Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
474
MALAY PENINSULA


cleft of a split stick. A few stones, which might perhaps be arrowheads, have been found, but they are very rare. The mines, which have been constructed for the purpose of working quartz lodes containing gold, are very extensive, and argue a high stage of civilization possessed by the ancient miners. They consist of a number of circular or rectangular pits sunk from the cap of a hill, and going down to a depth of in some cases as much as 120 ft., until in fact the miners have been stopped by being unable to cope with the quantity of water made when the level of the valley was reached. The shafts are placed so close together that in many instances they are divided by only a couple of feet of solid ground, but at their bases a considerable amount of gallery work has been excavated, though it is possible that this was done by miners who came after the people who originally sank the shafts. Native tradition attributes these mines to the Siamese, but no importance can be attached to this, as it is very general for the Malays to give this explanation for anything which is obviously not the work of their own ancestors. A theory, which seems to have some probability in its favour, is that these mines were worked by the Khmer people during the period of power, energy and prosperity which found its most lofty expression in the now ruined and deserted city of Angkor Thom; while another attributes these works to the natives of India whose Hindu remains are found in Java and elsewhere, whose influence was at one time widespread throughout Malayan lands, and of whose religious teaching remnants still linger in the superstitions of the Malays and are preserved in some purity in Lombok and Bali. In the absence, however, of any relics of a kind which might lead to the identification of the ancient miners, their nationality and origin are matters which must continue to be mere questions of speculation and conjecture.

History.—The first hint to reach Europe concerning the existence of habitable lands to the eastward of the Ganges is to be found in the writings of Pomponius Mela (A.D. 43) which speak of Chryse, or the Golden Isle, as lying off Cape Tamus—supposed to be the most easterly point in Asia—and over against the estuary of the Ganges. Thereafter there occur vague references to Chryse in the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, &c., but the earliest trace of anything resembling first-hand knowledge concerning the peninsula of Indo-China and Malaya is revealed in the writings of Ptolemy, whose views were mainly derived from those of his predecessor Marinus of Tyre, who in his turn drew his deductions from information supplied to him by the mariner Alexander who, there is every reason to think, had himself voyaged to the Malay Peninsula and beyond. In the light of present knowledge concerning the trade-routes of Asia, which had been in existence for thousands of years ere ever Europeans attempted to make use of them, it is safe to identify Ptolemy’s Sinus Perimulicus with the Gulf of Siam, the Sinus Sabaricus with the Straits of Malacca from their southern portals to the Gulf of Martaban, the Aurea Chersonesus with the Malay Peninsula, and the island of Iabadius or Sabadius—the reading of the name is doubtful—with Sumatra, not as has often been mistakenly attempted with Java. Although the first definite endeavour to locate the Golden Chersonese thus dates from the middle of the 2nd century of our era, the name was apparently well known to the learned of Europe at a somewhat earlier period, and in his Antiquities of the Jews, written during the latter half of the 1st century, Josephus says that Solomon gave to the pilots furnished to him by Hiram of Tyre commands “that they should go along with his stewards to the land that of old was called Ophir, but now the Aurea Chersonesus, which belongs to India, to fetch gold.” After the time of Ptolemy no advance in knowledge concerning the geography of south-eastern Asia was made until Cosmas Indicopleustes, a monk and an Alexandrian Greek, wrote from personal knowledge between A.D. 530 and 550. His primary object was to prove that the world was built after the same shape and fashion as the Ark made by the Children of Israel in the desert; but he was able to show that the Malay Peninsula had to be rounded and thereafter a course steered in a northerly direction if China was to be reached. Meanwhile inter-Asiatic intercourse by means of sea-routes had been steadily on the increase since the discovery of the way to utilize the monsoons and to sail directly to and fro across the Indian Ocean (attributed to the Greek pilot Hippalus) had been made. After the decline of the power of Rome, the dominant force in Asiatic commerce and navigation was Persia, and from that time onward, until the arrival of the Portuguese upon the scene early in the 16th century the spice trade, whose chief emporia were in or near the Malay Peninsula, was in Persian or Arab hands. There is considerable reason to think, however, that the more frequent ports of call in the Straits of Malacca were situated in Sumatra, rather than on the shores of the Malay Peninsula, and two famous medieval travellers, Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta, both called and wintered at the former, and make scant mention of the latter.

The importance of the Malay Peninsula, as has been noted, consisted in the privilege which its locality conferred upon it of being the distributing centre of the spices brought thither from the Moluccas en route for India and Europe. As early as the 3rd century B.C. Megasthenes makes mention of spices brought to the shores of the Ganges from “the southern parts of India,” and the trade in question was probably one of the most ancient in the world. So long, however, as India held the monopoly of the clove, the Malay Peninsula was ignored, the Hindus spreading their influence through the islands of the archipelago and leaving traces thereof even to this day. The Mahommedan traders from Persia and Arabia, following the routes which had been prepared for them by their forebears, broke down the Hindu monopoly and ousted the earlier exploiters so effectually that by the beginning of the 16th century the spice trade was almost exclusively in their hands. These traders were also missionaries of their religion, as indeed is every Mahommedan, and to them is due the conversion of the Malays from rude pantheism, somewhat tinctured by Hindu mythology, to the Mahommedan creed. The desire to obtain the monopoly of the spice trade has been a potent force in the fashioning of Asiatic history. The Moluccas were, from the first, the objective of the Portuguese invaders, and no sooner had the white men found their way round the Cape of Good Hope and established themselves successively upon the coast of East Africa, in the neighbourhood of the Gulf of Aden and the Malabar coast, than Malacca, then the chief trading centre of the Malayan Archipelago, became the object of their desire. The first Portuguese expedition sent out to capture Malacca was under the command of Diogo Lopez de Siqueira and sailed from Portugal in 1508. At Cochin Siqueira took on board certain adherents of Alphonso d’Alboquerque who were in bad odour with his rival d’Almeida, among them being Magellan, the future circumnavigator of the world, and Francisco Serrão, the first European who ever lived in the Spice Islands. Siqueira’s expedition ended in failure, owing partly to the aggressive attitude of the Portuguese, partly to the very justifiable suspicions of the Malays, and he was presently forced to destroy one of his vessels, to leave a number of his men in captivity, and to sail direct for Portugal. In 1510 a second expedition against Malacca was sent out from Portugal under the command of Diogo Mendez de Vasconcellos, but d’Alboquerque retained it at Cochin to aid him in the retaking of Goa, and it was not until 1511 that the great viceroy could spare time to turn his attention to the scene of Siqueira’s failure. After some futile negotiations, which had for their object the recovery of the Portuguese captives before hostilities should begin, an assault was delivered upon Malacca, and though the first attempt to take the city failed after some hard fighting, a second assault made some days later succeeded, and Malacca passed for ever into European hands. The Portuguese were satisfied with the possession of Malacca itself and did not seek further to extend their empire in Malaya. Instead they used every endeavour to establish friendly relations with the rulers of all the neighbouring kingdoms, and before d’Alboquerque returned to India he despatched embassies to China, Siam, and several kingdoms of Sumatra, and sent a small fleet, with orders to assume a highly conciliatory attitude toward all natives, in search of the Moluccas. Very soon the spice trade had become a Portuguese monopoly, and Malacca was the great headquarters of the trade. It should moreover be noted that Magellan’s famous expedition had for its object not the barren feat of circumnavigation but the breaking down of this monopoly, without violating the terms of the papal bull which gave to Spain the conquest of the West, to Portugal the possession of the East. In 1528 a French expedition sailed from Dieppe, penetrated as far as Achin in Sumatra, but returned without reaching the Malay Peninsula. It was,