By Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles

IN presenting this work to the Public, it may  be proper to offer some explanation on  the circumstances under which it was written,  on the object of the Translator, and  on the character and present condition of  the people, whose early annals it records.

From  the period at which Dr. Leyden first visited  the Eastern Islands, in 1805, he may be  said to have espoused the cause of the Malayan  race with all the ardour and enthusiasm  which so peculiarly distinguished his character.  In the feudal notions and habits of  this people, he found so much in accordance  with his own feelings of honour and independence, that he was at once alive to their  true character and interests; and, while his powerful and intelligent mind was engaged  in deeper researches into their languages and literature, he neglected no opportunity of becoming acquainted with their  more popular tales and traditions.

He  was aware, that, in these islands, as well as  on the continent of India, the commencement  of authentic history was only to  be dated from the introduction of Mahometanism;  but, in the wild traditions of the Malays, he thought he sometimes discovered  a glimmering of light, which might,  perhaps, serve to illustrate an earlier period.  These glimmerings, he was accustomed  to say, were very faint, but, in the absence  of all other lights, they were worth pursuing;  they would, at all events, account  for and explain many of the peculiar institutions and customs of the people, and serve  to make his countrymen better acquainted  with a race who appeared to him to  possess the greatest claims on their consideration  and attention. Under this impression, he was induced to undertake the translation  of the work now published, being  a compilation of the most popular traditions existing among the Malays themselves. It was intended that the text should have been illustrated by notes and references,  explanatory of the more interesting  parts, and that the late Annals of the different states of the Archipelago, since  the establishment of Mahometanism, should  have been annexed; but the premature  and lamented death of Dr. Leyden will account for its appearing in its present imperfect  state.

The public attention has latterly been so much directed to these islands, and the recent occupation of Java by the British authorities, has thrown so much light on the nature and resources of the Malayan Archipelago,  and on the extent, character, and  pursuits of its inhabitants, that it is not necessary in this place to enter upon any detailed  account of either.

From  the period at which Europeans first  visited these islands, their civil history may be summed up in few words; it is included  in that of their commerce. The extensive  trade of these islands had long collected  at certain natural and advantageous emporia; of these Bautain, Achau, Malacca,  and Macasser, were the principal. The  valour of Portugal broke the power of the native states, and left them exposed to the more selfish policy of their successors. The Dutch had no sooner established their capital  at Batavia, than, not satisfied with transferring  to it the emporium of Bautain,  they conceived the idea of making it the  sole and only depot of the commerce of  the Archipelago. Had this object been combined with a liberal policy, and had the local  circumstances of Batavia not obstructed it,  the effect might have been different, and, instead  of the ruin and desolation which ensued  throughout a large portion of these islands, they might have advanced in civilization,  while they contributed to raise the prosperity,  and support the ascendancy of the Dutch metropolis. But when we advert  to the greedy policy which swallowed up  the resources of this extensive Archipelago  in a narrow and rigid monopoly; and  that, instead of leaving trade to accumulate,  as it had previously done at the natural emporia, it was forced, by means of arbitrary  and restrictive regulations, into one which, independent of other disadvantages, soon proved the grave of the majority of  those who were obliged to resort to it, we shall find the cause which made it as ruinous to the Dutch as to the people.

By attempting too much, they lost what, under other circumstances, might have been turned  to advantage, and the native states, deprived  of their fair share of commerce, abandoned  all attempts, and sunk into the comparative  insignificance in which they were  found at the period when our traders began  to navigate those seas from Madras and  Bengal. The destruction of the native trade  of the Archipelago by this withering policy,  may be considered as the origin of many  of the evils, and of all the piracies of which  we now complain. A maritime and commercial  people, suddenly deprived of all  honest employment, or the means of respectable  subsistence, either sunk into apathy and indolence, or expended their natural  energies in piratical attempts to recover,  by force and plunder, what they had been  deprived of by policy and fraud. In this  state of decay, they continued to degenerate,  till the appearance of the British traders  revived their suppressed and nearly extinguished  energies, and awoke to new life  the commerce and enterprise of this interesting  portion of the globe. The decline  and corruption of the Dutch power in  the East, offered little obstruction ; as our  intercourse increased, their establishments  were withdrawn, and long before the conquest of Java, and, indeed, before the last war, the English had already possessed themselves of the largest portion of this trade.

When  we consider the extent of this unparalleled  Archipelago; the vanity and peculiar character of its people ; the infinity  of its resources ; its contiguity to China  and Japan, the most populous regions  of the earth; and the extraordinary facilities  it affords to commerce, from the smoothness of its seas, the number and excellence of its harbours, and the regularity of  its monsoons; it would be vain to assign limits,  or to say how far and wide the tide of commerce might not have flowed, or how great  the progress of civilization might not have  been, had they been allowed to pursue their free and uninterrupted course, protected  and encouraged by a more enlightened  and liberal government. Had the commerce  been properly conducted, the advantages must have been reciprocal; if it  enriched the one party, it must have raised  the other in the scale of civilization; by creating new wants, it must have opened new  sources of enjoyment, encouraged industry  and emulation.

The  prejudice which has so long existed  against the Malays, is fast subsiding. Among  the Malay states, we shall find none of  the obstacles which exist among the more  civilized people of India, to the reception  of new customs and ideas. Of the extensive  and varied population inhabiting the Eastern Archipelago, and the continent adjacent,  the gradations of civilization are wide, from the rude untutored Harafora, to the  comparatively civilized Javan and Siamese; but the absence of inveterate prejudice,  and a spirit of enterprise and freedom,  distinguish the whole. In the interior of the larger islands, the population is almost exclusively devoted to agriculture; but, on the coasts, the adventurous character  of the Bugguese, and the speculative  industry of the Chinese, have given a stimulus and direction to the energies of the  maritime and commercial states. Establishments are formed on each of the principal  rivers; and while the less civilized inhabitant  of the country is engaged in collecting  its valuable raw products, in traversing  the woods, and sweeping the shores, these  native merchants become the carriers to  the more distant markets. The natural demands and necessities which must exist in  so extensive an Archipelago, in which the  employment and condition of the inhabitants are so various, give rise to a constant  intercourse between them, and consequently to an extensive native trade, which,  from its nature, must be beyond the reach of fiscal regulation.

The  whole of this population, at least, on the Malay peninsula, and throughout the islands, have imbibed a taste for Indian and European  manufactures, and the demand is only limited by their means. Artificial impediments  may, for a time, have checked these  means; but in countries where, independently of the cultivation of the soil, the treasures of the mines seem inexhaustible,  and the raw produce of its forests has in  all ages been in equal demand; it is not easy  to fix limits to the extension of these means.  These people have not undergone the  same artificial moulding; they are fresher  from the hand of nature, and the absence of bigotry and inveterate prejudice leaves  them much more open to receive new  impressions, and adopt new examples. Whatever  may have been their original religion, its character does not appear to have  been deeply imprinted, and they have carried the same moderate and temperate spirit  into their new faith. They have no knowledge of the odious distinction of castes, but mingle indiscriminately in all society. With a high reverence for ancestry, and nobility of descent, they are more  influenced, and quicker discerners of superiority of individual talent, than is usual among people not far advanced in civilization. They are addicted to commerce, which has already given them a taste for luxuries, and this propensity they indulge to the utmost of their means. Among a people so unsophisticated, and so free from prejudices, it is obvious that a greater scope is  given to the influence of example; that, in proportion as their intercourse with Europeans  encreases, and a free commerce adds  to their resources, along with the wants which will be created, and the luxuries supplied, the humanizing arts of life will also find their way, and we may anticipate  a much more rapid improvement, than in  nations who, having once arrived at a high  point of civilization, and retrograded in  the scale, are now hardened by the recollection  of what they once were, are brought  up in a contempt for every thing beyond  their own narrow circle, and who have, for centuries, bent under the double load of foreign tyranny and priestly intolerance.  When these striking and important  differences are taken into the account,  we may be permitted to indulge more sanguine expectations of improvement among the tribes of the eastern isles.

We  may look forward to an early abolition of  piracy and illicit traffic, when the seas shall  be open to the free current of commerce.  Restriction and oppression have too often converted their shores to scenes of rapine and violence; but an opposite policy and more enlightened principles may, ere long, subdue and remove the evil.

In  the spirit of personal independence which distinguishes these people, their high sense of honour, and the habits of reasoning and reflection to which they are accustomed from their infancy, are to be found the rudiments of improvement, and the basis on which a better order of socie  may  be established.

Such  were the opinions entertained by Leyden,  previous to the conquest of Java; and  the peculiar interest which these people excite,  cannot, perhaps, be better illustrated than by the general feeling which exists towards them, on the part of every Englishman  who has since been among them, and become  more intimately acquainted with their  character: notwithstanding their piracies,  and the vices usually attributed to them in their present state, there is something  in the Malayan character which is congenial  to British minds, and which leaves  an impression, very opposite to that which  a much longer intercourse has given of  the more subdued and cultivated natives of  Hindostan. Retaining much of that boldness  which marks the Tartar stock, from whence they are supposed to have sprung,  they have acquired a softness, not less remarkable in their manners, than in their  language. Few people attend more to the courtesies of society. Among many of them,  traces of a higher state of civilization are  obvious, and where opportunity has been afforded, even in our own times, they have been found capable of receiving a high state of intellectual improvement. 

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles