To understand a complete picture of Sabah history in it’s general chronology it is imperative for us to understand and be mindful of several important historical dates and their cutting points and their significance…. These centuries and significant years of history are :
(1) The rule of the Brunei Sultanate in the 16th. century
(2) The bestowing of Sabah by the Brunei Sultanate to the Sulu Sultanate in 1658,
(3) The Spanish rule of the Philippines from 1521 to 1898 ( because Spain considered Sulu as one of it’s dominion )
(4) The American rule of the Philippines from 1898 to 1946 ( because the USA also considered Sulu as one of it’s dominion. )
(5) The independence of the Philippines in 1946 ( which made Philippines the real de facto ruler of Sulu and it’s dominions )
(6) The formation of the British North Borneo company in 1882
(7) The becoming of Sabah as a British crown colony in 1946
(8) Sabah ( and Sarawak ) was given independence and formed the Federation of Malaysia in 1963
These historical dates are important to advance our Malaysian case and perspective because it means from 1521 until 1898 the Sulu Sultanate was never an independent state but another dominion of foreign powers. The Sulu Sultanate was only independent and sovereign in so far as from the 15th. century and therefore it’s claim to Sabah can only be valid in as far as from 1658 ( when Sabah was given as a gift by Brunei to Sulu ).
Let me emphasise here that the actions of the Spanish government in the later part of the 1890’s ( when they ruled Philippines ) had made the Sulu’s claim to Sabah to be invalid and I will implore this point and factual history as our Malaysian case in PART 3 of my writings.
HISTORICAL FOUNDATION OF THE BRUNEI SULTANATE AND SULU
The sultanates of Sulu and Borneo were well established political entity in the malay world during the late 15th and 16th century. Infact many Spanish and Portuguese explorers and admirals paid visits to Brunei and described it in their writings.
For instance in 1521 a Spaniard explorer and researcher by the name of Antonio Pigafetta visit Brunei…. He travelled with the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his crew on their voyage to the Indies…. In 1526 Portuguese under Jorge Menezes visit Brunei and recorded the events in his formal ship logbook…
SULU SULTANATE AND IT’S RELATION WITH BRUNEI
The sultanate of Sulu was founded in 1380, nearly one and a half century before the arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines. The sultanate possessed some sort of political organization, extending its influence in Zamboanga, Basilan, Palawan, aside from the Sulu archipelago. During its supremacy, the sultanate extended its control as far as the Visayas and Luzon until controlled by the Spanish conquistadores in the Philippines. For many years to come, as the Spanish colonial government consolidated it as a Spanish territory, the sultanate was to remain a problem by the Spanish and American colonial government (viewed as pirates and buccaneers).
The Sultanate of Brunei, on the other hand, was founded in the 15th century. For a brief period, it became a tributary of the Majapahit Empire. Before the British entry in to the region, the sultanate exercise nominal control over the whole northwestern and eastern coast of the island. Related by its common Malay origin, the two sultanates were bounded together by religious ties with the spread of Islam in the Malay world. Trade between their respective subjects served to reinforce this relationship…..
THE CESSION OF SABAH BY BRUNEI TO SULU ( 1598 )
Although considerable wealthy, the Sultan of Brunei had a court that was corrupt and ridden with vengeance and intrigues. Consequently, the sultan found difficulty in extending control to
many of his datus throughout the domain, rebellion and strife was frequent in thesultanate. It was under this circumstances that the territory, comprising most of what is now Sabah State, was ceded to the neighboring sultanate as the prize for military assistance. The murder of the 12th Sultan of Brunei, Muhammad Ali, by Bendehara Abdul Mubin resulted to civil war. The perpetrator claimed the throne but was contested by Pengeran Bongso, a nephew and son-in-law of the deceased sultan. Both contestants to the throne asked the support of Badaruddin, a relative of both and the reigning Sultan of Sulu. Badaruddin was unable to solve the crisis, but supported Pengeran Bongso (who took the name Sultan Muaddin).
Sultan Muaddin emerged victorious and the large territorial land known today as SABAHA ( former name of Sabah ) was
ceded to the Sultanate of Sulu in exchange of the military help and support.
EARLIER RELATIONSHIP BY MARRAIGE
There is this family ties between the two sultanate even before Brunie ceded Sabah to Sulu in 1698. In 1521 a Brunei Sultan was married to a Sulu princess. This early connection between the two sultanates cemented the familial
relationship. This political marriage developed into a politico-military allegiance.
In 1698 onwards Sabah was ceded to Sulu. For centuries sulu had regarded sabah as it’s dominion. But to counter this argument, when Spain ruled Philippines, it must also mean that Spain too considered Sabah as it’s dominion as Sulu was, for all intent and purpose under the rule of Spain. It does not matter whehther spain had allowed the Sulu sultanate to exist but the de facto ruler of the Philippines were the Spanish.
From 1882 to 1946 Sabah was run like a company by the name and style of North Borneo… The earlier lease by the Sulu sultanate did not allow sabah to be transfered to any foreign power without the sultanate consent.
However our argument is simple – while we recognised that there is such a lease agreement but we submit forth that in 1882, the Sulu Sultanate was not an independent country or a sovereignh power but just a mere entity under the rule of Spain until 1898 and later under the rule of the USA in 1898 until 1946.
THEREFORE, since it is factual history that the sulu Sultanate was not a sovereign and independent power in 1882, then the agreement that it had entered between Sulu and the overbeck and Alfred Dent company is just an agreement between entities with no sovereign status on the sultanate. in fact in my PART 3 of my writings later on, I will emphasise that EVEN THE USA did not recognise the sovereignity of The Sulu Sultanate when USA ruled the Philippines in 1898 to 1946.
In taking that stand we can conclude that the lease agreement between Sulu sultanate and the Overbecks and alfred Dents cannot be said to be preventing the transfer of sabah by the NortH Borneo company to Britain as a British Crown colony in 1946.
( Part 2 to be continued later )
Part 3 of this Article, click here
Part 2 – Continuation, click here
Part 1 of this article, click here
The writer of this article is a session court judge. He may be contacted at his facebook address