Malacca Myths and Legends

Malacca Myths and Legends

Once an exotic Oriental sultanate on the route to the East, Malacca has always been the stuff of legend.



There are many tales associated with Malacca, especially during its prosperous era under the Malaccan Sultanate. Ruled by a succession of Malay sultans descended from Parameswara, Malacca's founder, the coastal village grew into a regional empire, and spawned numerous stories and legends rivalling those of King Arthur and Camelot of England.

The founding of Malacca itself is an interesting tale. It follows the fortunes of a prince from Palembang, Indonesia, who wandered through the Malay archipelago in search of his destiny. After a brief but unsuccessful reign in Temasek, what is now Singapore, he sought refuge along the Malacca coast. An incident during a hunting trip led him to believe that he had finally found his place in the world at last, and the Malacca sultanate was born.

While Arthur had his knights, Malacca could always count on the services of Hang Tuah and his four companions. Known for his loyalty, Hang Tuah has come to represent the spirit of Malay culture. He is credited with coming up with the famous saying 'Takkan Melayu hilang di dunia', or never will Malays vanish from the earth, which was used as a rallying cry by the fledgling Malay nationalist movement in the early 20th century. His exploits are immortalised in the Malay traditional epic, Hikayat Hang Tuah, which is included in UNESCO's Memory of the World Registry.

Malacca's myths also feature people of foreign origin, most notably the Chinese, which served as the Sultanate's ally and overlord. Relations with the Chinese empire were said to be very friendly, and like many legends, involved a princess. Legend has it that the Chinese emperor was so impressed by the glory of the Malacca sultanate that he sent a princess as a gift to the Sultan. The Princess Hang Li Po travelled to Malacca and married Sultan Mansur Shah, Malacca's Sultan at the time. She and her entire retinue, numbering at least 500 individuals, settled down in Bukit China and are said to have been the first of the Peranakan Chinese of Malacca.

The voyage undertaken by the Princess was commandeered by another Malacca legend, the Chinese admiral Cheng Ho, also known as Zheng He. He was said to have stopped at Malacca on five of his seven known sea voyages, and was instrumental in developing close ties with the Sultanate. Many temples were erected in his honour and some still exist till this day.

Many local Malacca folktales revolve around an island just off the coast of Malacca, known locally as Pulau Besar. Scattered throughout the island are old tombs and wells, all that remains of previous settlements, along with eerie caves and oddly shaped rocks. These places have their own intriguing tales, born from local superstitious beliefs and the rich imaginations of generations gone by.

Some of Malacca's museums showcase exhibits that are associated with these local legends and myths, and offer visitors the chance to understand the rich culture that nurtured these wondrous tales.