The Sultanate of Kutai (Kalimantan Timur): A Sketch of the Traditional Political StructureUntil the arrival in 1846 of H. von Dewall, the first Dutch civil administrator on the east coast of Borneo, political and economic power in Kutai was in the hands of the sultan and his immediate family. This power was exercised principally along the Mahakam River and its branches. The jurisdiction of the sultan ceased officially at Gunung Sendawar, a small hill, which plays a prominent role in the legend concerning the origins of the dynastic house of Kutai and is located between Melak and Long Iram on the Mahakam. The sultan was forbidden to travel beyond Gunung Sendawar, a prohibition never formally transgressed. Nevertheless, disregarding the spirit of elections called. The sultan bestowed pompous titles on the Buginese as a means of securing their loyalty and this was instrumental in their gradual assimilation (ca. 1860).
Titles were always rather cheap in Kutai, but the 19th century saw such an indiscriminate awarding of them that their prestige became grossly devaluated. There were hardly any standards or norms for the awarding of lower titles. The most important titles were: tumenggung, raden, demang, kiahi. The pembekels, or village heads, were given titles commensurate to their services or years in office. Village chiefs received no salary, but since 1903 were allowed to keep for themselves 8 of the head taxes collected in their area. Dayak and Malay villages had hereditary adat-heads, recognized or appointed by the sultan at a ceremony in which they were given Malay titles. The headmen of new kampongs were appointed by the sultan taking into account the wishes of the people. Only in the 1930's did it become customary for regular meetings to be called by the sultan at which the country's problems were discussed by native and Dutch civil servants together.
The headman's task was mainly that of upholding local adat. Freemen influenced the course of village affairs by pronouncing their opinions at consultations with the village head. This was also the case in Dayak villages, where, in fact, the community was generally ruled by an assembly of village men. The headman had a few real means of power; it was more a question of his persuasiveness and prestige. Neither was he entitled to act on his own in the name of the village; the community was responsible and liable as a whole.
With the breakdown of tribal homogeneity, the power of the village headman was further curtailed. The functions which were main-springs of his power, such as the administration of justice, were gradually usurped by the government. The village chief was thus gradually reduced to the role of executor of the government's orders, and he was no longer a real representative of his people.
Due to these changes there was little interest in the list of candidates for the office of village headman. In order to counteract the obvious disadvantages resulting from this indifference the government, and sometimes the sultan, resorted to the appointment of so-called adat-heads. But their jurisdictional districts were no longer communities in the sense of sharing common adat but were merely administrative districts. This institution therefore proved no help in bridging the gap.
In Kutai, in former times, judgments were pronounced in accordance with the adat book of laws, Beradja Nanti, by the courts at Tenggarong, Samarinda, and Kota Bangun. The chairman and the members of these courts were appointed and dismissed by the sultan. The Beradja Nanti mentions, in addition, the desirability of consultations with the manteri-negri; without which, it is said, the sultan cannot reign fruitfully.The sultans have followed this willing to allow the Dutch to look after the country's interests in as far as their activities did not directly affect them. And the Dutch in turn were not reluctant to take over all sorts of tasks thus greatly increasing their hold on the region. The real power was now in the hands of the Dutch although the sultanate remained technically autonomous and was nominally governed by the sultan and his manteri-negri.
When Sultan Mohammed Caliudin died in July, 1845, the preceeding political order degenerated. Some of the prominent men schemed to usurp power, and the seven year old heir to the throne, Sultan Mohammed Soleiman Adil Chalifatui Muminim (1845-1899), became a pawn in their intrigues. The perdana-manteri (first great officer of state) became regent, but his regency resulted in wide-spread anarchy and lawlessness: criminals were no longer prosecuted, robbery and arson were a daily occurrence and were employed as a recognized means of existence by the followers of princes and lords. Pirates from Balingingi, Tongka, and Tarakan plagued the east coast and the slave trade flourished.
When J. Zwager was installed in 1853 as Assistant-Resident in Samarinda, the manteri-negri informed him in an unanimous declaration that they were powerless to end the prevailing anarchy because they had neither the soldiers nor other means to do so. They speculated on receiving such means from the Dutch. During this period the people of Samarinda repeatedly took up arms to defend and avenge themselves. They formed their own council, composed of the Pau Adu (chief of police), the Sjahbandar (port master) and the Imam (for religious cases). This council tried as well as it could to restore law and order. When the sultan came of age, the Dutch government in 1863 signed a treaty with him wherein the sultan and his officers declared that the kingdom of Kutai was a part of the Dutch East Indies, subject to the Netherlands, and belonged to the Sultan only as a fief. The authority of the Dutch became in this way more official and concretes and at the same time peace and order were restored.
When a sultan dies, his oldest (legitimate) son, the Pangeran Ratu succeeds to the throne. When the heir to the throne is underage than the oldest brother of the deceased king is named regent with the title Pangeran Mangku Putra. In the event that the deceased monarch has no brothers, the great officers of the state act in comnson as regent (patih) and assume the title of Mangku Sukma. Wh the oldest son of the sultan is a child of a concubine, and not of the sultana, he becomes Putra Sukma, never Pangeran Ratu (since he is ineligible for the throne).
For a long time the Buginese enjoyed a singular status in Kutai. Coming from Celebes, they established themselves around 1700 in what is now Samarinda, spreading later through all of Kutai. During the 18th century, and even later, they occupied a virtually autonomous position and were subject to their own Pau Adu, elected by the kepala manang or heads of the important Buginese families of state. However, the man elected could be vetoed by the sultan and new counsel conscientiously, especially in the 20th century. There seem to have been yet a second book of laws in use, namely one for the aristocracy, in which the penalties prescribed ware milder than in the Beradja Nanti. This book of laws fell into disuse as increasingly the laws of the Dutch East Indies were applied to Kutai. (by: J.R. Wortmann | Source: Borneo Research Bulletin, December 1971)
* J.R. Wortmann is a member of the Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology in Leiden, The Netherlands and is currently at work on a study of the history and socioeconomic relations of the Sultanate of Kutai during the period of Dutch administration. Mr. Wortmann resided at Balikpapan between 1947 and 1950, as a member of the Dutch Expeditionary Forces, at which time he established a postal service in Kutai