(by Khairul Azim)

As a trading port, Malacca became a meeting point for every seafaring nation. Persians, Arabs, Tamils, Malabarese and Bengalis from the west; Javanese, Sudanese and Sulus from the archipelago; Chinese, Thais, Burmese as well as Khmers ventured here in search of profit through trade, piracy and plunder. Each in turn left something of their own culture to be forged and blended into a new and unique mix.

Malacca today is a land of many sights and attractions, rich in colour and contrasts. The multi-racial population live and work in harmony, yet preserving the traditions and cultures unique to each race. Malacca's fascinating cultures are strongly evident everywhere one goes. From the typical roadside stall to the royal palace, the rich heritage of Melaka's cultural traits continue to influence the lives of the people here.
Cultural diversity abound in the games played, in the savoury food prepared, in the many art forms and pastimes, in the colourful festivals that are reverently looked forward to and indeed in the many facets of their lifestyles. So rich and fascinating are the cultures that volumes have been written about them. Visitors to Malacca too, are often awe-inspired by the sheer fascination of the multi-faceted cultures.

While Malacca has a multi-racial population of Malays, Chinese and Indians reflecting the overall racial make-up of Malaysia, it is the Peranakan and Portuguese culture that is still practised by a few descendant communities that attracts visitors.

The Peranakan and Portuguese descendants in Malacca today are the result of the state's long history with trading and colonisation by Oriental and Western powers.

The Baba Nyonyas

Peranakans are descended from Chinese migrants who first came to Malacca many centuries ago. Adopting Malay customs and cultures, theirs is a unique heritage unlike any other. Peranakans are also referred to a 'Straits Chinese'.

It is still a subject of debate whether the Peranakans actually intermarried with the local Malay population or maintained a pure bloodline, but most are said to be of Hokkien ancestry. 'Babas' refer to male Peranakans while 'Nyonya' refer to females. Often Nyonya is used to substitute the term 'Peranakan' as well. Peranakans also settled in Penang, the only other state than Malacca.

In terms of dressing, the women wear traditional Malay costumes, notably the 'Baju Kebaya' a form of blouse woven with silk. Foot-binding, a practice carried over from China, used to be common among the affluent folk but over the centuries, it is no longer practised and for good reason. Perhaps the Peranakan's most famous legacy is Nyonya food, a fusion of Malay ingredients with Chinese cooking styles. Some of the most popular dishes include 'Belacan', 'Assam Laksa', 'Cendol' and 'Kuih Talam¡'.

Peranakans speak a dialect of the Malay language called 'Baba Malay' which has some elements of the Hokkien language. Their most notable musical entertainment form is the 'Dondang Sayang'; or 'Love Song' where Babas and Nyonyas exchanged poems in a humorous style, accompanied by a violin, accordion and traditional instruments; the Rebana and Gong. Many Malaccans, regarded less of their ethnicity, often indulge in Dondang Sayang; such is its popularity.

The Portuguese

When the Portuguese conquered Malacca in 1511 and ruled for 130 years, a few stayed behind and formed a fishing community that has lasted till today. As devout Catholics, they celebrate various festivals dedicated to their religion which can be witnessed throughout the year in their settlement the Portuguese Square.

Over the years, the Portuguese intermarried with the local population and are now collectively referred to as Portuguese-Eurasian or 'Kristang', but they still maintain their traditional surnames such as 'Sequiera' and 'Lopez'. Usually, they speak a distinct language which is a Creole (fusion of two languages) based on Portuguese and Malay.

The Portuguese community in Malacca are a merry bunch, often celebrating with loud dances, music and song. Their most famous tune is the 'Jinggling Nyonya', a happy dance-song routine. They've also brought their food; 'Curry Debel¡' is among the most famous of their dishes.

In June, the Portuguese Suare becomes abuzz with activity as the villagers celebrate a feast in honour of their patron saint. It is truly a sight for visitors to behold and a great chance to get to know this special 3,000-odd group of people in Malaysia.



Built in 1650 as the official residence of the Dutch Governor and his officers, The Stadthuys is a fine example of Dutch architecture of that period.
Preserved in its original structure and form, the edifice now houses the History Museum and Ethnography Museum.
On display daily are traditional bridal costumes and relics from Malacca's glorious past.


Originally named Our Lady of the Hill, this fine church was built by a Portuguese captain named Duarte Coelho. Years later, the Dutch turned the chapel into a burial ground for their noble dead and renamed it St. Paul's Church.
St. Francis Xavier's remains were briefly enshrined in the open grave in 1553 before being brought back to Goa, India.


The hallmark of Malacca and perhaps the most photographed colonial building here next to the Stadhuys.
Built by the Portuguese in 1511 as a fortress, it sustained severe structural damage during the Dutch invasion.
The Dutch had set to destroy it, but timely intervention by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1808 saved what remains of A'Famosa today.


Here, there are exhibits on Malacca's economic and social progress spanning from after the independence of Malaya in 1957 till the end of the 20th century. The exhibits are segmented into tourism, agriculture, industry and other sectors.


Built in 1912, the former club house of Malacca Club now houses invaluable exhibits of the country's struggle leading to Independence. Exhibits are in the form of relics, manuscripts, video tapes, films and slides.


Hang Jebat--the champion of justice who died a tragic death. Hang Jebat was killed by Hang Tuah when he suffered a fatal wound from Hang Tuah's keris (dagger), named 'Taming Sari'. Hang Jebat was accused by Hang Tuah of 'derhaka' (to be traitorous).
The duel between two of Malacca's most prominent knights has left a permanent question as to the morale behind Hang Jebat's aberrant reaction against the authority and, the conventions by which Hang Tuah exercised his conduct as a loyal subject of the sultan.


One of the first Hindu temples built in the country in 1781. It was built on a plot given by the Dutch.


One of the oldest mosques in the country with Sumatran architectural features. Instead of a conventional dome, it has a three-tiered roof rising like a pyramid. A minaret peculiar in shape from a typical Moorish style, is structured like a Pagoda, portraying a mixture of East-West architectural influence.


'Straits Chinese' or the Baba and Nyonya, are Chinese who have adopted much of the Malay culture. The public can now view this unique heritage at the private museum run by the Babas and Nyonyas of Malacca.


A definite haven for antique collectors and bargain hunters. Authentic artefacts and relics, some dating as far back as 300 years, can be found among a host of interesting collectibles, each with its own history and mystery.
Jalan Hang Jebat, formerly known as Jonker Street, is known worldwide among famous antique collectors as one of the best places to hunt and bargain for antiques.


The oldest Chinese temple in the country. It was built in 1646 with materials shipped in from China.
Fine workmanship is evident in the ornately decorated mythological figures, carvings and lacquerwork inside the temple.


Hang Kasturi studied 'silat' (Malay martial art) under the same tutor as Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat, Hang Lekir and Hang Lekiu. He became one of the 'hulubalangs' (knights) who served Malacca together with Hang Tuah. Except for Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi and the others remained loyal to the sultan until their dying days.


Built in 1728 by Dato Shamsudin, it is the oldest mosque in Malaysia. Its unique architectural style is not traceable to any other in the country.


The house, built in the first quarter of the 20th century in the style fashionable during that era, has been converted by its owner into a private museum. Located in Kampung Morten, which is the only Malay village in the heart of Malacca city, the house has a history that goes back to the British Land Reform act of 1920.
Visitors can view an intriguing collection of costumes, Malay embroidery, furniture, muskets and an array of interesting relics. The owner is happy to fulfil the role of curator and is keen to offer visitors additional information.


Built in 1710 during the Dutch occupation in Malacca. It is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Malaysia and sits on a piece of land donated by a Dutch gentleman, Maryber Franz Amboer.
Its fac,ade and de'cor have a combination of Eastern and Western architecture. One of its bells was cast in Goa in 1608.


The temple is located at the foot of Bukit China. This handsome place of worship wasbuilt in 1795 by Kapitan Tsai Shih Chang. Within the temple is the famous well, San Pao Ching or Perigi Raja, subject of many legends and stories.


Built in 1459 by the followers of Hang Li Poh, the Chinese princess who married the Sultan of Malacca.
The well never dried up during the days of old and was the only source of water during great droughts. The Dutch enclosed it with stout walls in 1677 to maintain ultimate right to the well.
It has been turned into a wishing well and it is said that those who throw coins into it will return to Malacca time and again.


Translated as 'Chinese Hill', this breezy real estate was the official settlement of the Chinese entourage that arrived with Princess Hang Li Poh. She was sent to Malacca by the Emperor to marry the Sultan to mark the advent of diplomatic relations between Malacca and China. The entourage stayed on this settlement until the Portuguese occupation in 1511. Today Bukit China is the largest Chinese cemetery outside China with many of the tombs dating back to the Ming Dynasty.


Rebuilt by the Dutch during the third quarter of the 18th century, St. John's Fort was once a private Portuguese chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
The fort has an interesting feature - cannons face inland as, during that time, attacks on Malacca came mainly from the hinterland instead of from the sea.


Perhaps the right phrase to infer strong affinity to Portugal would be 'Mini Lisbon'. Located within the Portuguese Settlement, the square is the centre of Portuguese culture in Malacca and Malaysia.


Prominent in its architectural grandeur, the mosque is unique and bears testimony to the fact that Islam had a rightful place in Malacca almost 600 years ago. The tomb of Sultan Hussain of Johor is in the compound of the mosque. He was the ruler who signed the cession of Singapore with Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.


The Portuguese galleon, the Flor De La Mar, sank in the Straits of Malacca on its way to Portugal. Her hull was laden with invaluable treasures seized from Malacca. The galleon would have been erased frommemory had it not been for the efforts to revive its symbolic significance to Malacca's heritage.
At the museum, visitors can get a closer look at Malacca from the famed Malay Sultanate of the 14th century to the Portuguese era, the Dutch era and the British era. There are exhibits of foreign ship models that had once called at the port of Malacca during the height of its maritime hegemony.


The daughter of Sri Amar Di Raja Pahang was convinced by Hang Tuah to marry Sultan Mahmud Shah. She died as a queen in Merlimau, about 24 km away from Malacca Town, while retreating with members of the Malacca royal family from the Portuguese attack in 1511.


The Jasin Musuem was established to uncover the facts and myths behind the establishment of Jasin, one of the significant settlements of Malacca's territorial expansion.
It depicts the lifestyle, the history, background and the political, cultural and economic development of Jasin. Using a British Commissioned building, the Jasin Museum houses an impressive collection of artefacts which includes paintings, pictures, costumes, agricultural implements and weapons from Melaka's rich and colourful past.
Included in its showcase is an exhibit of Sultan Mahmud Shah's infatuation for Puteri Gunung Ledang (Princess of Gunung Ledang).


The Alor Gajah Museum houses exhibits to help visitors visualise the amazing stories behind the district of Alor Gajah.
The district was the site of the Naning War where from 1831 to 1832, a Naning warrior by the name of Dato' Dol Said fought against the British.
There are also exhibits on Malay, Chinese and Indian people who settled and built Malacca.

The Cultures in Malacca

The Chinese

The Chinese community forms the second largest ethnic group in Malacca. Most of them are involved in business and trading activities. The Straits Born Chinese, also knowns as Baba-Nyonya are descendants of the Chinese who arrived in Malacca and married to locals (Malay). They retain manay Chinese customs but they normally speak in Malay language. They have also adopted the Malay-style of dressing.

The Malay

The Malays formed the largest group of Malacca’s population. Islam is their religion, including their customs. The social system of the Malays in Malacca is based on “adat temenggong“, which embraces a patriarchal tradition, which subsequently spread to other states in Malaysia.

The Indians

The Indians are another major group in Malacca’s colourfulracial mix. Malacca Chittys, they are descendants of wealthy traders from South India’s Coromandel Coast who visited Malacca during the 15th century and married local women. This resulted in a unique culture where they speak and dress like the Malays but retain their religious practices.

The Portuguese-Eurasians

This community has a number of about 10,000 in Malaysia. Aproximate 2,600 live in Malacca in the Portuguese Settlement, which dates to 1930. They speak Kristang, an archaic Portuguese dialect and they are mainly Roman Catholics. The Settlement is a hive of acitivity during the Festa San Juang and Festa San Pedro celebrations.

Festa Sang Juang or Feast of St. John begins with a candlelight procession at St. John’s Hill. They then proceed downhill to the Portuguese Settlement where a bonfire would be lit, food served and cultural performances held.

Festa San Pedro or the Feast of St. Peter is a major annual celebration of the Portuguese fishing community. The event honours St. peter, the patron saint of fishermen. The community celebrates the occasion with traditional games, food fairs, blessing of fishing boats and the best decorated boat contest.



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