- 2008/08/29 Grand Merdeka Day celebration for Melaka

This Sunday's Merdeka Day celebration bears much significance for Melaka after the state earned the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) recognition as a world heritage site.

Melaka's glorious years began in the era of the Malay Sultanate right until when it became a pawn in the struggle between the colonial powers that sought fame and fortune in the Far East.

Hence, Melaka's illustrious history had left numerous heritage and cultural landmarks that proved to be the main draws for tourists.

This land of the legendary Malay warrior Hang Tuah received the UNESCO "World Heritage Site recognition last July 7.

This significant acknowledgement is bestowed on a 214.6 hectares area covering two urban conservation sections, which are divided by the Melaka River.

The first area includes the St Paul Hill and its surroundings, comprising several government buildings, museum, a church and what is left of the 16th century Portuguese and Dutch forts as well as Bukit Cina.

The second area covers the historic stretch of residential and commercial areas comprising some 600 shop houses, mausoleum, private residences and other premises.

Month-long celebration

With the arrival of this long-awaited recognition, Melaka is holding a month-long grand celebration themed "Warisan Hidup Sepanjang Zaman" (Timeless Living Heritage).

The Yang Dipertua Negeri Melaka (Head of State) Tun Khalil Yaakob officiated the celebrations launch held last Aug 1.

"This recognition is a major achievement for the country and Melaka in particular," said Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam, adding that it was an honour for the state as it has been striving towards conserving its more than 500 years of heritage.

After receiving the World Heritage City honour, Melaka is expected to receive a deluge of local and foreign tourists.

The chief minister said that by maintaining the historic monuments and other structures, Melaka ensures that its centuries-old heritage is preserved.

"Melaka still retains the culture of various races, said to be the living heritage where the society maintains its traditions in terms of costumes, dishes, customs, handicraft, marriage ceremonies and other cultural aspects," he said.

Melaka tree

Parameswara, a prince from Sumatra, discovered this state in 1396 and named it Melaka, after a tree known as pokok Melaka (Melaka tree).

Later Melaka came to be known as the 'Venice of the East' after it developed into an important port for merchants to ply their various trades.

These merchants introduced various cultures and customs from West Asia, Europe and the Far Eastwere, to this city port.

Hence, various buildings that are unique and reflect their respective culture and custom began to sprout in the city.

Invasion of sea farers

Malaysia's struggle for independence, which culminated in the declaration of Merdeka on Aug 31, 1957, had its beginnings after Melaka fell to the Portuguese invaders in 1511.

Over a century later in 1641, after a series of attacks, the Dutch invaders overpowered the Portuguese and took over Melaka.

Melaka then became a colony of the Prince of Oranges country (Holland) until 1824 when Holland and Britain signed a treaty that paved the way for the British to take over the Malay states.

The British rule came to a halt after Malaya fell to Japan on Feb 15 in 1942. However the British colonial government returned on September 1945 after the surrender of Japan, which brought the second world war to an end.

Despite taking control of the port for 130 years, the Portuguese mercenaries were unable to expand their authority any further, due to Malay's persistent attempts to recapture the city.

During the Dutch rule, forces led by Raja Haji and Sultan Ibrahim tormented the Dutch colonialists, however, the better equipped Dutch managed to thwart the onslaughts.

Melaka remained under Dutch rule for the next 180 years.

Meanwhile, the struggle for independence from the British colonialists had produced a long list of local heroes all over the country. Among others, they included people like Dol Said in Naning (Negeri Sembilan), Datuk Maharajalela (Perak), Datuk Bahaman, Tok Gajah and Mat Kilau (Pahang), Sharif Masahor, Rentap and Asun (Sarawak), Mat Salleh and Antanum (Sabah), Tok Janggut (Kelantan), Abdul Rahman Limbong (Terengganu) and many others.

Declaration of independence

Malaysia's first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Alhaj picked the Bandar Hilir field in Melaka as the location to announce on Feb 20, 1956, that the country was going to achieve independence.

The announcement came after the Merdeka entourage led by Tunku Abdul Rahman returned from London after signing the agreement for independence with the British government on Feb 11, 1956.

The entourage, which also included the nation's other stalwarts like Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, Tun H.S.Lee, T.H.Tan and Abdul Kadir Shamsudin boarded the Mv Asia at Singapore's Tanjung Pagar Port bound for London on Jan 1, 1956.

Negotiations with Britain were held for three weeks, from Jan 18 until Feb 8, 1956.

Tunku Abdul Rahman's entourage left for home on Feb 16 and reached Singapore at midnight on Feb 19, 1956.

The very next day, they left for Melaka where a grand welcome awaited them at the Batu Berendam Airport, before the group proceeded to Padang Pahlawan in Bandar Hilir, where some 100,000 came to witness the historic moment.

The decision to announce the date of the country's independence was made at an Umno emergency meeting held in Kuala Kangsar on Jan 13, 1956.

Happy 51st birthday Malaysia!

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