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Malaysia - History

Malaysia’s geographical position has allowed it to have a rich and diverse history. Because it is right in the heart of the South China Sea, and has such an extensive coastline, the country is easily accessible from many different directions. This has led to many foreign nations influencing Malaysia’s history over the years.

The ancestors of the current inhabitants of Malaysia first arrived in the region between 2500 and 1500 B.C. The early settlers living along the coast had contact with the Chinese and Indians thanks to trading across the seas. Traders from India brought their Hindu beliefs with them, which were adopted along with the local animist beliefs. As Islam became more widespread across India, the religion also began to reach Malaysia. This is just one of the ways in which Malaysia has been influenced by the nations and cultures surrounding the country.

Malaysia's recorded history starts in the first century B.C. The country is located strategically at the border between East and West, and so began to attract visitors from all over the world from an early point in time. Peninsular Malaysia especially began to attract travellers from all over the world. There is a considerable amount of concrete evidence of the existence of ancient civilisations in Malaysia. There are tomb stones located in Bujang Valley and Merbok Valley in the state of Kedah. What remains of these ancient civilisations tell us much about their societies. From the tomb stones, experts have discovered that Malaysia’s influences from other cultures stem back to contacts they made thousands of years ago.

The ancient Malaysians were affected by the cultural traditions that Hindu-Buddhist travellers from India and China brought with them. The heavy Islamic influence on the Malaysian culture came later on in the country’s history. It arrived during the Melaka Sultanate in the 1400s, coming across with traders from the Middle East and India. It spread across the nation officially when the Sultan of Melaka adopted the religion personally and helped to deliver its teachings to the rest of the nation.

The British influence on Malaysia began as early as the 18th century when they tried to establish trading posts in Pedang. In 1771, Britain sent Francis Light, a captain with the East India Company, to meet Muhammad Jiwa Shah, to discuss the possibility of opening up a market for trading. At the time, Malaysia was facing several external threats, including the war between Burma and Siam (now Thailand). Kedah was seen as a vassal state, and they were often asked to send reinforcements to the Burmese war effort. Britain was therefore allowed to set up a trading post on the understanding that they would help protect Kedah from external threats. Britain did, however, refuse this offer. It took the British 100 years from this point, but in 1874, Malaysia was put under British control and they did not lose control until the Second World War.

On 8 December 1941, Japan invaded the Malay Peninsula and their troops quickly took over. The last remaining British troops withdrew and fled across the straits into Singapore on 31 January 1942. The Japanese invaded Singapore on 8 February 1942 and the British were forced to surrender on 15 February 1942. The Japanese did not manage to hold on to their control of the country for too long though.

The solidarity of Malayan nationalism was growing as a movement. The first Malay nationalist organisation was established as the Singapore Malay Union (Kesatuan Melayu Singapuru), which was formed in 1926. Others quickly followed it. In 1946 Malay organisations joined forces to create the United Malays National Organisation. In 1955, they formed the Reid Commission which was given the task of creating a constitution for Malaya. Malaya finally gained its independence on 31 August 1957. The 31st August is now a public holiday in Malaysia as they celebrate the festival of Hari Merdeka (Independence Day).

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