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Home > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > The Tamil Heritage > Culture of the Tamils > International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Studies> First International Tamil Conference Seminar > Some Notes on the History of the Tamil Community in Dutch Malacca (1641-1825) - F. R. J. Verhoeven
|First International Tamil Conference - Seminar
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
18 - 23 April 1966
Notes on the History of the Tamil Community
F. R. J. Verhoeven
The end of the nineteenth century brought with it the main stream of immigration of Indian labourers to Malaya and a large part of the present Tamil community in this country originates from these immigrants. This situation however tends to obscure the fact that there is a much older root to this large and vital section of the population of Malaya, viz. the Tamil community of Malacca which must have been there almost from its foundation in the beginning of the fifteenth century.
One of the main aspects of the history of Malacca is that so little is known about it. For the older period many of the historical data may have been lost altogether, but for the Dutch period in the history of Malacca a large mass of documents is available, which is waiting for research and publication to produce a rich mine of information.
For briefness' sake I may refer to my paper on "The Lost Archives of Dutch Malacca 1641-1824", read at the International Conference on Asian History, University of Hongkong, 1964, and published shortly afterwards.
I need not stress however that not only Dutch archives but also many other contemporary sources of Malay, English, French and Portuguese origins could provide a wealth of data concerning the history of the Tamil community in Malacca before the comparatively recent large scale immigration started.
Even so enough published sources are now available to give some indication of the importance of this community, its place in the society of those days and its size. The aim of this paper is to glean some facts and data from these sources mainly to show how much information is still lacking.
The author of the well-known Malay autobiography Hikayat Abdullah, Munshi Abdullah relates how as a youth he was sent to a teacher to learn Tamil "because it had been the custom from the time of our forefathers in Malacca for all the children of good and well-to-do families to learn it. It was useful for doing computations and accounts, and for purpose of conversations because at that time Malacca was crowded with Indian merchants. Many were the men who had become rich by trading in Malacca, so much so that the names of Tamil traders had become famous. All of them made their children learn Tamil".
According to Abdullah Malacca had four "Kapitans," each race having a Kapitan. This institution dated from the Dutch times; anyone having a matter of judical import would take it to his Kapitan. One of the four was the Indian Kapitan, the others being the Malay, the Chinese and the Eurasian ones. These facts indicate that the population of Malacca was divided into four more or less equal parts. Apparently this fourfold division was characteristic of the Dutch period.
Abdullah also informs us that he was born in Kampong Pali at Malacca, Pali - he adds - being a Tamil word meaning mosque (presumably palli or palli vaacal, which may have been somewhat reduced in the process of transliteration). This kampong must have been in the section of the north-western suburb where the Indian mosque was and still is situated, flourishing as before and quite popular with the Muslims of Indian origin. It should be noted, that both parents of this famous Malay author were half-Indian, presumably Tamil. At the time it was quite usual for Tamils to be proficient in Malay and act as interpreters or letter writers in that language.
No figures of the numbers of Tamils living at Malacca in Abdullah's time are available, but Newbold, Political and Statistical Account, elaborates on the composition of the population of this town some thirty years later, only seven years after the Dutch had handed Malacca over to the British as a consequence of the Treaty of London of 1824.
According to this source the population of Malacca in 1832 numbered slightly more than 12,000 souls of which about 3,000 were Malays, 3,850 Chinese, 1,900 Christians and 2,750 "Hindoos and Chuliahs,1 natives from the Coromandel coast." The fact that apparently all Hindus and Chuliahs lived in Malacca-town and none in the residency, casts some doubts on the accuracy of Newbold's figures.
Recently the National Archives of Malaysia obtained a photographic copy of a plan of the town and the castle of Malacca (Hoofdplan Malacca) executed by Dutch cartographers in 1785.
It is noteworthy that it is the largest scale plan of Malacca, so far composed, and that when compared with the plan recently published by the Malaysian Survey Department, it clearly shows that the layout of the streets and large buildings in the north-western suburb of Malacca has remained practically unchanged in the last two centuries. It also shows the Indian mosque and the Hindu temple of Malacca in exactly the same location and position as they are now, in what must then have been the Tamil section or Kampong Pali of Malacca.
Going further back in history the Dutch sources translated and printed in English are silent, on the subject for more than a century. In 1678 however the extensive report of the Dutch Governor of Malacca, Balthasar Bort provides us with detailed statistics concerning the composition of the population of Malacca which at the time numbered about 5,400 souls. Among these were "761 Moors,2 and Gentoos,3 768 Malays, 716 Chinese and some 2,000 Portuguese half-castes and blacks." From these figures it would appear that the Tamil population of Malacca was at the time even slightly larger than the Chinese.
It is interesting to mention the composition of the Moor and Gentoo population as reported by Bort. There were 372 males, 100 females and 75 children. The high number of males in the masters group as well as the inverse make-up of the two groups should be noted, indicating maybe that the masters were as yet less settled in Malacca than their slaves. It is however quite possible that many of the slaves were not of Indian origin or, of mixed blood.
An indication of the shifting nature of the Moor and Gentoo population can also be found in the two paragraphs specially devoted to the Moors - the Gentoos are not mentioned here - in the Instruction for the Shahbandar of Malacca (1668). "Moors ... from Coromandel and Bengal must have a tenth of their merchandise unloaded... to be then turned into money by public sale ... but, if any of the Moors remain at Malacca and export any of their aforesaid goods to Johor, no duty is to be levied at the time, but on their return 10% pro rate ..." (Bort, Report p. 110).
Bort frankly states that no European nation, English, Portuguese, French, Danish or Dutch have a chance, as regards the trade in cloth, in competition with the Moors. Their trade in Malacca had greatly increased during the last few years up to 1678.
A description of Malacca some 35 years earlier has been given by Justus Schouten in his Report of 1641, immediately after the conquest by the Dutch. He states that the city (fortress) was enclosed by two large suburbs on the north and south and that these again were surrounded by extensive pleasure grounds, 120 famous gardens and cultivated places besides many small and less important gardens having an area of about three times that of the city.
The northern suburb was usually called Bandar Malacca, with its well-known street Kampong Kling, where the Gentoo goldsmiths, incidentally mentioned by Bort, must have had their shops. This casually mentioned fact indicates how far the historical origin of the Indian goldsmiths in Malaya goes back and it may not come as a surprise that this street, on which the Indian mosque and the Hindu temple mentioned above have been situated since the eighteenth century or earlier, is to this day called Goldsmith Street.
Schouten states that there had been more than 20,000 Christian inhabitants in Malacca and its resorts (this total seems rather high) but that the population had been heavily reduced on account of the long siege. There is however not a complete detailed survey of the population available to give us an idea of the number of Tamils among them.
From his statement that in the general confusion after the conquest many valuable goods were sold for a trifle "to the wily Moors", we can take it however that they have been quite active and did good business.
In any case Schouten counts on the energy and business acumen of Indian traders and businessmen when he advised the Governor-General in Batavia that "a quantity of the most useful goods could be imported preferably such assortment of Coromandel as is recommended by the Klings, who assure that if all foreigners are allowed free trade, yearly a thousand packets could be consumed by Malacca."
For the time being Schouten suggested the ordering of a selection of Coromandel goods costing about 200,000 guilders. These goods could then be sold with 50 to 100% profit and the Klings assured Schouten that they have had even bigger profits after deducting 18% for freight and duty. Schouten's suggestions provide in a flash a clear picture of the important role played by the Klings in a Malacca in transition in the seventeenth century.
In the Portuguese period in the history of Malacca (1511-1641) the Klings 4 must have formed a large section of the population of Malacca and in De Eredia's plan of the city of 1613 we find the above mentioned street, Kampong Kling (Campon Chelin) indicated next to Kampong China and other kampongs. This Campon Chelin was then located in the northern suburb between the sea and the bend of Malacca River, but apparently one block to the south from Goldsmith Street, at the parallel street which in the Dutch period and later was named Jonker Street.
It might be conjectured that a change-over has taken place when Campo Clin (Kampong Kling) was burnt down during the attack on Malacca by the Dutch in 1606 (VALENTYN, Oud eu Nieuw Oost Indian). As the map of De Eredia shows a rather strong contraction along the East-West axis, it is difficult to be sure.
In his Description of Malacca, 1613 De Eredia states that Campon Chelin extends from the Bazaar of the Jaos (on the northern bank of the mouth of Malacca river) in a north-westerly direction and ends at a stone bastion which was at a distance of 700 bracas (fathoms) = 1400 yards5 from the mouth of Malacca river. In this quarter "live the Chelis6 of Choromandel who ought to be the Chalinges of Pliny, Book 6 Chapter 17."
In his Description of Malacca De Eredia states further that with the foundation of Malacca "a beginning was made with the trade in spices and metals, which were exchanged for the cloths of Coromandel' and of the ganges...Merchants of those regions came together at the port of Malacca...The merchants from Choromandel, especially the Chelis, engaged in this trade and settled in the district of Upe (or Tranqueira) on the opposite side of the River Malacca from the fortress: from here they carried on intercourse with Choromandel, and from there with Egypt, so that Malacca became a big place, with large population consisting of people from the vicinity and of strangers."
These few data and facts may suffice to indicate the large gaps in our information concerning the history of Malacca and its Tamil community during the Dutch period.
This period lasted 184 years, longer than any other of the periods into which the past of this important city can be conveniently divided (Malay, Portuguese, Dutch, English and Malaysian).
Yet for more than a century at a stretch (from the last quarter of the seventeenth to the end of the eighteenth century) there is no adequate information available concerning the history of Malacca in general and none at all concerning the Tamil community in Malacca. Even the historical terms Kings, Moors, Gentoos, Chulias, Chelis and Chetties, or Chitties mentioned in this paper, cannot be properly defined in their Malayan context, for lack of sufficient information.
It is to be noted that in Batavia the name "Cling" was used as early as 1620, a year after its foundation and more than a century after it appeared in Portuguese accounts, but that it did not catch on. The designation Moors and Jentieven (also derived from the Portuguese gentio) was preferred by the Batavian Dutch (DE HAAN, Oud-Batavia, p. 377, n.4).
The other aspect of the situation is, that a large amount of archival material (estimated at some 160,000 pages) of which only a diminutive portion has been transcribed and published in English, is now not available to Malaysian students and scholars.
The largest source by far is the Algemeen Rijksarchief in the Netherlands, with its extensive holdings of archival material concerning South-east Asia. In the papers forwarded from Batavia to Holland in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many data and much information about Malacca will be found.
The National Archives of Malaysia as well as the Library of the University of Singapore hold microfilm copies of a small part of these archives. There is however as yet no published inventory or calendar of these voluminous documents available. The Arsip National at Djakarta holds a segment of Malacca archives, mainly late eighteenth century of which an incomplete inventory has been published (VAN DER CHYS, Inventaries Landsarchief, pp.334 /8).
Recently some forty-five bundles of Dutch Malacca archives from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries have been located in the India Office, London. These are apparently in some disorder and have yet to be classified. The study, listing and publishing of these various holdings of Dutch archives as well as the material from Portuguese and French sources so as to make them available will be an exhaustive and time-consuming task, which requires cooperation on an international basis.
In this connection I am pleased to state that the Malaysian Government as well as UNESCO have shown some interest in this long term project which would eventually result in a survey of the available historical material and the writing of a detailed History of Dutch Malacca and Malaya.
As this would naturally include the history of the Tamils in Malacca, I wonder whether, it might be too bold to suggest that the International Conference-Seminar of Tamil Studies could substantially endorse this project by giving it its ad hoc moral support as well as a more permanent contribution making available some financial donation towards the costs of this project.
1. The origin and application of this term appear to be obscure. According to Hobson-Jobson the name Chulia is given in Ceylon and Malabar to a particular class of Mahommedans, and sometimes to Mahommedans generally. Its exact meaning, when used by British authors describing the population of Malaya, has still to be ascertained.
2 Mahommedans, and so, from the habitual use of the term Mouro by the Portuguese in India, particularly Mahommedan inhabitants of India. To the Spaniards and Portuguese, whose first contact was with the Musulmans of Mauretania and who had then passed over and conquered the Peninsula, all Mahommedans were Moors. So the Mahommedans whom the Portuguse met with on their voyages to India, on what coastsoever, were alike styled Mouros; and from Portuguese the use of this term passed to Hollanders � who changed it to Moorman � and Englishmen; Hobson-Jobson.
3 According to Hobson-Jobson this word is a corruption of the Portuguese gentio, a gentile or heathen, applied to Hindus in contradistinction from the Moors. The term Gentoo was applied in two senses: (a) to the Hindus generally, (b) to the Telugu-speaking Hindus of the Indian Peninsula specially.
4 Hobson-Jobson states that this is the name applied in the Malay countries including the Straits Settlements to the people of Continental India who trade hither, or who are settled in these regions, and to the descendants of such settlers. The name is derived from Kalinga, the famous ancient Indian kingdom, and makes its appearance, applied to settlers of Indian origin, in the Portuguese narratives immediately after the conquest of Malacca in 1511, (contd. page 7). DURAI RAJA SINGAM, Malayan Place Names, mentions that the "name Kling in Malaya is (nowadays) regarded as a contemptuous term, possibly because the "Orang Kling" are labourers. The feeling against the term is so strong amongst educated Tamils in Malaya that the Municipal Committee of Singapore changed the well-known Kling Street to Chulia Street". It should be noted that Singapore has a Chitty Street as well while Penang also has a Chulia Street, and a Tamil Street. Singapore, however, still has its Kampong Tanjong Kling while Malacca has kept and valued its well-known Tanjong Kling, seven miles to the west of the town, for several centuries now.
5.The distance is slightly over 600 yards only. It has been suggested that DE EREDIA mistook "fathoms" for "yards".
6 Hobson-Jobson says that this word is applied by some Portuguese writers to the traders of Indian origin who were settled at Malacca. It is possible that it originated in some confusion of Quelin, i.e. Kling and Chulia(a) or rather of any of the trading castes in South India, Tamil Shetti.
7 The name Coromandel has been long applied by Europeans to the northern Tamil country or the eastern coast of the Indian Peninsula from Pt. Calimere northwards to the mouth of the Kistna, sometimes to Orissa. The ambiguity of the ch, soft in Portuguese and Spanish, but hard in Italian, seems to have led early to the corrupt form Coromandel, Cormandel etc. The Portuguese appear to have adhered in the main to the more correct form Choromandel; Hobson-lobson.