History of Malaysia

Malaysia, located in South East Asia, has a history starting from the ancestors of the Malaysian peninsula migrating in the area between 2500 and 1500 B.C. Until recently there was nothing to distinguish, culturally and linguistically, between the territories of present day Malaysia from the lands of the Malay Archipelago . As a result of outside influence, at the moment the Malay world is divided into six states , the Malaysia , the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and East Timor . Broadly the history of Malaysia can be divided into four successive phases of outside influence, followed by the final assertion of Malay independence.


Scientific archaeological evidence of even 40,000 years old reveals traces of human civilization in the Niah Caves in Sarawak . Earliest evidence of habitation found in the Malay Peninsula dates back to 10,000 years. By 2500-1500 BC,the Neolithic culture was well established. Many scholars believe that the earliest settlers on the Malay Peninsula came in small groups, overland from southern China over a period of thousand years and became the ancestors of the Orang Asli.

The Malay Peninsula flourished from its central position in the maritime trade routes between China, India and the Middle East.Ptolemy marked it on his early map as "Sinus Sabaricus" or "Golden Chersonese" , as the Straits of Malacca was referred to at that time.

Ancient History

This part of the history of Malaysia started with the advent of the Indians which dates back to at least the 3rd century BC. The Indians came to the Archipelago as traders, both for its maritime products and also for its extremely abundant forest and to trade with merchants from China, who also discovered the Malay world at an early date. With numerous Malay kingdoms in the 2nd and 3rd century, the Maharajahs of Srivijaya ruled a loose-knit maritime empire for 700 years that controlled the coasts of Sumatra, Peninsular Malaya, and Borneo. The Buddhist kingdom of Ligor took control in the 11 th century and the people of the Malay Peninsula adopted Hinduism and Buddhism. The use of the Sanskrit as their language continued until they eventually converted to Islam , but not before Hinduism, Buddhism and Sanskrit became rooted into the Malay worldview. The political ideas, social structure, rituals, language, arts and cultural practices all carry traces of this influence even today.

The second phase of the history of Malaysia began with the arrival of Islam, which according to the Kedah Annals dates from the 9 th century A.D. when Maharaja Derbar Raja, Sultanate of Kedah converted to Islam and changed his name to Sultan Muzaffar Shah. This led to the conversion of most of the Malay-Indonesian world and the breakup of the Srivijayan Empire into many smaller sultanates, the most prominent being, the Melaka (Malacca). The early 15 th century saw the rise of the Sultanate of Melaka under the dynasty founded by Parameswara , a prince from Palembang, who fled from the island Temasek which is now Singapore.

The Golden Age of Melaka

The years between 1400 and 1511 A.D is referred to as the Golden Age of Melaka in the history of Malaysia. This historical city Melaka made a fast rise from just a village of royal refugees to a wealthy kingdom and international center for the spice trade. By the middle and late 1400s, much control was gained over the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, and the key shipping route through the Strait of Malacca. Malay people had been profoundly influenced by Islam which spread throughout the Malay Peninsula and to other parts of Southeast Asia. Traders were attracted from throughout the world and within 50 years, it was the most influential port in Southeast Asia with ships from dozens of kingdom great and small flocking in the harbor.

This rising power and prosperity of the Melaka drew attention of the Europeans who wished to gain control of the valuable spice trade. The Portuguese seized the commercial kingdom of Melaka from the Malays in 1511 but were unsuccessful in conquering other areas on the Malay Peninsula, ultimately bringing in colonialism that ran into the 20 th century.

The next phase comes with the emergence of the European colonial powers, first the Portuguese , who captured Melaka in 1511, then the Dutch and finally the British , who established bases at Penang and Singapore . Three nations struggled for the control of Malacca Strait just after the fall of Melaka, the Portuguese (in Melaka), the Sultanate of Johor, and the Sultanate of Aceh. The conflict went on till 1641, when the Dutch gained control of Melaka bringing the golden age to an end. They captured the fort in Melaka - a-Famosa, constructed by the Portuguese and ruled there for the next 150 years.

The British Rule or The Modern Age

The first colony in the Malay Peninsula was established by the British in 1786 . They acquired the Penang Island and established a settlement called George Town . Gradually more areas were taken under control to protect its shipping lanes between China and India. The British took control of Melaka following the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 , dividing the Malaya archipelago between Britain and the Netherlands, with Malaya in the British zone. The British established its crown colony in 1826 of the Straits Settlements, uniting its three possessions in Malaya , the Penang , Melaka and Singapore, which were administered under the East India Company in Calcutta until 1867 . However, total British control was not established until the early 1900's.

European domination also led to its foreign influence with the mass immigration of Chinese and Indian workers in the 19 th century , to meet the needs of the colonial economy shaped by the British in the Malay Peninsula and North Borneo . By 1914 , almost all the Malaysian lands came under the control of the British fully or partially. These British controlled regions were called British Malaya .

With the Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II , popular support for independence grew and in 1946 , the United Malaya National Organization (UMNO) was established where the Britain dissolved the Straits Settlements in 1946 . By 1963 Malaya became Malaysia with the gaining of the British territories in North Borneo and Singapore. The Federation and the Chinese-majority Singapore decided to part ways in 1965 . Though Malaysia survived this crisis and also the confrontation with Indonesia, it nearly succumbed to its own internal tensions in the race riots of 196. It led to the imposition of emergency rule and a curtailment of political life and civil liberties. The UMNO has been ruling Malaysia almost as a one-party state , co-opting the Chinese and Indian leaderships through the device of the "National Front coalition" in 1970.


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