Very early records (400 AD) indicate the existence of an organized Hindu monarachy in eastern Borneo. In the 16th century the ruler of a kingdom that would become Kutai Karta Negara converted to Islam, and began to expand into the Borneo interior. In the seventeenth century the first Dutch explorers visited the kingdom, to be followed by more Dutch in the eighteenth, as well as British. As in other parts of what would become Indonesia, Islam did not so much replace previous institutions as become assimilated by them. Over the centuries following their arrival, Dutch influence and institutions spread over the archipelago, usually acting through local proxies. The Sultans of Kutai Karta Negara, consequently, were able to hold their positions and even increase the power of their kingdom.
Kutai Kartanegara was blessed (or cursed) by the discovery of oil in the late nineteenth century. The Dutch exploited these deposits, resulting in massive wealth for the Kutai dynasty. The dynasty could use the money; Sri Paduka Sultan Aji Muhammad Sulaiman al-Adil Khalifat ul-Mumenin bin Muhammad Saleh ud-din (reigned 1845-1899) had four primary wives, 38 secondary wives, and eighty-four children. The next two Sultans both cut back, with only 17 children apiece. By this time the Dutch had substantial political control in Kutai Kartanegara, having brought about the abolition of slavery and the creation of a civil service.
The same things that made Kutai Kartanegara attractive to the Dutch made it attractive to the Japanese, and in early 1942 the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Borneo. Allied resistance quickly crumbled, although guerrilla fighting continued until 1945. Kutai Kartanegara fared better than other parts of Borneo, and seems to have been spared the worst of the war that ended Dutch control of Indonesia in 1949. H.H. Sri Paduka Sultan Aji Muhammad Parikesit al-Adil Khalifat ul-Muminin, who had come to power in 1910, was allowed to continue to reign as an independent monarch within the Indonesian confederation. In 1960 Sukarno engineered the transformation of Indonesia into a unitary republic, resulting in the deposition of many of the princes, including the Sultan of Kutai Kartanegara.
The royal family remained popular in spite of the deposition and later repression. Much of the family’s property, including the palace, was confiscated by the Indonesian government. Arrests and prosecutions on fabricated charges followed. Sultan Aji died in 1992, and was succeeded shortly thereafter by Aji Muhammad Saleh ud-din, who continued a restoration campaign. The fall of Suharto in 1998 weakened the position of the Indonesian state and reflected a change of heart on the part of the central government. In 1999 it was determined that the monarchy would be restored, and in 2001 Aji Muhammed Saleh ud-din was crowned Sultan, the first such in forty-one years.
Trivia: The British essentially exterminated what dynasty after it launched three wars against them in sixty years?