The existence of the Empire of Perlak in the 9th century and the Sultanate of Samudera Pasai(Pasee) in the 13th century on the northern coast of Sumatera Island (now North Aceh), affirms that Aceh has always been actively involved in international relations with the role that can not be considered small in the eyes of the world.
Samudera Pasai (1267-1521) was built by the King Marah Silu, known as Malik Al-Saleh (Malikussaleh). The Sultanate is recorded as the first and oldest Islamic kingdom in Indonesia,as well as being one of the largest in the world. The capital of the Sultanate in Pasai, Aceh onceeven had an important role as a center of political, economic, trade, and Islamic teachings inIndonesia and Southeast Asia. The influence of Samudera Pasai nowadays, can be seen in Malay tradition and culture in Southeast Asia.
The Sultanate of Samudera Pasai was even visited by Marco Polo with thousands of his entourage. The existence of Pasai also mentioned in the book entitled Odyssey to the East by Ibn Batuthah, a famous traveler from Morocco who stopped by in 1345. He called Samudera Pasai as Samatrah and described the kingdom as a rich and beautiful country with advanced trading and led by a hospitable and friendly king. From there the name of “Sumatera” finally appeared, derived from the word “Samudera” (means “ocean”) is pronounced to be “Samatrah” or “Sumatera.” Samudera Pasai kept progressing bigger as a prestigious kingdom when Queen Nahrisyah (1416-1428) led the Sultanate. On her gravestone, the Queen received the title as Queen of the Honor. At that time, the power of Samudera Pasai had covered the region of Sumatera Island and Southeast Asia. Samudera Pasai had grown and evolved as an important port city for trade routes in the Strait of Malacca.
The power and influences of Samudera Pasai which spread to Southeast Asia show how big and strong Samudera Pasai in achieving glory in international trade relations. Spices and gold were the main commodities produced by the kingdom. Located in a strategic area, Samudera Pasai was so open to the outside cultures, making it not only grew more, but also increasingly rich in the process of acculturation, political relations, trade, and the spread of Islam which gave unique creation to various forms of art and culture, including literature, dances, music, culinary, and other traditions.
The relics of Samudera Pasai in the form of various gravestone of the queens and kings, gold coins, ancient inscriptions, books, gold jewelry, weapons, and others are widely spread in the area of Lhokseumawe, North Aceh, Aceh Province. But now the condition of them which witnessed the history of greatness are abandoned, especially when conflict between TNI (Indonesian Armed Forces) and GAM (Free Aceh Movement) occurred for decades (GAM started fighting against the government of Indonesia to demand justice for Aceh in 1976-2005). The conflict contributed to the damages of various Samudera Pasai’s relics and destroyed the arts and traditions that have been attached to the local people there for a long time, made the position of this great empire seemed to be worthless and meaningless. Consequently, the heritage of Samudera Pasai is neglected, some of them are stolen by collectors at home and abroad.
From Banda Aceh, the trip to see the heritage sites of Samudera Pasai in the District of Pasai in Lhokseumawe, North Aceh is a journey through space and times, surrounded by the green hills with stunning views. The grave of royal leaders, such as the Sultan Malikussaleh, Malikul Dhahir, Queen Nahrisyah, and others are calligraphy carved granite and marble. Most of the other relics in the form of gold coins, weapons, and gold jewelry are stored at the local government office in Lhokseumawe. Currently, local government is trying to raise fund for conservation and the establishment of a museum and monument of Samudera Pasai.
The glory of Samudera Pasai began to fade away in the 16thcentury when the Kingdom of Aceh Darussalam conquered Samudera Pasai and removed the power to the region which now become Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh Province. Aceh Darussalam was the new political and commercial center in the Strait of Malacca. The existence of Samudera Pasai continued to disappear after the Portuguese invasion. However, from the traditions of art and culture, gold (coins and jewelry), and also the beautiful grave of royal leaders of Samudera Pasai, we all certainly can not deny the richness and greatness of this oldest Islamic kingdom in the Archipelago.
*The writer is a traveler from Miyara Sumatera, an organisation working on nature conservation, cultural preservation, and tourism development in Sumatera.