|"He who is lord of Malacca has his hand
on the throat of Venice.'' Barbarosa, Portuguese writer.
Thus began the wondrous journey of Malacca into historical fame and prominence. Its fortunes and misfortunes depending on how you look at it were destined by geography or, more precisely, by water. The city's modern history began sometime in the 1390s with the founding of the Malacca Sultanate by Parameswara, a fugitive Sumatran prince. He could not have chosen a better place to set up his kingdom. Malacca sat on the pulse of the divine waters flowing between two important oceans'the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.
Not one to squander the obvious golden goose, the first sultan of the Malay Peninsula shrewdly crafted a lucrative enterprise on the needs of the passing traders and traffickers, and secured the patronage and protection of the Ming dynasty. And he was raking it in, becoming a source of considerable pride and nostalgia in modern Malay minds, a notion succinctly captured in the Malacca's Sultanate Palace and the Museum of History. Malacca soon established itself as an important trading port for China and traders began to flock here.
In 1405, Admiral Cheng Ho sailed into the Malaccan harbour in great style and grandeur with a crew of 37,000 in 317 ships. Malacca was Admiral Cheng's logistical headquarters for a total of seven expeditions between 1405 and 1433 when he navigated his navy to such distant and exotic places as Ceylon, Maldives, Mecca and Zanzibar. For sure, the man would have loved to visit again, but his luck ran out with the resurgence of isolationist Confucius thinking in the Chinese ruling bureaucracy. All that remains of the wonder sailor are the commemorative Sam Poh Kong Temple and the Hang Li Po's Well.
Parameswara's successors continued to prosper as a Ming Protectorate and from the tested formula of greasing the wheels of maritime trading. Islam had arrived earlier with the Arabic and Gujarati traders in the 1200s and become entrenched with the conversion of the rulers to the faith. At the height of its glory, the Sultanate of Malacca owned a tributary empire embracing the whole of the Malay Peninsula and much of eastern Sumatra, and won a battle or two against the forces of the famed Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya. Then in 1511, under the naval craftsmanship of Alfonso de Albuquerque, the second Portuguese governor of India, the Sultanate succumbed to Portuguese guns and powders.
"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" was a popular and convenient motto for successive generations of fired-up opportunists and oppressors alike. The God was initially a Roman Catholic, and the earliest man of God to descend in conquered Malacca was also one of the first seven Jesuits. He was no other than Saint Francis Xavier, who was enshrined in St Paul's Church and had the St Francis Xavier's Church named after him.
The Portuguese built A'Famosa, which helped keep out other colonialist vultures until 1641, when the Dutch, victorious after an eight-month siege and some heavy-duty fighting, became the new master of a Malacca in complete ruins. The town was rebuilt but its status in the Dutch scheme of things was relegated to a military outpost because the new boss had Batavia for a mercantile headquarter. Nonetheless, the Dutch's impact on the architectural landscape of Malacca was lasting and permanent, and their influence can be readily discerned from a number of surviving buildings, including the Stadthuys, the Dutch Square and the Christ Church.
By the dawn of the 19th century the Brits' fortunes were rising after several decisive victories in the past century in the theatres of war on European continent and in the colonial world. After India, Malacca came under the possession of the British East India Company by the 1824 Anglo-Dutch Treaty of London and became a member of the Straits Settlements. She remained in this state of affairs, until eventually the British played casualty to the Nazis and the Japanese. The might of Empire was no protection against Japanese brutality and Malacca made it through the darkest nights on the strength of her own people and faith.
The day arrived when history came round, scores were settled or ignored, lands returned, and this Sultanate slotted effortlessly into the independence chapters of Malaysia. The Proclamation of Independence Memorial and the Independence Obelisk near the Padang Pahlawan exist as much as tourist sights as irrefutable testimonies to the outcome of the independence struggle.