For a long time we had a short, bony man with black-rimmed spectacles, come to our house for our dirty linen. I remember him for being long in the tooth (though he couldn't have been more than fifty five then) and his distinctly oldy-worldy ways that came with a ready smile. His work-house was in Kuala Trengganu, but his speech belonged twenty-five miles away, in Kuala Brang, the ancient capital. His name, Tun Long, was one that stood out even in a tangle of laundry, because with it came an old title.
The history of the rulers of Trengganu is one that I've been looking at for some while through my less than perfect pair of binoculars. As I twirl the focusing ring left and right, the vision alternates between definition and blurry moments, but I keep reminding myself that I'm looking at things far away, and long ago. I have long held to the belief that the Datuk Bendahara Padang Saujana, Tun Habib Abdul Majid, had arrived in Kuala Trengganu in the 18th century and clambered up the Bukit Putri. But I have yet to come across a concrete source to show that this was true. On the contrary, most records I turn to seem to state that the old Bendahara never actually went there, although he intervened directly in its affairs from Johor.
As we've seen, in 1725 his son Zainal Abidin I became the founder of the present lineage in Trengganu, taking a circuitous route through Patani to Kuala Brang (Tanjung Baru), Langgar, Pulau Manis, and Cabang Tiga, before finally settling in Bukit Nangka (Bukit Keledang), a place now known as Kota Lama (the Old Fort).
Before Zainal Abidin came down from Patani to be installed Sultan, Tun Habib was already deciding the fate of the state by remote control. He sent three men out there — Paduka Laksamana, Paduka Seri Rama, and Paduka Raja. But things didn't work out too well with them, feuding followed, and Paduka Seri Rama became the sole ruler. The Bendahara Tun Habib then sent another man, Bendahara Hassan, to hold the fort in Trengganu, then, after him, came four more to continue this line of control — Tun Zain Indera, and his three sons, Tun Yuan, Tun Sulaiman (aka Tok Raja Kilat), and Tun Ismail. The centre of power was then in Kuala Brang, although, at the time of Zainal Abidin's arrival, the Tuhfat al-Nafis (written by the Bugis Raja Ali Haji) reported that Tok Raja Kilat (Tun Sulaiman) was in control at the mouth of the Trengganu river.
Our man Tun Long could have been a descendant of any one of these Tuns of the 16th century, or, I shudder to think, from even earlier, from the blood of the Tun Telanai people who once ruled Trengganu.
There are names still in Trengganu that show history coursing through the veins of its people. Megat Panji Alam
The three Padukas were sent out by the Tun Habib to wrest power from the Megats, who were not really Sultans as we now know, but chieftians who had local control. The Megats had an anomalous pedigree: some say they were born of royal fathers and commoner mothers, the morganatic marriages of their day. Some say they were commoners with remarkable powers. There are Megats still in Trengganu who perhaps still look at the moon and wonder if it had not, once in the remote past, shone on their most famous ancestor, Megat Panji Alam, as he and his entourage of a few thousand men, marched towards Pahang to take back Tun Teja, the woman he was affianced to, from the men of Melaka. The Megat was killed there, unfortunately, stabbed in the back, as we've been telling young Trengganuers then and now.
The Megats were not royals as we understand them now, so who were they? Panji Alam's father was the local strongman in Trengganu at the turn of the 16th century, and there may be some hints of their provenance when we learn that Megat Panji Alam learned his fighting skills in Perak, under another famous man, Megat Terawis. Panji Alam, it was said, was especially skilled in the art of the lembing (the spear). (The depiction of Megat Panji Alam you see above is from the imagination of my talented young friend Adzakael.)
Before that — in the 15th century — Trengganu was said to have been ruled by a man called the Telanai. We are uncertain if the Telanai was his name or his tilte, but most probably the latter. The Telanai was a very old title, some say dating back to well before the 8th century, to the early rulers of Palembang. But the Trengganu Telanai could have come from Bentan, where the Telanais married into the family of the most famous Bendahara of Melaka, Tun Perak.
The Sejarah Melayu (The Malay Annals) shed some interesting light on the Telanai and gave him a fix in history. The poor man was murdered by one Seri Akar Raja, sent to Trengganu by the then ruler of Pahang Muhammad Shah as punishment for by-passing him and going to Melaka to seek protection from Sultan Ala'uddin Riayat Shah. Ala'uddin, the fourth Sultan of Melaka, was another unfortunate soul who departed this earth prematurely — probably poisoned — in Pagoh (on the Muar river), in 1488, after only a year on the throne. Interestingly, all the Telanai's children who fled to Melaka when their father died (and Trengganu ruled by Seri Akar Raja) were Megats — Megat Sulaiman, Megat Hamzah, Megat Umar.
The past beyond that is hazier still, though some may have been etched in stone. The Batu Bersurat (Inscribed Stone) had names on it, of Raja Mandalika, and Seri Paduka Tuan, who, I expect, were one and the same person, as Mandalika (i.e. district) was not a name but a job description, so perhaps he was Lord of the Manor. And the Stone had a date on it in the Muslim year, 702, and this was AD 1303.
Drawing of Megat Panji Alam of Trengganu, as imagined by Adzakael. With thanks.