The Sultan’s Palace
When Westerners and people in the Middle East think of the word palace, they imagine huge buildings, marble floors, ornately decorated pillars, elevated thrones, etc., etc. The kingdom in Jambi was never very wealthy, compared to Middle East or European standards, thus there were never any elaborate palaces. Though you may read in some legendary accounts of a sultan’s palace, they were more than likely nothing more than wood buildings. Possibly just their private home.
With a small population, estimated at 60,000 in 1852, the Jambi kingdom never had a large workforce from which to collect taxes, nor to construct a massive palace. The kingdom also was not very united, since small “chieftains” throughout the kingdom exerted autonomous authority.
Though the elaborate Buddhist temples from the 7-14th centuries are still to be seen in Jambi, evidence of a sultan’s 16th – 20th century palace is non-existent.
During the Dutch colonization of Jambi, records indicate that the Jambi sultans relinquished their authority to others and were not directly involved with the administration of the kingdom. Instead, they spent their time hunting and fishing. The following excerpts from the scholarly written Sumatran Sultanate and Colonial State reveals a stark contrast between Jambi sultans and Middle Eastern /European rulers.
The man credited with having “discovered” the temples north-east of the City of Jambi, the Englishman, S.C. Crooke, gave this description of the conditions in the Jambi government : “They have no regular forms of law, police, or government, in any of its modifications; but the sultan is nominally supreme and arbitrary. Ignorant and weak however, in reality, his authority is slighted and usurped by every ambitious chieftain and the kingdom is throughout in a state of confusion and misrule.”
A Dutch official expressed a similar verdict in 1838, after several years’ experience with Jambian administration: “It goes without saying that in a Kingdom in which the ruler concerns himself solely with fishing, hunting and so forth, leaving the affairs (of government) to others, that many irregularities go unpunished.”
“The raja’s [sultan] supernatural status meant that he had few specific responsibilities; this was indeed a sign of his dignity. His everyday occupations were hunting and fishing. He left government to the pangeran ratu [prime minister / crown prince], who, like the sultan, was chosen by members of noble families from the sultan’s family. He ruled in cooperation with frequently powerful ministers and an advisory council.” “…Thus in spite of what was theoretically a pivotal role, he [the sultan] had fairly little authority.”
“And as in other parts of the Malay region, the sultan passed his days fishing and hunting, leaving the pangeran ratu to get on with the business of the government. The Twelve-strong Council, the Rapat XII, was the crown prince’s [pangeran ratu] advisory and administrative arm. Its members were prominent anak raja [sons of the king], including the heads of the four leading noble families.”
A report from the Dutch concerning Sultan Nazaruddin’s home in Dusun Tengah reads thus: “Like so many Dutch officials before him, he shook his head at the shabby surroundings in which he found himself. By European standards the sultan was poverty-stricken.”