Monday, 4 February 2013

Flor de la Mar: The cursed Portuguese galleon

I have always loved stories about pirates and the high seas. I collect paintings of the high seas, lighthouses, harbours and wooden beach homes.

My mother was a good storyteller. She told us kids good bedtime stories before we jumped into bed in our government quarters at Jalan Day, Alor Star in Kedah. The home felt spooky even during day time and bedtime stories meant we had to sit up close to my mother's feet! Her stories began right after dinner. This is the story from my mother when we were playful little kids. It was related again when I was a big girl.

The Portuguese attacked Malacca, destroying man, wife, children, and all. The Portuguese masters ruled Malacca, by killing and looting. All the loot was brought up onto the galleon, a pirate cargo ship. When it was all packed with Malacca's treasures, away it sailed from Malacca's waters. The people of Malacca cursed the galleon which had taken its many treasures. A storm then built up and the galleon fought fiercely to sail onward to Lisbon. Alas! The Malacca prayer was answered and the galleon sank in the high seas. Down went the galleon and its men. That's the story of those evil looters.

As I reflect back on the state of Malacca where I grew up, I think Malacca was a Muslim state with a lot of important mosques that played a big role in Malacca's history. The mosques were led by Sufi people and I can understand why the Flor de la Mar was shipwrecked - it was unfit to sail when overladen, and it was cursed by the Sufi prayers and by the Muslim people of Malacca.

Sometimes I wonder where Malacca had obtained its gold treasures. The nearest that I know of is the one at Raub which was later attempted by the Australian gold diggers. My great-grandfather was a goldsmith and gold trader but nobody has mentioned where the gold originated. He was a close friend of Imam Haji Khalil, after whom the road Jalan Haji Khalil was named - the road that leads to the Malacca General Hospital. My grandfather Haji Mohamed Sharif and Imam Haji Khalil and another man all made their respective houses with one design - the Minangkabau house. Our house was demolished. I don't know whether the other 2 houses are still standing today.

If Malacca had so much gold, then her hospitals at the time would be a place of luxury? I suppose the gold found in Malacca was brought by the Indian traders from the Indian subcontinent. They could be the same Indian gold traders who brought gold to the gold shops at Beach Street in Penang.

I once met an Indian gold trader at Masjid Acheh in Penang but I didn't have time to ask him about the Indian gold trade of the past. He is a Penang resident and comes to pray (Solat Fardhu) at this mosque.

I still have a big unanswered question, "Did gold influence the health status of the people of Malacca?"

Flor de la Mar

Flor de la Mar, 3D rendition by Muhammad Ibrahim Adzim, Kursus IT (Multimedia), Kolej Universiti Islam Selangor (KUIS). 10 February 2012