Malaysia’s Historical Background: An Outline

ImageANCIENT MALAYSIA (before 100 BC)

  • Negritos: Mesolithic hunters
  • Proto-Malays: more diverse in origin
    • Originally came from Yunnan, China
    • When they arrived at the peninsula, they sent the Negritos away to the jungles and hills
    • More technologically-advanced compared to the Negritos
  • Deutero-Malays: made up of many different people
    • First group to use metal tools as they’re proficient in their use of iron.
    • Believed to be as the direct ancestors of today’s Malaysian Malays
    • They united with Indonesians and formed the people known today as the Malays.


  • Indians initially went to Malaysian peninsula to search the mystical place known as the Land of Gold
  • As they are mostly traders and settlers, they did not leave the peninsula as they search for gold, spices and aromatic wood.
  • They may not have found what they’re looking for, they continued to arrive in numbers.
  • The Indians introduced Hinduism and Buddhism to the peninsula, thus bringing temples and other cultural traditions from India.
  • There were numerous Malay kingdoms during this time, as many as 30, mainly based in the Eastern side.
    • Kingdom of Langkasuka: North; closely-tied to Funan kingdom in Cambodia
    • Srivijaya Empire: Hindu-Buddhist empire; for over six centuries, ruled a maritime empire that became the main power in the archipelago
    • Majapahit Empire: Hindu kingdom; Java-based; came into possession by the peninsula eventually
  • The small early states were greatly influenced by the Indian culture
    • Today, the Indian influences can be best seen in a traditional Malay wedding ceremony which is similar to those in India.


  • The introduction of Islam by the Arab traders caused the ending of Hinduism and Buddhism age in the peninsula.
  • Arrived at the region gradually: first to the elite then it spread to the commoners
  • 1402: Prince Parameswara of then Srivijaya Empire founded the Malacca sultanate
  • Malacca Sultanate: believed to be as the first independent state in the area
  • Sooner, Parameswara was converted to Islam when he married a Princess of Pasai and he took the fashionable Persian name title “Shah” (Iskandar Shah)
  • Malacca was now under a Muslim prince so Malacca officially adopted Islam and later on, it spread throughout the archipelago because of the political power and influence of the Sultanate (became the dominant religion).
  • Malacca as a major commercial center during this time
    • Pirates were a grave problem during this time. They badly needed a safe, secure port.
    • Within 50 years, it was a major port and became the most influential in SE Asia
    • Able to police the waters and provide an escort for vessels that need it
    • In control of all of Malaysia’s west coast
  • Malacca as an established center of Malay culture
    1. A blend of indigenous Malay, Indian, Chinese and Islam elements
    • Gave great prestige to the Malay language
  • Eventually, it fell. The Sultanate of Brunei then became the major center of Islam.


    • Malacca fell due to the arrival of Portuguese in 1511 led by Alfonso de Albuquerque
    • Seized it since they needed a trading port of their own. The Arabians were not allowing vessels navigated by Non-Muslims into their harbors.
    • Was the first colonial claim on what is now Malaysia.
    • In 1641, Malacca was captured by the Dutch in collaboration with the powerful Sultanate of Johor
    • During this time, the Dutch were at war with Spain which obtained the Portuguese empire due to the Iberian Union.
    • Established a presence in Malaya: 1785
    • They were looking towards SE Asia for new resources as they had already colonized India
    • Growth of China trade in British ships increased its desire for bases in the region.
    • Persuaded the Sultan of Kedah to lease Penang
    • Eventually, they obtained Singapore and Malacca (due to Anglo Dutch Treaty which divided the Malay archipelago between them and the Dutch)
    • Singapore, Malacca, Penang and Labuan Island: Straits Settlement
    • The dominance of GB in the archipelago became inevitable
    • By the end of the 20th century: enter the “Federated Malay States”: Pahang, Selangor, Perak and Negeri Sembilan – have British advisers
    • Other states: “Unfederated Malay States”
    • England gained greater control by the conclusion of the Pangkor Agreement of 1874
      • Tin mining became commercially important and led to inter-state conflicts
      • The British intervened and concluded agreements with the states
      • Provision: install residents who will advise the Sultans
      • Soon, they become the effective rulers of their states (gave them immense power)
      • Greater control among British: monopolized tin mining in the area
    • Led to GB’s demise
    • Occupied Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore for over 3 years
    • During this time, ethnic tensions were raised and colonial nationalism grew. The archipelago itself faced dissensions during this time
    • 1945: GB went back but things had not remained as they were before the war (bankrupt
    • Britain’s last attempt: form a Malayan Union: single crown colony (except Singapore) to unite the admin of Malaya (1946)
      • However, it was heavily opposed and was inevitably dissolved
    • Replaced by the Fed of Malaya which restored the autonomy of the Malay state rulers under British protection
    • 1957: the British flag was lowered for good at the Merdaka Square


  • Malayan Emergency (1948-1960)
    • Mostly Chinese rebels under the leadership of the Malayan Communist Party, launched guerilla operations designed to force the British out of Malaya
    • involved a long anti-insurgency campaign by Commonwealth troops in Malaya
  • Which territories to include in the new state?
    • Malaysia’s independence brought challenges, one of which is this.
    • 1963: “Malaysia”
    • Tunku persuaded these territories to combine with Malaya in a fed union. However, this did not go over well with Indonesian President Sukarno as this is a “neocolonialist plot” against his country. Sukarno led unsuccessful attacks because of this.
  1. Singapore (became independent, 1965)
  2. Sabah
  3. Sarawak (northern coast of Borneo)
  • Indonesian confrontation with Malaysia
    • The idea of a fed union did not go over well with Indonesian President Sukarno as this is a “neocolonialist plot” against his country.
    • This is an obstruction on his plans to expand.
    • Sukarno led unsuccessful attacks because of this.
  • Philippine claims to Sabah
    • The Phils also objected the formation of the fed, claiming that North Borneo (Sarawak) and Sabah was part of Sulu.
    • 1966: Marcos dropped the claim; contention which mar Phil-Mal relations
  • Determining national identity
    • Malaysia is comprised with a diverse mix of people
    • Chinese dominate business and trade
    • Racial strife is a problem: exemplified by the 13 May 1969 crisis
      • Chinese formed a pol party that won a number of seats in the elections
      • Malays protested this win by initiating riots throughout Kuala Lumpur

Mahathir Administration:

  • Rapid econ growth and urbanization in the 1980s.
  • Shift from agriculturally based to an industry-based economy
  • Petronas Towers, North-South Expressway, fed admin capital of Putrajaya

Badawi Administration

Abdul Razak Administration

  • Continued these pro-business policies
  • Development of manufacturing services and tourism



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