Wednesday, 7 October 2009


Melaka is planning a replica of the famed flagship of Admiral Cheng Ho’s Treasure fleet.

I think this would be her second historical vessels replica after the Portuguese Man O War “Frol De La Mar” which is also its maritime museum.

Ironic that the state chose its first Western colonial master’s vessel to be replicated, but since it’s a done deal, let’s just leave it at that.

Back to Cheng Ho's flagship, I wonder if it would be something along the following lines:

“The first Treasure Fleet consisted of 62 ships; four were huge wood boats, some of the largest ever built in history. They were approximately 400 feet (122 meters) long and 160 feet (50 meters) wide. The four were the flagships of the fleet of 62 ships assembled at Nanjing along the Yangtze (Chang) River.

Included in the fleet were 339-foot (103-meter) long horse ships that carried nothing but horses, water ships that carried fresh water for the crew, troop transports, supply ships, and war ships for offensive and defensive needs.

The ships were filled with thousands of tons of Chinese goods to trade with others during the voyage. In the fall of 1405 the fleet was ready to embark with 27,800 men.”

Those reading about Cheng Ho’s many journeys – Malacca provided a more viable stepping stone in his trip to India apparently – will also know there are views that the vessels' sizes are somewhat exaggerated.

Alas, without any clear historical references, we will not know for sure the most accurate version.

A reading of Cheng Ho’s many, many benevolence to the once-great empire that is Malacca, I would push for the most realistically exaggerated version to be adopted.

Cheng Ho’s first visit to Malacca is during the (Malay?) Sultanate years of infancy, and this stop over - which probably helped Malacca thrive further as a trading port of call – was followed with a few other stops before his death in 1433.

Most of the historical text and accounts I read put Cheng Ho as one of the pioneers in spreading Islam in the region as well.

So unlike the more barbaric Westerners; who came, saw and conquered – the Portuguese in 1511, the Dutch in 1641 and the Brits in 1824.

Anyway, back to Malacca’s plan for the Treasure fleet replica.

A question should be asked: What will it represent, really?

Frol De La Mar arguably represented the end of the once-grand Malacca Sultanate; the dark chapter in its history and a pivotal juncture in the country’s own historical growth.

(It was somewhat poetic justice that the ship which played a role in the annexation of Malacca was shipwrecked in November 1512 together with its cache of treasure plunder from the state.)

Who knows how the country might have turned out if Malacca had managed to repulse the twelve hundred odd Portuguese marauders lead by one Alfonso de Albuquerque?

The mind boggles on all the possible permutations available if we were to explore all these “What ifs”.

So, what does Cheng Ho’s Treasure fleet flagship represent for Malacca?

What are we telling the world with this particular replica?

In fact, what are we telling our own people?

History is so damn interesting.

Siapakah yang benar? Jebatkah benar?

P Ramlee and Zaiton

Atapun akukah yang benar?

PS: Arguably the most famous of the Sultanate's "history". A quote (and scene with the ever demure Zaiton) from P Ramlee's Hang Tuah.

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