A History of the Malay Peninsula

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Golden Chersonese

Portuguese Conquest

The Johore Empire

Dutch East India

The Straits Settlements

The Kedah Blockade

The Selangor Civil War

The Perak War

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British Malaya

Portuguese Conquistadors

On September 1, 1509, European contact with the Malay Peninsula was first established when a Portuguese squadron of five ships under Diego Lopez de Sequeira sailed into port. They were welcome oddities at first - the Malays called them Bengali Putih, or white Bengalis - but the Sultan was soon pressured by Melaka's Indian merchants to attack the new infidels. This was due to the threat of trade rivalry as well as word reaching them of Portuguese cruelty to Muslims in India.

Diego Lopez de Sequeira

The Malays unexpectedly attacked the small flotilla, the Portuguese barely escaping leaving behind two of their ships and some twenty of their countrymen. One of the men who escaped was Ferdinand Magellan, who was later to become the first man to circumnavigate the world.
n 1511, a much larger fleet under Alphonso d'Albuquerque attacked Melaka and captured it. This premeditated attack, on the face of it, was to avenge the ill-treatment of de Sequeira's mission. But the prime motivation of this attack was not reprisal: the Portuguese conquerors had certain well-defined aims in taking Malacca. Firstly, they had a vague notion of Malacca's position as a great entrepot of South-east Asia and the gateway to the Spice Islands. It was the desire to take part in this lucrative spice trade that had brought the Portuguese into Asian waters, and the seizure of Malacca seemed to promise them control this trade.

Aphonso d'Albuquerque

Then there was the religious factor: Portuguese expansion into Asia was partly stimulated by their crusading zeal which led to the pursuit of an aggressive policy against all Muslims. - having just freed themselves of Moorish domination at home. Malacca was a centre of Muslim power in the region and the home of a growing Muslim community, and the Portuguese believed its capture would be a great victory for Christ.

Although well entrenched in Malacca, the Portuguese showed little interest in expanding their territory on the peninsula: as a matter of fact, their policy was to steer clear of any involvement in Malay politics. The usual Portuguese modus operandi was to send a fleet to bombard a port into submission, set up a fortified base and use their fleet to control the waters surrounding it. Territorial expansion demanded large financial and manpower resources, neither of which the Portuguese possessed in Melaka. The number of Portuguese in Malacca at any one time never exceeded 600; the average was much below this figure.

Much as they wished to be free from the politics of the area, the, Portuguese nevertheless became involved in long and bitter wars with the leading powers in the Malay Archipelago. Opposition to the Portuguese came from Johore, Acheh and the Javanese. Johore was particularly hostile as the home base of the expelled ruler of Malacca, Sultan Mahmud, who established himself in Bintang and launched a series of attacks to recapture Malacca.

The Portuguese repulsed these attacks eventually decided to take the offensive. The Malay fort at Muar was captured and in 1526 Bintang was destroyed. Mahmud was again forced to flee, this time to Sumatra and it was left to his son, Alauddin, to try to recapture Malacca. The Johore rulers continued preying on Portuguese merchant vessels, and the Portuguese retaliated by sending punitive expeditions. One such expedition sacked the Johore capital, Johore Lama, in 1587. When the Dutch arrived on the scene early in the seventeenth century, the Johore Sultans found them a ready ally. It was this Johore-Dutch alliance that eventually led to the expulsion of the Portuguese from Malacca - and the rise of a new European power in the region.

The Fall Of Melaka

Cannon fire marks Europe's entry into east Asia

Enrique of Melaka

Was the first man to sail around the world a Malay?

Spice and Christ

Portugal ushers in the Age of Discovery

About the Author

Write to the author: sabrizain@malaya.org.uk

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