About a month or so ago I wrote about the heraldic privileges of the Royal and Hashemite Order of the Pearl of Sulu. Now, I feel is a good time to present a short summary of this very old Sultanate of SE Asia.
Recently, in the October-December 2011 (#44) issue of “Il Mondo del Cavaliere” the official journal of the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry (better known as ICOC), an in depth article on the Sultanate was published written by the Chancellor of the Order of the Pearl, Mr. Andres Linholm. Interestingly enough, the Raja Muda Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram (the Crown Prince of Sulu and Head of the Royal House) graced the cover of the journal.
Though I recommend very much to read the original article in the journal, I will try to provide a quick summary of the history of the Sultanate and some information that may of interest.
The Sultanate of Sulu has a fascinating story that goes back to the 15th century when a Mecca born Arab explorer, Sayyid Abu Bakr Abirin, reached Sulu in 1457. Abu Bakr held the title of “Sayyid” as an accepted male descendant of the Prophet Muhhamed’s grandsons (sons of the Prophet’s daughter) and thus considered to be of the highest nobility in the Muslim world.
After arriving in Sulu, Abu Bakr married Paramisuli, the daughter of the local lord Raja Baginda. As the Raja did not have any male children, he chose to name Abu Bakr as his heir and to continue the Royal House. The local lords accepted the Sayyid as their sovereign and spiritual leader, assuming the role of Caliph and the title of Sultan.
The male descendants of Abu Bakr have ruled the Sultanate for all these centuries from the late 15th century and well into the 20th.
One of the first serious encounters with the European powers was in the late 1600′s during the reign of Salahud Din Karamat (Baktial) when there were a number of invasions by the Dutch, asserting their own rule in present day Indonesia. It should be noted that Sulu after this and throughout the Spanish rule of the Philippines never lost is freedom. Though it was considered a client state of the Spanish Crown it retained its own autonomy and local class system and rule under the Sultan. This pact was solidified in 1737 and in 1750 Sultan Alimud Din was baptized in the Catholic Church as Ferdinand I of Sulu.
This close relationship with the Spanish Crown continued well into the 19th century with accords signed with Captain General Salazar (in 1836) and ratified by Queen Isabel II of Spain. The relationship between the Sultanate and the Spain was reaffirmed a few decades later in 1844 by Sultan Muhammed Pulalun where full sovereignty was ceded to Madrid.
Beyond Spain, Sulu had a close relationship with the British when Sultan Jamalul A’Lam leased his posessions in North Borneo (Sabah) to the British North Borneo Company the possessions for the sum of 5000 Mexican dollars a year.
In 1878, a further agreement with Spain was reached whereby the Sultanate became a protectorate and under the complete control of the Spanish government of the Philippines.
After the end of the Spanish American War of 1898, Sultan Jamalul Kiram II signed a treated with General John C. Bates who was representing the United States in the negotiations. The treaty concluded with the sovereignty of Sulu passing to the United States in 1899.
The transition of sovereignty to the USA was reaffirmed in 1915 with the Carpenter Agreement that Sultan Jamalul Kiram II subscribed to. What is interesting to note here is that even though Sulu was under the administration of the USA, the position of the Sultan was still recognized and the Sultan was even welcomed by President Roosevelt to the White House. This makes the Sultan one of the handful of royals to have ever been recognized by the United States government in US administered territories.
During the Japanese occupation, Sultan Ombra Amilbangsa worked with the Japanese forces who in turn recognized his position as Sultan of his possessions. After the liberation, he worked through Congress to retain his position.
In 1962, Sultan Ishmael E. Kiram I cedes to the Philippine Republic, under the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos, the territories of North Borneo. Later, in 1974, Sultan Ishmael’s eldest son Mohammed Mahakuttah A. Kiram succeeds him to the throne and is is recognized as such by President Marcos and the Philippine Republic. Sultan Mohammed Mahakuttah A. Kiram was to become the last Sultan recognized in law by the Republic of the Philippines.
His son, Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram was named Raja Muda (Crown Prince) at the same time as the coronation of the Sultan in 1974 and also recognized as such the same year by the Republic. The Raja Muda is the current head of the Royal House of Sulu and the current pretender to the Sultanate.
It is indeed odd for a Republic to recognize native royalty and titles of “king” or “prince” however, it is not unheard of. We have seen similar examples in other countries of the world such as Uganda, where local traditional kings are recognized in the constitution, or even European countries where the former royal families are recognized in law.
Unfortunately, due to the relative lack of information from that part of the world, there are numerous pretenders to the Sultanate that range from completely ludicrous to fantastical. However, the only one with a wholly valid claim, the only to have been officially named Crown Prince by the last Sultan and recognized as such in law by the Philippine State is Raja Muda Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram.
One of the main areas of focus of the Royal House is the philanthropic works for the benefit of the people of the Raja Muda’s island of Jolo. The biggest need there is access to fresh water. The charity set up has as a stated goal to accomplish this for the impoverished families of the island. The link to the charity page is http://www.royalsultanateofsulu.org/#!charity
The official site of the Royal House of Sulu is: http://www.royalsultanateofsulu.org/
A good page on the Raja Muda and the false pretenders is: http://www.fakesulusultans.com/
The official page of the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry is: http://www.icocregister.org/
Note: All images from Wikipedia