A brush with royalty in Sambas
By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
During a short trip to Sambas, West Kalimantan for the recent Naik Dango festival, I had the privilege to visit Istana Alwatzikhoebillah, the home of Sambas royalty.
With an expansive – probably strategic – view of the river bank, one can actually take a 10-minute sampan ride from Sambas town to reach the palace.
According to my tour guide (perhaps jokingly), if I continued down this river, I would probably end up at the Kuching Waterfront in 10 days.
Whether he was telling the truth or not, the sampan ride offered a different view of the quiet town of Sambas and it was definitely one of the highlights of my four-day trip to witness the Wonderful Indonesia Gawai Naik Dango festival.
The palace complex
Upon entering the first entrance to the palace grounds, the first thing you would probably notice within the palace compound is a huge flagpole in the middle with two large cannons on each side.
Behind the flagpole is another arched gate with a staircase you can climb to get a great view of the whole palace compound facing the river and town.
The old Sambas palace was built by Raden Bima or Sultan Muhammad Tajuddin (son of the second Sultan of Sambas, Sultan Syafiuddin I) and was demolished. The one today was built in 1933.
On the right side of the palace compound is a beautifully constructed mosque, Masjid Jami. Built in 1877, it is said to be the oldest mosque in West Kalimantan.
“The mosque was built earlier than the palace in an effort to spread the teaching of Islam as religion plays a major role in the ruling establishment which also encouraged the building of the mind and mentality of the people,” said Queen Endang Sri Muningsih, who had just finished her prayers and was gracious enough to explain some details about the palace.
Soft spoken and graceful, Queen Endang is the widow of the late Pangeran Ratu H. Winata Kusuma who was the 17th Sultan of Sambas. They had four children together; all except one have left home.
Even though some of the family members still live in the palace, she said that the palace was open to the public to visit. There are seven bedrooms, but there seem to be only two that are open to the public.
The palace has three main buildings connected by roofed corridors. The one on the left side served as the kitchen while the other one was where the sultan used to work. The main building in the middle is open for the public to visit.
As you step into the palace main hall, it is as if time has stood still.
Perhaps the most striking pieces of furniture are the large mirrors facing each other from opposite corners of the room, given by the British and Dutch governments prior.
Almost every inch of the palace walls are decorated with old black and white photos of the sultan and his family members.
Between the door leading to a hallway connecting the bedrooms are two huge vases which given by the Chinese government.
Where the royal family are laid to rest
About five minutes’ drive from the palace is the royal family burial ground.
Having been the caretaker 15 years now, Rusli Muhammad said that his family has been taking care of the royal cemetery grounds for generations.
“I have been taking care of this place for 15 years now. Before this, it was taken care by my father, and his father before him,” he said.
“And when I am gone, my son might take over.”
According to Rusli, the first Sultan of Sambas was buried in the palace grounds while the tomb of second sultan, Sultan Tajuddin and the grave of the rest of the descendants at the royal burial ground.
The lineage of the Sambas Sultanate
The Sambas Sultanate lineage has a long history and can be traced to other kingdoms such as Sarawak and Brunei Darussalam.
Long before James Brooke came to Sarawak, it was once under the rule of the Brunei Sultanate.
When Sultan Muhammad Hassan (the ninth Brunei Sultan) passed away, he was succeeded by his eldest son, Sultan Abdul Jalilul Akbar.
However, the new sultan’s younger brother, Pengiran Muda Tengah also wanted to become sultan, claiming their father ascended the throne when he was born, and thus the new sultan appointed him as the Sultan of Sarawak as it was still under the ruling of the Brunei sultanate during that time.
But when he was killed at Batu Buaya in 1641 by one of his followers, his reign in Sarawak was ended…but his descendants can be found in Sambas.
The Sambas sultanate lineage begins with Sultan Muhammad Safiuddin I, the son of Sultan Tengah.
From him, the Sambas sultanate from Sultan Muhammad Shafiuddin’s lineage has been ruling Sambas for 279 years.
From 1671 to 1950, the descendants of the Sambas sultanate spread to Sambas, Singkawang, Pemangkat, Tebas, Bengkayang, Pontianak and Jakarta.
After Pangeran Ratu H. Winata Kusuma passed away in 2008, Pangeran Ratu Muhammad Tarhan Winata Kusuma, was installed as chief of the royal family.
With a long history that can be traced to several kingdoms and connected to three different countries that we know today as Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia, the Sambas palace is definitely worth visiting as every inch of it has a rich story worth knowing and telling.