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Wednesday 8 August 2018

Malacca's Missing Cannons

I visited Lisbon's Military Museum (Museu Militar de Lisboa) in May 2017 and found 2 cannons which were possibly confiscated by the Portugese upon the fall of Malacca in 1511. One is known as "Peça de Malaca" (Piece of Malacca).

Peça de Malaca (Piece of Malacca)

Peça de Malaca is a 38-pounder muzzleloading bombard built with wrought iron staves reinforced by thick iron rings cast. It has a calibre of 17.5 cm, is 336 cm long with a bore length of 308 cm, and throws a 17.5 kg (38 lb) stone or iron ball. The inscriptions on the oblong plate on top of the cannon have been erased. The merong / dragon head carved on the tip of the gun is an example of the talent of sculptors, who implemented delicate carvings on it. Medieval cannons of similar size and calibre have been recorded to have a firing range of between 650 m to 3,700 m, and require a crew of 14.

Conquista de Malaca (Conquest of Malacca), by Ernesto Ferreira Condeixa (1904), Military Museum, Lisbon.

According to CR Boxer (JAMBRAS Vol 38, No.2, 1965), when Alfonso de Albuquerque invaded Malacca, two to three thousand guns were allegedly found. They were reported to be mostly primitive bombards and hand-guns apart from one large cannon recently presented to the Sultan of Malacca by the Samuri (Zamorin) of Calicut. I believe that Peça de Malaca may well be this "large cannon" in question.

The Zamorin of Kozhikode (Calicut) (1495–1500) on his throne as painted by Veloso Salgado in 1898 (Source: Wikipedia)

Interestingly, cannons of similar design can be found in Vijayapur, India, and built around the 14th and 15th century.  This includes the Golgumbaz and Kalaburagi cannon.

Golgumbaz Cannon (Source: Wikipedia)

29 ft Kalaburagi Cannon (Source: Wikipedia)

The merong / dragon design on Peça de Malaca is similar to the one carved on a 1549 cannon named Malik-e-Maidan (Lord of the Battlefield). It is also located in Vijayapur.

Malik-e-Maidan (Lord of the Battlefield) (Source: Wikipedia)

Side view of Malik-e-Maidan (Source: Wikipedia)

Malik-e-Maidan's carving of an elephant in the mouth of the roaring dragon may have been connected with a local folklore of the defeat (subsequently suicide) of prince Veerabhadra of the Gajapati dynasty (Elephant Kingdom) in the hands of Laksamana Hang Tuah when both of them dueled upon the order of Vijayapur's Deva Raya II (1424-1446). Laksamana Hang Tuah was recorded to have served as Deva Raya II's military advisor.  It is to be pointed out that Vijayapur's cannons prior to 1450s does not have the dragon head carving.

Hang Tuah v Prince Veerabhadra
(Credit: https://youtu.be/-K5PSAdCMPg)

Exhibited next to Peça de Malaca, is another cannon which may have been used in Malacca. It is known as "Touro" (Bull), a 200-pounder muzzleloading wrought iron cannon.  This cannon has a 43 cm calibre, and is 304 cm long with a bore length of 277 cm and throws a 92 kg (200 lb) stone ball.

Exhibits at Museu Militar de Lisboa 
(Credit: youtube/For91days)

Touro (Bull)

Touro is built with iron staves reinforced with metal bands, similar to the Ottoman bombards of the 15th century. It may have been one of many bombards acquired by the Sultan of Malacca from the Ottomans.

Other exhibits in Vasco da Gama hall

Museu Militar de Lisboa

Lisbon's Military Museum recorded that both cannons were taken from their fort in Calicut and Diu respectively. Nevertheless, in 2008, the ISMAT University of Lisbon published an article on the Portugese Fortress of Malacca wherein Rui Manuel Loureiro wrote that Peça de Malaca was one of many Malay cannons that defended Malacca from Portugese attack.

It is on this basis and context that Malaysia should make an attempt to trace and recover these historical items. It is suggested that Malaysia's first move is to sign and be part of UNESCO's 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.  Although it covers post 1970 theft, there are cases wherein high contracting states are able to mediate and agree to repatriate heritage items stolen prior to the convention date.


  1. Greetings, I'm Laili and I'm currently do research on Malacca ancient weapon. May I used one of your picture (which is Peca de Malacca) as one of the resource input in my research ?

  2. Yes, no problem. Permission granted :)


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