Malaysia Gallery - Melaka
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Melaka's Heritage
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 Catholicism).


St. Xavier
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.

'Red Square'
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.


Chinese Associations
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.




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