The Aurea Chersonesus - The Conquest of Malacca - The Straits Settlements - The Configuration of the Peninsula - A Terra Incognita - The Monsoons - Products of the Peninsula - The Great Vampire - Beasts and Reptiles - Malignant and Harmless Insects - Land and Water Birds - Traditions of Malay Immigration - Wild and Civilized Races - Kafirs - The Samangs and Orang-outang - Characteristics of the Jakuns - Babas and Sinkehs - The Malay Physiognomy - Language andLiterature - Malay Poetry and Music - Malay Astronomy - Education and Law - Malay Sports - Domestic Habits - Weapons - Slavery and Debt Bondage - Government - "No Information"
Canton and Saigon, and whatever else is comprised in the second half of my title, are on one of the best beaten tracks of travelers, and need no introductory remarks.
But the Golden Chersonese is still somewhat of a terra incognita; there is no point on its mainland at which European steamers call, and the usual conception of it is as a vast and malarious equatorial jungle, sparsely peopled by a race of semi-civilized and treacherous Mohammedans. In fact, it is as little known to most people as it was to myself before I visited it; and as reliable information concerning it exists mainly in valuable volumes now out of print, or scattered through blue books and the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Singapore, I make no apology for prefacing my letters from the Malay Peninsula with as many brief preliminary statements as shall serve to make them intelligible, requesting those of my readers who are familiar with the subject to skip this chapter altogether.
The Aurea Chersonesus of Ptolemy, the "Golden Chersonese" of Milton, the Malay Peninsula of our day, has no legitimate claim to an ancient history. The controversy respecting the identity of its Mount Ophir with the Ophir of Solomon has been "threshed out" without much result, and the supposed allusion to the Malacca Straits by Pliny is too vague to be interesting.
The region may be said to have been rediscovered in 1513 by the Portuguese, and the first definite statement concerning it appears to be in a letter from Emanuel, King of Portugal, to the Pope. In the antique and exaggerated language of the day, he relates that his general, the famous Albuquerque, after surprising conquests in India, had sailed to the Aurea Chersonesus, called by its inhabitants Malacca. He had captured the city of Malacca, sacked it, slaughtered the Moors (Mohammedans) who defended it, destroyed its twenty-five thousand houses abounding in gold, pearls, precious stones, and spices, and on its site had built a fortress with walls fifteen feet thick, out of the ruins of its mosques. The king, who fought upon an elephant, was badly wounded and fled. Further, on hearing of the victory, the King of Siam, from whom Malacca had been "usurped by the Moors," sent to the conqueror a cup of gold, a carbuncle, and a sword inlaid with gold. This conquest was vaunted of as a great triumph of the Cross over the Crescent, and as its result, by the year 1600 nearly the whole commerce of the Straits had fallen into the hands of the Portuguese.
Of the remaining "Moorish", or Malay kingdoms, Acheen, in Sumatra, was the most powerful, so powerful, indeed, that its king was able to besiege the great stronghold of Malacca more than once with a fleet, according to the annalist, of "more than five hundred sail, one hundred of which were of greater size than any then constructed in Europe, and the warriors or mariners that it bore amounted to sixty thousand, commanded by the king in person." The first mention of Johore, or Jhor, and Perak occurs about the same time, Perak being represented as a very powerful and wealthy State.
The Portuguese, by their persevering and relentless religious crusade against the Mohammedans, converted all the States which were adjacent to their conquests into enemies, and by 1641 their empire in the Straits was seized upon by the Dutch, who, not being troubled by much religious earnestness, got on very well with the Malay Princes, and succeeded in making advantageous commercial treaties with them.
A curious but fairly accurate map of the coasts of the Peninsula was prepared in Paris in 1668 to accompany the narrative of the French envoy to the Court of Siam, but neither the mainland nor the adjacent islands attracted any interest in this country till the East India Company acquired Pinang in 1775, Province Wellesley in 1798, Singapore in 1823, and Malacca in 1824. These small but important colonies were consolidated in 1867 into one Government under the Crown, and are now known as the Straits Settlements, and prized as among the most valuable of our possessions in the Far East. Though these settlements are merely small islands or narrow strips of territory on the coast, their population, by the census of 1881, exceeded four hundred and twenty-two thousand souls, and in 1880 their exports and imports amounted to 32,353,000 pounds!
Besides these little bits of British territory scattered along a coast-line nearly four hundred miles in length, there are, on the west side of the Peninsula, the native States of Kedah, Perak, Selangor, and Sungei Ujong, the last three of which are under British "protection;" and on the east are Patani, Kelantan, Tringganu, and Pahang; the southern extremity being occupied by the State of Johore. The interior, which is scarcely at all known, contains toward its centre the Negri Sembilan, a confederation of eight (formerly nine) small States. The population of the native States of the Peninsula is not accurately known, but, inclusive of a few wild tribes and the Chinese immigrants, it is estimated at three hundred and ten thousand; which gives under nine inhabitants to the square mile, the population of the British settlements being about four hundred and twenty to the square mile.