Sovereignty And Loyalty In Malay Governance

As previously discussed, the Malay concept of citizenship/ subject is based on participation within a society and allegiance to a ruler. The concept of land and country is secondary (and almost alien for the latter).

When someone migrates to the Alam Melayu, whether internally (such as from Sulawesi to Sumatra) or externally (GuangZhou to Singapura), their migration is understood as an application to be a part of the Malay society, acceptance of Malay customs and laws and allegiance to the Malay ruler.

Sovereignty then, is not vested in the land or country, but with the Malay ruler. In Malay, sovereignty is understood through the concept of daulat.

Daulat can be described as sovereignty with a supernaturally imbued character (Soenarno, 1960, p. 1).

The recognition of the ruler’s daulat and the model of the Malay-ruler relationship is probably found in the sumpah (oath) between Sri Tri Buana and Demang Lebar Daun.

Demang Lebar Daun, who became the father in law to Sri Tri Buana committed his service and those of his descendants to Sri Tri Buana and his successors. In return, he requested his ruler to treat them fairly and even if they were to commit grave error and receive the capital punishment, to not humiliate them:

“Tuanku, segala anak cucu patek sedia akan jadi hambalah ke bawah Duli Yang Dipertuan; hendaklah ia diperbaiki oleh anak cucu tuanhamba. Syahadan jika ia berdosa sebesar-besar dosanya sekali pun, jangan ia difadhihatkan dan dinista dengan kata yang jahat jahat; jikalau besar dosanya dibunuh, itu pun jikalau patut pada hukum Syar’a”

Sri Tri Buana accepted Demang lebar Daun’s request and in return asked for loyalty from Demang Lebar Daun’s descendants even when their King is oppressive and cruel:

“hendaklah pada akhir zaman kelak anak cucu bapa jangan durhaka pada anak cucu hamba,jikalau ia zalim dan jahat pekertinya sekalipun”

Both of them agreed to the conditions and made an oath that if either of them breaks the agreement, may Allah destroy their households.

“Maka keduanya pun bersumpah-sumpahanlah, barang siapa mengubahkan perjanjiannya itu dibalik Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala bubungan rumahnya ke bawah kaki tiangnya ke atas. Itulah sebabnya maka dianugerahkan Allah subhanahu wata’ala kepada segala raja-raja Melayu: jikalau sebagaimana sekali pun besar dosanya, tiada diikatnya dan digantungnya dan difadhihatkannya dengan kata yang jahat. Jikalau ada seorang raja memberi ‘aib (seorang hamba Melayu) itu alamat negerinya akan dibinasakan Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.”(Windsted, 1938)

Relationship between ruler and subject

The responsibility of the subject, who bears allegiance to his ruler, is to obey regardless whether it serves his interests, whether he agrees with his ruler’s decision or whether he find it oppressive. A subject cannot agree to act when it benefits him or reject his ruler when he disagrees.

For the ruler, he commits to treat his subjects with grace and not to humiliate them.

The only higher law that the Malays refer to, is the Hukum Syara’ or the Syariah.

In discussing the relationship between the ruler and the people, Kratz notes:

we find that the ruler, important as he may be, is nothing without a people, and that it is the people and their traditional leader(s) who choose their ruler, and who decide freely to whom they want to offer their total obedience…

loyalty and respect are qualities which have to work in both directions, to and from the ruler, in order to affect positively the well-being of state and society. (1993, pp. 76-77)


Kratz, E. U. (1993). Durhaka: The concept of treason in the Malay” Hikayat Hang Tuah”. South East Asia Research, 68-97.

Soenarno, R. (1960). Malay Nationalism, 1896–1941. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 1(01), 1-28.

Windsted, R. O. “The date, author and identity of the original draft of the Malay Annals.” Journal of the Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society 16.part 3 (1938): 27-34.


Source: Almakhazin SG

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