NOT far from Kampung Pujut Tanjung Batu, along the Sungai Baong lies the tomb of a queen who gave up her life of royalty to live among commoners in Miri.
Buried at the site over 100 years ago was Datuk Permaisuri Kemala, a Johor Royal Family member of the Riau Empire which had close ties with the Brunei Sultanate.
The site can be reached by a four-minute boat ride from Pujut Tanjung Batu jetty or 10 to 20 minutes on foot through a forested area from a junction along Jalan Miri By-Pass.
In the old days, the Sultanates of Brunei and Johor-Riau had been maintaining close ties which were strengthened by the arranged marriage between the Johor-Riau princess and a Brunei prince.
After the grand wedding celebration and being in Johor for quite a while, Datuk Permaisuri Kemala’s husband sought his in-laws’ permission to bring his wife back to Brunei.
According to accounts passed down the generations, during the journey, the ship carrying Datuk Permaisuri Kemala, her husband and her in-laws encountered bad weather and sank off the Miri coast.
As the royal members were struggling in the raging sea, the prince made a painful decision to rescue his mother instead of his wife.
He reasoned he could always get another wife but nothing could replace his mother who carried him in her womb for nine months.
Datuk Permaisuri Kemala had no choice and she left her fate in God’s hand. She eventually lost consciousness and floated to a nearby village.
On finding the princess who was washed ashore, the villagers took her in and nursed her back to health. She was accorded royal treatment after attesting her status to them.
Not long after the incident, her husband who was, at that time, living in Brunei heard that his wife was still alive and living among Mirians. All this while he though his wife had drowned.
Overjoyed, he immediately sailed over to Miri to look for her and tried to persuade her to return to Brunei with him.
Datuk Permaisuri Kemala happily welcomed her husband’s arrival but she was still bitter at his desertion of her, and since she was well treated by the villagers, she decided to stay on in Miri till her last breath.
She set up schools as well as devoted her remaining life to spreading the teachings of Islam in Miri. Because of these good deeds, the princess was greatly loved and respected by the people.
When she passed away, she was laid to rest in a burial ground further inland, known today as Makam Datuk Permaisuri.
“This is one version of the legend as told by our elders. There is no verified version as they were all words of mouth passed from one generation to another,” said Pujut Tanjung Batu village headman KK Usman Sulaiman.
He said he was told by his grandparents Datuk Permaisuri Kemala was taken in by a Jatti Miriek family, a native community in Miri, and she lived until her demise at Kampung Dagang.
Usman added that Datuk Permaisuri Kemala was laid to rest at the old Jatti Miriek Muslim Cemetery, Kampung Pujut Tanjung Batu, because in the old days if a person in the Miriek community passed away, he or she must be buried upstream.
“That’s why her tomb is located along the Sungai Baong, further upstream and far from Kampung Dagang where she actually lived her remaining life,” he explained.
Failure to materialise
Meanwhile, the Miri City Council (MCC) is looking to revive a 2004 plan to develop the over 100 years old Makam Datuk Permaisuri site into a park and a tourist spot.
According to Miri Mayor Adam Yii, the initial project, estimated at RM5.7 million, didn’t materialise after it was first proposed due to lack of funding.
In 2004, the Council came up with a plan to develop, upgrade and beautify the place. At that time, Miri was preparing to become a city by 2005.
But the project did not take off as planned. Former Miri MP Tan Sri Peter Chin later arranged for some allocation to improve the wooden pavilion and the small bridge leading to the gravesite.
Since the plans and drawings all had been done in 2004, the Council will now reorganise it by reviewing the project papers and seeking funding.
“We’ll also form the project task force that will include the Majlis Islam, local community leaders and also NGOs (non-governmental organisations) which have been active in preserving and promoting this historical place.
“The task force will look into ways to implement the project. The council will prepare the project papers and look for the funds needed,” Yii said.
The 2004 project plan included a proper jetty and boardwalk, water features, a courtyard garden, food stalls, a visitors’ complex, a fragrant garden, an orchard, an administrative office, chalets, a barbecue area and a viewing deck.
“Datuk Permaisuri Kemala is a legendary figure in the history of Miri. Although there are a few versions of the legend, it’s historical in any case.
“We hope with the successful implementation of the project, this location will become one of the tourist and historical sites as well as an added attraction for Miri. We’ll work towards that objective,” Yii added.