Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Unpublished 7: Melaka Melange

Occasionally I'll write a sidebar, a short article that sheds light on the main feature article it accompanies. And occasionally these sidebars get junked by the editor if space is short. 

Such was the fate of this short item accompanying a feature on Melaka, the famous historic spice port of Malaysia.

The sidebar added a bit of history regarding the Peranakan, the distinctive Chinese-Malay ethnic group of Melaka, well known for its distinctive Nyonya cuisine. Now the back story can be told...

It was a match made in heaven. In the mid-15th century, a wedding was arranged between the Sultan of Malacca, Mansur Shah, and Princess Hang Li Po, the great-granddaughter of the Emperor of China.

The marriage was intended to cement friendly ties between the two rulers, but it also had the effect of expanding the diversity of Melaka’s population.

For the princess brought with her some 500 loyal followers, who settled down in the port city and became the forebears of the Peranakan culture which fused Chinese and Malay traditions and exists to this day.

The new Chinese population of Melaka settled on a hill which became known to Malays as Bukit Cina (Chinese Hill). Nowadays it’s the location of the largest Chinese cemetery outside China, containing 12,000 graves set along its slopes, each contained within an elegantly curved low wall.

The hill’s slopes were a favoured place to be buried, as it was thought they maximised the positive effects of feng shui.

The hilly cemetery is open to visitors, who can admire the attractive greenery and the plentiful tombs, some of which date back to the Ming Dynasty.

At the foot of the hill, there are also two other interesting sights: an 18th century Taoist temple, and a 16th century well which supplied the population of Melaka even in times of war.

Legend has it that the well has never dried up, even in droughts. Cast a coin into its depths for similar good fortune. 

Disclosure time... on this trip I travelled courtesy of Malaysia Airlines and Tourism Malaysia.

The Unpublished is a random series of my never-published travel articles. For previous instalments, click on the The Unpublished Topic tag below, then scroll down.