Once upon a time, “Pattani” was a name to be reckoned with in Southeast Asia and it was ruled by four successive queens, the last of which was, Ratu Kuning (The Yellow Queen).
The name “Pattani” apparently originated from the Malay term “this beach” (pantai ini), which colloquially could have sounded like “pata ni“. It was the reply given to the founder of Pattani, who had wanted to know where an albino mousedeer had been spotted.
Back then, the Kingdom of Pattani covered approximately the area of today’s modern Thai provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, and include parts of northern Kelantan in Malaysia.
Pattani’s historical importance as a Malay Sultanate is believed to have begun around 1350 to 1450. Prior to that, the area was known as the Hindu-Buddhist kingdom of Langkasuka.
The golden age of Pattani started during the reign of Ratu Hijau (The Green Queen), who came to the throne in 1584. She was succeeded by Ratu Biru (The Blue Queen), followed by Ratu Ungu (The Purple Queen) and finaly, Ratu Kuning (The Yellow Queen).
Ratu Hijau ruled for 32 years and provided the stability that enabled Pattani to emerge as a centre of high-quality works of music, dance, drama, and handicraft. Pattani also became a major trade entrepot for Malay, Chinese, Siamese, Persians, Indians, Arabs, Portuguese, and Japanese merchants. It was also where the Dutch and English East India Company officials conducted business.
But Pattani had to continuously guard against constant threats by the Siamese. During the time it flourished in economic and military strength, the kingdom was mighty enough to fight off four major Siamese invasions.
By the late 17th century, however, Pattani began to decline and in 1786, Siam finally succeeded in its invasion of the state. Pattani then became absorbed into the Siamese kingdom, with its last ruler deposed in 1902.
The four queens of Pattani have been described as feisty and fearless in numerous folklores. The history of these queens has also inspired creative productions, including fantasy films.
In 2008, there was a Thai historical fantasy adventure film called “Queens of Langkasuka.” Initially, the name of the film was called “Queens of Pattani” but the name was changed to avoid political connections to the South Thailand insurgency and Pattani separatism.
The film also attempted to include connections with the legend of Langkasuka, although, historically, the timelines of Langkasuka and Pattani did not overlap. The reign of the Pattani queens took place centuries after the decline of the Langkasuka, which peaked in the 6th and 7th centuries.
The film premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Market to mixed reviews – with some feedback from the industry press stating that “it was way too long”. The film was also scheduled for the Venice Film Festival and played in a special out-of-competition midnight screening. “Queens of Langkasuka” was also the “gala opening” film for the 2008 BangkokInternational Film Festival.
At the age of 15, Ratu Kuning was betrothed to the king of Mardelong (modern day Phatthalung), a vassal state of Ayuthya (Siam), north of Pattani. The king called, Okphaya Déca was later discovered to be an oppressive ruler, who was also a gambler and womanizer.
Upon learning of this, Ratu Kuning’s mother, Ratu Ungu, decided to postpone the wedding until her daughter reached 20 years of age. When Ratu Ungu found out that Déca was also a puppet of Ayuthya, she broke off the marriage contract. As revenge, Decu attacked Pattani but was defeated.
Ratu Kuning, the Yellow Queen was as fearless as her predecessors, although some thought her to be soft and complacent. Unlike her mother (Ratu Ungu), who outright refused to pay the bunga mas tribute to the Siamese, Ratu Kuning’s style was more toward peaceful negotiation. She adopted a more conciliatory tone with her Siamese counterparts.
When Ratu Kuning took over the reigns upon her mother’s passing in 1634, however, Pattani was already in decline.
Ratu Kuning was said to have been an excellent businesswoman. In observing how Dutch colonialists traded commodities from the East, she started the Royal Pattani Shipping Company to focus on the supply of transportation.
She was also said to be very wealthy and generous; when she donated her wealth to the state, it took the accountants 3 days to list all of her properties.
She was the last queen to rule during Pattani’s golden age and is remembered as among the four formidable female rulers of Southeast Asia of ancient times.
Ratu Kuning the dance drama will premiere at Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur on September 23- 25, 2022.
The performance directed by Malaysian theatre veteran, Sabera Shaik, will depict the love affair between the iconic Pattani queen, Ratu Kuning, and the crown prince of Johor.
The dance drama will also showcase elements of fantasy and magic.
“It melds fact and fantasy into a beautiful tale of a powerful love between Ratu Kuning and the Raja Muda of Johor, a love challenged by dark, evil forces of black magic and sorcery,” said Sabera.
Cover image sourced from Persatuan Pencinta Sejarah Kelantan.