Having visited admiral Keumala Hayati's grave, of course one should also go to the fort that is connected with her life story.
The fort is situated on a steep cliff of about 10 m high, a well-chosen location overlooking the bay of Malahayati harbour. The remaining fortifications consist of nothing more than a few low walls of chalk rocks with embrasures in it for discharging cannons at enemy ships. Knurled trees grow on the wall and over the embrasures. A plaque at the site states:
“This fort constructed by Sultan Ala ad-Din Ri'ayat Syah Sayyid al-Mukammil (1589-1604), is the centre of defense for the seas of the Malacca Straits. Apart from that, this fort was used also as a dormitory for the Inong Balee militia (widows whose husbands were sacrificed through war).”
According to the article by historian Deni Sutrisna (website below, in Indonesian) the fort may have housed as many as 2000 female warriors.
We went down a path on the right from the fort to the beach. From there one can look up at the cliff on top of which the wall was constructed - the wall itself is invisible behind shrubs. The beach was deserted and the sea quiet. We found it a good place for a swim without the 'full dress' that Aceh custom requires of bathing women.
It drew our attention, when visiting in December 2010 that an area inland of the fort had recently been cleared of vegetation. Later we found a weblog by a local citizen protesting the plans to build a hotel adjacent to the historic site. We agree, let them build the hotel near the main road and not spoil the view of the site!
Directions: About 3 km east of Malahayati harbour a weathered - practically unreadable - signboard shows the way to the fort. It takes a walk of about 1 km from the main road along an earthen - and in the rainy season muddy - road.
The second of the three historic sites on the Malahayati road. It is the grave of a famous woman admiral. On a plaque at the site it says:
“Keumala Hayati was a woman who commanded the Royal Acehnese Navy. She was also the chief of Royal Secret Intelligence Department and the Royal Protocol in the reigns of Sultan Saidil Mukamil Alauddin Riayat Syah (1588-1604 A.D.). As a navy admiral she united many widows to be a navy to attack the Portuguese and Dutch navies. The widows built a fortress called Inong Balee Fortress, which meant 'The Fortress of the Widows'.”
On the website mentioned below (in Indonesian) it is explained more fully that in 1599 Keumala Hayati captured the captains of the Dutch vessels De Leeuw and De Leeuwin, the brothers Cornelis and Frederick de Houtman. They would have reneged on a promise to assist the Acehnese in their war with Johore by transporting troops on the Dutch ships. (Our Dutch history book suggests that the squirmish may have been cause by rude behaviour of Cornelis de Houtman, who lost his life by it; and that his brother Frederick spent two years in Acehnese captivity.) The website also tells that Malahayati received an emissary of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir James Lancaster, in 1602; and that later Sultans established a palace guard consisting of beautiful women.
The Indonesian historian Deni Sutrisna also comments that the important role women played in the defense and the politics of the sultanate is fully in line with muslim teaching (hadist). He mentions 15 names of famous Acehnese women, among them six who reigned as Ratu.
Address: Lamreh village, Kecamatan Mesjid Raya, Kabupaten Aceh Besar
Directions: About 32 km east of town. With public transport, take a labi-labi (minibus) to Krueng Raya. With own transport, follow Daud Beureuh street northeast out of town. When facing a T-crossing at a river bank turn left direction Malahayati harbour. At reaching this harbour, turn into the inland road facing the harbour entrance and you soon reach the grave on a small hill.
Along the road east of Banda Aceh leading to Malahayati harbour one can visit three historic sites which testify of the heroic struggle of the Acehnese against foreign invaders.
The first of these sites is the Indra Patra Fort, actually part of a defence system consisting of three forts at different compass directions from town. It is constructed of chalk rock and played an important role in the defense against the Portuguese.
The fort consists of two parts. One part must have been the barracks housing the soldiers. Within the walled yard of 70 x 70 m2 there are two covered wells still containing clear water. The other part, closer to the sea and measuring 35 x 35 m2, evidently held the cannons to attack enemy ships. It has embrasures in the seaward walls and a thick-walled and thick-roofed shed which we think was the ammunition store.
We thought the fort was built against the Portuguese invaders and therefore some 400 years old. And seeing its condition we surmised that at some time restoration work must have been done on it. But then we found a website in Indonesian language - wisatamelayu.com - stating that it was built in the 7th century AD by the pre-islamic Lamuri kingdom. The same website indeed mentions recent renovation efforts by the Aceh government, and reports that a gate was destroyed by the tsunami.
Address: Ladong village, Masjid Raya district, Aceh Besar regency
Directions: About 20 km norts-east of town. With public transport, take a labi-labi (minibus) direction Krueng Raya. With own transport, follow Daud Beureuh street out of town. When facing a T-crossing at a river bank turn left direction Malahayati harbour. At about 20 km from town a weathered signboard points to the fort at the coast.
Gampong Jawa means Javanese Quarter. Evidently this was the area where Javanese lived, close to the sea.
After we had passed to and fro along the road a few times, a couple of locals guided us to the site: just a wilderness that we had passed by. But here must lie the human remains found in the area.
Not many people living that close to the sea can have survived the tsunami. Housing in the Gampong Jawa has been rebuilt, but the people we accosted to ask for directions were not Javanese.
Address: Jalan Tgk Dianjong, Gampong Jawa.
Directions: On the road along the left bank of Aceh river.
This mass grave is not far from the Ulee Lheue one. Both are lying in a swampy area near the coast, where the tsunami struck with full force.
From the sign board it was just possible to decipher that this location is a mass grave. But the place was badly overgrown. Not all grave sites are well maintained!
Jalan Calang, Assoe Nanggroe quarter.
At the northern end of Jalan Iskandar Muda, turn left past the “ Tsunami and Disaster Mitigation Research Centre”. After about 1 km you cross a bridge and then have to ask your way into the kampung on the left.