Letter of Sultan Zayn al-‘Abidin to Afonso de Albuquerque, 1516

Love and affection from Sultan Zayn al-‘Abidin, ruler carrying out the commands of Almighty God, to the Governor-General at the fortress of the King of Portugal who binds all countries in his kingdom,

Whereas,

When we saw the letter from you which Giovanni brought we were filled with joy and with happiness at the depth of good relations between us. And when the Portuguese envoy arrived from Kollam or Malacca we welcomed him warmly and provided him with everything that arrives in our country. Be assured our love for you has not wavered from the beginning until now.

After this, there arrived here one Manuel Falcão. He is a most evil person.

First when a ship arrived at Samudera from Pariaman with many people from Samudera on board he took thirty gold dirhams. And he sold the crew and the rest were murdered.

Second on the arrival of a ship from Bengal he took two hundred and twenty dirhams and one servant woman. Also a cargo ship from Bengal which should have come to Samudera he commandeered to Malacca along with a great deal of cargo belonging to people from Samudera which was on board the ship.

Third he took cargo from another ship and more people were murdered.

Fourth he demanded from us one hundred and twenty dirhams by force and twenty items of cargo.

Fifth he kidnapped fifty male and female servants from among the servants of the people of Samudera and shipped them to Malacca.

Sixth he demanded from us fifty bails of pepper by force.

After this Gaspar Machado also arrived here. He too is a very evil person.

The first thing he did was on the arrival of a cargo ship at Samudera from Diu he took from them two hundred dirhams by force.

Second when a cargo ship arrived at Samudera from Cambay which was owned by the King of Cambay captained by ‘Ali Khan he took from them one hundred dirhams.

Third when a cargo ship arrived at Samudera from Pulicut which is Nati carrying cargo owned by people from Samudera, he took one hundred dirhams from them by force and violence.

Fourth when a cargo ship arrived at Samudera from Nawur that is Nati he took one hundred and twenty dirhams,

Fifth when a ship arrived at Samudera from Barus containing a cargo belonging to the Sultan of Bengal he took one hundred quintal of tin and 4000 incenses and he sold the whole crew on this ship.

Sixth many are the people of Samudera whose wealth he has taken by force and violence, and many are the judges and officials who have been enraged by him because of this behavior.

For these reasons we lay before you our situation because we sincerely believe that this has not been ordered by the King of Portugal or by you. The King does not even know about the behavior of Manuel Falcão and Gaspar Machado because we are firmly convinced that the King and you as Governor-General do not want to damage your own port as our port is your port and so we seek your protection.


This imaginative translation is based on the translations of A.C.S. Peacock (2016): “Three Arabic letters from North Sumatra of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries”, Indonesia and the Malay World, DOI: 10.1080/13639811.2016.1153219 [http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13639811.2016.1153219 Accessed 16 April 2016.] and Taqiyuddin Muhammad, “Naskah Surat Sultan Zainal ‘Abidin (Wafat 923 H/1518 M)” [http://misykah.com/naskah-surat-sultan-zainal-abidin-wafat-923-h1518-m-2/ Accessed 3 October 2016.]

On the manuscript, according to Peacock (2016):

“The letter from Sultan Zayn al-‘Abidin IV of Samudera-Pasai, 1516–17. Arquivo Nacional Torre do Tombo, Lisbon. Colecção de cartas, Núcleo Antigo 891, mç. 1, n.° 59. Previous publications: Arabic text and Portuguese translation with significant differences from that presented here in dos Santos (1790: 127–30); trans- lation only reprinted with additional notes in Alves (1999:228–30); Arabic text with a number of differences from that presented here and Indonesian translation in Muhammad (2013). Taqiyuddin Muhammad’s text is based on a poor quality image of the letter which accounts for most of the variations between his text and mine. It has not therefore usually been thought useful to record his variant readings. Help has also been provided by the Portuguese translation probably made in Malacca in 1516–17, presented in full in Appendix 1c. Although the translation is often imprecise, omitting crucial elements of the Arabic and sometimes supplementing it with additional information, it has the advantage that the translator was himself aware of the events referred to; it can therefore help clarify the frequently obscure Arabic text.”

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