The path of Brunei and Singapore relations

Dr Muhammad Hadi bin Muhammad Melayong, Assistant Secretary of PESEBAR

After further information was obtained during a visit to the Brunei History Association (PESEBAR) delegation in September, it was revealed that there was a continuance relations between Singapore and Brunei after the end of the era of Sang Nila Utama empire in Old Kingdom of Singapore; under the rule of Sultan Iskandar Shah when he migrated to Melaka to avoid the attacks of King Ligor from Siam (Thailand).

As we know, the early relations between Brunei and Singapore (then known as Temasek) began in 1368 when their respective royal houses were joined by marriage. This relationship was later resumed when Singapore emerged as a centre of entreport trade in the early 19th Century under the British rule. This date marks the beginning of modern-day diplomacy that was indirectly restored after Stamford Raffles opened Singapore as a British trading centre in 1819. Brunei that was then under the rule of Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam and had established trade relations with the British especially when William Farquhar became the second Governor of Singapore few years after Stamford Raffles’ rule.

The relationship of diplomacy in this area of trade was clearly evident from the historical effects found at Fort Canning, Singapore and the correspondence between the Sultan of Brunei and Singapore Governor in the 1820s. However, the 19th Century that began in the reign of Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam (1807-1826) and later Pengiran Muhammad Alam (1826-1828), Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien II (1828-1852, Sultan Abdul Momin (188852- 1885), and Hashim Jalilul Alam Aqamaddin (1885-1906) was also the period of great decline in the legacy of Malay civilisation in Malay world, especially Brunei with the coming of the Western powers since the 16th Century.

The great events that led to the collapse of the glorious era of the Malay Sultanate in the Malay world began with the 1824 Agreement between the British and the Dutch which caused the Malays to be divided into two major influences.

The British controlled all territories above Singapore Island, while the Dutch controlled the southern part of the equator (lower Singapore). This indirectly splits the territories of the Brunei Sultanate in the Borneo Islands into two parts Brunei and Northern Borneo, Sabah and Sarawak were under British influences while Kalimantan territories such as Sambas, Pontianak, Banjar Masin, Kotei were etc under Dutch influences including all of the Riau Islands, Java and Sumatra).

The Malay world was beginning to face decline and collapse with the rise of the British and Dutch powers, struggling to monopolise the spice trade and expand their political power and influence.

The Malay Sultanates and leaders were obliged to establish and maintain good relations with the British especially in Malaya, Singapore and Borneo territories while the Dutch controlled the areas in Java, Sumatra, Riau Islands up to Ambon Island. Letters are part of the evidence of British policy and strategy in expanding its wings in the Malay world and in the areas of trade and diplomacy.

This is the effect of the divide and rule policy by the Western powers in dividing the once united Malay world known as Dunia Melayu or Nusantara. As a result, the Malay world was at war with each other under the auspices of Western powers including areas of influence of the Brunei Sultanate. This eventually led to the collapse and disappearance of the era of the Malay Sultanate. Fortunately, Brunei has been able to preserve its status as a Malay Islamic Sultanate State to this day.

ABOVE & BELOW: The Brunei History Association (PESEBAR) delegation in a group photo; and the letter from Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam to Singapore Governor William Farquhar. PHOTOS: DR MUHAMMAD HADI BIN MUHAMMAD MELAYONG

Meanwhile, Singapore surrendered to British under an agreement with the heir of the Melaka Sultanate, Tengku Hussein. The British settlement in Singapore did not directly extend its influence to the Borneo region with James Brooke’s arrival in Sarawak in 1839 and Singapore itself having established diplomatic relations through trade with Brunei in the early 1820s.

There were three important correspondence from the Sultan of Brunei and his son with his Singaporean counterparts which focussed on trade relations and diplomatic relations with the British in Singapore. This is align with the British’s policy attempt to develop Singapore as a centre of entreport trade in competing with the Dutch’s Rule in Batavia, Indonesia.

This correspondence is among 47 Malay (original) manuscripts which were written in Malay Jawi script namely the letters of the sultans and Malay leaders with the Singapore Governor such as Johor, Borneo, Pahang, Cambodia, Kelantan, Naning, Palembang, Riau, Siak, Sambas, Jambi, Pontianak, Aceh including Brunei and many others. This is the evidence of the disappearance of some of the Malay sultanate state in the Malay worlds after the Second World War following the impact of Western occupation.

However, some original manuscripts of the sultanate document is still kept in Public Library of Washington DC, the United States of America.

Two of Brunei’s letters written by Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam (two pieces) were addressed to Singapore Governor William Farqhuar. Another from Pengiran Muhammad Alam (Prince of Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam) was addressed to Muhammad ibn Arsad who was also in Penang Island (a British influence territory opened as a trading centre in 1786). All these manuscripts were dated in the 1820s, after which Singapore was opened by Stamford Raffles as a centre of British administration and commerce activities.

This is an early proof of the existence of Brunei-Singapore relations in the era of modern history of Singapore that began in 1819.

Briefly, the content of Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam’s letter to William Farquhar regarding the diplomacy and trade relations between the two countries.

This letter symbolised the open door policy of Brunei Darussalam in forging close relationship with foreign countries, especially the British that have been the basis of Brunei’s tradition throughout history in dealing with Western powers.

The Sultan’s trademark was contained within his techniques of writing the letter by the words and letterhead he used, a common practice among the Malay leaders during correspondence with foreign powers. For example a letter from Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam dated 1236 Hijrah contains the letterhead in jawi script and a Sultan stamp.

Among the verses written as the letterhead of the Sultan in Arabic words read Wal- sham- or Was sham su, Wal qamari, Wal nujumi which we can interpret to the Sultan witnessed or promised for the sake of the sun and the moon and the stars.

…sahabat beta jika putus tali kita ganti dengan rantai tembaga suasa supaya tiada boleh putus maka beta pun terlalu suka mendengar yang demikian jikalau sahabat beta suka sekali beta suka sepuluh kali kerana jangan putus bersurat-suratan antara sahabat beta dengan beta…

The close and friendly relations between Brunei and Singapore were revealed in the second letter by Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam to the Singapore Governor dated 1237 Hijrah.

This showed the beginning of the development of trading activities between the two countries. As the Sultan said:

…maka jangan kiranya sahabat kita jalan mahabah dan bersahabat kepada memutuskan surat bersuratan selagi ada cakerawala bulan dan matahari hingga ila yaumil qiamah supaya bertambat tali maufakah antara kita dengan sahabat kita.

This was the only evidence of diplomacy and trade relations between the two countries in the era of British rule in Singapore. Meanwhile, Brunei was still an independent and sovereign state before the British settlement under the 1888 and 1906 Friendship Treaty.

Brunei has practised an open foreign policy that was in good standing with any foreign country based on the concept of the Malay Islamic Monarchy inherited since the 1368.

This policy has brought about benefits of trade agreed by the Governor of Singapore to accept Brunei ships to port and trade within the areas of British influence such as the Melaka and Penang.

As he mentioned in his letter which contains his ambition and the expectation:

Shadan bahawa adalah kita menyuruh Pengiran Tajuddin dan Nakhoda Hassanuddin dan Nakhoda Jalaluddin dengan sebuah perahu yang kecil mendapatkan sahabat kita serta membawa dagangan sedikit-sedikit maka jikalau ada dengan keredhaan dan kesukaan sahabat kita dengan seboleh-bolehnya kita minta tolong ikhtiarkan ke Melaka atau ke Pulau Pinang.

Thus, based on the findings of the historical documents and the visit to Singapore by the PESEBAR members, with regard to Brunei-Singapore relations in the modern era, we discovered that the establishment of Singapore in 1819, led to the development of trade and diplomacy relations not only between Brunei and Singapore but also among the leaders Malay Sultanates in the Malay Archipelago.

This concludes the historical event of Singapore’s foundation by Sir Stamford Raffles was indirectly a factor in the resumption of friendship and diplomacy that had been cut off nearly 300 years ago between Brunei Darussalam and the Republic of Singapore.