By Abdul Ghani Nasir
Pixs by Ikhwan Hashim
BANGI, 16 Dec. 2011 – A UKM scholar has predicted the possibility of a revival of Malay economic dominance in the Sea of Malayu* with the fast pace development of Iskandar Johor and the Port of Tanjung Pelepas.
Professor Dr Nordin Hussin said seen from the historical perspective the development of trade and civilization in the Sea of Malayu since the early modern era to the 20th century, it can be surmised that history may repeat itself.
Dr Nordin who was delivering his Public Lecture entitled “Trade and Civilisation of the Sea of Malayu” here today, said: “Whoever succeeded in controlling the Malayu Sea will ultimately reap the richness therein.
“Since 1819 Singapore was developed progressively and had successfully competed against Malacca and Penang.
“In the 20th century Singapore made history becoming the most important port in the East just like that achieved by Srivijaya in the 7th until the 11th century , Malacca from the 13th to 16th century and Johor-Riau from the 17th to 18th century.”
He, however, posed the question “will history repeat itself with the creation of Iskandar Johor and Port of Tanjung Pelepas at the southern tip of the Malayu Sea that is rapidly developing to becoming the catalyst for economic resurgence and also the main port in the East in the 21st century? Only time will tell.”
In his lecture at the Senate Room attended by about 200 scholars and lecturers, Prof Nordin who obtained his PhD from the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands related the historical development around the Malayu Sea, the waterways between Sumatera and the Malay Peninsula.
It has been the homeland of the Malays since the beginning of the early millennium when they had created and nurtured their seafaring and maritime civilisation based on trade.
These seafarers ruled the nine seas in the Malay world since early civilisations in Kedah and followed by the Srivijaya, Malacca and Johor kingdom.
“Despite the arrival of the European powers from the 16th century leading to the destruction of port of Johor-Riau in 1784, the Malay kingdoms and trading activities continued to show their resilience.
“However, later due to severe external pressures there was a discernable erosion and decline of the mercantile Malay culture,” he said.
Prof Nordin said that from the 16th to the 18th century, the middle distance and near traders in the region were mostly Malays and Bugis (from the Celebes) and they were not bothered by the European traders.
But change began from the beginning of the 19th century when the British and the Dutch began to exert full control of trading at the main ports in the Malayu Sea and South East Asia.
The emergence of Penang and Singapore brought about the demise of Malacca while the British East India Company and private traders wrest control of trading opportunities provided by the China market.
By the 19th century, he said, political and economic changes in the Sea of Malayu was very drastic and challenged dominance of the Malay traders.
“At the same time the weakening of the Johor Malay Empire, which though had for quite sometime been the catalyst for the trading and civilisation of the Malays, led to the dismantling of the Malay economic power.”
At the lecture, Prof Nordin read a long poem ‘Syair Dagang Berjual Beli’ (The Poem of Trading, Buying and Selling) penned by Tuan Simi which potrayed the fate of Malay and Bugis traders at the Port of Singapore at the hands of the British and immigrants during the 19th century.
Partly the poem read:
What beholden we Bugis and Malays,
We always hope for help of the white people,
Their ways are indeed extreme,
Mouths being fed but the backside burnt,
It is said the white people are fair,
Punishing and questioning without favour,
But now we know for sure,
All the rules are mere appearances.
*The term Malayu was used by the Arab and European traders.