Historic Centres of Melaka and Penang Social and Cultural History

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Historic Centres of Melaka and Penang
Social and Cultural History

I.Introduction

Today if one were to look down from an aerial view over the cities of Melaka (used to be spelt as Malacca) and Penang on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia, one would be able to discern a colourful mosaic of artifacts and people, characteristic of the living cultures of both the historic cities. Melaka which is about 600 years old from its founding and Penang or “Pearl of the Orient” which is 215 years after being taken over by the British, have a very strong semblance in their multi-cultural characteristics which developed over the years through the processes of history. For these living cultures, Melaka and Penang deserve to be considered as World Heritage Cities.

Melaka is situated 2 degrees north of the equator and very well known in the local legend as a fortunate land for, “even the pelandok (mouse deer) was full of courage.” It went through the age of glory for slightly more than 100 years under the rule of the Malay sultanate, when it became one of the greatest ports in Asia, if not the world. However, it fell into European hands for more than 400 years after that: the Portuguese ruled for 130 years, the Dutch for 160 years and the British for 133 years. In 1948 it became part of the Federation of Malaya and gained her independence with the rest of the peninsula in 1957.

The other proposed heritage city is Penang which became a British possession in 1786 when Francis Light, a British country trader, was able to conclude a treaty with the Sultan of Kedah for the East India Company. Penang became the first leg for the British to set themselves into peninsular Malaysia, and was intended to be a British naval base and a trading centre. Situated at the northern end of the Straits of Melaka, it could challenge the Dutch in the south. Light was very hopeful of Penang as he had earlier indicated in his letter to his company, Jourdain, Sulivan and De Souza, “…European ships can easily stop there. There is plenty of wood, water and provisions; there they may be supplied with tin, pepper, beetle-nut, rattans, birds-nests; . and the Macao ships will be glad to stop there, and all other vessels passing through the streights may be as easily supplied as at Malacca [by the Dutch]…”[1]

Indeed it soon became a metropolitan city when people from all over the world were allowed to settle in and trade with Penang. In the earlier stage it was ruled by the British as a Presidency from Bengal under the East India Company, and became part of the Straits Settlements since 1826 together with Melaka and Singapore. As in Melaka, Penang was made part of the Federation of Malaya in 1948 which gained its independence in 1957 II.The Foundation of Heritage Cities

Melaka and Penang have left behind historical legacies that deserve to be recognised by the World Heritage Convention. Melaka fits criteria 24(a)(iv) indicating the depth of layers of history in Melaka dating back from the 14th century to the present, and Georgetown in Penang fits in criteria (v) which acknowledges the breadth of typical traditional urban fabric and vital traditional activities that still remains. However, it is the multi-cultural population of both the cities of Melaka and Penang today, that make them unique. They are the result of hundreds of years of history.

III.Melaka “The Historical City” (paragraph 27(ii))

Today Melaka is officially known as The Historical City (Bandar Bersejarah) because the histories of the Malays are said to have started from here. Founded at the end of the 14th century by Parameswara, a prince from the declining Srivijaya empire in Sumatra, it became one of the largest entrepot in Southeast Asia by the beginning of the 15th century. Being strategically placed at one of the narrowest spots on the Straits of Melaka and geographically blessed as the area where the northeast and southwest monsoons met, it became...
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