Pre colonial area
Malaysia history starts in the first century AD. Two events helped stimulate Malaysia's emergence in international trade in the ancient world. At that time, India had two principal sources of gold and other metals: the Roman Empire and China. The overland route from China was cut by marauding Huns. At about the same time, the Roman Emperor Vespasian cut off shipments of gold to India.
As a result, India sent large and seaworthy ships, with crews reported to have numbered in the hundreds, to Southeast Asia, including the Malay Peninsula, to seek alternative sources. The Malay Peninsula must have been of some significance. Ptolemy recorded its presence in his map as the 'Chersonesus Aureus'.
In the century that followed the Malays discovered rich tin deposits. This became of great significance in Indian Ocean trade, and the region prospered. The Malays benefited from the maritime trade and the ports flourished. Malay ports served as centers for trade between these trading centers in India, South East Asia and China. The traders brought with them the Hindu-Buddhist culture which became of great influence on the local people.
The early Buddhist Malay kingdom of Srivijaya, based at what is now Palembang, Sumatra, dominated much of the Malay Peninsula from the 9th to the 13th centuries AD. The powerful Hindu kingdom of Majapahit, based on Java, ruled the Malay Peninsula in the 14th century.
Arrival of Muslim traders resulted in the conversion of many Malays to Islam. That process started in the beginning of the early 14th century and accelerated further with the establishment of the Sultanate of Malacca in the 15th century.
Many early Malay city states paid tribute to various kingdoms such as the kingdoms of China and Siam. In return for such tribute, a princess of China was gifted to the Sultan of Malacca at the time.
Eventually such inter-marriages between local Malays and ethnic Chinese led to a class of straits-born Chinese known as the peranakan. They have a unique culture and distinct foods which is unique to itself. Male peranakan as referred to as Baba and female peranakan are referred to as Nyonya.
Malacca was a major regional entrepot, where Chinese, Arab, Malay, and Indian merchants traded precious goods. By sometime in the 1400s Malacca was already a "colony" of China as tribute was paid to the Chinese emperor. However, there was very little interference in habits of the people or policies of the local rulers.
The dawn of European colonialism in Southeast Asia began largely at the start of the 16th Century. Drawn by the vibrant trade, the abundant spice and the large markets, the Portuguese conquered Malacca in 1511, marking the beginning of European expansion in Southeast Asia.
The Dutch ousted the Portuguese from Malacca in 1641. They build a Fort at Pangkor. Click here for more on the Dutch Fort. A century later, in 1795, they themselves were replaced by the British, who had occupied Penang in 1786. During their occupation, the British signed an important Treaty at Pangkor. It was therefore called the "Pangkor Treaty 1874".
It was a treaty signed between the Sir Andrew Clarke on behalf of the British and Raja Abdullah of Perak. The treaty is significant in the Malay states history because it signaled the British official involvement in the Malay states' policies.
In 1826, the British settlements of Malacca, Penang, and Singapore were combined to form the Crown Colony of the Straits Settlements. From these strong points, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the British established protectorates over the Malay sultanates on the peninsula. Four of these states, Penang, Perak, Selangor and Negri Sembilan, were consolidated in 1895 as the Federated Malay States.
States under direct British control ceded their rights of Foreign policy and Military affairs to the British Crown. All other affairs were still controlled by the pre-existing local ruler. However, all rulers were required to host a British advisor and were expected to listen to this advisor even on issues of local administration. Advisors did not interfere in issues regarding local religious practices.
During the British colonial period, a system of public administration was established which included a civil service, public education, transportation, various infrastructure and healthcare.
Resource development was also a mark of the British era. Primary resources including plantations and tin were developed aggressively to fund the empire.
Migrant workers were imported en-masse from India to work in plantations as lowly paid indentured laborers. They were, little better off than slaves or serfs in other parts of the world.
Workers from China paid sums to "agents" who would get them well paying jobs in the local tin-mines of the time. The lot of the Chinese worker in Malaya was stark. Often arriving with only his clothes, he would set to work and dream of returning to China with wealth.
Chinese workers had no agency to look after them unlike the plantation structures looking after the Indian workers. As such, many fell back to their traditional clan associations for various social services. Social services included protection, ceremonial needs and the saving of money for repatriation of their corpse and burial in their home village.
Not all of the clan associations were benign and some were local branches of the "Heaven and Earth Society" in China. Sometimes "protection" of their members resulted in rioting and large scale melees. As a result some of these groups were subsequently branded "Secret societies" by the British government and declared illegal. A Chinese Protectorate was also set up to look after the interest of the Chinese people and perform many of the functions previously undertaken by these associations. This resulted in a lessening of the influence these societies had over the Chinese.
Subsequently, the British Government allowed immigration of Chinese woman as well, which was previously disallowed. Once they were allowed to bring their wives (many had more than one) from their home village, it was only a matter of time before some decided to call Malaysia their home.
The British saw an opportunity to plant rubber in the compatible soil so a few trimmings of Hevea brasiliensis were smuggled back to Malaya where a booming trade in rubber soon resulted. Malaysia has since become the world's largest producer of natural latex in the world.
Tea was similarly imported to the hill stations of Malaysia by the British and is still grown today on plantations bearing the colonial names of the large British conglomerates who once helped finance an empire.
British rule was interrupted by the Japanese invasion and occupation from December 1941 to August 1945 during World War II.
The British rule was not fully accepted by the Malay people. The First Resident, J.W.W. Birch was killed during his mission to enforce British administration in Perak. It was the beginning of the fight for independence which eventually would be reached in 1963. Read more on J.W.W. Birch role in Malaysia history. at Pasir Salak
In 1946, the whole of Malaya (except Singapore, which became a separate crown colony) was consolidated into a crown colony called the Malayan Union. Because of opposition from the Malays the Union was a political failure, and was replaced just two years later by a looser Federation of Malaya in 1948.
In 1948, local communists of the Communist Party of Malaya, nearly all Chinese, launched an insurgency, prompting the imposition of Malayan Emergency (the state of emergency was lifted in 1960).
Small bands of guerrillas remained in bases along the rugged border with southern Thailand, occasionally entering northern Malaysia. These guerrillas finally signed a peace accord with the Malaysian government in December 1989.
Popular sentiment for independence swelled during and after the war and the Federation of Malaya negotiated independence from the United Kingdom under the leadership of Tunku Abdul Rahman, who became the first prime minister.
As part of their "Hearts and Minds" anti-communist strategy the British government agreed to give Malaya independence on August 31, 1957. Malaya remained part of the Commonwealth of Nations, and hosted a large British and Commonwealth military presence until the withdrawal of British forces East of Suez in the late 1960s.
The independent Federation of Malaya combined with the British colonies of Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo (renamed Sabah) to form Malaysia on September 16, 1963.
The state's formation was highly controversial, and both the Philippines and Indonesia made claims to parts of East Malaysia. Internal rebellions supporting these claims or regional independence were suppressed by Commonwealth forces and three years of semi-war called Indonesian Confrontation on the borders to Indonesia ensued.
As a concession to the widespread opposition, Brunei was kept outside the Malaysian federation, but remained under British military protection. The United States decisively agreed to support the formation of Malaysia after a 1964 secret diplomatic deal with the United Kingdom, in return for British support in Vietnam.
As a result of differences between the two governments, and tensions between Chinese and Malays, Singapore left the federation and became an independent republic on August 9, 1965. Continued ethnic tensions led to bloody racial riots in Kuala Lumpur on May 13, 1969, which resulted in a two-year state of Emergency, and the subsequent imposition of a New Economic Policy aimed at redistributing wealth to the Malays, who at the time owned 2% of the economy.
Prime Minister Razak died in 1975 of leukemia, and was succeeded by his brother in law, Tun Hussein Onn.
In 1981, Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad assumed power. He became a patron for new heavy industries such as steel and car-manufacturing. He also encouraged many "mega projects" such as the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and Petronas Twin Towers.
Detractors of these projects have claimed that some projects were unnecessary or that limited resources could have been better utilized in other areas such as rural development or education.
During the booming period of mid 1980s to early 1990s, the entire Southeast Asian region benefited from Foreign Direct Investments, including Malaysia. Foreign investment flowed into the country, increasing the standard of living and establishing Malaysia as one of the world's leading OEM (original equipment manufacturing) and trading nations, where previously the economy had been dependent on tin, rubber, petroleum and other extractive/primary industries. Malaysian economic growth averaged 10% from the period 1988 – 1997, and Malaysia's per capita income became the third highest in South-East Asia.
In 1997, Malaysia was caught in the Asian economic crisis suffered by the entire Southeast Asian region, which caused a stock market crash and the plunge of the Malaysian Ringgit. Many mega-projects were abandoned or put on hold, businesses collapsed and banks were struggling with massive bad debts. The then-Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim advocated the implementation of the IMF prescription for economic recovery, raising interest rates and implementing a severe austerity program similar to those implemented in similarly affected countries such as Indonesia and South Korea, putting some of these plans into action during a 3-month long sabbatical by Mahathir.
Mahathir strongly disagreed with Anwar's course of action, choosing instead to implement a recovery plan which shocked the financial world at the time due to its unorthodoxy.
It was condemned by the IMF and by investors including George Soros, who Mahathir had previously blamed as being the cause of the crisis while others like the Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz praised Malaysia's rejection of IMF's advice of increasing the interest rate.
Mahathir subsequently sacked Anwar, who was then arrested and convicted in a trial conducted by Judge Augustine Paul, who had been recently appointed to the Federal Court, leading to accusations of government manipulation.
Amnesty International expressed doubts about the fairness of the trial. The struggling economy coupled with the Anwar crisis led to one of the ruling coalition's, Barisan Nasional, worst-ever election results in the general election of 1999.
The economic situation improved after the crisis, but foreign direct investment figures have yet to return to pre-crisis levels as of 2004. One possible cause is the lack of corporate governance in government-linked corporations like Renong , Malaysian Airlines and Bank Bumiputra.
On the 31st of October, 2003, Dr.Mahathir resigned in favour of the current Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Mahathir was quite aware of the assumptions people made of his regime but he believed that he left with the gratitude of the Malaysian people. In an interview with a local Newspaper (The Star Daily, Oct 18 2004) he stated " I think it is a nice feeling to know that people still remember and appreciate you. Of course when other people asked me about this, not the Press, I told them, “Actually I paid all of them to stand up” (laughter). But I am glad as I think it is genuine. I feel very satisfied; at least people remember me."
Badawi is seen as something of a reformer, and he has taken steps to reverse some of Mahathir's policies. During the first year of his tenure, Badawi reviewed the status of several mega-projects initiated during Mahathir's rule. He cancelled:
Other visible changes included the release of Anwar, and the trial of several of those accused of being cronies of Mahathir, notably Eric Chia, formerly leader of Perwaja Steel.
However, this cannot definitively prove that Badawi was against Mahathir's policies. It may just be the winds of change in Asia where newly elected prime minister of India cancelled a 16 Himalayan river-linking "mega project" that could have cost up to $150 billion and Beijing cancelled 5 out of 10 venues for the 2008 Olympics, with modifications to scale back other sites such as the retractable dome on the main site.
Badawi led the Barisan Nasional to a major victory in the 2004 general election, recapturing the formerly opposition-controlled state of Terengganu, which had been lost in the 1999 elections.
Foreign policy under Badawi has taken a less confrontational approach. Angry polemics against western nations, Australia and Singapore have ceased. After his retirement Mahathir admitted that he had created some of the problems which had caused friction with Singapore. He specifically said 'When I became PM in 1981, I met Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. The relationship was very nice initially but we never knew what would happen later. So I am very glad that all the problems that I created have now been relegated to the background. I hope they'll never come back.'
Copyright © 2000,2001,2002 Free Software Foundation, Inc. 59
Temple Place, Suite 330, Boston, MA 02111-1307 USA
Copyright © 2004-2012 pulau-pangkor.com
New! CommentsHave your say about what you just read!
Leave me a comment (in English please) in the box below. Please don't ask for a "quotation", those comments will be deleted.
Not far from Pangkor is the Pasir Salak complex. A must visit for anyone who has an interest in Modern Malaysian history.
The Pangkor Treaty is an important moment in the history of Malaysia and Pangkor in particular. Here's the full story why: