Malay Annals

The Malay Annals (Malay: Sejarah Melayu, Jawi: سجاره ملايو), originally titled Sulalatus Salatin (Genealogy of Kings),[1] is a literary work that gives a romanticised history of the origin, evolution and demise of the great Malay maritime empire, the Malacca Sultanate.[2] The work, which was composed sometime between the 15th and 16th centuries, is considered one of the finest literary and historical works in the Malay language.[3]

The frontispiece of a Jawi edition of the Malay Annals

The original text has undergone numerous changes, with the oldest known version dated May 1612, through the rewriting effort commissioned by the then regent of Johor, Yang di-Pertuan Di Hilir Raja Abdullah.[4][5] It was originally written in the Classical Malay on traditional paper in old Jawi script, but today exists in 32 different manuscripts, including those in Rumi script.[6] Notwithstanding some of its mystical contents, historians have looked at the text as a primary source of information on past events verifiable by other historical sources, in the Malay world.[7] In 2001, the Malay Annals was listed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme International Register.[8]

Compilation history

The number of manuscripts of the Malay Annals and its related texts is fairly large. The manuscripts are found scattered over libraries in various countries: in Malaysia (Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka),[9] in Indonesia (Jakarta, Museum Pusat), in the United Kingdom (mainly in London), in the Netherlands (Leiden).[10] Not all of these manuscripts have the same value; some are fragmentary or otherwise incomplete; others are just copies of existing manuscripts, and some are even copies of the printed text.[11] A version of the Annals dated 1612, acquired by Sir Stamford Raffles and coded Raffles MS no.18 or Raffles Manuscript 18, is considered the oldest and most faithful to the original.[12]

There is a possibility that Raffles MS no.18 version has developed from a genealogical king-list complete with the periods of reigns and dates. This king-list subsequently enlarged by various stories and historically relevant material which was inserted into it in suitable places, but at the same time it lost its dates.[13] Unknown Malay texts titled Soelalet Essalatina or Sulalatu'l-Salatina, that referred by Petrus Van der Vorm and François Valentijn in their works Collectanea Malaica Vocabularia ("Collection of Malay Vocabulary") (1677) and Oud En New Oost Indien ("A short history of East Indies") (1726) respectively, could have existed in the form of a king-list.[14]

However, the introduction of Raffles MS no.18 describes that the manuscript originates from another manuscript known as Hikayat Melayu, which may trace its origin to the time of Melaka Sultanate (1400–1511).[15][16][17] The manuscript was brought together when the last ruler, Mahmud Shah, fled the Portuguese invasion in 1511 to Kampar. In 1536, during the Portuguese attack on Johor Lama, where the exiled sultan established his base, the manuscript was seized by the Portuguese soldiers and brought to Goa, Portuguese India.[18] Decades later, in the early 17th century, the manuscript was returned to Johor from Goa by a nobleman[19] identified as Orang Kaya Sogoh. However, historian Abdul Samad Ahmad provides an alternative view, suggesting that the manuscript was returned from Gowa, Sulawesi instead of Goa, India. His argument is based on the fact that during Melaka's era as an important regional entreport, it had established a strong trading and diplomatic ties with regional kingdoms, including Gowa, and some copies of Hikayat Melayu could have been spread to Sulawesi long before the arrival of Portuguese.[20] Another view, from William Linehan, tried to argue that Goa ought to read guha or gua, and that the reference was to Gua, a place located north of Kuala Lipis in Pahang, where a copy of the Annals had been preserved and later brought to Johor and edited there in 1612.[21]

On Sunday, 12th Rabi' al-awwal 1021 AH (corresponds to 13 May 1612 CE), during the reign of Alauddin Riayat Shah III in Pekan Tua, the regent of Johor, Yang di-Pertuan Di Hilir Raja Abdullah also known as Raja Bongsu, had commissioned the rewriting and compilation work of the manuscript to the Bendahara Tun Sri Lanang.[22][23] A year later in 1613, the Johor capital of Batu Sawar was sacked by the Acehnese invaders and Alauddin Riayat Shah, and his entire court, including Tun Sri Lanang and Raja Abdullah was captured and exiled to Aceh. Although Tun Sri Lanang manage to worked a bulk of the Annals in Johor, he completed the work during his captivity in Aceh.

In 1821, the English translation of Raffles MS no.18 by John Leyden was first published in London.[24] Then, it was followed by the edited version in Malay language by Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, published in Singapore in 1831 and the compilation by Édouard Dulaurier in 1849.[25] In 1915, William Shellabear's edition was published. It is considered as a hybrid long text, primarily based on Abdullah and Dulaurier's version but containing extracts from other texts as well.[26] It was then followed by another translation of Raffles MS no.18, this time by Richard Olaf Winstedt in 1938.[27] Another important version, compiled by Malaysian historian Abdul Samad Ahmad in 1979, uses the original title of the text, Sulalatus Salatin. Abdul Samad's compilation was based on three manuscripts that he named as A, B and C, kept in the library of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur.[28] Two of the manuscripts, alternatively named as MS86 and MS86a by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, were later referred in the nomination form submitted for UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme International Register.[29]


The Malay Annals is a historical literature written in the form of narrative-prose with its main theme was to laud the greatness and superiority of Melaka.[30] The narration, while seemingly relating the story of the reign of the sultans of Melaka until the demise of the sultanate to the Portuguese in 1511 and beyond, deals with a core issue of Malay statehood and historiography, the relationship between rulers and ruled.[31] The Annals are prefaced by a celebration of the greatness of Allah, the Prophet and his companions. They begin with a genealogical account of the first sultan of Melaka who is said to be descended from Raja Iskandar Zulkarnain. The Annals cover the founding of Melaka and its rise to power; its relationship with neighbouring kingdoms and distant countries; the advent of Islam and its spread in Melaka and the region as a whole; the history of the royalty in the region including battles won or lost, marriage ties and diplomatic relationships; the administrative hierarchy that ruled Melaka; the greatness of its rulers and administrators, including the Bendahara Tun Perak and Laksamana, Hang Tuah. The Annals conclude with the account of Melaka's defeat by the Portuguese forces in 1511, resulting not only in the downfall of Melaka, but also in the eventual re-emergence of the Melakan-modeled sultanates in other parts of the region, including Johor, Perak and Pahang.[32]

Notable stories

  • The genealogical origin of Sang Sapurba from Raja Iskandar Zulkarnain, his miraculous appearance in Bukit Seguntang, and the famous oath he made with Demang Lebar Daun, the native chief of Palembang.[33]
  • The adventure of Sang Nila Utama from Palembang to Temasek, and the founding of Singapura. The Annals also describes how Singapura got its name.[34]
  • The legend of Badang, a man with an unusual strength who was said to have demonstrated his feat of strength in Sri Rana Wikrama's court.[35]
  • The story of Hang Nadim, the saviour of Singapura when the coastline of the kingdom was infested by numerous fierce swordfish.[36]
  • The fall of Singapura to Majapahit, and the fleeing of the last ruler, Sri Iskandar Shah. He lost the island kingdom after falsely accusing and punishing one of his concubines for adultery. Her father, Sang Rajuna Tapa, who was also an official in Sri Iskandar Shah's court, acted upon his family's holdings, changed sides and opened the way for a successful Majapahit invasion that ousted Sri Iskandar Shah.[37]
  • The founding of Melaka. The last ruler of Singapura, Sri Iskandar Shah fled north and later founded Melaka and introduced court ceremonies, laws and regulations which became the basis of Melaka administration. The Annals also describes how Melaka got its name.[38]
  • The story of Tun Perak, the most revered Bendahara of Melaka. The Annals recounts his illustrious career, from a noble headman of Klang to become the second most powerful man in Melaka' court.[39]
  • The saga of Hang Tuah and his companions. According to the Hikayat Hang Tuah, Hang Tuah killed one of his companions Hang Jebat in a duel that took place at the Istana of Melaka. The Shellabear and Winstedt's versions of the Annals on the other hand records that instead of Hang Jebat, Hang Tuah killed Hang Kasturi.[40]
  • The Legend of Puteri Gunung Ledang. It recounts the story of a legendary fairy princess living on top of Mount Ophir, Johor during the reign of Mahmud Shah and once wooed by the sultan himself.[41]
  • The Portuguese conquest of Melaka.[42] According to the Annals, the Portuguese forces, led by Afonso de Albuquerque, launched a second assault on Melaka during the reign of Ahmad Shah, the first being repulsed by the late Bendahara Tun Mutahir. The assault on the city was great on the first day, and on the second, Melaka fell to the Portuguese. However, according to Portuguese records, Albuquerque's assault on Melaka started on 25 July 1511, (on St. James Day), and the battle lasted for 15 days before the city was captured on 15 August. Also, Portuguese records, especially the ones written by Albuquerque's son, mention that the Melakan Commander-In-Chief, Ahmad Shah, fell on the field of battle. However, in the Malay Annals account, he survived the battle and retreated to a safer place, only to be put to death by his own father.[43]


The Malay Annals have had great influence on the history, culture, and development of the Malay civilisation, which had to confront major cultural transformation through the centuries. Through courtly chronicles like the Malay Annals, the Melakan tradition developed in the 15th century was transmitted onwards and fostered a vigorous ethos of Malay identity. These chronicles became an important source of instruction for Melaka's successor regimes, as they enshrined the sanctity and authority of a Malay ruler (daulat), his role in maintaining the cohesion of the realm, and legitimated the increasingly absolutist visage these states adopted in the competitive environment.[44] The documents were used by Johor to promote the idea that Malacca and Johor were the centre of Malay culture, during competition with Malay polities in Sumatra.[45] Tun Sri Lanang wrote as follows at the beginning of the Annals:[46]

The royal command of His Majesty, "That we ask the Bendahara for the hikayat be produced in the nature of the events and speech of Malay kings and their customs and traditions as well; so it would known by all our descendants who succeed us, remembered by them; therupon will they benefit from it.

As it is known, the Malay Annals and all kinds of other Malay manuscripts of whatever category still remain subjects of the study for the 'people who succeeded' from the time the works were produced. Clearly those works not only tell us about "the nature of the events and speech of Malay kings and their customs and traditions", but something far more deeper and broader than that.[47]


There are a number of English translations of the Malay Annals, the first of which is by John Leyden published in 1821 with an introduction by Sir Stamford Raffles.[48] Another one by C.C. Brown was published in 1952.

See also

  • Gangga Negara, an ancient Malay kingdom that is mentioned in the literature.
  • Kota Gelanggi, an ancient Malay city that is mentioned in the literature.


  1. Ooi 2009, p. 285
  2. UNESCO 2012, p. 219
  3. Encyclopædia Britannica 2014
  4. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, p. xxvii
  5. Encyclopædia Britannica 2014
  6. Ooi 2009, p. 285
  7. Encyclopædia Britannica 2014
  8. UNESCO 2012, p. 219
  9. UNESCO 2001, pp. Nomination form pp. 3–4
  10. Roolvink 1967
  11. Roolvink 1967, p. 301
  12. Ooi 2009, p. 285
  13. Roolvink 1967, pp. 306
  14. Roolvink 1967, pp. 304
  15. Leyden 1821, p. 1
  16. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, p. xxv
  17. Ooi 2009, p. 285
  18. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, p. xxiv
  19. Leyden 1821, p. 1
  20. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, p. xxv
  21. Roolvink 1967, pp. 310
  22. Leyden 1821, p. 2
  23. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, p. xxvii
  24. Roolvink 1967, pp. 312
  25. Roolvink 1967, pp. 302
  26. Roolvink 1967, pp. 309
  27. Roolvink 1967, pp. 302
  28. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, p. xi
  29. UNESCO 2001, p. Nomination form p. 3
  30. UNESCO 2001, p. Nomination form p. 7
  31. UNESCO 2012, p. 219
  32. UNESCO 2012, p. 219
  33. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, pp. 8–26
  34. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, pp. 30–41
  35. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, pp. 47–54
  36. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, pp. 67–69
  37. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, pp. 62–66, 69–71
  38. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, pp. 71–73
  39. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, pp. 89–111
  40. Australian National University, p. Sejarah Melayu
  41. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, pp. 212–215
  42. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, pp. 267–270
  43. Abdul Samad Ahmad 1979, p. 271
  44. Harper 2001, p. 15
  45. Andaya, Leonard Y. (October 2001). "The Search for the 'Origins' of Melayu". Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 32 (3): 327–328. doi:10.1017/S0022463401000169. JSTOR 20072349.
  46. Siti Hawa Hj. Salleh 2010, p. 251
  47. Siti Hawa Hj. Salleh 2010, p. 251
  48. Bastin, John (2002). "John Leyden and the publication of the "Malay Annals" (1821)". Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. 75 (2 (283)): 99–115. JSTOR 41493475.


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