Portuguese and Dutch Colonization of Malacca

Malacca (Melaka) is a settlement that commands the strategically important Malacca Straits and thus the sea route linking China to the west. The Strait also links to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. The location of Malacca has made it attractive to pirates.

A settlement was established at Malacca by the Sumatran prince Paramasvera at the beginning of the 15th century and it grew in importance rapidly. The prince converted to Islam and the Sultanate of Malacca became an important outpost of that religion in a region in Southeast Asia.

In the 18th century, the sultanate became a tributary to the Ming dynasty in China. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive at Malacca and captured it in 1511, with a force commanded by Afonso de Albuquerque. The Portuguese would control Malacca for 130 years before being supplanted by the Dutch.

The defeated sultan established a new capital at Johor and attempted to expel the Portuguese in alliance with Malay rulers nearby, but their mutual rivalry prevented them from forming effective alliances to defeat the Portuguese.

The Acehnese made the most serious attempt to expel the Portuguese with an armada of 300 boats, perhaps 15,000 troops, and artillerymen from Turkey. The Portuguese, however, were able to withstand the repeated assaults.

The Portuguese attempted to convert some of the people of Malacca to Christianity. The noted Jesuit Saint Francis Xavier spent some time in the region. The arrival of Sir Francis Drake of England in the late 16th century brought a new power to the region and another challenge to Portugal.

Dutch ships also became active in the region in the latter part of the 16th century as part of the Dutch trading empire. The Dutch eventually struck up a strong alliance with Johor, a state on the Malay Peninsula, and thus were able to prosecute a successful siege that ended in the Netherlands’s gaining control of Malacca.

The rise in importance of Malacca in the 16th century and beyond was the result of local elites and their ability to mobilize trading networks and the arrival of enterprising Chinese who became merchants, miners, and general traders. Other ethnic groups also contributed to making Malacca a cosmopolitan port. They include Indians, Arabs, Persians, and other Europeans.