Monday, November 28, 2011


Sunday November 27, 2011

500 years on

Yes, we all know the Portuguese came and conquered Malacca in 1511 — but did you know that they tried to take the Sultan’s magnificent bed back to Portugal?

IN the port town of Belem, near Lisbon, a map of the ancient world etched on the ground near the PadrĂ£o dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) has Malacca carefully noted on it. Or “Malaca”, as it’s spelt there. It’s only fitting that this European town on the other side of the world marks our little city/state because it was from Belem that seafaring Portuguese in the 15th and 16th century set off to explore and trade with India and the Orient during the Age Of Discovery – and Malacca’s role during that age was very much more than just a footnote in both Portugal and Malaysia’s history

This year marks the quincentenary of the capture of the famously-rich and thriving port back in 1511 by the second Viceroy of India, Admiral Alfonso de Albuquerque. Of course, anyone who has ever gone through the Malaysian school system will know that date, and the events and consequences of the time the “white man” came to these shores. But behind the sweeping events on history’s stage are intriguing nuggets known mostly to historians or students of history alone. For instance, according to the Portuguese, Sultan Mahmud Shah, the then ruling Sultan of Malacca, was an opium addict! Though the The Malay Annals (Sejarah Melayu) does state that he was also fond of literature and studied religion....

Malacca in the world: In the Mappa Mundi (World Map) etched into the ground in Belem, ‘Malaca’ is about the only location noted for this part of the world (close up, below, right), a sign of the city-state’s influence in the 16th century.
Rocking the status quo

Two years before the landmark events of 1511, though, Portugal and Malacca were already in conflict when Admiral Diego Lopez de Sequeira arrived at the trade-rich entrepot at the behest of Portugal’s king, Emmanuel I, to establish trading ties.

The Portuguese themselves had only then recently rid themselves of Moorish domination within the Iberian Peninsula, a liberation after 800 years. Almost as a backlash, the need to spread their Christian faith grew exponentially, and coupled with the desire to extend its trade dominance, the Portuguese eventually became the first global empire and the longest lasting of the European colonial empires, spanning nearly 600 years.

“Before the Portuguese found their way to India and further to the Far East, the Muslim Moors controlled the spice trade to Europe. Wresting this control was seen as a commercial gain as well as a religious duty – an extension of the crusades the Christians had long waged against the Muslims,” reveals historian Dr Khasnor Johan, who taught history at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia from 1974-1992 and has the book The Emergence Of The Modern Malay Administrative Elite to her name.

Christianity and the Europeans’ trade request were entertained with little courtesy and the reigning Sultan of the time, Sultan Mahmud Shah, egged on by Gujerati Muslim traders who were hard-done-by the Portuguese previously, chose to attack the very first Portuguese fleet to arrive in Malacca.

“The presence of the Portuguese would have been seen as additional competition and a threat to the status quo, so it is not unexpected that they (the Gujerati Muslim traders) would have been unhappy.

“The Muslims would have used religion as an additional factor in making the argument that the Portuguese should not be welcomed, thus persuading the Sultan not to conclude a treaty of peace with the Portuguese,” Khasnor explains.

“It has to be remembered that under the Malacca Sultanate, a system of trade and community relations had already evolved and worked well. The arrival of the Portuguese injected a new element into that system, upsetting the balance in the process,” Khasnor says.

That altercation would condemn Malacca to impending doom and the day arrived when Albuquerque – along with a thousand-odd men, comprising 800 Portuguese soldiers and 300-600 Malabarian mercenaries – sailed into the port town in July, 1511.

The pretext of the visit was to retrieve the Portuguese men held captive from two years before, but Albuquerque was also determined to wrest control of the renowned spice and China trade, in which Malacca played a crucial role.

Following a fierce battle that raged for three weeks, the Portuguese gained control of Malacca and would reap the benefits of the land and the city’s strategic location, controlling access to the Malacca Strait, a vital part of the trade route between East and West until the Dutch arrived to do the same in 1641. The superiority of the Portuguese proved too much for the men of Malacca to defend their port.

The Sultan’s men and mercenaries were reported to have used arrows, blow pipes with poisoned darts, the kris, lances and even guns. Allegedly, cannon were even discovered, some of which were dislodged from the ships of the Gujeratis and used on land.

Following the aftermath of the battle, the Portuguese retrieved 3,000 pieces of artillery and among them were 2,000 in bronze and one very large gun that the Samorin of Calicut (the ruler of a kingdom in South-West India) had sent to the Sultan of Malacca.

The small calibre guns are said to have been made locally, which is truly illuminating of the weapons technology available to Malacca then.

According to Peter Borschberg, an associate professor in the Department of History at the National University of Singapore, it was the Portuguese fire power that allowed them to defeat the defenders of Malacca easily. “Armour, tactics, military training, discipline of the troops would have all contributed,” he says.

Khasnor concurs: “The small arms of the Malays were no match for the Portuguese cannon, whose range was much further. The Portuguese strategy of attacking the bridge, thereby splitting the Malay forces into two, also played a big role in their victory.”

Albuquerque and his men chose to attack the bridge crossing the river that runs through Malacca town, knowing full well that would effectively divide the administrative part of the town from its commercial centre.

Alfonso de Albuquerque’s stature and impressively long beard reportedly had the Malaccan delegation bowing in awe and reverence when they caught their first glimpse of him on board his ship. — Image from Lendas da India, courtesy of Peter Borschberg
Carving up the region

The story of the fall of Malacca is one that is perhaps not necessarily the most unique. Also, it isn’t in the least bit aided by the history books in school painting a vague account of the events of 1511.

While the prescribed school syllabus for secondary schools by the Ministry Of Education mentions the likes of Albuquerque and of course, Sultan Mahmud, it leaves out colourful characters such as Utimutiraja (the rich and powerful Javanese trader living in Malacca who double-crossed both Sultan Mahmud and the Portuguese!), Nina Chatu (the influential Malaccan Hindu trader who aligned himself with the Portuguese) and Rui de Araujo (one of the captives in Malacca who – in a tale that could have come straight out of a modern thriller – relayed intelligence to Albuquerque with help from Nina Chatu between 1509 and 1511).

Whatever weight the school books give to the events of 1511, they were without a doubt among some of the most significant in Malaysia and Malacca’s history, arguably on par with America’s war of independence with the British in 18th century.

But unlike that conflict, which had a positive impact, giving Americans nationhood and setting them on course to world domination, the arrival of the Portuguese in Malacca, on the other hand, put a halt to the potential expansion of the Malay archipelago’s nascent power.

Things took a turn for the worse when rivalry among European powers further led to the carving up of many Asian regions into different spheres of influence.

Malacca’s fame during the 15th and 16th century as a lucrative entrepot in the region was actually unfortunate, as it made the port a target that the Western powers desired to control.

Malacca’s occupation isn’t merely about statistics or interesting stories confined to the history books because we continue to live with some of the consequences today.

“In view of the emergence of the nation states in Europe and the expansion of naval power and shipping, which allowed expeditionary voyages and long distance trade, it seems almost inevitable that Asia would have eventually been exposed to Western domination,” theorises Khasnor.

The control of the Malay archipelago might have begun at the periphery with the Portuguese and the Dutch, but by the time the British arrived, the Western world was taking much more of a hand in events in this part of the world.

“We are therefore still living with the consequences of that domination. For a very long time, our right to determine our own destiny and direction was taken away from us. But on the other hand, it is hard to see how we might have evolved or developed had we not been under Western domination,” adds Khasnor.

Thailand is a prime example. It was never colonised, yet it has developed, economically and politically, in much the same way Malaysia has, even if details differ.

The Portuguese believed Malacca’s position was so strategic that they constructed A Famosa in the port town to protect the trade route between Asia and their homeland. — File photo
Legacies left behind

The colonisation of Malacca may have very well kicked off the start of globalisation in this part of the world, a point observed by Borschberg, too.

“I was recently (in June) at a conference in Frankfurt (Germany) where issues of globalisation were discussed in connection with the Middle Ages. It was fascinating because the discussion traced the transmission of foodstuffs from Asia to Europe in the 6th to 14th centuries.

“But I suppose what made the case of the Portuguese different was the direct contact (not just gradual transmission, as in the Middle Ages) and the shift from overland to seaborne or maritime trade.

“Seaborne trade in the so-called Age Of Discovery enabled more goods to be exchanged and a greater number of people to interact. The real discoveries are not so much the lands of Asia or the Americas, but rather, the sailing techniques and the navigational routes to get to these places.”

The Portuguese capture of Malacca can be viewed as the case of an Asian port that was plundered by all-conquering colonists who exerted their might in the name of commerce and religion. However, the state today isn’t bitter about its past, claims Khasnor.

“The Malays are still proud of the fact that Malacca was once well known as a sultanate and one of the most important centres of trade and commerce in the East. Today, Malays might feel a sense of regret that Malacca was captured by the Portuguese and was never restored to the Malays until the end of British colonial rule, yet, when Malacca, as a state, celebrates its past history and heritage, it includes among the highlights of its existence the Portuguese influence, the unique blending of the races in the Portuguese Eurasian groups, the Baba-Nyonya and Indian Muslim communities and their cultural contributions,” Khasnor shares.

Historians speak of language and linguistic legacies left behind, and with the language came new ideas and concepts, Roman Catholicism, the introduction of foodstuffs and cooking styles, clothing items, architecture and building styles (the A Famosa Fort, among others).

“But influences are rarely a one-way process. More often than not, in the long run, you give and adopt into your own culture. And then there is the fusion of cultural practices – hybridity,” Borschberg adds.

Although the Dutch were also in Malacca, they stayed clear of making changes when they realised how well-assimilated Portuguese culture was, which is why the presence of the Portuguese remains strong in Malacca to this day, even half a millennium later.

In 1641, when the Dutch took hold of Malacca, the Portuguese were allowed to leave – as amnesty in the name of Christianity – but they weren’t allowed to take their slaves with them. So the backbone of the Portuguese community in Malacca was formed by Portuguese-speaking slaves and the few Portuguese who stayed behind, those who married locals and adapted to the way of life here.

“The Portuguese were in control of Malacca for more than a century and in that period, there would have been a small number of Portuguese who stayed long enough to form a community of their own. There would have been no women among them and for that reason, some would have married local women,” Khasnor explains.

Borschberg reckons that the number of Portuguese who stayed back would have been very small. “According to period documents of the time, 52 casados (a married settler) and their families ... all in all, fewer than 300 souls,” he says.

(According to census figures provided by Malaysia’s Department of Statistics, as of 2000, Eurasians in Malaysia – citizens and non-citizens – number 14,108. In Malacca alone, there are 2,176. The latest figures, from the 2010 census, are not available, as they are still being compiled.)

The Portuguese only had around 600 men in Malacca at any given time during their 130-year reign, and because their strength was in naval activity, they never sought landlocked regions, which is why they stuck with only Malacca and didn’t venture beyond to the rest of the Malay Peninsula.

“The Portuguese in Asia generally didn’t want large chunks of land to look after. It’s also a question of having sufficient manpower to control their possessions, and manpower was always short,” says Borschberg.

Of course, one of the greatest gifts of the Portuguese coming to Malacca are the stories left behind, especially the legends, and perhaps the greatest legends among them all is that of the Flor de la Mar (Flower Of The Sea) and her cargo.

The Flor was the largest carrack (three- or four-masted merchant ships) in its time and was used extensively in the Portuguese conquests of Asia. Close to a year after being in Malacca, when Albuquerque finally decided to sail back to Goa, India, he and his men loaded the Flor with the rich spoils of the Malacca sultanate, including jewellery, ornaments, statues and even the sultan’s bed.

Sailing north to the northern tip of Sumatra, the Flor encountered bad weather and was wrecked on some shoals. The ship split in half and lost all of its treasures, which according to treasure hunters, is the most valued shipwreck in the world. Albuquerque himself nearly perished in the disaster but was rescued.

Portuguese domination of Malacca lasted from 1511 to 1641, but though those events go back hundreds of years today, they have been woven into the very fabric of Malaysian society. In general, many of us treat those events as history book material, but think about it, in a strange way, the Portuguese put Malaysia on the world map all those years ago – they brought the Western world to us and made our presence known to the Western world.

All the countries around Malaysia were colonies of Western powers, except Thailand, so becoming a vassal might have been the only way for us to eventually become a modern civilisation. The accuracy of that opinion is open to debate, but we’ll just never know, will we? If you have an opinion – or an alternate history for Malaysia even! – share it with us at

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Sunday November 27, 2011

Malacca monorail up and running again

MALACCA: The Malacca river monorail service is back on track.

The service, which was suspended after a breakdown on Sept 30, was given the go-ahead by Land Public Transport Com mission (SPAD) to resume operations starting Thursday.

The monorail service, which has suffered numerous technical glitches since last year, now has better safety measures.

A ‘rail’ relief: People boarding the monorail after SPAD gave the green light to the operator to resume its service in Malacca.
SPAD chief operating officer Azhar Ahmad said the commission was satisfied that monorail operator Menara Taming Sari Sdn Bhd had fulfilled all safety and security requirements.

“During our engineers’ inspection on Nov 23, all safety and security measures were in place,” he said.

Azhar added that the China-made monorail line was now equipped with a cherry picker – a hydraulic crane to rescue stranded passengers, should the coach stall.

“Passengers need not come down using a ladder any more,” Azhar said.

The monorail’s operation and service manual, previously in Chinese, had also been translated into Malay and English, he added.

On the monorail’s tyre traction which was said to be weak when it rains, he said a thermal paint was required to provide better traction during slippery conditions.

Azhar said the operator had set a date for this to be done.

Menara Taming Sari chief executive officer Nazary Ahmad said work to apply the thermal paint would be carried out in early January.

“Until then, we will follow SPAD’s instruction to only operate the monorail when there is no rain,” he said.

Nazary said the lifting of the suspension was good news for Malacca’s tourism industry, especially as the year-end school holidays had started.

The RM15.9mil monorail line had experienced 21 service disruptions since starting operations on Oct 20 last year until the suspension on Sept 30. The company suffered losses of more than RM74,180.

The monorail line spans 1.6km from Taman Rempah in Pengkalan Rama to Kampung Bunga Raya Pantai, along the scenic Malacca river.


Kuching-Melaka direct flight early next year
by Simon Ingka Crown, Posted on November 26, 2011, Saturday

KUCHING: A direct flight connecting Kuching and Melaka may commence as early as next month or early next year.

Melaka Chief Minister Dato Sri Mohd Ali Rustam when announcing this yesterday said he was keen to see the flight become a reality, possibly three times a week.

“I am looking forward to see the Sarawak and Melaka state governments collaborate on the direct flight to Melaka in the best interest of both states,” he told a press conference.

Mohd Ali is in the state with the Melaka Foundation (YM) delegation and its board of directors to witness a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Sarawak Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA/Pelita Holdings Sdn Bhd) and YM yesterday.

LCDA was represented by Senior Minister and Land Development Minister Tan Sri James Masing and two Assistant Ministers, Datuk Gramong Juna and Datuk Abdul Wahab Aziz.

Also present was Senior Minister Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh who is also mnister of local government and community development, and second finance minister.

Mohd Ali said the route could boost tourism in both states.

“Melaka so far receives a total of 10.4 million tourists in 2010 with 20 per cent of them from overseas: Taiwan, Japan,China, Hong Kong, German, Switzerland and New Zealand.”

He said as of September this year, a total of 8.4 million tourists had visited the historical city, and the number is expected to reach 11 million by yearend. He said the proposed Kuching-Melaka flight could be shortened to one hour, compared to the one-and-a-half hour Kuching-Kuala Lumpur route.

“The flight is shorter than that to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). Hence this could be an alternative route.”

At the moment, Melaka is chartering Firefly and Melaka Air flights to Pekan Baru and Medan City on the island of Sumatera in Indonesia. The flight connection had lured many tourists from the neighbouring country to the city.

“Sumatera is a big island and at least 10 per cent of the population are from high income families who choose Melaka as a holiday destination every year,” he said.

Mohd Ali said the Melaka state government was planning to construct a larger theme park to lure tourists.

“We are launching a wildlife park this afternoon (yesterday) and Hang Tuah Village theme park which portrays the era of the Melaka Sultanate.”

The state government would build the largest silat arena next to Hang Tuah theme park. Mohd Ali said the Melaka government would continue to cooperate with the Sarawak government to promote their tourism to the world, especially eco-tourism.

“Sarawak has a lot to offer the world – fantastic natural scenery and many others including the famous Rainforest World Music Festival. Mohd Ali said this was the first time the two governments were working together. I hope this will not be the last but open the way to many more joint ventures between the two states.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


24 November 2011 | Last updated at 01:17AM

100,000 expected at Tanjung Bidara's beach festival
By Jason Gerald John | 0 comments
MALACCA: Some 100,000 people, both locals and tourists, are expected at the Melaka Beach Festival 2011, which would be held at the Tanjung Bidara beach from Dec 9 to 11.
tanjung bidara

The scenic Tanjung Bidara beach will host modern water-sport activities and also traditional games next month.

The festival's organising committee chairman, Datuk Abdul Karim Sulaiman, who is also the Tanjung Bidara assemblyman, said the event would involve both modern water-sport activities and also traditional games.

Among the activities which would be held during the three-day beach festival are sailing competitions, pillow fights, climbing the slippery pole, tug-of-war, beach volleyball and soccer, duck catching competition and mountain bike racing.

"Besides these activities, we would also be organising a beach run, fishing competition, kite flying competition, karaoke competition and also the Big Bike Charity Wash," he said recently.

Karim said the event, which is organised by the State Tourism Promotion Board and the Alor Gajah Municipal Council, would also see a career opportunity and exhibition by the Armed Forces.

"Pos Malaysia Bhd will host a photography exhibition and a sepak takraw competition at the event.

"This event would be a huge hit among visitors to the state as it is one of the year-end programmes which had been included in the 2011 Melaka Tourism Calendar.

"I hope people from all walks of life from in and out of the country would join us for the three days of fun, games and family outing, especially during the school holidays.

"I am sure there would be something for all family members and visitors to participate in and it would surely be a memorable experience," he said.

Read more: 100,000 expected at Tanjung Bidara's beach festival - Central - New Straits Times

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Email    Print 17 November 2011 | last updated at 01:06am
Tram project on track


MALACCA The proposed RM272 million Melaka Tram project linking Ayer Keroh and Banda Hilir is the most effective mode of transportation to overcome the traffic woes here, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam said yesterday.
  "We have already obtained the green light from the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) for the project.

  "In October, the state had written to the Federal Government, through Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, for approval," he said.

  "We are now awaiting the approval from the prime minister.

  "Once it is obtained, we will exhibit the letter together with  complete details of the project.

  "This is  to show the public that the project would bring great benefit to them."

  The Melaka Tram project is  a joint venture between Mrails International Sdn Bhd and Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI).

  The service would have 23 stops along a 40km-route from Ayer Keroh to Banda Hilir, the heart of the historical city.

  It is estimated that 250,000 passengers would use the trams monthly.

  Annual revenue would be in the region of RM20 million.

  The tram would  go through Bukit Baru, Peringgit, Jalan Munsyi Abdullah, Bandar Hilir and Taman Melaka Raya.

  Ali Rustam was speaking to reporters when he was asked to comment on the unsuccessful bid by Betty Chew Gek Cheng (DAP-Kota Laksamana) to have the Melaka Tram project shelved through a motion she had tabled at the Malacca State Legislative Assembly.

  The motion was rejected by the house.

  Ali Rustam said the Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA) and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)  on the Melaka Tram had also been completed and the necessary approvals had been given.

  "Studies have also shown that the Melaka Tram would be used by  109,559 people from Monday to Friday.

  "The figure is expected to soar to 210,160 during the weekends," he said.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


17 November 2011 | Last updated at 09:08AM

Marking the date the Portuguese came a-calling

Portuguese culture was splendidly displayed over four days of pomp and gaiety to commemorate the 500th year of the arrival of the former European naval power in Malacca.

The Trez Amigos comprising Emile Mossinac (left), Horace Santa Maria (with walking stick) and brother Arthurs Santa Maria(right) after receiving their merit award from MPEA president Michael Singho (in suit).

The Portuguese Settlement in Ujong Pasir in the former Straits Settlement saw a hive of activity with cultural activities, music, dances, and dining during the celebrations last month.

Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Ali Rustam launched the event on Oct 28, with the official dinner and dance held the following day.

The latter event was attended by state police chief Senior Assistant Commissioner Datuk Chua Ghee Lye and Malacca Portuguese Eurasian Association president Michael Singho, who was the event organising chairman.

Performances were given by local groups, as well as those from Portugal, Timor-Leste, Selangor and Federal Territory Eurasian Association, Penang Eurasian Association, Australia Eurasian Association of Western Australia, Sarawak Eurasian Association, Kedah Eurasian Association, Perak Eurasian Association and the Eurasian Association of Singapore.

People of Portuguese descent from Lisbon, Australia, India, East Timor, Indonesia and Singapore joined their Malaysian counterparts to mark the anniversary of Alfonso d'Albuquerque's arrival to Malacca on Aug 24, 1511. The Portuguese navigator came from Goa, India, with 18 ships and 1,200 men.

The celebration, themed Our Roots... Our Heritage... Our Home, attracted tourists and foreign media. They tasted traditional dishes such as belacan (shrimp paste), cincalok (fermented shrimps), acar (pickles) and debel curry. They also got acquainted with cultural activities such as dances and songs.

The event also saw an exhibition of contemporary items.

There were cooking demonstrations by famous local chefs, handicraft demos by cottage industries, and local fishermen pitting their offshore skills such as the sewing and repairing of nets. Fairs which sold souvenirs, costumes and handicrafts, and indoor and outdoor games were added attractions.

There were songs and music aplenty from a legion of musicians. Not to be missed were the branyo folk dance and cultural performances that made the celebrations a truly Portuguese affair. The event is a reflection of how the settlement has become the bastion of Portuguese-Eurasian heritage and culture.

Most of the hymns at the mass at the settlement's chapel were sung in Cristang, the local Portuguese dialect.

The celebrations ended with a float parade of replicas of the 16th-century Portuguese ship, Flor de la Mar (Flower of the Sea), the fort A' Famosa (The Famous), fishing boats, costume-clad revellers, musicians and cultural group performances.

It was in 1641 that the Dutch conquered the Portuguese to take control of Malacca.

Read more: Marking the date the Portuguese came a-calling - Central - New Straits Times


November 13, 2011 16:01 PM

Submarine Museum To Draw More Tourists To Melaka

MELAKA, Nov 13 (Bernama) -- A decommissioned Royal Malaysian Navy submarine converted into a museum submarine will be opened for public tours for 10 days from Nov 22 at the 1Malaysia Square, Klebang here.

Melaka Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam said the submarine berthed yesterday and would be raised from the dock on Wednesday and transported to the exhibition site through a makeshift jetty three days later.

He said the French made SMD Ouessant (Agosta 70 class) submarine, which was built in 1979, had been handed over to the state government.

The submarine museum project costing RM12.6 million is expected to draw more tourists to Melaka, he told reporters during a site visit here today.

Tickets for the exhibition are priced at RM3 for adults and RM1 for children while senior citizens will get a 50 per cent discount, he told reporters at the Submarine Museum here today.

The Agosta submarine was used for the training of the first Malaysian submarines crews from 2005 to 2009 following a contract signed by Malaysia for the acquisition of two French Scorpene submarines in 2002.

The submarine was transported on a floating dock back to Malaysia on the first week of October and handed over to the Melaka government.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


A milestone for humble airfield

After celebrating 500 years of Portuguese culture recently, Malacca is looking to create excitement on a new front tomorrow, at 11.11am, to be precise. JASON GERALD JOHN reports

11.11AM on 11-11 is the scheduled time and date of departure for Melaka Air’s maiden flight to Medan. The flight will depart for Medan via Penang from Melaka International Airport (MIA) where a RM131 million runway extension was completed last year.

Aligning numbers is just one component of a sound business strategy.

Around 70,000 foreigners seek medical treatment in Malacca annually, and the state economic planners are all for flying them into the state directly without having to go through Kuala Lumpur International Airport or the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal in Sepang, Selangor.

And the number is just 0.1 per cent of the seven million middle-class population in Sumatra, Indonesia.

“With the new Melaka International Airport, we hope more patients from Sumatra will come here,” said Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam.

The airport was formerly known as Batu Berendam Airport.

Emphasising the Sumatra angle, four of the seven Melaka Air des - tinations are on the Indonesian island — Medan, Pekan Baru, Padang and Palembang.

The others are Penang and Kota Baru in Malaysia, and Hat Yai in Thailand.

Melaka Air is a joint-venture between Kuala Lumpur-based NN Flyers and the state-owned Melaka Foundation, with a paid-up capital of RM20 million.

The sole airline using the airport until now was Wings Air, which had been operating three weekly flights from Pekan Baru to Malacca since last year.

The airport handled 21,687 passengers last year. According to Wings Air representative Ridho Kosasih, around 80 per cent of the passengers travelling on his airline that year were Indonesians seeking medical treatment in the historical city.

Melaka Air will be using AT R - 7 2 turboprops, which are loaned from FireFly at a cost of US$190,000 (RM570,000).

Malacca, which is listed as a United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) World Heritage City, saw the arrival of 10.4 million tourists last year. This figure is expected to jump to 11 million by year-end.

Tunku’s historic arrival THE airport in Malacca is wellknown for receiving histor ic flights.

Fifty-five years ago, on Feb 20, 1956, the Merdeka Mission led by Tunku Abdul Rahman landed at Batu Berendam Airport (now renamed Melaka International Airport).

They had just arrived from London via Singapore, and a teeming crowd had gathered at Banda Hilir to listen to Tunku’s historic announcement.

Tunku, travelling from the airport in a Morris Minor, later announced that the Merdeka Agreement had been signed on Feb 8, 1956, and that the country would achieve independence on Aug 31, 1957, to shouts of Merdeka from the crowd.

Read more: A milestone for humble airfield


Go: Cruising down Venice of the East

The history of Malacca is about 700 years, perhaps older. PHILIP LIM goes on a river cruise and enjoys vistas of the ancient and modern

IF you are new to Malacca, one of the most pleasant ways of getting acquainted with the Unesco World Heritage Site (since 2008) is to take a river cruise.

I have been an absentee local visitor for the past 11 years. So a revisit to the city was long overdue. A friend told me that one of the nicest attractions in Malacca at present is to board a boat from the Quayside Heritage Centre and take a 45-minute cruise of Malacca River.

Much has happened in the years between the time when the river was an eyesore and it’s in fairly pristine condition now.

It has been about six years since the Malacca River was given a makeover and its murky waters had been treated and rendered visually presentable. The river boat jetty took about two years to complete.

A la Venice

The time spent on the boat is equivalent to a cruise along any of the big rivers in Europe. It is not a coincidence that Malacca in its golden era was nicknamed the Venice of the East.

The only difference is the temperature. The Malaysian weather on the day of our river boat trip is almost perfect.

The sky is a clear blue with only traces of clouds drifting above. There’s a gentle wind which caresses our cheeks as the boat skims the surface of the calm waters.

At last count, there are 26 river boats cruising the Malacca River ferrying passengers across a distance of about nine kilometres. These fibreglass boats are capable of sailing beneath the numerous bridges even at high tides.

At its lowest, the tide is still 0.8 metres which is manageable by the river boats.

A visual count during the river cruise reveals the presence of eight bridges.

They are Tan Kim Seng, Chan Koon Cheng (Ghostbridge of Malacca), Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat, Kampung Jawa, Kampung Morten, Old Bus Station and Pasar.

The river route has been deliberately designed and engineered for visitors to catch glimpses of river bank flower gardens, a Malay kampung, a windmill, a fort and the Christ Church of Malacca.

Excited cruisers
With us on the boat tour is a family of 10 tourists. They are quite enthusiastic and animated vocally at the novelty of seeing so many unfamiliar scenes outside their country.

Their loud conversations in Cantonese only add to the merriment of the occasion. At one stage of the cruise, the boatman spots a 150cm long monitor lizard lazing on a mangrove branch near the water edge.

One woman loudly exclaims in Cantonese: “This is so big, not even a family of 10 can finish it on the dining table!”

Those of us who understand her can only smile nervously. There are two young Caucasian women on board the boat as well. It would have been interesting to watch their reaction if they had understood the comment.

As far as I am concerned, it is the monitor lizard’s lucky day. It could have been born in another country, lived on another river and might have suffered the unfortunate fate of being the main course on a distant family’s evening menu.

A therapy of sort
The last boat ride ends around 11.30pm. A night cruise along the river is an exhilarating experience altogether because passengers can soak in the sights and sounds of a nocturnal Malacca.

Many of the trees lining the river cruise route are decorated with lights and the old buildings and ancient structures exude an aura that tell of bygone days that once made the city one of the busiest trading ports for hundreds of years.

The human body is susceptible to the lull of lapping waves and the concrete attractions by the river side at every turn and corner give your entire being a sense of high.

The Malacca River cruise is scheduled at a 30-minute interval beginning from 9.30am. Adult fare is RM10 and for children below 12 years, it is RM5. If you are organising a group tour, the Malacca River Cruise office can make arrangements for RM100 per boat.

Call 06-281 7322.

Fast Facts
Before the 15th Century, Malacca was just an ordinary fishing village. It began to flourish under the reign of Iskandar Shah (Parameswara). Before long, Arab traders began to call on the port city.

In the mid-15th Century, Chinese Muslim Admiral Cheng Ho paid a courtesy call on Malacca. According to historical records, Malacca soon became a vassal State of Ming China.

In 1511, the Portuguese seized Malacca and brought it under their control. One hundred thirty years would pass before the Dutch mounted an attack on Malacca and ousted the Portuguese. The year 1641 marked the beginning of the Dutch rule.

For the next 150 years, the Dutch presence in Malacca was supreme. In 1795, Holland (Netherlands) was conquered by the French and consequently the Dutch lost control of Malacca.

The Dutch absence was soon replaced by the British who took over after the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824.

Malacca was first governed by the British East India Company. It was only later that it became a British Crown Colony. Together with Singapore and Penang, Malacca became part of the British Straits Settlements.

Read more: Go: Cruising down Venice of the East

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Saturday November 5, 2011

What tree did Parameswara really see in Malacca?

IT is taken as a historical fact that Malacca was founded by Parameswara, who named it after the melaka tree. Parameswara, in the legendary account of the founding of Malacca, actually had no idea what the tree was.

He had seen a mouse deer kick one of his hunting dogs and, inspired by the fighting spirit of the mouse deer, he asked his followers “What is the name of the tree under which I am standing?” His followers replied “It is called melaka, your Highness”. Nobody said “Wait, let us check this out.”

I would like to present evidence that Parameswara was wrongly advised. Before anybody questions whether I am qualified to change history, let me explain that my comments are based on botany, and I am, after all, a qualified taxonomic botanist, one who deals with the naming and classification of plants.

The melaka tree, known in Sanskrit as amalaka', has an ancient and venerable history in Sanskrit culture and medicine.

What’s in a name? Phyllanthus pectinatus is native to Malacca but is often mistaken for Phyllanthus emblica from which Malacca is believed to have gotten its name.
When the Swedish founder of modern plant classification, Carolus Linnaeus, gave this tree its scientific name in 1753, he Latinised amalaka' to emblica' and placed it within the genus Phyllanthus. Hence the melaka tree became known in science as Phyllanthus emblica. Phyllanthus emblica is now planted all over Malacca as the state's iconic foundation tree.

However, what Parameswara saw must have been another species, Phyllanthus pectinatus, which has a superficial resemblance to Phyllanthus emblica.

Phyllanthus pectinatus was first described and named by Joseph Dalton Hooker in 1890, based on specimens collected in Perak, Malacca and Singapore.

I first became aware of the possible mis-identification when I planted melaka' trees in FRIM (Forest Research Institute Malaysia), some from seeds collected in a forest, and some from seeds collected from a garden.

When the trees grew and produced flowers and fruits I found that they represented two utterly different species. These differences are obvious when specimens of the two species are placed side by side for comparison.

In Phyllanthus emblica, the fruits are clustered at the base of rather robust leafy shoots whereas in Phyllanthus pectinatus they sway in the wind at the ends of the finely feathery leafy shoots.

Inside the fruit is a hard stony structure containing the seeds. This stony structure is sharply 3-angled in Phyllanthus pectinatus but rounded in Phyllanthus emblica. There are also differences in flower structure and in the appearance of the bark.

In trying to figure out the relationship between the two species, I checked the specimens of melaka' preserved at the herbarium of FRIM.

A herbarium is a place in which specimens collected by plant explorers are permanently preserved for scientific study and reference.

The FRIM herbarium serves as the national herbarium for Malaysia and it has specimens from all over the country, collected by botanists and foresters during the past 100 years of forest exploration. All the specimens of melaka' in FRIM were of Phyllanthus pectinatus.

When I had the opportunity to visit the world herbarium at Kew, I examined the collections from all over Asia, including the specimens seen by Joseph Dalton Hooker. I also went to the Botanic Gardens Singapore to check the specimens in its herbarium.

Putting all the information together, the picture that emerged was that Phyllanthus emblica has its natural range across India, Burma, Thailand, Indo-china and South China.

In contrast, Phyllanthus pectinatus has its natural range within the Malay Archipelago, especially in Sumatra, Malay Peninsula and Borneo. In their natural state, there is no geographical overlap between the two species.

In brief, Phyllanthus pectinatus is a true forest tree of the Malay Archipelago and it is particularly common in the forests of Malacca state.

In contrast, Phyllanthus emblica occurs only as a planted garden tree in the Malay Peninsula and the rest of the Malay Archipelago. It has never been able to escape and establish itself in our forests.

The best place to see Phyllanthus pectinatus is in the recreational forest of Ayer Keroh just outside the city. This area is now being redesignated as a botanical garden, but its core area is maintained as natural forest.

In this forest, there are many natural trees of Phyllanthus pectinatus, prominently mislabelled as Phyllanthus emblica. Just outside the forest, the true Phyllanthus emblica has been planted prominently in various locations for visitors to see.

Nobody has noticed that the native trees in the forest are a different species from the planted trees outside. What Malacca needs is a botanist, ideally a taxonomist cum horticulturist, to manage its botanical garden.

Malacca may have to accept that it has two iconic foundation trees: the tree that Parameswara saw and misidentified, and the tree it got mistaken for.

To me, the native tree is the more attractive of the two.

● Botanist and researcher Francis Ng is the former deputy director-general of the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia. He is now the botanical consultant to Bandar Utama City Centre Sdn Bhd and the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre. (


Melaka launches MelakaKAD for tourist spots

Posted on November 8, 2011, Tuesday

MELAKA:  Melaka has launched the MelakaKAD, an electronic card that will enable residents and tourists to make payments at tourist spots in Ayer Keroh and Bandar Hilir.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam said tourists, who use the facility, would enjoy a first class service.

He said the MelakaKAD could be obtained from a minimum deposit of RM10 up to RM2,000 by producing MyKad or passport at the Taming Sari Tower Tourist Information Centre, the Taming River Cruise office and the Melaka Planetarium.

“Cardholders could redeem the cash balance or top it up,” he told reporters after launching the MelakaKAD here recently.

The card, which used smart chip technology, would be accepted for payments of about 130 bills using the MEPCASH account through PosOnline at — Bernama

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Visitors take delight in Portuguese music, food

By Jason Gerald John and Adrian David

Musicians from the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca enchanting the crowd at the celebration of the 500-year anniversary of the arrival of the Portuguese in Malacca recently. — NST picture by Rasul Azli Samad

MALACCA: Visitors to the celebration of the 500-year anniversary of the arrival of the Portuguese in Malacca were captivated by the rich culture and tradition preserved by the community.
The four-day celebration, which ended last Saturday at the Portuguese Settlement in Ujong Pasir, was a huge success, said organising committee chairman Michael Singho.

Catia Barbara Dias Candeias, 29, one of the 15 visitors who flew in from Portugal, said Malacca did not feel like it was very far from home.

"The culture here in Malacca and back home is very much similar.

"We have the importance and the speciality of music in our blood. I'm very happy that this culture has not been forgotten here for the past 500 years."

Finnish student Hedvig Moetzfeldt, 22, said the rich cultural diversity in Malacca was unique as all the different races were living in a vibrant community.

"When I came to Malacca, I met a few other backpackers and I was told about this 500-year celebration in the Portuguese Settlement.

"I had a very good time here and I very much enjoyed the music, food and wonderful hospitality."

Besides foreign tourists, the celebration also attracted a number of locals outside Malacca.

Shamala Devi, 24, a student at Limkokwing University, also enjoyed the food while civil servant Azlina Mulup, 43, from Terengganu, spent most of her time shopping at various stalls in the settlement.

"The handicrafts are just awesome and I bought beads and other accessories to match a wide collection of my dresses," Azlina said.

Musician Jerry Singho, 51, said music was a big passion for the Portuguese community and it had always been a part of the community's culture not only in Malacca, but also around the world.

"I hope that the younger generation will carry on this passion in their hearts and keep it treasured. This celebration of 500 years is very special indeed.

"It took us just over a month to practice the songs that had been played.

"I'm glad that everyone enjoyed this event as there's a smile plastered on everyone's face here."

For senior settlement resident Augusta Pereira, 80, watching the community evolve in her lifetime had brought her great pride.

"I am very happy to have witnessed this celebration.

" The Portuguese culture is very unique and beautiful, and it is definitely felt by those who came for this wonderful event.

"I have 14 grandchildren and I hope that they, too, will carry on this tradition," she said.