History of Melaka (Malacca)

Dutch Square Melaka
Photo Credit : www.tourism.gov.my

Historical Affiliations Of Melaka

Historical Affiliations Of Melaka

Melaka (Malacca), a town and a port at Peninsular Malaysia (or West Malaysia), Melaka is in the middle of the Strait of Malacca, at the mouth of the sluggish Melaka River. Melaka is the oldest Malaysian city on the Straits of Malacca, having become a successful entrepôt in the Malacca Sultanate era.

The city was founded about 1400, when Parameswara, the ruler of Temasek (now Singapore), fled from the forces of the Javanese kingdom of Majapahit and found refuge at the site, then a small fishing village.

Story of Parameswara

Story of Parameswara

The Malay Annals relate that Parameswara was a fourteenth-century Palembang prince who, fleeing from a Javanese enemy, escaped to the island of Temasik (present-day is Singapore) and quickly established himself as its king. Shortly afterward, 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, during a hunt near the mouth of a river called Bertam, he saw a white mouse-deer kick one of his hunting dogs. He feels impressed 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 about 1400.

Malacca Sultanate

Parameswara founded a Malay kingdom, the kings of which—aided by the Chinese—extended their power over the peninsula. The port became a major stopping place for traders to replenish their food supplies and obtain fresh water from the hill springs.  

In 1403, the first official Chinese trade envoy led by Admiral Yin Qing arrived in Malacca. Later, Parameśwara was escorted by Zheng He and other envoys in his successful visits. Malacca’s relationships with Ming granted protection to Malacca against attacks from Siam and Majapahit and Malacca officially submitted as a protectorate of Ming China. This encouraged the development of Malacca into a major trade settlement on the trade route between China and India, Middle East, Africa and Europe. 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 this relationship, the prosperity of the Malacca entrepôt was then recorded by the first Chinese visitor, Ma Huan, who travelled together with Admiral Zheng He.

Due to the enormous influence of Arab, Persian, and Indian traders, Malacca soon turned into an Islamic sultanate, and Parameswara converted to Islam when he married a princess from Pasai, changing his name to Sultan Iskandar Shah. With Melaka’s rise as an empire, both the Majapahit and Siamese kingdoms were unable to conquer it, especially with the Chinese protection. During this time, a Hindu–Malay and Tamil–Malay society were also formed. The Sultan died in 1414 and was succeeded by his son, Megat Iskandar Shah. Malacca continued to prosper until the eighth Sultanate of Malacca, Mahmud Shah, with the various races who came to trade becoming associated with particular trade specialties; the Gujaratis, Tamils, and Bengalis were mostly cloth merchants, the Arabs and Persians waited for their vessels to be filled with goods from China, the Chinese dealt mainly in silk, camphor, and porcelain, and the natives of Malay Archipelago, like the Bugis and other island peoples, traded mainly in spices and sandalwood, and the Minangkabau in pepper and gold, with the Javanese controlling the rice and imported foodstuffs.  Like other traders, the Chinese established their own area in the city, 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 was a Chinese princess from the Ming Dynasty.

Sultan of Malacca

Malay rule ended in 1511, when Alfonso d’Albuquerque, viceroy of the Portuguese Indies, conquered Malacca. During the 16th century Malacca developed into the most important trading port in Southeast Asia. Indian, Arab, and European merchants regularly visited there, and the Portuguese realized enormous profits from the incredibly lucrative spice trade that passed through the port.

Colonial Era

Portuguese Malacca

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 few ports among bitter warfare in the Straits.

Dutch Malacca

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. On 14 January 1641, the Dutch defeated the Portuguese in an effort to capture Malacca, with the help of the Sultan of Johor. The Dutch ruled Malacca from 1641 to 1798 but they were not interested in developing it as a trading centre, placing greater importance on Batavia (Jakarta) and Java as their administrative centre. However, they still built their landmark, better known as the Stadthuys. In the Dutch era the building was white, the red paint is of later date.

Straits Settlements (British)

Malacca was ceded to the British in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 in exchange for Bencoolen on Sumatra. From 1824 to 1942, Malacca was under the rule of the British, first by the British East India Company and then as a crown colony. Due to dissatisfaction with British jurisdiction over Naning, Dol Said, a local chief, fought the East India Company in a war from 1831 to 1832, which resulted in a decisive British victory. It formed part of the Straits Settlements, together with Singapore and Penang. Malacca went briefly under the rule of Empire of Japan in 1942–194 during World War II.

Post Colonial Era

After the dissolution of this crown colony, Malacca and Penang became part of the Malayan Union on 1 April 1946,  which later became the Federation of Malaya on 1 February 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. On 16 September 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 7 July 2008.

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