Monarchy System: Basis of Strengthening Malay Language

|     Dr Muhammad Hadi Bin Md Melayong, Special Duties Officer, Secretariat Office, MIB Supreme Council     |


ON MAY 4, 2017, at the International Seminar of Lexicography organised by the Department of Linguistics at the University of Indonesia, two Brunei representatives submitted their papers on the role of the monarchial system in supporting the development of the Malay Language.

The papers were presented by Dr Muhammad Hadi bin Md Melayong and his colleague, Zulkiflee bin Haji Abdul Latif, on ‘Malay Islamic Monarchy the Basis of Geographical Names’ and ‘The Malay Language in Seeking to Preserve the Status of the Malay Islamic Monarchy’ respectively.

Both papers highlighted the significance of the monarchial system in Brunei Darussalam to the enrichment and preservation of the Malay Language as the official language in the Brunei Constitution of 1959.

In his presentation, Haji Zulkiflee dealt with the competency of the Malay language as a medium of communication in the socio-political and economic landscape, from the onset of the Brunei Sultanate in the 14th Century, up to the present day.

The systematic practice of Malay, from the rise of the ancient Brunei Kingdom in the 7th Century, led to its subsequent role as the common language, both domestically and regionally. It was further reinforced by the arrival of Islam in Brunei, following the conversion of Awang Alak Betatar (Sultan Muhammad Shah), when he married the daughter of the ruler of Johore in 1368.

Dr Muhammad Hadi bin Md Melayong
Zulkiflee bin Haji Abdul Latif

According to historical annals, Malay kingship owes its origins to the three sons of the first Malay raja at Bukit Singuntang, Palembang, who would later go on to establish major kingdoms across the region, including Singapore and Malacca.

The Malaccan sultanate in the 13th Century took on an important role as a centre of commerce and the development of the Malay civilisation. Malay was used as the main language of communication in political circles, thus maintaining the domination of the Malay rulers and their people.

Brunei was among the main proponents of Malay culture, Islamic and the monarchial system, which is the core elements of the Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB), which remains to this day. The symbiotic relationship of language and the monarchial system contributed largely to the preservation of Brunei’s cultural heritage. Thus, the role of language in those early Malay kingdoms was to unite various ethnic groups; and this solidarity is still evident today, particularly in Brunei Darussalam and elsewhere on the island of Borneo.

Historically, Malay usage in diplomatic relations and trade ties with outside powers worked well in terms of securing agreements and cooperation for mutual benefits. Even while Western powers were making inroads across the region, Malay was still used as a medium in consolidating and solving problems in political-economic activities.

The unifying of various ethnic groups through the Malay Language is clearly evident from ancient manuscripts and works of literature such as pantun, syair, satires, tropes, figures of speech, treaties and religious texts written in Jawi. These works are still accessible and easily understood by the people of different cultures, faiths and backgrounds in the Malay Archipelago.

In Brunei, among the main body of literature celebrating the sovereignty of monarchial system and the Malay Language is Syair Awang Semaun, which gives an account of the founding of the Brunei Sultanate in the 14th Century; Syair Rakis by Pengiran Shahbandar Pengiran Muhammad Salleh; the Brunei Constitution of 1959; and poems by Brunei nationalists such as HM Salleh, Yura Halim, Mohd Jamil, Yahya MS, Badaruddin HO, Adi Rumi and others.

In general, Haji Zulkiflee’s paper illustrated the role of MIB since the 14th Century, in expanding and strengthening the position of Malay as a medium of communication in strengthening ties and cooperation domestically, regionally and internationally.

As stated by His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam in a titah during the Golden Jubilee Celebration of the Language and Literature Bureau (DBP) on September 17, at the International Conference Centre (ICC):

“The greatness of the Malay Language can be traced as far back as the 7th Century to the 13th Century, where it was appointed as a ‘lingua franca’ or the intermediate and administrative means of communication between locals and foreigners; and the language of trade throughout the Malay Archipelago. In 1603 – 1708, 12 Malay dictionaries were published in several foreign countries, which show that the Europeans and citizens of other nations were eager to learn Malay at that time.”

The second paper, ‘Malay Islamic Monarchy as the Basis of Geographical Names’, highlighted Malay as an important component in the naming of geographic locations in Brunei Darussalam.

The establishment of the Committee of Geographical Names in Brunei Darussalam (JKNG) has had an indirect role in strengthening the use of Malay as the official language. Given that the committee’s main task is to determine and recommend geographical names in Brunei, it has played an important part in proposing and determining geographic locations in all four districts, based on the principles of MIB.

The names of villages, rivers, lakes, hills, mountains and even the names of roads, junctions, flyovers, avenues, overhead bridges and roundabouts are a reflection of Brunei’s identity based on Malay customs and the Islamic monarchial system.

The veracity of this statement can be seen in the names of the provinces, villages, hills and rivers, which are steeped in Brunei’s socio-cultural heritage. These geographic names further support the use of Malay as the Official Language of the State, as stipulated in Article 82 of the Brunei Constitution.

In conclusion, the monarchial system was the core factor in the strengthening and development of Malay in Brunei Darussalam across the centuries. And it is our duty and responsibility as Bruneians to continue the preservation of our heritage and expand it to the regional and international level.

As stated by His Majesty during the DBP’s Golden Jubilee Celebration:

“Historically and unquestionably, Malay is a great language, a language which is sufficiently self-supporting and has the potential to become one of the world’s main languages. Why do we lack effort and ambition in that direction?

“In my opinion, this is the time for Language Council Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia (MABBIM) to think and draw on ideas of how to improve Malay into a language of the world. This is not a mere illusion, but a conviction which is based on facts and supported by scholarly views.”