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The islands of Brunei bay

The legendary tale of a battle between two roosters


Published: 12 May 2022

Time taken : ~10mins

As a region made up of many islands, Southeast Asia has plenty of stories related to these land masses. Many of them tell the story of how these islands were created, such as this legend from Brunei about two islands, Pulau Lumut-Lunting and Pulau Pilong-Pilongan. This story has historical significance as it is said to have happened right before the formation of modern-day Brunei Darussalam. Read it and discover how this story can reflect the feelings of the people during that time period. 

A long time ago in the 14th century, Brunei Darussalam was a vassal state of the Majapahit Empire, ruled by Awang Alak Betatar (now recognised as Sultan Muhammad Shah, founder of Brunei as we know it today). Every year, the state paid a tribute to the king of Majapahit. At the time, Brunei’s camphor was considered to be among the best in the region, and thus this yearly tribute comprised 40 ships laden with this precious cargo.  

While animal fighting is frowned upon now, cockfighting was a popular activity among commoners and royalty alike back then. The nephew of Awang Alak Betatar, Awang Senuai, was said to have a formidable rooster who won in every fight it had ever been in. It was a fierce competitor, and thus Awang Senuai was very proud of his rooster. Its name was Mutiara, and his owner bragged about him often to just about anyone who would listen.  

The reputation of Awang Senuai and his rooster Mutiara was so well-known that it eventually caught the attention of Raden Angsuka Dewam, the King of the Majapahit Empire. He also owned a rooster which was named Asmara, said to be equal to Mutiara. Being the king of such a large empire, Asmara was very well taken care of by his owner: It had a special coop and ate from a golden plate! Asmara was supposedly blessed with great strength and intelligence, and was also rumoured to have a “special power”. When it first stepped foot into Brunei with his master, his crow was so loud and terrifying that all the local roosters did not crow for several days. 

Raden Angsuka Dewam heard about the existence of Mutiara, and thought to himself, “Hmph! I’m the king of the Majapahit empire, there is no way that this rooster is better than mine.” He sent a message ahead to Awang Alak Betatar and his nephew, Awang Seunai, issuing a challenge to them for a cockfight between Mutiara and Asmara. He made a pledge that if he lost, he would give back the 40 ships of tributary goods back to Brunei. However, if he won the match, he would gain more territories of Brunei and it would remain under his rule as part of the empire. 

When Awang Alak Betatar and his nephew heard the challenge, they felt pressured to agree to it. “He is the king, after all, I’m not sure if we can defy him,” mused Awang Alak Betatar. Awang Senuai agreed but was also secretly eager to take on the challenge. The two men relented and agreed to a match with the king.

During the next two weeks, both Awang Senuai and Raden Angsuka Dewam trained their roosters relentlessly. They both challenged other roosters to fight, day after day. They gave more care and attention to their roosters than they ever had before. Mutiara was as fierce as the stories told, and won all the fights it had been in while training. 

Finally, the day of the match arrived. Villagers had come from far and wide to witness this showdown. Word had spread rather quickly and people could not wait to see this intense fight, especially since it could have changed the fate of Brunei itself. Near the palace and near the coast of Brunei bay, a circle was drawn in the ground. The two men and their roosters stood across from each other, surrounded by people. The atmosphere was tense, but there was also a sense of excitement in the air.

“Let’s make this a fair and equal fight. Good luck!” said the king, releasing Asmara into the battle ground. 

Awang Senuai quickly released Mutiara into the ring as well, and the two roosters immediately charged each other fiercely. The spectators cheered excitedly, throwing in their bets into the ring while each rooster pounced, pecked, scratched and kicked each other relentlessly.

“Yes! Mutiara is so strong, I think he's going to win,” yelled one villager.

“No way, Asmara is equally strong, it is still fighting back!” another replied quickly. 

Indeed, both roosters were equally matched, neither one overpowering the other. Awang Senuai and Raden Angsuka Dewam watched anxiously from the side as the match dragged on.

After a while, both roosters were very worn out, having been equally matched the whole fight. Then, Mutiara landed a fatal scratch on Asmara, hurting the rooster terribly. Now seriously injured, Asmara quickly fled away out of the ring, much to the chagrin of the king. It headed towards the beach and into the ocean, eventually succumbing to its many wounds. It fell into the sea, turning into a huge rock island now known as Pulau Pilong-Pilongan.

However, Mutiara was still aggressively pursuing the other rooster. Upon seeing this, Raden Angsuka Dewam became enraged and turned to the rooster to utter a powerful curse. With his authority as the king of the empire, Mutiara fell towards the ocean, morphing and turning into another island within the bay of Brunei, Pulau Lumut-Lunting.  

In the historic village near where this legend supposedly occurred, Kampong Ayer, elders have passed down a belief that Pulau Lumut-Lunting will never be submerged underwater no matter how high the water level rises. Such an occurrence would represent a bad omen, such as the death of a sultan or the arrival of an unfortunate incident. Some say that this legend is symbolic of Brunei’s history, representing the struggle for independence by the state while the Majapahit empire was trying to keep Brunei within its control. 

Discussion questions

  1. How do stories like these reflect the perspectives and thoughts of the people living in Brunei at that time?
  2. What is the significance of such legends and folktales?
  3. Is there a folktale or legend you know of that is important to you or the people around you? Discuss with your friends and family about how such stories can reflect or represent the cultures they emerge from. 

Want to find out more about the Majapahit empire? Check out this video and discover more about one of the most significant empires in the history of Southeast Asia.

Illustrations by: Shekinah Prisca