Sultanate of Singora
|Sultanate of Singora|
|Historical era||Ayuthaya period|
The Sultanate of Singora was a short-lived port city in southern Thailand and precursor of the present-day town of Songkhla. The city was founded in the early 1600s by a Persian, Dato Mogol, and flourished during the reign of his son, Sultan Sulaiman Shah. After decades of conflict, Singora was destroyed by Siamese troops in 1680. Remains of the city include forts, city walls and the tomb of Sultan Sulaiman Shah. An inscribed cannon from Singora bearing the seal of Sultan Sulaiman Shah is displayed in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, London.
The sultanate's history was documented in accounts, letters and journals written by British and Dutch East India Company traders; its destruction was discussed in books and reports authored by representatives of the French embassies to Siam in the mid-1680s. Sultan Sulaiman's family history has also been chronicled: Princess Sri Sulalai, a consort of King Rama II and mother of King Rama III, was descended from Sultan Sulaiman; present-day descendants include the 22nd Prime Minister of Thailand and a former Navy admiral.
Singora, sometimes known as Songkhla at Khao Daeng, was a port city in the deep south of Thailand and precursor of the present-day town of Songkhla. It was located on the southern tip of the Sathing Phra peninsula, on and around the foothills of Khao Daeng Mountain in Singha Nakhon.[note 1] British and Dutch East India Company traders often referred to the city as Sangora; diplomat Simon de la Loubère called the city Singor; Japanese officials knew the city as Shinichu.
The city was founded in the early 1600s by Dato Mogol, a Persian Muslim who accepted Siamese suzerainty and paid tribute to the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. From its inception it was designated a duty-free port and vied with the neighboring Sultanate of Pattani for trade.[note 2] Early references to Singora appear in British and Dutch sources; a Cottonian manuscript at the British Library, for example, contrasts the taxes levied at Singora (spelled Sangora) with those at Pattani (spelled Patania):
"itt were not amiss to build astrong howse in Sangora which lyeth 24 Leagues northwarde of Patania, under the goverment of Datoe Mogoll, vassall to the King of Siam. In this place maie well the Rendezvous bee made to bring all thinges together that you shall gather for the provideing of the ffactories of Siam, Cochinchina, Borneo and partlie our ffactorie in Japan. (...) this howse willbee found to bee verie Necessarie, for the charges willbee too highe in Patania besides inconveniences there; which charges you shall spare at Sangora: there you pay no Custome, onlie a small gift to Datoe Mogoll cann effect all here."—British East India Company, A Letter of Instructions from the East Indian Company to its Agent in East India, 1614.
Jeremias van Vliet, the Director of the Dutch East India Company's trading post in Ayuthaya, described Singora as one of Siam's principal cities and an important trading center for tin, lead, and pepper.[note 3] In 1622 the Dutch exported more than 500 tons of pepper from Singora. Further benefits accrued from Singora's location: the city had what was described as an ideal harbor and was part of a network of overland and riverine routes that expedited trans-peninsular trade with the Sultanate of Kedah.
Dato Mogol died in 1620 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Sulaiman.[note 4] A period of turmoil erupted ten years later when the Queen of Pattani branded the new ruler of Siam, King Prasat Thong, a usurper and tyrant. The queen withheld tribute and ordered attacks on Ligor (present-day Nakhon Si Thammarat) and Bordelongh (present-day Phatthalung); Siam responded by blockading Pattani with an army of 60,000 men. Singora became involved in the dispute and in 1633 sent an envoy to Ayuthaya requesting help. The outcome of this request is not known, but Dutch East India Company records show that Singora was severely damaged and the pepper crop destroyed.
In December 1641, Jeremias van Vliet left Ayuthaya and sailed to Batavia. He stopped en route at Singora in February 1642 and presented Sulaiman with a letter of introduction from the Phra Khlang (referred to by the Dutch as the Berckelangh), the Siamese official responsible for foreign affairs. Sulaiman's response sheds light on his attitude towards suzerainty:
"On the 3rd of February the delegate van Vlieth landed at Sangora and was received by the governor, who was angry at the Berckelangh's letter, saying that his country was open to the Netherlanders without Siamese introduction and that the letter had not been necessary. This and other haughty acts displeased the Hon. van Vlieth."—Dutch Papers: Extracts from the "Dagh Register" 1624–1642.
Later that year – in an act that triggered decades of conflict – Sulaiman declared independence from Ayuthaya and appointed himself Sultan Sulaiman Shah. [note 5] He modernized the port, stamped out piracy and transformed Singora into a burgeoning entrepôt frequented by Dutch and Portuguese merchants.[note 6] Sulaiman also developed the city's fortifications: he ordered the construction of perimeter walls and a network of forts armed with cannon purchased from European traders. In attempts to reclaim Singora, Ayuthaya launched at least three maritime attacks during Sulaiman's reign. Each campaign failed; one ended in ignominy when the Siamese admiral "ran away". To help fend off overland assaults, Sulaiman assigned his brother, Pharisees, to strengthen the nearby town of Chai Buri in Phatthalung Province.
Sultan Sulaiman died in 1668 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Mustapha. A war with Pattani broke out soon after, but despite being outnumbered more than four to one, Singora rejected attempts at mediation by the Sultan of Kedah and trusted in its "stout and experienced soldiers". It was also during the reign of Mustapha that Greek adventurer Constance Phaulkon came to Siam. After arriving in Ayuthaya in the late 1670s, he embarked on a mission to smuggle arms to Singora; his escapade ended in disaster, however, when he was shipwrecked off the coast of Ligor.
In 1679, Ayuthaya mounted a final offensive to quash the Singora rebellion. Some of the events were recorded by Samuel Potts, a British East India Company trader based in Singora at the time. In one of his letters he reported on the city's preparations for war:
"This King has fortified his City, gunned his Forts upon the hills, making all the provision he can for his defence, not knowing how soon the King of Siam will oppose him."
In a letter from August of the same year, Potts wrote that the Siamese fleet had arrived and added "I cannot remain secure where I am". The events that followed were decisive: in 1680 Singora was destroyed and abandoned.
The aftermath was documented by representatives of the French embassies to Siam in 1685 and 1687. One report told how Singora's "trés bonne citadelle" had been razed after a war of more than thirty years; diplomat Simon de la Loubère mentioned the city in a narrative about Siamese warfare. He explained that the Siamese engaged in wars with the intent of scaring their opponents into submission rather than killing them. The order given to troops by the King of Siam, he wrote, is not to shoot directly at the enemy. He then described how Singora's demise was brought about by a French cannoneer who entered the city one night and single-handedly captured the sultan:
"Some have upon this account informed me a thing, which in my opinion, will appear most incredible. 'Tis of a provincial named Cyprian [who] had served some time in the King of Siam's Army in quality of Canoneer; and because he was prohibited from shooting straight, he doubted not that the Siamese General would betray the King his Master. (...) Cyprian wearied with seeing the Armies in view, which attempted no persons life, determin'd one night to go alone to the Camp of the Rebels, and to fetch the King of Singor into his tent. He took him indeed, and brought him to the Siamese General, and so terminated a War of above twenty years."
When Singora was destroyed, Sultan Sulaiman's sons were assigned to other duties in Siam: Hussein and Mustapha were appointed Governors of Phattalung and Chaiya, Hassan was placed in charge of the Siamese navy.[note 9] Later generations of Sultan Sulaiman's family were closely connected with Siamese royalty: two of Sulaiman's descendants commanded armed forces led by Prince Surasi in the 1786 conquest of Pattani; Princess Sri Sulalai, a consort of King Rama II and mother of King Rama III, was also descended from Sultan Sulaiman. Present-day descendants include Admiral Niphon Sirithorn, a former Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Navy; General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the 22nd Prime Minister of Thailand; and a family of silk weavers at the Muslim village of Phumriang, Surat Thani Province.
The forts at Khao Daeng
The remains of fourteen forts can be visited: six of these (forts 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10) are located on Khao Daeng; the others are scattered around the foothills.[note 10] One of the best preserved is fort 9: it is situated on a small hill and visible from the main road that leads from Singha Nakhon to Ko Yo Island in Lake Songkhla. Fort 8 is also well preserved. It is accessible via a stairway near the Sultan Sulaiman Shah mosque and offers panoramic views of Rat Island and Songkhla. Better views, however, can be had from fort 6 at the top of Khao Daeng. The fort can be reached by ascending a flight of steps that starts near the small archaeological museum. The climb to the summit passes forts 4 and 5. Also on the summit are two pagodas: they were built on the base of fort 10 in the 1830s to commemorate the defeat of rebellions in Kedah (at the time occupied by Siam).[note 11]
In her book In the Land of the Lady of the White Blood: Southern Thailand and the Meaning of History, Lorraine Gesick discusses a manuscript from Wat Phra Kho in Sathing Phra. The manuscript (which in Gesick's opinion dates from the late 17th century) consists mainly of an illustrated map about ten meters long that depicts Sultan Sulaiman's forts at Khao Daeng. A microfilm of this manuscript, made by American historian David Wyatt, is kept at the Cornell University Library.
The tomb of Sultan Sulaiman Shah
Located in a Muslim graveyard about 1 km north of Khao Daeng, the tomb of Sultan Sulaiman Shah is housed in a small, Thai-style pavilion surrounded by large trees. The cemetery is mentioned in the Sejarah Kerajaan Melayu Patani (History of the Malay Kingdom of Patani), a Javi account drawn mostly from the Hikayat Patani. The text describes Sultan Sulaiman as a Muslim raja who died in battle and the cemetery as "full of nothing but jungle". The tomb is an object of pilgrimage in the deep south of Thailand, where Sultan Sulaiman is revered by both Muslims and Buddhists alike.
The Singora cannon in London
After Singora had been vanquished, the Siamese forces seized and sent to Ayuthaya an inscribed cannon. The cannon remained there until it was captured during the Burmese–Siamese war of 1765–1767 and transported to Burma. It was then taken by the British in the third Anglo-Burmese War (1885–1887) and shipped back to England. In 1887 it was presented to the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London and put on display next to the flagpole in the grounds of the Figure Court. The cannon bears eleven inscriptions, nine of which have been carved in Arabic characters and inlaid with silver. One inscription refers to the engraver, Tun Juma'at Abu Mandus of Singora; another (the cartouche) is set within an ornate circular motif and reads "The seal of Sultan Sulaiman Shah, the Victorious King".
- Historically the Sathing Phra peninsula was an island, separated from land at its northern and southern tips, and depicted as such by 16th century cartographers. A French architect who mapped the ruins of Singora in 1686 referred to the peninsula as the Island of Singor.
- Sources vary as to the exact date Singora was founded: Choungsakul, for example, claims the town at Khao Daeng was founded in 1605; another source notes that 1605 was the year Dato Mogal was appointed governor of Singora by King Ekathotsarot of Ayuthaya. Japanese records kept by the Tokugawa shogunate show that the first recorded Red Seal ship to Siam was a Singora-bound vessel with a trading license issued in July 1604.
- Jeremias van Vliet left Ayuthaya in December 1641; the following year he was appointed Governor of Malacca.
- The sign in front of Sulaiman's tomb gives the date of his accession as 1619; a steel plaque near the archaeological museum states "This site is known as an important port city during the Ayuthaya period in the 17th century AD. It played a crucial role in both local and inter-regional commerce at the time. Datoh Mogal, an appointed governer of Singora, was the person who initiated and developed maritime trade with international merchants. By introducing and developing the city as an international port, Datoh Mogal could generate a great amount of revenue from foreign ships for the centralized capital of Ayuthaya. Datoh Mogal was succeeded by his son, Sultan Sulaiman, in 1620. Sultan Sulaiman was appointed by King Songtham (1610–1628) of the Kingdom of Ayuthaya. Singora under Sulaiman's administration was a famous rendezvous for trading."
- A Thai government source gives 1630 as the date for Sulaiman's declaration of independence. This date is incompatible, however, with Singora's request for help from Ayuthaya in 1633 and the Phra Khlang's letter of introduction given to Sulaiman by Jeremias van Vliet in February 1642.
- Singora, though ruined, was offered to the French in 1685; Siamese ambassador Kosa Pan sought to ratify the cession during his embassy to France in 1686. When the French declined the offer, Kosa Pan replied that Singora was a fine port which in the past had attracted Chinese traders. For a detailed overview of Kosa Pan's embassy, see "We are Siamese if you please" in the UNESCO Courier.
- In a letter dated September 1678, Samuel Potts described how he disembarked at Singora while sailing from Pattani to Ayuthaya. He recorded the warm welcome he received, along with an enthusiastic invitation to stay. He also discussed trade opportunities and the availability of large quantities of pepper.
- An account written by Thailand's Ministry of Culture makes no mention of Loubère's story and instead tells how a spy tricked his way into the city, allowing Siamese troops to creep in after him and burn it to the ground. A contemporary French memo also claims that Singora's downfall was brought about by a ruse.
- Sultan Sulaiman's sons were not the only Persians assigned to positions of authority in 17th-century Siam. The Ayuthaya Chronicles mention Persian brothers Sheikh Ahmad and Muhammad Said who arrived in Siam in the early 1600s. Sheikh Ahmad worked closely with Kings Songtham and Prasat Thong, and was eventually appointed Phra Khlang. His descendants, the Bunnag family, remained politically influential for the next three hundred years. In a letter dated 1679, a British East India Company employee discussed commerce on the western peninsular and noted "this considerable trade is at present totally engrossed by the Persians and Moors"; French diplomat Simon de la Loubère wrote that the principal offices of the court and provinces were "in the hands of the Moors"; a Persian official, Aqa Muhammad, was one of King Narai's favorite courtiers during the 1670s; in the Ship of Sulaiman, an account of an embassy sent to Siam in 1685 on behalf of the Shah of Persia, Sulaiman I, the narrator describes meeting Persian governors at Mergui (then part of Siam) and Phetchaburi; Jeremias van Vliet, the Director of the Dutch East India Company's trading post in Ayuthaya, observed that "the Moors" were protected by the king.
- With the exception of fort 4 (which is partly obscured by forest canopy), the forts on the mountain have distinctive square or rectangular outlines that are visible in satellite images. Coordinates are:
Fort 5: 7.219650°N, 100.568134°E; Wikimapia.
Fort 6: 7.218825°N, 100.568896°E; Wikimapia.
Fort 7: 7.222928°N, 100.568917°E; Wikimapia.
Fort 8: 7.222247°N, 100.574067°E; Wikimapia.
Fort 10: 7.217170°N, 100.569679°E; Wikimapia.
- A Video Tour of Khao Daeng (produced by Thaksin University, Songkhla) offers an opportunity to explore part of the mountain. The tour begins at the foot of Khao Daeng and passes forts 4, 5 and 6 en route to the two pagodas.
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Vajiranana National Library, Bangkok
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