Portuguese Malacca, 1511-1641

Portuguese Malacca was the territory of Malacca that, for 130 years (1511–1641), was a Portuguese colony.

According to the 16th-century Portuguese historian Emanuel Godinho de Erédia, the site of the old city of Malacca was named after the Myrobalans, fruit-bearing trees along the banks of a river called Airlele (Ayer Leleh). The Airlele river was said to originate from Buquet China (present-day Bukit Cina). Eredia cited that the city was founded by Permicuri (i.e. Parameswara) the first King of Malacca in 1411.

The capture of Malacca

The news of Malacca’s wealth attracted the attention of Manuel I, King of Portugal and he sent Admiral Diogo Lopes de Sequeira to find Malacca, to make a trade compact with its ruler as Portugal’s representative east of India. The first European to reach Malacca and Southeast Asia, Sequeira arrived in Malacca in 1509. Although he was initially well received by Sultan Mahmud Shah trouble however quickly ensued. The general feeling of rivalry between Islam and Christianity was invoked by a group of Goa Muslims in the sultan’s court after the Portuguese had captured Goa. The international Muslim trading community convinced Mahmud that the Portuguese were a grave threat. Mahmud subsequently captured several of his men, killed others and attempted to attack the four Portuguese ships, although they escaped. As the Portuguese had found in India, conquest would be the only way they could establish themselves in Malacca.

In April 1511, Afonso de Albuquerque set sail from Goa to Malacca with a force of some 1200 men and seventeen or eighteen ships. The Viceroy made a number of demands—one of which was for permission to build a fortress as a Portuguese trading post near the city. The Sultan refused all the demands. Conflict was unavoidable, and after 40 days of fighting, Malacca fell to the Portuguese on 24 August. A bitter dispute between Sultan Mahmud and his son Sultan Ahmad also weighed down the Malaccan side.

Following the defeat of the Malacca Sultanate in 15 August 1511 in the capture of Malacca, Afonso de Albuquerque sought to erect a permanent form of fortification in anticipation of the counterattacks by Sultan Mahmud. A fortress was designed and constructed encompassing a hill, lining the edge of the sea shore, on the south east of the river mouth, on the former site of the Sultan’s palace. Albuquerque remained in Malacca until November 1511 preparing its defences against any Malay counterattack. Sultan Mahmud Shah was forced to flee Malacca.

A Portuguese port in a hostile region

As the first base of European Christian trading kingdom in Southeast Asia, it was surrounded by numerous emerging native Muslim states. Also, with hostile initial contact with the local Malay policy, Portuguese Malacca faced severe hostility. They endured years of battles started by Malay sultans who wanted to get rid of the Portuguese and reclaim their land. The Sultan made several attempts to retake the capital. He rallied the support from his ally the Sultanate of Demak in Java who, in 1511, agreed to send naval forces to assist. Led by Pati Unus, the Sultan of Demak, the combined Malay–Java efforts failed and were fruitless. The Portuguese retaliated and forced the sultan to flee to Pahang. Later, the sultan sailed to Bintan Island and established a new capital there. With a base established, the sultan rallied the disarrayed Malay forces and organized several attacks and blockades against the Portuguese’s position. Frequent raids on Malacca caused the Portuguese severe hardship. In 1521 the second Demak campaign to assist the Malay Sultan to retake Malacca was launched, however once again failed with the cost of the Demak Sultan’s life. He was later remembered as Pangeran Sabrang Lor or the Prince who crossed (the Java Sea) to North (Malay Peninsula). The raids helped convince the Portuguese that the exiled sultan’s forces must be silenced. A number of attempts were made to suppress the Malay forces, but it wasn’t until 1526 that the Portuguese finally razed Bintan to the ground. The sultan then retreated to Kampar in Riau, Sumatra where he died two years later. He left behind two sons named Muzaffar Shah and Alauddin Riayat Shah II.

Muzaffar Shah was invited by the people in the north of the peninsula to become their ruler, establishing the Sultanate of Perak. Meanwhile, Mahmud’s other son, Alauddin succeeded his father and made a new capital in the south. His realm was the Johor Sultanate, the successor of Malacca.

Several attempts to remove Malacca from Portuguese rule were made by the Sultan of Johor. A request sent to Java in 1550 resulted in Queen Kalinyamat, the regent ofJepara, sending 4,000 soldiers aboard 40 ships to meet the Johor sultan’s request to take Malacca. The Jepara troops later joined forces with the Malay alliance and managed to assemble around 200 warships for the upcoming assault. The combined forces attacked from the north and captured most of Malacca, but the Portuguese managed to retaliate and force back the invading forces. The Malay alliance troops were thrown back to the sea, while the Jepara troops remained on shore. Only after their leaders were slain did the Jepara troops withdraw. The battle continued on the beach and in the sea resulting in more than 2,000 Jepara soldiers being killed. A storm stranded two Jepara ships on the shore of Malacca, and they fell prey to the Portuguese. Fewer than half of the Jepara soldiers managed to leave Malacca.

In 1567, Prince Husain Ali I Riayat Syah from the Sultanate of Aceh launched a naval attack to oust the Portuguese from Malacca, but this once again ended in failure. In 1574 a combined attack from Aceh Sultanate and Javanese Jepara tried again to capture Malacca from the Portuguese, but ended in failure due to poor coordination.

Competition from other ports such as Johor saw Asian traders bypass Malacca and the city began to decline as a trading port.[3] Rather than achieving their ambition of dominating it, the Portuguese had fundamentally disrupted the organisation of the Asian trade network. Rather than a centralised port of exchange of Asian wealth exchange, or a Malay state to police the Strait of Malacca that made it safe for commercial traffic, trade was now scattered over a number of ports amongst bitter warfare in the Straits.



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