Datuk Paduka Berhala Myths

A Legendary Figure Who Forms the Basis for Much of Jambi’s History

Headstone of
Datuk Paduka Berhala.
This stone indicates that his original name was
Ahmad Barus II.
The third line down says “Jambi King Years 1460-1907”
(that is 447 years)
The spelling on the stone is in the Jambi dialect.

Knowing there are many thousands of university students in the USA that deeply desire to learn about Jambi and Sumatran history, I decided to aid them by first learning the language(s), then writing many articles that could be used as a source of reference for their studies.

After several years of language study and arriving at the place where I could begin reading and understanding, I’ve recently become very disappointed, disturbed, and even sad, to learn that Jambi’s history is build on a foundation of myths. Unbeknownst to me, all the while I was researching newspaper articles, books, etc., and assuming that what I had in my hands was factual information, the opposite turned out to be the case. I was very disappointed to have found that the history of Jambi is built on folklore and unsubstantiated oral transmission of myths.

Steps leading up to the grave of Datuk Paduka Berhala. This is located on the Island of Pulau Berhala.

With some events that were said to have taken place, we found sources contradicting each other by as much as 500 years.  We’ve been surprised that this level of negligence has been tolerated by those in academia and the media.

What was the most distressing to realize was that if something is communicated as fact over a long period of time, that information will spread and become a fact. To try to say otherwise would bring rebuke, mockery, and attacks. I’ve spoken with a reputed Jambi historian and he confessed that much of Jambi’s history cannot be substantiated. Even so, that same historian choose to continue writing and documenting information that they knew was not accurate.

The Man with Eight Names

Datuk Paduka Berhala (a title) is one of Jambi’s famous legendary figures. Depending on which source you read, this man’s name was:

C. at the grave of Datuk Paduka Berhala.

  1. Ahmad Barus I
  2. Ahmad Barus II
  3. Slamet Barus II
  4. Ahmad Salim
  5. Sayid Ahmad Tajjudin
  6. Ahmad Qadir
  7. Datuk Putih
  8. Datuk Paduka Berhala

With no sources to work from, history has a way of writing itself, and writers with political or other ulterior motives can twist and turn a story for their own purpose. With myths, who is there that has the authority to say one person’s account is right and another person’s is wrong?

The Man Without a Father

The father of the Datuk Paduka Berhala was said to have originated from one of several locations…depending on which source you read:

  1. Turkey (Istambul)
  2. Egypt, or
  3. Baghdad, Iraq

Grave of Datuk Paduka Berhala

Those who claim that the father of Datuk Paduka Berhala came from Turkey, also claim that his father was Sultan Saidina Zainal Abidin, of the great Ottoman Empire. The problem with that, however, is that the Ottomans never had a sultan with the name Saidina Zainal Abidin. There also was never a son born to any of the Ottoman Sultans with any of the five names listed above, which Jambi historians claim. Jambi’s historical documents also claim that that Ottoman Sultan had two other sons: Abdul Gahfur and Abdul Aziz. Abdul Gahfur, or Abudul Aziz (depending on which source you read) was said to have succeeded his father over the Ottoman Empire, but again, there is no record of any Ottoman sultan with the name of Abdul Gahfur or Abdul Aziz.

Grave of Datuk Paduka Berhala

We did find that there was a sultan from the north eastern shore of Aceh whose name was Sultan Zainal Abidin (Kingdom of Samudera Pasai)

We also found a reference to a sultan from the island of Ternate named: Sultan Zainal Abidin.

Another curious side note is that some sources claim that Datuk Paduka Berhala‘s father was the 7th descendant from the Prophet Muhammad. If that were true, that would add great honor to all the Jambi rulers, for they were all said to have descended from Datuk Paduka Berhala. The problem with this, however, is that the dates don’t match. The Prophet Muhammad died in 632 AD. Datuk Paduka Behala was said to have lived in the late 1400s. It’s impossible to reconcile these dates.

Why was Datuk Paduka Berhala Mythologized?

Below are some assumptions as to why the myths about this man emerged:

The “Stranger-King”

  • Common to Austronesian cultures is the “stranger-king” theme. From Jambi legends we see this played out as they searched their own kingdom for a fit king, and not finding anybody capable to rule, the citizens sent delegates to other countries in search of worthy candidates (click here to read that legend). Having found a potential candidate in a foreign country, and that individual completing all the rigorous tests, he is brought back to Jambi and is installed as their king. This is common folklore throughout S.E. Asia. For various reasons peoples in S.E. Asia considered those from other nations as having better skills to rule than one of their own.
  • Following this “stranger-king” theme, the myth of Datuk Paduka Berhala, as having originating from Turkey was formulated.

The Demigod

Grave of Datuk Paduka Berhala

  • Myths emerged to raise the level of dignity and honor for Datuk Paduka Berhala and the Jambi Kingdom. At this era of time, with so many people never attending schools, myths about kings/sultans having supernatural or magical power were common place. Possessing these powers were believed to legitimatize their authority and rule over the people, as well as to intimidate their enemies outside their kingdoms. These kings/sultans then became supernaturally empowered humans—equivalent to gods.
  • The legend of Datuk Paduka Berhala’s son (Orang Kayo Hitam), and the magical knife is one case in point. That magical knife (Keris Singinjai) was held by every Jambi Sultan until the sultanate was terminated at the beginning of the 1900s. The possessor of that knife was said to posses the magical powers that was associated with it, and the people had great awe and respect towards that power.

The Superpower

Newly built row boat resting on the beach at the north side of the island Pulau Berhala.

  • Jambi didn’t have schools, so apparently feeling inferior and uneducated (compared to many of the more developed nations of that era), they naturally admired and looked up to others. They choose to claim that Datuk Paduka Berhala came from the Ottoman Empire, since it was the “superpower” of that era. This would give their kingdom more prestige, and hopefully even strike fear in the Portuguese and make them not dare to attack Jambi, knowing there could be a possible reprisal from the Ottoman Empire
  • In several of Jambi’s legendary tales there was no person in all of Jambi that was fit to become their king. That being the case, ambassadors were sent to other countries in search of candidates to become their king. The legend that tells how the Batanghari River got its name shows the Jambi’s King as originating from India.

Prophet Muhammad and Islam

  • There is great pride for Muslims to be able to say that their Sultans were all direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.
  • All Jambi Sultans were said to be descended from Datuk Paduka Berhala, who was said to be the 7th or 8thdescendant from the Prophet Muhammad (it’s not possible to prove this claim).

    Tokek / Teke eating a cicak (gecko). There is interesting wildlife to be seen on the island
    Pulau Berhala.

  • Other references don’t say Datuk Paduka Berhala was the 8th descendant, only “a” descendant, although there is no genealogical proof or evidence to substantiate that claim.
  • There is great pride for Muslims to be able to claim that their Islamic kingdom was established and islamisized by a man from the great Ottoman Empire.
  • The claim is that Datuk Paduka Berhala destroyed the Buddhist and Hindu places of worship on the island of Pulau Berhala.
  • He is also accredited with having spread Islam throughout Sumatra. His son, Orang Kayo Hitam, has been given the honor of having done the same.

Avoiding Capture

  • During the 1500s there were wars taking place with the Portuguese. After each Portuguese victory their opposing military leaders were tracked down, executed, or imprisoned. It’s possible that Datuk Paduka Berhala, being an assumed military leader in some of the campaigns, changed his name and alternate stories were made up about him to protect himself from being captured.

Why is Datuk Paduka Berhala Still Mythologized?

Beach on the south side of the island Pulau Berhala.

What is to be gained by intentionally promoting myths of Datuk Paduka Berhala as if they were facts? Why are people reconstructing his history today, choosing bits and pieces of it and adding to it as they see fit?

Even though the tombstone of Datuk Paduka Berhala was installed in 2010, the dates of his assumed birth and death are: 1460-1907 (447 years). Some say he lived that long. Others said he was the Jambi Sultan during those dates. Others, trying to make sense out of those dates, suggested that maybe the dates are a poor attempt at trying to communicate that the Jambi Kingdom lasted from 1460-1907.

We also have documentation that shows Datuk Paduka Berhala living at the end of the 11th century. Other documents indicate he died in the late 1500s. With myths, people are free to write what they desire, and nobody can tell them they are wrong!

Islam

Why the insistence that all Jambi sultans were direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad? Honest writers and serious students can clearly see this isn’t possible to prove. A genealogical link from the Prophet Muhammad to Datuk Paduka Berhala can’t be established. There have already been multiple Muslim writers who have insisted that the connection between the two can not be verified.

Fishing boat on the north beach of the island Pulau Berhala.

Datuk Paduka Berhala is honored today as an Islamic missionary. He’s proudly promoted as having successfully destroyed all the Buddhist and Hindu places of worship, shrines, statues, etc., in and around Jambi.

Serious History Students / Honest Journalism

The situation we faced with Jambi’s history made us ask questions, like:

  • Are university students taught Jambi history?
  • Do these students merely believe everything they are told and what they read?
  • Are students taught and encouraged to employ critical thinking?
  • Are students at liberty to ask questions and sincerely seek facts and challenge what they read and what is taught?
  • Do journalists merely write articles, or do they explore what they write about, by checking sources for the accuracy of the information.
  • Are journalists and media outlets open to hearing and reporting on opposing views?

Don’t Try to Reconcile

We hope we can save students much time and money by not trying to reconcile all these meandering attempts that try to promote Datuk Paduka Berhala as coming from some other country, or even any other aspect of his life. Attempts to reconcile these myths and make them a part of Jambi’s  history is a futile effort.

This sign is located at Pulau Berhala. It confirms what we indicated above, about the myth of Datuk Paduka Berhala’s ancestry being promoted and upheld, even to this very day. Maybe this is being done out of ignorance. Maybe it’s intentional to try to empower people to feel good about their heritage, even if the information isn’t true.

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Most of the above mentioned information we made reference to is available on the internet and can be accessed with a simple google search. We choose not to reference the information we obtained because it’s not our intention to debate, embarrass, or humiliate anybody. We’re merely sincere students searching for facts.

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We’ve written several other articles about Pulau Berhala and Datuk Pulau Berhala. They can be accessed by clicking the below links.

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