Tales from the Malay Annals: The Sultan Who Went Undercover

by Alvin Chua

Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah was arguably one of the most hands-on rulers of Melaka. At one point during his reign, the sultanate was suffering from a plague of thieves. These ferocious men not only stole people’s belongings but also violently murdered their victims. This happened night after night, causing all the inhabitants of Melaka to live in fear.

Frontispiece of a Jawi edition of the Malay Annals. Image: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

When the Sultan heard about the plight of his subjects, he was grief-stricken and resolved to deal with the problem himself. So, one night, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah disguised himself as a commoner and left his palace with two of his warriors, Hang Isap, also known as Hang Siak, and Hang Isak. The three men travelled incognito around Melaka to see for themselves the situation in the city. 

During their patrol, the Sultan and his companions encountered a group of five robbers who were carrying a huge chest laden with valuables. The thieves, shocked by the unexpected appearance of the three men, dropped their loot, and fled the scene. The Sultan opened the chest and commanded Hang Isak to keep his eye on it, while he and Hang Isap gave chase to the robbers.

The two men followed the robbers up a hill, finally catching up with them under a large weeping fig tree. The Sultan attacked and succeeded in killing one of them. Using his parang, the Sultan slashed the criminal at his waist, splitting him in two like a cucumber. The rest of the thieves fled for their lives but Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah still would not relent. At a bridge, the Sultan caught up with them again, and killed another. The three remaining thieves managed to escape from the Sultan by jumping into the river and swimming to the other side. The Sultan returned to Hang Isak, ordering him to bring the chest back to the palace. After a long and tiring night, the Sultan and his men finally reached home.

Parang Jengkok, Gallery B Muzium Negara

The following morning, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah held an audience attended by all the ministers and notables of Melaka. The Sultan asked the Temenggung, his minister of public security, whether he had been on duty the night before. When the Temenggung, Sri Maharaja, also known as Tun Mutahir, replied in the positive, the Sultan said, “I heard that two murders occurred last night, one on a hill and the other at a bridge. Might you know who the culprit was?” The Temenggung admitted that he had no idea and was thus reprimanded by the Sultan for sleeping on the job, quite literally so, perhaps.

Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah then ordered Hang Isap and Hang Isak to bring in the chest that they had seized from the robbers. When the chest was brought in, the Sultan commanded the two warriors to tell the court all that had happened  on the previous night. Hang Isap and Hang Isak did as the Sultan ordered. When they finished their story, everyone bowed to the Sultan in fear.

Fortunately, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah was not a tyrannical ruler so no one was punished that day. Neither was he a greedy ruler. Instead of keeping the chest of valuables for himself, which he could easily have done  the Sultan ordered his men to investigate to whom it belonged. It was found that the owner of the chest was a merchant by the name of Ki Tirubalam. The Sultan had the stolen chest returned to the merchant after which everyone went back to their homes.

Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum. Image credit: Namimatisa (Wikimedia Commons)

When night fell, Tun Mutahir, who was still feeling the sting from the Sultan’s admonishment earlier that day, doubled his efforts in guarding Melaka. As the Temenggung was making his rounds, he bumped into a thief, whom he promptly attacked. Not to be outdone by his liege, Tun Mutahir chopped at the thief’s shoulder, hacking the man with such force that the severed limb was flung onto the tie beam of a nearby shop. Imagine the shopkeeper’s shock and horror when he came to work the next morning!

The actions of the Sultan and the Temenggung sent a clear message to any would-be thieves in Melaka. Hence, from that day onwards, Melaka was free from robbery. Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah went on to enjoy a prosperous reign, while Tun Mutahir eventually attained the position of Chief Minister and became the Bendahara. That, however, is another story for another time!

In this series

Tales from the Malay Annals: A Brief Introduction

Reference

Cheah, B. K. (comp.), Abdul Rahman, Hj. Ismail (transcr.). 2009. Sejarah Melayu. Kuala Lumpur: The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.

Author: Museum Volunteers, JMM

Museum Volunteers, JMM Taking the Mystery out of History

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