The Tranquerah Mosque has distinct Malay, Chinese and Indonesian styles of architecture and motifs.
It is indeed a pity that Tranquerah, a place with an intriguing name, has not been given its due recognition in the annals of Malacca.
IN Malay, it is called Jalan Tengkera, giving rise to speculation that some kind of monkey business was connected to it.
No, it had nothing to do with simians but fierce warriors.
It was a regular battle zone between the 16th and 18th centuries and a place where much Portuguese, Dutch, Malay, Javanese and Acehnese blood was shed.
Tranquerah’s name derives from the Spanish word tranquera which means a gate or fence. That was the role it played during the Portuguese era between 1511 and 1641.
According to the written works of a French priest, Rev Fr Rene Edouard Cardon, who served in Malacca and other parts of Malaya before he died in 1948, Tranquerah was a crucial bulwark of defence for the city.
“Tranquerah means an obstacle, probably used to denote one of the outworks beyond the fortress. The gate is at the end of Heeren Street (Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock), known to the natives as Kampong Belanda, a quarter of a mile or so from the Stadthuys,”
“It was an entrenchment, a palisade of posts driven into the ground. Sometimes, in front of this wooden fence, deep pits were dug, their bottoms bristling with pointed and poisoned sticks or caltrops,” he wrote.
Until 1620, the Portuguese had no other fortifications in Malacca besides the A Famosa fortress and the bastion at the peak of S. Paul’s Hill.
From 1519, the city came under relentless attacks from Sultan Mahmud, the defeated ruler who had moved his base to the island of Bintang.
The Sultan’s fighters attacked the small garrison stationed in the fortress which was already thinned by sickness and deaths to just about 30 men but they were saved by the timely arrival of fresh troops and supplies.
Based on the first mention in Portuguese records, the palisade of Tranquerah was most likely built before 1525 when Sultan Mahmud launched another attack to regain Malacca.
It was referred to as Upeh Tranquerah. (Upeh is a tiny island a short distance across the sea.)
There was fierce fighting in the area and vulnerable places near the city but Jorge D’ Albuqurque, who was then captain of the fortress, managed to drive off the invaders.
In his paper, published by the Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 65 years ago, wrote extensively about the continuous attacks at Tranquerah, including one of the longest sieges of laid on the city in 1607 by the forces of Ujongtana (Johor), Perak, Muar and Javanese fighters from the kingdom of Japar (known as Jepara today).
Apparently, the blockade was so prolonged that the people were reduced to eat dogs, cats and rats.
An old Portuguese soldier came up with a clever guise to save the fortress. He told the commander to load ships with all goods available and send them out, spreading the rumour that they were going to attack the kingdoms.
Privately, however, the captains of the vessels were told to sail far enough to find trading junks and barter the goods on board for rice and other foodstuff.
The ruse worked, with most of soldiers scrambling back to defend the kingdoms, except for the Javanese.
Soon after, another commander who arrived from an outpost in Kedah, led 200 Portuguese and locals in attacking the outnumbered Javanese at the palisade, killing most of them.
Battles were also fought in the area 20 years later when the Achehnese under Sultan Iskandar Muda who was also known as Mahkota Alam (Ruler of the World), attacked Malacca with a 20,000 force.
After two years of ceaseless conflicts, the Portuguese command in Goa, India sent an armada of ships to crush the Achehnese.
Before the Dutch eventually conquered Malacca in 1941, Tranquerah was among the last bastions to fall.
The combined forces of the Dutch and Johor fighters landed near Tranquerah and attacked the 100-odd Portuguese manning the ramparts, causing them to flee to the city.
The Dutch then massed closer to the fortress and fired canons from both land and from their ships in the harbour.
The siege lasted for five months and within the fortress walls, the people suffered from famine and diseases.
According to a report, food was so scarce that one woman exhumed the body of her dead child and ate it to survive.
Tranquerah also featured prominently in Dutch records, in the defence of the city against attacks by Minangakabau Malays from Rembau and Naning.
It is about time that the Malacca Government identifies the site of the palisade and restore the hidden history of Tranquerah.
Today, the place is famous for at least one major tourist attraction – the Tranquerah Mosque.
The Sumatran-style mosque with a three-tiered wooden roof, was built in 1728, the same year as another Malacca landmark, the Kampung Hulu Mosque.
Described as one of the most beautiful mosques in the country, it features Malay, Chinese and Indonesian styles of architecture and motifs.
It is supported by four great pillars with the praying area divided into the main hall and the balcony. Like other old mosques in Malacca, it has a pagoda instead of the usual minaret.
The Tranquerah Mosque used to be State Mosque of Malacca before the Al-Azim Mosque at Bukit Palah was opened in 1990.
Within its wrought iron-fenced compound is the tomb of Sultan Hussain Shah, the ruler of the territories of Johor and Singapore in the early 19th Century, who signed away the island to Stamford Raffles in 1819.
There is another more famous old tomb in Tranquerah, hidden away from the main road – the mausoleum of Datuk Manila, revered by locals as a keramat (sacred place).
He was a Muslim scholar from Manila who migrated to Malacca after Spain conquered the Philippines islands.
According to local legend, Datuk Manila and other religious teachers fled Spanish persecution and oppression of Muslims.
He was supposed to have arrived in Malacca during Dutch rule and taught Islam to locals in the area.
As Datuk Manila was known for compassion and kindness, the community erected a tomb to venerate him.
Besides locals and tourists, 4D punters also go to the tomb with offerings, including bananas and milk in the hope of getting lucky numbers.
In addition to its rich history and relics, Tranquerah is one of my favourite streets in Malacca because of its many culinary delights, known more to the locals than visitors.
My most frequented place — at least once a month — is Kedai Kopi & Makanan Oriental where the best popiah and hee kiaw noodles are available. It’s the only place I go to indulge in the nostalgic taste of 1970s style kopi peng.