Saturday, 16 February 2008

Sultan Bolkiah's Tomb

In the golden age of Brunei Darussalam's empire, its territories stretched along the coast of Borneo, to Indonesia and north to the Philippines as far as Luzon Island.

This golden age had much to do with Sultan Bolkiah v(1473-1521), now buried in a splendid tomb in Kota Batu, the old capital of Brunei Darussalam. As the fifth Sultan, he spread the territory of the country to its maximum and led his fleet on numerous voyages to Java, Malacca, and the Philippines where, for a short time, he seized and held Manila.

Known as Nakhoda Ragam, the 'Singing Captain', he died as he was returning home from one of his voyages to Java. One story is that in his declining years he took with him on his voyages a band of artisans whose job it was to prepare royal tombs in remote parts of the archipelago so that, if he died at sea, he could be buried at the nearest site. The finest tomb is said to be at Kota Batu, which holds The remains of Sultan Bolhiah (1473-1521) is of exquisite workmanship carved from hard basaltic stone which was damaged by a round of shots fired from Spanish guns in the 17th century.

Close by is another well-preserved tomb, that of Sharif Ali, the third Sultan who ruled only seven years from 1425-32. He was an Arab who married the daughter of the previous sultan, and upon succeeding to the throne, took the name Berkat.

He built mosques, converted the town to Islam and is credited with sinking 40 junks laden with stone at the mouth of the Brunei River as a defensive barrier. A later sultan was also credited with this strategy.

Kota Batu is an extraordinary site in Southeast Asia, being the only one known to show evidence of occupation more or less continuously for 1,000 years. Discoveries have included coins and ceramics dating back to the Tang Dynasty.