Review Essay Of “Jacques de Coutre’s And Matelieff’s Singapore and Johor”: Exploring Sources On Pre-Modern History of Singapore, pp. 4 of 11

Two further considerations can help to raise awareness of the larger region of Archipelagic Southeast Asia in the early modern period in relation to the Iberian presence. The Portuguese network in Asia in the 16th and 17th centuries stretched along a licensed route from Goa to Melaka, and from there to Macau or to Solor (near Timor). Up north in mainland Southeast Asia, the Portuguese sailed to Ayutthaya (Siam), Champa (Vietnam), Cochinchina (Vietnam) and Pegu (Burma). In the period of the Union, the two or three carracks also “went to Manila.” Other ports in the Malay Archipelago that at some time had been frequented by Portuguese ships included for example Palembang, Banten, Jayakerta, Banjarmasin and Makassar, as well as Siak and Kampar (in Sumatra) (Borschberg, 2015a, pp. 70-73). Over the course of the 17th century, the Portuguese began to lose their factories and influence in Southeast Asia. In order to better appreciate the continuity of trade and other activities between the different phases of European colonial empires in Southeast Asia, there is a need to consider social-cultural history at the frontier. Beyond the “glory of the 16th century” associated with Alfonso Albuquerque and the conquest of Melaka, the lingua franca of the Indian Ocean and indeed for many places in the East Indies continued to be Portuguese or at least a form of Creole Portuguese (Furber, 1976, p. 60). The influence of Portuguese on the Malay language can be seen in The Portuguese in Malay Land: a glossary of Portuguese words in the Malay language (Muzzi, 2002). Second, while semblance of the formal entities and structures of the Portuguese empire might have disappeared, its “citizens” continued to trade and conduct a variety of activities in the Indian Ocean and the East Indies seas under a variety of guises. The surviving Portuguese, without the protection of the state, appeared to have taken to assimilation and miscegenation to prolong their own survival. Portuguese private traders operating in the Straits of Melaka have been described by Radin Fernando to be darker or of a mixed complexion. A person of Portuguese or mixed Portuguese heritage could also be labelled “Portuguese”, “black” or “burgher” on different occasions; this was especially so when assimilation and miscegenation became “more complete” by the middle of the 18th century (Fernando, 2004, pp. 166 & 172). Hence, we can still find Portuguese-affiliated or mestizo-related communities across the region in the contemporary period.

How can the “Journal, memorials and letters” contribute to a better understanding of Singapore’s pre-Rafflesian history? 1. They can provide the context of the wider region for Singapore in the 17th century. 2. They can provide some glimpse into affairs on Singapore Island. One can also use Borschberg’s materials to point students to old maps and place names related to Singapore and the immediate/wider region.

References to the powers in the region in Jacque de Coutre’s documents can be seen in: 1. successors to the Melaka Kingdom, 2. Aceh and Siam, 3. the Portuguese and Dutch. On Johor, the king at one time was “called Raja Ali (Jalla bin Abdul Jalil) who titled himself [as the] Emperor of the Malays [and whose] grandfather was the king of Melaka.” The place in which the Johor court resided was destroyed a few times (one round of this was experienced when the Iberians attempted to build a fort in the Johor River estuary. The walls of the settlement at Batu Sawar were wooden but armed with artillery. Johor had a “river and port with many large and small ships, and it was a place where merchants did vast volumes of trade and there were abundant provisions” (Borschberg, 2015a, p. 54). The Malays of Johor and Pahang were related by blood. Pahang was mentioned as a kingdom which was a popular place for buying diamonds and bezoars (Borschberg, 2015a, p. 45). Borschberg clarifies in the glossary that it was a “vassal” state and political dependency of Johor. On the enemies of Johor, the king of Aceh was “the most important monarch in East Indies” then and was described as a threat and had once captured the royal settlements of Johor and Pahang. It also controlled Siak and its coastline in Sumatra. The king of Siam had the “reputation of a tyrant, fickle and deceitful” (Jacques de Coutre, 2015, p. 57). At the time of Jacques de Coutre’s visit in 1595, the Siamese king had apparently attacked Cambodia and Pegu and returned with a lot of booty (precious stones). As a place of commerce, Siamese textiles were “worth a lot of money” (Borschberg, 2015a, p. 56).

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