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The First Two Sultans of Pontianak - article ; n°1 ; vol.56, pg 273-294


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Archipel - Année 1998 - Volume 56 - Numéro 1 - Pages 273-294
22 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.



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Mary Somers Heidhues
The First Two Sultans of Pontianak
In: Archipel. Volume 56, 1998. pp. 273-294.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Somers Heidhues Mary. The First Two Sultans of Pontianak. In: Archipel. Volume 56, 1998. pp. 273-294.
doi : 10.3406/arch.1998.3491
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/arch_0044-8613_1998_num_56_1_3491Somers HEIDHUES Mary
The First Two Sultans of Pontianak
Borneo's West Coast in the 18th Century
In the 18th century, the West Coast of Borneo (Kalimantan) was home to
a number of small coastal and riverine trading polities, most of them in
Muslim Malay hands. The most important of these was Sukadana [Map 1],
which stood in a loose tributary relationship to Banten and controlled much
of the Kapuas River trade. This river, over 1000 km long, drains an immense
territory inhabited mostly by non-Muslim peoples usually called "Dayak."
Its external trade usually followed a southern outlet to the sea, not far from
Sukadana, partly to be safer from coastal pirates. Landak, some distance
inland on the river of that name, controlled West Borneo's only source of
diamonds. Like Sukadana, Landak was a tributary of Banten.
Another riverine kingdom was Sanggau, far inland on the Kapuas ; at the
time, the Kapuas was sometimes called the Sanggau River. (!) Sanggau had
deposits of good-quality gold, West Borneo's second most valuable product.
Near the coast in the north, Sambas was the most important state ; it was a
former tributary of Brunei. Finally, Mempawah, also a coastal state, just
north of the Kapuas outlet, was something of a newcomer. A Bugis
adventurer, Daeng Menambun, one of the five Bugis brothers whose story is
and 1. J. Records, Bum, Manuscript European on Manuscripts Pontianak. Eur Papers E 109. relating "Mr. Burn's to Pontianak. account British of Pontianak, Library, 12 India February Office 1811 Library and
12 March 1811," pp. 14-15, says Sanggau is 230-250 miles (about 400 kilometres) from Pontianak,
judging by the travel time along the river that the Malays reported.
Archipel 56, Paris, 1998, pp. 273-294 274 Mary Somers Heidhues
Map 1. Malay principalities in West Borneo (in capitals), with principal rivers
Archipel 56, Paris, 1998 The First Two Sultans of Pontianak 275
told by the Tuhfat al-Nafis, married into its ruling family in the early 18th
century. (2) Another brother of this famous quintet, Daeng Pamase, found a
home in Sambas, also marrying into the royal house. The arrival of the Bugis
widened the relationships of the West Coast to include, beside Java, Brunei,
and Banjarmasin, the Bugis networks in Sulawesi, Riau, the Malayan
Peninsula, and elsewhere.
Bugis polities followed the pattern of other, Malay, principalities. These
early states lived for the most part from their domination of trade. Branson's
model of Malay port kingdoms holds for Kalimantan as well ; these ports
controlled the traffic of a rivershed and exercised authority over the
upstream or hulu peoples. (3) Unlike the ports of Sumatra, which also lived
from entrepôt trade (in Bronson's model), the Bornean principalities
depended almost entirely on exchange with the interior. The inland people
collected forest products or raised agricultural goods, marketing them
through the port. In exchange they acquired imported articles : cloth, iron,
tobacco, salt, and the much sought-after large Chinese earthenware jars,
called tempayan, from the ruler who controlled the port. Apart from gold
dust and diamonds, rattan, beeswax, and sago were important export
products in the 18th century, mostly for the Asian market. Naturally, the
rulers manipulated trade for their own profit, but the relationship was
essential to the existence of all participants, whether upstream or
downstream. An embargo from either side could seriously affect the other. (4)
The ruler, members of his family, and his retainers also held appanage
rights over the inland peoples. An appanage-holder could require his people
to pay certain taxes in kind, to provide corvée labor, and to deliver fighting
men and bearers in wartime.
One principality might gain hegemony over its neighbors, but such a
"system" was highly insecure, for neighbors might use force to escape
demands. In addition, the upstream-downstream relationship was unstable :
the hulu people might conspire to trade with another port by traveling
overland. They pick up and move away altogether. Instability
2. Raja Ali Haji, The Precious Gift (Tuhfat al-Nafis). Virginia Matheson and Barbara Watson Andaya,
trans. Kuala Lumpur, Oxford University Press, 1982. For a comprehensive, edited edition of the Hikayat
Upu Daeng Menambun, see Fritz Schulze, Die Chroniken von Sambas und Mempawah : einheimische
Quellen zur Geschichte West-Kalimantans. Heidelberg, Groos, 1991.
3. Bennet Bronson, "Exchange at the Upstream and Downstream Ends : Notes toward a Functional
Model of the Coastal State in Southeast Asia, " in Economic Exchange and Social Interaction in
Southeast Asia. Karl L. Hutterer, ed. Ann Arbor, Michigan Papers on Southeast Asia, 1977, pp. 39-52.
4. Cf. Burn, p. 17, who points out that if there was a dispute with Pontianak, Sanggau could use a trade
embargo to force Pontianak to give in. This device worked in both directions.
Archipel 56, Paris, 1998 276 Mary Somers Heidhues
increased in West Borneo toward the end of the 18th century when Chinese
gold miners, brought in by the rulers of Sambas and Mempawah to work
their mines, escaped the appanage system and became independent of the
courts. They also began to control the trade and labor of the Dayaks, which
caused revenues of the ports to fall and appanage-holders to become
dissatisfied. (5)
These states also engaged in piracy. (6) Often the younger brothers of the
ruler, or his sons, were especially active in capturing ships, plundering
wrecks, and disposing of the crew members or selling them as slaves.
Toward the end of the 18th century, the Dutch and other Western nations
with interests in the area turned their attention more and more to the question
of suppressing what they saw as criminal acts, but what the local ruling
houses saw as a complement to trade.
The ability of rulers to increase their wealth and territory was a question
of luck and statecraft. The latter included finding allies who would support
their aspirations.
Pontianak had only recently been founded, on 23 October 1771,(7) by the
son of an Arab immigrant. The first Alkadri, Syarif Abdulrahman (r. 1771-
1808), and his son and successor, Syarif Kassim (r. 1808-1819) utilized the
trappings of Malay sultanates but put their own imprint on Malay statecraft,
and they used, in a way few of their peers could, their personal relations with
Westerners to both manipulate them and to hold them at a distance.
Abdulrahman and his successors enhanced their own power by drawing on
the influence of the Dutch. This was a " recurring theme " in the history of
native kingdoms, the " attraction between a powerful center and a state on its
periphery. "(8) Not only the Westerners, however, proved to be useful allies.
During the last years of the Dutch East India Company (VOC,
Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie), the Company established, or tried to
5. See Muhammed Gade Ismail, "Politik perdagangan Melayu di kesultanan Sambas, Kalimantan Barat;
masa akhir kesultanan 1808-1818". Unpublished MA thesis. Jakarta, Fakultas Pasca Sarjana, Universitas
Indonesia, 1985 and his "Trade and State Power : Sambas (West Borneo) in the Early Nineteenth
Century ", in State -and Trade in the Indonesian Archipelago. G.J. Schutte, ed. Leiden : KITLV Press,
Working Papers 13, 1994, pp. 141-149.
6. The reader will recall : Denys Lombard, "Regard nouveau sur les 'pirates Malais' première moitié du
XIXe siècle," Archipel 18 (1979), pp. 231-249.
7. Pontianak currently celebrates its founding on that date. Many sources give 1772 as the founding date.
8. J. van Goor, " Seapower, Trade and State-Formation : Pontianak and the Dutch, " in Trading
Companies in Asia, 1600-1830. J. Van Goor, ed. Utrecht : HES Uitgevers, 1986, pp. 83-106 (here pp. 83-
84). See also his "A Madman in the City of Ghosts : Nicolaas Kloek in Pontianak," Itinerario 1985 II,
pp. 196-211.
Archipel 56, Paris, 1998 The First Two Sultans of Pontianak 277
establish, relations with the rulers of West Borneo. In the 17th century, the
Company had had a station in Sukadana, to purchase diamonds and gold, but
abandoned it for lack of profit. In 1778, it made contact with Abdulrahman
and with Pontianak, located at the confluence of the two great rivers that
drain most of West Borneo, the Landak and the Kapuas (sometimes called
Kapuas Kecil or Little Kapuas, because the river divides into several arms at
its delta) [Map 2].
Pontianak's founder and first sultan was a individual of striking character
" perhaps the most unusual man that Borneo ever and, in the words of Veth,
produced". (9) Abdulrahman was in his mid-thirties when the VOC's
commission arrived, and its chief, Nicolaas Kloek, described his appearance
as follows : well-proportioned, about 5 1/2 feet tall (167 cm), with a
prominent nose in a "European" face, dark brown "burning" eyes, which he
cast down if anyone looked hard at him. Given to the female sex, he already
had four wives, and many concubines and children, none of whom he
trusted. Abdulrahman was a proud man, but he lacked the means to support
his vanity and his extensive household.
Kloek also reported that the sultan was, on the one hand, open and polite
in dealing with his subjects, always attending public deliberations in person.
Afterwards, however, he reached decisions on his own, implementing them
speedily. He was open to changing his mind and his disposition. A lover of
guns and a good warrior, he could smile while killing a man. He nevertheless
lived in fear of enemies. (10) Abdulrahman was also a pious man; he visited
the grave of his father in Mempawah annually. Neither he nor his son used
opium, betel, or tobacco. (n)
Complementary to VOC sources on the first Alkadris is the extended
account of J. Burn, a ship's captain and an informant of Raffles. Little is
known about Burn himself, apart from the fact that he was in Pontianak for
several years, beginning before 1808 and lasting at least until 1811, at a time
when neither the Dutch nor the British had an official representation there.
He claimed, in his writing, to be a close associate of both sultans, and most
9. P.J. Veth, Borneo's Wester-Afdeeling : Geographisch. Statistisch. Historisch. Vol. I.- Zalt-Bommel,
Joh. Noman, 1854, Vol. II, 1856.
10. ARA VOC 3524, Letter of Kloek to Batavia, 29.8.78.
11. On opium, J. Hunt, "Sketch of Borneo or Pulo Kalamantan, communicated by J. Hunt Esq. 1812, to
the Honorable Sir T.S. Raffles, late Lieut. Governor of Java," in J.H. Moor, Notices of the Indian
Archipelago and Adjacent Countries. Singapore, 1837, repr. London, Cass, 1968, pp. 12-30 (however,
betel plays a role in an incident related below).
Archipel 56, Paris, 1998 278 Mary Somers Heidhues
Chinese Kampong
JSf Dutch Fort
Map 2. Pontianak and its surroundings, from a map of 1822
Archipel 56, Paris, 1998 The First Two Sultans of Pontianak 279
writers on West Borneo, including Veth's well known account, cite a brief
version of his report. (12)
Burn notes other characteristics of the Sultan, from his older days.
However much he was a spendthrift, he was also clever at masking his
insolvency. Burn reports, "as the Sultaun was uncommonly respectable in
his appearance, and possessed of a most insinuating, and also a most
imposing address, to which he always added the appearance of wealth and
prosperity" it was easy for him to continue to get loans, even though his
debts grew and grew, "...being a perfect master in all the arts and craft and in
fact also of every species of deception, and yet at the same time he allowed
the Buggis to defraud him of his dutys, and lent to the Arabs and other of the
Religious imposters who preyed upon him large sums of money which they
never thought of repaying him, at the same time selling goods at a large
discount in what he had purchased them for, and in fact did many infamous
things to raise money..." (13)
Rise of Pontianak
Around 1730, the ancestor of the Alkadris, Sayid Syarif Husein bin
Ahmad Alkadri, had arrived in the area, settling first in Matan, not far from
Sukadana. His origin - the Sayids claim descent from the Prophet
Mohammed - lent him authority in religious matters and so much influence
at court that he could marry the mother of the ruler of Matan, a former slave
who was probably of Dayak origin. He moved in 1750 to Mempawah, where
the panembahan (the title of a ruler lower than a sultan), the son of
Mempawah's founder Daeng Menambun, took him in. Syarif Husein's first
son, known sometimes as Yusuf, but usually by his formal name of
Abdulrahman, was born there in 1742. (14>
An often-repeated tale of Abdulrahman' s youth illustrates both his
cleverness and his irreverence. One evening, while his father was organizing
the prayers for a dead man in the home of the deceased, Yusuf crept under
the house, poked a stick through the floorboards, and raised the corpse,
from 12. Burn this (note account, 1). as Veth, excerpted Borneo's in Dr. Wester-Afdeeling, Leyden, "Sketch Vol. of Borneo," I, chapters VBG six and VII seven, : XI (1814), quotes pp. extensively 27ff ; this
also appeared in J. H. Moor, Notices, pp. 93-109. Burn's account is, however, much longer, over 150
13. Burn, pp. 53-54.
14. J.T. Wilier, "Eerste Proeve eener kronijk van Mampawa en Pontianak," TBG III, (1855) 516-562 and
VI (n.s.III) (1857), pp. 69-74. Wilier cites "official documents" and also had access to the genealogy of
the Alkadris.
Archipel 56, Paris, 1998 280 Mary Somers Heidhues
which was covered with a cloth, upright. The mourners fled in terror, leaving
the deceased unburied until the stench forced Yusuf to admit his prank. O5)
Yusuf nonetheless married well ; his first wife was a daughter of Daeng
Menambun and a sister of the ruler of Mempawah. Abandoning, at least
temporarily, life at court, Yusuf recruited a corps of followers and, at the age
of 22 (in 1764), set out to sea. His second voyage took him to Banjarmasin,
where he remained for some time, marrying there a daughter of the sultan,
who bestowed on him the title of Pangeran Abdulrahman. (16> In all,
Abdulrahman was to have at least 22 wives or concubines and 67
children. (17)
Success in trade enabled him to fit out a larger ship with enough weapons
to prey successfully on Dutch, English, and French ships, and he attracted
more followers. He visited Kutei, Pasir, Palembang, and other ports, but not
Java. He was a man of courage, but applied his talents " in executing plans
by no means honorable. " His father did not approve of this freebooting
son. O8)
By this time, Syarif Yusuf was persona non grata in Banjarmasin, and he
had left the town without taking his wife and children, never to return. (19)
Years later, the Dutch would intervene with Banjarmasin to bring Yusuf 's
family to Pontianak. Returning to Mempawah with his prizes and hoping for
reconciliation with his father, Abdulrahman found that the father had died
some weeks before. (2°)
Yusuf 's temperament made him unwelcome in Mempawah and his
brother-in-law the panembahan was probably relieved when he soon
departed. No one is sure what Abdulrahman intended when he sailed with
his men from Mempawah : some accounts say he intended to settle in, or do
15. Veth, Borneo's Wester-Afdeeling, pp. 250-51 ; W.L. Ritter, "De oorsprong van Pontianak," TNI II : 1
(1839), pp. 401-427. Ritter's account is from Leyden, "Sketch," with added imagination, and ultimately
is "Seapower," taken from p. Burn. 93, recounts The pedigree this and of another these accounts tale about is almost stealing as goats. long as that of the Alkadris. Van Goor,
16. Wilier, "Proeve," p. 521 ; Burn, p. 39. The elevation to pangeran may have been the occasion for
adopting the name of Abdulrahman. Palm (see below), who knew him personally, insists that his name
was not Yusuf at all, only " The name of the prince in Pontianak is Pangerang Sayid
Sarieph and in no way Sarieph Joseph.. .as Heer Kloek pretends in his correspondence." Appendix to
notes of Palm on his trip to Pontianak and Landak in 1779 in " Beschrijving van 't groot Eyland Borneo,"
" Beschrijving van het eiland Borneo, voor zoover hetzelfde Manuscript KITLV. Cf. C.L.M. Rademacher,
"Yusuf" (p. tot nu toe bekend is," VBG II (1780), pp. 107-148. Radermacher however persists in using
17. According to Wilier, "Proeve". Other sources, such as J. Hunt, "Sketch of Borneo," p. 16, raise the
figure to over seventy children.
18. Burn, p. 40.
19. Wilier, "Proeve," pp. 521-22.
20. Burn, pp. 40-43.
Archipel 56, Paris, 1998 The First Two Sultans of Pontianak 281
battle with, Sanggau. Others point to the strategic location of Pontianak as
reason enough to move there. One report relates that Sanggau had invited
him to settle at the confluence of the rivers in order to protect upriver trade
against pirates.
Whatever his goal, Abdulrahman acted decisively. He entered the
Kapuas, sailing upstream to the point where it meets the Landak River, and
anchored there for the night. An island at this junction [Map 2] appeared
uninhabited, but was said to be haunted by pontianak, sl female ghost that
befalls women in childbirth (or, in some versions of the myth, entices men to
their doom). In spite of Pontianak's reputation, his followers agreed to settle
there. Abdulrahman then surrounded the island with his ships, bombarded it,
landed, alone, and cleared a place to spend the night in a small hut he built.
Pontianak's first permanent structure would be a mosque on that island. (21)
The settlement grew rapidly, but local people mocked the newcomer and
his island kingdom. How could he succeed, when he controlled neither
Dayaks nor Chinese ? The reference was, on the one hand, to the necessity of
having Dayaks for a trade and tax base and as laborers and fighting men. The
Chinese were important because they mined the gold. Abdulrahman however
gradually acquired both, enhancing the value of Pontianak's strategic
Alliance and Expansion
Initial help came from Raja Haji, a Bugis of Riau, who helped
Abdulrahman to sack Sanggau, conferred on him the title of "sultan", and
cemented the alliance by marrying his sister. Retreating from the joint
expedition to Sanggau, Abdulrahman set up a fort at Pulau Jambu on the
Kapuas to block the southern route to the sea that favored Sukadana. This
gave him final control of the Kapuas trade and probably weakened
Sukadana. (22> The Kapuas from Pontianak to the sea was however not
accessible to larger vessels, especially when the river was low. (23)
21. Burn, pp. 43-44. Veth, Borneo's Wester- Afdeeling, says Sanggau had invited Yusuf to settle on the
Kapuas, to act as a bulwark against pirate attacks (I p.255 n.l). The ghosts may have really been Bugis
pirates, who used the island as a base.
" Seapower", p. 97. 22. Van Goor,
23. See P.H. van der Kemp, "De vestiging van het Nederlandsch gezag op Borneo's Westerafdeeling in
1818-1819, naar onuitgegeven stukken," BKI 76 (1920), pp. 117-161. "Before the river however lay a
[sand] bank, on which even at high tide not more than six feet of water could be found" (p. 131). In the
early years of its operations, the KPM (Koninklijk Paketvaartmaatschappij) sent its liners to Pontianak via
the southern outlet ; finally, the Kapuas was dredged to make Pontianak directly accessible. The story is
also told that a European enemy of Abdulrahman tried to sail to Pontianak to punish him for a pirate
attack but was unable to enter the river with his ship, so he had to turn away.
Archipel 56, Paris, 1998