On account of Bintan Island’s strategic location and size on the India-China trade route, it has a rich history. Along with the local ethnic Malays and the Bugis, domination by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Arabs, and the British at different times has been a part of Bintan’s rich history. Many local internal feuds between the Malays and Bugis, and battles in the sea, with and between foreign invasion forces, have been part of Bintan’s history and its straits.
From mid 16th century, the Sultan of Johar-Riau kingdom had moved their kingdom between Johar, Riau and Lingga. The earliest history of Bintan is linked to the history of Nagoya Hills, which is integral with Batam, near Bintan island and other islands of the Riau archipelago.
The Chinese chronicles have mentioned that Batam was inhabited by 231 AD when Singapore island was still called Pulau Ujung (Ujung Island). Bintan came under the control of the Malacca kingdom from the 13th century. Later, the Sultan of Johor ruled from here and his reign lasted till the 18th century. Riau Islands were central to the greater Malay kingdoms or Sultanates, known as the ‘Malay World’, which had its control from eastern Sumatra to Borneo.
For centuries, Riau was the home of Malay and Orang Laut people. They had settled in Bintan. These two communities were the backbone of most Malay kingdoms from the time of Srivijaya to the Sultanate of Johor. They had full control of trade routes going through the straits. Migrants from China and Indo-China, though came here later, settled in large area of Asia. After the fall of Melaka in 1511, Riau islands became the centre of political power of the mighty Sultanate of Johor or Johor – Riau, based on Bintan island.
They were considered the centre of Malay culture. From the 12th to 13th century, the Srivijaya Empire of Sumatra held sway over Bintan island. Sri Tri Buana, a member of the royal family of Palembang had visited Riau Islands in 1290. The Queen of Bintan met him and made a strategic alliance. They moved with a “flotilla of 800 vessels to Bintan” where Sri Tri Buana became the king. However, Bintan and its straits got the reputation as a pirate island due to the Malay pirates who seized many ships by forcing them to the port to trade and or loot the cargo carried by them. Hundreds of ships of Malays forced Chinese ships returning from the Indian Ocean to their ports in Bintan. Those who resisted were attacked.
Large quantities of Chinese ceramics were recovered on Bintan, some traced to the early Sung Dynasty (960–1127). The Arabian chronicler, Ibnu Battuta, writing on the Riau islands in the 13th century states: “Here there are little islands, from which armed black pirates with poised arrows emerged, possessing armed warships; they plunder people but do not enslave them.” Log records of Chinese ships testify these incidents in the 12th century. Even after several centuries, Bintan is still referred by many by the epithet “Pirate Island”.
According to historical records, Sri Tri Bhuvana occupied Singapore and then declared himself as the King of Singapore. Before that he renamed Temasek, the island he had occupied, as Singapore. Another explanation mooted to the naming of Singapore is that the king spotted an animal, which he presumed to be a lion, and hence called Temasek as Singapore (Lion City). The reign of Srivijaya empire lasted till the 16th century. In the year 1521, the Portuguese who were on pepper hunt, had the intention of building strongholds in the form of forts during their sea voyages in the East, on Sunda Island in Java after they had received instructions from their King to destroy four forts in India, Sri Lanka and Sumatra.
However, they initially failed to capture Bentan, the stronghold of the former Sultan of Malaca on the south east of Singapore straits and Atjeh (the capital of a new Sultanate, which was emerging in North Sumatra). At this time, they were successful in establishing a fort at Pasai though were unsuccessful in establishing a fortress at Canton in China and suffered defeat at the hands of the Chinese. In 1524, Malays of Bintan attacked Malacca, which was under the control of the Portuguese. Bintan first became politically important when Sultan Mahmud of the fallen Sultanate of Malacca fled to Bintan and created a resistance base there after Malacca was taken by the Portuguese forces in 1511.
The Portuguese eventually destroyed the stronghold in 1526, and after a few years the Sultanate founded a new capital back on the Malay Peninsula and developed from there. Bintan agro beach resort At the beginning of 18th century the Sultanate of Johor entered into political turmoil and the capital moved back to Bintan as the Bugis took control of the Sultanate. At the hands of the Bugis, Bintan became a powerful trading port, attracting regional, Western, Indian and Chinese traders as well as migrants including Chinese much in the same way Malacca had developed into a regional power three centuries earlier. Penyengat Island in Bintan European powers wanted to take control of the port, which had a flourishing trade.
During this period the British, who controlled Penang, were aggressively looking towards expanding their control to the south of the Straits of Malacca, as they wished to contain the Dutch expansions. They considered Bintan as a possible location. During this period the Dutch had defeated the Bintan rulers and taken control of the island by the end of the 18th century; this had brought to an end the local trading supremacy. This also resulted in checkmating the British ambition to occupy the area. However, an internal power struggle within the Sultanate of Riau-Johor ensued.
The British seized this opportunity and occupied the island of Singapore. With this, the importance of Bintan island as a trading port also declined. A new cultural centre developed on Penyengat Island and it got established as the stronghold of Malay and Islamic culture. However the history changed the fate of Riau as a political, cultural or economic centre when European powers took control of the regional trade routes by taking advantage of political weaknesses within the Sultanate. Singapore Island, that had been for centuries part of the same greater Malay kingdoms and sultanates, and under direct control of Sultan of Johor, came under British control. The creation of a European-controlled territory in Johor-Riau heart broke the sultanate into two parts, destroying the cultural and political unity that had existed for centuries.
The Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1824 consolidated this separation, with the British controlling all territories north of the Singapore Strait and Dutch controlling territories from Riau to Java. Till the independence of Indonesia in 1945, Bintan was under the control of the Netherlands East Indies. However, the Riau Archipelago remained a fairly borderless territory till recently. During the World War II Japanese had occupied the Malay world and Singapore was their headquarters. During this period, many Malays including the upper strata of society had to join the Imperial Army. After the war, from 1950 the Archipelago was a duty free zone till the revolution Konfrontasi in 1963. During this period, the Straight Dollar of British Malaya was the principal currency. Visa free movement of people, which existed then is now no more prevalent.