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The story of Sarawak’s first and only sultan, Sultan Tengah

The mausoleum of Sarawak’s first and only sultan, Sultan Tengah.

The story started of how Sarawak got a sultan begins with Sultan Muhammad Hassan, the 9th sultan who ruled the Bruneian Empire from 1582 to 1598.

He succeeded the throne from Shah Berunai, his older brother who died without an heir.

When Sultan Muhammad Hassan himself died in 1598, his eldest son Abdul Jalilul Akbar ascended the throne.

Abdul Jalilul Akbar’s younger brother Pengiran Muda Tengah, however, also wanted to become the Sultan.

He claimed that his elder brother’s ascension to the throne was invalid as he was born when their father was still crown prince.

Therefore Pengiran Muda, who was born when their father was already king, claimed he had the right to succeed the throne.

In response, the newly crowned Sultan appointed his brother Pengiran Muda Tengah to be the Sultan of Sarawak which comprises present day Kuching division.

Sultan Tengah’s reign in Sarawak

Sultan Tengah’s tomb was rediscovered in 1993, more than 300 years after his death.

According to historian Chang Pat Foh in The Land of Freedom Fighters, Sultan Tengah came to Sarawak in 1599.

He brought along an entourage of a few nobles and over 1,000 warriors to help him to govern the new country.

As the Sultan of Sarawak, he carried the name Ibrahim Ali Omar Shah of Sarawak.

Before he set sail to Johor and Pahang, he established four ministers to administer his new kingdom.

They were Datu Patinggi Seri Setia, Datu Shahbandar Indera Wangsa, Datu Amar Seri Diraja and Datu Temenggong Laila Wangsa.

On his way back from Johor, Sultan Tengah was shipwrecked near the coast of Sukadana which is now the capital city of North Kayong Regency of West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

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There he married Puteri Suria Kesuma, the younger sister of Sultan of Sukadana, Sultan Muhammad Saifuddin.

By 1600, he left Sukadana to Sambas where they built settlement in Kuala Bangun, near the Sambas river.

Sultan Tengah’s issue

Opening hours to visit Sultan Tengah’s tomb.

It was during their stay in Sambas when the late Sultan had three sons with Puteri Suria: Radin Sulaiman, Pengiran Badaruddin and Pengiran Abdul Wahab.

Radin Sulaiman later married Puteri Mas Ayu Bongsu, the princess of Sambas.

In 1631, Radin became the first Muslim ruler of the Sambas Kingdom bearing the name of Sri Paduka al-Sultan Tuanku Muhammad Safiuddin 1.

By that time, in 1630, Sultan Tengah had already departed to Matan, an ancient kingdom located in the Ketapang Regency of West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

There in Matan, he married a local princess and had a son. They named him Pengiran Mangku Negara who later become the Sultan of Matan.

A brief history of Sultan Tengah written on a plague near his tomb.

His death

After staying a few years in Matan, the wayward sultan decided to return to Sarawak.

By 1641, he arrived home and made a temporary settlement at Batu Buaya near the coast of Santubong.

It was there that Sultan Tengah was assassinated by one of his followers.

His wife decided to return home to the Kingdom of Sukananda after his death.

No records show that the Sultan of Brunei sent a replacement for Sultan Tengah, and Sarawak was reunified with Brunei.

The tale of Sultan Tengah is one of a prince who was not supposed to be, but wanted to be king. And when he finally became one, he hardly spent any time in his kingdom.

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It is unsurprising that none of his princes came to claim the throne of Sarawak as they themselves were not born or raised in the kingdom.

Nonetheless, Sultan Tengah did establish his capital along the bank of Sungai Bedil which slowly expanded into what we know today as Kuching.

Thanks to Sultan Tengah, the once Hindu royal houses of Sambas and Matan both turned into Muslim Sultanates and his descendants became the rulers for both kingdoms.

Sultan Tengah’s tomb was lost over the centuries and finally found again in 1993. Subsequently, the Sarawak Government commenced the construction of Sultan Tengah Mausoleum in 1994. The mausoleum was completed in May 1995 at the cost of RM546,000.

Sarawak’s first and only Sultan is now laid in his final resting place at the junction of Jalan Damai and Jalan Kampung Santubong.

His tomb is now overlooking the junction of Jalan Damai and Jalan Kampung Santubong.
Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.
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