Berau’s sultanate at Keraton Sambaliung: History, tradition and beauty treatments

Berau in East Kalimantan is usually known as the mere gateway to see endangered orangutans or the Derawan islands, but this small regency has its own historic tourism gems, such as its centuries old palaces.

During my recent visit, I had a chance to visit one of these palaces: the Keraton Sambaliung.

I was relieved to see how well-preserved the yellow-hued building was. The yard was neat and clean and it is apparent that some care was given to the site.

Keraton Sambaliung was built in 1810 by Sultan Alimuddin, also known as Raja Alam.


He strongly opposed the Dutch colonials – a view that caused him to be exiled for 7 years to Makassar.

The once united kingdom’s, ran by descendants of the first Berau king Badit Dipattung, was then divided into the two sultanates of Keraton Sambaliung and Keraton Gunung Tabur.

In April 1945, when Dutch and their allies strafed the entire city in an attempt to takeover, Keraton Sambaliang remained intact amidst the destruction in numerous areas in Berau.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Keraton Gunung Batur, which was destroyed in the attack.

I found that most of the people who work in the Sambaliung Palace are relatives of the royal family.

One of the staffers took me on a guided tour, starting from the big reception hall or living room, and then proceeding to a room filled with pictures of the palace’s treasures, such as vessels made of gold.

Next, she took us to a room containing relics of the sultan, such as his gun, items used in meditation, and a cupboard full of copper bowls.

Next we saw the sultan’s bedroom and climbed up the stairs to see the level in which an area was said to be assigned especially for his wives and daughters.

The last room we saw was the sultan’s chair and podium. After that, we lounged in the palace living room with sets of classic European styled sofas.

As with the other chambers in the palace, this living room was dominated by yellow hues, particularly through its shiny fabric curtains and walls.

Sitting across from me were Ratih and Rina, who are cousins, direct descendants of the sultan.

They humbly said that they hardly used the royal title because their royal blood was from their mother’s side.

It struck me by how pale their skin was and I asked them about this matter. Ratih said it was the result of traditional beauty regimes of the Keraton Sambaliung.

My sister skin is even fairer than mine, ” she said, and “As white as a ghost,” she added, giggling.

Included in the traditional beauty treatment is the practice of lulur, or body masking and scrubbing.

Ratih said there are three types of lulur that are legacies of the late Keraton Sambaliung princesses: sticky black, red and white rice.

The rice is roasted before grinding and then mixed with other ingredients. It is then used to make lulur scrub or face masks.

“All of our beauty secrets and regimes are made from natural ingredients, everything we find daily in the kitchen, such as rice, ginger, sticky rice, lime […]” Rina said.

Rina revealed another beauty treatment of the Keraton princesses, in the form of a condiment called makjum.

Makjum is similar to Java’s jamu health drinks. It is made from 40 natural ingredients in the kitchen, she said.

“It tastes rather hot and spicy but fresh and you need to drink it with honey. It is very good for treatment after giving birth. And it’s good to drink to have before your wedding day too. It gets rid of the bad odor from your body, your skin will glow and you will be fit and healthy,” Rina said.

There’s talk about marketing these ancient Keraton Sambaliung recipes as souvenirs for visitor but they said they have not yet tested the products in laboratories for mass production and have not yet found the packing technique that will allow it to last longer.

Before I left the Keraton, Rina told me an interesting story regarding the wedding custom in this palace, using her own wedding day years ago as an example.

She was only 14 then, but at that time it was still common for a girl to be married that young. She recalled after being legally married, she was told by the elders in her family, not have any physical contact with her husband for 3 nights in a row despite sharing a bed.

Rina literally put on a chastity belt-or, rather, wrap – having layers of chastity fabrics around her body to prevent intercourse.

After the third night, a trusted grandmother from her mother’s side would inspect the bedroom sheet to seek evidence of her having sexual intercourse and then report it to the whole family who were waiting on the verdict.

A blood stain on mattress or sheet will be celebrated by a big feast and ceremony involving the whole family.

According to Rina, the celebration usually will involve eating the yellow rice, egg yolk, honey and the newlywed being bathed with yellow roots by the elders and enjoying lulur treatment using a mix of turmeric, ground rice, and lime condiment.

“The celebration could last up to 2 nights or more to honor the bride for keeping her virginity for her husband,” she closed her story.


I loved how this place is in such a good caring environment, but I think it needs to have more interesting displays and explanations of the royal customs and more relevant activities to make the visit more interesting.

Nevertheless, it’s nice to learn some of the trails this sultanate had left behind.

The Keraton opens daily until 4 p.m. and it’s free admission but donations are welcome with gratitude.

Source: Icha Rahmanti, The Jakarta Post, Berau  | Oct 7, 2013


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