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Friday, September 2, 2011


Origin of civilisations

In the distant past, great civilizations had lasted for thousands of years. Basic needs were simple and resources were abundant to feed small populace. Food production improved with settled agriculture allowing relative peace and stability for nation building.

Organized governance of settlements and city states over time developed into a civilization. War, tyranny, murder, palace intrigue, greed and other human infirmities of the governing and governed led to stagnancy and downfall of a civilization.

The Sumerian civilization was perhaps the earliest and lasted for more than 1500 years (c.3500BC-2006BC). It was a pioneering civilization established in the region of Mesopotamia, the fertile land between the two rivers of the Euphrates and Tigris (present day Iraq).

The Egyptian civilization (c.3100BC-431AD) enriched by the Nile lasted for 3500 years.

Other major civilization were the Assyrians located near the Mesopotamian region, lasted more than 1700 years (2371BC-612BC), the Indus Valley civilization of India for 700 years (2300BC-1600BC), the Greeks for over 2000 years (2000BC-146BC), and Rome over 1000 years (753BC-476AD). To expand or secure their borders and power, these civilizations fought many wars. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Western Europe lingered for two centuries in the so-called Dark Ages.

In the Far East, the Chinese began its kingdom with the Shang Dynasty. It lasted for 3500 years from 1600BC until1912AD when the last Manchu emperor of the Qing dynasty was overthrown and China became a republic under Sun Yat Sen.

The Japanese according to its oldest book, the ‘Kojiki’ (completed in AD 712) describes the nation’s history from its mythical origins to about AD 600. The Khmer empire of Cambodia began in AD 900.

Melaka Sultanate

It was at the turn of the 15th century that Parameswara, a Hindu warrior prince fled from Palembang to Tumasek and then to Melaka. He established the Malay Sultanate at the Melaka River-mouth in 1402 and when converted to Islam took the name of Sultan Iskandar Shah.

Setting up a new kingdom was not an easy task. Although Parameswara might had exposure to palace rule in Sumatra but there were not many capable hands to help set up a new kingdom. He needed wise right-hand men, the Bendahara, a brave Laksamana, a deligent Shahbandar , several hulubalangs so on and so forth. One could imagine that he had to undertake many of the ruling tasks by himself at the beginning years.

Elsewhere in the world, in Europe, Middle East and the East, major events and were taking place or had passed – wars and conquests, coronation of kings, explorations and discoveries, advances in literature, architecture and philosophy.

Oblivious to Parameswara, the Tartars (Mongols) were already the masters of Central Asia. Their army under the leadership of Timur (Tamerlane), a descendent of Genghis Khan sacked the Ottomans (Turks) under Sultan Beyazit I (“Yilderim” or Thunderbolt) at Ankara.

The Chinese under the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) made the first official contact with Melaka when Admiral Cheng Ho (a Muslim eunuch) visited Parameswara’s court in 1405. Apart from other gifts, Cheng Ho gave the hand of Hang Li Po, a Chinese princess to the Sultan.

The Chinese invented gunpowder. Did the Sultan and his able-bodied men took interest to learn about firepower or other technological skills from the many Chinese expeditions that passed by Melaka? Evidently not. When the Portuguese were conquering Malacca in 1511 the locals were thus of no match.

The chronology of events as given below would give an overview or backdrop on the state of world affairs and developments about the time Melaka being established. Hopefully we could deduce certain perceptions and plausible explanations as to the success and longevity, or failure of a kingdom. Internal as well as external events and factors affect the social and economic fabric and stability in one way or another of any government.

World events of pre-Malacca establishment:

1389:   Ottomans (Turkish) victory at Kosovo over Serbs, Bulgarians and Albanians gives Ottoman control of the Balkans for 500 years. Their sultan, Murad I (b. 1360) gets killed in the battle and also the Serb leader.

1389:   Vasili I, Grand Prince of Moscow begins his rule of Russia until 1425

1392:   Yi Song-gye (1335-92) founds Yi Dynasty in Korea

1395-1400:   Timur’s (b. 1336), a Tartar conquests of Central Asia.1395 – conquers the Golden Horde in Russia;
1398 – devastates Delhi, India;1400 – conquers Anatolia, sacks Damascus and Baghdad

1396:   Beyazit 1, son of Murad 1 defeats a combined European crusaders under the Hungarian king, Sigismund at Nicopolis (now Nikopol), Bulgaria

1397:   Building of Gothic architecture of Westminster Hall, London begins, ends in 1399

1399:   Henry IV becomes king of England, rules until 1413

1400:   Western Europe begins development of three-masted ships making possible major voyages of discovery.

Events at founding of Malacca kingdom:

1402:   Founding of the Malacca Sultanate by Parameswara

1402:   Timur vanquishes Ottomans at Ankara

Events post-establishment of Malacca Sultanate:

1403:   Korean printers become the first to cast movable type in bronze

1405:   Admiral Cheng Ho begins his seven voyages to Malacca, coasts of India and Africa until 1433. On his fourth expedition he took a fleet of 63 ships and 27,000 men, including 180 doctors, as far as the Persian Gulf. His largest vessels well over 1500 tonnes, were more than 180m (600ft) long.

1405:   Timur was killed in China.
(Timur’s bones rest in a mausoleum in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. His tomb, topped by an enormous slab of jade, was opened in 1941 by Russian archeologists, revealed that he had tuberculosis in his right thigh and shin, and both his right knee joint and right arm were immobilized)

1406:   Death of Abd al-Rahman ibn Khaldun (b. 1332), famous Muslim philosopher who applied the principles of philosophy to the study of history and sought the universal laws operating behind the flux of events. Author of ‘Al-Muqaddimah’ (An Introduction to History)

Certainly the Melaka Sultanate and other empires in the East were oblivious to the great events occurring elsewhere in the western part of the world. There was no contact between the East and West until the Portuguese under Vasco da Gama reached the West coast of India in 1498. Being isolated as such, efforts towards kingdom building was seemingly unworrisome for Sultan Iskandar Shah. Hence, ignorance (of major events elswhere) was blissful to the palace.

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