In 1590 Raja Guru Patimpus founded the settlement Medan Putri in
the fertile lowlands between the rivers Sungai Deli and Sungai
Babura. Between the end of the 16th century and early 17th century
this area became a battlefield (medan perang) between the Aceh and
Deli rulers. Medan was only a small village up to the 19th century.
In 1823 it had a population of only 200 persons. After the arrival
of the Dutch, Medan started to grow fast. In 1865 tobacco was
introduced and Medan became a center for rich plantations. In 1886
it became the capital of what then was North Sumatra. In 1910,
approximately 18.000 people lived here and ten years later 45.000.
By the end of the Dutch rule, 1942, the population consisted already
of 80.000 people. By that time it had become the richest and most
productive area of the Dutch East Indies. Today there are almost
three million inhabitants in Medan.
The Deli Sultanate
In the 16th century there was a kingdom called Aru, with its center
where Deli Tua is now (South of Medan Town). In 1612 the famous
Acehnese Sultan Iskandar Muda defeated Aru. The Acehnese appointed
Hisyamsudin (later he changed name to Gocah Pahlawan) as their
representative in this kingdom of East Sumatra. In 1632 Aceh
established the Deli Kingdom and Tuanku Panglima Gocah Pahlawan
became the first king. He died in 1669 and was followed by Marhum
Kesawan who moved the center of the Kingdom to the location where
Medan is now. The third king, Tuanku Panglima Padrap, (ruled
1698-1728) moved the kingdom to Pulo Brayan. The forth king, Tuanku
Panglima Pasutan, (ruled between 1728-1761) moved the kingdom to
Labuhan Deli. He organized the kingdom in four tribes, each led by a
Datuk (a Malay title for high ranking persons). The fifth king,
Tuanku Panglima Gandar Wahib, ruled in the period 1761-1805. During
his time the Datuks increased their power.
The sixth ruler was Sultan Amaluddin Mengedar Alam, (ruled
1805-1850). The Siak Kingdom, during his years, became a stronger
influence in Deli than the Acehnese Sultanate. The king was given
the title Sultan. Sultan Osman Perkasa Alam ruled from 1850 to 1858.
During his leadership the Deli sultanate became autonomous. Sultan
Mahmud Al Rasyid Perkasa Alam (ruled 1858-1873) started the
relationship with the Dutch, a relationship that became rather
intimate. Sultan Ma’mun Al Rasyid Perkasa Alamsyah ruled from 1873
to 1924 when the tobacco trade expanded. He moved the kingdom to
Medan and finished the construction of the Maimoon Palace in 1888.
He also built the Grand mosque Al Mashum in 1907. He became known as
the builder. Sultan Amaluddin Al Sani Perkasa Alamsyah (ruled
1924-1945) built harbors and commerce increased during this period.
At the declaration of Indonesian Independence the Sultan recognized
the sovereignty of the republic and was in return given an important
function as administrator of Deli-Malay traditions and culture.
The Paris of Sumatra
The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 meant strongly intensified
traffic between Europe and the Far East. The Dutch started the
shipping company ‘Stoomvaart Maatschappij Nederland’ that quickly
expanded to 43 steamships in 1877. The English, however, had already
3.000 ships in those days. A journey from Europe to Indonesia took
app. 40 days. After the opening of the Gotthard tunnel in
Switzerland, Genoa in Italy became the new transit harbor for
passenger ships. Now the journey only took 23 days and 20 hours to
Batavia (Jakarta). The ships also became bigger and more
comfortable. In 1890 Sabang (Aceh) became a bunker harbor. Belawan
got its harbor in 1923. Before this, the exports were very dependent
on British shipping. The shipping company Koninklijke Paketvaart
Maatschappij (KPM) was established for the purpose of shipping the
valuable Deli tobacco, which was shipped over Batavia. This cargo
was almost as valuable as gold and stringent rules regulated the
handling. It was strictly forbidden to stow anything on top of the
tobacco. The coolies were not even allowed to walk on it when they
worked in the hatches.
Cleaning of roads in Medan was, until 1912, done by prisoners. After
that free coolies got the job. In 1917 the authorities started to
use horse drawn carts, equipped with brooms for the cleaning. In
1928 the horse drawn carts were replaced by motorized vehicles. The
first newspaper was the ‘Deli Courant’, established in 1885. It did
not appear daily. In 1898 the German Joseph Hallermann established
the daily ‘De Sumatra Post’, which survived until 1939.
There were planters in Medan from many countries: England, the
Netherlands, USA, France, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland. Many of
them became very rich and led an affluent life style. Medan became
known as the Paris of Sumatra. Still today, the area in downtown
where the present airport is located, is called Polonia, a name
given by a Polish aristocrat who once owned a plantation here. One
area of Medan is still called Helvetia (the old name of
Switzerland). This name was given by a plantation owner from
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