Friday, June 18, 1999
from the Peninsula: 6. About Malaka

Malaka is a small town, much like Yogyakarta. Its main attraction is the historical places. It was built by prince from Sumatra in the 1400s and it became one of the main ports in South East Asia in the 15th-17th century, where merchants from Arab, India, China and later Europe came to stop. It was taken by the Portuguese, then the Dutch, the the British, so as a consequence it has a very rich architectural heritage.

Also, like in many towns in Malaysia it has a rich cultural heritage which is a mixed of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Arabic cultures, which they kept until now, unlike in Indonesia L So here we saw a lot of old Chinese houses and temples. Squeezed among these are the Kampong Kling Mosque which is one of the oldest mosques in the country and Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi, an old Hindu temple built at the turn of the century.

Also hidden among Malakaís little streets is Hang Jebatís and Hang Kasturiís Mausoleums. These two and of course Hang Tuah and Hang Lekiu were Malay generals which in a way were our generals too because in those days Malaka and Sumatra were parts of one kingdom.

We visited Cheng Hoon Tengís temple and marveled that in a Moslem country like Malaysia they could hang pork in the windows of the restaurants. I don't think in Indonesia many dared to do that. Although in the chinatown of Jakarta they might. But life between different races seems to be very harmonious here.

We also went to Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum. It's a private museum run by a family, recording the life of Strait Chinese culture, which is still a Chinese culture, but one different from the mainland culture, and itís unique because it merged the Chinese culture with the local Malay culture.

I realise now that part of what they show in the museum (for example the mix language of Chinese and Malay) was what I could see in old Jakarta life when I was still a child! I didn't know that Strait Chinese has developed a distinct and separate culture. I thought the Chinese around me had Chinese culture, like the culture of their people in China. But apparently not. It's so sad that I have only realised this after being abroad. The unique Strait Chinese culture actually can be seen all around me in Jakarta but we are so blinded by our societyís refusal to accept them and therefore we, the children, do not realise it. We really don't appreciate our Indonesian Chinese culture and that's too bad. Why can't we accept them as part of our society, like this?

We also visited old colonial buildings and forts, from the Portuguese, Dutch and British era. Of course we walked to the Stadhuys and the Christ Church, also Fort Cornwallis. I wish we had preserved this kind of colonial buildings in Jakarta. We also have lots of them but most were neglected. Or torn down to build malls. Stupid. We are a people with no regards to our own history! All we care about is money money money.

We visited St. Paulís Church which was a chapel built by a Portuguese captain. St Francis Xavier was briefly enshrined here in this ĎOur Lady of the Hillí chapel in the 16th century before returned to Goa. Later the Dutch turned the place into a burial ground and renamed it into its present name. Nearby is A Famosa, which is probably the most well known landmark of Malaka, a fort built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. We took photos in the remaining part of the port the gate Porta de Santiago.

I took a nice shot of St. Francis Xavierís Church. Hopefully it will turn out as I expected. This church has nice gothic towers. It was built in 1849. We took a group photo in the old Dutch Graveyard using the tripod. The girls were doubtful about taking pictures in a graveyard (why, why are Indonesians so superstitious?!?!) but I managed to persuade them. The graves were from the 17the century and 19th century.

It's a pity my friends don't like museums and old forts. Because of them I had to skip the Maritime Museum. I almost had to skip Portuguese Square (a portuguese settlement) and St. John's Fort! But finally in the end we did go to Portuguese Square and talked to one of the Portuguese gentlemen there. He told us that the portuguese they speak is a better and classic form than the portuguese language that people in Portuguese nowadays speak. I told him that it used to be there's a portuguese community living in old Batavia. We even adopted their music into our keroncong music. I dont know if any of the people from the old community still survive now. Indonesians seem to love to live in the 'here and now' space and time. We don't bother to keep in touch with history. Sad.

After that we went down from the bus and while the girls sat at a small side street restaurant to rest I hiked alone to St. John's Hill to see the ruins of British St. John's Fort. It was hot but I continued hiking because I wanted to see the unique feature of the fort: i.e. its gun embrasure faces inland instead of the sea because most attacks at that time came from the land.

All Malaka history was recounted to us in the Light and Sound show which we watch on Thursday night, the first show of this kind that I've seen, and which is their pride and joy. We sat at the edge of the Padang or the plain and in front of us we could see the ruins of St. Paul's Church up on a hill, the ruin of Porta de Santiago at the foot of the Hill, the Sultan's Palace, the Independence Building and several other old colonial era buildings. Then they read the history of Malaka complete with sound effects light play lights the buildings. Very interesting! They mentioned that incident in the 60ís where Sukarno our first president declared war to Malaysia. I was embarrassed.

Malaka, Friday 18 June 1999

Posted at 06:11 pm by koeniel

May 11, 2006   09:15 AM PDT
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    from the Peninsula: 9. About Penang
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