(Translated by Noor Idayu Abd Wahid, Aisyah Ngadiran, and Edi Kurniawan, from the book of Riḥlah Ibn Baṭṭūṭah, Chapter Min Banjālah Ilā Jāwah [from Bengal to Java])
We ride the junk and after fifteen days we arrived at a place named Barahnakar. The men there have mouths that look like dog’s mouth. They do not embrace Hinduism or any other religions. Their houses are made of cane, roofed with dried leaves, and built along the beachside. Their land is rich with banana trees and betel, and areca nuts. Their men look like us except that their mouths look like dog’s mouth, unlike their women, they are brilliantly beautiful.
Their men do not wear any clothes and are always naked except for one man who always covers his genital with a pouch made of carved bamboo, hanged around his stomach. The women on the other hand cover their bodies with dried leaves. There are also amongst them Muslims who come from Bengal and Java, living in an area. These Muslims told me that the Barahnakar people make love like animals; they do not wear clothes and do it in open. One man can have up to 30 wives and they do not commit infidelity. If one man is caught red handed, they will be crucified to death or his friend or slave will be crucified to death as a replacement and he will be freed. The woman on the other hand will be raped by all of the King’s slaves one by one to her death in front of the King. And the corpse will be thrown into the sea.
To avoid adultery from happening, the villagers do not allow the sailors from staying in the village except those who wants to live with them for a long time. Due to that, they perform transactions and negotiations at the seashore. They also use elephants to carry water to the seashore for the merchants and sailors. This is because the water source is very far from the seaside, and they also do not allow the merchants and sailors to go into the village to seek for water, fearing that their women will desire these handsome men.
There are a lot of elephants in Barahnakar and they can only be owned by the King. The King buys the elephants from the villagers by trading it with garments. These people speak peculiar language which can only be understood by those who live with them and mingle a lot with them. When we arrived by the seaside they came to us using small vessels. Each vessel is carved from a wood block. They came with bananas, rice, areca nuts, betel, and fish.
The King of Barahnakar came to meet us on an elephant. A leather saddle was placed on the elephant. The King wore a cloth made of goat’s skin, with the fur on the outer side. His royal highness also wore 3 layers of colorful headbands made of silk, and held a bamboo spear. The King was accompanied by 20 relatives who ride on elephants. We presented to the King gifts consist of black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, dried fish from Maldives, and a few pieces of cloth from Bengal. The locals do not wear any clothes, but they dress their elephants on their feast days. Any ship that stops by at Barahnakar must present a slave girl, a slave boy, cloth for the elephants, and jewelries for the Queen to be worn around her waist and toes. Shall anyone reluctant to do so, they will be bewitched by the villagers. The spell enchanted will cause storm at the sea that can destroy the ships or can nearly destroy them.
One night, when we stayed at the Barahnakar port, a slave boy gets off the ship. He made a secret appointment with a local lady which was a daughter of one of the dignitaries of Barahnakar, at a cave by the seaside. The slave boy belongs to one of the residents who owns a ship and regularly commutes from and to Barahnakar. Her husband knew about it and went to the cave with his friends. They found the slave boy and the wife there. Both of them were brought before the King. The King immediately sentenced the slave boy with punishment; his penis was to be cut off, and his body was to be crucified. The king had also sentenced the woman with punishment, he instructed the crowd to rape her to her death. Then the King went to the beach and apologized to me for what happened. He said “Indeed we find that our punishment must be implemented.” Then he presented his slave boy as a replacement for the crucified slave boy to the ship owner.
After twenty five days, we arrived at the island of al-Java which was referred to the Javanese frankincense. We saw the island which was very green and flourish from the distance of half a day's sail away. There were a lot of trees included the coconut trees, betelnuts, cloves, Indian aloes, al-syaki, al-barki, mangoes (‘unbah), jamun fruit, sweet oranges, and champor reeds. The inhabitants traffic used pieces of tin and China gold, not melted, but in the ore form (as coin). However there’re a lot of fragrant trees in the area of infidels rather than in the Believers’ area, except only slightly.
When we came at the port, the locals went out to get us by using their small boats which were filled with coconuts, bananas, mangoes and fishes. Commonly, as their custom, they will give all the stuffs to the traders who will give back to them what they owns. The Assistant of Marine also met us and inspected all the traders/merchants who were with us by asking some questions. Afterwards, he allowed us to land at the shores. Then we went to a town which is a quite big for a village and located by the seashore. There were houses that they called ‘sarha’ which was situated about four miles from the town. Then, Buhruz, the Assistance of Marine, wrote to the Sultan to inform about my presence. The Sultan then ordered Amir Daulasah with the generous qadi (Muslim judge) Amir Sayyid al-Syirazi, Tajuddin al-Asbahani and some of the scholars of law to meet me. With them was sent one of the King’s own saddle horses for me, and other horses for my companions. After that, my companions and I rode the horses and headed to the residence of the Sultan.
Then we came into the capital city of the Sultan that is the city of Sumatra. It was a great and beautiful city which was surrounded by walls and towers made of woods. The Sultan at that time was Sultan Malik al-Zahir which has his own’s noble and generosity. He was in sect of Shafi’i school of law and adored to the legists of Islamic jurisprudence. The Muslim legal scholars also came to his ceremonies to read and learn the jurisprudence. The Sultan was also enthusiastic to strive/endeavour and fight in wars. Besides, he was also a humble one and always walks for his prayers on Friday. While the citizens also subscribed to the sect of Shafi’i and love to strive (jihad), therefore they attend him willingly on his warlike expeditions until they had defeated the infidels. The infidels then, paid some tributes to them to ensure their safety and peace.
When we came to the residence of the Sultan, we found some lancers planted on both of the roadsides near to it. The lancers was made to warn people to alight from their vehicle as there’s no one can ride through it. Then we headed to the royal audience hall, the Sultan’s Deputy who was called ‘Umdatu’l Mulk met me in an obliging manner. He stood opposite to us and shook our hands, and then he sat with us. He then wrote a message to inform our arrival to the Sultan. Afterwards, he sealed it and gave the message to a young man who will bring back the answer. Then the other man came with buqsyah which is a bag made of linen. The Deputy picked it up and holds my hand, and led me into a small house named faradkhanah, which is Sultan’s resting place in the daytime.
The Deputy usually comes to the court after dawn prayer and returns home after I’syak, as well as other ministers and higher officials. He then took off three pieces of clothes from the buqsyah, which is one of them made of pure silk while the remaining clothes were made of silk and cotton, and silk and linen. He also took off three more garments named tahtaniyyat (underwear), which was similar with kain sarong, and also three other pieces which were different types of each other named wustaniyat (middle-wear), while the three robes more were ashen except one of them was white in colour. He then also took off three of the head coverings. Then I wore one of those three sarongs as a replacement of the pants and a shirt as the local’s custom here, while my companions took the other clothes.
Afterwards, the servants came with a lot of dishes and the rice was more than another dishes. Then they bring out a kind of fuqa’ and also betels for a signal to us to leave. The Deputy then came to us and we stood up together before we left the court. Afterwards, we rode out together with him until we were brought to a garden encircled by a wooden wall. In the middle of it was a house made of wood and furnished with cotton velvet carpets they call mukhmalat, some of which were dyed and others not. In the house there were rattan couches on which were silk coverings, light coverlets and cushions called al-bualisht.
We set down in a house with Sultan’s deputy. Then Master Dawlasah came with his two female slaves and two servants. He said to me that the Sultan said, “This high standing is based on our capability, not based on the capability of Sultan Muḥammad”.
Then the deputy (of Sultan) went out and the Master Dawlasah remained with me. We knew each other because he has ever come to Delhi as a messenger. I asked him: “when can I see the Sultan?” He answered: “according to our tradition here, the guest should not meet and say salām to Sultan except after three days, in order to refresh his body and mind from tiredness of journey.”
We stayed there three days. He fed us three times in a day. In every evening and morning, the fruits and candies were given to us. At the fourth day, it was Friday, the Master Dawlasah came and said to me: “your meeting with sultan will be held in the exclusive place of the Mosque after praying”.
Then, I came to the Masjid to perform Jum’ah prayer accompanied by his gate keeper, Qayran. When I came to the Sultan, I met with Qāḍī Amīr Sayyid on his right and the students on his left side. He shook my hand, while I said salām to him, and he gave me a seat on his left side.
He asked me about Sultan Muḥammad and my journeys and I answered it. Then He came back to the lecture (mudhākarah) of Islamic Law (fiqh) on the school of thought of Imām al-Shāfiʿī until Ashar time. After performing Ashar prayer, he entered the house and took off his clothes which he worn; it was the clothes of Fuqahāʾ, which he wore it in every Friday by walking to the Masjid. Then he wore the King clothes; it was Aqbiyyah which was made from silk and cotton.
When he went out from the Masjid, he found the elephants and horses, near to the door. According to their tradition, if Sultan rode the elephant, those who were with him rode the horses. And if Sultan rode the horse, they rode the elephants; while the position of scholars (aḥl al-ʿilm) were on his right-side. At that day, Sultan Malik rode the elephant, hence we rode the horses accompaniying him to the assembly hall.
We got down like usual, wherein Sultan came into the hall with his rider (elephant). In the assembly hall there were Ministers, Masters, Clerks, Official of Kingdom and commander of Army in line up.
The first line was the line of Ministers and Clerks. There were four Ministers. They came back to their places after saying salām to the Sultan.
Then, the line of Masters. They said salām to the Sultan and went back to their places. And each group did the same way.
Then the line of Nobles people and Jurist. Then the line of boon companion; the line of philosopher and poets; the line of commander of army and the line of young men and slaves.
Sultan Malik al-Zahir stopped on his elephant; that is a seat in front of the dome place. The bejewelled bisector was raised above him. On his right and left side, there were 50 elephants with full of ornaments as well as there were also 100 nubah horses. There were special guard standing by his side. Then, the singer men come to sing a song for him.
There were the horses decorated by silk, gold anklets and halter. Then, the horses danced in front of him. So that, it really amazed me. I saw the same things when I was with the king of India. When the sunset came, the Sultan went back to his palace and the crowd dispersed and went back to their houses.
There was a Sultan Malik al-Zahir’s nephew who got married to his daughter. So he appointed him as a ruler of some countries. This man (Sultan’s nephew) was falling in love to a Master’s daughter and had willing to marry her. According to the tradition in Sumatra, if a man, whoever he was, whether he was a Master, important people, or others that if his daughter reached the marriage age; they had to propose to the Sultan on their marriage matters. Sultan will send some women to see her. If the Sultan is interested in her personality, he will marry her. And if he is not, he will leave her to her guardians to find any other people to marry.
The people in Sumatra like to marry their daughter with the Sultan; then they would get the prestige and glory.
When the father of a girl has already gotten the instruction of the Sultan - dealing with his daughter being loved by Sultan’s nephew - so that, Sultan sent some people to see her and he finally took her as a wife. As the result, the Sultan’s nephew’s love towards this girl became stronger, but he did not find any way to get her.
Then, Sultan Malik al-Zahir went to a battle. The distance between him and his enemy, the Unbeliever’s Kingdom, was as long as one month’s travel. His nephew disobeyed him and went to Sumatra. There was no wall in Sumatra at that time. He claimed himself as a king. Some people trusted him and acknowledged him as a leader but refuted by others.
When Sultan Malik knew what his nephew was doing, he went back to Sumatra. His nephew took the properties and stocks as much as he could and the female slave who he loved. Then he went to a Non-Muslim Country in Mul Java. Because of that occurrence, Sultan Malik built the wall in Sumatra.
I stayed in Sumatra for fifteen days. I asked the permission to travel because it was a good time for it. Moreover, the transportation to China was not available at all time. The Sultan prepared a junk and filled it with foodstuff. May Allah reward him well! He also sent his companions to serve us in the junk. We travelled around his country for twenty one nights.