Lela (cannon)

19th century lela from Pahang. This specimen has two dolphins and a cagak (swivel yoke).

Lela or lila is a type of Malay cannon, used widely in the Nusantara archipelago. They are similar to a lantaka but longer and had larger bore.[1]:122 Lela can be configured as swivel gun, fixed gun, or mounted in a gun carriage. It is the equivalent of European falcon and falconet.[2]:50


The cannon was named after a heroine of the Malay classic romance story called "Laila Majnun".[3]:93 It seems that the adoption of the word stems from the name given to some particular piece. The customs of naming special cannon was not uncommon in Europe in the early days and also in Nusantara to the recent times.[4] On Malay literature the name is usually coupled with rentaka, as "lela rentaka".[1] It is also called as lilla by the Dutch and lelo in several parts of the archipelago.[5]


Meriam naga or lela naga (dragon-head lela), from 1667. 172 cm long with diameter of 22 cm, 150.6 kg in weight. Captured during the Jambi expedition, August 1858.

Usually lela are about 100–180 cm long and made from brass or bronze.[1]:122[2] They are firing 1.13-1.36 kg (2.5 lb-3 lb) round shot with a range of over 360 m.[2]:50–51 Alternatively they can also be loaded with scattershots (grapeshot or case shot).[6] Malay cannon usually fired stone balls made from boulders of riverbanks,[7]:31 and to lesser extent were cast metal balls from iron or brass.[3]:97 They used lead and tin slugs (called "dadu-dadu")[8]:209 at close quarters, and the case shot were made of stones in a rattan basket.[3]:97 Lela has a bore (caliber) of between 19 and 76.2 mm.[3]:95[8]:209 Some big lela are double barreled and sometimes one or more miniature meriam kecil were cast on top of their barrel for use if the enemy charged before the gun could be reloaded. Lela rambang or jala rambang is a type of lela, made from brass, with blunderbuss (flared) muzzle which fired slugs or stones. They are also called lela mulut katak (frog-mouthed lela).[3]:95[8]:209

Lela always had a tube cast in the back, in which a wooden handle or tiller would be fitted. This tiller is used for aiming the gun.[3]:93 Lela has forked pivot mount (called cagak, cangkak lela, or rangking) with spike underneath to fit it on a ship's rail or the edge of a stockade.[9][3]:95 For land use they are commonly placed on corners of a fort or stockade, so they could cover alternately two different walls.[3]:95 Often, they have dolphins (metal lugs on top to lift the cannon) but they may be purely ornamental, as they can be picked up without hoisting it with ropes.[3]:93 Compared to European falconet with its history dating back to the 1500s, lela was shorter in range and lighter in weight but excels in ornamentation and design.[7]:11

Worn out, heavier lela, at Sanggau, West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Lela also refer to medium to large size Malay cannon. According to Isabella L. Bird, lelah is long and heavy gun made from brass, used for the defense of the stockades behind which the Malays usually fight (apilan and kota mara, or the malay kubu fortification).[10] They can reach as far as 1000 yards (914 m), and fire 4 pound (1.8 kg) shot.[8]:209[11]


Iranun war boat, with lela mounted at the bow.

The origin of gunpowder-based weaponry in Nusantara archipelago can be traced from the late 13th century. The Mongol invasion of Java brought gunpowder technology to java in the form of a cannon (Chinese: Pao).[12] This resulted in the development of Javanese breech-loading swivel gun, the cetbang. Following the decline of the Majapahit, particularly after the paregreg civil war (1404-1406),[13]:174-175 the consequent decline in demand for gunpowder weapons caused many weapon makers and bronze-smiths to move to Brunei, Sumatra, Malaysia and the Philippines led to widespread use, especially in the Makassar Strait. This event led to near universal use of the swivel-gun and cannons in the Nusantara archipelago.[14]

Earliest lela, just like lantaka, were breech-loaded weapon.[15] This indicated that the cetbang is the direct predecessor of them. Michael Charney (2004) pointed out that early Malay swivel guns were breech-loaded.[2]:50 There is a trend toward muzzle-loading weapons during colonial times.[16] Nevertheless, when Malacca fell to the Portuguese in 1511 A.D., both breech-loading and muzzle-loading swivel guns were found and captured by the Portuguese.[2]:50

A drawing of a floating water castle (kotta mara) from Hachelijke reys-togt van Jacob Jansz de Roy.

When Iberian explorer came to Southeast Asia, the local population was unimpressed with the might and power of the heavily armed trading vessels of Portugal and Spain. De Barros mentions that with the fall of Malacca (1511), Albuquerque captured 3,000 out of 8,000 artillery. Among those, 2,000 were made from brass and the rest from iron. All the artillery is of such excellent workmanship that it could not be excelled, even in Portugal. – Commentarios do grande Afonso de Albuquerque, Lisbon 1576.[17][18] The cannons found were of various types: esmeril (1/4 to 1/2-pounder swivel gun,[19] probably refers to cetbang or lantaka), falconet (cast bronze swivel gun larger than the esmeril, 1 to 2-pounder[19]), medium saker (long cannon or culverin between a six and a ten pounder, probably refers to meriam),[20] and bombard (short, fat, and heavy cannon).[2]:46 The Malays also has 1 beautiful large cannon sent by the king of Calicut.[2]:47[21]:22 The large number of artillery in Malacca come from various sources in the Nusantara archipelago: Pahang, Java, Brunei, Minangkabau, and Aceh.[22][1][23]

Detail of a lanong. Apilan and sunting apilan can be seen.

In 1600 A.D., lela cannons are becoming more common in the archipelago. Several renowned foundries of the region are Terengganu in Malay peninsula, Gresik in Java, and Minangkabau lands of interior Sumatra,[24] at Brunei and Banjarmasin in Borneo, Sulu in Southern Philippines, Makassar in Sulawesi, and Aceh.[4]

Lela is also used in Banjarese fortified raft called kotta mara. The kotta mara can be used as floating battery or as water castle. Rectangular kotta mara can be equipped with 12 lela,[25]:45 while the kotta mara with corner bastions could mount 16 lela.[26]:61

Lela is mounted on the apilan (gunshield) of Malay war and piratical prahu. Sunting apilan is the name given to two lelas or light guns standing on the gun-shield of a heavy gun.[27]

Lieutnant T.J. Newbold recorded about the malay pirate prahu:[3]

The prahus used by Malay pirates are from eight to ten tons burthen, extremely well manned and remarkably fast, particularly with the paddles commonly used. They are generally armed with swivels on their bows, centre, and stern, of small calibre, but long range. When preparing to attack, strong bulwarks of wood called Apilans are erected, behind which the crew ensconce themselves, fighting with their long guns until their prey is disabled; or till the gong sound the signal for boarding.

— Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Volume 5

Brunei was known for its foundries in the 19th century. Brass (alloy of copper and zinc), has always been the preferred metal as it is cheaper and easier to work, compared to iron or the other harder alloy, the bronze. However, bronze (alloy of copper and tin) is much stronger and is therefore more popular for use in making weapons.[7]:17 The process used is cire perdue using terracotta and wax mould.[28]:237[7]:17

Bangsamoro (Muslim) of Philippines were still using rentaka and lela during the Philippine–American War of 1899–1902. Rentaka and lela was brought by Malay from Peninsular and Borneo Malay to Southern Philippine. Bangsamoro adopted Malay culture.[15]


See also


  1. ^ a b c d Ismail, Norain B.T. (2012). Peperangan dalam Historiografi Johor: Kajian Terhadap Tuhfat Al-Nafis. Kuala Lumpur: Akademi Pengajian Islam Universiti Malaya.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Charney, Michael (2004). Southeast Asian Warfare, 1300-1900. BRILL. ISBN 9789047406921.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Gardner, G. B. (1936). Keris and Other Malay Weapons. Singapore: Progressive Publishing Company.
  4. ^ a b Gibson-Hill, C. A. (July 1953). "Notes on the old Cannon found in Malaya, and known to be of Dutch origin". Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. 26: 145–174 – via JSTOR.
  5. ^ Home; Terkini; News, Top; Terpopuler; Nusantara; Nasional; Riau; Internasional; Citizen. "Meriam Lelo di Kampar Meledak Karena Pecah, Seorang Tewas dan 4 lainnya luka". riau.antaranews.com. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  6. ^ Reid, Anthony (2012). Anthony Reid and the Study of the Southeast Asian Past. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 978-981-4311-96-0.
  7. ^ a b c d Teoh, Alex Eng Kean (2005). The Might of the Miniature Cannon A treasure of Borneo and the Malay Archipelago. Asean Heritage.
  8. ^ a b c d Newbold, Thomas John (1971). Political and statistical account of the British settlements in the Straits of Malacca volume 2. Singapore: Oxford University Press.
  9. ^ "Cannons of the Malay Archipelago". www.acant.org.au. Retrieved 2020-02-19.
  10. ^ Bird, Isabella L. (1883). The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.
  11. ^ Murfett, Malcolm H. (2011). Between 2 Oceans (2nd Edn): A Military History of Singapore from 1275 to 1971. Marshall Cavendish International Asia Pte Ltd.
  12. ^ Song Lian. History of Yuan.
  13. ^ Hidayat, Mansur (2013). Arya Wiraraja dan Lamajang Tigang Juru: Menafsir Ulang Sejarah Majapahit Timur. Denpasar: Pustaka Larasan.
  14. ^ Raffles, Thomas Stamford (1978). The History of Java ([Repr.]. ed.). Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-580347-1.
  15. ^ a b Ooi, Keat Gin (2004). Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781576077702.
  16. ^ Hamid, Rahimah A. (2015). Kearifan Tempatan: Pandainya Melayu Dalam Karya Sastera. Penerbit USM. ISBN 9789838619332.
  17. ^ A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder. Retrieved 12 December 2014.
  18. ^ A Descriptive Dictionary of the Indian Islands & Adjacent Countries. Retrieved 12 December 2014.
  19. ^ a b Manucy, Albert C. (1949). Artillery Through the Ages: A Short Illustrated History of the Cannon, Emphasizing Types Used in America. U.S. Department of the Interior Washington. p. 34.
  20. ^ Lettera di Giovanni Da Empoli, with introduction and notes by A. Bausani, Rome, 1970, page 138.
  21. ^ Crawfurd, John (1856). A Descriptive Dictionary of the Indian Islands and Adjacent Countries. Bradbury and Evans.
  22. ^ A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder. Retrieved 12 December 2014.
  23. ^ Ayob, Yusman (1995). Senjata dan Alat Tradisional. Selangor: Penerbit Prisma Sdn Bhd.
  24. ^ Ahmad, Rasdan (7 December 2014). "Melayu Sudah Lama Ada Senjata Api" (PDF). Digital Repository of National Library of Malaysia.
  25. ^ van Rees, Willem Adriaan (1867). De Bandjermasinsche Krijg van 1859-1863 nader toegelicht. Arnhem: D.A. Thieme.
  26. ^ de Roy, Jacob Jansz (1706). Hachelijke reys-togt van Jacob Jansz de Roy, na Borneo en Atchin, in sijn vlugt van Batavia, derwaards ondernoomen in het jaar 1691. Te Leyden: Pieter van der Aa.
  27. ^ Wilkinson, Richard James (1901). A Malay-English dictionary. Hongkong: Kelly & Walsh, limited. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  28. ^ Manguin, Pierre-Yves (1976). "L'Artillerie legere nousantarienne: A propos de six canons conserves dans des collections portugaises". Arts Asiatiques. 32: 233–268.

This page was last updated at 2020-06-16 22:52, update this pageView original page

All information on this site, including but not limited to text, pictures, etc., are reproduced on Wikipedia (wikipedia.org), following the . Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License


If the math, chemistry, physics and other formulas on this page are not displayed correctly, please useFirefox or Safari