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  • Nasehat:Distance and Authority in a Malay Sultanate
  • William R. Roff (bio)

The paper I never wrote: an occasional series#

While teaching at the University of Malaya in the late 1960s someone gave me an introduction to Captain Muhamad Ali, Controller of the Royal Household in Pahang. Sniffing the possibility of archives, on my next vacation I went to the little town of Pekan, the Royal town of Pahang, situated on a down river reach of the Pahang River. I found Captain Ali—a tall and athletic man in, I think, his early 70s—in the Pejabat Pahang. The Pejabat, with its yellow, stuccoed facade emblazoned with the words Pejabat Sultan, was not large, but fairly tall and it contained a series of large wooden almeirahs. On top of these were stacked bundles of what appeared to be files, some in considerable disrepair. I asked Captain Ali what these files were and learned that they were the official records of the Sultan's office from its inception in 1912 until after the Second World War. I asked Captain Ali whether it might be possible to examine the papers. He said that he would arrange an audience for me with His Royal Highness the Sultan. The audience that resulted was in fact very informal and relaxed. The Sultan, working in his private office in one of the smaller istana, was dressed as any Malay kerani would be in kain, baju and songkok. I explained to him who I was, what I did, and that I thought the papers in the Pejabat Sultan were of great historical value. I asked whether I might have his permission to rescue the bundles of files from their resting place on top of the almeirahs, to clean the mup, re-tie broken bundles and—so far as I could—list their contents. The Sultan readily agreed and I returned to Captain Ali with this permission.

My time in Pekan on this occasion was somewhat limited, but I recall making some sort of listing of the papers which I submitted to His Royal Highness with a copy sent to the Malaysian National Archives.

While working on the Sultanate papers I came to realize fromcross-references that there was formed in the late 1920s, during Sultan Abdullah's rule, a Majlis [End Page 99] Anggota Islam modelled perhaps on the Majlis Agama in Kelantan formed a decade earlier, on which I had already written at some length. The person in charge of the Majlis Anggota Islam from the outset was Tengku Besar Sulaiman, a close member of the Royal family. Tengku Besar Sulaiman was still very much alive, so before leaving Pahang on this occasion I went to see him, told him of my work on the Pejabat Sultan records and asked whether the papers of the Majlis were still extant. He said that they certainly were, and showed me a kind of a summer house in the grounds of his own mansion which was full of bundles of papers in a somewhat better state, so far as I could see, than the Pejabat Sultan records. I asked the Tengku whether I might come back to Pekan during the long vacation and work on the Majlis records. To this he readily agreed.

On my next trip to Pekan the Sultan kindly offered me free board and lodging in what was known as the Chiefs' Rest House (Rumah Rehat Orang-orang Besar, I suppose). I worked daily in the summer house getting the papers sorted, and on getting the ones that had been on the cement floor and occasionally subjected to flooding damage cleaned up. As I was there for some weeks—I don't recall how long—the staff of the Tengku's house got in the habit of sending me each morning a mug of coffee and some snacks. The Tengku's house itself, where he showed me round the ground floor one day, was a veritable museum of the Tengku's own past and that of the Royal family—photos and other memorabilia. Given the additional time at my disposal I was able to do more detailed listing of the Tengku Besar's Majlis Anggota Islam...


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pp. 99-102
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