Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Melayu Riau

Who are the Melayu Riau?

The Riau Province of Sumatera, Indonesia, is bordered on the north by the Malaka Straits and city-state of Singapore, on the south by Jambi Province, on the west by the provinces of West and North Sumatera, and on the east by the South China Sea. While most of the Melayu Riau people live on Mainland Sumatera, the Riau Islander peoples are located in the Riau Island Regency of the Riau Province, The Riau Province consists of 3,214 islands. Batam and Bintan are the two most advanced islands of the province and are located 30-45 minutes to the south of Singapore.The Melayu Riau are the largest people group in the Riau province, but there are many people groups living side-by-side while maintaining their own cultural identity. These groups include the Minangkabau, Jawa, and Indonesians of Chinese descent. The Melayu Riau language is a variation of the Melayu linguistic cluster. The Melayu Riau language consists of two dialects. One dialect is used in the archipelago and coastal areas while the other dialect is used on the mainland. The Melayu Riau have a varied language and use poetry, idioms, proverbs, parables, mantras, legends, romances, and other forms to express themselves.

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Riau Province
The territory of this rich province includes a sizable slice of the eastern Sumatran coast and more than 3,000 islands of all sizes.

Riau, although comparatively small in both size and population (about 2.5 million), is the heartland of the Malays and the cradle of Indonesia's Malay-based national language and culture. Its links with Johor on the West Malaysian mainland have been long and strong.

Riau is now divided into two provinces.

Riau is a province of Indonesia, located in the center of Sumatra island along the Strait of Malacca. The provincial capital and largest city is Pekanbaru. Other major cities includes Dumai, Bagansiapiapi, Bengkalis, Bangkinang, Rengat and Siak Sri Indrapura. The Riau Islands were part of Riau until 2004, when they were made into a separate province.

Riau Islands Province (Indonesian: Provinsi Kepulauan Riau (Kepri or Riau Kepulauan) is a province of Indonesia, consisting of Riau Archipelago(which include the main islands Bintan, Batam, Rempang, Galang, Combol, Kundur, and Karimun), Natuna Islands(The Natuna Islands are a 272-island archipelago , located in the Natuna Sea between east and west Malaysia and Kalimantan. The Natuna Sea itself is a section of the South China Sea.), Anambas, and Lingga Islands. Originally part of the Riau Province, the Riau Islands were split off as a separate province in July 2004 with Tanjung Pinang as its capital.

What are their lives like?
The Melayu Riau live as fisherman and farmers. Because they live in an archipelago, their lives are intertwined with the ocean. Farming is limited due to inefficient techniques. Most Melayu Riau homes are built on stilts and usually appear along beaches and public roads. In order to avoid flooding, houses and buildings such as hospitals that are on the edge of rivers are built on top of even higher posts. In areas with rivers, the Melayu Riau also live in rakit (raft) houses, which are built on top of layers of bamboo that have been tied together like a raft. In addition to functioning as a residence, the rakit house serves as a place for trading. Due to historical patterns, some Melayu Riau families are bilateral (tracing descent through both parents). Others are patrilineal (tracing descent from the father) due to Islamic influence. Still others are matrilineal (tracing descent from the mother) due to influence of the Minangkabau people. The nuclear family is a kelamin. This consists of a father, mother, and unmarried children.

Islands of Riau Archipelago lie apart from the Straits of Malacca and these 3000 islands were one of the oldest and busiest trading routes in the world. The history of this region is rich with tales of piracy and conflicts during the colonial period.

Riau was famous for the trade of gold, silk, spices, and porcelain. Riau Archipelago once was the home of sea gypsies who were cruising through its rich mangrove forests and waterways.

However, this sea passage was not that easy for everyone, as it spelled havoc for some of the Arab and Chinese traders. Many of their ships sank on the reefs or fell prey to pirate attacks.

From Srivijayan times until the 16th century, Riau was a natural part of greater Malay kingdoms or sultanates, in the heart of what is often called the Malay World, which stretches from eastern Sumatra to Borneo. The Malay-related Orang Laut tribes inhabited the islands and formed the backbone of most Malay kingdoms from Srivijaya to the Sultanate of Johor for the control of trade routes going through the straits.

Johor Sultanate
After the fall of Melaka in 1511,Malacca's Sultan Mahmud Syah fled south, settling first in Johore, then in Bintan in the Riau archipelago. Riau islands became the center of political power of the mighty Sultanate of Johor or Johor-Riau, based on Bintan island, and were for long considered the center of Malay culture. Bintan came into importance and power in the 16th century when it became the seat of the powerful Johor Riau Sultanate, after the Sultan of Melacca had to flee from Portuguese attacks. And for two centuries the sultanate of capital alternated between Johor, Bintan and the Island of Lingga.

In the early eighteenth century the Dutch became involved in the power struggle between Raja Kecil and Johor. In the last quarter of the eighteenth century the Yang Dipertuan Muda (viceroy) of Riau, Raja Haji,was killed in Teluk Ketapang near Malacca in a battle against the Dutch. The influence of powerful Dutch people increased in these islands when they defeated the Portuguese in Melacca in 1641 and the Riau Johor Sultanate gradually lost its power and independence.

But history changed the fate of Riau as a political, cultural or economic center when European powers struggled to control the regional trade routes and took advantage of political weaknesses within the sultanate. Singapore island, that had been for centuries part of the same greater Malay kingdoms and sultanates, and under direct control of the Sultan of Johor, came under control of the British.

Riau Sultanate
Riau-Lingga was part of the Johor Sultanate. it became an independent sultanate only after the British-Dutch Treaty in 1824 which divide the Kingdom. Riau Sultanate don't enjoy the level of independence that Johor have. The Sultan rule was heavily regulated by the Dutch. In fact, this sultanate lasted less then a century.

The creation of a European-controlled territory in the heart of the Johor-Riau natural boundaries broke the sultanate into two parts, destroying the cultural and political unity that had existed for centuries. The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 consolidated this separation, with the British controlling all territories north of the Singapore strait and the Dutch controlling territories from Riau to Java. However, with the British seeking to gain a control here, at the end of the 18th century the British started taking over control from the Dutch in their colonies in Melacca and Riau. An imaginary line was drawn through the Straits of Malacca and the south of Singapore, dividing the area into a British "sphere of influence" and a Dutch "sphere of influence". This effectively saw the end of the Johor-Riau Sultanate, as the Sultanate was broken into 3 parts, the state of Johor in the Malay Pennisula and Singapore (which came under the British), and the Riau Archipelago (controlled by the Dutch, and is now part of Indonesia).

In the first quarter of the nineteenth century the British and the Dutch signed
an agreement, called the Treaty of London (1824), whereby Riau-Lingga-Johor-Pahang became Rioww-L/engga and Johor and Pahang. Raffles changed Temasik into Singapore. Subsequently Sultan Mahmud Muzaffarsyah was deposed by the Dutch in 1856, among other things because he was said to be incompetent, residing more often in Singapore than in Lingga. A nascent revolt in Reteh was suppressed. The sultanate of Riau-Lingga was liquidated by the Dutch, de jure in 1911, de facto in 1913. Those were the highlights that mark the defeat of Riau as the basis of
Malay power. The highlights: they show that the Malays of Riau were capable of escaping crises, time and time again building on what the colonial victors left behind, improving and strengthening their position by constantly bargaining with the colonialists. Whatever may happen, 'tak hilang Melayu di bumi' (the Malays will never disappear from the face of
the earth); the more so in the coastal area of Sumatra where the sultanate of Siak Sri Indrapura successfully developed a political and economic hegemony that reached throughout East Sumatra to Temiang in Aceh.

Pulau Penyengat, originally the home of the Melaka Sultanate. This tiny island can be distinguished from a considerable distance by a glittering dome belonging to its 170-year-old mosque, which houses a rare handwritten Koran. And you can also see royal tombs of past sultans nearby the mosque. The importance of Penyengat ended when the last Sultan of the Riau-Lingga, Abdul Rahman Muazzan Shah, refused to sign a contract with the Dutch that terminated the rights and authority of the traditional king and officers of Riau. The Dutch then informed him that his palaces, buildings, land, etc, would be confiscated. To prevent this, he ordered Penyengat people to destroy the Dutch possessions on the island, this is the reason why there is not much left on Penyengat that shows its former glory. Today there are about 2.500 people living on the island, about one third of them are descendants of the former royalty, most of the residents make their living of fishing, while some work on the main island.

The original Malay language
The official language of the Riau Islands is Riau. The Riau Islands are considered the birthplace of the Malay language. It is the official standard for Malay, as agreed upon by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The first book of Malay grammar, the Bustanul Katibin, was written and published here in 1857.

Related articles:
1. Malayness in Riau The Study and Revitalization of Identity, by AL AZHAR,
2. Badan Pengusahaan Kawasan Karimun ,

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