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Monday October 26, 2009

History in the making

Negri Sembilan welcomes a new ruler after 40 years.

IT has been a little more than 40 years since the people of Negri Sembilan last witnessed a coronation.

Their last ruler – the late Tuanku Ja’afar Tuanku Abdul Rahman – was installed in 1968 and ruled until his demise late last year. So, for many, the coronation of Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir as the 11th Yang di-Pertuan Besar is an event of a lifetime.

Although the installation of the new ruler takes place today, celebrations began last Thursday and will go on for close to two weeks – the customary ceremonies end on Wednesday while state-wide celebrations continue till the end of the month.

Negri royalty: Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir with Tuanku Aishah Rohani Tengku Besar Mahmud and sons Tunku Ali Redhauddin (left) and Tunku Zain Al-Abidin

Most of the festivities are focused in the royal town of Seri Menanti, with today’s coronation and the rituals preceding it taking place on palace grounds, but there is also plenty going on in the rest of the state.

Determined to make the celebrations a grand affair was Tuanku Muhriz’s eldest son, Tunku Besar Seri Menanti Tunku Ali Redhauddin.

At a press conference at Istana Seri Menanti late last month, after officially announcing the date of the installation, Tunku Ali Redhauddin said he hoped the celebrations to mark his father’s installation would not only be special but, more importantly, people-centred.

“We are hoping to get the public involved in the celebrations,” he said.

His verve is understandable since the ascension of Tuanku Muhriz, 60, has been a long time coming.

Tuanku Muhriz was the heir apparent when his father, Tuanku Munawir Tuanku Abdul Rahman passed away in 1967. At the time, however, the Undang Empat (council of ruling chiefs) decided that at 18, Tuanku Muhriz was too young to ascend the throne and it was his uncle, Tuanku Ja’afar, who became the state’s 10th Yam Tuan Besar instead.

In Negri Sembilan, ascension is not hereditary as it is in the other states. Instead, the Undang Empat, comprising the heads of the four largest districts in the state – Sungai Ujong, Jelebu, Johol and Rembau – decide who will ascend the throne.

In the 40 years that his uncle ruled the state, Tuanku Muhriz kept a relatively low profile. After reading Law at the University of Wales, he returned to Malaysia and joined Citibank in Kuala Lumpur in the mid-1970s before moving on to part-own a small international money-broking firm in the late 70s.

In 1974, he married Terengganu royalty Tengku Aishah Rohani Tengku Besar Mahmud.

A man of the people: Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir meeting participants of an Islamic World Congress held near Seremban recently.

Tuanku Muhriz has also been involved in various charitable causes, namely the Tinggi Foundation which provides educational opportunities for deserving students.

At the press conference, Tunku Ali Redhauddin, 32, and his younger brother Tunku Zain Al-Abidin, 27, gave the media a preview of the festivities that would mark their father’s coronation.

The young princes prepared a multimedia presentation, the highlight of which was the screening of two clips containing footage of coronation ceremonies of the past two Negri rulers – their grandfather Tuanku Munawir in 1960 and Tuanku Ja’afar, their grand uncle, in 1968.

“We are trying to re-create something similar, of course, subject to the State Government’s budget,” said the elder prince.

Tunku Ali Redhauddin is the Director of Investments at Khazanah Nasional while Tunku Zain Al-Abidin works in poverty eradication with the World Bank.

Family man: Tuanku Muhriz with his consort Tuanku Aishah Rohani and their princes during a trip to Rome in August 2008. – Photos courtesy of Istana Negri Sembilan

The two princes have a younger brother, Tunku Alif Hussein Saifuddin, 25, a special needs person whom the family dotes on.

The 15-minute “screening” was indeed a blast from the past and succeeded quite well in getting the usually impassive journalists curious and even a little excited about the upcoming event.

The footage – from the annals of the Malayan Film Unit (now Filem Negara Malaysia) – showed scenes from both coronations and was accompanied by commentary explaining the significance of the customs.

What was most striking about the footage, apart from the centuries-old rituals and traditions of the adat pepatih, were the thousands of people from all walks of life lining the streets to pay homage to their ruler.

Those were simpler times. It may seem anachronistic – in an age where royalty doesn’t play much into our daily lives – but the coronation ceremony of a ruler harks back to the early years of our country’s history and, corny though it may sound, defines us as a nation.

Incidentally, two of the state’s rulers had been elected as the nation’s Yang di-Pertuan Agong – Tuanku Abdul Rahman Tuanku Muhammad (the eighth Yang di-Pertuan Besar Negri Sembilan) was the country’s first king (1957-1960) and the late Tuanku Ja’afar (1994-1999).

File picture of Tuanku Muhriz with his father Tuanku Munawir.

Istiadat berlangsung, adat dijunjung

Kicking off the festivities was the Ceremony to Emplace the Royal Regalia in the forecourt of the Istana Besar Seri Menanti which took place last Thursday. The ceremony was conducted by the 99 ceremonial guards (Pegawai Sembilan Puluh Sembilan) and witnessed by the Tunku Besar.

Next was the Royal Bathing Ceremony (Istiadat Bersiram) which took place yesterday involving both Tuanku Muhriz and his consort.

Accompanied by palace officials, members of the royal families, state dignitaries and the public, the royal couple was carried in a special royal carriage (Takhta Rencana) by the four senior ceremonial officers (Orang Empat Istana) from the palace to a ceremonial dais (Panca Persada). Upon their arrival, an eight-gun salute was fired.

Once on the dais, the four senior ceremonial officers circled them seven times before offering the Air Bedak Limau to the royal couple as part of a cleansing ritual for the ruler to ready his body, mind and soul for his new role – bersihlah jasmani, sucilah rohani dan luhurlah semangat.

Daulat Tuanku

Today’s installation ceremony at the throne room of the palace (Balairong Seri) is naturally the highlight of the celebrations and is an occasion steeped in tradition, dating back to the 18th century when the first Yang di-Pertuan Besar, Raja Melewar, was installed.

Tuanku Muhriz with members of his band, The Prince and the Paupers, as a boy studying at Aldenham School in England.

Tuanku Muhriz’s installation follows two other significant ceremonies which were held earlier this year. The first was the installation of Tuanku Muhriz’s eldest son Tunku Ali Redhauddin as Tunku Besar Seri Menanti on Feb 22. Tuanku Muhriz was himself installed as the Tunku Besar in 1961, when he was just 13.

The other ceremony was the installation of the Tunku Ampuan Besar Tuanku Aishah Rohani on April 14. This is a custom unique to the state, where the Ruler’s consort is installed ahead of him.

The ancient coronation ritual is rather long-drawn, commencing with the arrival of Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, and the Tunku Besar Tampin, Tunku Syed Razman Syed Idrus, at the palace early in the morning.

This is followed by the arrival of the Undang Empat who stayed in transitory homes or telapak in the Seri Menanti area. Ordinarily, each Undang resides in the district in which they are ruling chiefs.

After resting briefly in the pavilions constructed for them for this occasion – Balai Melintang for the Undang Sungai Ujong, Balai Serong for the Undang Jelebu, Balai Bertingkat for the Undang Johol and Balai Panjang for the Undang Rembau – the four proceed on foot to the palace proper where a 15-gun salute is fired.

Other guests then start to arrive at the Istana, including representatives of the Malay Rulers and the Governors of Penang, Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak (the rulers themselves don’t come, as per tradition) as well as the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.

The Undang of Sungei Ujong leading a procession from Balai Melintang to the Istana Seri Menanti during the installation of Tuanku Munawir in 1961.

Once everyone is assembled, the four senior ceremonial officers will escort Tuanku Muhriz to inspect a Guard of Honour. Tuanku Muhriz and Tuanku Aishah Rohani then take their seats on the throne in the Balairong Seri.

The installation begins with the Dato’ Bentara Kanan seeking the Yang di-Pertuan Besar’s assent to initiate the proceedings.

Following this, the Dato’ Seri Amar di-Raja (who leads the senior ceremonial officers) announces that the ceremony has begun.

Undang Sungai Ujong then proclaims the installation of the Yang di-Pertuan Besar. The audience will then respond with shouts of “Daulat Tuanku” three times.

Tunku Muhriz being installed as Tunku Besar Seri Menanti in 1961

The Mentri Besar will then make a congratulatory statement, affirming his loyalty to Tuanku Muhriz.

The newly-installed ruler then gives his address after which the state Mufti recites a doa at the close of the installation ceremony.

A royal banquet follows tomorrow night with an eminent guest list that includes Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei and the rulers of all the states.

All hail the new ruler

The pomp and panoply of the installation ceremony soon gives way to joyous celebrations beginning with a public feast (Jamuan Rakyat) on Wednesday. Also on the cards is a cultural carnival which includes a float parade, cultural performances as well as a fireworks display.

Festivities aside, what is most important is the significance of today’s coronation.

At the time the first Yam Tuan – Raja Melewar – was installed, Negri Sembilan comprised nine small states, each ruled by an independent chieftain.

The role of the Yam Tuan then was to unite the people of all nine states under one suzerain.

There may not be nine chieftains fighting for power in the state now, but the significance of the role of the Yang di-Pertuan Besar stands and let us wish Tuanku Muhriz well in uniting his people in these challenging times.

Related Stories:
The Undang Empat
A Minangkabau legacy
Tuanku Muhriz: An avid music lover