British Malacca was quite recent. British Malaya ended with the Malayan independence on 31 August 1957. British Malacca is limited to Malacca while British Malaya affected the entire kingdom of the Malay peoples. British Malacca restored some faith among the people of Malacca but British Malaya practically robbed Malaya so much so that by the time Malaya eventually gained its independence, it was such a poor country! The Malays were so poor that they could not enjoy life at all; many could not go to school or complete tertiary education. The Malay people were so poor at the time of the Malayan independence. Let's not forget that.
Back to British Malacca...
Malacca was a good point of focus for the British. They obtained Malacca from the Dutch. Three things the British did right for Malacca were they blasted the Dutch-protected Portuguese fort to pieces and left just the gate we see today. They painted the red buildings white. They build a fountain after Queen Victoria right in the heart of the red square in Banda Hilir. Many photos taken before the fountain was built point to this era.
There were other buildings made by the British, and a lot have remained to this day. These include all the schools in Banda Hilir and its vicinity, and also the Malacca General Hospital, which was the third hospital in Malacca. Other things they did for Malacca was to run a post office, which operated as a bank. I still have my trust account book from that time. A small airport operated at Batu Berendam. I still have photos of that time at the airport.
Why was Malacca special to Britain?
Malacca was a Straits Settlement, and so were Penang and Singapore. Why was Malacca special? Malacca was obtained by exchange, and not through any war. The last war fought on Malacca soil was between the Dutch and Portuguese in 1641. So Malacca was 'peaceful' since 1641. Malacca was passed on to the hands of yet another European colonial master, a 'better' master that managed Malacca well but still put the Malays at a disadvantage. The British used Malacca for its missionary expansion to spread Christianity while it knew that the Malays were Muslims. Many churches were built in Malacca but hardly any mosque were built by the British for the people of Malacca.
Even today, Malacca still cannot portray its initial Islamic image as it has so many churches and convents, etc. We should remember that the Malacca Sultanate went from Hindu to Islam and remained at that when the Portuguese attacked Malacca. Now that all the 3 colonial masters have returned to their homelands, it is time to manage Malacca properly and give it its long overdue Islamic image that was there before European colonialism.
What we need to do is to critically assess the damages done by the colonials in Malacca's history, clear up all the mess and return the clean image that Malacca once had. Remember, Malacca flourished as the world's trading port at a time when it was under the Malacca Sultanate. The Malacca Sultanate can be restored because there are many who qualify to step up to the throne and be Malacca's new sultan in the post-colonial era. It is just us eggheads who can't think straight who cannot see what is happening to Malacca. The Malay rulers can sit and discuss who should be Malacca's new ruler (Sultan Melaka).
We can forget the colonials altogether because they damaged our reputation. I don't think they even cared about our local customs and tradition. Similarly with Penang - return it to Sultan Kedah. Similarly with Singapore - return it to Sultan Riau-Lingga. That is how I look at the region and its people.
Back to the question of why was Malacca special?
The British acquired Malacca first, then the other states. It was in Malacca that the Malays got together to deal for Malaya's independence. Why didn't they discuss in Kuala Lumpur? Kuala Lumpur may sound Malay but it was a Chinese city opened by the Chinese people when they were forced out of Klang, then a Malay stronghold and where the Malay Sultan of Selangor had his palace. So Malacca bravely dealt for the Malayan independence.
After the Japanese war (1941-45), in the late 1940s, our parents were probably just teenagers. There were already loyal Malays who dealt for our nation's independence. Who were they? Many were people from Malacca or related to Malacca or had connections with Malacca. Tunku himself was married to a Malacca lady - Sharifah Rodziah, a lady born of noble birth and from a good Muslim family. Malacca had high regards for her. I still remember her. When Tunku was successful in dealing for the Malayan independence, of course he returned to Malacca and pronounced the Malayan independence first at Padang Melaka and later at Stadium Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur. I will upload some photos of that historical event from my grandfather's collection later.
When Henry Syers sought assistance from the Malay quarters, he took Malays from Malacca and moved them to Kuala Lumpur. These Malacca people were relocated to a place called Kampong Baru in Kuala Lumpur. Among some of the famous people from Kampong Baru in Kuala Lumpur was Tan Sri Abdul Majid bin Ismail (Coco Majid). His parents were originally from Malacca.
Why was Kampong Baru special?
Kampong Baru was special as it was a trusted Malacca community. It was a community that was relocated into the heart of Kuala Lumpur (then a Chinese community) and became the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Thus, you can see the role that the people of Malacca played in bringing up Kuala Lumpur. Of course as a transplated community, Kampong Baru people were poor (Malays were never rich under the colonials anyway). The best that the Kampong Baru people could do was to excel in their studies when the opportunity arose. They became the community leaders, and almost all of them were Malacca people born and bred in Kuala Lumpur. Of course the language points to their Malacca heritage. There is no language difference between the Malays of Kampong Baru and the people of Malacca.
What can we conclude about Malacca now?
So in conclusion, is British Malacca important? Yes, it was a turning point at least. Is Malacca special? I think so yes, it was a source of hope for a new beginning of a new nation. Will Malacca shine again? If we restore what was there before colonialism, yes, it should rise to fame as before. That's how I look at Malacca, my hometown and birthplace. I will never forget Malacca and its people.