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Malay history

Riau-Lingga Sultanate

1. The History

Riau-Lingga Sultanate was an Islamic kingdom which was established in Riau Islands, Indonesia in the first half of 19th century. Historically, the existence of this sultanate could be traced back from the history of Malacca and Johor Sultanate. When Malacca Sultanate was established in the 15th century, Riau-Lingga was an area included in Malacca authority. When Malacca collapsed because of Portuguese colonial attack, Riau-Johor Kingdom then appeared to change Malacca position as a political representation of Malay people in that area. At that time, Riau-Lingga was included in the area which was located in Riau-Johor authority.

Further, Riau-Johor Kingdom became weaker because of internal and external factors. The external factor which influenced the most was the conspiracy between the British and the Dutch in the form of London Treaty signed on March 17th, 1824. The content of the treaty was the division of Malay kingdom area into two owners: the British and the Dutch. Malaya Peninsula and Singapore became under the British ownership while Sumatera and Java become the Dutch ownership. The consequence of the treaty was the separation of Malay kingdom into two parts: Johor was in Malaysia and Riau-Lingga was in Riau Islands. Since 1824, Riau-Lingga was legally established and became a kingdom which was separated from Johor. The first sultan who governed Riau-Lingga was Sultan Abdul Rahman Muazzam Syah.

The story of this kingdom establishment was related to the Dutch and the British rule which interfered the internal conflict of Riau-Johor Kingdom family. In 1811 A.D, Johor Sultan, Mahmud Syah III, died and his oldest son, Husin was not in Johor.

Finally, Abdul Rahman Muazzam Syah, Husin‘s step brother, was then enthroned as the sultan with the support from the Dutch, and he ruled for almost seven years, until 1819 A.D. Husin was very disappointed to the inauguration. This conflict was then known by the British and they directly utilized the situation to approach Husin. With the British support, Husin finally succeeded in becoming the sultan and giving Singapore to British as a reward, while Abdul Rahman became a king in Riau-Lingga because of Dutch ‘merit‘.

To express thanks for the Dutch ‘kindness‘, Sultan Abdul Rahman then made an agreement with the Dutch, confessing the Dutch colonial as the highest authority in Riau-Lingga. In other words, it could be stated that actually Abdul Rahman had mortgaged Riau-Lingga to Dutch for the authority that he held. As the compensation, the Dutch then protected sultan and his family. To represent the Dutch, a residential office was then built in Tanjungpinang. Since then, all activities of Riau-Lingga Kingdom were controlled by the Dutch. Every changing of the sultans must be begun with allegiance oath to the Dutch.

In running the government, Sultan Abdul Rahman must have also cooperated with Yang Dipertuan Muda who was in Penyengat Islands, and Dutch Resident who was in Tanjungpinang. Yang Dipertuan Muda was a position which became the prerogative right of Bugis descendant nobles.

In 1832 A.D, Sultan Abdul Rahman passes away. Then, Sultan Muhammad II Muazzam Syah replaced his position. However, because he was often in Trengganu, he was expelled from his position in 1835 A.D. and Sultan Mahmud IV Muzaffar Syah replaced the position until 1857 A.D. Sultan Mahmud governed in a short period. He was expelled by the Dutch when he was in Singapore. Then, the Dutch inaugurated Sultan Mahmud‘s uncle titled Sultan Sulaiman II Badrul Alam Syah to fill the position. The sultan ruled until 1883 A.D, and it was continued by Sultan Abdul Rahman II Muazzam Syah in 1885 A.D. Sultan Abdul Rahman then had a conflict with the Dutch because he did not want to surrender and to be dictated arbitrary. One of sultan‘s policies which brought a conflict with the Dutch was the position of Yang Dipertuan Muda which became under the king. In fact, the position of Yang Dipertuan Muda always became Bugis nobles‘ right. Sultan also took a different way from his grandfather who cooperated with the Dutch. Then, he preferred leaving Penyengat Island which became the center of Riau-Lingga Kingdom at that time, and going to Singapore to giving up and being managed by Dutch. Finally, on February 3rd, 1911, Riau-Lingga Kingdom was abolished in absentia by Dutch, and it was then governed under Dutch colonial directly.

2. The Sultans  of the Sultanate

Here are the names of the sultans who had ruled in Riau-Lingga:

  1. Sultan Abdul Rahman Muadzam Syah (1818-1832 A.D)
  2. Sultan Muhammad II Muadzam Syah (1832-1835 A.D)
  3. Sultan Mahmud IV Mudzafar Syah (1835-1857 A.D)
  4. Sultan Sulaiman II Badarul Alam Syah (1857-1883 A.D)
  5. Sultan Abdul Rahman II Muadzam Syah (1883-1930 A.D)

3. The Sultanate Period

The period of Riau-Lingga Kingdom was relatively short, only about a century. It was established because of the Dutch colonial role, and then it was collapsed by the Dutch. During a century, five sultans had ruled. Each sultan had different relation pattern from the Dutch government. Amongst them, there were sultans who chose to compromise, but there were also sultans who preferred to fight the Dutch to defend their self-esteem as the Malay people.

4. The Sultanate Territory

The region which was under the rule of Riau-Lingga Kingdom included a quite large area which consisted of Johor, Pahang, Riau, and Lingga. The central kingdom at first was in Daik, and then it was moved to Penyengat Island. There were two main governmental controllers. The first one was the Kingdom of Yang Dipertuan Besar (sultan), and the second one was the Kingdom of Yang Dipertuan Muda. The Kingdom of Yang Dipertuan Muda was located in Piring City, so it was also recognized as Piring City Kingdom (located in Biram Dewa [Malim Dewa] Island Bintan). Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Yang Dipertuan Besar was located in Daik-Lingga. Then, it was moved to Penyengat Island in 1900 A.D. The kingdom existence in Piring City in the period of Riau-Lingga Kingdom actually is still in debate because some people said this kingdom had already collapsed in 1784 A.D, a quarter century before the establishment of Riau-Lingga. However, other sources said this kingdom still existed until 1884 A.D. It means that this kingdom still existed in Riau-Lingga period.

5. The Sultanate Structure

The highest structure in Riau-Lingga Kingdom was held by Sultan (Yang Dipertuan Besar). However, in reality, it was the Dutch who held the highest authority. In running the government, the sultan must have cooperated with Yang Dipertuan Muda who was in Penyengat Island, and also the Dutch regent who was in Tanjungpinang. Every decision of sultan and Yang Dipertuan Muda must have the agreement from the Dutch regent in Tanjungpinang.

Another thing that shows the strength of the Dutch influence was the obligation of every new sultan to say allegiance oath to the Dutch when he was inaugurated. In this way, it was the Dutch who actually ruled the government, not the sultans.

In running the government, the sultans were also helped by some counselors, clerks, kadli, custom officers, and other officials. In religious life, some famous Moslem theologians from Riau-Lingga appeared. One of them was Haji Ja‘far bin Encik Abu Bakar. He studied theology in Mecca and he was in the same grade with KH. Hasyim Asyari, a theologian from Java who established Nahdlatul Ulama organization. According to a source, there was someone saying that Haji Ja‘far had ever been a secretary of Rusydiah Club.

6. Social-Cultural Life

Among Malay sultanates which had ever established in Riau, Riau-Lingga Sultanate was the only one which gave the biggest contribution in the development of Malay language, especially in the written language. That role was clearly seen in the second half period of the 19th century, when this sultanate was reaching its victory period. At that time, the intellectual life developed rapidly. It was supported by the increasing trade development, so the income from this sector could help the development of other sectors. The trade relation at that time was clearly related to India, China, Siam, Java, and Bugis.

Amongst the intellectual figures who became the most recognized figure from Riau-Lingga era was Raja Ali Haji (1809-1873), a poet, historian, and theologian who lived in Penyengat Island. The themes of his work vary and still can be read until now. Those themes include literary, religion, philosophy, government, language, and history. Some work of Raja Ali Haji are: Syair Siti Shianah, Syair Awai, Gurindam Dua Belas, Tuhfat al-Nafis, Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa, Bustan al-Katibin, Silsilah Melayu dan Bugis, and many other books. Bustan al-Katibin and Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa are the first two books which explain Malay grammar scientifically.

One of civilization characters which was influenced by Islamic doctrine was the distribution of the skill and tradition of writing and reading in all society, not only in the kingdom. This character could also be found in Riau-Lingga. At that time, besides the kingdom nobles, many common people also became the authors. For example, a fisherman named Encik Abdullah wrote a book about people‘s marriage in Penyengat Island. Another author was Khatijah Terung who also wrote many books. One of his work was a book which discussed about a sexual relation of husband and wife, titled Kumpulan Gunawan. The increasing development of writing literature in Riau-Lingga was also supported by the existence of supporting media, such as printing office and discussion group. The printing and publishing office which was established at that time is Mathbaah al-Riauwiyah which operated since around 1890, while the most famous discussion group was Rusydiah Club which produced many Malay intellectuals.

Writing increased a lot in Riau-Lingga, especially in Penyengat Island along with the removing of Sultan Abdul Rahman Muazzam Syah to that island in 1900 A.D. Eleven years later (1911), the situation changed. Sultan had a conflict with Dutch and did not want to sign the contract to obey the Dutch. Finally, sultan followed by the kingdom nobles and authors moved to Singapore. Along with that, the intellectual life in Penyengat Island also decreased and faded away. Thus, Riau-Lingga Sultanate finally disappeared and became history.


  • Universitas Riau Team. 2004. Riau History
  • Wikipedia

Photo credit: Mahyudin Al Mudra Collection


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