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Nomination form part a – essential information

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  1. Identity and Location

    1. Name of documentary heritage

Hukum Kanun Melaka

(The Laws of Melaka)

    1. Country


    1. State, province or region

Federal Territory

    1. Address

232, Jalan Tun Razak,

50572 Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA

    1. Name of organization or institution (if appropriate)

National Library of Malaysia

  1. Legal Information

    1. Owner (name and contact details)

National Library of Malaysia,

The Centre for Malay Manuscripts,

232, Jalan Tun Razak,

50572 Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA

    1. Custodian (name and contact details)

(Refer to 2.1)

    1. Legal status

  1. Category of ownership: National Library of Malaysia

  1. Details of legal and administrative provisions for the preservation of the documentary heritage

The National Library Act 1972 (Amendment 1987) provides

1Provisions relating to cultural heritage as follows:
4 (2) The Director General shall have the following functions:
(b) to acquire and maintain a comprehensive national collection of library resources reflecting the intellectual, literary and cultural heritage of the nation as well as representative national collection reflecting the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of mankind;
(c) to establish within the Library -

(iii) the National Centre for Malay Manuscripts for the acquisition, documentation and use of Malay Manuscripts.

The National Library of Malaysia has formulated a Policy on Malay Manuscript which stipulates its policy on the acquisition, documentation and preservation of its Malay manuscript collection as an intellectual heritage of the people and the nation as well as providing research service related to Malay manuscript.

  1. Accessibility

The original work is available for public viewing but not as research material. A microfilm copy is however made available for public use.
(d) Copyright status
Vests with the National Library of Malaysia.

    1. Responsible administration

  1. details should be given of the mechanism or organization already established, or to be established, to ensure the proper management of the documentary heritage

Preserved in accordance with procedures as stipulated in the Policy on Malay Manuscript.

3. Identification:
3.1 Description and inventory
The early provisions of the Hukun Kanun Melaka gives a picture of a sultanate whose rulers had arrived at a juncture where it was felt that a clear statement or reassertion of their status and power was in order and that the preservation of their position could best be achieved through the compilation of rules. What emerged was a set of rules which, in framing a code of conduct for the negeri (state), reaffirmed the primacy of adat – the customs and traditions of the Malays that had been the mainstay of the evolving society – while at the same time accommodating and assimilating some Islamic principles. The Hukun Kanun included some measure of grandeur and loftiness in the provisions that touched on court culture and its main concern was with the regulation of personal relationships, behaviour and property. The Malacca Malays had already arrived at a stage where distinct and enduring characteristics and values had developed: their day-to-day lives were governed by adat, their socio-political institutions were able to cope with the emergence of Malacca as an important centre of trade, money was widely used, and their language exhibited a remarkable ability to assimilate foreign words. Against this background, the Hukun Kanun Melaka was formulated which the Malacca rulers saw as an important in regulating society. It laid down laws in 44 chapters which also includes a section on maritime law.
During the 15th century, Malacca, was at its peak in global trade. It was a market place par-excellence linking East-West trade, reaching Japan in the East and up to Venice in the West. Faced with socio-cultural change and to maintain a bustling trade, provisions of Hukun Kanun Melaka ensure that stability and equilibrium prevails.
The Hukun Kanun was compiled during the fifteenth century. One of the reasons that the laws were formulated at this stage was because the advent of Islam, with its practices and new way of life, had created a state of uncertainty in the minds of the people. Thus, a reassertion that the old traditions as stipulated in the adat remained important had to be made. The Hukun Kanun Melaka placed the adat penalty being mentioned first. It does not give any indication as to which should take precedence, thus appearing to allow discretion on the part of a judge in choosing to adhere to either Malay custom or Islamic law.
Hukun Kanun Melaka operates at two levels: the day-to-day of “personal relationships” which also included that of the ruler and the ruled, and a more institutionalised level covering the whole society which the new religion, Islam, would have to be the base. At the centre where the royal court is known to have been the initiator of Islamic religious activities, including propagation, the Islamic law must have been the dominating force, while in the periphery, the customary law might have prevailed, but at the same time the Islamic law is there available for application.
The Hukun Kanun Melaka is part and parcel of the significance of Malacca in the history of not only the region, but the world, simply because of the role it played in promoting world trade as known in the 15th century, and also the role it played in strengthening the new civilization for the Malay world founded on the teachings of Islam. For the latter, the process was not an abrupt change so as to cause disequilibrium in culture and social life, but a process marked by a selective one of continuing with some aspects of the old and applying with vigour important aspects of the new. The Hukun Kanun is reflective of this process. Recognising that customs and traditions die hard, the compiler of Hukun Kanun Melaka recognized that at the level of the periphery, especially in the personal relationships, they should prevail, but not at the total expense of the Islamic law which would be the actual foundation of the new order. In certain of the chapters in the Hukun Kanun, the former and the latter are juxtaposed. However, it leaves us with no doubt that the Hukun Kanun Melaka would want us to abide by the words of Allah and His Prophet as exhorted towards the end of the text.
The Malacca system of justice as enshrined in the Hukun Kanun Melaka was the first law digest to be compiled in the Malay world. It provided a base for other states to formulate its own laws.
The importance of the Hukun Kanun Melaka is reflected in the large number of manuscripts that are available. There may be more than 40 manuscripts, but of course not all the manuscripts are of the same value.
3.2 Bibliographic/Registration details:
Hukun Kanun Melaka MSS 23 comprises 80 pages measuring 16 x 11 cm., 17 lines per page. It was written by Sayid al-Syarif Jamaludin ibn Sayid al-Syarif Abdullah in Mataram, Java in 1175 AH [1762 AD], on laid English paper, and is bluish white in colour, with watermark "Superfine London". The text is written in brownish black ink with rubrication for the word at the beginning of a sentence and also as pronunciation mark, the cover is wrapped with cloth. The content is complete.
Hukun Kanun Melak MSS 2583 forms the beginning of the manuscript from page 1-12 and is continued with a different subject. It measures 22 x 15.9 cm. with 21 lines per page. It is written on laid English paper with the "Almaso" water mark. The text is written in brown ink with rubrication of selected Malay words and sentences in Arabic. The cover is wrapped with cloth. The text is incomplete, without colophon statement.
Photocopying is strictly prohibited. A microfilm copy is made available for research of the manuscript. MSS 23 has been digitised and is accessible at Malay Manuscript Online ( All manuscripts acquired are catalogued. Documentation entry for MSS 23 appear in Manuskrip Melayu Koleksi Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia: satu katalog ringkas (1987). MSS 23 was exhibited at an exhibition held from June to November 1990 in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year. The theme of the exhibition was "Malay Manuscript: Splendour of Malay Civilization". An exhibition catalogue was published.
The documentation entry for MSS 2583 appears in Katalog Manuskrip Melayu Koleksi Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia: tambahan pertana (2001).
Visual documentation, if appropriate
Specimen of photographs of the manuscripts are enclosed for reference.


MSS 23 was acquired as a gift from the National Museum in 1983.

MSS 2583 was purchased on 21 August 1999.


  1. The maritime laws of Malacca. R.O.. Windstedt and P.E. de Josselin de Jong. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 29 (Pt.3) Aug. 1956: 22-59

  1. The Undang-undang Melaka. H.W. Emanuels. Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia 2(2) 1964: 82-89

  1. On a recent addition of the Undang-undang Melaka. G.W.J. Drewes. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 53 Pt. 1 1980: 23-49

  1. The Undang-undang Melaka: reflections on Malay Society in Fifteenth-Century Malacca. Khasnor Johan. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 72 Pt. 2 1999: 131-150

  1. Undang-undang Melayu lama tumpuan khas kepada Hukun Kanun Melaka dan undang-undang yang di bawah pengaruhnya oleh Abu Hassan Sham, 1972 (MA Dissertation University Malaya)

  1. Undang-undang Melaka oleh Liaw Yock Fang. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976.

Names, qualifications and contact details of independent people or organizations with expert knowledge about the values and provenance of this documentary heritage

  1. Associate Professor Dato' Dr. Abu Hassan Sham, Malay Studies Academy, University of Malaya.

  1. Professor Emeritus Dato' Dr. Mohammad Taib Osman, former Vice Chancellor of University of Malaya.

4. Assessment against the Selection Criteria:
Criterion 1 – Influence:
The provisions of the Hukun Kanun Melaka affirmed the supreme power of the ruler where it is not only seen in the exclusiveness of the things he could do but also in the things he could use. The Hukun Kanun refers to four main elements which reflected a ruler's power and greatness and preserved his aura and dignity. These were contained in provisions governing attire, language, the execution of the royal command and ceremonial matters.
However, it also protected the rights of the people and the slaves. It governed their daily lives with regards to social behaviour and property rights. Much emphasis is given to land rights and ownership. The day-to-day activities of the Malays on the land and their relationship to it largely shaped what came to be regarded as the Malay way of life of the twentieth century.
The significance of Hukun Kanun Melaka as represented by MSS 23 and MSS 2583 lies in the fact that the laws therein had prevailed all over the Malay world for at least five centuries until supplanted by the colonial law code of the Dutch and the British. It is a Malay law code applied throughout the domain, settlement to settlement, village to village, river basin to river basin etc. At the time of recording it, it had gone through the reigns of twenty-three rulers; throughout the time it had not changed; and lastly the prayer: "we implore God that we may refrain from doing any injustice to God's subjects". We note that despite the harshness that might appear with some of the laws, especially on the part of the customary laws, nevertheless the insistence on justice remains at the foundation, a quality that leaves much to be desired in our so-called democratic world of today.
The Hukun Kanun was adapted and adopted in Johor, Kedah, Pahang, Riau and Pontianak and was quoted in recent times as authoritative (in civil suits) at Brunei.
Criterion 2 – Time:
Hukun Kanun Melaka was most likely first compiled during the reign of Sultan Muhammad Shah (1424-1444), the third ruler of Malacca and was completed during the reign of Sultan Muzaffar Shah (1450-1458), the golden period of the Malacca Sultanate. It is a source of information about the Malacca Sultanate in the fifteenth century.
Criterion 3 – Place:
Hukun Kanun Melaka laid down laws applicable to the ruling class and the people residing in Malacca in the fifteenth century.
Criterion 4 – People:
The subject matter covered in the Hukun Kanun Melaka was 'real-life'. It was not only confined to descriptions of court life and the ruling classes but was applicable to the common people of Malacca. It gives a picture of a society in Malacca with values that shaped the people's way of life and world view as well as regulated inter-class and inter-personal relationship.
Criterion 5 – Subject/Theme:
Hukun Kanun Melaka is a body of laws regulating the lives of, and the relationships among the people. It emphasises and focuses on the supreme power and position of the ruler. The provisions touched on relationship between the ruler and the ruled.
Criterion 6 – Form and Style:
The manuscript is written in the Jawi or Arab-Malay script, displaying the naskh calligraphy style of writing.
Criterion 7 – Social Value:
The Hukun Kanun Melaka provides stability and maintains order for the society of Malacca which covers every aspect of their lives.
Secondary Criterion 1 – Integrity:
Secondary Criterion 2 – Rarity:
It is the only source of laws in Malacca adopted during the height of the Malacca Sultanate.
Contextual Assessment:
An evaluation of the authenticity:
Some of the provisions are cited and used in the laws of other states.
5. Management plan
The National Library of Malaysia has in its possession two manuscripts of Hukun Kanun Melaka with identification number MSS 23 and MSS 2583 of which studies have not been made. The MSS 23 was written by Sayid al-Syarif Jamaludin ibn Sayid al-Syarif Abdullah in Mataram, Java dated 1175 AH. [1162 AD]. It is therefore regarded as an invaluable property.
Access Policy and Procedures:

A microfilm copy is made available for research. Permission is however granted for reference of the original manuscript under certain circumstances and with strict staff supervision. Photocopying of the manuscript is strictly prohibited. However, photocopies are made available from microfilm copy.

Preservation and managerial policies to control the physical environment:

The manuscript is kept in a depository room in a fire resistant vault with the following preservation features:

    • Temperature: 18° C is maintained

    • Humidity: 45-55 % is maintained

    • Sunlight: No sunlight is allowed

    • Equipment: Equiped with Quartz Thermo Hygrograph and dehumidifier

Disaster prevention and restoration plans:

    • Installation of smoke detector, fire alarm and automatic FE-13 fire extinguisher

    • Stored in a vault with fire resistant feature

Preservation staff:

    • A total of 10

    • Experience: More than 10 years, specialising in conversation and preservation of manuscripts.

6. Consultation

    • Details of consultation about the nomination

  1. Owner: National Library of Malaysia

  2. Custodian: -do-

  3. Relevant Regional or National Memory of the World Committee: Nil

  1. Nominator

    • Name: Dato’ Zawiyah Baba

    • Relationship to documentary heritage: Director-General, National Library of Malaysia

    • Contact person (if appropriate): Siti Mariani S.M.Omar

    • Contact details: Telephone: 603- 26871800

Fax : 603- 26927082



  1. Assessment of Risk:

  1. Preservation Assessment

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