The Seven Cannons of Sambas
Royal Palace, Sambas, Indonesia – Startled, Putri, the Sultan’s mother and caretaker, wondered how I knew about the seven cannons of Sambas. I told her my wife, of royal lineage, had heard stories handed down through her family.
”You can’t touch them,” she said, eyeing my tanned white skin. “Only members of the royalty can or you will damage them,” was the rough translation. I assured her I would not. She pulled out a key and we walked around the front porch to a side room.
Unlocking the door, we entered the large dark, cool cavern, whose only light was the sunshine streaming in. High four meter ceilings greeted us with three-meter-long spears arranged along the back wall. A chair, more office than throne, was claimed to be the Sultans. A yellow umbrella, about one-and-a-half meters in diameter was stuck on a two-meter pole, and, when opened, formed a U-shape with fringes. A large jewel encrusted sword, said to be used to elevate others to offices with a touch, hung length wise on nails.
“Where are the cannons, Putri,” I asked, expecting to see normal ancient fire power of long ago. She pointed to a glass case. Lying on a dais of yellow, each wrapped with a royal yellow silk sheet and then covered with a yellow blanket with only their muzzles showing, seven round, jet black tubular canon, about 20-centimeters long rested on a pillow, like sleeping children. The “bed” was encased in a square glass cover. Canopied, the case was draped in yellow satin, a very bright yellow.
On a ledge in front of the glass case, a brass incense holder held ashes of previous worshipers. A plate contained low denomination Indonesian currency as offerings to these gods, or representatives of gods. Or whatever you want to call them. I am still not sure what they were supposed to represent. Gently questioning Putri about the cannon brought very evasive answers. “We were not supposed to discuss these pieces especially with non-believers,” she said, eyeing my skin color again.
I prodded Putri even more and she became irritated. She told me if I wanted to learn more I would have to come to a ritual ceremony Hari Hari Besar (Big Celebration Day). Then they will perform a ritual for the purpose of goodwill (rough translation, again).
We did manage to get some details out of her. Five groups of items will be presented to the canon: Seven eggs from village chickens, one roast chicken, popped rice obtained from unshelled rice, uncooked yellow rice and stone incense from Arabia. Placed around the cannon, anyone could make requests or wishes from the cannon. She said she didn’t know when this would occur, or she said that because she didn’t want me to come.
Gathering oral traditions from my wife’s family, three of the cannon came from the ancient rulers before the Sultanate was established. The origin of the other four is unknown, or Putri wouldn’t tell me. They are named Raden Sambir (old village word, wife cannot translate), Raden Mas (Prince Gold), Raden Kajang (Prince of the Royal Yacht) The other four are called Ratu Kilat (Queen or King of Lightening), Ratu Pajajaran (ancient word, cannot translate), Ratu Putri (Princess), and Panglima Guntur (Commander of Thunder).
To prove that spirits inhabit them, the Princess Canon menstruates every month, while the Thunder canon fires off an occasional shot. They are supposed to be paired, like married couples. The rest, maybe, are just sacred and it will depend on what wishes or desires from the person who request help.
I was expecting huge mounted canons used to defend forts instead of these trinkets which I felt would be better served as a children’s toy. Further research on the Internet and in local libraries have turned up little more than my wife’s oral history. Like so much of the Oriental world, be prepared to expect the unexpected. I was not prepared.
…life is good