Jambi’s History is Intermingled with Myths

Most countries have fascinating stories of historical characters which have been amazingly embellished. The USA has the story of George Washington and him cutting down an apple tree. Though that story most probably isn’t true, it has little affect on the foundation and documented history of the USA. The Jambi Province, however, never having documented it’s history until the 1900’s, has many orally transmitted myths (folklore) that have formed its history.

The history of the Jambi Province is built upon the story of a man (Datuk Paduka Berhala) who was said to have come from Turkey, Iraq, or Egypt. That man was said to have married the reigning Jambi queen at that time, and from that couple all the Jambi Sultans were to have descended.

The below article, written by an Indonesia, was translated by us. It attempts to prove that much of the information about Datuk Paduka Berhala is a myth. The article gives very good reasons why the myth was first developed, and then the writer leaves us with very troubling questions, such as:

  • What is hoped to be gained from spreading these myths about the former Jambi people and its kings?
  • How is it that for centuries this myth has been trusted as being factual, and it has never been criticized by those in the sciences, logic, academia, etc., etc.?
  • Why is this myth, still till this day, promoted and taught as being factual, both in schools, through government literature, and in the media?
  • What is there in this, and in other myths, that we should pick out as being factual?

Our blog post, which itemizes discrepancies in the record about Datuk Paduka Berhala, can be ready by clicking this link.


Datuk Paduka Berhala and Turkey: A Myth

(Author: Nurul Fahmy: translated by C. S.)

You can read this article in Bahasa Indonesia by clicking this link.

Still to this day there isn’t any concrete information, from a detailed study of history that is relevant, which can show the geneology of Datuk Paduka Berhala, the husband of Putri Selaras Pinang Masak. This man was said to have come to Jambi from the country of Turkey, and that he was the son of a great king of an impressive empire. That husband and wife couple were said to have been rulers of the Jambi Melayu Kingdom. Even so, there isn’t a single trace of genealogical evidence, which can be trusted, to prove this man’s lineage. Not only Datuk Paduka Berhala, but genealogical records from Europe about his father are also unable to be located. Thus, the story of Datuk Paduka Berhala coming from Turkey is a myth.

To attempt to prove the story of Datuk Paduka Berhala as coming from Turkey, we would need to explore the 15th century Ottoman Empire, the region now known as the Republic of Turkey. The center of that empire was located between Europe and Asia Minor. At that period of time the Ottoman Empire was ruled by Sultan Sulaiman the Magnificent. This Sultan spread fear in the hearts of many rulers throughout that region of the globe.

The Ottoman Empire was said to posses the most powerful land and sea forces in the world at that time. The authority and rule of this empire spread to vast distances and included; Asia, Armenia, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Bulgaria, Israel, Yugoslavia, Albania, Hungry, and Romania—this was all before its collapse in 1923, in a revolution that was led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a member of the ruling elite in the Ottoman Empire. At that time the Ottoman Empire transformed into the Republic of Turkey.

Up till this present date, the explanation that has saturated the Jambi Province about the origin of Datuk Paduka Berhala has only one source, and that is oral transmission of information (folklore), and should be more accurately defined as a myth. As this myth was perpetuated over a long period of time, it came to be accepted as fact by the entire populace, and continues to be certified as being true until this very day. Ironically, this myth about the origin of Datuk Paduka Berhala, not only is believed and confessed as being true by the general populace, but also by the Jambi government, cultural experts, historians, and those in academia.

This myth can also be found in literature. That work was produced in the Arab Melayu language by Ngebi Sutho Dilogo Priyayi Rajo Sari. It’s title: Silsilah Raja-Raja Jambi Undang-undang dan Cerita Rakyat Jambi (Genealogy of the Jambi Kings, and Laws and Stories of the Jambi People). This author was said to be an official of the 12 Kingdom nation that was descended from Orang Kayo Pingai, the son of Datuk Paduka Berhala.

The Jambi Office of Culture and Tourism made some notes about the above mentioned book in 2009. In those notes there’s no mention of who the father of Datuk Paduka Berhala was, nor his mother. The notes only indicate that he was a son of a Turkey king from Istambul—the largest city in Turkey at that time. There are also genealogical notes in the book of the aforementioned author (Ngebi), in the chapter titled “Pasal Sila-Sila Keturunan Dari Sebelah Turki,” but it only mentions that “Datuk Paduka Berhala was from Istambul” (page 27). There’s no clear and straightforward reference about where that man originated. Dr. Maizar Karim indicates that it’s most probably because the story in the aforementioned book is filled with fantasies that we can’t place trust in as being true.

How is it that for centuries this myth has been trusted as being factual, and it has never been criticized by those in the sciences, logic, academia, etc., etc.? And, what is there in this, and in other myths, that we should pick out as being factual?

We’ll discuss the answer to that question later. First, let’s discuss the different explanations as to who Datuk Paduka Berhala was. There are at least two versions about who he was. Other than the “he originated from Turkey” version, there is a version that says he was Adityawarman, the Melayu king that ruled Pagarayung Minangkabau around the 13th century.

In his blog post titled, “Siapa Datuk Paduka Berhalo?” (Who is Datuk Paduka Berhala?), Professor Aulia Tasman, Ph.D. Pembantu Rektor IV, of the Jambi University, wrote the conclusion A. Jaffar in 1989. He said that Datuk Paduka Berhala is the same as Adityawarman. According to Tasman, as a King of All Kings, the statue of Adityawarman was often worshiped and made into a god by the citizens of his kingdom, who were at that time mostly Buddhists. Later, Muslims considered the statue of Datuk Paduka Berhala as an idol. That professor indicates that this is the reason why the shift in name from Adityawarman to Datuk Paduka Berhala (translated literally: “grandfather / his majesty / that has idols”). This is not a small assumption on the part of Professor Aulia Tasman.

The above version, although interesting and proposed from a different viewpoint than others, cannot be accepted and has been totally rejected as flawed. In the writing, “Kitab Undang Undang Tanjung Tanah, Naskah Melayu yang Tertua,” 2006, professor Uli Kozok, Ph.D. wrote that Adityawarman died around 1375-1377. Based on the ancient writing on the artifact called “Batusangkar,” that was dated around 1375, it was said that Adityawarman’s position as king was then taken by his son, whose name was Ananggawarman. The location of the Pagaruyung Kingdom was in the Minangkabau region, which is West Sumatra. Ananggawarman is said to be buried in that area.

Geographically, the Pagaruyung Kingdom was rather distant from Jambi, making that version implausible. It’s also strange that people of Jambi would call Adityawarman, Datuk Paduka Berhala. At the same time there was an ancient inscription of the Minangkabau people which said they didn’t know who Datuk Paduka Berhala was. However then could the two be the same? And, if it was true that Datuk Paduka Berhala was Adityawarman, then who was Putri Selaras Pinang Masak, and who was the biological father of the four (3) siblings of Orang Kayo Hitam? Orang Kayo Hitam was said to have been the initiator and founder of the Jambi Melayu Sultanate in the 15th century. And, whose grave is it that is located at the top of the hill on the island called Pulau Berhala, which all the Jambi people believe to be the grave of Datuk Paduka Berhala?

The above version of Datuk Paduka Berhala being Adityawarman is truly confusing and vastly different from other stories of the Jambi people. There are also vast differences in the dates and years. The Melayu Jambi Sultanate emerged around the 15th century, while the existence of Adityawarman was in the 13th century, making the previous view next to impossible to have been true. At the time of Adityawarman’s reign it is suspected that he was still a Buddhist, while the Islamic religion was still new and as yet not very well known. Whereas in the classic tales of the Melayu Jambi, it’s commonly mentioned that Datuk Paduka Berhala was the one that spread Islam among the Jambi citizens. Wikipedia mentions that the Melayu Kingdom in Minangkabau transformed into the Pagaruyung Kingdom in the 14th till the 15th centuries, though it’s not known for certain.

Another version about Datuk Paduka Berhala was found in the blog http//perubahan7puteri.blogspot.com  In that personal blog the writer indicates that their name is Amir Al Hasani, and he said that Datuk Paduka Berhala is the son of Syeikh Sultan Ariffin Saiyd Ismail bin Sayid Abdul Qodir Al Hasani Al Jilani, which originated from Baghdad, Iraq. Syeikh Sultan Arifin Saiyid Ismail then married a daughter of an Islamic teacher in the Malaka islands named Syarifah Siti Maimunah binti Maulana Ishaq. From that marriage was born Sayid Ahmad Tajjudin, or also known as Datuk Paduka Berhala. He was said to have actually been born in Pasai, Aceh in 1465 (northeast side of Sumatra). After he turned 20 years old Sayid Ahmad Tajjudin and a cousin of his became Islamic missionaries to South Sumatra.

It is well known that in 1511 the Portuguese had colonized the Malaka islands through war at sea. Balls of fire hurled from cannons weren’t able to be silenced by the Malaka troops. After the war was over and the islands were dominated, the Islamic leaders and teachers began to withdraw from the area and move to safer areas. In the war previously mentioned, Sayid Ahmad Tajjudin fought as an officer in the Malaka military. Because Malaka was defeated, Sayid Ahmad Tajjudin also withdrew to other areas away from those islands. Together with his cousin, they made their exit to the Straits of Berhala in 1513. From there Sayid Ahmad Tajjudin spread Islam along the coast as well as inland. He ultimately married Putri Selaras Pinang Masak.

In 1521 Sultan Demak returned to Malaka with 375 warships. It was said that Sayid Ahmad Tajjudin joined with the returning forces. It’s also said that he brought a contingent of soldiers from Jambi with him. After another Muslim defeat, Sayid Ahmad Tajjudin returned to Jambi. From his marriage with Putri Selaras Pinang Masak, there was born a son whom they named Sayid Ahmad Khamil, or, Orang Kayo Hitam. From Orang Kayo Hitam descended all the Sultans in the Jambi Kingdom until the Sultanate was brought to an end by the Dutch in 1904. The last Sultan that governed Jambi was Sultan Thaha Saifuddin. His life was taken by the shrewd tactics of the Dutch after 40 years of continual conflict.


The below version, although it can’t be trusted in its entirety, is still interesting to study. The above genealogy and explanation mentioned by Amir Al Hasani is very close to being historically accurate. The below version has a close connection with dates and events which took place in Semenanjung Malaka (Malaysian Peninsula), including the changes that were taking place due to the trading at that time with the Middle East.

In several pieces of literature, including the novel “Arus Balik” (The Way Back), the writer being Pramoedya Ananta Toer, said that in the first and second attack of the Demak military forces against the Portuguese, they were joined by Jambi forces. It’s not indicated who the leader of that Jambi force was, but it is suspected to have been Datuk Paduka Berhala. This is because this man had a strong emotional connection with Malaka, and that he was greatly concerned with its affairs, both religiously (since he wanted to see Islam as being dominant), as well as with wanting to see the domination of the Portuguese broken.

If Datuk Paduka Berhala wasn’t the leader on the scene of the second attack, he at least was directly involved and the troops were no doubt assembled and fully endorsed by him. According to Islamic teachings, Datuk Paduka Berhala desired to face the unbelieving (kafir) Portugese and conduct the jihad fisabililah. While this was taking place, Putri Selaras Pinang Masak (the wife of Datuk Paduka Berhala) stayed behind and managed the affairs of the Jambi Kingdom.

Although the efforts to drive out the Portuguese was a joint effort of Demak, Jambi, Aceh, Tuban, Palembang, and other areas, they tragically failed. This failure left a very unsafe situation for the various officers and soldiers that carried out the attack. After this, the military forces of the Jambi Kingdom, along with Sayid Ahmad Tajjudin, was said to have changed their names to prevent from being identified and apprehended. Thus, Sayid Ahmad Tajjudin changed his name to Datuk Paduka Berhala.

Their names were intentionally changed and they cloaked their identity to avoid the pursuit of the Portuguese. It is said that Islam was the primary enemy of the Portuguese that waved their flags with crosses in every area they subdued. Because Sayid Ahmad Tajjudin changed his name to Datuk Paduka Berhala, it is said that he was never captured by the Portuguese. He even died in peace at an old age. He was then buried on the island called Pulau Berhala—the island that is now a part of the Jambi Province in the Tanjung Jabung Timur regency (Kabupaten).

So, which version contains the truth concerning the origin of Datuk Paduka Berhala? They all must be studied a little deeper. The three versions I’ve spoken of are based on textual commentary and are logically close to the events of those eras. Nevertheless, there is still the question, “Why is the geneaology of Datuk Paduka Berhala connected with Turkey, or the Ottoman Empire? What is the correlation and influence that is hoped to be gained from spreading these myths about the former Jambi people and its kings?

These are my thoughts: The myth of Datuk Paduka Berhala first created and broadcast by who-knows-who, was probably to raise the level of dignity and importance of Datuk Paduka Berhala, as well as for the Jambi Kingdom. For an example, the myth about kings (Sultans) at that period of time were intentionally created to give the impression to the citizens that the king (Sultan) was a god. A king (Sultan) was a person that possessed great magical powers and wasn’t to be compared to humanity in general. It is said that kings at that time were equivalent to gods, that is…, a supernaturally empowered human. This myth was spread at that period of time to create legitimacy in the king’s authority over the citizens, and even more so over his enemies.

And about Turkey, as the largest Islamic Kingdom of the 15th century, it’s foremost position of power probably was considered as having the force and ability to defeat and hold back the Portuguese advance. The Ottoman Empire possessed military technology that was the most advanced for that era. In the 14th century the Ottoman Empire had cannons that were extremely fearful, both on the seas as well as land. At the same period of time the Majapahit Kingdom on Java only had small and simple cannons. The Ottoman Empire’s cannons were called Magical Fire. It then became necessary for the Jambi people to claim shelter behind the name of the largest and most dominant empire at that time.

This then is the conclusion I’ve come to for the creation of the myth surrounding Datuk Paduka Berhala. The myth may have proven to have been a successful political myth, since in all the literature about the Indonesian islands, not once was it recorded that Jambi was attacked or harassed by the Portuguese.  This explanation can also be influenced by the assumption that Jambi was only a very small Kingdom, and because of that the Portuguese didn’t consider it as being worth the time to become involved with. In addition to that, the Portuguese was also busy with wars with Aceh. Anthony Reid, in his book “Menuju Sejarah Sumatera, Antara Indonesia dan Dunia” 2010, said, “other than Ache, there wasn’t a single Kingdom on Sumatra that was brave enough to boastfully beat their chest in the face of the Portuguese.

Historical records do not give any indication that there was a relationship between Datuk Paduka Berhala (Jambi) and the Ottoman Empire during Jambi’s resistance against Dutch colonialism. Although Sultan Thaha Syaifudin frequently asked for assistance from the Ottoman Empire against the Dutch, yet not even one time did assistance come. Instead of providing assistance in the form of weapons to Jambi, the Ottomans instead assisted Aceh in their effort against colonialism.

The ancient heirloom of the Jambi Sultanate, which was in the shape of the Turkey Star (Bintang Turki), that now is at the Museum Negeri Jambi, was only a sign that the Ottomans confessed that the Jambi Sultanate was a Islamic Kingdom, and not a sign that they were related via Datuk Paduka Berhala. The Bintang Turki was never seen or touched by Sultan Thaha. It finally arrived in Jambi in May of 2002, via a mediator that gave the gift, from Datuk Haji Muhammad, the son of Haji Abdul Azis, who at that time was living in Johor Baharu, Malaysia.

This then has been the myth of the origin of Datuk Paduka Berhala, and how he is  connected with events in history. Now in the present, that myth is being reconstructed again. People are choosing bits and pieces here and there and adding to is as they see fit.

Don’t allow this myth to drag you down and the truth that it’s a myth cause you to fall over the cliff into nihilism. The duty of a historian is to sort out the historical facts. The cultural expert’s duty is to create an imaginative story that will inspire and become a lesson for the citizens long into the future, primarily for the youth. The youth are the ones that will sort out the black and white shades of this country’s culture. This group of youth must become rational and progressive. Insyaallah.


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