Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals)
Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) is one of the most important Malay historical works, and one of the finest literary works written in Malay, that has been handed down in various versions. There were at least seven versions of this text.1
Sejarah Melayu is also one of the first Malay works scholars studied.2 It captured scholars’ attention because of its refined language and depiction of medieval Malay society.3 The work contains essentially tales and anecdotes of the past.4 It is considered a great literary work which gives a vivid picture of past events.5 As Sejarah Melayu was intended for recitation,6 the writer’s skill can be seen in the “simple, lucid and clear style” deemed “exemplary for Malay court prose”.7 Sejarah Melayu is important to Singapore because it includes the tale of how Singapore got its name.8 In addition, the first few chapters of Sejarah Melayu suggest that Singapore has been significant in the Malay world since the 13th century.9
It has been argued that Sejarah Melayu developed as stories were added to a list of kings titled Sulalat al-Salatin (Genealogy of Kings).10 The first Jawi text of Sejarah Melayu in print was published in Singapore and edited by Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir Munshi (Munsyi) in c.1840 for the use of those who wished to learn the correct form of Malay.11 Over the following 150 years, Sejarah Melayu was published many times in manuscripts, printed text and translations. It has also been partially or completely translated into languages such as English, Dutch, French and Chinese.12
Description and significance
Sejarah Melayu has been described as a collection of stories about rulers and their courts, which was written to emphasise the sovereignty and greatness of the Malay rulers.13 The writer focused on the rapid rise of Melaka,14 its rulers and chiefs, and the superiority of the “men of Melaka”. Melaka’s advancements towards economic prosperity, and the importance of its maritime trade were also successfully recorded. In addition, far from being a mere conglomeration of stories and anecdotes, some scholars argued that Sejarah Melayu is in fact a collection of stories about rulers – not only about Malay Rajas but also about rulers in S. India, China, Indo-china, Siam and Java – and their courts.15
For Singapore, this great work is significant because original stories of some of Singapore’s legends are found in it. One such story is Sang Nila Utama’s naming of Singapore as Singapura (“lion city” in Sanskrit) when he and his attendants caught sight of the singha, or lion, upon their descent on the island called Temasek, which he thereafter reigned over. Adventures of the mighty Badang, and the garfish attack on the coast of Singapore are also mentioned.16
More than 30 manuscript copies of Sejarah Melayu exist in the world today. These are kept in various libraries. Key copies are kept in The British Library; the Collection of Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (Raffles Malay 18 version); Leiden University Library; and the National Library, Singapore.17 In 2001, Sejarah Melayu was listed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Memory of the World Register.18
A Dutch scholar, R. Roolvink, believes that Sejarah Melayu possibly passed through several stages of development. It began as a list of kings comprising two or three pages19 which stated the duration of each king’s reign and provided relevant dates.20 As stories were added, this list expanded to become a manuscript. Other tales and anecdotes were added to this manuscript, eventually resulting in the dates being omitted.21
Since different writers, translators and copyists have produced Sejarah Melayu at different times, Roolvink noted the existence of at least seven versions of it: a genealogical list of kings which details the ancestry of Malay rulers, the Maxwell 105 version, the Raffles Malay 18 version, a shorter version, a longer version, a Siak version and a Palembang version. Initially, it was difficult to confirm who the author of this text was as most of these versions were not fully studied.22
Nevertheless, the commonly accepted view today is that Tun Sri Lanang, the Bendahara Paduka Raja (Chancellor of Johor),23 wrote – or at least definitively edited – Sejarah Melayu likely between February 1614 and January 1615.24 This is based on evidence found in the foreword of both the shorter and the longer versions of Sejarah Melayu, as well as in section 12 of chapter 12 in Nuruddin ar-Raniri’s Bustanus Salatin25 (Garden of Sultans – a work composed between 1638 and 1641).26
Scholars faced many problems in identifying the textual history of Sejarah Melayu. This is partly due to the anonymity of its authors, and variation in form and content as copyists were given the freedom to change and embellish the text they copied.27 Furthermore, contents of the available texts are of different value as some are fragmentary and incomplete.28 Yet at the same time, these challenges provide impetus for scholars to continue their research in various aspects of this important text.
In addition to the origin, authorship, date and time of composition of Sejarah Melayu, much scholarly research has focused on a detailed examination of issues such as subject matter, history of the period covered and literary qualities.
1. R. Roolvink, “The Variant Versions of the Malay Annals,” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land-en Volkenkunde, 123, no. 3 (1967): 301 (From JSTOR via NLB eResources website); C. C. Brown, Sejarah Melayu or Malay Annals: An Annotated Translation by C.C. Brown with a New Introduction by R.Roolvink (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1970), ix (Call no. RSING959.50 SEJ); Liaw Yock Fang, A History of Classical Malay Literature (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2013), 354. (Call no. RSEA 899.2809 LIA)
2. Vladimir Braginsky, The Heritage of Traditional Malay Literature: A Historical Survey of Genres, Writings and Literary Views (Leiden: KTLV Press, 2004), 92. (Call no. RSING 899.28 BRA)
3. Liaw, History of Classical Malay Literature, 350.
4. Roolvink, “The Variant Versions of the Malay Annals,” 306.
5. Liaw, History of Classical Malay Literature, 356.
6. Braginsky, Heritage of Traditional Malay Literature, 127.
7. Braginsky, Heritage of Traditional Malay Literature, 191.
8. Ovidia Ho, “Malay Artefacts from around the World on Exhibit at National Library,” Straits Times, 21 August 2017. (From Factiva via NLB eResources website)
9. John Leyden, Sejarah Melayu (Kuala Lumpur: Silverfish Books Sdn Bhd., 2012), 33–36, 40–46, 56–59. (Call no. RSING 959.1 SEJ)
10. Braginsky, Heritage of Traditional Malay Literature, 96; Liaw, History of Classical Malay Literature, 352; Henri Chamber-Loir, “The Sulalat al-Salatin as Political Myth,” Indonesia no. 79 (April 2005): 131, 133 (JSTOR via NLB eResources website); Shaharom Husain, Tun Seri Lanang: Riwayat Hidup Dan Sandiwara (Singapura: Pustaka Melayu, 1959), 3–6. (Call no. Malay RCLOS M899.2305 SHA)
11. Liaw, History of Classical Malay Literature, 350.
12. Liaw, History of Classical Malay Literature, 350; Roolvink, “The Variant Versions of the Malay Annals,” 302.
13. Liaw, History of Classical Malay Literature, 352.
14. Braginsky, Heritage of Traditional Malay Literature, 187.
15. Brown, Sejarah Melayu or Malay Annals, x.
16. Leyden, Sejarah Melayu, 33–36, 40–46, 56–59.
17. National Library Board, Singapore, Tales of the Malay World (Singapore: National Library Board, 2018), 72, 142, 143, 144. (Call no. RSING 499.28 TAL)
18. “Sejarah Melayu (The Malay Annals),” United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, accessed 8 May 2019.
19. Braginsky, Heritage of Traditional Malay Literature, 96.
20. Liaw, History of Classical Malay Literature, 352.
21. Liaw, History of Classical Malay Literature, 352.
22. Liaw, History of Classical Malay Literature, 354.
23. Chamber-Loir, “The Sulalat al-Salatin as Political Myth,” 131, 133; Shaharom Husain, Tun Seri Lanang: Riwayat Hidup Dan Sandiwara (Singapura: Pustaka Melayu, 1959), 3–6. (Call no. Malay RCLOS M899.2305 SHA)
24. Braginsky, Heritage of Traditional Malay Literature, 93.
25. Liaw, History of Classical Malay Literature, 354.
26. Braginsky, Heritage of Traditional Malay Literature, 98.
27. Braginsky, Heritage of Traditional Malay Literature, 127.
28. Roolvink, “The Variant Versions of the Malay Annals,” 301.
The information in this article is valid as at May 2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.