The Jalan Roa Malaka of Kota Tua Part I: A name related to the Portuguese

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Seen from Jonkersgracht bridge. Parallel at the front of the picture is Roa Malaka. Road running perpendicular is Jalan Kopi. Houses on the Roa Malaka would have been similar to those on Jalan Kopi. On the corner to the left is the Inner Portuguese Church. It was a smart place to live in the 18th and 19th centuries. Photo Credit: Drawing by Johan Wolfgang Heydt, 1744. Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

IO – In what was once the intramuros area of Kota Tua or the Old Town area of Jakarta there is still today a road with the intriguing name of Jalan Roa Malaka. There are many memories associated with this road. Since rua and jalan both mean “road” (the one in Portuguese and the other in Malay) two words are a little superfluous. The name is in fact, connected to the VOC (United Dutch East India Company)’s capture of the town of Malacca in 1641. Its conquest was part of VOC strategy to seize power from the Por­tuguese in Asia.

The Jalan Roa Malaka was orig­inally known as the Jonkersstraat because of the Jonkersgracht or “Jonkers Canal” which used to run down the middle of the street. The Jonkersgracht was built between 1637 and 1638. The Dutch word jonk­er is a variation of the word jonkheer which means roughly “nobleman”. It is a common street name used in many Dutch overseas settlements. For example, this street name also appeared in the towns of Neira in the Banda Islands, in Semarang and in Malacca. Centuries later the Jonkers Canal was filled in and became part of the road.

A road closely associated with Jalan Roa Malaka is what is now known as Jalan Kopi and which used to be called Utrechtsestraat be­cause at the end of the road stood the Utrechtsepoort or the “Utrecht Gate” which was once one of the entrances into the walled city of Batavia. Jalan Kopi or the Utrechtsestraat stretching from east to west divides the Jalan Roa Malaka into two parts. The first section to the north of the Utrechtse­straat was known as Groote Roea Mal­akka or Great Rua Malacca. Later its name changed to Roea Malakka Nord and now it is known as Jalan Roa Malaka Utara or “Rua Malacca North”. Meanwhile, the section of the Jalan Roa Malaka to the south of Jalan Kopi was known as Kleine Roea Malakka or “Small Rua Malacca”. Later it was called Roea Malakka Zuid and now it is known as the Jalan Roa Malaka Se­latan or “Rua Malacca South”.

Both Jalan Kopi) and the Roa Mal­aka lie across the ruins of what was once the town of Jayakarta where the alun-alun – a Javanese word for green or square – once lay. In this area also stood Prince Jayakarta’s mosque and his Dalem or palace. Indonesian archaeologist Candrian Attatiyah who specializes in the history of Jakarta is hopeful that one day archaeological excavations will be carried out in this area to see if there are any remains that might give them some insight into layout of the town of Jayakarta. He says, “I think there may actual­ly be ruins buried around the Hotel Omni Batavia on the Jalan Kali Besar Barat which runs parallel to Jalan Roa Malaka.”

Three 18th century houses: numbers 10, 8 and 6 (see right to left) on Jl Roa Malaka Selatan. No. 10 and 8 were built for Europeans and have no verandah. No. 6 with its verandah was built for Moors or Chinese. Photo credit: F. de Haan Oud Batavia, 1935/Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

The houses on the western side of the Roea Malakka were more impos­ing than those on the eastern side of the road. The back entrances to the houses on the Roea Malakka could be entered from the roads behind running parallel to the Jalan Roa Malaka. In the year 1744 the Roea Malakkka or Jonkersgracht was de­scribed by Johan Wolfgang Heydt the artist and topographer who lived sev­eral years in Batavia, as a very lovely road. On both sides of the Jonkers­gracht pohon asam or tamarind trees were planted and these provided shade over the water as well as over the road making it a very pleasant place to row or to walk. There were both Chinese and European houses on this road and Chinese venders sold drinks and all sorts of goods and fashionable articles under the trees.

At first, Javanese, Chinese and Moors lived in the western part of the city as well as Europeans. After the attacks of the Sultan of Mataram and after the western city walls were erected the Javanese were forbidden to live intramuros. Later a third group of people came to live on the Jalan Rua Malaka namely the Mardijkers. After the VOC conquered Malacca, Sri Langka and several VOC posts in India, primarily along the Coast of Coromandel it brought back to Batavia many Por­tuguese prisoners-of-war. The term “Portuguese” is used very loosely here because it not only encompassed white Portuguese from Portugal (there were very few of these) but also Mix­tiezen or Portuguese Eurasians as well as Indians and Malays who had converted to Catholicism and taken the names of their Portuguese god­fathers. Names such as De Lima, De Sousa, Da Silva etc. They were the so called “Brown Portuguese”. The main language they used was a type of cre­olized Portuguese (which they shared with the Eurasian Portuguese). They also wore a mixed European form of clothing.

The Inner Portuguese Church built for the Indo-Portuguese who were white or of mixed blood and had converted from Catholicism to become Protestants. Photo credit: Francisco Valentijn’s Oud en Niweuw Oost-Indien, 1727.

In those days the Jonkersgracht was a fashionable area and most of the European and Mixtiezen (the so called “White Portuguese”) lived on this street especially in the area around the Inner Portuguese Church. It was because of them that people began to refer to the Jonkersgracht­straat as the Roea Malakka.

The most-high ranking Mardijker at the time was the last Portuguese gover­nor (the Portuguese then referred to their governors as captain general) of Malacca, Dom Luiz Martin de Sousa Chichorro. He was Captain General of Malacca from 1637 till 1641 when Malacca fell to the VOC. After being brought to Batavia he lived on the Jonkersgrachtstraat with his wife, Dona Maria da Silva.

The coat-of-arms of the House of De Sousa Chichorro which is one of the oldest and nobler houses of Portugal.

The House of De Sousa Chichorro is one of the oldest and nobler houses of Portugal. Its members are descen­dants of Martim Afonso Chichorro and Ines Lorenco de Sousa. Its mot­to is “Better to break than to bend”. The shield has four quarters. In the first and fourth quarter are the royal shield of Portugal whereas in the sec­ond and third quarter is the shield of the De Sousas which consists of four crescents in silver or argent.

In the history of the Portuguese Empire in Asia the names of many De Sousas are mentioned and indeed the House of De Sousa was very much involved in the creation of the Por­tuguese Empire in Asia. One fa­mous name is Martin Alfonso de Sou­sa who was the Portuguese admiral for India. He was an extremely capa­ble man who later had the honour of bringing St Francisco Xaviar or St Francis Xavier (the first Apostolic Legate for all of India) from Portugal to India. St Francis Xavier later visited Ambon and today the Catholic cathedral there is named after him. Martim Alfonso de Sousa later replaced Dom Stefano de Gama as Governor of India.

A 17th century depiction of St Francis Xavier. Artist, unknown. Photo credit: Kobe City Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The VOC tried many times for nearly 40 years to besiege and cap­ture Malacca from the Portuguese. This was not only because of the im­portance of its position in relation to the trade of the region but also be­cause after 1580 Portugal and Spain had become one nation and the Dutch were rebelling against Spain which had for many years controlled the Netherlands. In fighting the Por­tuguese, the Dutch were in fact fight­ing for their independence. The final conquest of Malacca by the VOC took nearly a year, from 1640 to 1641, with a great siege of the town by the VOC fleet together with the forces of the Sultan of Johor and surrounding Malay sultanates. During the siege many thousands died of starvation. When the town finally surrendered it was rumoured that the Dutch mocked the Portuguese commander by saying, “So when will your sol­diers be retaking Malacca? To which the Portuguese are reported to have responded, “When our sins are as heavy as yours.”

Both the Portuguese and the Dutch had blood on their hands in their efforts to create empires in Asia. It pains me however, to end this piece on such a depressing note. I prefer to end this part of the history of the Mardijkers with a story of human compassion even in those most vio­lent times and as this story concerns a De Sousa I believe that it fits here on a piece about the Roea Malakka: In the 16th century at one point a man named Thomas de Sousa led the Portuguese fleet in reprisals along the coast of Sri Langka after the siege of Fort Columbo and among the prisoners taken as slaves at the town of Ascore was a bride. As the Portuguese ships were about to weigh anchor a young man came running shouting that he was the man about to marry the bride, offering to become a slave rather than be separated from the woman he loved. De Sousa’s heart must have been moved for when he heard this he gave them both their liberty. They chose however – perhaps in gratitude- to remain in his service and live in Columbo. It seems that even in times of great violence and despair there are still people who know how to love and how to value love.

These then are a little of the histo­ries and the stories that would have been part of the heritage of the people known as the Mardijkers who lived on the Roea Malakka and who caused the Jonkersgrachtstraat to have its name changed to Roea Malakka. One of the things strongly related to them was the Inner Portuguese Church or Portugeesche Binnenkerk located on the north side of the intersection of Jalan Kali Besar Barat and Jalan Kopi and the Roea Malakka. It was the first church built for the Mardi­jkers and was finally finished in 1673 after a long building period.

The so called Brown Portuguese were usually poorer and did not live on the Roea Malakka. They were slaves and only received their merde­ka or freedom after they converted to Protestantism. It is in fact from this that the word Mardijker originated. After 1663 they tended to live in the new eastern voorstad or suburb out­side the city walls, now in the area of the Kota train station. They also needed a church and the Outer Por­tuguese Church or Portugeesche Buitenkerk was built in 1695. The church was built in a cemetery on the Jacatraweg (now the Jalan Pangeran Jayakarta) which was called the Jas­senkerkhof.

Pastéis de Nata served at a restaurant in Belem, Portugal near the Monastry of St Gerome. Photo credit: Yusuke Kawasaki from Tokyo, Japan, CC BY 2.0 (https:// creativecommons .org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

The Portuguese had a strong influ­ence on Batavia society. They introduced such foods as kueh bolu, pastel, risoles and panada and of course, the famous Portuguese custard tarts or pastéis de nata which originated from the Monastery of St Gerome in the parish of St Mary of Bethlehem in Lisbon. They are still popular in Indonesian especially amongst the Tugu community descended from the Mardijkers.

Another influence is that today there are over 300 Portuguese loan words in the Indonesian language including culinary loan words such as terigu (flour), limau (lemon or lime), (mentega (butter), keju (cheese), bolu (sponge cake), kaldu (stock). The Portuguese also introduced keroncong music which has similaritites to sado in Portugal; both of which originated from the sailors of the Portuguese voyages of discovery.

Fi­nally, I must also make mention of the style of dress worn by the Euro­pean, Eurasian and native Christian women who lived in Batavia during the 17th and 18th centuries. At that time these ladies tended to wear clothes in the fashion of the Portu­guese ladies living in Goa and these later influenced Indonesia’s sarong and kebaya.

Picture of a lady wearing a saia or long, pleated skirt made of Indi¬an hand painted chintz with a long, white kebaya, the forerunner of the short kebaya that we use now. Photo Credit: Atlas of Mutual Heritage. In the World of Jan Brandes by Jan Brandes, 1743-1808, IN 2005.

 In Goa ladies wore the saia name­ly, a long, wide skirt made of Indian hand painted chintz which was gath­ered in broad flat pleats around the hips. By the end of the 18th centu­ry the chintz skirt became gathered rather than pleated at the waist. In Batavia this chintz came from the Coast of Coromandel which is on the eastern side of India. On top of the chintz skirt they wore a long, thin, white cotton blouse that reached until below the calf. This was closed in front until the waist after which it fell open. It had long sleeves, closed tightly at the wrists. This blouse might also be made of chintz or silk and was the oldest form of the kebaya. It was only after 1870 that it was slowly replaced by many women with short kebayas. In the 19th century the chintz skirt was replaced by the sarong with chintz like patterns from the North Coast of Java.

After the Inner Portuguese Church was destroyed by fire in the 19th century and as travel around Bata­via became easier with macadamized roads and better modes of transport, the Mardijkers on the Roea Malakka began to go to services at the Outer Portuguese Church. Both Brown and White Mardijkers suffered during the Japanese Occupation and after the War many immigrated to Holland and other parts of the world. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

If you enjoyed this article you may like to read:

Part II: https://observerid.com/the-jalan-roa-malaka-of-kota-tua-part-ii-its-chinese-inhabitants-and-the-chinese-massacre-of-1740/

Part III: https://observerid.com/the-jalan-roa-malaka-of-kota-tua-part-iii-the-europeans/

Part IV: https://observerid.com/the-jalan-roa-malaka-of-kota-tua-part-iv-f-j-l-ghijzels-and-modernism-in-indonesian-architecture/