Monday, June 8, 2020


Raja Bok reunited with Antares at Kg Pertak 28 March 2009 (pic by Ana Lewis)

Last weekend I had the pleasure of renewing my 30-year acquaintance with a really lovely guy I've always known as Bok, though his official name is Raja Zailan Putra Raja Dato' Seri Haji Azam.

A mutual friend introduced us back in 1979 or 1980. I knew at the time that Bok boasted a royal pedigree. I saw photographs in his modest house of colorful characters in courtly regalia.

One that stood out was of Bok's great-grandfather, Raja Muda Abdullah (right), who signed the 1874 Pangkor Treaty with Sir Andrew Clarke and was anointed Sultan Abdullah of Perak.

Things started to go awry soon after that when the British sent a colonial officer named James Wheeler Woodford Birch (3 April 1826 - 2 November 1875) to Perak to serve as advisor to the Sultan.

From the standpoint of the Malay chiefs, Birch was arrogant and insensitive to local customs. He had no understanding of the Malay psyche and absolutely no facility with the language. Birch was appalled at the local practice of capturing Orang Asli and turning them into household slaves. He ordered an immediate stop to such barbaric activities. While it may have been a laudable act on Birch's part, it was akin to forcing a bunch of carnivores to go vegetarian overnight. His missionary zeal to civilize the natives cost Birch his life.

Dato' Maharajalela, who got the bulk of his income from capturing and selling Orang Asli as slaves, ganged up with a few disgruntled slave-traders and, on 2 November 1875, assassinated James Birch while he was taking his bath in the riverine village of Pasir Salak.

This led to the Perak War which lasted several months as British forces hunted down the leaders of the Malay rebellion. Dato' Maharajalela was captured and hanged along with other accomplices, while Sultan Abdullah was found guilty of complicity in the murder of J.W.W. Birch and exiled to the Seychelles for 46 years. One of Abdullah's cousins was installed as Sultan in his stead. It is from this lineage that the present Perak succession derives.

Bok, currently CEO of an insurance brokerage, told me he's the eldest male heir in his family. As such, when his father died several years ago, the succession would have passed to him. But for a twist of fate that saw his great-grandfather Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah deposed by the British in 1877, I would have been conversing last weekend in Pertak Village with the reigning Sultan of Perak.

Needless to say, there are distinct compensations for not being born in a palace. For one thing, Raja Zailan Putra has always been a jovial, easygoing, fun-loving chap with a wide circle of friends. His lifestyle isn't exactly conventional and he cherishes his personal freedom to be whoever and whatever he pleases. Everybody calls him Bok anyway and even if he were to appear in the full formal regalia befitting his royal status, his friends would probably insist on calling him Raja Bok.

In short, Bok has been able to live a relatively normal life, owing to the fact that his bloodline was removed by British decree from the Perak succession three generations ago, as punishment for rebelling against the colonial masters. There are many other royals who, like Bok, enjoy a certain measure of freedom from stuffy protocol, either because they aren't on the shortlist for royal succession - or because they have outgrown the musty traditions that would severely curb their individual freedom.

Raja Petra Kamarudin is a prominent example of someone with royal pedigree who consciously chose to align himself with the public good rather than self-servingly uphold private interests and special privileges. Or at least he succeeded for a while in projecting himself as such. There are several other maverick royals I am personally acquainted with but I won't name them here, because they may not be too keen on publicity.

I hadn't seen Bok in more than 20 years, so it was a great delight to bump into him driving a 4X4 along the old logging trail just outside Pertak Village. Mutual friends had arranged a camping trip by the river and Bok decided to come. It was genuinely sweet to renew our friendship and to note that this man who should have been a king had adapted so well to the life of a commoner.

Seeing Bok was a powerful reminder that, ultimately, what matters most is the humanity each of us is born with. The outer trappings are really quite insignificant. A pirate king remains a pirate no matter how reputable his tailor. And a noble soul stays noble, no matter how dire his or her earthly circumstances.

Another friend recently revealed that he grew up in Kuala Terengganu near the Istana and used to play badminton with the young Mizan Zainal Abidin who related to him like any other kid. But when Mizan was named the crown prince, things rapidly changed. Court officials forbade the boy from mixing with his old school friends and the lad became cloistered in preparation for his future role as Sultan of Terengganu (and at this writing the Yang Di Pertuan Agong).

Over the years, surrounded constantly by genuflecting servants, wizened counselors and persnickety courtiers, anyone would turn schizophrenic. The split between public and private personas would grow ever wider. What the public is allowed to see would be a stern-faced, unsmiling, overdressed symbol of hereditary power; while the private self either becomes cynical, detached and indifferent - or turns feral, debauched and dissolute.

One of my favorite stories of all time is about the Prince and the Pauper who traded places. I've often wondered if I would do a Siddhartha and walk out of the palace if I happened to be born into a royal bloodline.

In 1989 I experienced vivid "flashbacks" and "crosstalk" from parallel lives which forced me to be a lot more open to "reincarnational" scenarios. In several lifetimes I was of royal lineage - and the experience was never entirely happy. More than once I "remembered" being betrayed and murdered by those close to me. In short, life in a palace isn't exactly a bed of roses - and even if it is, there are always a few thorny aspects.

This is why I sometimes feel great sympathy for those trapped amidst the pompous paraphernalia and robotic rigmaroles of royalty. They are like the magical nightingale in a gilded cage, imprisoned by public expectations and compelled to sacrifice their personal lives for the sake of tribal continuity.

It's easy to view each successor to the throne as a Gulliver bound by Lilliputian constraints. The Little People scurrying around the Great Personage have a vested interest in keeping the Great Personage on a short leash. Like any institutionalized priesthood, the courtiers are the ones who ensure that protocols endure, for it assures them and their posterity a comfortable livelihood.

Coronation of Napoleon

The court officials have learnt to use pomp and circumstance and grandiloquent ceremony to shock and awe the Great Unwashed into superstitious subservience to specific bloodlines. But, ultimately, it's all a gigantic deception like ritual theater. Strip away the fancy costume, the shiny headgear and the inscrutable mask... and what stands revealed is a human being like you and me.

I told Bok I was really intrigued by his family history. He said there was a website with some information, including a detailed genealogy. I must remind him to send me the link. Who knows, the wheel of fortune is constantly in spin.

One day you could be the prime minister elect, and the next day a jailbird, and vice versa.

As I searched the web for images to illustrate this story, I realized that April 3rd happens to be James Birch's birthday. The Wiki entry on Birch names Frank Swettenham as the British Resident who succeeded Birch - a detail that gave me goosebumps, since I have long suspected that I might well have been most recently incarnate on this earth in the guise of a Maddog Englishman and empire-builder named Frank Athelstane Swettenham!

James Wheeler Woodford Birch did not die in vain, for the colonial officers who were subsequently assigned to Malaya were much better equipped and better prepared for their roles. Rather than be seen to act high-handedly on their own behalf, the Residents learned to manipulate the Malay rulers to do their bidding, knowing full well the natives' tendency to grovel before their sultans in superstitious awe. Some Malay aristocrats educated in England appear to have learned a few useful tricks from their erstwhile colonial masters.

1. Sultan Muzaffar Shah (1528-1540 A.D.)
2. Sultan Mansur Shah I (1549-1577 A.D.)
3. Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin (1577-1584 A.D.)
4. Sultan Tajul Ariffin Shah (1584-1594 A.D.)
5. Sultan Alauddin Shah (1594-1603 A.D.)
6. Sultan Mukaddam Shah (1603-1619 A.D.)
7. Sultan Mansur Shah II (1619-1627 A.D.)
8. Sultan Mahmud Shah (1627-1630 A.D.)
9. Sultan Salehuddin Shah (1630- 1635 A.D.)
10. Sultan Muzzaffar Shah II (1636-1653 A.D.)
11. Sultan Mahmud Iskandar Shah (1653-1720 A.D.)
12. Sultan Alauddin Mughayat Shah (1720-1728 A.D.)
13. Sultan Mudzaffar Shah III (1728-1744 A.D.)
14. Sultan Muhammad Shah (1744-1750 A.D.)
15. Sultan Iskandar Zulkarnain (1754-1764 A.D.)
16. Sultan Mahmud Shah (1764-1771 A.D.)
17. Sultan Alauddin Mansur Shah (1771-1786 A.D.)
18. Sultan Ahmaddin Shah (1786-1806 A.D.)
19. Sultan Abdul Malek Shah (1806-1818 A.D.)
20. Sultan Abdullah Mu'azzam Shah (1818-1830 A.D.)
21. Sultan Shahabuddin Ri'ayat Shah (1830-1851 A.D.)
22. Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah (1851-1857 A.D.)
23. Sultan Ja'afar Shafuddin Shah (1857-1865 A.D.)
24. Sultan Ali Al-Mukammil Innayat Shah (1865-1871 A.D.)
25. Sultan Ismail Mu'abiddin Ri'ayat Shah (1871-1874 A.D.)
26. Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah (1874-1877 A.D.)
27. Sultan Yusuf Sharifuddin Mu'azal Shah (1877-1887 A.D.)
28. Sultan Idris Murshidul Azam Shah (1887-1916 A.D.)
29. Sultan Abdul Jalil Nasiruddin Shah (1916-1918 A.D.)
30. Sultan Alang Iskandar Shah (1918-1938 A.D.)
31. Sultan Abdul Aziz Al-Mutasimbillah Shah (1938-1948 A.D.)
32. Sultan Yusuff Izzuddin Shah (1948-1963 A.D.)
33. Sultan Idris Iskandar Shah (1963-1984 A.D.)
34. Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah (1984-2014)
35. Sultan Dr Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah (2014-present)


[First posted 2 April 2009, reposted 8 April 2014 & 9 March 2016]


casper c said...

Brilliant, and I like your line of thought antares without being suggestive. That said, you really need to follow up with your query to get the link/url from Raja Bok.

Answer to your own query - you are probably doing a Siddharta right now.


Anonymous said...

i never knew Dato Maharajalela killed Birch because his rice bowl was undermined, Sejarah back in my high school years left that out!

thanks for the article, it is indeed enlightening :)

Captain R said...

The last time i read about JWW Birch, i was in form 3, it's almost 25 years ago. Nice article and well researched.Tq

master said...

In terms of merit, I'm sure Raja Nazrin is more qualified than Mok a.k.a Raja Zailan.

However, royal bloodline is not about merit or anything else. The eldest of the rightful son must inherit the throne of the King.

If we see the history, even some Bendahara (the advisor of the Sultan) installed himself as new King after the previous King's death. So it doesn't matter. The throne is spoiled hundred of years ago and Malacca which is the first state of Sultanate doesn't have King anymore. So why bother?

Khun Pana aka johanssm said...

Our secondary school "Buku Sejarah" never wrote that "Birch was appalled at the local practice of capturing Orang Asli and turning them into household slaves" and never did mentioned maharajalela's rice bowl of trading slaves .
Now i know why it was purposely left out from the Form 3 Sejarah lesson.
And now the gov is telling us not to believe bloggers.

casper c said...

Insomniacs the lot of you 3-4am night souls !

Dear Sir(antares)

It just dawned on me, Belle and I used to do classes together early 90's - small world huh ? I browse through the family pics and just about an instant, recognised that most charming smile of hers. Anyways, all seems well with the family and I hope you are keeping well yourself. Will make it a point to visit KKB at some point.

Take care for now Uncle Kit Lee, present incarnation Antares.

And if I may master - succession to the Perak throne according to 'adat', should not pass through Nazrin. Personally as turmoil in Perak unfold, events coming out of the palace has left a distaste to many a palate. Seems like Nazrin was all talk, all out on a PR blitz but for an ulterior motive if you catch my drift.

Wonder what is Raja Bok's take, his reading of brewing crisis. I'm certain that would make interesting reading. Perhaps the journalist in our host might prod further to secure an exclusive !


Julian said...

...ultimately, what matters most is the humanity each of us is born with. The outer trappings are really quite insignificant. A pirate king remains a pirate no matter how reputable his tailor. And a noble soul stays noble, no matter how dire his or her earthly circumstances...


Unknown said...

If Raja Bok and his descendants harbour any bitterness, let them out and spit on the road signs honouring Maharajalela.

His greed caused them their lineage to the throne.

Anonymous said...

Actually I do remember that the History book during my school time mention on the slavery of the Orang Asli by the Perak Malays. Only it was not emphasized. What was emphasized was Birch bathing naked in a river and this infuriated the Malays! And we are suppossed to be proud of Datuk Maharajalela because he killed someone for bathing naked in public!

Monsterball said...

Your version of the history of Perak is so...politically incorrect....kakakaka....but its a waft of fresh air after the UMNO-NOK approved propaganda..aka.. history which we've all been brainwashed with...

Unknown said...

What a delightful post, Antares! A breath of fresh air shining through the cloud of depression ;).

Thanks, dear buddy!

Starmandala said...

Casper C - Thanks for your kind feedback and for revealing your youthful connection with La Belle. If Sultan Abdullah hadn't been dethroned by the Brits, I'd probably be hobnobbing with Nazrin Shah by the river while Bok gets all the flak & ends up besieged in Istana Iskandariah! A mere throw of the proverbial dice...

Anon @ 3:35AM - In the official version Dato' Maharajalela was incensed at the sight of the Orang Puteh's genitals. Apparently Birch enjoyed bathing naked in the river & some of the locals found that as threatening as an Inul Daratista open-air concert. Pretty lame excuse, methinks. One thing hasn't changed: the arrogance & avarice of people close to power!

Captain R - Aye aye sir & thanks.

Master - Hmmm... you must be one of these post-Mahathir Melayu Baru who doubt the usefulness & relevance of the monarchy. That's all very well, if you sincerely cherish the democractic values of egalitarianism. However, it seems to me that Mahathir's Melayu Baru are more interested in deposing the royals just so they themselves can sit on those fancy jewel-encrusted chairs & live in oversized mansions with imported chandeliers. Betul tak?

Khun Pana - We live & learn (or at least we do if we're NOT in Umno!)

Julian Chin - Appreciate your "Wow." Everybody wants a bit of "wow" these days :-)

Michael - I don't feel any bitterness in Raja Bok. He has a well developed sense of humor & appreciates good company, music &
simple pleasures shared with close friends. Perhaps he sometimes feels relieved that he can fully explore & express his own humanity rather than be compelled to behave like some wax figure at Madame Tussaud's.

Anon @ 8:50AM - You can be quite sure the violence against Birch was precipitated more by the abrupt loss of mangkok nasi than by outrage over exposed pendatang pubic hair.

Kittykat - UMNO-NOK? What's NOK? "Nazis OK?"

MWS - Muuuaaaaaaah! xox :-)

anaianai said...

Birch killed for bathing in the nude? What a lot of crap. Read my

Monsterball said...

UMNO-NOK is a combination of UMNO and NONOK....look up the word in a Malay dictionary...calling somebody or something NONOK is definitely not polite....kakakakakah.

Gerald Wee Eng Kian said...

Nonok is Jawi for Dick. So is Kepala Dol [Dick Head]

Dad is surprisingly knowledgeable for derogatory and insulting terms in old languages.

erniejean said...

That's what Malaysians have been taught since hero worship those who have less than honourable motives in their deeds.....just gloss over the nasty bits and you have an enitrely new person in the history books......sad.....

Tinta Hitam said...

As colonial master Birch dont give a damn about what happened to the indegenious people.He came over to perak similar to USA came to Iraq.The main reason not to free the orang asli or any body from slavery even though he did free some of them.However I was made to understand that what fueled the killing because Birch and his goons had want around seizing some village girls for their pleasures.Not only that he also was ordered by East Indian company to seized the tin rich Perak for British interest.In other word robbing Perak state becaus ethe British felt it was their damn bloody right to go and seize others natural wealth.They were not coming for business.They came to plunder..

Freeing some slaves just to hide their main intention..

Cruzeiro said...

Ha ha -Crosstalk!
That's a good one, Antares ....
It's good to know that we have some real nice "royalty" living a normal life.
Met someone from the Kelantan House, recently - real down-to-earth, humble, polite & courteous guy despite a little bling-bling.
They're normal people - it's only the "leash" which the Lilliputians use that makes them look "different". But then again, there are exceptions too .....

You should write a book, mate - I'm sure it'll make a good read!

Starmandala said...

Kittykat - I like nonoks, so let's not ruin my pleasure by associating them with Umno!

Gerald - Your dad & I need to sit down & discuss this. All my life I was given to understand that "nonok" means "cunt"! Now you tell me it's the exact opposite. Hmmmmmm.

Erniejean - I greatly appreciate your well-thought-out comments, thanks.

Tinta Hitam - You from Iraq, bro?
What are you doing in Perak? Not sure who you've been talking to about Perak history & J.W.W. Birch - but looking at the guy's face I seriously doubt he's the sort who would abduct young girls, sexually abuse them & then blow them to smithereens. Birch has the face of a closet panty-sniffer. Back then, all of us BELIEVED in The Empire. We were that naive. But then, back in the 1950s, most folks took the Cold War seriously - they thought there was a Communist or Anarchist hiding under their own beds waiting to seduce their wives the moment they left home for work.

Starmandala said...

Cruzeiro - Cheers, bro! You remarked:
You should write a book, mate - I'm sure it'll make a good read!

It's much easier writing books than finding publishers, mate. Have you read any of my published works? The first one, ADOI!, issued in 1989, is now accessible online. The latest, Tanah Tujuh, can be ordered online :-)

Gerald Wee Eng Kian said...

My apologies, Nonok is Cunt >_< It's the other one that's for Dick.

Still, we've about 4 days left to see a man who begged, buggered and stole his way to the top receive a burning crash from the ballot box.

Sometime the weight of the crown is its own thorn.

Anonymous said...

Hello Antares.

I'd say Sultan Abdullah's family has produced some of the smartest Perak royals.

Raja Mohar Badiozaman, ex-economic adviser to 3 PMs (sans Tunku, Pak Lah and Najib) was one.

A man of integrity he was.

Maharaja Lela Pandak Lam's descendants (and that of his brother Datuk Sagor Ngah Kamdin who was also hanged) in the present day are prominent, too - there's ex-Perak MB Ramli Ngah Talib, the Indots (Jaafar, Johan, Marina, Melissa) and even the family of Azanin Ezane the dance guru (she is Ramli's cousin).

The wonderful Raslans are from the hanged men, too.

Sultan Abdullah's exile was a blessing in disguise.

He went to the Seychelles, met some Creole musicians, and took home a French song Rosalie which his successor Sultan Idris 1 made Perak's state anthem God Save The Sultan.

The Tunku chose the Perak anthem over 10 others in Malaya as Negara Ku, the Malayan and later Malaysian national anthem in 1957.

The French had earlier stolen that song from the Polynesian anthem Mamula Moon which does not have lyrics and is played by ukulele.

Maharaja Lela was a Bugis, just like the Polynesians.

What goes around comes around indeed.

Cheers, Dennis.

Ilusi Dalang said...

I had the pleasure of knowing Bok thru MCOBA activities back in 2005 when we were involved with MCKK Centenary Celebration. Bok sang a few songs with MCOBAND back then. Great guy indeed.

Cruzeiro said...

Just read your message ....

I think I read Adoi long time back - good stuff! I didn't know it was your's!!

As for Tanah7 - well, it looks like some "heavy" stuff that will need to have myself attuned to it. But I've bookmarked it, and will get to it after I finish the stuff that I'm on to rite now (quite a lot, actually.

Cheers, Mate!
& Thanks!

PrincessDeeDee said...

Uncle Bok... My wonderful uncle, though I rarely see him.

What he says is true.. Sultan Abdullah's picture is hanging in our hse, as with Raja Sir Chulan and the descendants, right down to our family.

It is something we are proud of... though people don't know our real story, some I assume don't even believe it, but we are proud of or blood line... though I'm not quite sure I'm proud of the current Sultan of Perak.

P/S: My mom is Bok's sister...

P/S/S: Uncle Bok... If you're reading this... my b'day is 2 months early reminder! *hint*hint*

Starmandala said...

Dennis - That was a real interesting & instructive comment you left, thanks! Didn't know the Raslans issue from the Perak aristocracy (Karim & Kam are old pals, have yet to meet Johan).

Ilusi Dalang - Hmmmm, didn't Bok used to sing with the MCOBAND. Shall coax him to regale us with a couple of numbers the next time he shows up :-)

Cruzeiro - Tanah Tujuh isn't "heavy stuff" nor is it exactly "light reading." Orang Asli mythology may not be high on most people's list of things to find out, but I personally feel that those who dismiss mythology are unlikely to ever find their way home through the Minotaur's labyrinth.

Princess DeeDee - Charming of you to drop by & say hello. Hope your laptop gets fixed soon so you can go back to blogging with a vengeance ;-)

World Telegraph Foundation said...

in the words of a wise man i say

"u may b king or street sweeper...but sooner or later every1 dances with the grim reaper"

Great Great Grand Daughter said...

I am one of Sultan Abdullah's great great grand daughter and know Raja Bok's family very well.

I still believe in the Royal tradition that true blue blood should be the rightful heir to be deserving the salutation of "Daulat Tuanku".

The current Sultan's mother is a commoner, his wife is a commoner and his son's wife is a commoner, therefore very "diluted".

Raja Bok is the eldest son of a family of pure royals. To me it is not important for a Sultan to be highly educated but should be close to the Rakyat, care for the Rakyat and listens to the Rakyat's needs and wants.

Sorry to say, but the current Sultan's family ar snubbish and the result is what's happening now in Perak, where the Rakyat's feelings are not looked into...

Starmandala said...

My dear Great-great-granddaughter - What a pleasure to read your candid comment here! You said:

To me it is not important for a Sultan to be highly educated but should be close to the Rakyat, care for the Rakyat and listens to the Rakyat's needs and wants.

You've put your royal pinky on a very important point. Many so-called royal houses on earth are actually usurper bloodlines - like the Windsors, for instance, whose original family name is Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (a Gothic-German & Saxon mishmash of warlord genes).
Sir Laurence Gardner the famous genealogist has written extensively
& convincingly about the Grail bloodlines that produced Yeshua (Jesus the Christ) & the Magdalene.
He too states that the tribal chief, masiah or messiah (meaning the anointed), is duty-bound to place his or her subjects' before his or her own personal interests. By right, nobody in their right mind would desire to be burdened with such an onerous & thankless responsibility. But pirate kings don't understand these unwritten laws of the universe, do they?

In any case, have you ever wondered how the concept of "royalty" originated on this planet? Perhaps you will find this story intriguing :-)

Anonymous said...

Please3x. Everybody should read "Perjuangan Penentangan British di Pasir Salak" by a University Malaya professor. The roles of Dato Maharajalela and Dato Sagor if not the best, are one of the best, sacrificing life for the sake of country. The killing of Birch is only 5% of their roles. Please understand that during that time is the transition period fron "non-law" to "law" country, in other words killing people are not illegal prior to the British arrival. The main issues here, we should appreciate and honor those who sacrificed life for the sake of nation. Our army sacrificed their life in Lahad Datu. Are we willing to do the same?

Norick said...

Thanks Antares for reposting this.
New insight to Perak history and its heir..
Thanks also to the link to ADOI.. I'm sure I will be camping at the site .. =) and the next thing will be to place order for Tanah Tujuh

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