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Book Review



23 maret 2009 00:07

The Glory of Aceh Kingdom during the Ruling Period of Sultan Iskandar Muda

The Glory of Aceh Kingdom during the Ruling Period of Sultan Iskandar Muda

Title :
Kerajaan Aceh; Zaman Sultan Iskandar Muda (1607-1636)
Original Title:Le Sultanat d‘Atjéh au temps d‘Iskandar Muda (1607-1636)
Author
:
Denys Lombard
Translator:Winarsih Arifin
Publisher:
Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia (KPG) & Forum Jakarta - Paris
Edition
:
1st Edition, October 2007
Page
:
408 pages
 

Reading the history of a civilization, we often get the description on the glory as well as the ruin of the civilization in the past. Rarely do we find the information on the civilization‘s geographic location, its influential figures, and its social living. We find the mere information on the time and space that mostly intermingled with the myths and author‘s subjective interpretation.

We can find the above facts in books telling the early history of Aceh. Taking an example for this is a Dutch philologist, C. Snouck Hurgronje. For six months he lived in Aceh, he undertook a particular research on the Aceh people and the history of Aceh Kingdom. He compiled four chapters, and honoured them to the General Governor Pijnacker Hordijk on May 23rd, 1892. The first two chapters of his research entitled Verslag omtrent de religieus-politieke toestanden in Atjeh has been published in a book entitled De Atjehers (1893/1894). The English language version of De Atjehers has also been published in 1906 with a title The Achehnese. Unfortunately, in that book Hurgronje views the legendary figure Sultan Iskandar Muda as a mere fairy tale. His insight on the figure of Sultan Iskandar Muda was based on the classical Malay books, such as Bustan al-Salatin, Hikayat Aceh, and Adat Aceh, which are mostly combined with myths. Indeed, his view on Sultan Iskandar Muda is, perhaps, the way of strengthening the Dutch‘s occupation in the Land of Aceh Darussalam.

In order to avoid the influence of the myth in history, Denys Lombard, a French historian of the 20th century, employed different approach on the study of Aceh. He convinced us with his historiographycal approach in understanding Aceh Kingdom through his book entitled Kerajaan Aceh: Zaman Sultan Iskandar Muda (1607-1636) (Aceh Kingdom: The Ruling Period of Sultan Iskandar Muda). In that book, Lombard did not merely use the local references such as Busatan al-Salatin, Hikayat Aceh, and Adat Aceh, but also from the European and Chinese notes. He took into the usage of the notes from European travellers like Frederik de Houtman, John Davis, and Augustin de Beaulieu. Beaulieu alone had ever settled down in Banda Aceh during 1620-1621. For Lombard, Beaulieu‘s note is pretty worth because it is a comprehensive linguistic corpus in the Malay studies, especially the Malay language.

This book discloses the fact on Aceh Kingdom differently, and criticizes Hurgronje‘s thesis. He clearly describes the situation and condition in the Aceh society, including the heyday of Aceh Kingdom at the tenure of Sultan Iskandar Muda (1607-1636). For that reason, Henri Chambert-Loir, on the opening remarks of the book, states that the book counters against the historical facts of Aceh that have been wrongly understood by the “Great Colonialist” Snouck Hurgronje (page 17).

This book still becomes the main reference for those undertaking in-depth research on the history of Aceh amidst the massive publication on the studies of Aceh recently. Just to mention one of them is Panggung Sejarah (1999), which is a tribute to Denys Lombard, who passed away in 1998. In Panggung Sejarah, Denys Lombard is described as the figure with a wide knowledge in the Asian studies, but his focus is merely on the Indonesian studies (page 24).

By employing Annales‘s school of thought in viewing the history of Aceh Kingdom, this 408-page book reveals the history of Aceh Kingdom and the surrounding society of the time as well. Even more, he put a research on the psychological aspect of Sultan Iskandar Muda. From that ways, Lombard can be said to make a historical research in the framework of “inner perspective” that results in the in-depth ethnographic and geographic analyses. Lombard‘s analyses encompass the studies on the politic, economic, cultural, philosophical, and military aspects of Aceh Kingdom under the ruling period of Sultan Iskandar Muda. Another feature of the book, compared to other works, is on its analysis on the religious living at the time. It also covers the role of Islam in the empowerment of the Aceh society at that time.

By referring to Bustan al-Salatin, Lombard wrote the biography of Sultan Iskandar Muda as an influential figure in the early history Aceh Kingdom. He was born in 1593 A.D., and named Perkasa Alam. Tracing his maternal line, Sultan Iskandar Muda was a descendant of Raja Darul-Kamal; and paternally, he bore the bloodline of Raja Mahkota Alam. His mother, Putri Raja Indra Bangsa (Paduka Syah Alam), was the daughter of Sultan Alauddin Riayat Syah, the 10th Sultan of Aceh. His mother married to Sultan Mansyur Syah, the son of Sultan Abdul Jalil – the son of Sultan Alauddin Riayat Syah al-Kahhar, the third Sultan of Aceh. Therefore, Sultan Iskandar Muda had a royal bloodline both from his mother and his father.

Sultan Iskandar Muda married to Putroe Phang, the Princess of Pahang Sultanate. His wife later on gave birth to two sons; Meurah Pupok and Putri Safah. In 1612 A.D., his journey to Johor was once stopped in Tajung, at the riverbank of the Asahan and Silau rivers. There, he met King Simargolang and proposed a marriage to the king‘s daughter. From his second marriage, he begot Abdul Jalil who later on became the first Sultan of Asahan.

Sultan Iskandar Muda chaired the position as the Sultan of Aceh during 1607 to 1636 A.D. The sured date of when he was inaugurated into the Sultan is still debatable amongst the historians, however. Lombard alone admits that he found it hard to investigate the exact date of Sultan Iskandar Muda‘s coronation. Based on the historical notes from the European travellers, Lombard concluded that perhaps, the inauguration of Sultan Iskandar Muda took place along with the coming of Portuguese to Aceh on June 29th, 1606. He also quoted a note from Bustan al-Katibin that reveals the Sultan‘s coronation happened on 6th Dzulhijjah 1015 H (in the beginning of April 1607 A.D.). For many historians, including Lombard, the note from Bustan al-Katibin is more arguable.

During that period, Aceh Kingdom suffered from its glory in the history ever. Sultan Iskandar Muda was widely known as the figure who was capable of building Aceh Kingdom into a hegemonic and powerful kingdom in the Nusantara. Even more, Aceh Kingdom was considered the five biggest kingdoms in the world.

One of his efforts to build such a powerful kingdom was strengthening the Kingdom‘s armed forces, which was dominated by the youths. With that military force, Aceh Kingdom successfully expanded its territories ranging from Deli, Johor, Bintan, Pahang, Kedah, and Nias during 1612 to 1625 A.D. In the economic sector, he also built a strong economic basis emphasizing on the sea trade and commerce. He built a port in Kutaraja, now known as Banda Aceh, which later on grew up into the busiest port in Asia. From this port, he established cooperative networks with other kingdoms either from Asia and Europe.

On of his economic breakthroughs was he preferred sharia economic law to the western economic system. He applied baitulmal economic system to enforce the Aceh people‘s economic powers. He raised the export tax also. In the agricultural sector, he commanded his people to make an irrigation lane by taking into the usage of the water from the river flowing to the Strait of Malacca. Through this lane, the Aceh people got ease to stock their farming lands with sufficient water.

Sultan Iskandar Muda, Lombard said, was acknowledged to have close relations with the Europe. He established harmonious communication with the British Kingdom, Netherlands, French, even Ottoman Empire of Turkey. He once sent a letter to the Queen Elizabeth I, and got warm response in the 16th century (page 301).

Another breakthrough in the Aceh Kingdom under tenure of Sultan Iskandar Muda was a governmental system in that combined the Islamic law and the local wisdom altogether. He designated a great ulema named Syiah Kuala into the great mufti (highly royal advisor) of Aceh Kingdom. Both him and the mufti worked complementarily each other; thus was known a slogan “Adat bak Peutu Mereuhum, Syarak bak Syiah di Kuala (the adat law is under the authority of Sultan Iskandar Muda, and the religious matter is under authority of Syiah Kuala). Not only did he appoint Syiah Kuala as the great mufti, but also two others ulemas namely Sheikh Hamzah Fanshuri and Sheikh Syamsudin as-Sumatrani. Those two ulemas were known for having important roles in the development of Aceh Kingdom. More than that, they were also the great litterateurs in the history of Nusantara.

Sultan Iskandar Muda passed away on December 27th, 1636 A.D. at the age of 43. The throne over the kingdom of Aceh went on to his son-in-law Sultan Iskandar Tani (because none of the Sultan‘s sons were still alive at the time he passed away). Sultan Iskandar Tani started ruling Aceh Kingdom in 1636 A.D. and ended in 1641 A.D. Following his death, Sultan Iskandar Tani was succeeded by his wife, Sultanah Tajul Alam Syaifatudin Syah (Princess Safiah). She chaired the highest authority over Aceh Kingdom for about 34 years long (1641 – 1675 A.D.). In addition, Princess Safiah was the daughter of Sultan Iskandar Muda.

In 1993, the award of National Hero was bestowed over Sultan Iskandar Muda by the Indonesian Government. The award was given upon consideration that he had made so many things to empower and build the characteristics of the Acehnese in the present. He refused to deal any cooperation with the Portuguese colonials. He was also well-known for his anti-colonialism spirit that might burn the spirit of every single Aceh person to accomplish the jeehad against the colonialists. For instance, it‘s been about 16 times he summoned his people to do the jeehad against the Portuguese colonials during 1573 to 1627 A.D. Unfortunately, all the efforts ended in failure. Tens of thousands of his people were died. To cope with the decreasing number of people in Aceh, he pulled out those who settled in his ‘occupations‘ such as West Sumatra, Kedah, Pahang, Johor, Melacca, Perak, and Deli, to migrate to Aceh.

Another testimony to Sultan Iskandar Muda can also be found in Sejarah Islam in Sumatra that was written by Hamka, a prominent figure in the study of Aceh, in 1972. In that book, he described Sultan Iskandar Muda as a figure who ceaselessly performed the Islamic teachings in his daily life. About his leadership, Antony Reid in Perjuangan rakyat, Revolusi dan Hancurnya Kerajaan di Sumatra (1987) viewed him as a leader who had successfully combined the authoritative, centralistic, and expansive leadership styles. According to Reid (1987: 81), his leadership style was greatly influenced by Maharaja Sayidil Mukammil, Sultan Iskandar Muda‘s grandfather. About the glory of Aceh Kingdom, he views it as the result of the monarch governmental system that is totally different from the democratic governmental system in the present.

Further about this book, Lombard traced the historical facts of Aceh Kingdom beyond to the socio-cultural living in the Aceh society of the time. By implying the historical discourse analyses, Lombard seemed to reveal Aceh Kingdom‘s history in correlation to the social living in the Aceh society. Perhaps, this book is the best way of re-finding the form of the true Indonesians characters amidst the inexorable wave of western globalization.

Finally, we will find the alternative history of Sultan Iskandar Muda‘s ruling period over Aceh Kingdom that was, indeed, special. Not only is viewed from the perspective of geo-ecology, but also from the socio-historic perspective. The discourse towards the early history of Aceh Kingdom doesn‘t have any relation with the modern history of Indonesia, but the book will always have a place in the studies of Indonesian history from time by time. With the painstaking elaboration and description about the history of Aceh in the 17 century, it is hopefully that the book would remind us of the Indonesia‘s glory in the past.

Tasyriq Hifzhillah (res/04/02-09)

Translated by Irfan Nugroho (ter/107/03-09)
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