Makam Raja Ayang

(Top) The performing of the prayer at the handing over ceremony of Makam Raja Ayang to the Brunei History Centre, Bandar Seri Begawan, in 2009. (Middle) The Makam Raja Ayang. (Above) Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Pehin Orang Kaya Setia Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Ahmad Hj Jumat, pouring air 'asah-asahan' over the tomb, during the handing over ceremony of Makam Raja Ayang.Pictures: BT/Rudolf Portillo

Friday, May 7, 2010

THERE'S a point of interest in the capital that sometimes escapes the attention of passersby, or even the workers in Bandar Seri Begawan who park their cars unassumingly in the car park next to it, but Makam Raja Ayang or the Raja Ayang Mausoleum embodies a sad story that harkens back to Brunei's past.

The tombstone is dated 1452 AD, which corresponds to the time of Sultan Sulaiman and, according to stories passed down from generation to generation, Raja Ayang was a lady who was a descendant of Ibn Ismail bin Yusof bin Al Aziz Al Khawlani and related to the Brunei Royal family. The lady in question had an unlawful relationship with a sibling, which contravened Islamic religious laws, and was subsequently punished.

During that period, Sultan Sulaiman was known as a king who strictly adhered to Islamic principles. The incident provides a clear picture of the Brunei Sultan at that time, who was firm in carrying out punishments against anyone who went against the Islamic law, and those who were punished were willing to receive the punishments.

In the case of Raja Ayang, no one had the heart to stone the couple to death. However the couple could not be left unpunished, and so they were banished to live in an underground shelter, away from the rest of society, and to live out the rest of their days in seclusion. This punishment was willingly served by the couple, who understood the gravity of their crime. The shelter was shaped like a hill and had many rooms with cooking utensils and sufficient provisions to serve out their sentence. Historians say it was unclear as to how long they survived as some stories recount that they lived for a week, while others for as long as 40 days. According to one historical narrative, the lady was banished to live alone for the rest of her days, while another says she and her entourage voluntarily went to their deaths.

The hill, three metres tall and twelve metres wide, no longer exists as the grave was damaged and levelled by a bomb during the arrival of the allied forces that ended the Japanese occupation of Brunei Town around May 1945. The current mausoleum was renovated and built by the Public Works Department in September 2008, and handed over to the Brunei History Centre upon its completion in October 2009.

Members of The Brunei Museums Department and the History Centre once stumbled across an unmarked gravestone buried a few centimetres away from the Raja Ayang Mausoleum, which had no name or date of death marked on it. Researchers had previously never come across any gravestone at the mausoleum site, apart from Raja Ayang's, and it is now believed to belong to Raja Ayang's brother who, according to myth, was buried with her.

Today, visitors can read the story of Raja Ayang which is inscribed on the mausoleum in English, Malay and Jawi script. The inscription also conveys the hope that the punishment dealt was sufficient during the life of the couple that they would be forgiven and not suffer further in the life hereafter. The Brunei Times