« AnteriorContinuar »
fifteen millions, of which Java alone contains five or six, and Sumatra not less than three. In a more extensive view must be included the rich and populous countries of Ava and Siam, Camboja, Cochin-China, and Tonkin, the population of which is still more extensive than that of the islands. And if to this we add the numerous Chinese population which is dispersed throughout these countries, and through the means of whom the light of knowledge may be extended to the remotest part of the Chinese empire, and even to Japan, it will readily be acknowledged, that the field is, perhaps, the most extensive, interesting, and important, that ever offered itself to the contemplation of the philanthropic and enlightened mind.
When we descend to particulars, and consider the present state and circumstances of this extensive and varied population, and the history and character of the nations and tribes of which it is composed, we shall be more convinced of the necessity which exists, and of the advantages which must result from affording them the means of education and improvement. Among no people with whom we have become acquainted, shall we find greater aptness to receive instruction, or fewer obstacles in the way of its communication.
With the exception of Java, the Moluccas, and Philippines, nearly the whole of the native states of the Archipelago may be considered independent. The European settlements on the coasts of Sumatra and Borneo are confined to commercial objects, and the interior of these large islands has never felt the effects of European interference. A large portion of tbeir coasts, and the whole of the smaller islands, as well as the states on the Malay Peninsula, are exclusively under native authority.
Of the Malays who inhabit the interior of Sumatra, and are settled on the coasts throughout the Archipelago, it may be necessary to speak in the first place. The peculiar character of these people has always excited much attention, and vațious and opposite opinions have been entertained regarding them. By some, who have viewed only the darker side, they have been considered, with reference to their piracies and vices alone, as a people devoid of all regular government and principle, and abandoned to the influence of lawless and ungovernable passions. By others, however, who have taken a deeper view, and have become more intimately acquainted with their character, a different estimate has been formed. They admit the want of efficient government, but consider the people themselves to be possessed of
high qualities, and such as might, under more favourable circumstances, be usefully and beneficially directed. They find, in the personal independence of character which they display, their high sense of honour, and impatience of insult
, and in their habits of reasoning and reflection, the rudiments of improvement, and the basis of a better order of society; while in the obscurity of their early history, the wide diffusion of their language, and the traces of their former greatness, they discover an infinite source of speculation and interest. That they once occupied a high and commanding political station in these seas, appears to be beyond a doubt; and that they maintained this position until the introduction of Mahomedanism, seems equally certain. From the geo
raphical situation of the more important countries then occupied by them, they were the first to come in contact with Mussulman missionaries, and to embrace their tenets; to which circumstance may, perhaps, be attributed the dismemberment of the empire, and the decline of their power, previously to the arrival of Europeans in these seas. At that períod, however, the authority of Menangkabau, the ancient seat of government, was still acknowledged, and the states of Acheen and Malacca long disputed the progress of the Portuguese arms. The whole of Sumatra, at one period, was subject to the supreme power of Menangkabau; and proofs of the former grandeur and superiority of this state are still found, not only in the pompous edicts of its sovereigns, and in the veneration and respect paid to the most distant branches of the family; but in the comparatively high and improved state of cultivation of the country, and in the vestiges of antiquity which have recently been discovered in it. This country occupies the central districts of Sumatra, and contains between one and two millions of inhabitants; the whole of whom, with the exception of such as may be employed in the gold mines, for which it has always been celebrated, are devoted to agriculture. The remains of sculpture and inscriptions, found near the ancient capital, correspond with those discovered in Java; and prove them to have been under the influence of the same Hindoo faith which prevailed on that island, till the establishment of Mahomedanism there in the fifteenth century. At what period the people of Menangkabau embraced the doctrines of the prophet does not appear, and would form an interest ing subject of inquiry. The conversion of Malacca and Acheen took place in the thirteenth century, but it is uncertain whether Menangkabau was converted previous to
this date, although the religion is said to have been preached in Sumatra as early as the twelfth century. It was about this latter period (1160) that a colony issued from the interior of Sumatra, and established the maritime state of Singapura, at the extremity of the Malay Peninsula ; where a line of Hindoo princes continued to reign until the establishment of Malacca, and the conversion of that place in 1276. Whatever may, in more remote times, have been the nature of the intercourse between foreign nations and Me nangkabau itself, we know that Singapura, during the period noticed, was an extensively maritime and commercial state; and that on the first arrival of the Portuguese at Malacca, that emporium embraced the largest portion of the commerce between eastern and western nations. It is not necessary to enter into the history of the decline and fall of the Malay states of Malacca and Acheen, or of the establishment of Johor. The maritime and commercial enterprise of the people had already spread them far and wide through the Archipelago, and the power and policy of their European visitors, by breaking down their larger settlements, contributed to scatter them still wider, and to force them to form still smaller establishments, wherever they could escape their power and vigilance.
From this general account, it will appear that the Malays may be divided into two classes, agricultural and commercial. Our acquaintance with the latter being more intimate, and the opinion generally formed of the character of this people having been taken from the maritime states, it may be sufficient, on the present occasion, to advert to some particulars in the constitution of their government, and to the habits and character of the people who compose them.
The government of these states, which are established in more or less power on the different rivers on the eastern coast of Sumatra, and on the Malay Peninsula, as well as on the coast of Borneo, and throughout the smaller islands, is founded on principles entirely feudal. A high respect is paid to the person and family of the prince, who usually traces his descent through a long line of ancestors, generally originating, on the Malayan side, from Menangkabau, or Johor; and not unfrequently, on the Mahomedan side, from the descendants of the prophet. The nobles are chiefs at the head of a numerous train of dependants, whose services they command. Their civil institutions, and internal policy, are a mixture of the Mahomedan with their own more ancient and peculiar customs and usages, the latter of which
predominate : in the principal states, they are collected in an ill-digested code; but in the inferior establishments, they are trusted to tradition. The Malays are distinguished, not only by the high respect they pay to ancestry and nobility of descent, and their entire devotion to their chiefs, and the cause they undertake, but by a veneration and reverence for the experience and opinions of their elders. They never enter on an enterprise, without duly weighing its advantages and consequences; but, when once embarked in it, they devote themselves to its accomplishment. They are sparing of their labour, and are judicious in its application; but, when roused into action, are not wanting in spirit and enthusiasm. In their commercial dealings, they are keen and speculative, and a spirit of gaming is prevalent; but, in their general habits, they are far from penurious.
With a knowledge of this character, we may find in the circumstances in which they have been placed, some excuse for the frequent piracies, and the practice of “ running a muck,” with which they have so often and justly been accused. That European policy, which first destroyed the independence of their more respectable states, and subsequently appropriated to itself the whole trade of the Arcbipelago, left them without the means of honest subsistence; while, by the extreme severity of its tortures and punishments, it drove them to a state of desperation. Thus piracy became honourable, and that devotion, which, on another occasion, would have been called a virtue, became a crime.
Of the Javans a higher estimate may be formed; though wanting in the native boldness and enterprise of character which distinguishes the Malays, they have many qualities in common with them; but bear deeper traces of foreign influence, and at the present period, at least, stand much higher in the scale of civilization. They are almost exclusively agricultural, and in the extraordinary fertility of their country they find sufficient inducements to prefer a life of comparative ease and comfort, within their own shores, to one of enterprise or hazard beyond them. The causes which have contributed to their present improved state are various, and however interesting, it would swell this paper beyond its due limits to enter on them.
The Madurese, who inhabit the neighbouring island, are distinguished for more spirit and enterprise ; but the people in that quarter whọ more peculiarly attract our interest, are those of Bali, an island lying immediately east of Java; and who, at the present day, exhibit the extraordinary fact of the existence of an independant Hindoo government in this remote quarter of the East. It was in this island, that on the establishment of Mahomedanism in Java, in the fifteenth century, the Hindoos, who adhered to their original faith, took refuge; where they have preserved the recollection of their former greatness, and the records and form of their religion. This island, no part of which has ever been subjected to European authority, contains, with Lombok immediately adjoining, a population not far short of a million. The shores are unfavourable to commerce, and the people have not hitherto been much inclined to distant enterprise. The island itself has long been subjected to all the horrors of an active slave trade, by which means its inhabitants have been distributed among the European settlements. A more honest commerce, however, has been lately attracted to it; and both Bugguese and Chinese have formed small establishments in the principal towns. In their personal character, they are remarkable for a high independence, and impatience of control. A redundant population, added to the slave trade, has separated them into various states, which are generally at war with each other.
In the island of Čelebes, we find the people of a still more enterprising character; the elective form of their
government offers a singular anomaly among Asiatic states, and is not the least peculiar of their institutions. The Bugguese are the most adventurous traders of the Archipelago, to every part of which they carry their speculations, and even extend them to the coast of New Holland. They are remarkable for fair dealing, and the extent of their transactions. They were converted to Mahomedanism at a much later period than either the Javans or Malays, and not generally till after the arrival of the Portuguese, in the sixteenth century. This island contains an extensive population, but its interior and north western provinces are but little known, and are inhabited by the same description of uncultivated people as are found in the interior of Borneo, and the larger islands to the eastward.
Of the population of the Moluccas, it may be remarked, that they are for the most part Christians of the Lutheran persuasion. The magnitude and importance of Borneo more peculiarly attracts our attention. Malay settlements are formed on its principal rivers, and extensive colonies of Chinese have established themselves in the vicinity of the gold mines, a short distance inland; but the interior of the island is yet unknown. Various estimates of its population