Prince of Pirates: The Temenggongs and the Development of Johor and Singapore, 1784-1885 offers an original and highly provocative reinterpretation of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Malaysian history, revealing continuities between pre-colonial and colonial periods that have been obscured by attention given to the European intrusion. No country’s history is so well documented yet so poorly understood as that of a former colony. Singapore and Malaysia are particular victims of this historical paradox, and Carl Trocki’s account of the history of Johor and Singapore marks a decided advance in Malaysian scholarship.
This new edition includes a fresh introduction by the author that positions the study within subsequent literature on Malaysian history, the Chinese migration, the opium trade and the history of the British Empire in Asia. It also explains the role the book played in pioneering a number of important initiatives in Malaysian studies.
Prince of Pirates: The Temenggongs and the Development of Johor and Singapore, 1784-1885 begins with an examination of the Malay/Bugis entrepot of Riau in order to establish the status of the Malay State system at the end of the eighteenth century. Following the fall of Riau in 1784, there was a period of general disorganization and warfare in the archipelago which persisted well after the foundation of Singapore in 1819.
The history of the dynasty of the Temenggongs of Johor provides certain threads of continuity through this period of chaos. The most important representatives of the line were the nineteenth-century Temenggongs: Abdul Rahman (r. 1806-25), Daing Ibrahim (r. 1841-62), and Abu Bakar (r. 1862-95).
This group of Malays was closest to the agencies of change. The impact of the British was felt first by those Temenggongs who occupied Singapore together with them. Not only were these chiefs the first to exhibit the effects of the British influence but they themselves also had a substantial influence on the manner in which the power of Singapore was exerted in the surrounding Malay states.
However, the dynastic continuity that the Temenggongs represent is, in itself, insufficient. It is important to examine not the history of a state called Johor, or a territory called Johor, but of the political and economic institutions that sustained the Malay empire “below the wind”. Both Singapore and Johor shared, in some respects, the heritage of the Malay maritime empire. Thus, what is important here is the history of the relationship between Johor and Singapore and, finally, with the rest of the world.
Temenggong Abdul Rahman was a sea lord, like most of the major Malay chiefs of his era. Before the founding of Singapore, he lived at Riau and Bulang and appears to have functioned as an official of the Riau entrepot under its Bugis rulers. Riau was a part of the ancient Kingdom of Johor, the maritime state which had dominated the southern part of the Malay Peninsula and eastern Sumatra since 1512. Abdul Rahman’s domain has been styled a parentah in one Malay source. It was not really a state (or negeri) but a part of a larger political unit which at that time was very fragmented. There were then about five or six such groupings. Abdul Rahman’s perentah consisted of a ring of islands in the northwestern part of the Riau Archipelago and included Singapore and a portion of the Johor coastline. There were about ten island suku of sea peoples living here who owed allegiance to the Temenggong. They may have numbered close to 10,000 at most, and were probably less.
There was, in fact, no “state” in the area now called Johor. At this time, “Johor” referred only to a vague geographical area, much of it insular. There Was nothing of great importance on the land in any case. The Temenggong’s government was really the sea peoples.
The phenomenon of piracy is indicative of the peculiar nature of the ancient Johor kingdom. It was essentially a maritime state. The major political and economic concerns of its rulers were the sea peoples of the Riau-Lingga Archipelago and the international trade route which passed through the Straits of Malacca. The state centred on a trading entrepot. This was the essence of the Classical Malay state. The Riau entrepot of 1784 was but the last in a succession of similar “urban” centres whose history stretches back to Srivijaya in the seventh century.