Aceh Malahayati

The history is full of women who have been doing great work the past decades. From science to fine art to extreme sport, nowadays every discipline has its female heroes. As a matter of fact there has always been ‘the first female’ in everything. Aceh was one of them.

Keumalahayati, also known as Malahayati, was the first female admiral in the world. Her story and achievements are more than just impressive; they are brave, honorable, successful and admirable. She is a role model and an inspiration for everyone.

Malahayati lived in the period of the Aceh Sultanate during the 15th and the 16th century. She was a descendant of the founder of the Sultanate of the Aceh Darussalam. In fact, one of the founders was her great great grandfather Sultan Ibrahim Ali Mughayat Syah. Her father and grandfather were both very respected admirals. She was interested in the fascinating work her father fulfilled and decided to enter the Ma’had Baitul Maqdis Military Academy after graduating from Pesantren, an Islamic boarding school. The Academy offered education in The Navy and The Ground Force department. After graduating from there she married her true love, a Navy officer candidate. Unfortunately he was killed during the Haru Bay War against Portuguese troops. Malahayati swore to take revenge for her husband.

Determined to continue her husband’s fight, she requested the Sultan to form an armada from Aceh’s widows. After his approval the armada was named the ‘Inong Bale Armada’ and Malahayati was appointed as the First Admiral. She led many different battles against the Dutch and Portuguese.

In 1599 the Dutch commanders Cornelis de Houtman and his brother Frederick de Houtman visited the Sultan to establish their trade relationship. They were welcomed peacefully but Cornelis brought a Portuguese as a translator, which was an insult against the Sultan. Many violent battles followed in which Malahayati was the lead. She succeeded to defeat the Dutch, killed Cornelis and jailed his brother for two years.

In 1600 Paulus van Caerden, who led the Dutch Navy robbed an Aceh merchant ship of its pepper and sank it. A year later Admiral Jacob van Neck and his companions introduced themselves as merchantmen to buy pepper. But after Malahayati found out that they were Dutch, they were arrested as a compensation for the previous deeds. After a few months Maurits van Oranje ordered two emissaries, Admiral Laurens Bicker and Gerard de Roy, to take a diplomatic letter of apology and some presents for the Empire of the Aceh. As a result Malahayati and the emissaries made a treaty agreement. Meanwhile she was appointed as a Troop Commander and Palace Guard. Malahayati was also involved when England entered Malacca Strait. Queen Elizabeth I had sent James Lancaster with a letter for the Sultan. After he had a negotiation with Malahayati an agreement opened the English route to Java.

An extraordinary coincidence is the way Malahayati died. She was killed during the battle against the Portuguese, just as her husband. These days many universities, hospitals, roads and Sumatran cities are named after her. Even a series, “Laksamana Keumalahayati” was made to honor her great work.

There is no doubt that Malahayati is a name to remember. She was a warrior with a will to achieve anything if she sets her mind to it.

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Keumalahayati, or Malahayati (fl. 16th century), was an admiral in the navy of the Aceh Sultanate, which ruled the area of modern Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia.[1] She was the first woman admiral in the modern world (if Artemisia I is not included). Her troops were drawn from Aceh’s widows and the army named the “Inong Balee”, after the Inong Balee Fortress near the city of Banda Aceh.

​Malahayati was a daughter of Admiral Machmud Syah of the Aceh Empire. After graduating from Pesantren, an Islamic school, she continued her studies at the Aceh Royal Military Academy, known as Ma’had Baitul Maqdis.

Following the fall of Malacca to Portuguese invaders, Aceh became a stronger faction and ensured that merchant shipping routes in the Malacca Strait remained exclusively for Asian traders. The kingdom’s leader, Sultan Alauddin Mansur Syah strengthened his military power by building a powerful navy to which he decided to appoint Malahayati, a widowed Aceh warrior, as his First Admiral. Aceh soldiers and the other generals had always respected Malahayati. She had also proved herself a legendary commander during several battles with the Portuguese and Dutch.

In 1599, Dutch expedition commander Cornelis de Houtman arrived at the port of Aceh. The Sultan accepted him peacefully until de Houtman insulted him. The Dutchman, who had already clashed with the Banten Sultanate in northwest Java before his arrival in Aceh, decided to attack. Malahayati led her Inong Balee Army in response to the Dutch challenge and after several violent battles, finally killed de Houtman on September 11, 1599.

In 1600, the Dutch Navy, led by Paulus van Caerden, robbed an Aceh merchant ship of its pepper off the Aceh coast. After this incident, In June 1601, Malahayati ordered the arrest of Dutch Admiral Jacob van Neck. After many incidents which blocked Dutch Navy expeditions and the threat from the Spanish fleet, Maurits van Oranje sent emissaries with diplomatic letter of apology to the Empire of Aceh. The emissaries were Admiral Laurens Bicker and Gerard de Roy. In August 1601, Malahayati met Maurits’s emissaries for a treaty agreement. A ceasefire was agreed and the Dutch paid 50 thousand gulden as compensation for Paulus van Caerden actions, while Malahayati released Dutch prisoners. After the agreement, the Sultan sent three emissaries to the Netherlands.

In June 1602, Malahayati’s reputation as the guardian of the Aceh Kingdom led England to choose a peaceful, diplomatic method by which to enter the Malacca Strait. A letter from Queen Elizabeth I was brought by James Lancaster to the Sultan, and it was Malahayati who led the negotiation with Lancaster. The agreement opened the English route to Java, and they were soon afterwards able to build merchant offices in Banten. Elizabeth I rewarded Lancaster with a knighthood for his successful diplomacy in Aceh and Banten.

Malahayati was killed in combat while attacking the Portuguese fleet at Teuluk Krueng Raya. She was buried at lereng Bukit Kota Dalam, a small fishing village 34 km from Banda Aceh.

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Malahayati was a daughter of Admiral Machmud Syah of the Aceh Empire. After graduating from Pesantren, an Islamic school, she continued her studies at the Aceh Royal Military Academy, known as Ma’had Baitul Maqdis.

Following the fall of Malacca to Portuguese invaders, Aceh became a stronger faction and ensured that merchant shipping routes in the Malacca Strait remained exclusively for Asian traders. The kingdom’s leader, Sultan Alauddin Mansur Syah strengthened his military power by building a powerful navy to which he decided to appoint Malahayati, a widowed Aceh warrior, as his First Admiral. Aceh soldiers and the other generals had always respected Malahayati. She had also proved herself a legendary commander during several battles with the Portuguese and Dutch.

In 1599, Dutch expedition commander Cornelis de Houtman arrived at the port of Aceh. The Sultan accepted him peacefully until de Houtman insulted him. The Dutchman, who had already clashed with the Banten Sultanate in northwest Java before his arrival in Aceh, decided to attack. Malahayati led her Inong Balee Army in response to the Dutch challenge and after several violent battles, finally killed de Houtman on September 11, 1599.

In 1600, the Dutch Navy, led by Paulus van Caerden, robbed an Aceh merchant ship of its pepper off the Aceh coast. After this incident, In June 1601, Malahayati ordered the arrest of Dutch Admiral Jacob van Neck. After many incidents which blocked Dutch Navy expeditions and the threat from the Spanish fleet, Maurits van Oranje sent emissaries with diplomatic letter of apology to the Empire of Aceh. The emissaries were Admiral Laurens Bicker and Gerard de Roy. In August 1601, Malahayati met Maurits’s emissaries for a treaty agreement. A ceasefire was agreed and the Dutch paid 50 thousand gulden as compensation for Paulus van Caerden actions, while Malahayati released Dutch prisoners. After the agreement, the Sultan sent three emissaries to the Netherlands.

In June 1602, Malahayati’s reputation as the guardian of the Aceh Kingdom led England to choose a peaceful, diplomatic method by which to enter the Malacca Strait. A letter from Queen Elizabeth I was brought by James Lancaster to the Sultan, and it was Malahayati who led the negotiation with Lancaster. The agreement opened the English route to Java, and they were soon afterwards able to build merchant offices in Banten. Elizabeth I rewarded Lancaster with a knighthood for his successful diplomacy in Aceh and Banten.

Malahayati was killed in combat while attacking the Portuguese fleet at Teuluk Krueng Raya. She was buried at lereng Bukit Kota Dalam, a small fishing village 34 km from Banda Aceh.[2]

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