Malacca or rather Melaka as it’s called in our local Malay language, was declared in 2008 an UNESCO Heritage Site and I was born just outside the main core of the town centre facing the Straits of Malacca, namely Pantai Klebang (to be more exact -Kampung Klebang which means the Village of Klebang) in the 60’s.
Back when I was just a kid, it was nothing like what you see today. What the tourists and locals alike see, is a city celebrated as a very popular UNESCO Heritage Site with millions a visitors from around the world as well as many locals, who during their festive or short breaks from the hustle and bustle of city/office life make their way to enjoy the cuisine (world famous may I add), the beaches, shopping and the many hotels, hostels and small boarding places spread over the whole city and along all the major beaches. Beach in Malay is “Pantai“.
So if you come across me mentioning a certain place or district as Pantai this and Pantai that, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. As I said, I was born in Pantai Klebang making me so to speak, a Water Baby! Malacca is has until today and more recently after being awarded its new heritage status, become one of the biggest attractions in Malaysia and there is not doubt it will only further flourish as more development comes about making it a haven of luxurious high-end resort living. Its no wonder it remains one of the most popular getaways for locals across the Peninsular (West Malaysia) and as far as from East Malaysia – Sarawak and Sabah. Malacca has a rich history dating back as far as the mid 14th century.
If youre all wondering where the name Melaka came from, well lets read a bit about its history just to keep you in the know about its origins.
Before the arrival of the first Sultan, Malacca was a fishing village inhabited by local Malays known as Orang Laut. Malacca was founded by Parameswara, also known as Iskandar Shah or Sri Majara, the last Raja of Temasek (present day Singapore) following a Majapahit attack in 1377. He found his way to Malacca around 1400 where he found a good port—it was accessible in all seasons and on the strategically located narrowest point of the Malacca Straits.
According to a popular legend, Parameswara was resting under a tree near a river during a hunt, when one of his dogs cornered a mouse deer. In self-defence, the mouse deer pushed the dog into the river. Impressed by the courage of the deer, and taking it as a propitious omen of the weak overcoming the powerful, Parameswara decided then and there to found an empire on that very spot. He named it ‘Melaka’ after the tree where he had just taken shelter at, the Melaka tree (Malay: Pokok Melaka).
Before we move on, let’s discover historic Melaka and see how the city has developed over the centuries in this unconventional mini documentary. It contains many rare scenes, pictures and aerial photos of Melaka, a city conferred as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008. Narrated by author Dennis De Witt and based on the book “Melaka from the Top”
As you see from the video I posted above, its a brief look into Malacca’s history and will give you more insight into its history and how it came to be.
Like all great sea ports, Trade was the main focus and with the traders from the far west like the Middle East to the Far East like from Indonesia, China and even as north as Japan, its no wonder that this Sultanate grew to be the Portuguese’s Main Far Eastern port of trade in their vast empire stretching all the way from South America all the way east to as far as Japan. By the way, did you know that it was the Portuguese who founded what we today know as Nagasaki, Japan?.
During the height of its power. and in one incident, Malacca sent envoys to China in 1481 to inform the Chinese that, while Malaccan envoys were returning to Malacca from China in 1469, the Vietnamese attacked the Malaccans, killing some of them while castrating the young and enslaving them. The Malaccans reported that Vietnam was in control of Champa and also sought to conquer Malacca, but the Malaccans did not fight back, because they did not want to fight against another state that was a tributary to China without permission from the Chinese.
They requested to confront the Vietnamese delegation to China which was in China at the time, but the Chinese informed them since the incident was years old, they could do nothing about it, and the Emperor sent a letter to the Vietnamese ruler reproaching him for the incident. The Chinese Emperor also ordered the Malaccans to raise soldiers and fight back with violent force if the Vietnamese attacked them again.
Alfonso de Albuquerque – The first Portuguese Explorer and Admiral who conquered Melaka
In April 1511, Alfonso de Albuquerque set sail from Goa to Malacca with a force of some 1200 men and seventeen or eighteen ships. They conquered the city on 24 August 1511. After seizing the city Afonso de Albuquerque spared the Hindu, Chinese and Burmese inhabitants but had the Muslim inhabitants massacred or sold into slavery.
It soon became clear that Portuguese control of Malacca did not also mean they controlled Asian trade centred there. Their Malaccan rule was severely hampered by administrative and economic difficulties.
Rather than achieving their ambition of dominating Asian trade, the Portuguese had disrupted the organisation of the network. The centralised port of exchange of Asian wealth had now gone, as was a Malay state to police the Straits of Malacca that made it safe for commercial traffic. Trade was now scattered over a number of ports among bitter warfare in the Straits.
The Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier spent several months in Malacca in 1545, 1546, and 1549. The Dutch launched several attacks on the Portuguese colony during the first four decades of the seventeenth century. The first attack took place in 1606 under the command of Dutch Admiral Cornelis Matelief de Jonge who laid siege to the town with the help of his Johor allies.
He engaged the Portuguese armada which had been sent from Goa to offer armed relief to the besieged port. In 1641, the Dutch defeated the Portuguese in an effort to capture Malacca, with the help of the Sultan of Johore. The Dutch ruled Malacca from 1641 to 1798 but they were not interested in developing it as a trading centre, placing greater importance to Batavia (Jakarta) on Java as their administrative centre. However they still built their landmark, better known as the Stadthuys or Red Building.
Malacca was ceded to the British in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 in exchange for Bencoolen on Sumatra. From 1826 to 1946 Malacca was under the rule of the British, first by the British East India Company and then as a Crown Colony. It formed part of the Straits Settlements, together with Singapore and Penang. Malacca went briefly under the rule of Empire of Japan in 1942-1945 during World War II.
After the dissolution of this crown colony, Malacca and Penang became part of the Malayan Union in 1946, which later became the Federation of Malaya in 1948. The declaration of independence was made by the first Prime Minister of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman, at Padang Pahlawan on 20 February 1956, which eventually led to the independence of Malaya on 31 August 1957.
In 1963, Malaysia was formed with the merger of Malaya with Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore, and Malacca became part of it. On 15 April 1989, Malacca was declared a historical city. It was then also listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 8 July 2008. By the way, did you know that Malacca’s original name was “Kota Melaka”?.
The state of Malacca covers an area of 1,664 km2 (642 sq mi). It sits upon the southwestern coast of the Malay Peninsula opposite Sumatra, with the state of Negeri Sembilan to the north and Johor to the east. Malacca is situated roughly two-thirds of the way down the west coast, 148 km (92 mi) south of Kuala Lumpur and 245 km (152 mi) north of Singapore and commands a central position on theStraits of Malacca. With the exception of some of its small hills, Malacca is generally a lowland area with average elevation below 50 meters above sea level.
Melaka’s Early History (15th century to 1957 )
Klebang is a district just a couple of km outside downtown Malacca (Melaka) and this entire are covers the main front facing Indonesia.
This is an extremely popular area for locals as well as tourists because of the white sandy beaches, countless eateries, many which are stall and open-air restaurants all facing the sea or along the beach. In the evenings the main road circumventing this whole stretch can be busy with cars, trucks and buses making their way to and fro from downtown Malacca.
Pantai Klebang is also very famous of the Coconut Shake with Ice cream topping, Yes, that’s right Coconut Shake.Every weekend God help you if you bump into a massive traffic jam right along the beach front started near downtown and all the way along to where the Bustels are in Dataran 1Malaysia – which is a new location setup on reclaimed land just to house the old discarded buses turned into living quarters for tourists and locals alike.
As you see above (Black n White photo) in this original photo, is an old mansion apparently owned by a Chinese magnate back in the 1930’s and according to legend is haunted with many locals telling stories of ghosts or spirits encountered over the years by nearby residents and eatery owners, especially after midnight.
Even heard a couple of stories about sightings of ghostly individuals walking across the busy road, even late at night, with some motorists and truck drivers almost ending up having an accident because these apparitions would suddenly appear right in front of your vehicle. Can you imagine that?. I would have crashed into the nearest tree for sure. Its surprising that there havent been more road accidents in this area. Maybe someone shud call a shaman or “bomoh” (Malay witch doctor) to cast the devils outta this house?. For me, I have only heard about this house but yet to come across any ghosts first-hand. Nor would I like to! Yikes!
Further down the long road facing the Klebang seafront is a Submarine Museum – Ive never seen this place in person but its all about an old submarine used to be used to train the first Royal Malaysian Navy crews from 2005 to 2009.
The submarine was lastly used by the Royal Malaysian Navy and French Navy in July 2009 when journey through the Atlantic Ocean was made. On 23 September 2011, Malaysian Ambassador to France Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Zainal signed an agreement for the ownership of the unused submarine with French Defense Minister.
The decommissioned submarine was transported by sea by Felda Transport Services Sdn. Bhd. and Jumbo Shipping. It departed from French Naval Base in Brest, France on 9 October 2011. It reached Malaysia on 13 November 2011 and arrived in Klebang on 17 November 2011. It was then closed for refurbishment and painting work and it was reopened again on 17 December 2011. It was officiated on 4 March 2012 by Malacca Chief Minister Mohd Ali Rustam and Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi when the submarine was handed over from the Ministry of Defence to Malacca State Government. In March 2015, it was decided that the museum would be upgraded by adding prayer room and shops over the next two years.
The museum was opened to the public on 22 November 2011 for 10 days as a promotional preview. A total of 25,000 visitors flocked into the museum, including Yang di-Pertua Negeri of Malacca Mohd Khalil Yaakob. Malacca like all other of our 13 states of Malaysia has either a Sultan or a State Governor. In the case of Malacca, we only have a Governor as we call them, a Yang-di-Pertua Negeri (Head of State of Melaka). His status is purely consititional and by rightly has no authority except to put people on death row! (Hahaha)..that wasnt funny I know. His functions are purely ceremonial in many cases unless its to confirm new state laws, mobilise the army or other national emergencies… etc.
Back to Downtown Malacca & More Historical Facts
So with all that covered for now, lets head back to downtown Malacca and the tourist spots around town not forgetting the more fun places where the tourists usually hangout like Formosa Fortress (Portuguese), The Red Building or The Stadhuys as its better known being its real Dutch name – even the locals know it by this name.
Malacca Town was established when Parameswara, who had escaped from Palembang in Sumatra, decided to built a new kingdom following Malay Srivijaya’s fall in 1377 after being attacked by Javanese Majapahit. Before he reached the site, he arrived in Temasek which he decided to make the centre of the new Malay Kingdom’s administration.
But when Parameswara lived there, he killed a Malay chief appointed by the Siamese King as the Regent of Singapura named Temagi to take over the throne. Fearing for a further reprisals by Siam when the news reached the Siamese Kingdom, Parameswara decided to move into a new place while leaving Temasek which was then attacked by Majapahit. He then headed to the north of Malay Peninsula and arriving at Muar where he tried to establish another new kingdom at either Biawak Busuk orKota Buruk, but found the locations were unsuitable.
He continue his journey to the north where he reportedly visited Sening Ujong (now Sungai Ujong) before arriving at a Malay fishing village at the mouth of Bertam River (now Malacca River). He decided to stop there to have a rest. While he was resting under a tree, he saw his follower’s hunting dogs fighting with a small mouse deer before being kicked out into a river. Amused by this, he thought the place he rested must be a weird place; following this happening in 1396 he announced the place was called Melaka. Soon, the site became the centre of the Malay world in the 15th and the 16th centuries and was the most prosperous entrepôt in the Malay Archipelago.
During the time, many Arabs, Persian, Gujaratis, Tamils, Bengalis and Chinese come to trade. Other group found riches in the prosperous of the entrepôt including the Japanese, Siamese and Jews. To prevent the Malaccan empire from falling to the Siamese and Majapahit, he forged a relationship with the Ming Dynasty of China for protection.Following the establishment of these relations, the prosperousness of the Malacca entrepôt was then recorded by the first Chinese visitor, Ma Huan, who travelled together with Admiral Zheng He. On his descriptions, he wrote;
Malacca was a well-established town surrounded by a palisade with four gates and watch towers. Inside the walled towers was a second fortification, a kind of citadel, within whose confines were the merchants’ godowns, the treasury and food storehouses. The Malacca River divided the town into two almost equal halves, the southern half being the inner citadel and the ruler’s compound and the northern half, reached by a bridge some distance from the river mouth, containing the residents of many foreign merchants. The bridge and its approaches comprised the main venue for all commercial kinds. Constructed on the bridge was about a score of market stalls: an easy location for small watercraft to reach with their loads of produce and also close to the docks where foreign sea-going vessels unloaded goods for transhipment.
Due to the large influence of Arab, Persian and Indian traders, Malacca soon turned into an Islamic sultanate and Parameswara was converted to Islam when he married a princess from Pasai, thus changing his name to Sultan Iskandar Shah. With the rise of Malacca as an empire, both the Majapahit and Siamese kingdoms were unable to conquer it, especially with the Chinese protection. During this time, an Hindu−Malay and Tamil−Malay society were also formed.
He died in 1414 and the throne was succeeded by his son, Megat Iskandar Shah. Malacca Town continued to prosper until the eighth Sultanate of Malacca Mahmud Shah, with different races who came to trade associated with particular trade specialties; the Gujaratis, Tamils, and Bengalis were mostly cloth merchants, the Arabs and Persians waiting for their vessels to be filled with goods from China, the Chinese mainly dealt in silk, camphor and porcelain while the natives of Malay Archipelago, like the Bugisand other island peoples, were mainly spice and sandalwood traders, and the Minangkabau brought pepper with some gold, while the Javanese mainly controlled the rice and imported foodstuffs.
The Chinese established their own place in the town like other traders, occupying the southeast side of the port around a hill called Bukit Cina, where they constructed temples and a well called Hang Li Poh’s Well, named after Hang Li Po, the fifth wife of the sixth Sultan of Malacca, Mansur Shah, who is a Chinese princess from the Ming Dynasty. As you all know and did mention about it, it was in 1511 that the Portuguese finally conquered Malacca after (2 years earlier) one failed attempt to overrun it by a previous Portuguese Admiral.
After 130 years ruling the new town Malacca, the Portuguese were finally defeated by the more powerful Dutch fleet of ships and a more well equipped and well trained army. Funny enough, when I look at its history I have come to realise that the Portuguese left more of their legacy behind than the Dutch, even though the Dutch ruled Malacca longer by 30 years, a total of another 160 years after the Portuguese were defeated.
You can see it in the people they assimilated into, their cuisine, their customs and the language which slowly developed into what we call Kristang in Malacca..something I will touch on in more details in Part Two (this one being Part One) of my Malaccan travel article series.
When the British took over eventually mainly due to the fact that the Dutch made a trade off with Britain to gain some territory in Indonesia (The Dutch eventually colonised The Dutch East Indies which later became known as Indonesia as it is today). So they left for their new colony whilst the British Empire took over Malacca and the whole Peninsular known as Malaya. The British remained in Malaya henceforth until Malaysia’s independence in 1957. Today: Malacca City is the centre of political and economic administration for the state of Malacca. There is one Members of Parliament(MP) representing one parliamentary constituency in the city: Kota Melaka . The city also elects five representatives to thestate legislature from the state assembly districts of Kesidang, Kota Laksamana, Duyong, Bandar Hilir and Telok Mas.
Attractions and recreational spots
The Cheng Ho Cultural Museum is the site where Zheng He, a famous Muslim Chinese voyager, was believed to have set up a large warehouse complex along the northern side of the Malacca River, while the Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum is a site where there has been a collection of Chinese jewellery design and motifs since the establishment of relations between Malacca and the Ming dynasty of China. Little India is the site where Indian culture is presented with a variety of Indian shops and restaurants as well as fabric shops selling various saris, Punjabi suits and other Indian fabric designs.
Located within the Portuguese settlement is a “Mini Lisbon” which has became the city’s centre of Portuguese culture, with many Eurasians descended from marriages between Portuguese men and local women that took place after the Portuguese conquest of Malacca residing there.
Kampung Kling Mosque (Malay: Masjid Kampung Kling) (sometimes also spelt Kampung Keling Mosque) is an old mosque in Malacca,Malaysia. The Kampung Kling Mosque is situated at Jalan Tukang Emas, also known as “Harmony Street” because of its proximity to the Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple and Cheng Hoon Teng Temple. This street is a very unique sight – that being in Malaysia, Islam is the official religion and most states, there are religious as well as state laws that have a tendency to be intolerable to religious temples being built to close to churchese, indian temples and chinese buddhist shrines or as they call it in my country, tokong. Jalan Tukang Emas is unique in the sense that you will find as you make your way down this long street, that all the religions have their places of worship which is so wonderful to see. Malacca has a tendency to be more tolerant and a society that has grown to accept each other as true brothers and sisters, something not really seen in the rest of the country, sad to say.
Malacca is host to some of the most beautiful places in Malaysia such as Ayer Keroh Lake, Bukit Batu Lebah Recreational Forest, Cape Rachado, Garden of Thousand Flowers, Klebang Beach, Malacca Botanical Garden, Malacca River, Malacca Tropical Fruit Farm, Paya Laut Linggi Recreational Forest, Pengkalan Balak Beach, Puteri Beach, Saint Paul’s Hill and Sungai Udang Recreational Forest. Malacca has also hot springs, namely Gadek Hot Spring and Jasin Hot Spring.
Malacca is a multi-religious society, therefore various worshiping places can be found around the state, namely Cheng Hoon Teng Temple,Chinese Mosque, Christ Church, Kampung Hulu Mosque, Kampung Kling Mosque, Poh San Teng Temple, Saint Francis Xavier Church,Saint Peter’s Church, Straits Mosque, Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple, State Mosque and Tranquerah Mosque.
Public squares in Malacca are 1Malaysia Square, Alor Gajah Square, Ayer Keroh Square and Jasin Square.
Some famous night markets can be found along Jonker Walk in Chinatown during weekends evening and along Puteri Beach in Tanjung Kling. In total, there are around 87 night markets around Malacca. During the Islamic fasting month, special night markets are opened along many major roads throughout the month.
Hang Tuah (Jawi:هڠ تواه) was a legendary warrior who lived in Malacca during the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah in the 15th century. He was supposedly the most powerful of all the laksamanas, or admirals, and is considered by the Malays to be one of history’s greatest silatmasters. Hang Tuah is held in the highest regard, even in present-day Malay culture, and is arguably the most well-known and illustrious warrior figure in Malay history and literature.
As a young boy, Hang Tuah worked as a woodcutter in his parents’ shop. His grasp of spiritual concepts and potential as a fighter were apparent from a young age. At ten years old he learned silat together with his four comrades Hang Kasturi, Hang Jebat, Hang Lekir and Hang Lekiu. Their teacher was Adi Putera, a renowned master who lived a hermetic life at the top of a mountain. Under the guru’s tutelage, Hang Tuah and his four compatriots were taught the arts of self-defense and meditation.
Hang Tuah‘s appearance in the history of the region began when some men ran amok near Kampung Bendahara. Tun Perak came with a party of guards to investigate the incident, but was also attacked. His guards fled but when Hang Tuah and his friends, who happened to be at a nearby stall, saw what was happening, they rushed to save Tun Perak. They fought the group and, because of their ferociousness, they ran away. Tun Perak was amazed by the courage of Hang Tuah and his companions. He rewarded them for their gallant and presented them to Sultan Muzaffar Syah.
Malacca, my hometown is an amazingly beautiful place and to part of it, born in it, makes it something that makes me proud. Being a UNESCO Heritage site make me even more proud to share it with you all. If I could write everything about it, it would probably cover twenty more pages, hahaha. I hope with this, Part One of three sections will indeed make you want to fly over to Malaysia and take a tour bus down to Melaka?
And with this, here ends the first part in a series of 3 parts – my next section will be on the People of Malacca – the Malays, The Portuguese and the Chinese Baba Nonya. Nostalgic, Colourful, Historical and Simply Amazing. Melaka – “Forever Yours”