Role of Indian Muslim Tamils in the Sultanate of Malacca.
Role of Indian Muslim Tamils in the Sultanate of Malacca
Early Indian traders were like floating icebergs along the Malacca Straits, melting at the ports of Sumatra and Peninsula Malaya. One such melting pot which became a strategic trading port to traders from far and near was none other than Malacca. It commanded the main sea route between India and China through the Strait that now bears its name. Malacca's exotic history is intricately intertwined with the history of the ancient Spice Route. With its strategic crosswinds location, at the heart of Southeast Asia, Malacca was an ancient maritime base pivotal to the trade routes from Europe, the Orient, India and China.
Conquest of Malacca
The European Nations started a hunting trip to the East, in the name of colonisation, in search for spice, power and fame. They soon sought to eliminate each other by forcibly taking control of the production centers, trade hubs and vital strategic locations, beginning with the Portuguese acquisition of Malacca in 1511. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, colonial conquests focused on ports along the maritime routes, that provided a secure passage of maritime trade. Europeans had always been a small numerical minority in the maritime trade of Asia at that time, but they wrote far too much and little too cleverly to seek the limelight. History books today glorify the hunters rather than the hunted.
Tamil Indian traders played an important role in the rise and fall of the Malacca Sultanate both as heroes and villains. Even before the inception of the Malacca sultanate by a Hindu prince from Palembang in 1401, spice traders from India had already visited and traded in Malacca. One cannot deny that, at times, history becomes a one sided account when the past is written by those who control the present. Malaysian school syllabus for secondary schools mentions the likes of Albuquerque and of course, Sultan Mahmud , but it leaves out some colourful characters, especially the Tamil speaking Indian traders who monopolised the Malacca port . Many of these traders were rich and powerful and served faithfully in the Malacca Sultanate and sadly some double-crossed both the Malacca Rulers and the Colonial Masters. Whatever it is, the Indians had a great impact in the glorious past of glittering Malacca.
Malacca expanded as a great port, not only due to its strategic location, but also the good facilities and cordial hospitality provided by the rulers for the traders. Special settlements were allocated to the Arab, Chinese and Indian traders and above all, the rulers protected them from pirates who infested the Straits then. Merchants were allowed to trade freely and the thickly populated Tamil speaking Indians were given a place called Kg Keling. Their financial stability and ability to overcome language barrier not only made them to mingle with the locals freely and easily, but also magnetised the local women. These marriages to Indians, Chinese and Arab traders, brought about a new identity to the locals in the form of dressing, food and festivals. Many of these traders chose to settle in rich secured Malacca instead of floating like icebergs in the dangerous waters of the Indian Ocean.
With the passing of time, these traders and merchants created their own communities and one such community was the Peranakans. Many are aware of the Chinese Peranakans of Malacca, but lack knowledge of the Indian Malacca Peranakans. The Indian Peranakans were called ‘ Chitty’ or ‘Chetti’ community.
The word ‘Chetti’ refers to people from South India from the ‘Chettiar’ caste. The Chetti community adapted the Baba Nyonya and Malay cultures and they look more Malay than Indian although they maintained their ancestor’s beliefs.
Whilst it is true that Chetty means to most Malaysians ‘moneylenders’, many today are not aware of the Chetti Peranakans of Malacca. The main settlement of this community in Malacca is at kampung Tujoh, Gajah Berang.They have been here for six generations and today only about 30 families are left.
Masjid kg Keling Malacca
The mother tongue of the generations of the Chetties since the Malacca Sultanate period is Malay and you will be surprised to find the present generation of this community
unable to speak the language of their ancestors, especially Tamil. This is the case of the Indian community of Medan in Indonesia. (You can read my article of ‘Medan Indians’, in my previous articles).
(End of Part I)
To be continued……….
Note: ( I have written this article in 4 parts and will post continuously from Today).
Role of Indian Muslim Tamils in the Sultanate of Malacca
The Indonesian archipelago saw the rise of Indian empires in Sumatra and Java. In the islands of Southeast Asia the first organised state to achieve fame was the Hindu Malay kingdom of Srivijaya, with its capital at Palembang in southern Sumatra. Like most of the early kingdoms of Southeast Asia, Srivijaya was Dravidian in culture and administration, and Buddhism became firmly entrenched there.
It was from Palembang, the Hindu ruler, Parameswara fled to Tumasik, (present Singapore) and founded Malacca.
Sultan Muhammad, the third Sultan of Malacca is said to have converted to Islam because of the possibility of marriage with the daughter of a Tamil Muslim.
He had two sons from two different wives, Raja Kassim and Raja Ibrahim. Raja Kasim was the son of Tun Wati , daughter of a wealthy Indian merchant and Raja Ibrahim, the son of the Princess of Rokan.
Sultan Mahmud was succeeded by his younger son, Raja Ibrahim, who reigned as Sultan Abu Syahid Shah. Abu Syahid was a weak ruler and his administration was largely controlled by Raja Rokan, a cousin of his mother who stayed in the court of Malacca during his reign. The situation prompted the court officials to plan the assassination of Raja Rokan and to install Abu Syahid's older brother Raja Kasim to the throne. Both the Sultan and Raja Rokan were eventually killed in the attack. Raja Kasim (Tamil Muslim blood), was then appointed as the fifth ruler of Malacca and reigned as Sultan Muzaffar Shah.
His uncle, Tun Ali was an influential Tamil Muslim leader who allegedly conspired to assassinate Raja Ibrahim so that his nephew could ascend the throne. When the Bedahara died, the king made Tun Perpatih Serdang as the successor and sadly, he commited suicide. He left behind a daughter by the name of Tun Kudu and a son Tun Perak. According to tradition, it was Tun Perak who has to succeed his father as Bendahara, but the king chose to make Tun Ali ( Tamil Muslim blood) the Bendahara out of gratitude for helping him ascend the throne.
Interestingly the king married Tun Perak’s sister, Tun Kudu. Meanwhile, Tun Perak, was sent away to Klang and made chieftain there to avoid any political turmoil. Tun Perak's rise in the political arena created tension between him and Tun Ali. Seeing that the feud between these two powerful leaders can lead to disunity among the people of Malacca, the king decided to level with Tun Ali, who was a middle-aged widower at the time. Tun Ali agreed to step down as Prime Minister provided he be allowed to marry Tun Kudu, who was one of the Sultan's wives.
Sultan Muzaffar Shah consented to divorce his wife for the sake of political stability and Tun Kudu also agreed to marry Tun Ali for the well being of the country.
The sacrifice of Sultan Muzaffar Shah and Tun Kudu was not in vain. Tun Ali and Tun Perak became close friends and even worked together for the development of Malacca. Soon, Tun Ali himself supported the Sultan's decision to appoint Tun Perak as Bendahara.
After the death of Sultan Muzaffar Shah, his son Raja Abdullah became the next ruler of Malacca taking the name Sultan Mansur Shah. He had several wives namely Tun Nur Pualam (Tamil Muslim) , daughter of Tun Ali and Hang Li po from China.
Hang Li Po was supposedly given by Ming China, but it is disputed whether Hang Li Po ever existed since she was never recorded in the Ming dynasty records.
In 2014, historian Khoo Kay Kim claimed Hang Li Po was a myth. Khoo argued that because the Ming shi-lu (imperial records of the Ming dynasty) contained no record of either her or her marriage, she must be a fabrication. Mansur Shah also used marriage alliances between princesses of Malacca and the rulers of conquered states to strengthen Malacca’s control over those states, such as marriage between the king of Siak to his daughter, Princess Mahadewi.
Princesses of conquered states were also married to the Sultan of Malacca, such as Princess Wanang Seri of Pahang and Raden Galoh Candra Kirana of Majapahit. Siantan and Indragiri in Sumatra were also given to Malacca as dowry for his marriage to the princess of Majapahit.
It was during Mansur Shah's reign that Hang Tuah, the ultimate Malay hero and symbol of honour, courage and loyalty was made Laksamana or Admiral. Mansur Shah's reign was the peak of Melaka's meteoric rise to Empire and became the golden age of Malay folklore and culture.
To be continued……………….