World History 2 23 - 2.2.2 European Malacca

In 1509, a Portuguese fleet arrived in Malacca, bringing Diogo Lopes de Sequeira with orders from the king of Portugal to establish trade with Malacca, which would allow Portugal to replace Venice as the center of the spice trade in Europe. According to Tomé Pires, the apothecary to the king of Portugal who traveled to Southeast Asia in search of spices, “Whoever is Lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice.” The reigning sultan Mahmud Shah and others at his court were intrigued by the possibility of becoming trading partners with the Portuguese and possibly putting Portugal’s warships to use against rival kingdoms, as some Indian rulers had done. Many Indian Muslims in Malacca, however, especially Gujaratis, were aware of Portuguese attacks on Muslim merchants in India and opposed any dealings with the Europeans. Initially, Mahmud Shah gave the Portuguese permission to establish a factory (a trading post), but then, on the advice of Indian and Javanese Muslim merchants, he sent ships to attack them in 1510. Sequeira and his ships managed to escape, but several Portuguese were taken captive.

In 1511, the Portuguese military commander Alfonso de Albuquerque arrived from India at the head of a large fleet bearing more than one thousand armed troops and demanded the return of those Portuguese who had been taken prisoner the year before. The sultan delayed as he attempted to assemble an army to defeat the Portuguese, but after a week of waiting, Albuquerque bombarded the city. The prisoners were promptly released, but the sultan refused Albuquerque’s demands for reparations and the right to build a fortress. Albuquerque then landed his troops in the city with the help of Hindu, Chinese, and Burmese merchants, who hoped to use Portuguese influence to gain dominance over their Muslim rivals. Within a month, the Portuguese had gained control of Malacca, and Mahmud Shah had fled. Albuquerque erected a fortress to guard the city’s entrance and made Nina Chatu, a Hindu merchant who had helped free the Portuguese prisoners, the city’s chief administrator. Newly minted coins were distributed, and people were informed that trade would go on as before.

Things did not go quite as the Portuguese planned, however. The deposed sultan established a new base in the Riau Islands of Indonesia and from there launched attacks on the Portuguese in Malacca. Following his death in 1528, Mahmud Shah’s sons continued to attack the Portuguese from their kingdoms in Johor and Perak. Unwilling to do business in Portuguese Malacca, many Muslim merchants avoided the port and conducted trade in either Johor or the Sultanate of Aceh on the northern coast of Sumatra.

In 1606, the government of the Netherlands, eager to gain an advantage over its European competitors, signed a treaty with the sultan of Johor. In exchange for help destroying the Portuguese in Malacca and freeing Johor from Aceh’s domination, the sultan promised the Dutch control of the port with the understanding that they would make no further territorial conquests in the region or attack Johor. In 1629, with Dutch assistance, forces from Johor destroyed Aceh’s navy and killed nearly twenty thousand Aceh troops. In 1641, the Dutch and troops from Johor defeated the Portuguese, and the Dutch East India Company took control of Malacca.

The Portuguese had not been satisfied to take just Malacca. They had a greater prize in mind—the legendary Spice Islands, the source of the nutmeg, mace, and cloves they coveted.2 Having learned of the location of the Banda Islands in the Indonesian archipelago where nutmeg and cloves grew in abundance, Afonso de Albuquerque dispatched three ships with Malay pilots to find them, believing them to be the Spice Islands. The hostility of the Bandanese, however, dissuaded the Portuguese from attempting to establish a factory there. One of the original three ships sailed on in search of another spice-rich island group, the Moluccas (Malaku) (Figure 2.16). Here, the Portuguese were able to establish trade relationships with the Sultanate of Ternate, a city-state in the Moluccas.

This map shows the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and a portion of Australia. The Banda Islands are labeled at the bottom right of the map, in between Indonesia and Australia.
Figure 2.16 The Banda Islands, a spice-rich island group, lie in the center of the Moluccas, an archipelago in the east of Indonesia. (attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY 4.0 license)

The primary interest of Sultan Hairun of Ternate was in using Portuguese military power in his contests with rival states. The Portuguese, meanwhile, had nervously noted that visitors from Mecca, the Ottoman Empire, and other Southeast Asian Islamic sultanates frequented Ternate. As Catholics who sought to convert the people of the Indian Ocean to their religion and who considered Muslims enemies, they feared the growth of Islam in the region would interfere with both their commercial and evangelical efforts and might endanger their safety. Eventually, Portuguese efforts to convert people to Christianity angered Muslim inhabitants and strengthened their devotion to Islam. After Hairun’s death, his son and heir Sultan Babullah declared a holy war against the Portuguese and drove them from the Moluccas in 1575.

Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese veteran of Albuquerque’s attack on Malacca, also dreamed of finding a route to the Spice Islands. He planned, however, to discover a westward route by sailing west from Portugal, instead of taking the long route eastward around the tip of Africa and through the Indian Ocean. When the Portuguese king declined to fund the exploratory voyage, Magellan approached the king of Spain, who provided him with the funds and ships he needed. The crew came from many countries, which was common aboard ships at that time.

In 1519, with a fleet of five ships and a crew of two hundred seventy, Magellan departed from Spain. He crossed the Atlantic and sailed around the southern tip of South America, where the fleet spent the winter. On March 6, 1521, with their fresh water nearly exhausted after three months spent crossing the Pacific, they sighted Guam, and not long after, they made landfall in the Philippines. At the port of Sugbu on the island of Cebu, Magellan and the Spanish were welcomed by the ruler, Rajah Humabon, whose ancestor, a prince of the south India Chola dynasty, had come to the Philippines from Sumatra.

As other Portuguese had done, Magellan attempted to convert the people he encountered to Christianity. Humabon, his wives, and many of his subjects agreed. By converting, Humabon hoped to secure Magellan’s assistance in defeating Lapulapu, a rival ruler. Magellan consented to the plan, and at the Battle of Mactan on April 27, 1521, he was killed. Humabon, for unknown reasons, attacked Magellan’s remaining men. The survivors fled to the Moluccas and from there sailed home to Spain. Only eighteen men survived the voyage, and Spanish ships did not return to the Philippines until 1565, when they conquered Cebu. Then in 1570, the Spanish attacked the Muslim trading center of Maynila when one of its rulers refused to become an ally of Spain. The Filipinos were defeated, and in 1571, the Spanish established the city of Manila, which became their capital in the East Indies.

The Past Meets the Present

Lapulapu: A Filipino Folk Hero

Lapulapu, the indigenous leader who defied and defeated Ferdinand Magellan, has been a folk hero in the Philippines for hundreds of years, representing the spirit of the Filipino people and their unwillingness to be dictated to by non-Filipinos. He is referred to as Cali Pulaco in the 1614 poem “Que Dios le perdone” (“May God pardon him”) by Filipino poet Carlos Calao. Another spelling of his name, Kalipulaku, was used by the Filipino activist Mariano Ponce when he agitated for the Philippines’ independence from Spain in the nineteenth century. Lapulapu is also mentioned in the 1898 Declaration of Independence.

In the twentieth century, statues of him were erected in Manila, the capital of the Philippines (Figure 2.17), and on Mactan Island, the site of Magellan’s defeat. His image has appeared on Filipino currency, and he is shown in silhouette holding his weapons on the seal of the Philippine National Police. He is invoked in songs and has appeared as a character in films and television shows. Filipino Muslims have tried to claim him as a hero of Islam, even though he was most likely not Muslim. In 2017, Rodrigo Duterte, then president of the Philippines, proclaimed April 27, the anniversary of the Battle of Mactan, to be Lapulapu Day.

This photograph shows a bronze statue of Lapulapu who wears a loincloth and holds a large sword.
Figure 2.17 This bronze monument to Lapulapu was designed by Juan Sajid Imao and erected in Manila in 2004. Forty feet high, it is called the Statue of the Sentinel of Freedom. (credit: “Lapu-lapu” by Jason Audrey Licerio/Flickr , CC BY 2.0)
  • Why do you think Filipinos still revere Lapulapu?
  • Why are Muslims eager to claim him as a member of their faith?
  • Who might be the U.S. equivalent of Lapulapu? Why?

In 1609, the Dutch East India Company attempted to establish a fortress in the Banda Islands. The men sent to negotiate the agreement with the Bandanese were killed, however. In 1621, the Dutch returned and forced the inhabitants to sign a treaty. When the Bandanese violated the treaty’s terms, Dutch soldiers and Japanese mercenaries killed many of the community’s most important leaders and burned their villages. The surviving islanders were forced to cut down sago palm trees, a valuable source of food, and plant spice trees in their place.

The islands’ land was divided up and given to Dutch colonists, and enslaved Southeast Asians, European indentured servants, and convict laborers were set to work raising nutmeg, which was sold to the Dutch East India Company. The exception was Ambon Island, which the Dutch set aside to grow cloves. Clove trees on all other islands were destroyed, and anyone attempting to grow or sell cloves without permission was given the death penalty. To maintain a monopoly on the spices and thus keep prices high, the Dutch had already driven out English settlers attempting to colonize some of the outlying islands, and then, realizing they might be unable to control these islands, they destroyed all the nutmeg trees that grew there. In 1619, the Dutch also sent enslaved Bandanese to Java to build the Dutch settlement of Batavia (Jakarta).

The Dutch attempt to maintain their spice monopoly was destined to fail, however. Winds and seabirds spread seeds to other islands. Ships’ captains from other countries managed to return to Europe with holds filled with spices purchased from Southeast Asian kingdoms that had not fallen under the control of European powers. The English captain Sir Francis Drake, for example, purchased cloves from Sultan Babullah of Ternate. As ships grew larger, the volume of spices shipped to European ports increased, driving down prices and profits. The Dutch were not solely reliant on the spice trade, however, for they were able to take advantage of an opportunity not available to the Portuguese and Spanish, dedicated as they were to the propagation of Roman Catholicism. That opportunity was trade with Japan.

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The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax