Malahayati, First Woman Admiral in The World

Jakarta, (09/17/2014) - Since the colonial era, emancipation was still unknown, but history had chalked another, wind of emancipation blew slowly toward the archipelago. The greatness of the Malay-Archipelago women have inspired the changing role of women in the world, proved by name of warship KRI Malahayati which is taken from a female warrior of Aceh as the first female admiral in the world. She is also recorded in the history for dispelling Portuguese and Dutch got into Aceh, according by record of a Dutch woman, Marie Van Zuchtelen, in her book titled "Admiral Vrouwlijke Malahayati" (Malahayati - The Female Admiral).


Heroine named Keumlahayati or Malahayati gained the confidence to be the number one in leading military forces of the sultanate of Aceh. Malahayati was familiar with the navy because her father Mahmud Shah was also an Admiral, son of Admiral Muhammad Said Shah. In Malahyati blood, there was blood of a grandfather who was the son of Sultan Salahuddin Shah leading Aceh in 1530-1539.

As a sailor and woman warrior, Malahayati led 2,000 people consisting of widows whose husbands have died as a hero on the battlefield (they were known as Inong Balee forces) to fight against the ships and forts of Netherlands on September 11, 1599. In the battle, Malahayati successfully killed Cornelis de Houtman in a duel on the deck of the ship. Therefore, Malahayati earned her first admiral in the world.

Malahayati lived in the Empire Atjeh led by Sultan Alaiddin Ali Riayat Shah IV who ruled between 1589-1604 AD. Malahayati was originally believed to be the head of guard and protocols both inside and outside of the palace, paired with Cut Limpah who served as secrets officers of state intelligence. After completing her education in meunasah/boarding school, she continued her education to the Royal Military Academy, "Ma'had Baitul Maqdis", a military academy which was built with the support of Sultan Selim II of the Ottoman Turks. The Academy was supported by 100 naval lecturers who imported on purpose from the Turkish empire. There, she met her soulmate, a fellow cadet who eventually became Admiral, but until now her husband's name can not be exactly known. Graduated from the academy, Malahayati was appointed as commander of Darud Palace Protocol,Kingdom of Aceh Darussalam, and her husband was also appointed to become admiral.

Not a lot of notes on the history of Malahayati, but there are sources of records from an Englishman Dutch ship captain, John Davis revealed the fact that during the military leadership of Admiral Malahayati, Sultanate of Aceh had the fleet equipment. Malahayati was also described as someone who was firm and swift in coordinating forces in the sea and overseeing the various ports which were under the control of the port, as well as carefully supervising the types ships of the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam. Unfortunately, her husband died in Malaka strait waterway when fighting against the Portuguese. After her husband fell, Malahayati appealed to Sultan al-Mukammil, Aceh king who ruled from 1596-1604, to form a fleet of war. Soldiers were widows of Acehnese fighters who died in the battle in Malaka Strait, which was named  by the Inong Balee Warriors with 2,000 members of soldiers.

Stage by stage, Malahayati’s career started racing, at that time the kingdom of Aceh was improving security because of Portuguese interference. The proposal to form a fleet was granted, Malahayati was appointed to be Fleet Commander of Inong Balee. The troops were stationed in the Gulf of Lamreh Kraung Raya. The 3 three meters high Kuto Inong Balee fort was built, completed with cannon. The remains of the fort can still be seen in Aceh. Not only prepared the defense on the ground, Inong Balee also equipped troops with more than a hundred warships. The number of troops was growing up from a thousand to two thousand people. Foreign fleets that crossed the waterway became terrified.

On June 21, 1599, an expeditionary force of the Netherlands which recently completed war with the Sultanate of Banten arrived in Aceh. The delegation, led by Cornelis and Frederick de Houtman was warmly welcomed. Nevertheless, the foreign fleet stormed the port of Aceh instead. Her military career was up after her success to beat Dutch warships led by notorious General Cornelis de Houtman. Even Cornelis de Houtman was killed by Malahayati through one on one fighting on the deck of the ship on September 11, 1599. While his brother Frederich de Houtman was captured and imprisoned for more than two years. Frederich then became the first European who translated Bijbel into Malay. Finally, he was given the title of Admiral grace. Kingdom of Aceh and Warriors of Inong Balee led by Malahayati were in the front to beat Netherlands. Netherlands then were back on the attack on November 21, 1600 under the command of Paul van Caerden, they plundered and sank the ships which were full of spices on the coast of Aceh. In the following year, in June, Malahayati caught Dutch Admiral Jacob van Neck, who was sailing on the coast of Aceh. After various incidents, the Dutch sent a diplomatic letter and apologize to the Sultanate of Aceh through messenger of Maurits van Oranjesent.

Malahayati was also a fine negotiator. In August 1601, Malahayati led Aceh to negotiate with the two envoys of Maurits van Oranjesent, Admiral Laurens Bicker and Gerard de Roy. They agreed to a ceasefire. The Netherlands also had to pay 50 thousand guilders as compensation of raid conducted by van Caerde. Malahayati achievement was heard by Queen Elizabeth, the ruler of England. So the giant country chose a peaceful way while trying to cross the waterway. In June 1602, Queen Elizabeth chose to send James Lancaster to send a letter to the Sultan to open the cruise line to Java.

Malahayati was assumed still leading the Aceh troops to face the Portuguese fleet under Alfonso de Castro who invaded Kreung Kingdom of Aceh in June 1606. A number of historical sources mentioned Malahayati died in battle against the Portuguese. After the death in battle of the Bay of Krueng Raya, Malahayati was buried in the slopes of Bukit Kota Dalam, a fishing village located 34 kilometers from Banda Aceh, not far from Fort of Inong Balee. The tomb location on top of the hill is a form of respect for the figures who are buried. Placement of tomb on a hill top was linked to the belief that the high place is always holy. Some of the tomb complex in other areas that are at the top of the hill, among others: Tomb Complex of Mataram Kings in Imogori, Yogyakarta, the tomb of Sunan Giri in Giri, Gresik, Sunan Muria Kudus in Kudus, and Gunung Jati in Cirebon.

The name of Malahayati turns legendary for her passion and struggle against and repel invaders. To commemorate her services as a selfless warrior, the Malahayati name is immortalized to the name of the street, hospitals, universities on the island of Sumatra, until the Navy warships. History has recorded some great female sailors in the world. Admiral Malahayati should be remembered as one of the heroins among them because of the struggle regardless of having to suffer, even to the loss of her beloved husband. (*)

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