An Open Letter on the Validity of Decorations

An Open Letter on the Validity of Decorations Currently
Bestowed by H. M. Sultan Muhammad Fuad Abdullah Kiram I,
Reigning Royal Hashemite Sultan of Sulu and Sabah

January 18, 2012
To Whom It May Concern:
As a student of chivalry, heraldry, and matters nobiliary, I have from time to time encountered in the course of my personal research those individuals who make it their business (albeit business most unofficial) to question the royal rights and prerogatives of certain of the regnant sovereigns of the present era.

Among those whose rights to reign and bestow honors are sometimes questioned is the current Sultan of Sulu and Sabah, H. M. Muhammad Fuad Abdulla Kiram I, who rose to the throne on June 3, 2006, in the wake of Datu Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram’s involvement in forbidden act of sexual assault on a female, as well as assault involving a minor. Having been declared haram, or unclean, as a result of these incidents, Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram was, both under Islamic law, and according to the practices of royal succession of the House of Kiram, legally disqualified from reigning (especially as a significant aspect of the functions of a reigning sultan are his authority and direct influence in religious, moral, and ethical matters).

The ascent of H. M. the present Sultan Fuad A. Kiram I, ratified on June 3, 2006, by the Council of Datus of Sulu and of Sabah (North Borneo), was further proclaimed on that same day by the Sharifs of the Sultanate (all descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, PBUH), in full accordance with the Islamic law of succession that has long pertained in Sulu. In the years that have followed the enthronement of H. M. Muhammad Fuad I, there have been a number of important reaffirmations of his sovereign status, among them the specific request of fellow monarch (and cousin), H. M. Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei (r. 1967- present), that the sole legitimate Sultan of Sulu should be among the guests at the State Dinner held in his honor at the Malacañang Palace in Manila, the Philippines, on January 30, 2009.

In addition, recognition of the sovereign status of Sultan Muhammad Fuad I by such prominent bodies as the Moro National Liberation Front, under the leadership of Datu Nur al-Misuari (January 15, 2008), and the Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, currently led by Haji Sir Surya Darma Ali (December 2, 2011), have cemented his undoubted position as a monarch on the international stage. In this connection, and given these notable recognitions of the Sultan’s sovereign role, it is most puzzling to note the occasional, yet persistent claims from some quarters that the honorific creations of His Majesty lack validity in terms of commonly-accepted chivalric practice.

At a growing pace, however, and with ever-renewed enthusiasm, prominent figures from around the world continue to join the ranks of those who have already recognized the sovereign rights and entitlements of H. M. Sultan Muhammad Fuad I, thereby further demonstrating and affirming the validity of the Royal Orders of Knighthood of Sulu and Sabah. Among those who have recently added their support to the cause of the Sultanate under the leadership of His Majesty are: The Hon. Datuk Sir Henry Muganwa Kajura, KGCMRSS, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Uganda (lately created a Knight Grand Commander of the Royal Order of Sulu and Sabah), the current Prime Minister of East Timor, The Hon. Datuk Sir Mari Akatiri, KGCMRSS, (also a Knight Grand Commander of the Royal Order of Sulu and Sabah), and the Commissioner of National Elections of East Timor, The Hon. Datuk Sir Arif Sagran, KCRSS (of late named a Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Sulu and Sabah).

Although the various sovereigns of the Sultanate of Sulu have awarded, since the earliest centuries of its independent historical existence, such orders as the highly-esteemed Royal Order of Sulu and Sabah (founded in 1658), in point of fact, one need look no further back in time than to the era of the Brooke rajahs of the Kingdom of Sarawak (Sabah’s closest geographical neighbor) to find a successful and comprehensive example of the introduction of modern honorific practices into a Southeast Asian realm.

The original Sultan of Sulu, Abu Bakr (r. 1450-1480), who ruled under the name of Sharif ul-Hashim, was an Arab scholar and seafaring merchant who had married a local dayang-dayang (princess), and whose resultant sovereignty of his island domains was first recognized by the Sultan of Brunei, Sulaiman (r. 1432-1485), circa 1458. For his part, Sir James Brooke, first of the English “White Rajahs” of Sarawak, had been given his kingdom on August 18, 1842 by the Brunei sultan of his era, Omar Ali Saiffudin II (r. 1828-1852) as a reward for his successful subjugation of the area’s previously intractable native pirate communities.

During the century that followed, H. H. Rajah Sir James Brooke (r. 1842-1868), his nephew, H. H. Rajah Sir Charles Anthoni Johnson Brooke (r. 1868-1917), and the latter’s son, H. H. Rajah Sir Charles Vyner de Windt Brooke (r. 1917-1946), successfully transformed this once-savage domain into a reflection of their solid and efficient governance, suppressing the practice of headhunting among the Dayak natives, and ruling in a generally benevolent and forward-thinking manner until the kingdom was absorbed into the holdings of the British Crown in the wake of the Japanese occupation during World War Two.

The rajahs of the Brooke dynasty of Sarawak, although they were to comprise an entirely foreign, genetically non-native house, were fully recognized as regnant by the Court of St. James in London. In their capacity as Southeast Asian sovereigns, they granted a number of decorations and awards that had previously been entirely unknown in the native traditions of their extensive domains, decorations which were to successfully receive official recognition throughout the world, including the vast territories of the then-dominant British Empire.

Among these decorations was the Most Excellent Order of the Star of Sarawak, founded by H. H. Rajah Sir Charles Vyner Brooke on September 26, 1928, and which was divided into three classes: Master (MSS), Companion (CSS), and Officer (OSS), with distinctive insignia for each class. Royal and nobiliary scholar Christopher Buyers writes, in the section of his Royal Ark website devoted to the Brooke Kingdom of Sarawak, that “[t]he insignia of the first class consisted of a breast star, sash and sash badge. The second class insignia was a badge worn from a necklet, and the third class a medal worn from a ribbon on the left breast.” This three-tiered membership, similar to that of the Institution of Military Merit created on March 10, 1759, during the reign of King Louis XV of France, marked the Brooke Order of the Star of Sulu as part of the lineage of European-style orders and decorations that had initially come into being with the foundation of the great Royal and Military Order of Saint-Louis, first of the modern orders of merit, instituted by royal decree of King Louis XIV on April 5, 1693.

In addition, this royal decoration of the Brooke dynasty, which marked something of a culmination in terms of the distinctions awarded within the Kingdom of Sarawak, may well have been at least partially inspired by the similarly-named Most Illustrious Order of the Star of India (founded in 1861 by Queen Victoria), as well by as the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (founded in 1917 by King George V), but was by no means the first such species of honor to be bestowed under the sovereign authority of the foreign-born rajahs.

The Sarawak Government Long Service Medal had been instituted during the reign of H. H. Rajah Sir Charles Brooke, and was awarded for long and faithful service to civil servants, local leaders, native chiefs, and nobles. Its insignia consisted of a silver hexagonal medal, which was awarded in one class only. This distinction was later altered and renamed by H. H. Rajah Sir Charles Vyner Brooke in 1940, and became obsolete upon the cession of the Kingdom to the British Crown in 1946.

Another of the decorations created during the reign of H. H. Rajah Sir Charles Vyner Brooke was the Sarawak Government Conspicuous Bravery Medal, which was awarded to rangers, police, and civil servants of the kingdom for heroism beyond the call of duty. Its membership was later broadened to include those subjects who had acted valiantly during the Japanese occupation, and it was awarded in a single class, its insignia being a circular silver medal suspended on a ribbon which bore the heraldic colors of the Brooke dynasty (or, sable, and gules).

It is plain to see that although the earlier history of Sarawak had featured no decorations of the sort awarded by British or European sovereigns of the day, during the period of the Brooke kingdom, a number of honors in the Western European mold were successfully introduced. Furthermore, the Most Excellent Order of the Star of Sarawak was later to serve as a direct inspiration for the Most Illustrious Order of the Star of Sarawak, which was introduced on July 10, 1964, by the government of this component state of the present federal constitutional monarchy of Malaysia.

Indeed, as H. M. the current Sultan is recognized as a fully native and legitimate sovereign of the Sultanate, and as the Royal Order of Sulu and Sabah dates from the middle of the seventeenth century, it might further be argued that, in some respects, it was this this very order itself which, as a forerunner, served to establish a precedent in the region, one that would later be taken up by H. H. Rajah Sir Charles Vyner Brooke in 1928, with his foundation of the Most Excellent Order of the Star of Sarawak.

If one searches a bit further afield, there is also the example of Meiji Japan to be considered. After the ascent of the Emperor Mutsohito (reign name Meiji) to the Imperial Throne of Japan in 1868, a wholesale reorganization of the honorific structures of the Japanese Empire took place. In direct imitation of the ranks and titles of the nobility of the British Empire, Mutsohito and his advisors devised a new system of honors and noble ranks, known collectively in Japanese as the kazuko, or “flowery lineage.” This “flowery lineage” included ranks and titles inspired directly by those of the British and European nobility of the time, and also drew upon ancient Chinese designations for the aristocracy and gentry.

In the wake of the Meiji Restoration, the old court nobility of Kyoto managed to reassert itself, and to regain a certain measure of its once-hallowed prestige. Later, with the Peerage Act of 1884, which was engineered largely by Hirobumi Ito after visits to Europe, the Meiji government expanded the hereditary peerage with the granting of kazuko rank to those who had performed outstanding services on behalf of the Japanese Empire. These kazuko were also divided into ranks clearly based on those of the British peerages, to wit:
Prince/Duke (daikōshaku)
Marquess (kōshaku)
Earl/Count (hakushaku)
Viscount (shishaku) and
Baron (danshaku).

Thus, given the precedent that has existed since the era of the so-called “White Rajahs of Sarawak,” as well as that of the Japanese imperial restructuring of its nobility on the British/European model, it is patently obvious that there exists no reason whatsoever why the reigning Sultan of Sulu and Sabah should be in any way discouraged from awarding such highly-prized distinctions as the Royal Order of Hashem of Sabah, the Royal Order of Sulu, the Royal Order of Sulu and Sabah, the Royal Order of Kiram, or the Royal Order of Mindanao.

In addition to questions about the nature and origin of the honors and titles bestowed by H. M. Sultan Muhammad Fuad Abdulla I, there is also the matter of the heraldic achievements granted to honorees by the Royal College of Arms of the Sultanate of Sulu and Sabah, under the direct authority of the Sultan. This matter, as well, can be addressed by referring to the example of another Asian state, in this case, British India.

During the period of hegemony of the British Empire in India (ca. 1707-1947), and particularly during the 19th and 20th centuries, not only were specifically Indian orders of chivalry created and bestowed by the British Crown to Indian subjects (e. g., The Most Exalted Order of the Star of India [founded 1861], The Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire [founded 1877]), but personal armorial bearings, demonstrating a distinct hybridization of British and Indian styles, were also granted to Indian notables and potentates. Indeed, many of the native princes of the various Indian states requested that such heraldic achievements be created for them under the authority of the British Crown, and they were used to identify and embellish everything from princely letterhead to royal automobiles. Indeed, many of these arms persist in use today, and the heraldry of the British Raj has had a lasting impact on the style and content of modern Indian armorial representations.

Finally, and with regard to another of the Royal Orders of Sulu and Sabah, the Royal Order of Kiram, one can do no better than to quote H. R. H. Prince Omar, Prince Marshal of the Sultanate, who states that the Order was“[f]ounded and established by His Majesty Sultan Mohammad Jamalul Kiram I on his ascension to the throne as the 27th Sultan of Sulu and Sabah in 1823, [which] he ruled up to 1844. On his death, his son HM Sultan Mohammad Pulalun Kiram was crowned the 28th Sultan of Sulu and Sabah.”

In addition, states Prince Omar, “HM Sultan Jamalul Kiram I (who first used the surname Kiram in 1823, as before him all the Sulu Sultans only used first names, no surnames) was the great ancestor of HM Sultan Muhammad Fuad A. Kiram I, the 35th Sultan of Sulu and Sabah.”

However, unlike many modern chivalric creations, among whose aims appears to be a certain level of financial gain on the part of their grantors, the Orders of Knighthood of the Royal Hashemite Sultanate of Sulu and Sabah are given freely, and without the receipt of any species of payment whatsoever on the part of the recipients. These awards are made solely on the basis of merit, and of service to the worldwide human community, regardless of race, creed, ethnic origin, political orientation, and or/financial status.

Indeed, these Royal Awards of Knighthood are free to all recipients, and are granted solely on the basis of personal achievements, not on the honoree’s ability to pay.

I submit that H.M. Sultan Fuad A. Kiram I as The Sultan of Sulu & The Sultan of Sabah is the “Fountain of all Honors” in the Royal Hashemite Sultanate of Sulu & Sabah, and with it comes full powers and royal authority to create new awards, new decorations and titles of Knights, Nobility and Royalty. As fountain of honors, H.M. Sultan Muhammad Fuad I can also revive extinct or dead awards, and make extinct or stop any award or title in the Royal Hashemite Sultanate of Sulu & Sabah.

As well H.M. Sultan Fuad A. Kiram I by his own powers can use the Tausug language or any other language like English, furthermore, use the protocol address of the past and/or of the international norm in Europe in the awards, decorations and titles used and bestowed in the Royal Hashemite Sultanate of Sulu & Sabah for easy understanding and recognition by many, to distinguish the Royal Orders, titles of Nobility or of Royalty.

Therefore, based on the information and examples provided above, I would like to take this opportunity to most humbly suggest that those who persist in asserting that the recent awards of H. M. Sultan Muhammad Fuad I fly in the face of tradition and/or precedent within the region should reconsider their position, especially given such plain and indisputable evidence to the contrary.

Sir Stewart Addington Saint-David, Bt., DRK, KRSS, PhD, MTS, CertTESOL, FINS
Chevalier of the National Order of Merit of France
Datuk of the Royal Order of Sulu and Sabah
Datuk Katurunan/ Hereditary Knight/ Baronet of the Royal Order of Kiram

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