Although The Royal and Hashemite Order of the Pearl was formally established in June 2011, it is an institution whose roots are much deeper. When the current Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo, His Majesty Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram decided to establish a Order, using His sovereign right as “Fons honorum”, it was uniting of the royal, nobiliary and chivalrous traditions of Sultanate, in a manner appropriate international standards.
This issue will be further discussed. Howeverr, firstly we will analyze the name of this Order.
Almost from the beginning of human civilization, the pearl has represented something very precious, but at the same time something sophisticated and rare. Symbolism of the pearl is very significant. It is mentioned in many of ancient writings. Sacred books of great world religions, including Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, mention pearl, usually as a symbol of great value.
For the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, pearl is even more important than for most other countries. On the islands of the Sulu archipelago pearls are collected for centuries in the traditional way. It is believed, that pearls from Sulu are most valuable in the world. For centuries, only the Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo had the right to possess the largest and most valuable pearls found in the archipelago. Although penalties for violators of this law were very harsh, some exceptional pieces found their way to Europe and other destinations by secret channels. Pearls are also of great importance for this country because, for a long time, they are one of the pillars of its economy.
The term “Hashemite” in the title of Order has its roots in the very foundations Kiram dynasty, as well as the history of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo. This term refers to the ancient Arab clan Hashemites, descendants of Hashim. It is a branch of a larger tribe, the Quraish. From the Hashemite clan originated Prophet Muhammad himself, his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali, the most important personalities of Islam. The roots of this clan are in the region Hejaz in today’s Saudi Arabia, near the Red Sea.
In the narrow sense, Hashemites are descendants of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali. Fatima and Ali had more children, but it is known that four of them came to maturity. These were sons Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali, and daughters Zaynab and Umm Kulthum. Descendants of Fatima and Ali are bearing honorary titles Sayyid (master) and the Sharif (noble).
Some important Dynasties of the Islamic world developed from the old clan Hashemites. Among them were the former Dynasties of: Hejaz Kingdom, Syria, North Yemen and Iraq. Sharifs of Mecca had same origins. Current Royal Houses of Jordan and Morocco are also of Hashemitic origin.
Royal House of Kiram of Sulu and North Borneo is one of the Dynasties that have Hashemite ancestry. In the first half of the 15th century Said Abubakar Abirin, a prominent explorer and Islamic religious teacher, came to Sulu. He was born in Johor on the Malay Peninsula, and he was of Arabic, respectively of Hashemitic origin. He married Princess Paramisuli and about 1450, after the death of his father in law Raj Baguinde, he founded the Sultanate of Sulu. Said Abubakar Abirin ruler´s name was Sharif ul – Hashim. The present Royal House of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, Kiram, descends from him.
As mentioned, Hashemites in the narrow sense of the word, or descendants of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima, have the right to bear the title Sayyid. In accordance with the traditions of his country, and his Hashemitic origin, His Majesty Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo, bears the title of the Grand Sayyid of the The Royal and Hashemite Order of the Pearl. It is the appropriate title for this function of His Majesty, because it is equivalent to the traditional title of the Grand Master of the Order in English language.
Title of Sultan is certainly one of the most important and most frequent royal titles in countries with deeply rooted Islamic traditions. This title comes from the Arabic language and is derived from the term “sultah”, meaning “authority” or “power”.
In the region of Sulu archipelago it has been present since the mid-15th century. His Majesty Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram is the 35th Sultan of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo.
The term “Fons honorum” (Fount of honour) means a person who, by his/her position, has the sovereign right of giving legitimate titles of nobility, or membership in the knightly orders, to other people. These are, therefore, persons who are either rulers of states, heads of dynasties, or leaders of traditional (old) religious organizations. By the establishment of The Royal and Hashemite Order of the Pearl, His Majesty Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram used this sovereign right as the Sultan of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, as well as the Head of the Royal House of Kiram.
Besides the symbolism regarding the name, insignia of The Royal and Hashemite Order of the Pearl also contain a certain symbolic significance. On the insignia of this Order (collar, badges, stars, rosettes and miniatures) are elements of the coat of arms of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo: double saber, pearl, crescent, star and crown.
Besides the crescent and star, which are clearly associated with Islamic tradition of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, one of the most significant parts of insignia of The Royal and Hashemite Order of the Pearl is represented by double saber, probably Zulfiqar. This symbol is also represented at Coat of Arms of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo. It is a legendary bifurcated (double) saber or sword of Ali, given to him by his father-in-law, Prophet Muhammad. Zulfiqar is, among other things, a symbol of sharp distinction between right and wrong.
The symbolism of the pearls for Sulu is already mentioned. The crown on the insignia of The Royal and Hashemite Order of the Pearl represents ruler’s dignity of the Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo. On the breast star of the Order appears the mythical animals (semi tiger – semi fish), which are also supporters of the shield on the Greater Coat of Arms of the Sultanate.
The Royal and Hashemite Order of the Pearl is divided into several grades. Highest grade, Royal Companion, is reserved exclusively for members of the current and former ruling houses. Beside this, there are five more grades in the Order: Grand Cordon, Distinguished Companion, Companion, Officer and Member. This ranking to some extent resembles the ranking of traditional nobility and privileged classes of society in the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo (datu, tuan…), but also the European Royal Orders of Chivalry. Membership in the Order can only be acquired in accordance with the wish and the approval of its Grand Sayyid (Grand Master). With this dynastic Order its Grand Sayyid rewards persons of all nationalities and religions, which were particularly meritorious concerning service, deeds and faithfulness to the Royal House and the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, as well as those, who gained an outstanding international reputation in their field of activity.
In outstanding article “Heraldic Privileges of the Royal end Hashemite Order of the Pearl”, His Excellency Aleksander Kimon Andreou gave a very detailed insight into the heraldic aspects of the Order, so at this point we will not specifically deal with them.
Although, in accordance with tradition and spirit of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, The Royal and Hashemite Order of the Pearl is not officially called the order of chivalry, it is certainly knightly order of the Royal House, from a European point of view. Concerning this, the writer of these lines should not be criticized for authorial freedom, to call members of The Royal and Hashemite Order of the Pearl – “The Pearl Knights”