The Malay Annals (Malay: Sejarah Melayu, Jawi? ), originally titled Sulalatus Salatin (Genealogy of Kings), is a literary work that gives a romanticised history of the origin, evolution and demise of the great Malay maritime empire, the Malacca Sultanate. The work which was composed sometime between 15th and 16th centuries, is considered one of the finest literary and historical works in the Malay language.
The original text has undergone numerous changes, with the oldest known version dated May 1612, through the rewriting effort commissioned by the then regent of Johor, Yang di-Pertuan Di Hilir Raja Abdullah. It was originally written in the Classical Malay on traditional paper in old Jawi script, but today exists in 32 different manuscripts, including those in Rumi script. Notwithstanding some of its mystical contents, historians have looked at the text as a primary source of information on past events verifiable by other historical sources, in the Malay world. In 2001, the Malay Annals was listed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme International Register.
The number of manuscripts of the Malay Annals and its related texts is fairly large. The manuscripts are found scattered over libraries in various countries: in Indonesia (Jakarta, Museum Pusat), in the United Kingdom (mainly in London), in the Netherlands (Leiden) and in Malaysia (Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka). Not all of these manuscripts have the same value; some are fragmentary or otherwise incomplete; others are just copies of existing manuscripts, and some are even copies of the printed text. A version of the Annals dated 1612, acquired by Sir Stamford Raffles and coded Raffles MS no.18 or Raffles Manuscript 18, is considered the oldest and most faithful to the original.
There is a possibility that Raffles MS no.18 version has developed from a genealogical king-list complete with the periods of reigns and dates. This king-list subsequently enlarged by various stories and historically relevant material which was inserted into it in suitable places, but at the same time it lost its dates. Unknown Malay texts titled Soelalet Essalatina or Sulalatu'l-Salatina, that referred by Petrus Van der Vorm and François Valentijn in their works Collectanea Malaica Vocabularia ("Collection of Malay Vocabulary") (1677) and Oud En New Oost Indien ("A short history of East Indies") (1726) respectively, could have existed in the form of a king-list.
However, the introduction of Raffles MS no.18 describes that the manuscript originates from another manuscript known as Hikayat Melayu, which may trace its origin to the time of Melaka Sultanate (1400-1511). The manuscript was brought together when the last ruler, Mahmud Shah fleeing the Portuguese invasion in 1511 to Kampar. In 1536, during the Portuguese attack on Johor Lama, where the exiled sultan established his base, the manuscript was seized by the Portuguese soldiers and brought to Goa, Portuguese India. Decades later, in the early 17th century, the manuscript was returned to Johor from Goa by a nobleman identified as Orang Kaya Sogoh. However, historian Abdul Samad Ahmad provides an alternative view, suggesting that the manuscript was returned from Gowa, Sulawesi instead of Goa, India. His argument is based on the fact that during Melaka's era as an important regional entreport, it had established a strong trading and diplomatic ties with regional kingdoms, including Gowa, and some copies of Hikayat Melayu could have been spread to Sulawesi long before the arrival of Portuguese. Another view, from William Linehan, tried to argue that Goa ought to read guha or gua, and that the reference was to Gua, a place located north of Kuala Lipis in Pahang, where a copy of the Annals had been preserved and later brought to Johor and edited there in 1612.
On Sunday, 12th Rabi' al-awwal 1021 AH (corresponds to 13 May 1612 CE), during the reign of Alauddin Riayat Shah III in Pekan Tua, the regent of Johor, Yang di-Pertuan Di Hilir Raja Abdullah also known as Raja Bongsu, had commissioned the rewriting and compilation work of the manuscript to the Bendahara Tun Sri Lanang. A year later in 1613, the Johor capital of Batu Sawar was sacked by the Acehnese invaders and Alauddin Riayat Shah, and his entire court, including Tun Sri Lanang and Raja Abdullah was captured and exiled to Aceh. Although Tun Sri Lanang manage to worked a bulk of the Annals in Johor, he completed the work during his captivity in Aceh.
In 1821, the English translation of Raffles MS no.18 by John Leyden was first published in London. Then, it was followed by the edited version in Malay language by Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, published in Singapore in 1831 and the compilation by Édouard Dulaurier in 1849. In 1915, William Shellabear's edition was published. It is considered as a hybrid long text, primarily based on Abdullah and Dulaurier's version but containing extracts from other texts as well. It was then followed by another translation of Raffles MS no.18, this time by Richard Olaf Winstedt in 1938. Another important version, compiled by Malaysian historian Abdul Samad Ahmad in 1979, uses the original title of the text, Sulalatus Salatin. Abdul Samad's compilation was based on three manuscripts that he named as A, B and C, kept in the library of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur. Two of the manuscripts, alternatively named as MS86 and MS86a by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, were later referred in the nomination form submitted for UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme International Register.
The Malay Annals is a historical literature written in the form of narrative-prose with its main theme was to laud the greatness and superiority of Melaka. The narration, while seemingly relating the story of the reign of the sultans of Melaka until the demise of the sultanate to the Portuguese in 1511 and beyond, deals with a core issue of Malay statehood and historiography, the relationship between rulers and ruled. The Annals are prefaced by a celebration of the greatness of Allah, the Prophet and his companions. They begin with a genealogical account of the first sultan of Melaka who is said to be descended from Raja Iskandar Zulkarnain. The Annals cover the founding of Melaka and its rise to power; its relationship with neighbouring kingdoms and distant countries; the advent of Islam and its spread in Melaka and the region as a whole; the history of the royalty in the region including battles won or lost, marriage ties and diplomatic relationships; the administrative hierarchy that ruled Melaka; the greatness of its rulers and administrators, including the Bendahara Tun Perak and Laksamana, Hang Tuah. The Annals conclude with the account of Melaka's defeat by the Portuguese forces in 1511, resulting not only in the downfall of Melaka, but also in the eventual re-emergence of the Melakan-modeled sultanates in other parts of the region, including Johor, Perak and Pahang.
The Malay Annals have had great influence on the history, culture, and development of the Malay civilisation, which had to confront major cultural transformation through the centuries. Through courtly chronicles like the Malay Annals, the Melakan tradition developed in the 15th century was transmitted onwards and fostered a vigorous ethos of Malay identity. These chronicles became an important source of instruction for Melaka's successor regimes, as they enshrined the sanctity and authority of a Malay ruler (daulat), his role in maintaining the cohesion of the realm, and legitimated the increasingly absolutist visage these states adopted in the competitive environment.Tun Sri Lanang wrote as follows at the beginning of the Annals:
|"||The royal command of His Majesty, "That we ask the Bendahara for the hikayat be produced in the nature of the events and speech of Malay kings and their customs and traditions as well; so it would known by all our descendants who succeed us, remembered by them; therupon will they benefit from it.||"|
As it is known, the Malay Annals and all kinds of other Malay manuscripts of whatever category still remain subjects of the study for the 'people who succeeded' from the time the works were produced. Clearly those works not only tell us about "the nature of the events and speech of Malay kings and their customs and traditions", but something far more deeper and broader than that.
There are a number of English translations of the Malay Annals, the first of which is by John Leyden published in 1821 with an introduction by Sir Stamford Raffles. Another one by C.C. Brown was published in 1952.