The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter viii.

Of the Island Called Pentam, and the City Malaiur

When you leave Locac and sail for 500 miles towards the south, you come to an island called PENTAM, a very wild place. All the wood that grows thereon consists of odoriferous trees.1 There is no more to say about it; so let us sail about sixty miles further between those two Islands. Throughout this distance there is but four paces’ depth of water, so that great ships in passing this channel have to lift their rudders, for they draw nearly as much water as that.2

And when you have gone these 60 miles, and again about 30 more, you come to an Island which forms a Kingdom, and is called MALAIUR. The people have a King of their own, and a peculiar language. The city is a fine and noble one, and there is great trade carried on there. All kinds of spicery are to be found there, and all other necessaries of life.3

NOTE 1. — Pentam, or as in Ram. Pentan, is no doubt the Bintang of our maps, more properly BENTAN, a considerable Island at the eastern extremity of the Straits of Malacca. It appears in the list, published by Dulaurier from a Javanese Inscription, of the kingdoms conquered in the 15th century by the sovereigns reigning at Majapahit in Java. (J.A. sér. IV. tom. xiii. 532.) Bintang was for a long time after the Portuguese conquest of Malacca the chief residence of the Malay Sultans who had been expelled by that conquest, and it still nominally belongs to the Sultan of Johore, the descendant of those princes, though in fact ruled by the Dutch, whose port of Rhio stands on a small island close to its western shore. It is the Bintão of the Portuguese whereof Camoens speaks as the persistent enemy of Malacca (X. 57).

[Cf. Professor Schlegel’s Geog. Notes, VI. Ma-it; regarding the odoriferous trees, Professor Schlegel remarks (p. 20) that they were probably santal trees. — H.C.]

NOTE 2. — There is a good deal of confusion in the text of this chapter. Here we have a passage spoken of between “those two Islands,” when only one island seems to have been mentioned. But I imagine the other “island” in the traveller’s mind to be the continuation of the same Locac, i.e. the Malay Peninsula (included by him under that name), which he has coasted for 500 miles. This is confirmed by Ramusio, and the old Latin editions (as Müller’s): “between the kingdom of Locac and the Island of Pentan.” The passage in question is the Strait of Singapore, or as the old navigators called it, the Straits of Gobernador, having the mainland of the Peninsula and the Island of Singapore, on the one side, and the Islands of Bintang and Batang on the other. The length of the strait is roughly 60 geographical miles, or a little more; and I see in a route given in the Lettres Edifiantes (II. p. 118) that the length of navigation is so stated: “Le détroit de Gobernador a vingt lieues de long, et est for difficile quand on n’y a jamais passé.”

The Venetian passo was 5 feet. Marco here alludes to the well-known practice with the Chinese junks of raising the rudder, for which they have a special arrangement, which is indicated in the cut at p. 248.

NOTE 3. — There is a difficulty here about the indications, carrying us, as they do, first 60 miles through the Strait, and then 30 miles further to the Island Kingdom and city of Malaiur. There is also a singular variation in the readings as to this city and island. The G.T. has “Une isle qe est roiame, et s’apelle Malanir e l’isle Pentam.” The Crusca has the same, only reading Malavir. Pauthier: “Une isle qui est royaume, et a nom Maliur.” The Geog. Latin: “Ibi invenitur una insula in qua est unus rex quem vocant Lamovich. Civitas et insula vocantur Pontavich.” Ram.: “Chiamasi la città Malaiur, e cosi l’isola Malaiur.”

All this is very perplexed, and it is difficult to trace what may have been the true readings. The 30 miles beyond the straits, whether we give the direction south-east as in G.T. or no, will not carry us to the vicinity of any place known to have been the site of an important city. As the point of departure in the next chapter is from Pentam and not from Malaiur, the introduction of the latter is perhaps a digression from the route, on information derived either from hearsay or from a former voyage. But there is not information enough to decide what place is meant by Malaiur. Probabilities seem to me to be divided between Palembang, and its colony Singhapura. Palembang, according to the Commentaries of Alboquerque, was called by the Javanese MALAYO. The List of Sumatran Kingdoms in De Barros makes TANA-MALAYU the next to Palembang. On the whole, I incline to this interpretation.

[In Valentyn (V. 1, Beschryvinge van Malakka, p. 317) we find it stated that the Malay people just dwelt on the River Malayu in the Kingdom of Palembang, and were called from the River Orang Malayu. — MS. Note. — H.Y.]

[Professor Schlegel in his Geog. Notes, IV., tries to prove by Chinese authorities that Maliur and Tana–Malayu are two quite distinct countries, and he says that Maliur may have been situated on the coast opposite Singapore, perhaps a little more to the S.W. where now lies Malacca, and that Tana–Malayu may be placed in Asahan, upon the east coast of Sumatra. — H.C.]

Singhapura was founded by an emigration from Palembang, itself a Javanese colony. It became the site of a flourishing kingdom, and was then, according to the tradition recorded by De Barros, the most important centre of population in those regions, “whither used to gather all the navigators of the Eastern Seas, from both East and West; to this great city of Singapura all flocked as to a general market.” (Dec. II. 6, 1.) This suits the description in our text well; but as Singhapura was in sight of any ship passing through the straits, mistake could hardly occur as to its position, even if it had not been visited.

I omit Malacca entirely from consideration, because the evidence appears to me conclusive against the existence of Malacca at this time.

The Malay Chronology, as published by Valentyn, ascribes the foundation of that city to a king called Iskandar Shah, placing it in A.D. 1252, fixes the reign of Mahomed Shah, the third King of Malacca and first Mussulman King, as extending from 1276 to 1333 (not stating when his conversion took place), and gives 8 kings in all between the foundation of the city and its capture by the Portuguese in 1511, a space, according to those data, of 259 years. As Sri Iskandar Shah, the founder, had reigned 3 years in Singhapura before founding Malacca, and Mahomed Shah, the loser, reigned 2 years in Johore after the loss of his capital, we have 264 years to divide among 8 kings, giving 33 years to each reign. This certainly indicates that the period requires considerable curtailment.

Again, both De Barros and the Commentaries or Alboquerque ascribe the foundation of Malacca to a Javanese fugitive from Palembang called Paramisura, and Alboquerque makes Iskandar Shah (Xaquem darxa) the son of Paramisura, and the first convert to Mahomedanism. Four other kings reign in succession after him, the last of the four being Mahomed Shah, expelled in 1511.

[Godinho de Eredia says expressly (Cap. i. Do Citio Malaca, p. 4) that Malacca was founded by Permicuri, primeiro monarcha de Malayos, in the year 1411, in the Pontificate of John XXIV., and in the reign of Don Juan II. of Castille and Dom Juan I. of Portugal.]

The historian De Couto, whilst giving the same number of reigns from the conversion to the capture, places the former event about 1384. And the Commentaries of Alboquerque allow no more than some ninety years from the foundation of Malacca to his capture of the city.

There is another approximate check to the chronology afforded by a Chinese record in the XIVth volume of Amyot’s collection. This informs us that Malacca first acknowledged itself as tributary to the Empire in 1405, the king being Sili-ju-eul-sula (?). In 1411 the King of Malacca himself, now called Peilimisula (Paramisura), came in person to the court of China to render homage. And in 1414 the Queen–Mother of Malacca came to court, bringing her son’s tribute.

Now this notable fact of the visit of a King of Malacca to the court of China, and his acknowledgment of the Emperor’s supremacy, is also recorded in the Commentaries of Alboquerque. This work, it is true, attributes the visit, not to Paramisura, the founder of Malacca, but to his son and successor Iskandar Shah. This may be a question of a title only, perhaps borne by both; but we seem entitled to conclude with confidence that Malacca was founded by a prince whose son was reigning, and visited the court of China in 1411. And the real chronology will be about midway between the estimates of De Couto and of Alboquerque. Hence Malacca did not exist for a century, more or less, after Polo’s voyage.

[Mr. C.O. Blagden, in a paper on the Mediaeval Chronology of Malacca (Actes du XI’e Cong. Int. Orient. Paris, 1897), writes (p. 249) that “if Malacca had been in the middle of the 14th century anything like the great emporium of trade which it certainly was in the 15th, Ibn Batuta would scarcely have failed to speak of it.” The foundation of Malacca by Sri Iskandar Shah in 1252, according to the Sejarah Malayu “must be put at least 125 years later, and the establishment of the Muhammadan religion there would then precede by only a few years the end of the 14th century, instead of taking place about the end of the 13th, as is generally supposed” (p. 251). (Cf. G. Schlegel, Geog. Notes, XV.)— H.C.]

Mr. Logan supposes that the form Malayu-r may indicate that the Malay language of the 13th century “had not yet replaced the strong naso-guttural terminals by pure vowels.” We find the same form in a contemporary Chinese notice. This records that in the 2nd year of the Yuen, tribute was sent from Siam to the Emperor. “The Siamese had long been at war with the Maliyi or MALIURH, but both nations laid aside their feud and submitted to China.” (Valentyn, V. p. 352; Crawford’s Desc. Dict. art. Malacca; Lassen, IV. 541 seqq.; Journ. Ind. Archip. V. 572, II. 608–609; De Barros, Dec. II. 1. vi. c. 1; Comentarios do grande Afonso d’Alboquerque, Pt. III. cap. xvii.; Couto, Dec. IV. liv. ii.; Wade in Bowring’s Kingdom and People of Siam, I. 72.)

[From I-tsing we learn that going from China to India, the traveller visits the country of Shih-li-fuh-shi (Çribhoja or simply Fuh-shi = Bhôja), then Mo-louo-yu, which seems to Professor Chavannes to correspond to the Malaiur of Marco Polo and to the modern Palembang, and which in the 10th century formed a part of Çribhôdja identified by Professor Chavannes with Zabedj. (I-tsing, p. 36.) The Rev. S. Beal has some remarks on this question in the Merveilles de l’Inde, p. 251, and he says that he thinks “there are reasons for placing this country [Çribhôja], or island, on the East coast of Sumatra, and near Palembang, or, on the Palembang River.” Mr. Groeneveldt (T’oung Pao, VII. abst. p. 10) gives some extracts from Chinese authors, and then writes: “We have therefore to find now a place for the Molayu of I-tsing, the Malaiur of Marco Polo, the Malayo of Alboquerque, and the Tana–Malayu of De Barros, all which may be taken to mean the same place. I-tsing tells us that it took fifteen days to go from Bhôja to Molayu and fifteen days again to go from there to Kieh-ch’a. The latter place, suggesting a native name Kada, must have been situated in the north-west of Sumatra, somewhere near the present Atjeh, for going from there west, one arrived in thirty days at Magapatana; near Ceylon, whilst a northern course brought one in ten days to the Nicobar Islands. Molayu should thus lie half-way between Bhôja and Kieh-ch’a, but this indication must not be taken too literally where it is given for a sailing vessel, and there is also the statement of De Barros, which does not allow us to go too far away from Palembang, as he mentions Tana–Malayu next to that place. We have therefore to choose between the next three larger rivers: those of Jambi, Indragiri, and Kampar, and there is an indication in favour of the last one, not very strong, it is true, but still not to be neglected. I-tsing tells us: ‘Le roi me donna des secours grâce auxquels je parvins au pays de Mo-louo-yu; j’y séjournai derechef pendant deux mois. Je changeai de direction pour aller dans le pays de Kie-tcha.’ The change of direction during a voyage along the east coast of Sumatra from Palembang to Atjeh is nowhere very perceptible, because the course is throughout more or less north-west, still one may speak of a change of direction at the mouth of the River Kampar, about the entrance of the Strait of Malacca, whence the track begins to run more west, whilst it is more north before. The country of Kampar is of little importance now, but it is not improbable that there has been a Hindoo settlement, as the ruins of religious monuments decidedly Buddhist are still existing on the upper course of the river, the only ones indeed on this side of the island, it being a still unexplained fact that the Hindoos in Java have built on a very large scale, and those of Sumatra hardly anything at all.”— Mr. Takakusu (A Record of the Buddhist Religion, p. xli.) proposes to place Shih-li-fuh-shi at Palembang and Mo-louo-yu farther on the northern coast of Sumatra. —(Cf. G. Schlegel, Geog. Notes, XVI.; P. Pelliot, Bul. Ecole Franç. Ext. Orient, II. pp. 94–96.)— H.C.]

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