Agustus 07, 2014


THE JAMBI region, around the basin of the Batanghari River in central Sumatra, was the site of the pre-Islamic kingdom of Melayu. It also sometimes served as the capital of the empire of Sriwijaya (Srivijaya). Jambi was an important pepper port in the seventeenth century and later supplied dragon’s blood resin to China and Europe. Jambi resisted Dutch control until the early twentieth century.

The earliest references to the region are found in Chinese texts, which recorded an embassy from Melayu to the Chinese court around 644 C.E.A stone inscription suggests that Sriwijaya and Melayu were linked during this period, and the writings of I-Tsing (IChing) (635–713 C.E.) have been taken to indicate that Jambi was the capital of Sriwijaya at that time. In the ninth century and again in the eleventh century, Jambi sent further missions to the Chinese court.

The large Buddhist complex of Muara Jambi, 26 kilometers downstream from the modern capital, probably dates from the ninth century, but there is evidence that it was still of importance in the thirteenth, when Melayu seems again to have been the capital of Sriwijaya.Trade in forest products and control of the Straits of Melaka through which foreign shipping passed were key to Jambi’s importance.

In the mid-fourteenth century, the Jambi kingdom came under the control of Adityawarman, who had been brought up in the Majapahit kingdom in Java but was probably the son of the Malay ruler. Adityawarman moved his capital to Dharmashraya, somewhere in the upper reaches of the Batanghari. He extended his power to the highlands of West Sumatra and later moved the capital to Pagarruyung. Although the Kertanagara,a Javanese account, listed it as a dependency of Java, Jambi avoided paying tribute to Majapahit and sought patronage from China. However, this strategy caused Jambi to fall afoul of both Majapahit and China. According to O. W. Wolters (1986), the Javanese laid waste to the Jambi keraton (kraton,royal court, palace) in 1377.

After Adityawarman and until the arrival of European traders, the history of Jambi was recorded only in oral tradition. Islam was probably introduced in the early fifteenth century, when Jambi came under the sway of Demak. By the sixteenth century, Jambi was attracting Arab and Portuguese merchants, but by this time, it owed allegiance to Melaka. In the seventeenth century, pepper brought down the river from the highlands attracted Dutch and English traders. By 1626, Jambi was regarded as the chief source of pepper for the English East India Company (EIC), which brought Indian textiles and gold for exchange. The Dutch also found Jambi a profitable source of pepper, and Jambi enjoyed a time of plenty while manipulating the Anglo-Dutch rivalry.

A fall in pepper prices and conflict with Johor marked the start of economic decline. This process was exacerbated by disputes over royal succession that led to a split between upriver and downriver parts of the kingdom. By the 1630s, the English had left. Dutch attempts to profit from Jambi’s internal difficulties were unsuccessful, and the (Dutch) United East India Company (VOC) closed its post in Jambi in 1770.

In the early nineteenth century, Jambi’s trade was chiefly with the British city ports of Singapore and Penang, the main exports being resins, especially jerenang (dragon’s blood resin). The Dutch returned to Jambi in 1833 and forced a contract with Sultan Muhammad Fakhruddin (Facharudin) (r. ca. 1833–1841) in which he relinquished his rights to import and export duties. However, the British continued to assert their right to trade with Jambi, and Dutch hegemony was circumvented by the use of alternative trade routes.

In 1855, a new ruler, Sultan Taha Saifuddin (r. 1855–1858), came to the throne. He refused to continue the agreements that the Dutch had forced on his predecessors and moved to a secret location in the interior. The Dutch installed a series of puppet rulers, but none agreed to Dutch requests to reside in the capital. From upriver bases, they kept in close contact with Taha, who orchestrated a continuing but erratic resistance to the Dutch, for whom much of the territory remained unsafe.

In 1904, the Dutch killed Taha, and two years later, Jambi became a full residency. Resistance continued for some years, however, and economic factors brought about the relatively settled period thereafter. Local landowners were compensated financially for the use of their land for rubber plantations, heralding a period of prosperity for the people of Jambi. Chinese traders gradually took over the commercial center.

The period of the Japanese occupation (1941–1945) was one of hardship, which continued during the years immediately following Indonesian independence in 1949. Jambi’s history from then on has reflected the fortunes of Indonesia as a whole. Proximity to Singapore, the large and economically active Chinese population, and the availability of timber have meant that a degree of prosperity has been maintained. However, the relative lack of substantial resources such as oil has meant that Jambi has remained something of a backwater.[]


Fiona G. Kerlogue, “Jambi”, Ooi Keat Gin (ed.), Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia from Angkor Wat to East Timor, (California-Colorado-Oxford: ABC-CLIO, 2004): 677-678.

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