On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Book of Practical GUiT

R is an Englishman living in Brazil. He has read GUiT — ah bless him — and he has a problem. Here it is (and the solution) in his own words —
"We have recently acquired a little dog that was lost on the street. He really is small but he has started to "climb" the wall that separates us from our neighbour's garden. He then enters their garden and barks his little head off - as he did at 3:30 a.m. today. Thank goodness this elderly couple are nice, friendly and understanding but we don't want to repeat the problem. Suddenly, I don't know why, but I remembered the goats of Trengannu. The picture shows the solution [taken from GUiT], at least the temporary one until we put some sort of fencing on top to increase the height."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Refugee Sultan

Sheikh Ibrahim Alamudi hailed from Egypt, according to the notice board erected near his grave, and in 1899, when British anthropologist William Skeat visited him, perhaps after hearing about his exploits, he found no flags at the shrine,
"...but incense was apparently burnt there, and a goat sacrificed by the old care taker every Friday. The grave had five posts (batu nesan) at each end, making ten in all, instead of the usual single post, the superfluous ones had been added out of the funds provided by the saint's many devotees. To them also, presumably, was due the fact that it was protected by a triple mosquito curtain, and an atap roof-shelter was built over it."
In later times, misguided people went to Sheikh Ibrahim to make offerings, or to seek the departed saint’s intercession for some hajat (desires), to ask for guidance on lottery numbers, and a little notice there now says it is forbidden to bury placentas by this graveside. The living have strange notions of the dead.

Sheikh Ibrahim al-Amudi’s resting place is now protected by a concrete vault, and you’d have to be very tall to peek through the slots just beneath its roof to peek into the deep dark. Its wooden door is permanently padlocked, and all is quiet around him, within crumbling walls that was once quite grand, covering an enclosed area where many prominent people of Trengganu were laid to rest. Not far from the Sheikh is the grave of Sultan Baginda Omar, under whose reign the Sheikh lived. Sheikh Ibrahim died on 18th August 1873, and the Sultan, barely three years after that.

Here, in this haven of peace there’s much to glean about Trengganu’s past. The decorations on tall grave stones that speak in another voice of another place, in shapes and curls reminiscent of the Langkasuka motif, or voices etched in weathered stones of journeys past in mists of time. When I touched the weathered stone I felt the moss and the night’s dew or was that the wetness of the ocean spray that drenched body and soul of sea-faring men who braved the rise and rolls of Nusantara storms?

Sheikh Ibrahim could well have been the man who walked the beach when British naval boats were bombarding our shore (but Awang, see Comments below, thinks that it could have been another man known as Tok Ku Paloh — real name Sayyid Abdul Rahman bin Sayyid Muhammad bin Sayyid Zainal Abidin al-Eidrus — a contemporary of Sheikh Ibrahim and another prominent figure in Trengganu’s early resistance against the British). But I raised this question in my last posting: which ex Sultan sought refuge in Trengganu and why did the Maharaja of Johor ask the British to bombard Trengganu's coast?

In “They Came to Malaya”, an absorbing collection of extracts from writings on Malaya from pre to post colonial times, historian John Gullick added this footnote to Skeat’s mention of the Trengganu bombardment by ‘the Maharaja of Johore’:
“It was the British navy which had bombarded Kuala Trengganu in 1862, not the Maharaja of Johore.”
When I wrote to him to say what I found in British newspaper reports on the attack, Gullick wrote back:
“The Maharaja of Johor had good reason to promote the expulsion of ex-Sultan Mahmud from Trengganu. Until Raffles in effect divided the Rhio Johor kingdom in 1819 by recognising a separate ruler of Singapore and Johor, Johor was part of a kingdom of which Mahmud had later been ruler until deposed by the Dutch. If Mahmud could regain his primacy throughout the entire traditional kingdom of Rhio-Johor that would demolish the Maharaja's plans for securing recognition as an indepedent ruler of Johor.”
So who was this ex Sultan Mahmud of Rhio (Riau) Johor? I shall continue this story later.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Coastal Attack

Four hundred and six years ago, today, according to British anthropologist Walter Skeat (writing in 1899), naval forces sent by the Maharajah of Johor bombarded Trengganu coast but was thwarted by the local holy man Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Amudi who paced back and forth on the shore of Kuala Trengganu, creating an illusion to the attackers of many men assembling for war.

Skeat of course dismised this ‘wonder’ of Sheikh Ibrahim as nothing more than local legend, but even in his clinical dissection of the event, he was wrong in his assumption that it was Johor that attacked Trengganu. Here, for instance, is a report from the “Imperial Parliament” that I found in the Belfast News Letter of Saturday, July 11, 1863, about the event —
"Sir J. HAY called attention to the attack on Tringanu, the chief town of a province of Siam [sic], on the 12th November last, made by British forces from Singapore, in order to obtain the person of a certain ex- Sultan who was residing at that place and whom it appeared, the authorities of Tringanu and the Court of Siam were willing to surrender without hostile demonstration..”
The Birmingham Daily Post on the same day had this to add —
”...The act had been condemned by Sir James Brooke as a cruel injustice, and there could be no doubt the impolicy of bombarding a friendly power without a declaration of war.
"Sir C. WOOD said he had not yet received a full report of the transaction from the Indian government, but the information already in his possession enabled him to say that attacks of this sort were of a questionable, and in this particular instance, of a very precipitate character...
"Mr LIDDELL thought the time had arrived when the House ought to put a stop to constant interference in the quarrels of native Princes in the eastern seas.
"The subject then dropped."
The attack took place during the reign of Baginda Omar who came back to Trengganu from Lingga after the death of Sultan Mansur II (the man who defeated him in the battle for the Trengganu throne in 1831). Omar fought a long battle with the forces of Mansur's successor, his 15-year old son Sultan Muhammad. It was not until 1839, when the young Muhammad's forces withdrew to Kelantan that Baginda Omar was able to take the Trengganu throne, from where he ruled with great success until his death in 1876. He was, by all accounts, an enlightened ruler who contributed much to Trengganu’s development.

I shall have to look further to find out who the ex Sultan was whose sanctuary in Trengganu had caused such anger in the Maharajah of Johor that he had to invite the trigger-happy Brits in Singapore to bombard Trengganu's coast. In the meantime, if you have any information on this attack on Trengganu — "A cruel injustice," said Sir James Brooke — please do write.

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