Museums of Melaka – Maritime Museum, Customs & Baba-Nonya

The hotel we stayed at is called the Herring House and it is quaint and charming. Christi’s allergies started bothering her in the night, so in the morning she was looking forward to a long, very hot shower to clear her head. No such luck. There is a water heater mounted to the wall of the shower and she couldn’t figure out how to turn it on. Neither could Eric, so we both wound up with cold showers. Well”¦ cold is the wrong word. We’re in the tropics, where cold water doesn’t exist. Tepid would be the appropriate word. But it still didn’t have the safe effect at clearing out your sinuses that a hot, steamy shower has.

Eric had been saying for several days now that he thought he might be fighting off a cold. This morning he felt like the cold had won the battle. He was not feeling good at all, with a sore throat and achy back. Christi was sneezing and sniffling and loudly blowing her nose. We were quite the pair.

We were meeting the crew of Shayile at the Maritime Museum at 1000. With a little time to kill before our meeting time, we wandered around the corner and down a street we hadn’t explored yet in search of an ATM. This street is a main drag. The side of the street we were on had a nice park and a brand new mall. They are also in the process of building some kind of an attraction with a sky tower. The other side of the street is lined with three story shop houses and what looks like may be another new shopping center. We never did find an ATM.

The Maritime Museum is in two buildings. The first is a replica of a Portuguese Nau sailing vessel, a typical ship used in Malacca’s trading heyday. The second is a more non-descript blocky building next door. Notice the change in spelling. Malacca was the correct spelling for in the past, but the Malaysian government recently decided to change the official spelling. A few signs around town have been updated, but most still use the old spelling.


Anyway, the ship replica had a lot of paintings showing what Malacca looked like during each period of history. There were large displays with wax figures replicating various scenes, such as the merchant trade area. In between the paintings and displays were many, many signs to read, each telling of an aspect of life in Melaka. The signs were quite detailed, outlining the governmental structure and how it grew over the years, the trading rules, currencies used, taxes, weapons and so forth. We found out a lot of detail that we hadn’t already read about. The signs were written in broken English, which seemed odd to us since most of the people we have met in Malaysia so far speak really good English. It seems like anyone off the street would have done a better job of translating the signs. The second building housed artifacts, had displays about local customs and smaller vessels used by the locals, and a nice display about marine life and sea birds in the area.

Malacca really does have an interesting history. It flourished initially because of the orderly merchant system, governmental protections, low taxes, and of course, ideal location in the wind belts. It grew to be quite a large empire in terms of both land mass and wealth. Once the Portuguese took over, the decline was rapid. The Portuguese heavily taxed any trade ship that sailed through the Straits of Malacca, even if the ship was not going to do any trading in Malacca. The Portuguese also pushed their faith on the locals, and many Muslims fled. The Portuguese apparently made a lot of enemies and Melaka was frequently attacked. The Dutch ruled in a similar manner, and were equally despised. Once the British got control of Melaka, they encouraged agriculture and mining, changing Melaka into an exporter of rubber, pepper, coconut, tin and fish instead of a trade town. They never prospered as an exporter, and the town fell into disrepair under the British rule.

As we were leaving, we noticed a museum not mentioned in Lonely Planet. It is called Royal Malaysian Customs and it said free admission. We walked in, expecting to see exhibits of what sultan life was like. It turned out to be a display of many of the illegal things the customs agents have confiscated over the years. At first we thought it was weird, but the more we looked around, the more we enjoyed it. We have never seen anything like this before. There are vehicles once used for smuggling, including something that looks just like a Segueway. There are containers with false bottom and backs, and if you peered inside you could see little plastic baggies of drugs. There is a display of nudie magazines and videos (in glass so you couldn’t peruse them). There were naked statues (they put cloth over the indecent areas). There was a small slit in the wall at eye level with a button saying you had to be 18 to push it. When you pushed the button, a video started, and as it played, a light shone on various tables containing things like well, er, items available for purchase at an adult bookstore. The four adults watched the video one by one, Eric being last. As it started, he exclaimed excitedly to Christi “It’s in DivX!”

Since the video was the end of the tour, everyone else was waiting in the lobby, talking with the customs official who was acting as curator for the day. Christi walked into the lobby and said “Eric is really excited about the video because it’s in DivX”. Of course, the other adults had no clue what DivX is and just heard that Eric is excited about this display of pornographic toys. Christi had to do a little back pedaling to explain what DivX is and that he is excited about the encoding of the video, not the video itself.

From there we went to the Baba-Nonya museum. Baba-Nonyas (AKA Pernakans) are interracial couples with a Chinese husband and Malay wife and their offspring. The Pernakans are almost viewed as a race of their own in both Singapore and Malaysia. They use the name and religion of the Chinese, but the custom and dress of the Malay. Their dialect is primarily Malay with a lot of Chinese thrown in, as well as a few English and French words. Most Malay cannot comprehend the Pernakan language because of the heavy use of other words. Since most of the Chinese men were traders, often the Pernakan families were quite wealthy. The Baba-Nonya museum is the home of a Pernakan family that lived in it for many years. When the current owners inherited it, they turned it into a museum of Pernakan lifestyle and culture. Everything is intact in the house exactly as it was when their parents lived there.


To be continued”¦

One thought on “Museums of Melaka – Maritime Museum, Customs & Baba-Nonya”

  1. Lol you can’t get away from divx even when you’re at a museum half way across the world 😉

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