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Malaysia's History and Background


During the late 18th and 19th centuries, Great Britain established colonies and protectorates in the area of current Malaysia; these were occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945. In 1948, the British-ruled territories on the Malay Peninsula formed the Federation of Malaya, which became independent in 1957. Malaysia was formed in 1963 when the former British colonies of Singapore and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo joined the Federation. The first several years of the country's history were marred by a Communist insurgency, Indonesian confrontation with Malaysia, Philippine claims to Sabah, and Singapore's secession from the Federation in 1965. During the 22-year term of Prime Minister MAHATHIR bin Mohamad (1981-2003), Malaysia was successful in diversifying its economy from dependence on exports of raw materials to expansion in manufacturing, services, and tourism.

Ancient Malaysia - Negrito aborigines are considered to be one of the first groups of people to inhabit the Malaysian peninsula.  When the Proto-Malays, made up of seafarers and farmers, came to the peninsula they sent the Negritos into the jungles and hills.  The Proto-Malays came from China and were technologically advanced, especially in comparison to the Negritos.  After the Proto-Malays came the Deutero-Malays, which were made up of many different people - Arabs, Chinese, Indians, Proto-Malays, and Siamese.  The Deutero-Malays were proficient in their use of iron and when they united with Indonesians, they combined to make up the people known today as the Malay.

Hindu Kingdom - 100 BC - 1400 AD - During this period, Malaysia's culture changed dramatically with the arrival of Indians.  Indians initially went to the Malaysian peninsula in search of a mystical place known as the "Land of Gold."  Although the places in Malaysia may not have been what they were looking for, they didn't leave, but continued to arrive in search of gold, spices and aromatic wood.  In addition to trade (with goods), the Indians introduced Hinduism and Buddhism to the peninsula, thus bringing temples and other cultural traditions from India.  As a result, local kings in Malaysia combined what they considered to be the best aspects of India's government with their own structure, thus resulting in "Indianised kingdoms."  Today,  the Indian influences can best be seen in a traditional Malay wedding ceremony, which is similar to those in India. 

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ubudiah_mosque.jpg (18132 bytes)Islam and the Golden Age of Malacca - 1400 AD - 1511 AD - Chinese, Indian and Arab records show that Srivijaya to be the best trading area in the region.  After seeing its great success, other areas quickly copied it thus causing a decline in Srivijava's influence.  Since the Hindu kingdoms of Malaysia weren't very strong and didn't have a central power, this caused a big problem for the region.  Pirates were another problem that needed to be taken care of in order for there to be a safe, secure port.  This problem was taken care of with the emergence of Malacca, which was in an ideal location, thus attributing to its great success.  It was founded in 1400 and within 50 years it was a major port, actually the most influential in Southeast Asia and with alliances being built with other tribes and ports, Malacca was able to "police" the waters and provide an escort for  vessels that needed it.  With this success, Malacca quickly became the power in control of all of Malaysia's west coast.

Colonial Malaysia - 1511 AD - 1957 AD -  Malacca's power and success was quickly extinguished with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1511.   Since the Arabians weren't allowing vessels piloted by non-Muslims into their harbors, the Europeans realized they needed a trading port of their own.  Thus bringing about capture of Malacca and it's harbor.  After conquering Malacca, the Portuguese built an immense fort which in turn was captured by the Dutch in 1641.    In 1785, the British, who needed a port for their ships to dock while in route to China, persuaded the Sultan of Kedah to let them build a fort on Penang.  After the French conquered the Netherlands in 1795, the Dutch allowed England to oversee the port of Malacca rather than turn it over the the French.  This was the first in a series of "swaps" to and from each country regarding this area.  Eventually, although it was finally given to Britain in a trade, the Dutch were the main controllers of the region.  With the establishment of a port in Singapore, the British colonies (Malacca, Penang, and Singapore) came to be known as the Straits Settlements.

England's monopoly on tin mining was tremendously helped with the Pangkor Agreement in 1874.  This Agreement was the result of internal fighting among the Malay kingdoms over control of the Perak throne.  The commotion that ensued prompted Britain to basically force the Malay rulers into signing the peace treaty.  A result of this treaty was that England had greater control, which greatly helped them in maintaining their monopoly in tin mining.  Britain's control continued until the Japanese invasion in 1942, although they tried to regain control after the end of World War II in 1945.  This attempt was foiled by Malaya's independence movement under the guidance of Tunku Abdul Rahman.  The British flag was lowered for good in 1957 in Merdeka Square (Kuala Lumpur).

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Independence to the Present: 1957- Now - Malaya's independence brought about new decisions that needed to be made, the first decision being to ascertain which territories to include in the new state.  "Malaysia" was a term brought up in 1961, when Tunku persuaded Singapore, Sabak and Sarawak to combine with Malaya in a federal union.  This didn't go over well with Indonesian president, Sukharno, who feared the impact of such a union on his plans to expand.  He initiated several unsuccessful attacks against Malaysia.

Since Malaysia is comprised of such a diverse mix of people, another problem the country faced with independence was determining their (Malaysia's) national identity.  Although the majority of the population was Malay and as such they were given permanent positions in government and other perks, the Chinese were dominate in business and trade.  Since most Malaysian's were not doing well economically, the government imposed some quotas that were designed to help the Malays improve their chances economically.  The Chinese didn't like this and formed a political party that won a good number of seats in the next election (1969).  The Malays protested this political win by erupting into riots throughout Kuala Lumpur, which for the next couple of years put Malaysia in a state of emergency.

Malaysia has made tremendous strides in their growth and wealth.  Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammed, who has led Malaysia since 1981, is felt to be responsible for Malaysia's success.

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