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Melaka (was Malacca) - Malaysia

If the ultra-modern architecture and forward-looking citizens of Kuala Lumpur symbolise Malaysia's hopes for the future, then the quiet, seaside city of Malacca, about 150 kilometers to the south, is the guardian charged with the reflective task of preserving its past. Five hundred years ago, an extraordinary empire rose and fell here, its power and dreams suddenly caught off-guard by the dawn of the Colonial Era.

The city was so coveted by the European powers that the Portuguese writer Barbarosa wrote "Whoever is Lord in Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice." It was a major port along the spice-route, and its harbor bristled with the sails and masts of Chinese junks and spice-laden vessels from all over the hemisphere. Because the city was originally built of wood, there are no crumbling and stately reminders of the power once wielded by the Malaccan Sultanate, but along shores of the Malacca River the scene has probably changed little.

Sloping rooftops of traditional Malay houses still hang over the water, and seem to call out sleepily from the past. The riverside is a part of the city that seems to have defied the Portuguese, who captured the city in 1511 and occupied it for well over a century.

The Portuguese influence is visible in the city's architecture. As they did in other colonies, they taxed buildings relative to their width, a policy that accounts for the deceptively thin facades along the colonial streets. A building no more than twelve feet across can easily extend backward two hundred feet, its hidden interior a linear succession of high-ceilinged rooms and courtyards.

On the streets themselves, however, it is the Chinese influence that is felt most. As they have done for hundreds of years, Chinese merchants advertise the wares inside their shop houses with bright red characters. Open air-fruit, vegetable, and fish markets sing with cadences of people bargaining in Mandarin. On the edge of the city is the largest Chinese graveyard outside of China itself, a sprawling zone of fields, trees, and uterus-shaped tombstones. Because of the huge cemetery and the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple (the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia) there is an entire industry in Malacca that produces goods exclusively for the dead - paper simulacra that families burn as offerings to their lost loved ones. Because the spirits need cash in the next world, piles of multi-colored currency with the word "Hell Note" hang on display in what seems like every other shop. If your ghosts like to travel, you can get them first class tickets on Hell Airlines or, if they are Wall Street types, cellular phones and computers. You can buy a dead person just about anything in Malacca.

Over the centuries, the Chinese and local Malay cultures in Malacca intertwined, eventually producing a completely unique society, the Baba-Nyona. This fascinating micro-culture reached its height around the turn-of-the-century, and Malacca's Baba-Nyonya Heritiage Museum preserves typical Baba-Nyona household.


St Peter's Chinese Cemetery

The New Mosque

The Remains of the Dutch Fortress

HISTORY

The history of Malacca is largely the story of the city for which it is named, and the story of the city of Malacca begins with the fascinating and partly legendary tale of the Hindu prince Parameswara.

The Malay Annals relate that Parameswara was a fourteenth-century Palembang prince who, fleeing from a Japanese enemy, escaped to the island of Temasik (present-day Singapore) and quickly established himself as its king. Shortly afterward, however, Parameswara was driven out of Temasik by an invasion, and with a small band of followers set out along the West Coast of the Malay peninsula in search of a new refuge. The refugees settled first at Muar, but they were quickly driven away by a vast and implacable horde of monitor lizards; the second spot chosen seemed equally inauspicious, as the fortress that the refugees began to build fell to ruins immediately. Parameswara moved on. Soon afterward, during a hunt near the mouth of a river called Bertam, he saw a white mouse-deer kick one of his hunting dogs. So impressed was he by the deer's defiant gesture that he decided immediately to build a city on the spot. He asked one of his servants the name of the tree under which he was standing and, being informed that the tree was called a Malaka, gave that name to the city. The year was 1400.

Although its origin is as much romance as history, the fact is that Parameswara's new city was situated at a point of enormous strategic importance. Midway along the straits that linked China to India and the Near East, Malacca was perfectly positioned as a center for maritime trade. Parameswara forged an alliance with the powerful Ming dynasty of China, securing the fledgling princedom from external threat, especially Siam. A political alliance with the state of Pasai in northern Sumatra introduced Islam to Malacca. It is believed that Parameswara changed his name to Iskandar Shah at this time. In the years following Iskandar's death in 1424, Malacca continued to flourish, benefiting from its strategic location that facilitated the confluence of traders from many lands in the region. Culturally, it was to become a major diffusion centre for Islam. The city grew rapidly, and within fifty years it had become a wealthy and powerful hub of international commerce, with a population of over 50,000. It was during this period of Malacca's history that Islam was introduced to the Malay world, arriving along with Gujarati traders from western India. By the first decade of the sixteenth century Malacca was a bustling, cosmopolitan port, attracting hundreds of ships each year. The city was known worldwide as a center for the trade of silk and porcelain from China; textiles from Gujarat and Coromandel in India; nutmeg, mace, and cloves from the Moluccas, gold and pepper from Sumatra; camphor from Borneo; sandalwood from Timor; and tin from western Malaya.

Unfortunately, this fame arrived at just the moment when Europe began to extend its power into the East, and Malacca was one of the very first cities to attract its covetous eye. The Portuguese under the command of Afonso de Albuquerque arrived first, taking the city after a sustained bombardment in 1511. The Sultan fled to Johor, from whence the Malays counterattacked the Portuguese repeatedly though without success. One reason for the strength of the Portuguese defense was the construction of the massive fortification of A Famosa around the city, only a small portion of which survives today. It was a sound move as Malacca came under frequent attacks by neighbouring rivals Johor and Acheh. The constant presence of imminent attacks gave a sense of uneasiness to the kingdom. This impression was heightened with the suppression of Islam in the Christianising of the port-kingdom.

A Famosa ensured Portuguese control of the city for the next one hundred and thirty years. Malacca's reputation as the region's principal entreport was gradually undermined by Batavia's emergence as a main spice trading port. In 1641, the Dutch overran Malacca after General Antonio van Diemen defeated Portuguese forces after an eight-month siege and a fierce battle. Malacca was theirs, but it lay in almost complete ruin and was subsequently reduced to an outpost, a point of tax collection and a lay-by for ships. Over the next century and a half, the Dutch rebuilt the city and employed it largely as a military base, using its strategic location to control the Straits of Malacca. In 1795, when the Netherlands was captured by French Revolutionary armies, Malacca was handed over to the British to avoid capture by the French. Although they returned the city to the Dutch in 1808, it was soon given over to the British once again in a trade for Bencoleen, Sumatra. The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 placed Malacca under them as well. In 1826, Penang, Singapore and Malacca were grouped together under the Straits Settlements political unit. From 1826, the city was ruled by the English East India Company in Calcutta.

Robert Fullerton was the first Straits Settlements Governor and was based in Penang. He reported to the British Governor-General in India. A Resident Consular governed Malacca and Singapore.

The Straits Settlements administration lasted until 1942, when it experienced Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945 when the Japanese forces attacked the Malay Peninsula. After the Japanese defeat, Malacca was placed under the British Military Administration from September 1945 to early 1946.

British colonialists in London formed the Malayan Peninsula Planning Unit in 1943, and on 10th October 1945, the Malayan Union scheme was laid out before the British Parliament. A day later, Sir Harold MacMichael was sent to the Malayan Peninsula to obtain the agreement of the Malay Rulers. According to this agreement, Penang, Malacca and 9 other Malay states were united under the Malayan Union.

Malay opposition groups derailed the Malayan Union plan, and the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) was formed under Dato' Onn Jaafar's leadership on 11th May 1946. The Malay Federation was founded on 1st February 1948 and on 31st August 1957, independence was declared.

Independence did not arrive until 1957, when anti-colonial sentiment culminated in a proclamation of independence by His Highness Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Malaysia's first Prime Minister.


Flag

Emblem

The white crescent and star of five points denote royal sovereignty. The red represents a warrior and the blue represents the universe.

The colours blue, yellow, red and white on the Malacca flag reflect the exact colours of the flag of Malaysia. This marks Malacca as a Malaysian state. The crescent moon and star are the symbols of Islam, the official religion of the state and country.

PLACES OF INTEREST

A' Famosa

The A' Famosa Fort is adjacent to St. Paul's Hill in Malacca Town. It is also known as the Santiago Fort. It was built by the Portuguese conquerors in 1511 under the orders of Alfonso de Albuquerque. The entrance gate was originally made of wood. This was later widened and fortified with bricks and rocks from the ruins of palaces, mosques and mausoleums. The fort was heavily damaged when Dutch colonialists attacked the port and later on British colonialists attempted to demolish it but was stopped by Sir Stamford Raffles. What remains standing now is but a small part of the grand structure.

Alor Gajah People's Square

The Alor Gajah People's Square is a memorial to Malay hero Datuk Dol Said and the Malay warriors of Naning and Alor Gajah who fought against the British in the Naning Wars in 1832. The Alor Gajah District Museum, built in 1989, is also located in the square. The museum showcases a wide variety of antique items such as farming tools and weaponry that were once used by the people of this district.

Christ Church

Christ Church is located next to the Stadthuys. The church was built in 1753 by Dutch colonialists. Its beauty lies in its handmade pews and depiction of 'The Last Supper' in glazed tiles, among others.

Proclamation of Independence Memorial

The Proclamation of Independence Memorial was built in 1912 and was formerly the Malacca Club. The memorial preserves glorious events and struggles leading to the declaration of Malaya's Independence on 20th February 1956 at Padang Bandar Hilir, Malacca. The memorial was officially opened by the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj, on 31st August 1985. The exhibits are derived from the period of the Malacca Sultanate circa 1400 up to the Independence of Malaya in 1957. Documents, photographs and artefacts relating to the successful declaration are displayed here. Among the more notable exhibits are the clothing and keris worn by Tunku Abdul Rahman whilst declaring independence as well as the pen used to sign the declaration.

St. Paul's Hill

St. Paul's Hill was known as Malacca Hill during the Malay Sultanate rule. The hill is named after St. Paul Church which originally stood on this hill but is now only represented by ruins. This church, which was the oldest Catholic church, was originally a tiny chapel built by Captain Duarto Coelha in 1521. A Portuguese, he built the church in memory of Mary or 'Our Lady of the Hill' (Nosa Senhora Do Oiteiro) after narrowly escaping death in the China Sea. The Jesuit priest, Francis Xavier, stayed at this chapel each time he visited Malacca between 1545 and 1553. In fact, his body was temporarily laid to rest here for 9 months. In 1556, renovations began for a two-storey structure which took 12 years to complete. It was then named the Annuciation Church. In 1590, a tower was added to the main gate for security purposes. The church was renamed St. Paul's Church by Dutch colonialists in 1641.

The Stadthuys

The Stadthuys is located off Jalan Gereja in Malacca Town. This outstanding red-hued building, believed to be originally white-coloured, was built by Dutch conquerors in 1650. Stadthuys translates to 'town hall' in Dutch. It served as the official residence of the Dutch Governor until the early 18th century. It was also their administrative centre. After Malaya achieved independence, the Stadthuys continued to be used as an administrative centre until 1961. The building now houses the Historical and Ethnography Museum.

Mini Malaysia

Mini Malaysia is in Ayer Keroh, some 15 km from Malacca Town. The village traditional life-size authentic Malayl houses that exemplify the architectural styles of each of the thirteen states of Malaysia. Every house has unique architectural and design features. Each of the houses was constructed by a master builder and is furnished with elements characteristic of the culture of each state. Cultural performances and demonstrations of traditional games are held every week. Found nearby is Mini Asean, a park that showcases the traditional houses of ASEAN nations.

Crocodile Farm

The Crocodile Farm is located in Ayer Keroh, 13 km from Malacca Town. It is the largest crocodile farm in Malaysia and it houses more than 200 crocodiles from six species. Crocodiles being bred include the American alligator, albinos and hunchbacks (humpbacked). The landscape has been adapted to suit the natural environment of these reptiles.

STATISTICS

Area : 1,683 square km
State Capital : Malacca Town
Administrative Divisions : 3
Namely:- Alor Gajah, Jasin and Central Malacca

Population

: 602,867 (2000)

Breakdown of Races (1994)

:
Malay
Other Bumiputeras
Chinese
Indian
Other
:
:
:
:
:
321,400
2,800
184,000
39,100
8,200

 

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