Sejarah Sumatra (Marsden)/Bab 21

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Achin (properly Acheh) is the only kingdom of Sumatra that ever arrived to such a degree of political consequence in the eyes of the western people as to occasion its transactions becoming the subject of general history. But its present condition is widely different from what it was when by its power the Portuguese were prevented from gaining a footing in the island, and its princes received embassies from all the great potentates of Europe.


Its situation occupies the north-western extreme of the island, bordering generally on the country of the Battas; but, strictly speaking, its extent, inland, reaches no farther than about fifty miles to the south­east. Along the north and eastern coast its territory was considered in 1778 as reaching to a place called Karti, not far distant from Batu­bara river, including Pidir, Samerlonga, and Pase. On the western coast, where it formerly boasted a dominion as far down as Indrapura, and possessed complete jurisdiction at Tiku, it now extends no farther than Barus; and even there, or at the intermediate ports, although the Achinese influence is predominant and its merchants enjoy the trade, the royal power seems to be little more than nominal. The interior inhabitants from Achin to Singkel are distinguished into those of Allas, Riah, and Karrau. The Achinese manners prevail among the two former; but the last resemble the Battas, from whom they are divided by a range of mountains.


The capital stands on a river which empties itself by several channels near the north-west point of the island, or Achin Head, about a league from the sea, where the shipping lies in a road rendered secure by the shelter of several islands. The depth of water on the bar being no more than four feet at low-water spring-tides, only the vessels of the country can venture to pass it; and in the dry monsoon not even those of the larger class. The town is situated on a plain, in a wide valley formed like an amphitheatre by lofty ranges of hills. It is said to be extremely populous, containing eight thousand houses, built of bamboos and rough timbers, standing distinct from each other and mostly raised on piles some feet above the ground in order to guard against the effects of inundation. The appearance of the place and nature of the buildings differ little from those of the generality of Malayan bazaars, excepting that its superior wealth has occasioned the erection of a greater number of public edifices, chiefly mosques, but without the smallest pretension to magnificence. The country above the town is highly cultivated, and abounds with small villages and groups of three or four houses, with white mosques interspersed.*

(*Footnote. The following description of the appearance of Achin, by a Jesuit missionary who touched there in his way to China in 1698, is so picturesque, and at the same time so just, that I shall make no apology for introducing it. Imaginez vous une foret de cocotiers, de bambous, d'ananas, de bagnaniers, au milieu de laquelle passe une assez belle riviere toute couverte de bateaux; mettez dans cette foret une nombre incroyable de maisons faites avec de cannes, de roseaux, des ecorces, et disposez les de telle maniere qu'elles forment tantot des rues, et tantot des quartiers separes: coupez ces divers quartiers de prairies et de bois: repandez par tout dans cette grande foret, autant d'hommes qu'on en voit dans nos villes, lorsqu'elles sont bien peuplees; vous vous formerez une idee assez juste d'Achen; et vous conviendrez qu'une ville de ce gout nouveau peut faire plaisir a des etrangers qui passent. Elle me parut d'abord comme ces paysages sortis de l'imagination d'un peintre ou d'un poete, qui rassemble sous un coup d'oeil, tout ce que la campagne a de plus riant. Tout est neglige et naturel, champetre et meme un peu sauvage. Quand on est dans la rade, on n'appercoit aucun vestige, ni aucune apparence de ville, parceque des grands arbres qui bordent le rivage en cachent toutes les maisons; mais outre le paysage qui est tres beau, rien n'est plus agreable que de voir de matin un infinite de petits bateaux de pecheurs qui sortent de la riviere avec le jour, et qui ne rentrent que le soir, lorsque le soleil se couche. Vous diriez un essaim d'abeilles qui reviennent a la cruche chargees du fruit de leur travail. Lettres Edifiantes Tome 1. For a more modern account of this city I beg leave to refer the reader to Captain Thomas Forrest's Voyage to the Mergui Archipelago pages 38 to 60, where he will find a lively and natural description of everything worthy of observation in the place, with a detail of the circumstances attending his own reception at the court, illustrated with an excellent plate.)

The king's palace, if it deserves the appellation, is a very rude and uncouth piece of architecture, designed to resist the attacks of internal enemies, and surrounded for that purpose with a moat and strong walls, but without any regular plan, or view to the modern system of military defence.*

(*Footnote. Near the gate of the palace are several pieces of brass ordnance of an extraordinary size, of which some are Portuguese; but two in particular, of English make, attract curiosity. They were sent by king James the first to the reigning monarch of Acheen, and have still the founder's name and the date legible upon them. The diameter of the bore of one is eighteen inches; of the other twenty-two or twenty-four. Their strength however does not appear to be in proportion to the calibre, nor do they seem in other respects to be of adequate dimensions. James, who abhorred bloodshed himself, was resolved that his present should not be the instrument of it to others.)


The air is esteemed comparatively healthy, the country being more free from woods and stagnant water than most other parts; and fevers and dysenteries, to which these local circumstances are supposed to give occasion, are there said to be uncommon. But this must not be too readily credited; for the degree of insalubrity attending situations in that climate is known so frequently to alter, from inscrutable causes, that a person who has resided only two or three years on a spot cannot pretend to form a judgment; and the natives, from a natural partiality, are always ready to extol the healthiness, as well as other imputed advantages, of their native places.


The Achinese differ much in their persons from the other Sumatrans, being in general taller, stouter, and of darker complexions. They are by no means in their present state a genuine people, but thought, with great appearance of reason, to be a mixture of Battas and Malays, with chulias, as they term the natives of the west of India, by whom their ports have in all ages been frequented. In their dispositions they are more active and industrious than some of their neighbours; they possess more sagacity, have more knowledge of other countries, and as merchants they deal upon a more extensive and liberal footing. But this last observation applies rather to the traders at a distance from the capital and to their transactions than to the conduct observed at Achin, which, according to the temper and example of the reigning monarch, is often narrow, extortionary, and oppressive. Their language is one of the general dialects of the eastern islands, and its affinity to the Batta may be observed in the comparative table; but they make use of the Malayan character. In religion they are Mahometans, and having many priests, and much intercourse with foreigners of the same faith, its forms and ceremonies are observed with some strictness.


Although no longer the great mart of eastern commodities, Achin still carries on a considerable trade, as well with private European merchants as with the natives of that part of the coast of India called Telinga, which is properly the country lying between the Kistna and Godavery rivers; but the name, corrupted by the Malays to Kling, is commonly applied to the whole coast of Coromandel. These supply it with salt, cotton piece-goods, principally those called long-cloth white and blue, and chintz with dark grounds; receiving in return gold-dust, raw silk of inferior quality, betel-nut, patch-leaf (Melissa lotoria, called dilam by the Malays) pepper, sulphur, camphor, and benzoin. The two latter are carried thither from the river of Sungkel, where they are procured from the country of the Battas, and the pepper from Pidir; but this article is also exported from Susu to the amount of about two thousand tons annually, where it sells at the rate of twelve dollars the pikul, chiefly for gold and silver. The quality is not esteemed good, being gathered before it is sufficiently ripe, and it is not cleaned like the Company's pepper. The Americans have been of late years the chief purchasers. The gold collected at Achin comes partly from the mountains in the neighbourhood but chiefly from Nalabu and Susu. Its commerce, independently of that of the out-ports, gives employment to from eight to ten Kling vessels, of a hundred and fifty or two hundred tons burden, which arrive annually from Porto Novo and Coringa about the month of August, and sail again in February and March. These are not permitted to touch at any places under the king's jurisdiction, on the eastern or western coast, as it would be injurious to the profits of his trade, as well as to his revenue from the customs and from the presents exacted on the arrival of vessels, and for which his officers at those distant places would not account with him. It must be understood that the king of Achin, as is usual with the princes of this part of the world, is the chief merchant of his capital, and endeavours to be, to the utmost of his power, the monopolizer of its trade; but this he cannot at all times effect, and the attempt has been the cause of frequent rebellions. There is likewise a ship or two from Surat every year, the property of native merchants there. The country is supplied with opium, taffetas, and muslins from Bengal, and also with iron and many other articles of merchandise, by the European traders.


The soil being light and fertile produces abundance of rice, esculent vegetables, much cotton, and the finest tropical fruits. Both the mango and mangustin are said to be of excellent quality. Cattle and other articles of provision are in plenty, and reasonable in price. The plough is there drawn by oxen, and the general style of cultivation shows a skill in agriculture superior to what is seen in other parts of the island.


Those few arts and manufactures which are known in other parts of the island prevail likewise here, and some of them are carried to more perfection. A considerable fabric of a thick species of cotton cloth, and of striped or chequered stuff for the short drawers worn both by Malays and Achinese, is established here, and supplies an extensive foreign demand, particularly in the Rau country, where they form part of the dress of the women as well as men. They weave also very handsome and rich silk pieces, of a particular form, for that part of the body­dress which the Malays call kain-sarong; but this manufacture had much decreased at the period when my inquiries were made, owing, as the people said, to an unavoidable failure in the breed of silkworms, but more probably to the decay of industry amongst themselves, proceeding from their continual civil disturbances.


They are expert and bold navigators, and employ a variety of vessels according to the voyages they have occasion to undertake, and the purposes either of commerce or war for which they design them. The river is covered with a number of small fishing vessels which go to sea with the morning breeze and return in the afternoon with the sea-wind, full laden. These are named koleh, are raised about two streaks on a sampan bottom, have one mast and an upright or square sail, but long in proportion to its breadth, which rolls up. These sometimes make their appearance so far to the southward as Bencoolen. The banting is a trading vessel, of a larger class, having two masts, with upright sails like the former, rising at the stem and stern, and somewhat resembling a Chinese junk, excepting in its size. They have also very long narrow boats, with two masts, and double or single outriggers, called balabang and jalor. These are chiefly used as war-boats, mount guns of the size of swivels, and carry a number of men. For representations of various kinds of vessels employed by these eastern people the reader is referred to the plates in Captain Forrest's two voyages.


They have a small thin adulterated gold coin, rudely stamped with Arabic characters, called mas or massiah. Its current value is said to be about fifteen, and its intrinsic about twelve pence, or five Madras fanams. Eighty of these are equal to the bangkal, of which twenty make a katti. The tail, here an imaginary valuation, is one-fifth of the bang­kal, and equal to sixteen mas. The small leaden money, called pitis or cash, is likewise struck here for the service of the bazaar; but neither these nor the former afford any convenience to the foreign trader. Dollars and rupees pass current, and most other species of coin are taken at a valuation; but payments are commonly made in gold dust, and for that purpose everyone is provided with small scales or steelyards, called daching. They carry their gold about them, wrapped in small pieces of bladder (or rather the integument of the heart), and often make purchases to so small an amount as to employ grains of padi or other seeds for weights.


The monarchy is hereditary, and is more or less absolute in proportion to the talents of the reigning prince; no other bounds being set to his authority than the counterbalance or check it meets with from the power of the great vassals, and disaffection of the commonalty. But this resistance is exerted in so irregular a manner, and with so little view to the public good, that nothing like liberty results from it. They experience only an alternative of tyranny and anarchy, or the former under different shapes. Many of the other Sumatran people are in the possession of a very high degree of freedom, founded upon a rigid attachment to their old established customs and laws. The king usually maintains a guard of a hundred sepoys (from the Coromandel coast) about his palace, but pays them indifferently.

The grand council of the nation consists of the king or Sultan, the maharaja, laksamana, paduka tuan, and bandhara. Inferior in rank to these are the ulubalangs or military champions, among whom are several gradations of rank, who sit on the king's right hand, and other officers named kajuran, who sit on his left. At his feet sits a woman, to whom he makes known his pleasure: by her it is communicated to a eunuch, who sits next to her, and by him to an officer, named Kajuran Gondang, who then proclaims it aloud to the assembly. There are also present two other officers, one of whom has the government of the Bazaar or market, and the other the superintending and carrying into execution the punishment of criminals. All matters relative to commerce and the customs of the port come under the jurisdiction of the Shabandar, who performs the ceremony of giving the chap or licence for trade; which is done by lifting a golden-hafted kris over the head of the merchant who arrives, and without which he dares not to land his goods. Presents, the value of which are become pretty regularly ascertained, are then sent to the king and his officers. If the stranger be in the style of an ambassador the royal elephants are sent down to carry him and his letters to the monarch's presence; these being first delivered into the hands of a eunuch, who places them in a silver dish, covered with rich silk, on the back of the largest elephant, which is provided with a machine (houdar) for that purpose. Within about a hundred yards of an open hall where the king sits the cavalcade stops, and the ambassador dismounts and makes his obeisance by bending his body and lifting his joined hands to his head. When he enters the palace, if a European, he is obliged to take off his shoes, and having made a second obeisance is seated upon a carpet on the floor, where betel is brought to him. The throne was some years ago of ivory and tortoiseshell; and when the place was governed by queens a curtain of gauze was hung before it, which did not obstruct the audience, but prevented any perfect view. The stranger, after some general discourse, is then conducted to a separate building, where he is entertained with the delicacies of the country by the officers of state, and in the evening returns in the manner he came, surrounded by a prodigious number of lights. On high days (ari raya) the king goes in great state, mounted on an elephant richly caparisoned, to the great mosque, preceded by his ulubalangs, who are armed nearly in the European manner.


The whole kingdom is divided into certain small districts or communities, called mukim, which seem to be equivalent to our parishes, and their number is reckoned at one hundred and ninety, of which seventy­three are situated in the valley of Achin. Of these last are formed three larger districts, named Duo-puluh duo (twenty-two), Duo-puluh-limo (twenty-five), and Duo-puluh-anam (twenty-six), from the number of mukims they respectively contain; each of which is governed by a panglima or provincial governor, with an imam and four pangichis for the service of each mosque. The country is extremely populous; but the computations with which I have been furnished exceed so far all probability that I do not venture to insert them.


The regular tax or imposition to which the country is subject, for the use of the crown, is one koyan (about eight hundred gallons) of padi from each mukim, with a bag of rice, and about the value of one Spanish dollar and a half in money, from each proprietor of a house, to be delivered at the king's store in person, in return for which homage he never fails to receive nearly an equivalent in tobacco or some other article. On certain great festivals presents of cattle are made to the king by the orang-kayas or nobles; but it is from the import and export customs on merchandise that the revenue of the crown properly arises, and which of course fluctuates considerably. What Europeans pay is between five and six per cent, but the Kling merchants are understood to be charged with much higher duties; in the whole not less than fifteen, of which twelve in the hundred are taken out of the bales in the first instance, a disparity they are enabled to support by the provident and frugal manner in which they purchase their investments, the cheap rate at which they navigate their vessels, and the manner of retailing their goods to the natives. These sources of wealth are independent of the profit derived from the trade, which is managed for his master by a person who is styled the king's merchant. The revenues of the nobles accrue from taxes which they lay, as feudal lords, upon the produce of the land cultivated by their vassals. At Pidir a measure of rice is paid for every measure of padi sown, which amounts to about a twentieth part. At Nalabu there is a capitation tax of a dollar a year; and at various places on the inland roads there are tolls collected upon provisions and goods which pass to the capital.


The kings of Achin possess a grant of territory along the sea-coast as far down as Bencoolen from the sultan of Menangkabau, whose superiority has always been admitted by them, and will be perhaps so long as he claims no authority over them, and exacts neither tribute nor homage.


Achin has ever been remarkable for the severity with which crimes are punished by their laws; the same rigour still subsists, and there is no commutation admitted, as is regularly established in the southern countries. There is great reason however to conclude that the poor alone experience the rod of justice; the nobles being secure from retribution in the number of their dependants. Petty theft is punished by suspending the criminal from a tree, with a gun or heavy weight tied to his feet; or by cutting off a finger, a hand, or leg, according to the nature of the theft. Many of these mutilated and wretched objects are daily to be seen in the streets. Robbery, on the highway and housebreaking, are punished by drowning, and afterwards exposing the body on a stake for a few days. If the robbery is committed upon an imam or priest the sacrilege is expiated by burning the criminal alive. A man who is convicted of adultery or rape is seldom attempted to be screened by his friends, but is delivered up to the friends and relations of the injured husband or father. These take him to some large plain and, forming themselves in a circle, place him in the middle. A large weapon, called a gadubong, is then delivered to him by one of his family, and if he can force his way through those who surround him and make his escape he is not liable to further prosecution; but it commonly happens that he is instantly cut to pieces. In this case his relations bury him as they would a dead buffalo, refusing to admit the corpse into their house, or to perform any funeral rites. Would it not be reasonable to conclude that the Achinese, with so much discouragement to vice both from law and prejudice, must prove a moral and virtuous people? yet all travellers agree in representing them as one of the most dishonest and flagitious nations of the East, which the history of their government will tend to corroborate.