April 10, 2002
"Where it all began" is the phrase the tourist authorities
have dreamed up as a tagline for Melaka and it fits. The city-state
was first established by a local Sultan and it's location on
the route between India and China made it one of the wealthiest
in the East. It was inevitable perhaps, that the Portuguese
attacked and captured the port-city for "Whoever is lord
in Melaka, has his hand on the throat of Venice." Or so
said Barbarosa. After 100 years it passed, violently, to the
Dutch and later to the British who eventually turned it, and
the rest of Malaya, over to the Malaysian's. Independence was
proclaimed in Melaka on 15 August, 1957.
The city not only bears the mark of all it's erstwhile rulers
and the huge numbers of Chinese who moved here in it's architecture,
but also in it's people.
Melaka is home to the Babas and Nyonyas (Chinese who originally
came to the straits hundred of years ago and have since intermarried
and adopted some Malay customs) and the Christao (Eurasian descendants
of the Portuguese who still speak a mediaeval dialect and practice
April 14, 2002
Spanish Jesuit Francis Xavier first came to Melaka in 1545.
During his life he performed numerous miracles and after his
death, when his body did not decompose, he became a candidate
for canonization. The Pope in Rome asked for proof and was duly
sent Xavier's right arm. Centuries later, Melaka erected a statue
of the saint in front of the ruins of Saint Paul's church, where
Xavier had temporarily lived, and just three months later a
storm brought down a tree that severed the statues arm in the
same place the corpse had had it's arm removed.
Today the corpse of Saint Xavier rests in Goa, India, and is
still put on display for a short time every ten years. Unfortunately
relic seekers have not left the body to sleep peacefully. Besides
the arm, all but one of his toes, a couple of fingers and even
an ear have been cut away.
The ruins of St.Paul's
April 14, 2002
One of the oldest 'just barely surviving' structures in Melaka,
St.Pauls was first built by the Portuguese as a Catholic church.
The Dutch converted it to a Protestant. The British, in all
their piety, used it to store gunpowder.
April 11, 2002
No-one could tell us why the Dutch departed from tradition
and decided to paint all their administrative buildings this
terra-cotta red. One theory is that the British forced the paint
job when they took over this colony (the Dutch were busy being
ruled by Napoleon and were forced to relinquish Melaka to the
Brits) and wanted a clear distinction to their own planned buildings.
Hardly any British colonial architecture is to be found in Melaka
today and 'Red Square' remains the heart of the old town constantly
busy with bus tours and newlyweds having their pictures taken.
April 12, 2002
Clan houses, or 'Chinese Associations' as they prefer to be
called in Melaka, are still going strong. Once benevolent organizations
that assisted new immigrants and helped members financially,
they evolved into the crime syndicate-like secret societies.
Today they seem crime free and more interested in hosting Karaoke
parties on the weekends. We saw (and heard - ouch!) three separate
associations belting out the tunes on Jonkers street on the
nights it had a market.
The 'Flor de la Mar'
April 13, 2002
The Maritime Museum tells the story of the port of Malacca
during it's maritime supremacy. While the museum is informative
(and has air-conditioning!!) the real treat is to be inside
a full scale replica of a Portuguese trading vessel. In fact
this was modeled after a particularly famous ship - the Flor
de la Mar. The Flor was Alfonse de Albuquerque's ship, the Portuguese
Admiral who pillaged his way across the world before arriving
in Melacca in 1511 with an already substantial fortune. After
he sacked the city and the Sultan's palace he loaded additional
booty aboard (so much, it is said, that he barely had room to
stow all the gold and jewels) and set sail for Portugal. His
luck caught up with him when a storm sank the ship two days
later - with what Sotheby's estimated to be US$9 billion worth
of treasure - the most valuable wreck in the world.
It is believed the wreck was finally found 14 years ago and
as you can imagine it caused a great deal of bickering over
who it belonged to. Portugal, Malaysia or Indonesia whose waters
the wreck lay in? An agreement was made between the Malaysian
and Indonesian gov's, but to this day none of the treasure has
surfaced and salvage operations remain top secret.
A weak pulse
April 15, 2002
While most of the historic area of Melaka has been preserved
into a museum for the benefit of tourism, the way life was still
shows a weak pulse if you look a little closer. On Blacksmith
street one can still find tradesmen pounding on anvils and straining
at bellows. On Harmony street (so named because a Chinese temple,
a Muslim Mosque and a Hindu temple have all peacefully coexisted
for generations within a stones throw of one another) you can
still watch people building paper mache dolls and houses and
cars. These will eventually be burned by the Chinese as offerings
to the recently deceased as offering a paper mache representation
of a desirable object in this life will give the deceased that
commodity in the afterlife. Shown here is the closed storefront
of a mason.