Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Sultan was a no-show for his photo shoot on Christmas day, 1879

The photo session was scheduled 25 December 1879, but was postponed for the next day, because the Sultan was not well.  But Montano dated his account of how this portrait was taken on 27 December.

The Sultan of Sulu Mohammed Yamalul Alam  [Jamalul Alam] was a no-show for his photo session with the French scientists  Joseph Montano and Paul Rey on Christmas day, 25 December 1879.   They were told the Sultan has a terrible headache.

Everything had been prepared for this major photo-op.  They had, in fact, been allowed to install a dark room under the palace. 

They had been waiting for this big event since arriving in Tianggi (Jolo) on 15 November as part of their biological and anthropological mission to the Philippines and some Malayan islands for the French Ministry of Education .  Their letter request for a photo session with the Sultan was never answered. They were finally able to have an audience with the Sultan and his court, and a photo date agreed on, after they were introduced by Herman Leopold Schuck, a German in good relations with the Sultan ever since they met in 1864.

Still they waited, reminiscing about Christmas day being devoted to reunions with their family and friends in their country, entertaining ridiculous questions from the crowd about portraiture without pencil or brush and beards of white men against thin hair on the Chinese or Malay chins, and listening to loud objections to their task because Allah forbids the making of portraits, and the Sultan would die of it. The datus swore that no portrait would leave the royal village of Maibun.

Before this appointment with the Sultan, they had been subject to violent encounters. They were visiting with Schuck when his place was assaulted by armed men.  There was also an instance when huramentados attempted to attack them but their Spanish guards gunned them down.  

All they needed now was a jewel, a portrait of the Sultan Jamalul Alum, since they have already collected interesting biological specimens, and have logged down their observations on the physical and cultural structure of the place and the people. 

They then pretended to depart, destroying the dark room with heavy crashes, packing their bottles of chemicals, and shouting that they would be punished by their own “Sultan” for not completing this assignment.  The pretext had an immediate effect.  The son Brahamuddin appeared suddenly half-naked and without his turban and told them his father would be well the next day, which we take to be 26 December but this was dated the 27th in Montano’s account of their mission from May 1879 to June 1881.

It turned to be a great day for the French scientists when the Sultan, pale and magnificently dressed, appeared, surrounded by his court, all in their gala costume with the clothes and ornaments glittering under the sun. 

They mounted the camera, measured the distances, and when everything was ready for the shoot, the Sultan withdrew and had his son take his place.  The click proceeded just the same and the result served as the test shot.  The plate was developed, and Brahamuddin almost came out perfectly.  The Sultan then became very enthusiastic, losing his usual serious mien.  He imposed silence among his datus, and pretty soon, he had himself photographed—bust, sitting, standing, alone or in company.    “If I listened,” Montano wrote, “I could have taken photos up to the last slave.”

Montano and Rey had to strategize next how to leave with the plates and return to their haven within the Spanish fortifications in Jolo without any hindrance.  They were quite certain the Sultan would allow them to bring the plates but not the Sultan’s men.  They developed several copies while the armed datus kept the dark room under surveillance.

The scheme worked. They brought back the portrait not only to Jolo but also to the world. With his portrait in Montano's “Voyage aux Philippines et en Malaisie”, which was published in 1886,  Sultan Jamalul Alam remains very much alive to this day. We see him in almost in every book or publication about Muslims in the Philippines either in the cover or as an illustration of an article on Muslim cultural or political issues.   

Anybody who asks who he is would be surprised to know that significant events in the history of the country under Spain and of Sulu happened during his reign (1863-1881), and until today, the Sultan continues to impact on our country’s foreign relations particularly with regard to the Sabah claim.

Jolo fell to the Spanish forces under Admiral Jose Malcampo on 21 February 1876. Two years later, the Sultan signed a treaty putting the whole of Sulu under the protectorate of Spain on 22 July 1878.

Six months earlier however, on 22 January 1878, Sultan Jamalul Alam  and his datus signed the “Land Grant of 1878” or the “Grant by the Sultan of a Permanent Lease Covering His Lands and Territories on the Island of Borneo” to Gustavus Baron de Overbeck of Hongkong and to Alfred Dent, Esq., of London, who were acting as representatives of the British Company, for the “sum of five thousand dollars annually, to be paid each and every year to his heirs and successors “until the end of time.”

There had been disputes among this Sultan’s heirs and successors to this day, and of course, conflicts in the interpretation of the January and July 1878 agreements had been subjects of arguments among the signatory countries with regard to the land grant.


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