A country’s history is often marked by the greatness of a few men. Their past feats, achievements, lives, struggles, and deaths are celebrated as important events in the life and history of a nation. Their tombs, graves and mausoleums are regarded as important national landmarks.
In Brunei, one of the greatest sultans that have ever led the sultanate was Sultan Bolkiah, the 5th sultan of Brunei, and today, the Mausoleum of Sultan Bolkiah is a well-loved historical monument.Sultan Bolkiah was an enigmatic, respected and visionary leader who ruled the sultanate from 1485 to 1524. He was remembered as a brave seafaring warrior who spent more time at sea than on land.
He was called Nakhoda Ragam, which means the “Singing Admiral” because he loved to sing and play the drums and lute during his journeys. He loved sailing to different islands of the Southeast Asian archipelago. Some of the places he visited were Java and Malacca, and two cities in the Philippines, Manila (then Seludong) and Sulu, which he eventually conquered. He captured a number of territories using his legendary cannon called Si-Gantar Alam or “He Who Makes the Earth Shake”.
His reign is marked by historians as the Golden Age of Brunei, the zenith of the empire. At no other time in the country’s history was Brunei considered a political and military superpower in the Malay archipelago more than during Sultan Bolkiah’s reign. He was able to unite and put under control several sultanates in Borneo including Sambas, Pontianak, Kutai, Tuli-Tuli, Pasir, Kotaringin, Banjarmasin, and Burau. Not all of these lands were won by force.
In some cases, the sultan made use of his charm and skills in diplomacy and negotiations. Some of the lands he visited were said to have volunteered submission to the Bruneian sultan and pledged allegiance to Brunei, avoiding unnecessary war and bloodshed. His dominion reached far-away Bulungan in North Borneo and Johore (Singapore).
His travels to different countries were not always about capturing new lands and territories. He wanted to always improve himself and so he continuously engaged in faraway journeys in order to broaden his outlook in life and about the world. He wanted to better understand how best to build a nation. He brought home new ideas and instructed his leaders to study them and see how they would apply in their own sultanate. He and his ministers always thought of ways to improve the lives of their people.
The great sultan died at sea on his journey back home from Java. He just got married to a beautiful princess named Puteri Laila Menchanai when he died. The princess was devastated from the news and committed suicide. Bolkiah’s son, Abdul Kahar, succeeded the throne. The Mausoleum of Sultan Bolkiah is now located on a hill at Kuta Batu, Brunei (not to be confused with Cotabato, Philippines), overlooking Brunei River. His wife is buried nearby. Located not far away from the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan, the mausoleum is a famous tourist attraction that is rarely without a horde of visitors.