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For the province, see Sulu.
Sultanate of Sulu


Location of Sulu in the Philippines
Capital Jolo
Language(s) Arabic (official), Tausug, Malay, Banguingui, Bajau languages
Religion Islam
Government Monarchy
 - 1450-1480 Shari'ful Hashem Syed Abu Bakr
 - 1884-1899 Jamal ul-Kiram I
 - Established 1450
 - Annexed by USA 1917

The Sultanate of Sulu was a Muslim state that ruled over many of the islands of the Sulu Sea, in the southern Philippines. The sultanate was founded in 1450, but other sources place the date earlier. Muslim historians believe that it had existed centuries earlier in the time of Raja Baguinda Ali.

At its peak, it stretched over the islands that bordered the western peninsula of Mindanao in the east, to the modern Malaysian state of Sabah (formerly North Borneo) in the west and south, and to Palawan in the north.

Currently the issue of who would be the legitimate Sultan of Sulu is disputed by several branches of the Royal Family, although the line of succession fell on the Kiram branch of the royal family from 1823 up to the death of the last sovereign sultan in 1936.





In the 13th century, Minangkabau people started making colonies along the west coast of Sumatera island, from Meulaboh until Bengkulu, while Minangkabau as spice trader under Aceh. In Aceh, they are known as Aneuk Jamee.[1] Raja Bagindo migration to south Philippines and founded the Sultanate of Sulu in 1390.[1]

Another source claimed that during the 1450s, Shari'ful Hashem Syed Abu Bakr, an Arab born in Johore, arrived in Sulu from Malacca. In 1457, he founded the Sultanate of Sulu; he then renamed himself "Paduka Maulana Mahasari Sharif Sultan Hashem Abu Bakr", embellishing his name with no less than five consecutive deferential titles: "Paduka" is a local term for "Master", "Maulana" is a word of Arabic roots, meaning the same, "Mahasari" stands for "His Majesty", "sharif" is an Arabic word for "local ruler", "Sultan" is the Arabic word for ruler or prince.

In 1658 (other sources say 1703) the Sultanate of Sulu received North Borneo from the Sultan of Brunei, after Sulu sent aid against a rebellion in Brunei. In the same year, Sulu gave Palawan to Qudarat, Sultan of Maguindanao, who married a Sulu princess, and formed an alliance with Sulu. Sultan Qudarat eventually ceded Palawan to the Spanish Empire in 1705.

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In 1865, the United States Consul to Brunei, Claude Lee Moses obtained a 10-year lease for the territory of North Borneo from the Brunei. However, the post-Civil War United States wanted nothing to do with Asian colonies, so Moses sold his rights to the Hong Kong-based American Trading Company. Besieged with financial difficulties, the company had to its right on North Borneo Consul of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Hong Kong, Baron Von Overbeck. Von Overbeck managed to get a 10-year renewal of the lease from the Temenggong of Brunei, and a similar treaty from the Sultan of Sulu on January 22, 1878.

To finance his plans for North Borneo, Overbeck found financial backing from the Dent brothers - Alfred and Edward Dent. However, he was unable to interest his government in the territory. Von Overbeck withdrew in 1880, leaving Alfred Dent in control. Dent was supported by Sir Rutherford Alcock, and Admiral Sir Harry Keppel.

An early flag of the Sulu Sultanate

In July 1881, Alfred Dent and his brother formed the British North Borneo Provisional Association Ltd and obtained an official Royal Charter November 1 the same year. In May 1882, the British North Borneo Chartered Company replaced the Provisional Association. Sir Rutherford Alcock became the first president, and Alfred Dent became managing director.

In spite of some diplomatic protests by the Dutch, Spanish and Sarawak governments, the British North Borneo Company proceeded to organize settlement and administration of the territory. The company subsequently acquired further sovereign and territorial rights from the sultan of Brunei, expanding the territory under control to the, Putatan river in May 1884, the Padas district in November 1884, the Kawang river in February 1885, the Mantanani islands in April 1885 and additional minor Padas territories in March 1898.

In 1888, North Borneo together with Sarawak and Brunei became a protectorate of Great Britain. Its administration however remained entirely in the hands of the British North Borneo Company, with the crown reserving only control of foreign relations.

A January 7, 1883, letter from the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Lord Granville confirms the position that the “takeover” of the British of Sabah, a Sulu property was a lease, not a purchase.

It states: "The British Charter [representing the British North Borneo Company] therefore differs essentially from the previous Charters granted by the Crown... in the fact that the Crown in the present case assumes no dominion or sovereignty over the territories occupied by the Company, nor does it purport to grant to the Company powers of government thereover; it merely conveys upon the persons associated the status and incidents of a body corporate, and recognizes the grants of territory and the powers of government made and delegated by the Sultan in whom the sovereignty remains vested. It differs also from previous Charters in that it prohibits instead of grants a general monopoly of trade.

"As regards the general features of the undertaking, it is to be observed that the territories granted to the Company have been for generations under the government of the Sultanate of Sulu and Brunei, with whom Great Britain has had Treaties of Peace and Commerce."

In retrospect, the British Foreign Affairs communique conceded that the matter of sovereignty remained vested in the Sultan of Sulu and could not be delegated to any party because the Deed of 1878 expressly prohibited it.

Perhaps the thorniest item in the Sabah / Sulu agenda was whether the Overbeck-Dent pact with the Sultan of Sulu was a lease or sale (Padjak=Lease). Scholarly sources, including those officially issued by Britain and the US, pointed out that the sovereignty over Sabah, as stipulated in the Philippine claim, was never, at any time in the past and present, relinquished in favor of any person, organization, or entity. Legally and technically, it remained to this day as the exclusive property of the heirs of the sultanate of Sulu. This statement confirms the observation that the transfer of rights made by the lessees to the British North Borneo Company was ab initio flawed and illegal.

Specifically, the Deed of 1878 clearly mentioned that "the rights and powers hereby leased shall not be transferred to another nation or a company of other nationality" without the consent of the Sultanate of Brunei and the Sultanate of Sulu. This was the same theme discussed in 1963 when a negotiation was made in London with Britain for the recovery of North Borneo. The British, in defense of their own argument, insisted the covenant entered into by Overbeck and Dent with Sulu Sultan Hadji Mohammad Jamalul Kiram was a sale, not a lease.

What came out as a strong proof in favor of the sultanate was when US Governor General Francis B. Harrison, on February 27, 1947, furnished Philippine vice-president and foreign affairs secretary Elpidio Quirino a photostat copy of the lease document, which was later translated from Malay language and the Arabic script by Profession H. Otley Bayer of the University of the Philippines.

Moreover, Overbeck and Dent, in a statement before the Royal Colonial Institute on May 12, 1885, admitted that the deal they forged with the rightful owners of Sabah did not forfeit the sovereign rights of the Sultan of Sulu and Brunei over the territories administered by the British Borneo Company.

Dent declared openly: "As to the Charter, some friends of the enterprise seem to believe that the enormous powers we hold were given by Her Majesty the Queen. It is not so at all. All our powers were derived entirely from the Sultan of Brunei and Sulu, and what the British Government did was simply to incorporate us by Royal Charter, thus recognizing our powers, which recognition is to us, of course, of vital importance."

Although referendum sanctioned by the United Nations brought the part of North Borneo called Sabah into Malaysia in 1963, it's status is disputed by the heirs of the Kiram branch as well as by the Philippine government; meanwhile attempts to resolve the issue at the International Court of Justice is blocked by unwillingness of the Malaysian Government.[2][3][4][4].


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