Thursday, June 3, 2010

Some history of Melaka and Malaysia

I'm still in Melaka. The town is loaded with museums and sites of interest. As a result I've learnt quite a bit about the history of Melaka and here's a quick rundown. It was 'founded' by a guy called Parameswara around 1400 who had been a prince in Java and Sumatra but was forced out of both places by his enemies. I'm not sure how you found a city, maybe he just arrived here with soldier-friends and announced 'all right, I rule this place now' to the few fishermen who were here. Anyway the area became a sultanate with him as the ruler and it developed as a popular trading post and a centre for the spread of Islam.

In 1405 it was visited by Cheng Ho, a minister of the Ming dynasty of China, and given protection by the dynasty which meant lots of Chinese people moved here. There's a museum about Cheng Ho here that I went to yesterday. He made seven voyages from Nanjing as a representative of China, going all the way to Arabia and Mogadishu before China decided upon an isolationist policy in the 1430s. There's even a theory that he or some of his second-in-commands went to America, Australia, and New Zealand before Europeans did. (The book defending this theory is '1421' by Gavin Menzies. According to him, the evidence for the NZ contact are (1) the spherical Moeraki boulders on the Otago coast, which allegedly were ship ballasts, and (2) parts of ships allegedly embedded in the cliffs near the boulders. These got there, according to the theory, when a comet fell to earth nearly hitting the Chinese ships and the sea throwing them into the cliff where they became embedded in the cliffside! I was at Moeraki last year with Lauri-Lee and Richard and I remember them telling me about this theory, though they were skeptics as I recall. The theory also alleges something to do with Chinese DNA present in Maori.)

Melaka, valuable as a strategic point for trade, was conquered by the Portuguese in the 1500s and then by the Dutch in the 1600s. A lot of Dutch buildings and churches remain, including one central one called Christ Church. I was surprised to see souvenirs being sold in this church and almost told them that was offensive but then thought 'who am I to defend church values?' The British got Melaka from the Dutch in 1824, exchanging it for Bengkulu, the place in west Sumatra where I stayed a week or so ago and where I had to stay longer than expected to wait get sorted out after my wallet was stolen. Sir Stamford Raffles was involved here, as he was in Bengkulu and Singapore. He sounds an interesting guy who I'd like to read a biography about. The world's biggest flower, the Rafflesia is found around here and is presumably named after him. (I haven't seen one yet.)

Malaysia was occupied by Japan in the Second World War and then after the war there was a struggle for independence. It seemed to take a long time to achieve this, partly due to much disagreement about what form of government to have, according to a Museum of Democratic Government I visited today. Malaysia became an independent country in the 1950s, with Singapore part of it for only two years before going independent itself. An alliance of political parties worryingly called the 'National Front' (Barisan Nasional) has ruled with a large majority ever since then, though in recent times its support has declined slightly but it still has a majority. I couldn't quite work out the constitution from the museum but I know there are two houses of parliament (the House of Representatives and the Senate), a monarch, and state governments, and elections are held every five years. Melaka is a city with the state of Melaka and there are twelve other states in Malaysia, plus three federal territories of which the capital, Kuala Lumpur, is one.


  1. We laugh derisively at Gavin Menzies!! The Chinese may very well have sailed to NZ, but his theory about the Moeraki boulders and many other natural geological formations is in direct conflict with sound scientific research and knowledge, otherwise known as reality. However, quacks like him are entertaining, even if it is at their expense.

  2. Menzies work is largely discredited. The Moeraki boulders are natural phenomenon and really quite a strange size for ballast.
    You sound well and like you are back into a good space. Thank you for taking the time to offer your postings to the rest of us.
    Malaysia was my first memory of exotic far away lands. When I was eight, we were visited by a friend of my father who had been a chemist with Goodyear and stationed in Malaysia for many years. He visited with his children one of whom was a young girl a year younger than myself. I had such a crush on her. She had an unfamiliar accent and stories of adventures which included cobras and scorpions.They only visited a couple of weeks but it was long enough for me to test may dad's knowledge of chemical formulas against that of his associate's and to show the daughter the best place to look for arrowheads, how to climb the local trees and the secret creek where there were salamanders and periwinkle shells.

  3. Just for the record-Simon first visited Melaka in 1975- as very reluctant tourist with his folks-working in Malaysia on a NZ aid project!

  4. Each state in Malaysia takes a turn in appointing the King (and it is always a King!)at the elections held every 5 years . When you were last in Malaysia, Simon, the Sultan of Pahang was crowned King and I have the scrap book to prove it. There was much controversy in the state of Johore as the Sultan was in poor health and he appointed his second son as the Tunku Mahkota (crown prince) as the first was a nasty piece of work who was know to lash out with fists and whips and allegedly murdered someone. However on his deathbed the old Sultan reversed his decision and appointed the Raja Muda as his successor.So I guess he is now the Sultan and likely to become King at some time. The 2nd son was understandably a bit pissed off but I think he died in 1989.

  5. correct. he did become sultan and when his turn came he did become king and when his term came to an end he became sultan again and has since died and gone to you know where.
    his first victim was an alledged smuggler shot dead before he could reach the police station and another was an alledged sniggler,, an unfortunate golf caddy, unfamiliar with his royal highness and mightiness, who apparently chuckled when a short putt was missed..clubbed to death before he could get to the next green