Thursday, 2 August 2012

Dutch Malacca

Dutch VOC vs Malay Courts of Tanah Melayu - Nazli Aziz

After the Portuguese ruled Malacca, the Dutch came and fought against the Portuguese and won. Malacca became Dutch. Under Dutch rule, the Dutch used the same Portuguese fort for protection and added a few buildings, including a hospital, the governor's office row, a clock tower(?), and a church. The Dutch structures were painted a very striking bright red.

I remember as a pre-school child, being at the 'red square' and I asked my mother, why 'the place was red'. I didn't know the buildings then but I remember all the buildings around me were a glaring red colour. I didn't feel easy - I didn't like being at the 'red square'. I was used to black walls of wooden Malay houses and the red colour of the Dutch buildings in Banda Hilir stood totally out of place!

Now as an adult, and after studying photos of buildings in Banda Hilir taken by the Malay people, I noticed that the Malay people would take photos of the Dutch buildings but they avoided certain features, and especially capturing the cross on the church building. The Stadhuys didn't matter but the church did. A strange thing is there is no mosque in the heart of Banda Hilir, a Malay town and the name says it in Malay. There are many churches but not even a single mosque in Banda Hilir. Why? Have we been blind for hundreds of years, and not noticed that there in no masjid in the centre of Banda Hilir? Where do the Muslims pray if they are shopping in Banda Hilir? Where are the public prayers spaces?

The mosque that my ancestors build in Jalan Parameswara in Banda Hilir (further up towards the Portuguese Settlement and the Gurney School), is the only mosque in this weird place! And a weird thing I find is that Masjid Banda Hilir is never highlighted for its importance at all, never in the history of Malacca. People talk and write about all the other mosques, but they sure fail to even notice the earliest of the mosques at the periphery of Banda Hilir.

When Masjid Banda Hilir was built, it was very near to the sea; I remember walking down from the mosque to the beach in the early 1960s. The beach had soft white sand and the sea was crystal blue. Today, the beach is far away from the mosque, after so much land reclamation.

Were the Dutch better than the Portuguese conquerors? I don't know. My maternal grandmother and her generations were all Dutch-Sinhalese extracts - they were Burghers. Burghers aside, I feel the Dutch left a very lasting impression on the Malacca people, especially in architecture, not so much cuisine or apparels, and maybe a bit of the language and the Christian faith for some. We had Dutch doors and Dutch louvered windows covers for our house in Banda Hilir, which was possibly built during the Dutch era by my great-grandfather, or possibly there was another house on the same site before the one I had lived in, which was approx. 150 years old in the early 1960s. I remember discussing the age and antiquity of our Banda Hilir house with my father in the early 1980s.

So do we still need the red Christ Church, Stadhuys and clock tower in Bandar Hilir today to remind us of our Dutch conquerors? I don't think so. My feeling is we must learn to accept defeat, happily remove the red structures which weren't ours anyway, and build our own lovely Malay structures. I think a mosque, a big public eatery, a multipurpose hall, a garden, and good parking spaces are better - no A&W, no Hungry Jacks, no bowling alley, etc, and don't paint any structure red. The colours of Banda Hilir as I remember were white and green, not white and red. Red is for the Red Warriors - the powerful Kelantan football team! Red means 'ong' (good fortune) for the Chinese.

External links:

Muslim marriages during Dutch Malacca