Malacca's Trivia and Folklore

The Legend of Pulau Besar
St. Francis Lore
The First School in Malaysia
Admiral Cheng Ho's Famous Fingerprint
A Chinese Princess and A Magic Well
Population of Malacca in 1881

 

 

 

The Legend of Pulau Besar

The largest of eight islands off the coast of Malacca, Pulau Besar covers an area of approximately 133 hectares and is said to resemble the shape of a pregnant woman. In fact, the island has long been associated with intriguing legends and myths.

The most famous of these has it that several hundred years ago, a beautiful and kind-hearted princess of the Sultanate of Malacca fell in love with a fisherman from Sumatra. When the fisherman had to return to Sumatra, he promised the princess that he would return to marry her.

A few months later, misfortune was to befall the happy couple when the boat the fisherman was on, capsized on its way to Malacca after being caught in a raging storm. The young fisherman was to go down with the ship.

All this time, the princess had been waiting patiently for the fisherman's return. She was soon to discover that she was pregnant. Hearing no news and in total desperation, she threw herself into the sea. Legend has it that her body miraculously floated to the site of her lover's capsized ship and remained there. This is said to account for the shape of the island of Pulau Besar.

Another legend is about the shrine of the seven princesses  The seven maidens were said to have been on their way to Pulau Besar from India in order to deepen their mysticism. Alas, their ship was also to sink along the way. The graves of the seven princesses were buried on the island and can still be seen until today.

There is a cave called "Yunos Cave".  It is believed that in ancient times, warriors came to the cave to learn the art of mysticism. It was also used for the training of the art of 'silat', a form of martial arts.

And then there is the famous Batu Belah or Split Rock. When looking at the rock, you should bear in mind the story behind it. It tells the tale of a young apprentice who did not obey the teachings of his master who told him never to misuse his power. He choose not to heed this advice. Before he could repent, his master took out his sword and sliced the rock he was sitting on. The apprentice was to fall between the cracks, after which the rock was to mysteriously rejoin, trapping the apprentice forever.


 

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ST. Francis Lore

St. Francis Xavier visited Malacca four times in the 16th. Century. On one of his visits, the story goes he lost his crucifix at sea when he calmed the water during a heavy storm.

Fr. Francis Xavier was travelling from one island to the next in the natives boats and on that particular day there was a big storm and his boat nearly capsized. He held the crucifix in his hand and said a prayer, and then he dipped the crufix in the rough sea which immediately calmed down and the storm went away. But, unfortunately, his crucifix fell to the bottom of the sea. The next day while praying for its return he was surprised to see a crab crawling up the beach to him holding his crucifix in its claws. With great joy he picked up the crucifx and blessed the crab, and the crab disappeared towards the the calm sea. On the shell of this species of crab, there is a distinct sign of the cross. Until today they are still found in the Straits of Malacca, but the Portuguese fisherman believe they are holy and won't eat them.

 

 

A tale hard to believe but eye witness to this incident was a Portuguese gunner, Fausta Rodrigues who wrote it down on its dairy which is on display in the National Musuem, Lisbon, Portugal. In the Chapel of the Royal Palce, Madrid, Spain is displayed the crucifix with the scratching of the crab's claws.

 

 

St Francis Xavier died off the coast of China and his body was buried in Malacca for six months before going on to its final resting place in Goa, India. In 1614, the Pope requested the right arm of Saint to be severed from his corpse and sent to Rome. Blood was said to have gushed out of the arm even though he had been dead for 62 years. Immediately after Fr Francsi Xavier was canonised a Saint in 1622 what remain of the right arm in Rome was merely skeleton. But the body in Goa remains incorrupt minus the right arm. In 1952 the Bishop of Macau decided to put up a statue in front of the St Paul's Church. A carars marble statue was ordered from Italy and was sculptured by the famous Italian sculpture, G.Toni and was ready for the forth centenary celebrations on the 22 March 1953. One quiet night a huge tree fell, burying the statue. On clearing the branches, the statue was found to be intact except for the right arm which had broken off. This is yet another miracle of St. Francis Xavier to show that his incorrupt body in Goa today is without the right hand. Until today visitor toSt Paul's hill can still witness this phenomenon with the statue standing without the right hand.

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The First School In Malaysia

 

 

THE Malay language counts, in its vocabulary, about 450 Portuguese words. Sekolah is one of them and it comes from the Portuguese word "escola". Perhaps the first school ever to exist in Malaya, in the present concept of school, was started in Malacca by St. Francis Xavier.

When he arrived, for the first time, in Malacca, in 1545, he felt immediately the great need to start a school. the Portuguese were already, here for more than 30 years. It was natural that they should do something for the educatibn of their children. It seems, as the saint himself stated it, that the children used as reading. material, reports of court cases.

On the 2nd of April, 1548, writing from Goa to his friend Diogo Pereira in Malacca he said:- "I am sending from here to Malacca two of our society Francisco Peres, a priest. The other, who is not yet a priest, is to teach the children to read so that they, in future, may read pious and holy books rather than those law reports which circulate in Malacca". This seems quite possible, for text books were not easy to get.

The new comers to Malacca were Fr. Francisco Peres and Brother Roque de Oliveira. They arrived in Malacca on the 28th of May, 1548. Roque de Oliveira, on his arrival started immediately registering the students. . It is said that the school began with 120 pupils. By the end of the year, Fr.Francisco Peres, writing to Ignatius de Loyola said that the school had 180 students.

In the following year, 1549, the student population increased for the Saint wrote to Fathers Paulo Camorim and Antonio Gomes. There, in Malacca, is Roque de Oliveira. He is the master of a big school of boys. Some of them he teaches to write and read our language, others he teaches Grammar and Latin. The school functioned in the morning and in the afternoon. At midday the boys were brought to the chapel on St.Paul's Hill; they had religious instruction given by Fr. Peres. In the afternoon the school opened again. Perhaps this school programme was to cope with the large number of students for the capacity of the. building was small.

The school functioned in two houses, which stood where the former Governor's house stands today. They were given by the Archbishop of Goa to the Jesuits. By 1578, a new building was erected. It was hard work, for it was finished in 8 months. Fr. Francisco Chaves, writing to the General of the Jesuits in Rome from Malacca, stated:-"The college has been rebuilt almost entirely from the foundations. lt was finished within eight months, while Fr.Valignano was here. It is one of the best colleges of India. It has a wing with 8 rooms, four on either side with a corridor, running right through. Another corridor with two large rooms cuts it in the middle. On one side there is a verandah which commands a pretty view of the sea and land".

St.Francis Xavier started at least four colleges, one in Goa, one in Cochin, one in Malacca and another in Ternate. He gave great importance to these colleges. The college of Santa Fe, in Goa, was a place of great learning. The coIleges were opened to Portuguese and natives. The policy was to give education to the children of important people, as they in turn, would have great influence. The son of the Sultan of Temate, after attending the college at Temate, went to Goa to the college of Santa Fe.

On the 20th of June, 1549 St. Francis, writing from Malacca to Father Joao Beira, said that he was leaving for Japan, with three Portuguese and three Japanese, who learned to write and read in the college of Santa Fe.

From the Malacca College, as from the others, were sent the best students to further their studies in Goa. Manuel Godinho de Eredia, a great cosmographer and admiral of the South Seas, -was one of the most distinguished students of Malacca College. He was the son of a Portuguese officer -and the daughter of the King of Supa (Macassar). Joao Eredia while in Supa fell in love with the daughter of the King. She ran away with the young officer and they married in St.Paul1s Chapel. His wife now Dona Elena Visiva gave to her husband four children. One of them was Manuel Godinho de Eredia, who made his first studies in the Malacca College. Later he went to Goa, where he continued- his studies to become a Jesuit. But he had no vocation for the priesthood. -He had a brilliant post as a sailor. His brother Domingos de Eredia also made his studies in Malacca College, but later he went to Goa. He became a priest and in 1605, was the head of a new school in Malacca, ran by the Cathedral fathers, perhaps the second sekolah in the country.

The main objective, besides providing education for children of influential people, was to form young men from all parts of Asia and South East Asia, who would become priests or auxilliary brothers, if they had no vocation or then, "linguas" (or interpreters) to help the missionaries in their apostolic work.

St. Paul's College was perhaps the first school, ever opened in this country, but if it was not, this extraordinary man of God was certainly the pioneer of all Christian schools in Malaysia.

 

Source: The Voice of the Ruins by Manuel Joaquim Pintado

 

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Legend of Admiral Cheng Ho's Famous Fingerprints

 

On a voyage to Malacca from China in the early 15th century, Admiral Cheng Ho's ship was nearly wrecked as there was a hole in the keel. It was miraculously plugged by a fish that swam into the hole. Only on reaching port did the Admiral discover this strange event. When he removed the fish, his fingerprints incredibly appeared on its side. To the Chinese, this is known as the "Sam Po" fish and this fish still do appear in abundance in the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca with the apparent shadow of Admiral Cheng Ho's fingerprints visible on them even today.

 

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A Chinese Princess and A Magic Well

 



 

On a hill at the back of the town, Chinese tombs are left unattended by relatives for generations and most names and dates have been eroded by the rains.  What remains is an old, half forgotten cemetery on Bukit China, "China Hill" and the story of a Ming princess.

In ancient times, Malacca and China carried on a diplomatic war of wits which grew to be legendary.  Around 1460, when Sultan Mansur Shah ruled Malacca, A Chinese ship sailed into port with special orders from the Son Of Heaven.  The entire interior of the ship was delicately pinned with gold needles and the message sent to the Sultan read: "For every gold needle, I have a subject; if you could count their number, then you would know my power."

The Sultan was impressed,  but dismayed.  He sent back a ship stuffed with bags of sago with the message:"If you can count the grains of sago on this ship you will have guessed the number of my subjects correctly, and you will know my power."   The Chinese Emperor was so intrigued that he sent his daughter, Princess Hang Li Poh to marry the Sultan.  She came with no less than 500 ladies in waiting, all of great beauty.  The Sultan gave them "the hill without the town" as as private residence and promised that the land they occupied would never be taken away from them.  To this day, Bukit China belong to Malacca's Chinese community.  Many of the graves there date back to the Ming Dynasty; they are among the oldest Chinese relics in Malaysia.

Princess Hang Li Poh's followers built a well at the foot of the hill, whose water soon became as legendary as her marriage contract.  The Chinese says that after Admiral Cheng Ho drank from the well, its water attained an extraordinary purity.   It never dried up, even during the most severe drought and many believed that if visitors drank from it they would return to Malacca someday again.

Animated Well

Now, the Perigi Raja, or Sultan's Well, is protected by wire mesh.  It has not dried up and its purity has entered history. Historically however, it is improbable that Admiral Cheng Ho had any thing to do with this well because he visited Malacca long before Hang Li Poh entourage arrived in Malacca

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The Population of Malacca in 1881

 

By the census of 1881 the resident European population of the Settlement of Malacca consists of 23 males and 9 females, a "grand" total of 32! The Eurasian population, mainly of Portuguese mixed blood, is 2,213. The Chinese numbers 19,741, 4,020 being females. The Malay population is 67,488, the females being 2,000 in excess of the males, the Tamils or Klings are 1,781, the Arabs 227, the Aborigines of the Peninsula 308, the Javanese 399, the Boyanese 212, and the Jawi-Pekans 867. Besides these there are stray Achinese, Africans, Anamese, Bengalis, Bugis, Dyaks, Manilamen, Siamese, and Singhalese, numbering 174. The total population of the territory is 93,579, viz., 52,059 males and 41,520 females, an increase in ten years of 15,823. The decrease in the number of resident Europeans is 31.9 per cent. In "natives of India" 42 per cent., and in "other nationalities" 48.9 per cent. On the other hand the Chinese population has increased by 6,259 or 46.4 per cent., and the Malays by 11,264, or 19.3 per cent. The town of Malacca contains 5,538 houses, and the country districts 11,177. The area of the settlement is 640 square miles, and the density of the population 146 to the square mile; only twelve of the population are lunatics.

 

Source: The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither by Isablella L. Bird

 

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