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Dutch East India

Warrior princes of Sulawesi

Fiercesome in the chain-mail armour, bristling with muskets and blunderbusses, the Bugis have been known throughout Southeast Asia as a warlike race. In the first half of the 18th century, with an uneasy peace between the Dutch and Johor, and the power and influence of Acheh dwindling, the most dynamic political influence in the Malay states centred around five Bugis brothers - Daeng Perani, Daeng Menambun, Daeng Merewah, Daeng Chelak and Daeng Kemasi - who left their native state in the Southern Sulawesi and had come to the Malay states to seek adventure and fame..

In 1699, Sultan Mahmud II of Johor was killed by one of his chiefs in revenge for the murder of the chief's wife. The death of the Sultan, known as "Marhum Mangkat di-julang" ('slain-as-he-was-carried-on-his-litter'), marked the end in Johor of the royal dynasty which was the directly descendant of the Melaka royal line and which had ruled for over 170 years. Sultan Mahmud did not leave an heir, and the Bendahara, Tun Abdul Jalil, became Sultan of Johor with the title Sultan Abdul Jalil IV.

In 1712, a pretender prince from Minangkabau, Raja Kechil, claimed to be the posthumous son of the murdered Sultan Mahmud. Raja Kechil met Daeng Perani and Daeng Chelak, at the island of Benkalis and asked for their help to overthrow Sultan Abdul Jalil IV, promising Daeng Perani the title of Yam Tuan Muda or Crown Prince of Johor if he were installed as Sultan.

Selangor then had a large population of Bugis settlers and the two princes went to Langat to collect their forces for the impending coup. However, in 1717, while the Bugis princes were still in Selangor, Raja Kechil was able, on his own, to overthrow Sultan Abdul Jalil IV. Raja Kechil adopted the title of Sultan Abdul Jalil Rahmat Shah and moved his capital to Riau. The deposed Sultan Abdul Jalil IV had to flee to Pahang where in 1718 he was murdered by an emissary of Raja Kechil.

The Bugis felt they had been cheated of an opportunity with Raja Kechil's success and prolonged open warfare broke out between them. The five Bugis princes lent aid to Raja Sulaiman - the son of the murdered Johor Sultan - and they attacked Raja Kechil at Riau. Finally, in 1722, the Bugis finally expelled Raja Kechil from Riau and the Minangkabau prince fled to Siak in Sumatra, from where he continued his war against the Bugis.

With Riau captured, the Bugis installed Raja Sulaiman as ruler of the Sultanate of Riau-Johor, with the title Sultan Sulaiman Badrul Alam Shah, while Daeng Merewah was declared Yam Tuan Muda. From that time onwards, the centre of Bugis power shifted from Selangor to Riau. Raja Sulaiman was Sultan only in name, with the Bugis princes as the real rulers of the kingdom. There were also attempts to strengthen ties between the Bugis living in Riau and those living in Selangor. Daeng Perani, for instance went to Selangor and married the daughter of the Bugis prince who claimed the title of "Yam Tuan of Selangor".

The Bugis princes then tried to expand their power to Kedah and Perak. Daeng Perani, with a strong force of Bugis warriors from Riau and Selangor, invaded Kedah and took an active part in the power struggle between the then ruling Sultan of Kedah and the Sultan's younger brother who was plotting to overthrow him. Daeng Perani sided with the ruling Sultan, while the Sultan's younger brother invited Raja Kechil and his Minangkabau followers to oust the Bugis from Kedah. The war lasted two years and devastated Kedah. Daeng Perani was killed in the campaign, but the Bugis succeeded in driving Raja Kechil and his forces out of Kedah back to Siak.The Bugis next turned their attention to Perak. In 1728, Daeng Merewah, invaded Perak, but the attack was unsuccessful. His successor, Daeng Chelak, the second Yam Tuan Muda of Riau, eventually led an expedition to Perak in 1743 and managed to capture it.

Daeng Chelak died two years later and was succeeded as Yam Tuan Muda by Daeng Kemboja, the son of Daeng Perani. Daeng Chelak left behind him several sons, the most famous in Malay history being Raja Lumu and Raja Haji. It was Raja Lumu who became the first Sultan of Selangor under the title Sultan Salehuddin Shah, whose descendants rule Selangor up to the present day. Raja Haji, on the other hand, was to become famous as the warrior prince who was to become the scourge of the Dutch in Melaka.

During Daeng Kemboja's rule as Yam Tuan Muda, relations between the Bugis and the Johor Malays under Sultan Sulaiman Badrul Alam Shah became strained. The Dutch were quick to seize the opportunity of this breach between the two groups and openly sided with Sultan Sulaiman of Riau. The Sultan even signed a treaty with the Dutch, handing over control of Siak to the VOC in return for their help against his enemies. The Bugis regarded this as a threat to their control and waged war on the Dutch. Daeng Kamboja, made Linggi his base and, in October 1756 besieged Melaka. In February 1757, help arrived from Batavia and the Bugis were forced to drop the siege. In that year, the Dutch built a fort on the Linggi River and named it Philippe (today's Kota Linggi), after the daughter of the Dutch Governor of Batavia, Jacob Mussel

In 1759, Raja Haji successfully brought together the Johor Malays and the Bugis in a united front against the Dutch. However, Sultan Sulaiman Badrul Alam Shah died the next year and Daeng Kemboja reversed the policy of hostility to the Dutch. He maintained very friendly relations with the Dutch in Melaka and made a substantial profit in tin, opium and other commodities.

The warrior prince Raja Haji - who was given the title To' Klana - was kept busy elsewhere. He helped the Raja of Indragiri in Sumatra to fight the Minangkabaus, assisted the Sultan of Selangor in his fight with Kedah, and also helped the Raja of Pontianak in Borneo to quell his enemies. It was while Raja Haji was busy fighting in Borneo in 1777 that Daeng Kemboja died in Riau. Raja Haji immediately left for Riau stopping, however, at Pahang. There, he successfully asked the Bendahara of Pahang, Tun Abdul Majid, a prominent member of the Riau-Johor royal house, to install him as Yam Tuan Muda of Riau-Johor.

For a time, Raja Haji continued Daeng Kemboja's policy of an uneasy friendship with the Dutch at Melaka. However, hostilities again broke out between the Dutch and the Bugis in 1782, and it led to numerous Bugis attacks on Dutch shipping in the Straits of Melaka. Two years later, a strong force of 13 Dutch warships and 1500 troops besieged and attacked Riau. Raja Haji took personal command of its defence - paddling from ship to ship directing fire and naval manoeuvres. Whenever any of his sailors ducked at the sound passing Dutch cannon balls, he would strike them on the head with a rotan for displaying such cowardice. The Dutch fleet finally retreated when its commander's flagship was struck and blown out of the water.

Not wasting any time, Raja Haji launched an immediate counter-attack on Melaka. He landed at Teluk Ketapang, five miles south of Melaka, mustering a force of over 1000 Johor Malays, Minangkabaus and Bugis warriors, including forces led by Sultan Ibrahim of Selangor.

The siege lasted four months and was only broken in June when strong Dutch reinforcements consisting of six ships, 326 guns and 2130 men arrived from Batavia. Landing his troops under cover of darkness on June 18th, 1784, the Dutch surprised the Malay stockades at daybreak after laying a withering barrage of cannon fire from their ships. The Malays were completely surrounded and overwhelmed, Raja Haji seen standing over the stockades amid a hail of Dutch bullets and cannon balls, with a dagger in one hand and an Islamic tract in the other, as his followers embraced his knees waiting for death to come. At the end of battle, Raja Haji's body was recovered by the Dutch and buried on the slopes of St Paul's Hill - some stories say it was the site of pig-sty. When the English took control of Melaka decades later, his followers were allowed to bury his body in Bukit Kursi, Pulau Penyangat, in Riau, where he lies today - a martyr in the cause of Malay freedom.

The Dutch invaded Riau just three months after their victory and scattered the wounded Bugis fleet. Johor's Sultan Mahmud was forced to sign a treaty which practically acknowledged his possessions on the peninsula and elsewhere as Dutch territories "by right of war", with the Sultan being 'advised' by a Dutch Resident and under the watchful gaze of a Dutch fort at Tanjung Pinang in Riau. The treaty not only devastated Bugis power but, in effect, ended the independence of the once mighty Johor Empire.


Manuscript of the Tuhfat al-Nafis, or 'The Precious Gift' by Raja Ali Haji. Said to be the Sejarah Melayu of the 18th Century, it chronicles Bugis-Malay history over almost two centuries.


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