Enrique de Malacca Memorial Project

The first person to circumnavigate the world is believed to be not the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan nor the Spaniard Sebastian del Cano but a voyager of Malay descent named Panglima Awang (Commander Awang; Enrique of Malacca; Henry the Black). Enrique became a slave of Magellan when the Portuguese conquered Malacca in 1511. He followed the latter back to Lisbon, and was enlisted in Magellan’s fleet set to voyage around the earth between 1519 and 1521. When Magellan died during the Battle of Mactan, Cebu, the Philippines in 1521, at the hand of Lapu Lapu, some believe that Enrique either settled down there or returned to Malacca or Indonesia, since his name was missing from the list of Magellan’s surviving crew returning to Spain.

Although Enrique was certainly a native of the Malay Archipelago, the truths about his origin are still debated by historians of both naval and Southeast Asian histories. In his world-tour journal, Pigafetta mentioned that Enrique came from Sumatra, and Transylvanus claimed that Enrique hailed from Moluccas – both in Indonesia. A Malaysian writer, Harun Aminurrasyid, in his historical novel Panglima Awang, acknowledged him as a Malayan Malay rather than an Indonesian Malay, although he agreed that Enrique originally came from Sumatra. The Filipino historian and author, Carlos Quirino, stated in 1980 that Enrique was a Filipino who either migrated from Luzon to Malacca or was sold as a slave in Malacca. Sadly, there is no mention of Enrique in any past official and court chronicles of these three countries.

This work by Ahmad Fuad, conceived in the form of a memorial or commemorative display to Enrique, is largely inspired by the above-mentioned novel by Harun Aminurrasyid, which he first read in 1985. This postcolonial and nationalistic novel was written circa 1957/58 to provide imaginative support to the Malay struggle for independence as well as the post-independent nation-building in Malaysia. Based on a series of archival surveys and interviews, this mixed-media installation features a portrait painting and a statue of an imagined Enrique, together with video documentations, artefacts and copies of documents accumulated during the artist’s research. Some of these materials even reveal contradictory facts and fictions surrounding Enrique. The superimposition of divergent colonial, postcolonial and nationalist representations and narratives of Enrique provides us the opportunity to make a more informed conclusion concerning the identity and history of this elusive hero.

One interesting aspect about Harun’s novel is that the name Awang does not necessarily refer to any particular figure but any man of Malay or Nusantaran descent, since it is a common, generic name for a male Malay. Thus, Awang, or Enrique, undoubtedly represents part of the once intertwined identity and history of Southeast Asia, and indicates its highly fluid sociocultural landscapes and geographical boundaries in the part. Just like many other elements of tradition and culture, such as certain food, dance, batik and shadow puppet, which were originally shared by the regional communities before the advent of European colonials, Enrique is also not spared the drudgery of claims and counterclaims of ownership among Southeast Asian nations. Seen in this context, “Enrique de Malacca Memorial Project” does not essentially and merely attempt to elevate a Malay (naval) hero onto the pedestal of world history but partly, and most importantly, to criticise the perpetual yet futile sociocultural and geopolitical tugs-of-war between the nations of Southeast Asia.