Words & Images By: Nadge Ariffin
If you’re a history buff, like I am, you’d love going on ‘heritage trails’. A heritage trail or tour is any kind of visit organised and focussed on a theme of cultural heritage or history; be it a subject, period or place of historic interest or combinations of such. Of course, it would attract a group of like-minded people who share the interest, and usually would have at least one recognised knowledgeable person, guide or if lucky, an expert, accompanying the tour to convey in-depth or insightful information, plus further subject-matter experts or local guides at stops or localities in the itinerary.
On 20th and 21st February 2016, an inaugural ‘Melaka Sultanate Trail’ was conducted by Persatuan Warisan Kita (translated from Malay as Our Heritage Association). Warisan Kita for short, is an interest group that brings together history lovers, be they amateurs or experts, of the Nusantara or Malay Archipelago – which covers Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, southern Thailand, the Philippines and even beyond, wherever the Malayo-Polynesian or synonymously Austronesian ethno-linguistic groups historically have their homeland.
Melaka (alternate or old spelling Malacca), an old city on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula, has been an important and central part of the history of the Nusantara, and indeed the world especially in the subtext of colonialism. From the 14th century Melaka grew into an empire whose trading and political networks held sway over much of the Malay Archipelago and beyond. From the well organised spice godowns (from the Malay word ‘gudang’ or warehouse) of Melaka, Malay merchants and traders of nearly 100 nationalities of the time spread the precious spices and other goods that eventually reached the markets of Venice in the far west and Japan to the far east.
Under the imperial dynasty of a succession of powerful Muslim Sultans, Melaka also became the peaceful springboard from which Islam consolidated its spiritual conviction on a vast majority of Malayic peoples throughout the Archipelago. And because the empire used the Malay language as lingua franca, until today 350 million people in Southeast Asia speak modern forms of this versatile language. The stability that the imperial “Pax Melakana” brought in turn raised peace and prosperity throughout the region, and a flowering of inter-island and inter-regional exchange in trade, arts and culture.
But Melaka’s prosperous party was not to last. In August of 1511, a Portuguese invasion at precisely a time when there was some political disunity coupled with the treachery of some communities caused the city to fall into the hands of the Portuguese. The imperial family fled and managed to retain their hold over the rest of the empire, as only their capital city was taken. Much of where the Sultanate continued was in what is today the neighbouring state of Johor to the south of Melaka, leaving a succession of known administrative centres, royal graves and mausoleums plus archaeological artifacts.
This was the focus of Warisan Kita’s Melaka Sultanate Trail.