Malaysia Country Guide

History

 
 

Ancient Empires
Before the rise of the European colonial powers, the Malay peninsula and the Malay archipelago were home to empires such as the Srivijaya, the Majapahit (both ruled from Indonesia) and the Melaka Sultanate. The Srivijaya and Majapahit empires saw the spread of Hinduism to the region, and to this day, despite being nominally Muslim, many Hindu legends and traditions survive in tradtional Malay culture. Mass conversion to Islam only occurred after the arrival of Arab traders during the Melaka Sultanate. 

 
 
 
 
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A'Famosa in Melaka

16th century A'Famosa in Melaka City

Early Colonial Period
This was to change in the 16th century when the Portuguese established the first European colony in Southeast Asia by defeating the Melaka Sultanate. The Portuguese subsequently then lost Malacca to the Dutch. The British also establised their first colony on the Malay peninsula in Penang in 1786, when it was ceded by the Sultan of Kedah. Finally, the area was divided into Dutch and British spheres of influence with the signing of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty in 1824. With this treaty, the Dutch agreed to cede Malacca to the British and in return, the British ceded all their colonies on Sumatra to the Dutch. The line which divided the Malay world into Dutch and British areas roughly corresponds to what is now the border between Malaysia and Indonesia.

British Colonial Rule
Before World War II, the Malay Peninsula was governed by the British as the Federated Malay States (Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang), which were governed as a single entity, the Unfederated Malay States (Johor, Kedah, Perlis, Terengganu and Kelantan), which were each governed as separate protectorates, and the Straits Settlements (including Melaka, Penang and Singapore), which were crown colonies. Northern Borneo consisted of the British colony of North Borneo, the Kingdom of Sarawak, which was ruled by a British family known as the "White Rajas", and the British protectorate of Brunei.

Old Railway Station in Kuala Lumpur

Old Railway Station in Kuala Lumpur

World War II
World War II was disastrous for the British Malayan Command. The Japanese swept down both coasts of the Malay Peninsula and despite fierce fighting, much of the British military was tied down fighting the Germans in Europe and those that remained in Malaya simply could not cope with the Japanese onslaught. By 31 January 1942, the British had been pushed all the way back to Singapore, which also fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. The situation was no different on Borneo, which fell to the Japanese on 1 April 1942 after months of fierce fighting.

Post War Period
After World War II, the Federated Malay States, Unfederated Malay States and the Straits Settlements of Malacca and Penang were federated to form a single British colony known as the Malayan Union, with Singapore splitting off to form a separate colony. In Borneo, the White Rajas ceded Sarawak to the British crown in 1946, making it a crown colony of the United Kingdom. Malaya gained independence from the British in 1957. The Union Jack was lowered and the first Malayan flag was raised at the Merdeka (independence) Square on midnight 31st August 1957.

Independence
Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963 through a merging of Malaya and Singapore, as well as the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo, with Brunei deciding not to join. The first several years of the country's history were marred by the Indonesian confrontation as well as claims to Sabah from the Philippines. Singapore was expelled from the federation on 9 August 1965, as its majority Chinese population and influence of the People's Action Party led by Lee Kuan Yew (later Prime Minister of Singapore) were seen as a threat to Malay dominance, and it became a separate country. 

 
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