The Early history
The river port of Jambi, the capital of the province of that name, is situated in the central region of Sumatra on the river Batanghari which flows east into the Berhala Straits. Jambi is positioned on the busy sea route between China and India , and the region played a major part in early maritime trade. The Tang Annals record that as early as the seventh century A.D. and again in the ninth century Jambi sent ambassadors to the court of Chinese emperor ( Wang Gungwu 1958;74). These earliest records of Jambi show it to have been the original capital of Melayu ( Malaya Kingdom ) The ancient Hindu – Buddhist Kingdom of Sriwijaya also had its capital in Jambi at about this time.
Muaro Jambi Temple, the most believed capital of the ancient Malay Kingdom
Muaro jambi, a large temple complex several kilometers downstream from the present capital may well have been the center of Buddhist learning referred to by the Chinese monk I-Tsing, who traveled from to India in 671. He studied in Sriwijaya for four years, then returned in 689 with four collaborators, to write two books in the Buddhist pilgrims and Buddhism of his time. It is during they stay that he noted that Malayu ” is now the country of Sriwijaya”.
A 1915 founded Holy Quran reading-school located on the site of old Jambi village.
Scholars have differed in their interpretations of this remark ; certainly the relationship between Melayu and Sriwijaya was a very close one, although there were some clearly period of Malay independence when Sriwijaya was based in nearby Palembang. By the eleventh century the capital had certainly moved to Jambi ( Wolters 1970:2 ). As well as functioning as an entreport, Jambi also produced its own exports including a variety of tree resins for use as incense, as well as cloves, tortoise-shell, gardenia flowers and cardamom. From Arab traders it imported cotton, fabrics and sword blades ; from China silk gauzes and thread, the latter possibly used in the manufacturer of silk brocades decorated in gold supplementary weft, the “songket” for which the Malay world later became famous
( Hirt & Rockhill 1964 ; 60-2 )
The Myth and Legend
Oral traditions establish the roots of Jambi’s relationship with Java and the founding of the kingdom and Islam within it. According to the legend, in the fifteenth century a Turkish prince, shipwrecked on the coast, met and married Putri Selaras Pinang Masak (lit.Princess Ripe Betel-nut ), the ruler of the coastal kingdom of Tanjung Jabung, around the lower riches of the Batanghari River. The couple had four children, of whom one, Orang Kayo Hitam, became the central hero figure in Jambi Legend.
The Javanese kingdom of Mataram was at that time demanding tribute from Tanjung Jabung and when orang kayo hitam was a young man he determined to put a stop to this. He traveled in disguise to the mataram capital, where a master smith was forging a kris with which to kill him. Orang Kayo Hitam killed the smith and seized the kris, which he later took back to Jambi. There it becomes known as Kris Siginjei, the symbol of royal power in Jambi. The stories goes that the Javanese ruler, fearing the wrath of Orange Kayo Hiram, called for a truce and sealed the agreement by arranging a marriage between his daughter Ratumas Pemalang and Orang Kayo Hitam
Statue at the Muaro Jambi temple
Another legend tells the incorporation of the upriver region into the kingdom and the establishment of the Jambi capital at Tanah Pilih, or chosen land , its present site. Orang Kayo Hitam is said to have journeyed upriver into the interior where he came across a log with a lock of black hair entwined around it, the hair, he thought of a beautiful girl.
He sees off in search for her and eventually came to a village where he found her guardians. As was the norm on occasions when men with magic powers met, he was challenged to single combat. Both he and his adversary leapt, thrust and struck at each other using all the skill of pencak silat, and the fight went on for several days. Eventually, however, orang kayu hitam proved the stronger.
As his prize, he asked the girl’s guardian if he could marry her, but they were extremely reluctant for this strange black man to marry Mayang Mangurai, as she was called. They set him a test, traditionally considered to be impossible to fulfill. The test was in four parts. First he must hand over a mortarful of gold, second, the hollow of a blowpipe, third the sleeve of a shit, and fourth, a measure of louse heads. He had a year and a day to perform these tasks. Orange Kayo Hiram set off to Java where he easily obtained the gold. Neither did the other requirements present him with any difficulties.
The Orang Kayo Hitam grave sited on the bank of Batanghari River
On his return, the wedding gifts were handed over and the guardians had to concede. After the wedding, the young couple set off down the river in a small covered boat, following a pair of white geese. Mayang Menguarai’s father had told them that when the geese left the water and settled on the bank for two days and two nights, there they should build a city. The place was this occurred was then known as the Tanah Pilih. When Orang Kayo Hitam struck the ground for the first time with his knife, he hit a gong buried in the earth. When he hit the second time he hit a cannon. Many believed these to be the parents of the girl, transformed in their graves. Others believed that they had fled into the forests rather than embrace Islam. There they became the ancestor of Kubu People ( Suku Anak Dalam ), the forest dwellers that have retained their animist beliefs and hunter-gatherer existence.