The Ancient System

Modern Times


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Borneo is the first among the islands in the Indonesian Archipelago with a known history. In fact the oldest known inscriptions in the Archipelago were found in Kutai. These consist of four stone sacrificial poles (Sanskrit: yupa) dating from about 400 A.D., on which in Pallawascript, metrical Sanskrit, King Mulawarman's generosity towards the Brahmins is commemorated. King Mulawarman's father, Acwawarman, was the founder of the royal dynasty and it seems likely that the Brahmins referred to in the inscriptions were Agnihotrins, followers of the Veda, a branch of Hinduism.

Subsequent to these inscriptions nothing is known about Kutai for nearly 1000 years. Then, in 1365, we find the name Kutai mentioned in the old-Javanese historical poem Nagarakertagama verse 14.1. It is also around this time that the saga-period of the Kutai-dynasty begins and the Kingdom of Kutai begins to take shape. The mythical origin and genealogy of this royal house are described in the Salasila of Kutai. [1] There are five known manuscripts of this genealogical register, which is written in literary Malay, showing traces of the language of Kutai and including Javanese words and phrases. The original Salasilah was probably written, at least partly, during the reign of the eighth ruler, Pangeran Sinum Panji Mendapa ing Martapura, ca. 1600-1635. [2] Kutai evolved most likely from the joining of four regions, Jahitan Layar, Hulu Dusun, Sembaran and Binalu, presumably settlements of Hindu-Javanese. Especially after the introduction of Islam ca. 1606 by Tuan Tunggung Parangan, the principality expanded more inland, annexating three small countries Muara Kaman (on the Mahakam, 15 miles above Samarinda), Kota Bangun (near Muara Kaman) and Muara Pahu (37 miles above Samarinda). From that time on the Pangerans of Kutai have borne the royal insignia of Kota Bangun.

The genealogical line of the Kutai dynasty begins with Adji Batara Agung Maharadja Dewa Sakti as first ruler of Kutai and ends with Salehuddin II the 10th Sultan, who still lives at Tenggarong. On November 7, 1635, Gerrit Thomassen Pool was the first Dutchman to sail up the river Mahakam. Kutai was again visited by Dutchmen in 1671 and 1673, but after that it had no further contact with the Dutch, although it was indirectly via the Kingdom of Banjarmasin, tributary to the East-India Company. This remained however a dead letter because they did not live up to the contracts. Samarinda was founded ca. 1739 by the first sultan.

The arrival of the British during the Raffles administration increased European interest in Kutai. After the Anglo-Dutch treaty the Dutch made their first direct contact with the Sultan of Kutai in 1825. The arrival in 1843 of an Englishman in Kutai caused the first Dutch intervention. By contract of 11 October 1844 the Sultan accepted Dutch sovereignty and in 1846 Dutch rule was established with the arrival of  H. von Dewall, first civil administrator of the east coast of Borneo. The first contract was followed by others in 1850 and 1863 and from that time on the Sultans of Kutai comported themselves as loyal vassals of the Dutch.


The sultanate suffered much during the second world war, the local oil industry attracting considerable military activity from both the Japanese and the allies. Luckily, the state escaped the worst of the Japanese atrocities, suffered by most of the other Borneo states in 1943 and 1944.


Kutai became a part of the state of Greater Siak in 1947, joining that of the Federasi Kalimantan Timur in 1948. Two years later it became a self-governing monarchy within the Republic of  Indonesia, but lost this status in 1960. Afterwards government policies were aimed at humiliating the royal family and destroying the symbols of the sultanate’s autonomy.

After a long campaign aimed at restoring the ancient kingdom, the government finally yielded in 1999. The late Sultan’s son was installed as Sultan Haji Aji Muhammad Salehuddin II in 2001. [3]


Rulers of Kutai



Batara Agung Maharadja Dewa Sakti


Batara Agung Paduka Nirah


Maharadja Sultan


Radja Mandarsah



Temenggung Baja-Baja


Radja Makuta


Adji di Langgar


Sinum Pandji Mendapa Ing Martapura


Dipati Agung Ing Martapura


Dipati Modjo Kusuma Ing Martapura


Adji Ragi


Dipati Tuwa Ing Martapura


Anom Pandji Mendapa Ing Martapura



Muhammad Idris


Muhammad Muçlihuddin




Muhammad Salehuddin I



Muhammad Salehuddin I


Muhammad Suleiman


Muhammad Alimuddin


Muhammad Parekesit



Muhammad Parekesit


Sultanate abolished 1960

Muhammad Parekesit




Muhammad Saleh


Sultanate restored 1999

Muhammad Saleh


Muhammad Salehuddin II





The Ancient System


The Kutai heraldic system as still in use in the nineteenth century was of Hindu-Buddhist origin. Such systems were in use all over Indonesia and were introduced in the time of the Srivijaya empire. When the system was introduced in Kutai is uncertain but some elements of apparently Vedic origin suggest that it was introduced in the earliest times of the existence of Kutai.

The main elements of the system are quite well visible but the explanation of their meaning by tradition is deviating considerably from their original meaning but much must remain unexplained

These main elements are:






Part of the treasure of  Kutai is a little statue of Vishnu, in fact symbolizing the supreme divine ruler within the Hindu-Buddhist heraldic system. It is thought to date from about 400 AD.

It has to be noted that the Vishnu of Kutai only has a wheel of law (cakra) and a conch (śanka), symbolizing religious authority, in his hands.

His right lower hand is in the Varada-pose which confers grace or boon.

In this form the Vishnu statue is the image of the Hindu (divine) highpriest.

The wordly ruler is subordinated to this god and often  prentends to be an incarnation of him. [4]


The Empire, the Ruler, the State


The other elements of the system are introduced in the Salasila of Kutai, a poem about the origins of the royal family of Kutai, starting in the 14th century. There are five known manuscripts of this genealogical register, which is written in literary Malay, showing traces of the language of Kutai and including Javanese words and phrases. The original Salasila was probably written, at least partly, during the reign of the eighth Pangeran, Sinum Panji Mendapa ing Martapura, ca. 1600-1635.


A princess of the ruling family, the Salasila tells us, was presented to her parents by the divine spirits:


“Residing near a river they heard a child crying. The woman said to her husband hear! and her husband did so, listening to the river and its foam that was so high as a hill. It was covered with clouds guarded by the firmament.

Man and woman were enveloped in light, a rainbow deployed itself, the wind started to blow softly and humidly; a few raindrops came down, the flowers openend.

Soon they embarked and Babu Jaruma [the wife] saw something shining in the foam, sparkling like a carbuncle and so beautiful that one could hardly look at it.

They searched the foam and they found a little child, lying on a flat gong, supported by a snake, the snake supported by an ox, standing on a stone.

The ox standing there on a stone, was called lembu suwana, it had the tusks and trunk of an elephant, the fangs of a tiger, the body of a horse, the wings and spores of a garuda, a tail of a dragon and it was scaled all over its body.

Their fear, caused by the view of the lembu suwana and the snake, vanished and Babu Jaruma took courage from the expression on the face of the child.

Let us approach with our boat she said to her husband and, when he had come nearer, he gathered the gong with his hook and placed it in his own boat.

Immediately the lembu suwana and the snake dived and disappeared.[...]

Returned home they removed the yellow bandages and diapers of yellow silk and they saw that the baby had a piece of gold in its right and an egg in its left hand. From this egg, when they opened it, a little hen came out.

That night a voice said to Babu Jaruma in a dream “You shall call your child Putri Karang Melenu”.[5]


In this story the three symbols for the empire, the ruler and the state are described:




Interpreted as a symbol of the sun the gong is symbolizing the empire. Indeed, its form reminds us of a sun radiant and when suspended from a gong-stand its sun-shape is obvious. We may add that every shining golden coloured disc can be interpreted to represent a sun and a sun is, as we know, a common symbol of the empire. Given the context in which the gong is presented in the Salasila it is not far-fetched to think that with this gong the symbol of the empire of Kutai is really meant. This is also confirmed by the stone, symbolizing the territory and another cosmic symbol, on which the ox is standing.


Snake / Naga  


Snakes are frequently found in connection with the Royal House. A pair of snakes is a part of the throne and the official bracelets of the Pangeran were coiled snakes.


A snake is introduced in the Salasila when it is found by Petinggi, the father of Putri Karang Melenu.

Looking for wood to make a fire and not finding some, Petinggi cuts off a part of the roof. There he finds a snake. “He took her with him, laid her in his sirih-box, fed her, caressed her and played every day with her. The snake grew so much that the sirih-box became too small and so he put her in a bigger box but this also became too small. At last he made a very big box, almost as big as half his house, but this too became too small.

Then Petinggi of Hulu-Dusun said to his wife: What do you think of our child? I am afraid she is growing to big. That’s what I think said Babu Jaruma.”

After a while the couple tried in vain to release the snake from her box  but when a strong ladder was made by which the snake could descend,  she could go to the river. “There she swam seven times stream upwards and seven times downstream. Then she went to Tepian Batu where she turned three times to the left and three times to the right. Then she disappeared” [6] (only to reappear when Putri Karang Melenu was presented to her parents).


A male and a female snake, made of bamboo and paper, were always present at feasts. Such  snakes can be seen in a Tenggarong fountain:


Kutai Snakes in a Fountain

Mulawarman Museum Garden, Tenggarong


The Leman


Insignia of the Crown Prince (1886)

Showing a Phoenix-achievement, the leman and the coiled snakes


At the Feast of the Blessing called Tepung tawar, the ruler presented himself in full pomp and circumstance. This consisted of a stage on which there were: 

“an ancient china bowl on a tripod (pingan suntan) in which there is a blowing pipe (sangkoh-pijatu), decorated with flowers and gold.

In front of this bowl there is a gong, and a wide and long plank on which there is a thin mattress on which there is a mat covered with yellow silk and with seven broad bordures of different colours. On the yellow silk there is the leman being two snakes, each of some inches diameter and coiled into four crossings, their heads on the gong, on which they are facing two small old krisses between a stone and an egg.

Pending from the blowing pipe are two cords, the first (tali-benang) of silk, the second (talijuwita) plaited of gold, silver and gilded copper, both ending in golden rings, upheld by two aristocratic old women, standing at both ends of the mat.

Entering the scene the ruler has to tread carefully on the crossings of the leman.[7]


Lembu Suwana


Modern version of the Kutai Lembu Suwana


The Lembu Suwana is a bull with the tusks and trunk of an elephant, the fangs of a tiger, the body of a horse, wings and spores of a garuda, a tail of a dragon and is scaled all over. ([8])

The lembu suwana is the vehicle of Putri Junjung Buwih [9] in particular when she goes to an official meeting:

... ‘come to me Lembu Suwana and you too spirit’, said Putri Junjung Buwih, ‘and bring me to the meeting’. ‘That is where we are here for’ said the lembu suwana, ‘whatever your commands may be we will obey’. ‘Bend your head then’ said  the Putri, ‘I desire to mount you’. The lembu suwana bent its head and the Putri mounted it. At the same time the rainbow deployed itself from the door of het house up to the meeting place, the rain fell gently the wind blew softly, the flowers opened and like a thunderbolt the Putri Junjung Buwih split the air.


This beast has to be compared with other hindu divine vehicles like the bull Nandi the vehicle of Shiva, the Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu, and Airavata the king of elephants and the vehicle of Indra, king of the demi-gods. In this case it is obviously meant to be the vehicle of the queen of Kutai.

Being the vehicle of the ruler, the Kutai Lembu Suwana probably was an early symbol of the state, comparable with the Garuda. Of its origins nothing is told us by the Salasila but it fits well in the Hindu-Buddhist bestiarium.


The sculptures of the Lembu Suwana in present-day Kutai are made in the 19th century or later. They are of the shape described in the Salasila but they are crowned with the makuta of Kutai, ordered by Sultan Sulaiman (1850-’99). No older Lembu Suwana are known but from the description in the Salasila


Another example is known from Cirebon where there is an elephant-bull shaped carriage from the 16th century called Paksinagaliman. As this last one carries a double trident or thunderbolt (the Hindu vajra and the Buddhist dorje) in its trunk, it may be meant to be the vehicle of the Vedic god Indra. (CAI. p. 209)


A lembu suwana is a version of the kuchea sey or elephant-lion from Cambodia, a symbol of authority and courage.


Insignia of Office


Crown Mahkota


The crown of the Sultan of Kutai Kartanegara is made of gold and set with precious stones. The top is decorated with golden chains and the front is engraved with spirals and waves. The wings at the back are decorated with birds, flowers and deer.

In the Mulawarman Museum in Tenggarong a copy of the crown can be seen. The original crown, weighing almost 2 kg., is in the National Museum in Jakarta.


The crown was made for Sultan Muhammad Sulaiman (1845-‘99) after the acceptation of Dutch sovereignty. According to Carl Bock in his book “The Headhunters of Borneo” (1881) six to eight goldsmiths from Kutai were employed to make the crown. Its shape is inspired by Javanese models.

On an early portrait of Sultan Sulaiman he wears a headdress Surakarta style. Later portraits of him in full dress show him wearing the crown. The crown was also used by his successor Sultan Alimuddin (1899-1910). No portraits of Sultan Parekesit (1910-’81) in full dress wearing the crown are known. Instead he wears the plumed cap, decorated with a badge of the emblem of Kutai Kartanegara. (See below)


On 22 September 2001 the crown was borrowed by the District of Kutai Kartanegara for use at the inauguration of Sultan H.A.M. Salehuddin II




Photo Hans Brown

Pendant of the collar of the Crown Prince

consisting of two phoenixes, the leman missing and the golden sculpture of Vishnu added

Mulawarman Museum, Tenggarong


Crown Prince Alimuddin,

in full dress, 1886. [10]



The phoenix usually is the symbol of the head of state. [11] In Kutai it is the symbol of the pangeran holding the great office of state. Together with the leman two phoenixes are combined into an achievement symbolizing the government of Kutai Kartanegara. Such and achievement was worn by the crown prince of Kutai in 1886 as a part of his offcial dress. This official dress is described in this quote of the Salasila: 


A second, male child, presented to them (Petinggi and his wife) in the same way, received the name of Aji Batara Agung Dewa Sakti (The Great Divine God Sakti). [12] After his inauguration he was dressed in official robes striped red, white and black, a belt of yellow silk, a golden collar, hanging therefrom three golden chased plates, at both wrists three official bracelets, at the upper arms golden snakes, coiled three times, above both ears a golden sumping (ear-pendant) before a golden gajah mengguling, [13] on his forehead a golden three-storied diadem. In his hair he bore a iron kris with golden hilt. Below his knot he had a golden gurda mengkur (ornament) and his arms were decorated with seven kenaka’s (crosses) of  jajang sateru, (yellow paint). [14] He was armed with a kris with a specially shaped hilt. [15]


We may suppose that with the three golden plates a jewel as worn by the crown prince in 1886 is meant.


In heraldic terms this emblem would mean that the state is considered to be a function of the ruler, executed by the the head of state, not necessarily the sovereign and in this case by the pangeran. Shortly it means: The pangeran government of the ruler. [16]

If the achievement on the three golden chased plates is from the time of the Salasila, this sultan would have been the sultan of Banjermasin, and later, after about 1739, the sultan of Kutai.


Modern Times


The National Emblem


The remains of the Hindu-Buddhist system were abandoned at the end of the 19th century.

A national emblem  was designed at an uncertain date by Sultan Alimuddin (1899-1910).

It is:


The Emblem of Kutai Kartanegara

at the gates of the Royal Palace


Emblem: The Royal Cypher in pallawa script

Crown: The mahkota of Kutai

Supporters:  Two leopards guardant

Compartment: A gong (Raden Galuh), two blowing pipes (sangkoh-pijatu), a kris Burit Kang and two cords, the first tali-benang of silk, the second tali-juwita plaited of gold, silver and gilded copper,  connected with rings, in base a globe

Garland: Branches of clove.



High Kutai officials wore caps with this emblem as a badge. Probably it is inspired by the cap badge of high Dutch officials who, after 1904, wore caps with the royal Dutch arms within a garland as a badge. In any case the Kutai badge made clear that the Kutai officials were no Dutch servants.


A post-war version of this emblem shows the blowing-pipes replaced by guns.


ð See illustration in the head of this essay


The Flag



The flag of the sultanate is yellow and charged with a tiger passant proper, crowned with the Mahkota of Kutai.

It is not known when this flag was introduced.

According to Tromp, the display of this flag after the acceptance of Dutch sovereignty, was only allowed together with the flag of the Netherlands.


The Royal Achievement


Drawing by Aw  Hassan indicating the different parts of the Royal Achievement


The royal achievement of Kutai dates also from the time of Sultan Alimuddin. It was described and explained by him in a paper called

 “Djelasnja SYMBOOL ini disoesoen ketika Srie Padoeka Jang Maha Moelia Toeankoe SULTAN Almarhoem ADJI MOHAMMAD ‘ALIMOEDDIN mendjadi Radja di Keradjaan Koetai Karta Negara.” [17]


The achievement is of European fashion, and consists of a crowned shield, supporters and a mantle. On the shield some parts of the Royal Treasure are depicted referring to the ruling dynasty and the inauguration of the sovereign. In the compartment are the regalia: Blowing pipes, cords and kris. The gong, on which the sovereign was presented to its parents is carrying the shield and symbolizes the phrase “of the Empire”. The stone, described in the Salasila, is replaced by a globe, also a symbol of the territory.

The tigers are the symbols of a king (in Buddhist symbolism - of wild animals), “worthy and courageous supreme commander of the army.” As a result, the sultan of Kutai is represented here as having a rank equal to a Raja (king) and not to a Maharaja (high king) for which the insignia was a lion. The achievement is:


Arms: Argent, 3 Í 3:

1.: A galok, one of the arms of the people of Kutai.

2.: A drinking vessel on a tripod used by the sultan after the polishing of his teeth [18]

3.: Cannon Si-Sapu-Jagat used when the umbilical cord of the founder of the dynasty came off

4.: Kutai shield

5.: Drinking vessel of Maharaja Sultan (r. 1450-)

6.: Vessel (not explicated)

7.: Cannon fired when the sultan entered his palace before the polishing of his teeth.

8.: A censer to burn incense and perfume before a traditional meeting of the Kingdom of Kutai Kartanegara

9.: Bowl used at the meal of the sultan after the polishing of his teeth.

Crown: The mahkota of Kutai

Supporters:  Two tigers guardant [19]

Compartment: A gong (Raden Galuh), two blowing pipes (sangkoh-pijatu), a kris Burit Kang and two cords connected by rings, in base a globe


Mantle: Azure, lined ermine, fringed and tasseled Or and royally crowned.


ð See illustration in the head of the section.


Some of the charges are illustrated in Tromp’s Salasila, plate IV and V:



The vessel in the second quarter and the Mahkota


The vessel and the bowl in the 5th and 6th quarter,

the kris of the compartment



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© Hubert de Vries 2010.02.14.

[1]  Tromp, S.W.: Uit de Salasila van Koetei. In: Bijdragen aan de Taal- Land en Volken­kunde van Nederlandsch Indië. 5e volgreeks, Dl. III. Vol. XXXVII, 1888, pp. 98-103, pl. I-V.

[2]  Martapura: residence of the Banjar Dynasty, today in Kalimantan Selatan.

[3]  Encyclopaedie van Nederlandsch Indië. Den Haag, 1921-1939. Wortmann, J.R.: Milestones in the History of Kutai, Kalimantan Timur, Borneo. In: Borneo Research Bulletin, June 1971. Buyers, Christopher: Kutai History. In: Royal Ark.

[4]  This sculpture was found in Muara Kaman, together with the sacrificial poles and is thought to date from the time of Mulawarman. Verslagen en Mededeelingen van de Koninklijke Academie van Wetenschappen 2: XI, 1882 pp. 182-203.

[5]  Tromp pp. 33-34. Putri Karang = coral princess

[6]  Tromp pp. 27-32

[7]  Tromp p. 78

[8]  Tromp, p. 34

[9]  Putri Junjung = worshipped princess. Not the same person as Putri Karang Melenu and introduced later in the Salasila.

[10]  Tromp, Pl. I, p. 96

[11]  See for example Kota Waringin and Sintang.

[12]  Tromp, p. 42. Aji Batara Agung Dewa Sakti ruled from about 1400.

[13]  Literally: Elephants roll

[14]  The crosses and the yellow paint are  princely insignia of rank.

[15]  This shape called tiula-semung

[16]  This may be true for the original three plates, consisting of the two phoenixes and the leman. It must be noted that the Vishnu image was only discovered in the 19th century and that, consequently, the jewel on the breast of the Crown Prince is a 19th century pastiche.

[17] This explanation was found in the collection of the Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie in the Hague as a part of the inheritance of Dirk Rühl, an Indonesian heraldist of the first half of the 20th century. I was informed that the document was given to the National Archives of  Indonesia in about 1978.

[18] Tromp, note 169 mentions that teeth were polished in different ways resulting in indented gums.

[19] These felines are called macan2 (tigers) in the explanation but leopards are depicted. In Chinese military hierarchy a lion is of the 2nd rank, the leopard of the 3rd rank and the tiger of the 4th rank. The different systems collide in Kutai. In mediaeval Europe (and the Netherlands) the insignia of a warrior of the 2nd rank was an eagle, of the 4th rank a lion. A crown was an insignia of civil rank.