Wow did Malacca rise from a humble fishing village to become one of the mightiest empires in the East?
The Portuguese writer Barbarosa wrote. “He who is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice.” Anyone who knows the history of Malacca would not disagree. The ups and downs, the rise and fall of this empire were very much dependent on its location. In fact, most of the events in its history can be said to be due to its location. Sometime in the 1390s, a fugitive Javanese prince by the name of Parameswara fled to Malacca. Legend has it that one day he saw a mouse deer, a tiny animal found in South East Asia, fighting with his bigger sized hunting dog. The mouse deer won and the prince thought it was a good omen and called this place Malacca, named after the Malacca tree that he was resting on. Malacca sat in the middle of two important oceans- the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.
As the first Sultan, he capitalized on Malacca’s strategic location and catered to the needs of passing traders. He also secured the patronage and protection of the Ming dynasty in China. Soon Malacca became an important trading port for China and traders began flocking here.
In 1405, Admiral Cheng Ho sailed into Malacca in great style with a crew of 37,000 in 317 ships. Until 1433, Cheng Ho stopped seven more times, making Malacca an important stop over as he went as far as Zanzibar and Mecca.
The successors of the Sultanate continued to prosper as a Ming Protectorate. Islam had soon arrived and at the peak of the empire, converted the Sultans. The glory of Malacca reached its height when it spread its territory to the entire Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, and even fended off the invading Siamese troops up north.
But the Sultanate was no match to the Portuguese who came in 1511, and they finally succumbed to Portuguese gunpowder under the commands of Alfonso de Albuquerque. “To serve God and His Majesty, to give light to those who sat in darkness and to grow rich as all men desire to do” or the much simplified “God, Gold, Glory” was a convenient and popular motto for successive colonialists. The religion was Roman Catholic and the first man of God who conquered Malacca was also one of the first seven Jesuits. He was none other than Saint Francis Xavier, whose white statue will be greeting you in a moment.
The Portuguese then built A’ Farmosa, which successfully held off other colonialists until 1641, when the Dutch, after an eight month siege, became the new master of Malacca. During the siege, the residents of Malacca were reduced to eating cats, then rats, and finally, each other. When the Dutch entered Malacca, they found the entire city in ruins and began rebuilding it as a military outpost. You saw some of the Dutch influence at the Dutch Square.
By the 19th century, the British became the new superpower and after conquering India, set their eyes on Malacca. The British East India Company took over Malacca in 1824 after the Anglo-Dutch Treaty that saw Britain and the Dutch trading Malacca for Bencoleen in Sumatra.
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With this, Malacca became the third member of the Straits Settlements- the other two being Penang up north and Singapore down south. Eventually, the British lost to the Japanese during World War Two. When the Japanese left, Malacca was back at British hands, but anti colonial sentiments culminated until the independence of Malaysia in 1957.