Revival of the Office of North Borneo Affairs

Read More

History – Part 2





Period of 19th century was in the history of the Sultanate of Sulu very dynamic and marked with various important events. During this century, there was ten Sultans as the heads of state of Sulu. Here will be presented some of the important events, related to their rule in the century of the world’s industrial and technological revolution.

The Sultanate of Sulu entered in the 19th Century as ally of the British Empire. This alliance was dating back to the mid 18th century, when the two countries started their joint struggle against the Spanish. The British in the 18th century had their trading post in the Sultanate of Sulu, more precisely at Balambangan island, near the northern coast of Borneo. The
Sultan of Sulu issued a permission for its foundation. This outpost was abandoned by 1775, because it was heavily damaged during the frequent pirate attacks.

Sultan Sharapud-Din

At late 18th and early 19th century the Sultanate of Sulu was under the rule of Sultan Sharapud-Din. He was the head of the country from 1789, until his death, in 1808. He lived to old age. He was the son of Sultan Alimud-Din I. During his reign, namely in 1803, the British renewed their presence on the island Balambangan, but this time in the form of military base. From there, however, they withdrew in November 1805.

Sultan Alimud-Din III

Sultan Sharapud-Din was succeeded on the throne by his son, Sultan Alimud-Din III. He ruled very briefly, considered to be only 40 days. He died in 1808, the same year as his father. He probably died of smallpox, which raged in that year on the main island of Sulu archipelago, Jolo.

Sultan Aliyud-Din I

After Alimud-Din’s death, on the throne of this island monarchy, came his younger brother, a pious Sultan Aliyud-Din I. He ruled between the 1808 and 1821. When the Spanish lost Mexico in 1821, their possessions in the Philippines came under the direct rule of Madrid. This further influenced the deterioration in relations between the Spanish Empire and the Sultanate of Sulu.

Sultan Shakirul-Lah

In 1821, Sultan of Sulu became Shakirul-Lah. He was the brother of the Sultans Alimud-Din III and Aliyud-Din I, and the son of Sharapud-Din. He is remembered as a great benefactor of the poor. He reigned for only two years, until his death, in 1823.

Sultan Jamalul-Kiram I

Sultan Jamalul-Kiram I was the son of Sultan Alimud Din III. He ruled the Sultanate of Sulu between 1823 and 1844. The royal House of Kiram, Sultanate of Sulu ruling family, is named after him. The Spanish fleet under the command of Captain Alonso Morgado in 1824 won a victory over some slave traders and pirates, who came from Sulu. This event improved the
Spanish naval supremacy in these waters. The following period was also marked by several Spanish naval victories, which led to a reduction in the Sultanate’s maritime power. During 1840s, besides Spanish colonial interests in the territory under the rule of Sulatanate of Sulu, interests among other world powers has increased, such as France, Britain, Germany and the United States of America.

Sultan Mohammad Pulalun Kiram

Mohammad Pulalun Kiram (Pogdar) was the Sultan of Sulu in the period from 1844, until his death, in 1862. He was the son of the previous ruler of Sulu, Sultan Jamalul-Kiram I. He was regarded as capable administrator and a just ruler. French fleet under Admiral Jean-Baptiste Cécille attacked the Jolo and after that, in 1844/1845, conducted a naval blockade of the island of Basilan, forcing the local leaders to recognize the sovereignty of France, on 13. January 1845. In this way, French forced the Sultanate of Sulu to formally cede Basilan for 100 000 piasters (500 000 francs), on 20. February 1845. Their intention was to create the naval base, similar to British base in Hong Kong. However, they gave up the project, as they were encountered by fierce resistance of the local population and the Spanish Empire. The Spanish also strongly opposed by diplomatic means, claiming that Basilan is part of their possessions in the Philippines. The French issued the proclamation on 5 August 1845, claiming that they have no longer interests in Basilan.

After a long period of mutual devastation and conflicts between the Spanish and the Sultanate of Sulu, in 1848. there has been a significant shift in favor of the Spanish interests. One of the main causes of this turning point, was remarkable technological advance of world powers and the emergence of new types of weapons. Especially introduction of steamships in the Spanish Navy was of great importance. Establishment of the Spanish fortress Queen Isabella II (Fuerte Isabella Segunda Reina) in Basilan was also very important, as well as some other factors.

Strong Spanish fleet led by the Governor-General of the Philippines, Narciso Claveria, invaded in 1848 fort Balangingi on Tungkil, one of the Sultanate of Sulu islands. The fort was conquered, but the local commander managed to avoid capture. After that, the Spanish conquered Maluso on Basilan island.

During the year 1850, Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines Antonio de Urbistondo, again attacked Balangingi on the island Tungkil and destroyed remaining fortifications.

Sultan Jamalul A’Lam

To the throne of Sultanate of Sulu came Sultan Jamalul A’Lam in 1862. He was son of the previous Sultan, Mohammad Pulalun Kiram. Sultan Jamalul A’Lam was the ruler of Sulu, until his death, in 1881. During his reign, there was a significant number of important events concerning Sultanate. On 21 February 1876, after a series of unsuccessful attempts, the Spanish launched a large-scale attack on Jolo. Their contingent, led by Admiral Jose Malcampo, consisted of 9000 soldiers, 11 cargo ships, 11 gunboats, and 11 steamships. They conquered Jolo and established a Spanish garrison there. This garnison was led by Captain Pascual Cervera. He was assigned to the function of the military governor, which he held until December 1876. Until 1899. this position was held by a certain number of Spanish officers. The Spanish built fort in Jolo, but they did not feel safe there, because of the frequent attacks by the population of Sulu.

Sultan of Sulu signed a peace treaty with the Spanish on 22 July 1878. According to the Spanish version, it was transfer of the sovereignty over Sulu archipelago, while by version in Tausug language it was introducing a protectorate. After the signing of the peace, Sultan Jamalul A’Lam moved his court in Maymbung.

Also, there were some major events on the southern borders of the Sultanate of Sulu, during this period. In 1865, the American Consul to Brunei, Claude Lee Moses, concluded with the Sultanate of Sulu ten-year lease agreement on the North Borneo. Due to financial difficulties, he had to transfer his rights to the Austro-Hungarian consul in Hong Kong, baron Gustav von Overbeck. Sultan Jamalul A’Lam on 22 January 1878 signed an agreement with baron von Overbeck and British, brothers Alfred and Edward Dent. By terms of this agreement, the North Borneo given in a ten-year lease to the Company Dent and Oferbek. In return, the Sultanate received the necessary weapons and certain funds, which are paid annually.

Due to the signing of the mentioned peace of 22nd July 1878, the property of Company Dent and Overbeck at the North Borneo was threatened.

In 1880, Overbeck transferred his rights to the Dent brothers. The British established in July 1881 British North Borneo Provisional Association Ltd. In May 1882, when this association get the Charter of Queen Victoria, they formed the North Borneo Chartered Company. The company strengthened in this area, and stopped the spread of the Spanish sphere of influence to Borneo.

Sultan Badarud-Din II

Sultan Badarud-Din II was the son of Sultan Jamalul A’Lam. He came to the throne of Sulu after his father’s death, in 1881. He ruled for three years. Sultan Badarud-Din II died on 22 February 1884, without male heir.

Sultan Jamalul-Kiram II (first reign)

Jamalul-Kiram II was declared Sultan by his supporters in 1884, following the death of his brother, Sultan Badarud-Din II. It is believed that the earlier name of Sultan Jamalul-Kiram II was Amirul Kiram II. His reign was unsuccessfully challenged by the grandson of Sultan Shakirul-Lah, Datu (Prince) Aliud-Din. Because of that, Aliud-Din was forced to flee to the island
Basilan. As a mediator between the Sultan and Aliud-Din appeared Harun Ar-Rashid (descendant of Alimud-Din by Datu Putong).

Historical  Sultans Palace in Maimbung


Historical Sultans Palace in Maimbung


Sultan Harun Ar-Rashid

Spanish intrigue led to the arrival of the mentioned Harun Ar-Rashid at the Sultan’s throne. He was declared Sultan of Sulu in Manila in 1886. Harun Ar-Rashid never gained the support of the majority of the population Sulu. When in 1894. became clear, that he is no longer necessary to the Spanish, he was forced to abdicate. He went to Palawan, where he died in 1899.

The Chinese who lived at Sulu Archipelago were supplying Sultanate with arms. It was used for fighting against the Spanish. In exchange, they took slaves and material goods. At that time Chinese prevailed in Sulu trade. In April 1887, the Spanish suddenly attacked Maimbung, then capital of the Sultanate. On that occasion, they seized a large amount of weapons. Property of the local Chinese was destroyed, and they were deported to Jolo. In 1888, despite the fact that it was a leased territory, British proclaimed they protectorate in North Borneo.

Sultan Jamalul-Kiram II (second reign)

In 1894. Sultan Jamalul-Kiram II managed to re-assert his authority in this monarchy. The Spanish finally admitted him as the Sultan of Sulu. Jamalul-Kiram II died on 7 June 1936. During his rule, in 1895, the unit of the Sultanate of Sulu, led by prominent military leaders, brothers Datu Julkarnain and Datu Kalbi, attacked the Spanish troops in Jolo. However, this attack was rejected by the combined forces of the Spanish Army and military units of their Filipino allies.

The Spanish have lost the Spanish – American War. Under the terms of the Paris Peace, 1898, they gave certain territories to the United States of America. Among these territories were the Philippines. Concerning these circumstances, U.S. Brigadier General John Coalter Bates made the agreement with the Sultan of Sulu Jamalul-Kiram II, on 26th August 1899. It is interesting that, under the terms of the agreement, although it acknowledges the supremacy of Americans, the Sultanate of Sulu remained full sovereignty over North Borneo.


In the tumultuous period, as was the 19th century, the Sultanate of Sulu came in contact with various colonial powers of the time, such as: Spain, United Kingdom, France and the United States. These contacts were usually concerning conflicts between them, although there were some inter-state cooperation.

Although the Sultanate of Sulu entered in the 19th century as an important regional entity, its influence in the region has decreased during this century. As in previous centuries, the Sultanate of Sulu led continual struggle with the world’s colonial powers, but this time appeared some new factors. In the first place it was more modern weapons, which world powers began to use. Appearance of steamships, for example, has had a major impact on the balance of power in the maritime domination. The Sultanate of Sulu haven’t had industrial and economic base for the production or supply of modern weapons. Despite persistent and courageous struggle for freedom of the Sultans, the leaders, and the people of Sulu, the impact of this state in the region was gradually decreasing in the age of the industrial and technological revolution.


We are witnessing numerous attempts to relativize the process of succession of title of Sultan in the Sultanate of Sulu. These attempts are constantly being launched by a number of self-styled Sultans, pretenders to the throne of this island monarchy. Firstly, we will consider practice of succession of this title in the Sultanate of Sulu, during the 20th century. Older examples from the rich history of the Sultanate will not be considered, primarily because of the fact, that they were very similar to examples from the 20th century.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the Sultanate of Sulu was under the leadership of Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, who ruled between 1894 and 1936. He had only daughters, who came to adulthood. After the death of Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, his brother Muwallil Wasit II was declared Sultan. Until then, he was the Crown Prince. He, however, died in the same year (1936),
before he was formally crowned.

In the period 1937 – 1950, there were several pretenders to the throne of the Sultanate of Sulu. One of them was Amirul Umara I, supported by the Japanese. He was the son-in-law of Sultan Jamalul Kiram II (husband of his adopted daughter Piandao). The second was Jainal Abirin. He was supported by the American forces.

Sultan Moh. Esmail Kiram I was the eldest son of Sultan Muwallil Wasit II. He was Crown Prince, before coming to the throne. He was leader of the Sultanate of Sulu in the period of 24 years, between 1950 and 1974, and was recognized by the Philippine Government. In 1974, after the death of Sultan Moh. Esmail Kiram, the throne was succeeded by his eldest son, Sultan Moh. Mahakuttah Kiram. During the reign of his father, Mahakuttah Kiram was the Crown Prince.

At the time of the coronation of Sultan Moh. Mahakuttah Kiram, his eldest son, Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram, was proclaimed Crown Prince of the Sultanate of Sulu. The former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos, by special decree, confirmed the coronation of the new Sultan and the appointment of the new heir to the throne. There are documents concerning this event, here on the website of the Sultanate of Sulu, and which have also been published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Philippines.

Sultan Moh. Mahakuttah Kiram died in 1986. At that moment, Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram should come to the throne, both regarding his inheritance right of the first born Sultan’s son, as well as his appointment as the Crown Prince in 1974. However, due to the unstable political situation in the country. Then, as well as in the following years and decades, appeared some people with unfounded claims of Sulu sultan’s throne.

Some of these self-proclaimed pretenders were of the royal blood, and members of Kiram dynasty, like Datu (Prince) Fuad Kiram, Jamalul Kiram III, or Esmail Kiram II. Others were born in families that were not of royal or noble ancestry, but anyway they stated their claim to throne. This situation formally ended when, in 16 September 2012, took place the traditional coronation of the legal heir to the throne of the Sultanate of Sulu, Sultan Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram.

Even after the historic act of coronation of Sultan Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram, which was supported by the Royal Council (Ruma Bichara), imams of the Islamic community of Sulu, local leaders and people Sulu, some self-proclaimed pretenders have not given up their claims to the Sultan title.

Using his legitimate right, Sultan Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram established, in accordance with the old traditions of the Sultanate, the Royal and Hashemite Order of Pearl. This Order has been recognized in international royal, aristocratic and expert circles. Among its numerous prominent members we will mention only a few: King of Bunyoro-Kitara Solomon Iguru I, King of Rwanda Kigeli V, Head of the Royal House of Portugal Duarte Pio of Braganza, Head of the Royal House of Georgia David Bagration, Ethiopian Imperial Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie, members of some royal and princely houses, like Karageorgevich and Habsburg, princes of Afghanistan, Egypt, Hyderabad, as well as others. Among members of this Order is also former Polish president and Nobel Prize winner, Lech Walesa.

Some relevant international organizations, such as the International Commission for Orders of Chivalry, Augustan Society and others, clearly recognized Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram as the sole legitimate Sultan of Sulu and the only person in the Sultanate, who now has the right to establish chivalric orders.

Coat of arms of The Royal Sultanate of Sulu. Artist:HE Datu Sadja Michael Y. Medvedev.


Coat of arms of The Royal Sultanate of Sulu. Artist: HE Datu Sadja Michael Y. Medvedev


Unlike the Royal and Hashemite Order of the Pearl, some fictitious “titles” and “orders” are promoted by self-proclaimed pretenders. These are named mainly on the pseudo – European bases, not accordingly the traditions of Sulu. These self-proclaimed pretenders are not legitimate holders of the title of Sultan or chief of the royal House of Kiram, so they have no right for such actions. Their so-called “titles” and “orders” are not recognized by any of relevant international organisations.

Sultan Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram is recognized and respected by members of many of the world’s dynasties. He is also the holder of a significant number of foreign decorations. Among them, there are Orders awarded by the royal houses of: Bunyoro-Kitara (Uganda), Georgia, Rwanda, and Ethiopia.

Considering all that is mentioned, it is clear that the only true and legitimate Sultan of Sulu is Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram. As he eldest son of the last undeniable Sultan of Sulu, Moh. Mahakuttah Kiram, he is the only legitimate claimant to the throne of his late father. Furthermore, in his early age, at the time of his father’s coronation, he was appointed as Crown Prince. All legitimate sultans of Sulu in the 20th century were firstly bearers of this title. His appointment was confirmed by the Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. Also, the sultan Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram is grandson of Sultan Moh. Esmail I Kiram, and great-grandson of Sultan Muwallil Wasit II. He was crowned as Sultan of Sulu on 16 September 2012, with the support and approval of the Royal Council, the imams of the Islamic community of Sulu and people of Sulu. These are the facts, intentionally relativized by self-proclaimed pretenders to the throne of the Sultanate and by their followers because of their own interests.