Sunday, April 10, 2005

You Say Melaka, I Say Malacca

Melaka (or Malacca as it used to be known) once used to be one of the most important and powerful cities in all of Asia as it controlled the Straights of Malacca, through which all the shipping trade from India and Arabia to China had to travel. As such it was continually fought over by the local kingdoms and, after 1500, European powers as well. So that, successively, Melaka was ruled over by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English (who were ceded control by the Dutch during the Napoleonic wars), the Dutch and the English again, until Independence after WW2.

Seeing as Melaka is such a historically significant city it has its fair share of old buildings and museums, the most interesting, by far, being the rather incongruous museum of Enduring Beauty. Here, however, enduring does not mean lasting but rather suffering. The museum is a litany of all the methods different peoples have devised to deform themselves in the name of aesthetics, from 30cm lip-plates to 10cm feet and everything in between. Very morbid!

On a more cultural note, Melaka is also the resting place of two of Malaysia's legendary heroes: Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat. These two brothers were the champions of the local sultan, and renowned for their loyalty and bravery. Then, one day, the sultan orders Tuah to be executed because he has allegedly been fooling around with one of his maids (this turns out to be a false accusation). When Jebat hears of this he goes on a rampage against the sultan for killing his brother. The sultan is a bit remorseful for killing Tuah now, not because of any feeling of guilt, but because Tuah is the only one who can stop Jebat! Luckily for him Tuah wasn't executed but was hidden by a friend of his and so he returns from hiding to fight for the sultan (even though it was the sultan that ordered his execution and Jebat is fighting for Tuah's honour). In the end Tuah kills Jebat. But the beauty is the moral of the story: no matter what happens, you shouldn't fight against the sultan even if he is entirely in the wrong. It's the above mindset that means that the present day sultans (there are 9 of them in Malaysia and they take it in turns to be "king" for 5-year terms) are practically above the law, which means that they can literally get away with murder.

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