Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Portuguese Malacca

Now I will write a bit about my hometown, Banda Hilir in Malacca. The images are not mine but are from the Internet.
This is an ancient map of the Portuguese fort in Malacca built in 1511, on a Macau 40 cents stamp. I don't know the currency used in Macau. The characteristic curved bridge is on the left.

Both Macau and Banda Hilir were Portuguese trading ports and ports of call of the Portuguese tradeships. The fort is laid down like a tortoise with the head pointed towards the sea and the 4 legs stretched out. It was a pentagon when it was built. Notice that the sea reached up to the fort's front facade. So the fort was surrounded by land on 3 sides and the Straits of Malacca on two sides (front sides). Malacca hill is where the word 'Malaca' is written on the stamp. Notice that the spelling is with only one c, not two cc's as we spell it now. So the Portuguese name was spelled as Malaca. Today, we use Malacca (which is quite wrong as it is not pronounced as Malak-ka but Me-la-ke, with a very light intonation on the letter k). I still think we need to correct the English spelling and go back and re-use the Portuguese spelling, which translates better to Melaka (pronunciation, Me-la-ke).

Fortaleza de Malaca

The fort walls are clearly outlined, prominent and thick. Notice the curved bridge again. And to the left is written Banda Malaca (Banda Melaka). There is a church icon further up the river bank. There is a lighthouse on the left coast after the curved bridge. There is a big river labelled as Rio de Malaca (Malacca river or Sungai Melaka). To the northeast, there is written Banda Ilher (Banda Ilir) - that was where my ancestors lived for 8 generations. If you head 700m in that direction, you will come to Masjid Banda Hilir, the only surviving mosque in Malacca from our colonial history. The Malacca govt dated Masjid Banda Hilir to 1820, ie during the Dutch era. I would date the mosque to mid-1730s, just like Masjid Batu Uban in Penang. Notice that there are rocks or stones drawn in the southeast aspect - land reclamation? More later.

Macau stamps 1Macau stamps 2
Map of modern Malacca (from Asia Web Direct)

Remains of the 1511 Portuguese fort, A Famosa. This is the Porta Santiago, a massive but crooked gate. If you look closely at the brick wall, you will notice massive red rocks.

A close look at the brick material used to build the fort brings a rather unexpected find - the red volcanic rocks were actually bricks from the mosques in Banda Hilir which were demolished by the Portuguese conquerors. Why did the Portuguese arrive and destroy the mosque(s). They used the bricks from the mosque(s) to build A Famosa. Was this a good or bad move? Of course it was a bad move and so the Muslim people of Malacca fought back - the wanted their mosque back. 

In the meantime, only one mosque survived to this day - Masjid Banda Hilir. Why then do the Malays have this pantun line: Kalau roboh Kota Melaka, papan di Jawa akan ku dirikan...? Why do we still let A Famosa survive till today when it should be a large mosque that was there initially? It could also be the very site of the lost Malacca Sultanate palace that everybody is looking for. Usually, if there is a sultan's palace, then there is an associated mosque for the sultan and his people to pray. 

Early Malacca was frequented by Arab and Chinese Muslims. Where is the 'old' mosque in Banda Hilir before the Portuguese arrived? Where is the sultan's palace before the Portuguese arrived? It is a serious offence to demolish a mosque and build something else on its former site. If a mosque must be reconstructed (with the A Famosa demolished), which direction is Qiblat? Qiblat would be facing the curved bridge. Masjid Banda Hilir is about the only mosque that has kept its secrets for a long time, since 1800s. There could possibly be just a small prayer place initially (refer to history of Masjid Sultan in Singapore and Masjid Kapitan Keling in Georgetown, Penang).

Why has attention focused on Masjid Tranquerah, and not Masjid Banda Hilir? Masjid Banda Hilir is an Arab-Minangkabau mosque. Masjid Tranquerah is a Chinese mosque and where Indian Muslims were imams. Masjid Tranquerah is not a Malay mosque - it was built either during Portuguese or Dutch era. The last sultan of Singapore, Sultan Hussein was buried here at Masjid Tranquerah.

If you read about Alfonso de Albuquerque, his suffix Albuquerque comes from the Arabic word Al-buque or Al-baqah, which means 'the terrible' or even 'razed to the ground, and left no trace! Why was Alfonso called the Terrible? Alfonso or Aphonso, must have been so terrible to the Arabs (Muslims) that they labelled him as such and that goes into our history books. We can pen him down as Alfonso The Terrible, just like we did for Ivan the Terrible and also Nero. Albuquerque just sounds nice as it is Arabic but still the meaning is he was terribly terrible. More on Alfonso in Wikipedia.

Alfonso the Terrible. Image from Wikipedia.
If we have to remove A Famosa, and rebuild a sultan's palace and a sultan's mosque in Banda Hilir, what would the structures look like? It would possibly have a low-lying Minangkabau-styled palace and mosque, with Chinese brickwork. It would use only teak for the beams and no nails.

Do we still need A Famosa? I don't think so. It is a symbol of our failure to defend Banda Hilir and therefore Malacca, against the Portuguese conquerors.

What else needs to go? The big ship - the model of the Portuguese ship, Flor de la Mar. It was Flor de la mar then but not today. The Malays can build better ships and even luxury yatchs - these should be there at Sungai Malacca, and not the Portuguese galleon. I remember visiting Banda Hilir and seeing the replica ship for the first time - my heart sank! How can we even consider re-building a replica ship of our first conqueror! Where is our jati diri? Where is our spirit of Sejati Berdiri? I cried for the shame of seeing this galleon in Banda Hilir. It broke my heart that someone even built it to remind us we were defeated for the first time in our Malay history, and for a long time to come. It is a shame to have that galleon build in Banda Hilir. To me, it is just an empty maritime museum that brings a lot of shame. And worst of it all, my son made a full multimedia of that galleon for his final year project without telling me. But it was a blessing that his multimedia project failed to materialise at the 11th hour. His Flor de la Mar project crashed unexpectedly one strange night and I was sent an SOS to help. That was when I found out he was designing the Flor de la Mar. Of course I refused to help because it was Flor de la Mar! I would help if it was some other battleship.

A parked Flor de la Mar, a maritime museum in Banda Hilir, Malacca.
My son's rendition of the Portuguese galleon, Flor de la Mar in 2012.
The Encyclopedia of Malaysia
Muzium Negara