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History of Makassar

History

Beginning in the sixteenth century, Makassar was the dominant trading center of eastern Indonesia, and soon became one of the largest cities in island Southeast Asia. The Makassarese kings maintained a policy of free trade, insisting on the right of any visitor to do business in the city, and rejecting the attempts of the Dutch to establish a monopoly over the city.

Sulawesi's colourful history is the story of spices and foreign merchants of mariners and sultans and of foreign power wresting control of the spice trade. Much of South Sulawesi's early history was written in old texts that can be traced back to the 13th and 14th centuries.

The first European settlers were the Portuguese sailors. When the Portuguese reached Sulawesi in 1511, they found Makassar a thriving cosmopolitan entre-port where Chinese, Arabs, Indians, Siamese, Javanese, and Malays came to trade their manufactured metal goods and fine textiles for precious pearls, gold, copper, camphor and spices - nutmeg, cloves and mace imported from the interior and the neighbouring Spice Islands of Maluku. By the 16th century, Makassar had become Sulawesi's major port and centre of the powerful Gowa and Tallo sultanates which between them had a series of 11 fortresses and strongholds and a fortified sea wall which extended along the coast.

The arrival of the Dutch in the early 17th century, altered events dramatically. Their first objective was to create a hegemony over the spice trade and their first move was to capture the fort of Makassar in 1667, which they rebuilt and renamed Fort Rotterdam. From this base they managed to destroy the strongholds of the Sultan of Gowa who was then forced to live on the outskirts of Makassar. Following the Java War (1825–1830), Prince Diponegoro was exiled to Fort Rotterdam until his death in 1855.

The character of this old trading centre changed as a walled city known as Vlaardingen grew, a place where slaves were at the bidding of the imposing foreigners. Gradually, in defiance of the Dutch, the Arabs, Malays and Bugis returned to trade outside the grim fortress walls and later also the Chinese.

The town again became a collecting point for the produce of eastern Indonesia - the copra, rattan, pearls, trepang and sandalwood and the famous oil made from bado nuts used in Europe as men's hair dressing - hence the anti-macassars (embroidered cloths placed at head rests of upholstered chairs).

Although the Dutch controlled the coast, it was not until the early 20th century that they gained power over the interior of the south through a series of treaties with local rulers. Meanwhile Dutch missionaries converted many of the Toraja people to Christianity. By 1938, the population of Makassar had reached around 84,000 - a town described by writer Joseph Conrad as "the prettiest and perhaps, cleanest looking of all the towns in the islands". Following the Indonesian National Revolution in 1950, Makassar was the site of fighting between pro-Federalist forces under Captain Abdul Assiz and Republican forces under Colonel Sunkono during the Makassar Uprising.  By the 1950s, the population had increased to such a degree that many of the historic sites gave way to modern development and today you need to look very carefully to find the few remains of the city's once grand history.

Further, tolerant religious attitudes meant that even as Islam became the dominant faith in the region, Christians and others were still able to trade in the city. With these attractions, Makassar was a key center for Malays working in the spice trade, as well as a valuable base for European and Arab traders from much further afield.

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