Three Arabic Letters from North Sumatra of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

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This article examines three Arabic documents, one from the Sultanate of Samudera-Pasai dated 1516, and two from the Sultanate of Aceh, dated 1602 and 1603, written in the name of Sultan Alauddin Riayat Syah (r.1589–1604). The Samudera-Pasai document represents the earliest surviving manuscript in the Arabic script from Southeast Asia, while the second and third letters are some of the earliest documents that have come down to us from the Aceh sultanate. Despite their historical importance, these documents have not previously been adequately published. This article presents an analysis from a diplomatic, stylistic and philological point of view, comparing them with Malay and Middle Eastern epistolary traditions and examining the significance of the use of Arabic. It also considers the light they shed on diplomatic practice in early modern North Sumatra. An edition and modern English translation of the documents are presented in an appendix, along with a contemporary Portuguese translation of the Pasai letter and the translation by the English Arabist William Bedwell (1561–1632) of the Aceh letter of 1602.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)188-210
JournalIndonesia and the Malay World
Issue number129
Early online date12 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Arabic
  • Diplomatics
  • Samudera-Pasai
  • Sultanate of Aceh
  • Sumatra


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