by Ilani Binti Mohammad Jamin
A morning visit to Stadthuys, St. Paul’s Hill, Dutch Cemetery, Porta de Santiago
On the fine Saturday morning of 12 January 2019, a group of 22 including MV trainers and trainees set off from Muzium Negara and arrived in Melaka at approximately 9.45 am. An experienced local guide, En Shaukani Abbas, from Friends of Melaka Museums, led our day’s itinerary. Upon introducing himself, he shared some tips and techniques on tour guiding: 1 – Understand the history; 2 – Say the facts in your own words; 3 – Tell the story from your heart using your imagination; and finally 4 – Have humour in your presentation.
Our first stop was the Stadthuys, a prominent red building believed to be the oldest surviving structure of the Dutch in the East; if a modern Dutch visitor wishes to see a historical Dutch building, Melaka is where it can be found. The Stadthuys was built in 1641 on top of a Portuguese building as evidenced by Portuguese wells found below the ground. It was the official administration centre and dwelling of Dutch governors and officers. In 1982, it was converted into a museum displaying the rich history of Melaka’s colonial past and local customs and traditions. Its Dutch-style architecture can be clearly seen in its steep and high roofing as well as its wide doors and windows.
One of the rooms has ornate engravings on its ceiling; this room is believed to have been the living room of the governor. Also on display are items traded during the Dutch period in this region under the Dutch East-India Company (VOC) and portrait paintings of the Directors of the company are hung at one corner of the room. Just outside of the building but connected by a walkway is the kitchen, also known as the Big Toaster. In the olden days, servants would bake bread overnight in order to serve it fresh to their masters the next morning. The original brick flooring and massive ovens give the space a rustic feel.
Moving deeper into the museum, dioramas on traditional wedding and ceremonial events are displayed and they provide an overall glimpse of the various cultures and customs practiced by the multi-racial people of Melaka. It was especially interesting to learn about the Chitty ceremony of shaving a baby’s head and the Baba Nyonya wedding bed for newlyweds. The remaining tour in the museum was regarding the Melaka sultanate, Portuguese and foreign invasion and miniature models of the A Famosa fortress.
After an information-packed session at the museum, we walked up St. Paul’s Hill to visit ruins of the church. Propped up against a wall are headstones, which were well preserved and have beautiful patterns carved onto the stone. It is believed that the headstones were brought from overseas, as the material is not found locally. We also came across St. Francis Xavier’s statue, which was given by the Archbishop of Melaka. The statue is missing a right arm and En. Shaukani told the story of a nearby tree that fell onto the statue during a storm, hence the missing limb.
As we descended the hill, we saw an old Dutch cemetery and we learnt that despite its name, only seven Dutch graves are found there while the rest of about 30 plus graves are those of British military personnel and their wives. We continued walking towards Porta de Santiago, the only gate that survived the destruction of A Famosa. We took a happy group photo there under the scorching sun. By this time, we were ready for a lunch break to fuel ourselves for the rest of the afternoon in the historical city of Melaka.
For Part 2, click here.