and Brunei rulers and especially if I've said something incorrect. Thank you! 



  1. Hi Tina,
    Thanks for the history lesson. Shame on me; I've never read about this before! Also appreciate you mentioning about the year Kublai Khan was born in my blog comment, as it made me see and correct my mistake on his year of expedition to north borneo ;)

  2. Excellent answer to a short question, Tina! Very informative yet interesting. Now I see what people mean by saying once a teacher, forever a teacher. And I must say, you are a good one! Just look how detailed your explanations are. If I were your student, I'm sure I would leave school with straight As in all subjects you taught me!

    I just read an interesting post at Verone's blog. Jumping to another interesting one here in your blog makes me want more! Good job guys, I wish you guys could write everyday ... but that is so selfish of me kan? It's not like I'm paying you guys to provide me my reading materials. lol

    BTW, I've always wondered why did Sultan Brunei give such a big area to James Brooke and kept only a tiny bit for himself? Were there any other motivations apart of the gratitude for the help Brooke gave in curbing the piracy activities? I'm bad at history. In fact, I didn't opt to take history as my elective subjects in SPM. My history teacher made learning a torture for me during my PMR. She once gave me -35/100 in a monthly test(as a lesson for me, according to her). My parents stormed to school, questioning her how in the earth did I earn -35 in history. She conveniently said she's only trying to teach me a lesson by giving (-) for every wrong date / name / sequence of events I gave as my answers. Maybe she meant well, but unfortunately for me, it became a trauma. Good thing information on histories are vastly available on the net these days, and the best thing about it is that I don't have to be penalized for not remembering any exact date or names after reading them!

    I love it when you write about history. May I request for those '20 points' from your understanding when you write about history next? Please?

    Thanks Tina. :-) *hug*

  3. thank you for the well-researched information.

  4. I LOVE THIS! Thank you Inai!

  5. Hello everyone! Thanks for visiting and leaving comments. I'm so glad you enjoyed the history lesson.
    Once a teacher, always a teacher. True. When you've good students you try even better. Good students keep you on your toes! You don't want to be caught slacking! What a teacher needs, even more than good students, is a good boss. You'll always go that extra mile for a good principal.
    Gunaqz, you had a weird history teacher. I've never heard of teachers giving negative marks for any subject! History can be sooo interesting. (I taught BI which I loved, and Art because it was my option.)
    One day I'll write about the 20-Points... maybe ruffle some feathers too!
    Justin, I hope this post has been helpful. Now you'll have to trace Foo Mah Kang's family tree!
    Thanks again for your comments, Verone, Gunaqz, STC and Justin! My thanks also to the other 'followers' who drop in now and then.

  6. Gunaqz,

    The Bidayuhs & Malays were rebelling against Brunei rule. Pangeran Raja Muda Hashim was sent by the Sultan to squash the rebellion but was unsuccessful. James Brooke happened to be in Borneo and Hashim asked for his help, promising the position of Governor(without consent from the Sultan) if he's successful. Brooke was successful & Hashim had to honor his promise. That's the gist of it. Of course, this is not extensive. Eventually, Brooke managed to get Brunei to cede Sarawak to him.

    The Sultan definitely did not cede Sarawak willingly and gladly.

    Brunei was a major power once but just like any power in history, complacency, mismanagement and infighting, brought it down.

    Sorry Aunty Tina for this lengthy comment, couldn't help but to share my knowledge with Gunaqz :P.

    By the way, I don't think Brunei truly had total control over Sarawak and North Borneo. At best, they only ruled the coastal areas. They would have trouble subduing the natives in the interior who were fierce head hunters.

  7. Hi Tina,
    I'm looking forward for when you write about the 20-points.

    Hi Justin,
    Thanks so much for sharing those knowledge with me. Though reading histories is interesting, I imagine those people who lived around that time didn't find life was that 'interesting' back then. How did they sleep at night, knowing there were people out there, 'hunting and collecting' others' heads? That's soooo scary!

  8. Tina,

    thanks for mentioning about one of my ancestor, Pengiran Abdul Rauf.

    best regards.