History of Malaysia

Brief history of Malaysia summarized

A brief tour of the history of Malaysia, in a summarized way.

Malaysia in ancient times

The first people to live in Malaya were Stone Age hunter-gatherers. They arrived as early as 8,000 BC Later, Stone Age farmers arrived in Malaya and displaced them (hunter-gatherers continued to exist but withdrew to remote areas).

Farmers practiced slash-and-burn agriculture. They cleared an area of ​​rain forest by burning it and then farming. After a few years the land would be exhausted and the farmers would clear a new area. However, in a few years the old area would be covered with vegetation and become fertile again.

After 1,000 BC metal-using farmers arrived in Malaya. They made bronze and iron tools and settled along the coast and rivers. They lived partly by fishing and partly by farming. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD centralized states emerged in Malaya. The largest was Kedah in the North.

The Malays became very civilized. The Malay civilization was heavily influenced by India. (The Malays traded with India from the 3rd century AD.) After that contact with India was common). Malay laws and writing show Indian influence. The religions of Buddhism and Hinduism were also introduced to Malaya at this time.


In the 7th and 8th centuries the Srivijaya state of Sumatra rose to dominate much of Malaya. It was a kingdom in Sumatra with its capital at Palembang. Srivijaya controlled the coasts of Java, the Malay Peninsula, and part of Borneo. However, Srivijayan only really controlled the coast. His influence did not extend far inland.

Srivijaya’s prosperity was based on trade with India and China. Srivijaya controlled the Strait of Malacca, which was the main passageway between the Indian Ocean and the China Sea. As a result, he became rich and powerful. Srivijaya was able to dominate the region until the 11th century. Then his power declined and by the 13th century Srivijaya had completely lost control.


Later Melaka rose to dominate Malaya. A man named Parameswara founded it in the late 14th century. He became the ruler of Temasek, on the island of Singapore. However, the Thais overthrew him. Parameswara fled with some of his followers and settled by a river called Bertram.

According to legend, when he was hunting a mouse deer he turned around and kicked one of his dogs. Parameswara took this as an omen and decided to found a settlement there.

Since he was standing under a Melaka tree at the time he was called Melaka. Parameswara converted to Islam (Islam first came to the region during the 8th century. He made many conversions between the 14th and 16th centuries).

During the fifteenth century the new settlement prospered and grew. Melaka’s wealth and power was based on trade with the Arab, Chinese and Indian ships that sailed there.

The great wealth of the city-state of Melaka caught the attention of the Portuguese. In 1511 they sent an expedition led by Alfonso de Albuquerque to capture it. Melaka soon fell to the Portuguese artillery. However, the son of the Sultan of Melaka founded Johor.

Johor and the Dutch

Johor became one of several powerful trading states in what is now Malaya. In the early 16th century Johor made several unsuccessful attempts to recapture Melaka. However, Johor remained hostile to the Portuguese Melaka. Then, in the early 17th century, they made an alliance with the Dutch against their mutual enemy, the Portuguese.

The Dutch made two unsuccessful attempts to capture Melaka in 1606 and 1608. They then turned their attention to Java. Finally, in 1641, the Dutch besieged Melaka again. Johor helped them. After a terrible siege, in which many people died, Melaka finally fell to the Dutch.

Another rich and powerful state was Aceh, in Sumatra. However, the Aceh Sultanate reached its peak in the early 17th century and then began to decline. Brunei was another powerful state. Already strong in the 15th century, it grew stronger in the 16th after the Portuguese captured Melaka. Brunei’s power reached its peak in the early 16th century, but declined by the end of the century.

In the early 17th century, the Dutch expelled all other Europeans from the area. For the rest of the 17th century they were friends with Johor and the two powers dominated the region.

In 1673 the forces of the Jambi kingdom sacked the capital of Johor, Batu Sawar. However, Johor eventually managed to defeat Jambi. At the end of the 17th century Johor was still the most powerful state in Malaya. However, in 1699 Sultan Mahmud was assassinated. That event marked the beginning of the end of Johor’s power.

The bugis

A new power arose in the eighteenth century. A people called the Bugi originally came from Sulawesi. At the end of the 17th century they began to settle, peacefully, in the territory of Johor. They were allowed to settle but soon became very powerful.

In 1717 a man named Raja Kecil claimed that he was the son of the assassinated Sultan Mahmud. He and his followers took the capital of Johor. The reigning sultan, a man named Abdul Jalil, was overthrown. However, he fled to the east coast of the Malay Peninsula with his followers and established a rival court there. Thereafter, both men claimed to be the ruler of Johor.

Abdul Jalil was assassinated on the orders of his rival, Raja Kecil. Then, the Bugi attacked Raja Kecil. They captured the capital and made Sulaiman, the son of Abdul Jalil, rule. However, Sulaiman was only a puppet ruler. Since then, the Bugi had the real power.

British colonialism in Malaysia

In the late 18th century, the British East India Company traded with and partly controlled India. At that time they began to look for a base in Malaya. In 1786, Francis Light’s British occupied Penang and founded Georgetown. In 1800 they took Province Wellesley. In 1819 Sir Stamford Raffles founded a British trading post in Singapore.

By the London Treaty of 1824, the British and the Dutch divided the region between them. The Dutch handed over Melaka to the British. The Dutch were given control of Sumatra and the entire area below the Malay Peninsula.

The Straits Settlements (Penang, Province Wellesley, Melaka, and Singapore) grew rapidly, in part due to an influx of Chinese and Indian laborers. In 1860 the population of Singapore was over 80,000.

However, although the British East India Company controlled islands and parts of the coast, it did not control the interior of the Malay Peninsula. Furthermore, until 1867 the East India Company controlled the Straits Settlements, not the British Government. However, in 1867 they became a crown colony.

British control of Sarawak began in 1841. In 1840 a man named James Brooke helped the Sultan of Brunei put down a rebellion. As a reward he was given territory to rule and in 1841 he was granted the title of Raja of Sarawak. Brooke’s territory was expanded in 1853.

Meanwhile, Siam (present-day Thailand) invaded Kedah in 1821. They deposed the sultan. There were rebellions against Siamese rule in 1830-31 and in 1838-39. The sultan was restored in 1841, but Kedah remained a vassal state of Siam.

The Pangkor Treaty of 1874

In 1853 the British government stopped charging taxes on tin imports. As a result, Malaya’s tin exports to Britain soared. Steamships and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 further boosted tin exports. Chinese workers flocked to work in Malaya’s tin mines and plantations.

However, in 1871 the Sultan of Perak died and there was a fight over who should succeed him. Also, Chinese secret societies fought over who would control the tin mines. The turmoil disrupted the supply of tin to Great Britain. So a man claiming to be the sultan’s rightful heir, Raja Abdullah, cut a deal with the British.

It was known as the Pangkor Agreement. The British recognized Abdulla as the Sultan of Perak. In exchange, he agreed to accept at his court a British ‘consultant’ who would advise him on all matters except those relating to Malay religion and customs.

Until 1874 the British confined themselves to trade and avoided involvement in Malay politics. The Pangkor treaty marked the beginning of British political control over Malaya.

British malaysia

The British gradually increased their influence over Malaya. More states (Selangor, Pahang, Sungei, Ujong, Rembau, Negri Sembilan, Jelebu) were forced to accept British ‘protection’. In 1895, the “protected” states were persuaded to form a federation.

Meanwhile, in 1888 Brunei, Sarawak, and North Borneo became British protectorates. In the early years of the 20th century, the British extended their influence over the northern Malaysian states (Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu) and they were formally absorbed into British Malaya. In 1914 Johor also came under British rule.

At the beginning of the 20th century a new industry arose in Malaysian rubber. The Malaysian rubber industry grew. The Malaysian tin industry also prospered, and an oil industry was started in Singapore.

During the 1920s the Malaysian economy was prosperous, but in the 1930s, during the depression, exports fell. In the early 20th century, while the economy was booming, many Chinese came to live and work in Malaya. However, after 1930 immigration was restricted to try to help unemployment.

Japanese occupation of Malaya

On December 8, 1941, the Japanese invaded the Malay Peninsula and quickly overran it. The last British troops withdrew across the strait to Singapore Island on January 31, 1942. The Japanese invaded Singapore on February 8, 1942. The last British troops surrendered on February 15, 1942.

This was a military disaster for the British. Meanwhile, Japanese troops invaded Borneo. They captured Kuching on December 25, 1941 and Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu) on January 8, 1942. During the Japanese occupation, the Chinese were treated more harshly. The Indians were treated less severely.

Malaya becomes independent

In 1944, as the Japanese faced defeat, the British government decided to unite all the Malay states (except Singapore) into a single unified state called the Union of Malaya. (Singapore would be a separate crown colony.) However, there was so much opposition to this plan that it was scrapped. Instead, on February 1, 1948, the Federation of Malaya was formed.

Meanwhile, Malay nationalism was growing. The first Malay organization was the Kesatuan Melayu Singaporea, or Malayan Union of Singapore, which was formed in 1926. Others quickly followed. In 1946, the Malaysian organizations came together to form the Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Melayu Bersatu, the National Organization of United Malays.

The Malayan Communist Party (MCP) was founded in 1930. In 1948 they began to attack European estate managers. As a result, the government introduced a state of emergency.

However, communist activity declined after 1949, when the British parliament promised independence. The insurgency continued for a few years, but was less of a threat. Communist activity flared up again in the mid-1970s and then fizzled out.

In 1955 the Reid Commission was formed to prepare a constitution for Malaya. Malaya became independent on August 31, 1957. The first Prime Minister of Malaya was Tunku Abdul Rahman (1903-1976). He held the post from 1957 to 1970. In 1963 Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah joined Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia. However, in 1965 Singapore became a separate state.

The state of emergency

During the 1960s there was tension between Malays and non-Malays. It culminated in violence after an election in May 1969. Opposition parties gained seats while the ruling party lost seats (although they remained in power).

On May 13, 1969, supporters of opposition parties held celebrations in the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Supporters of the ruling party staged a counter-demonstration. The two sides came to blows. After two days of violence, the government declared a state of emergency and parliament was suspended.

Malaysia today

Gradually calm returned and parliament reconvened in 1971. The Malaysian government then adopted a new economic policy. It was a remarkable success. During the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Malaysia went from being a poor, agricultural country to a rich, industrial country.

The standard of living of the Malaysian people increased dramatically. In 1991, the new economic policy was replaced by a new development policy. Today Malaysia is a prosperous country. The population of Malaysia is 31 million.

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