|History of Malaysia|
Rich in historical background, the course of Malaysian history has been determined by its strategic position, its tropical climate, the surrounding environment and the regime of the north-east and south-west monsoons.
In the north, Kedah is reputed to be the most ancient State in the country. Archaeological findings at Bujang Valley furnish evidence of a Hindu-Buddhist civilisation that dates back to 300 AD. It flourished as an important centre of trade and commerce until the 13th century and it waned in importance.
Down south, at around 1400 AD, Melaka, an important State located on the maritime route - the Straits of Malacca, was establishing itself as a trading centre. Abundant in clove, nutmeg and pepper, Malacca attracted colonial powers who coveted the monopoly of the spice trade, and gave the name 'Fabled Spice Islands of the East'.
The strategic importance of the State brought the Portuguese in 1509. Then came the Dutch, who attacked and defeated the Portuguese in 1641. The Dutch ruled for 154 years, followed by the British. The British, who already had Penang and Singapore, penetrated inland. By the 1920's, all the Malay States on the peninsular came under British protection.
Malay nationalism and desire for self-rule was felt around the 1930's. A call for independence was made, but the Second World War stopped it. Later, the movement resumed and independence was declared on the 31st of August, in 1957. In 1963, Malaysia was formed, bringing together the states of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak. Singapore, however,left the federation in 1965.
In the Beginning
Its position and other geographical circumstances made the country a natural meeting place for traders from the East and the West. The lush tropical forest and the abundance of life existing in it and in the surrounding water made Malaysia an easy place for human communities. At the same time the thick jungle and mountainous terrain of the interior inhibited communication, while the absence of broad, flood proned river valleys and deltas precluded the development of elaborate systems of water control such as those upon which the civilisations of Java and the Southeast Asian mainland came to be based.
In contrast, Malaysia's development has come from the sea. Its inhabitants quickly acquired a skill and reputation as sailors and navigators. Subsequent trading contacts have been responsible for the waves of outside influences which have modified their way of life.
The earliest of the present-day inhabitants of Malaysia are the Orang Asli of the Peninsula and people such as the Penan of Sarawak and the Rungus of Sabah, many of whom still pursue a largely nomadic way of life. Their presence in the country probably dates back to over 5,000 years. These early settlers were probably the pioneers of the movement of people southwards from China and Tibet through Mainland Southest Asia and the Malay Peninsula to the Indonesian Archipelago and beyond. The next arrivals to the country, the Malays, represented the second and third wave of this movement.
The first Malay settlers (the Proto-Malays) had probably established themselves here by 1000 BC. These movements were followed by other waves of immigrants (the Deutero-Malays) over the next few centuries, who came equipped with more advanced farming techniques and new knowledge of metals. The Malay peoples also spread out into the islands of the archipelago, settling down into small self-contained communities which gave rise to the complex and variegated ethnic pattern of Malaysia and Indonesia today. The Malays of Peninsula had their closest affinities with the Malay of Sumatra, and for centuries the Straits of Melaka did not form a boundary between two nations but served as a corridor linking different parts of the same family.
Until recent times, the Malays and Malay-related inhabitants of the area remained politically fragmented, but they shared a common culture. Together with the Orang Asli they make up the indigenous peoples of Malaysia today, and are classified as 'sons of the soil' or Bumiputera. Despite the considerable differences between the various Bumiputera groups, they all share certain characteristics which are the hallmarks of the indigenous culture of Southeast Asia. These characteristics are rooted in an agrarian-maritime economy economy and reflected in a village society where leadership was largely through consensus and those attitudes were informed by a belief in an all-pervasive spiritual world. Although the culture of the Malays in particular came to be overlaid by Hinduism and then pervaded by Islam, elements of this basic culture persist.
During the Hindu-Buddhist period which was marked by a tremendous growth in the East-West trade, the shadowy outlines of the first political units emerged in the Peninsula and in Kalimantan. However, for the greater part of this time the inhabitants of the area were subjected to the sway of either Javanese or Sumatran power. The most tangible evidence of the Hindu-Buddhist period in Malaysian history is now to be found in the temple sites of Lembah Bujang and Kuala Merbok in Kedah.
The Arrival of Islam
The arrival of Islam to this area ended the Hindu-Buddhist period of Malaysian history. Brought primarily by Indian and Arab traders, there is evidence of the presence of the new religion in the region as early as the thirteenth century.
After 1400, Islam became a major influence with the conversion of the Malay-Hindu rulers of Melaka. From Melaka, Islam spread to other parts of the Malay states in Sumatra and along the trade routes throughout the Indonesian archipelago. Once established as the religion of the Malays, Islam profoundly affected Malay society and the Malay way of life. After the collapse of Melaka, the sultanate of Brunei in Kalimantan rose to become the principal agent for the propagation of Islam in that area.
The Malay kingdom of Melaka which dominated both sides of the Straits of Melaka for a hundred years marked the classical age of Malay culture. Most of the Malay States of the Peninsula today can trace their genesis back to the Melaka sultanate.
Both Melaka and Brunei empires were shattered by the coming of the Europeans into the region. Melaka fell to a sudden Portugese assault in 1511. The power of Brunei was crippled in its infancy by the establishment of the Spaniards in the Philippines and by the rise of Dutch power in Java. Johor tried to take the place of Melaka but was restricted not only by the Europeans, but also by the activities of local rivals such as the Achinese, Minangkabau and the Bugis. As a result, the present-day States of the Peninsula gradually emerged as sovereign units in their own right.
The Japanese invasion of Malaya and British Borneo in late 1941, which culminated in the humiliating British surrender in Singapore two and a half months later, shattered Western colonial supremacy and unleashed the forces of incipent nationalism. Although the British were able to resume their authority in the region after the collapse of Japan in 1945, they faced an entirely new political situation and those circumstances forced them to adopt new policies.
As a result, the Straits Settlements were dissolved. Pulau Pinang and Melaka were joined with the Malay States of the Peninsula to form a new Malayan Union. Singapore become a separate crown colony and so did both Sarawak and British North Borneo in place of the former Brooke and Chartered Company regimes. Labuan was joined to British North Borneo.
These new arrangements met with considerable Malaysian opposition. In Sarawak, a strong campaign developed opposing the crown colony status and culminated in the assassination of the second British governor (1949). But the most serious opposition was in the Malay Peninsula against the Malayan Union which reduced the status of the Malay States virtually to that of a British colony.
Consequently, the British were obliged to abandon the Malayan Union scheme, and in 1948 in its place established the Federation of Malaya, after protacted negotiations with the Malay Rulers, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and other parties concerned. The new Federation consisted of all the nine Malay states of the Peninsula, along with Melaka and Pulau Pinang, united under a Federal Government in Kuala Lumpur headed by a British High Commissioner.
By the Agreement of 1948 the British had committed themselves to preparing the way of Federation's independence. Under the twin pressures of a communist rebellion (the Emergency) and the development of a strong Malay nationalist movement (represented by UMNO), the Bitish introduced elections, starting at local level in 1951.
The problem of obtaining political cooperation among the main ethnic groups in the country to fight for independence was resolved by the successful establishment og an alliance between UMNO and the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA), the two principal communal parties, in the same year, which was subsequently joined by the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC).
When the first federal elections were held in 1955, the UMNO-MCA-MIC Alliance, headed by Tunku Abdul Rahman, won an overwhelming victory (51 out of the 52 seats contested), and the Tunku was appointed the Federation's first Chief Minister. The Alliance was successful in pressuring the British to relinquish their sovereignty in August 1957, thus making Malaysia an independent nation.