History of Malaysia
History of Malaysia ©HistoryMaps

100 - 2024

History of Malaysia

Malaysia is a modern concept, created in the second half of the 20th century. However, contemporary Malaysia regards the entire history of Malaya and Borneo, spanning thousands of years back to prehistoric times, as its own history.

Hinduism and Buddhism from India and China dominated early regional history, reaching their peak from the 7th to the 13th centuries during the reign of the Sumatra-based Srivijaya civilisation. Islam made its initial presence in the Malay Peninsula as early as the 10th century, but it was during the 15th century that the religion firmly took root at least among the court elites, which saw the rise of several sultanates; the most prominent were the Sultanate of Malacca and the Sultanate of Brunei.[1]

The Portuguese were the first European colonial power to establish themselves on the Malay Peninsula and Southeast Asia, capturing Malacca in 1511. This event led to the establishment of several sultanates such as Johor and Perak. Dutch hegemony over the Malay sultanates increased during the course of the 17th to 18th century, capturing Malacca in 1641 with the aid of Johor. In the 19th century, the English ultimately gained hegemony across the territory that is now Malaysia. The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 defined the boundaries between British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies (which became Indonesia), and the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 defined the boundaries between British Malaya and Siam (which became Thailand). The fourth phase of foreign influence was a wave of immigration of Chinese and Indian workers to meet the needs created by the colonial economy in the Malay Peninsula and Borneo.[2]

The Japanese invasion during World War II ended British rule in Malaya. After the Empire of Japan was defeated by the Allies, the Malayan Union was established in 1946 and was reorganized as the Federation of Malaya in 1948. In the Peninsula, the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) took up arms against the British and the tension led to the declaration of emergency rule from 1948 to 1960. A forceful military response to the communist insurgency, followed by the Baling Talks in 1955, led to Malayan Independence on August 31, 1957, through diplomatic negotiation with the British.[3] On 16 September 1963, the Federation of Malaysia was formed; in August 1965, Singapore was expelled from the federation and became a separate independent country.[4] A racial riot in 1969, brought about the imposition of emergency rule, the suspension of parliament and the proclamation of the Rukun Negara, a national philosophy promoting unity among citizens.[5] The New Economic Policy (NEP) adopted in 1971 sought to eradicate poverty and restructure society to eliminate the identification of race with economic function.[6] Under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, there was a period of rapid economic growth and urbanization in the country beginning in the 1980s;[7] the previous economic policy was succeeded by the National Development Policy (NDP) from 1991 to 2000.[8] The late 1990s Asian financial crisis impacted the country, nearly causing their currency, stock, and property markets to crash; however, they later recovered.[9] Early in 2020, Malaysia underwent a political crisis.[10] This period, along with the COVID-19 pandemic caused a political, health, social and economic crisis.[11] The 2022 general election resulted in the first-ever hung parliament in the country's history[12] and Anwar Ibrahim became Malaysia's prime minister on November 24, 2022.[13]

2000 BCE Jan 1

Prehistory of Malaysia


A study of Asian genetics suggests the original humans in East Asia came from Southeast Asia.[14] The indigenous groups on the peninsula can be divided into three ethnicities: the Negritos, the Senoi, and the proto-Malays.[15] The first inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula were most probably Negritos.[16] These Mesolithic hunters were probably the ancestors of the Semang, an ethnic Negrito group.[17] The Senoi appear to be a composite group, with approximately half of the maternal mitochondrial DNA lineages tracing back to the ancestors of the Semang and about half to later ancestral migrations from Indochina. Scholars suggest they are descendants of early Austroasiatic-speaking agriculturalists, who brought both their language and their technology to the southern part of the peninsula approximately 4,000 years ago. They united and coalesced with the indigenous population.[18] The Proto Malays have a more diverse origin[19] and had settled in Malaysia by 1000 BCE as a result of Austronesian expansion.[20] Although they show some connections with other inhabitants in Maritime Southeast Asia, some also have an ancestry in Indochina around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum about 20,000 years ago. Areas comprising what is now Malaysia participated in the Maritime Jade Road. The trading network existed for 3,000 years, between 2000 BCE to 1000 CE.[21]

Anthropologists support the notion that the Proto-Malays originated from what is today Yunnan, China.[22] This was followed by an early-Holocene dispersal through the Malay Peninsula into the Malay Archipelago.[23] Around 300 BCE, they were pushed inland by the Deutero-Malays, an Iron Age or Bronze Age people descended partly from the Chams of Cambodia and Vietnam. The first group in the peninsula to use metal tools, the Deutero-Malays were the direct ancestors of today's Malaysian Malays and brought with them advanced farming techniques.[17] The Malays remained politically fragmented throughout the Malay archipelago, although a common culture and social structure were shared.[24]

100 BCE
Hindu-Buddhist kingdomsornament
Trade with India and China
Trade with India and China ©Anonymous
100 BCE Jan 2

Trade with India and China

Bujang Valley Archaeological M

Trade relations with China and India were established in the 1st century BCE.[32] Shards of Chinese pottery have been found in Borneo dating from the 1st century following the southward expansion of the Han Dynasty.[33] In the early centuries of the first millennium, the people of the Malay Peninsula adopted the Indian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, which had a major effect on the language and culture of those living in Malaysia.[34] The Sanskrit writing system was used as early as the 4th century.[35]

Ptolemy, a Greek geographer, had written about the Golden Chersonese, which indicated that trade with India and China had existed since the 1st century CE.[36] During this time, coastal city-states that existed had a network which encompassed the southern part of the Indochinese peninsula and the western part of the Malay archipelago. These coastal cities had ongoing trade as well as tributary relations with China, at the same time being in constant contact with Indian traders. They seem to have shared a common indigenous culture.

Gradually, the rulers of the western part of the archipelago adopted Indian cultural and political models. Three inscriptions found in Palembang (South Sumatra) and on Bangka Island, written in the form of Malay and in alphabets derived from the Pallava script, are proof that the archipelago had adopted Indian models while maintaining their indigenous language and social system. These inscriptions reveal the existence of a Dapunta Hyang (lord) of Srivijaya who led an expedition against his enemies and who curses those who does not obey his law.

Being on the maritime trade route between China and South India, the Malay peninsula was involved in this trade. The Bujang Valley, being strategically located at the northwest entrance of the Strait of Malacca as well as facing the Bay of Bengal, was continuously frequented by Chinese and south Indian traders. Such was proven by the discovery of trade ceramics, sculptures, inscriptions and monuments dated from the 5th to 14th century.

Langkasuka Kingdom
Details from Portraits of Periodical Offering of Liang showing an emissary from Langkasuka with description of the kingdom. Song Dynasty copy of a Liang Dynasty painting dated to 526–539. ©Emperor Yuan of Liang
100 Jan 1 - 1400

Langkasuka Kingdom

Pattani, Thailand

Langkasuka was an ancient Malayic Hindu-Buddhist kingdom located in the Malay Peninsula.[25] The name is Sanskrit in origin; it is thought to be a combination of langkha for "resplendent land" -sukkha for "bliss". The kingdom, along with Old Kedah, is among the earliest kingdoms founded on the Malay Peninsula. The exact location of the kingdom is of some debate, but archaeological discoveries at Yarang near Pattani, Thailand suggest a probable location.

The kingdom is proposed to have been established in the 1st century, perhaps between 80 and 100 CE.[26] It then underwent a period of decline due to the expansion of Funan in the early 3rd century. In the 6th century it experienced a resurgence and began to send emissaries to China. King Bhagadatta first established relations with China in 515 CE, with further embassies sent in 523, 531 and 568.[27] By the 8th century it had probably come under the control of the rising Srivijaya Empire.[28] In 1025 it was attacked by the armies of King Rajendra Chola I in his campaign against Srivijaya. In the 12th century, Langkasuka was a tributary to Srivijaya.

The kingdom declined and how it ended is unclear with several theories being put up. The late 13th-century Pasai Annals, mentioned that Langkasuka was destroyed in 1370. However, other sources mentioned Langkasuka remained under the control and influence of the Srivijaya Empire until the 14th century when it was conquered by the Majapahit Empire. Langkasuka was probably conquered by Pattani as it ceased to exist by the 15th-century. Several historians contest this and believe that Langkasuka survived up to the 1470s. The areas of the kingdom that were not under the direct rule of Pattani is thought to have embraced Islam along with Kedah in 1474.[29]

The name may have been derived from langkha and Ashoka, the legendary Mauryan Hindu warrior king who eventually became a pacifist after embracing the ideals espoused in Buddhism, and that the early Indian colonizers of the Malayic Isthmus named the kingdom Langkasuka in his honour.[30] Chinese historical sources provided some information on the kingdom and recorded a king Bhagadatta who sent envoys to the Chinese court. There were numerous Malay kingdoms in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, as many as 30, mainly based on the eastern side of the Malay peninsula.[31] Langkasuka was among the earliest kingdoms.

Srivijaya ©Aibodi
600 Jan 1 - 1288


Palembang, Palembang City, Sou

Between the 7th and the 13th century, much of the Malay peninsula was under the Buddhist Srivijaya empire. The site Prasasti Hujung Langit, which sat at the centre of Srivijaya's empire, is thought to be at a river mouth in eastern Sumatra, based near what is now Palembang, Indonesia. In the 7th century, a new port called Shilifoshi is mentioned, believed to be a Chinese rendering of Srivijaya. For over six centuries the Maharajahs of Srivijaya ruled a maritime empire that became the main power in the archipelago. The empire was based around trade, with local kings (dhatus or community leaders) that swore allegiance to a lord for mutual profit.[37]

The relation between Srivijaya and the Chola Empire of south India was friendly during the reign of Raja Raja Chola I but during the reign of Rajendra Chola I the Chola Empire invaded Srivijaya cities.[38] In 1025 and 1026, Gangga Negara was attacked by Rajendra Chola I of the Chola Empire, the Tamil emperor who is now thought to have laid Kota Gelanggi to waste. Kedah (known as Kadaram in Tamil) was invaded by the Cholas in 1025. A second invasion was led by Virarajendra Chola of the Chola dynasty who conquered Kedah in the late 11th century.[39] The senior Chola's successor, Vira Rajendra Chola, had to put down a Kedah rebellion to overthrow other invaders. The coming of the Chola reduced the majesty of Srivijaya, which had exerted influence over Kedah, Pattani and as far as Ligor.

By the end of the 12th century Srivijaya had been reduced to a kingdom, with the last ruler in 1288, Queen Sekerummong, who had been conquered and overthrown. At times, the Khmer Kingdom, the Siamese Kingdom, and even Cholas Kingdom tried to exert control over the smaller Malay states.[40] The power of Srivijaya declined from the 12th century as the relationship between the capital and its vassals broke down. Wars with the Javanese caused it to request assistance from China, and wars with Indian states are also suspected. The power of the Buddhist Maharajas was further undermined by the spread of Islam. Areas which were converted to Islam early, such as Aceh, broke away from Srivijaya's control. By the late 13th century, the Siamese kings of Sukhothai had brought most of Malaya under their rule. In the 14th century, the Hindu Majapahit Empire came into possession of the peninsula.

Majapahit Empire
Majapahit Empire ©Aibodi
1293 Jan 1 - 1527

Majapahit Empire

Mojokerto, East Java, Indonesi

The Majapahit Empire was a Javanese Hindu-Buddhist thalassocratic empire in Southeast Asia established in the late 13th century in eastern Java. it grew to be one of Southeast Asia's most significant empires under the rule of Hayam Wuruk and his prime minister, Gajah Mada, during the 14th century. It reached its zenith of power, stretching its influence from modern-day Indonesia to parts of the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sumatra, and beyond. Majapahit is renowned for its maritime dominance, trade networks, and rich cultural amalgamation, characterized by Hindu-Buddhist influences, intricate art, and architecture.

Internal disputes, succession crises, and external pressures initiated the empire's decline in the 15th century. As regional Islamic powers started to ascend, notably the Sultanate of Malacca, Majapahit's influence began to wane. The empire's territorial control shrunk, mostly confining to East Java, with several regions proclaiming independence or shifting allegiance.

Kingdom of Singapura
Kingdom of Singapura ©HistoryMaps
1299 Jan 1 - 1398

Kingdom of Singapura


The Kingdom of Singapura was a Malay Hindu-Buddhist kingdom thought to have been established during the early history of Singapore upon its main island Pulau Ujong, then also known as Temasek, from 1299 until its fall sometime between 1396 and 1398.[41] Conventional view marks c. 1299 as the founding year of the kingdom by Sang Nila Utama (also known as "Sri Tri Buana"), whose father is Sang Sapurba, a semi-divine figure who according to legend is the ancestor of several Malay monarchs in the Malay World. The historicity of this kingdom based on the account given in the Malay Annals is uncertain, and many historians only consider its last ruler Parameswara (or Sri Iskandar Shah) a historically attested figure.[42] Archaeological evidence from Fort Canning Hill and the nearby banks of the Singapore River has nevertheless demonstrated the existence of a thriving settlement and a trade port in the 14th century.[43]

The settlement developed in the 13th or 14th century and transformed from a small trading outpost into a bustling center of international commerce, facilitating trade networks that linked the Malay Archipelago, India, and the Yuan Dynasty. It was however claimed by two regional powers at that time, Ayuthaya from the north and Majapahit from the south. As a result, the kingdom's fortified capital was attacked by at least two major foreign invasions before it was finally sacked by Majapahit in 1398 according to the Malay Annals, or by the Siamese according to Portuguese sources.[44] The last king, Parameswara, fled to the west coast of the Malay Peninsula to establish the Malacca Sultanate in 1400.

Rise of Muslim Statesornament
Patani Kingdom
Patani Kingdom ©Aibodi
1350 Jan 1

Patani Kingdom

Pattani, Thailand

Patani has been suggested to be founded some time between 1350 and 1450, although its history before 1500 is unclear.[74] According to the Sejarah Melayu, Chau Sri Wangsa, a Siamese prince, founded Patani by conquering Kota Mahligai. He converted to Islam and took on the title of Sri Sultan Ahmad Shah in the late 15th to early 16th century.[75] The Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa and Hikayat Patani confirms the concept of kinship between Ayutthaya, Kedah, and Pattani, stating that they were descended from the same first dynasty. Patani may have become Islamised some time in the middle of 15th century, one source gives a date of 1470, but earlier dates have been proposed.[74] A story tells of a sheikh named Sa'id or Shafi'uddin from Kampong Pasai (presumably a small community of traders from Pasai who lived on the outskirts of Patani) reportedly healed the king of a rare skin disease. After much negotiation (and recurrence of the disease), the king agreed to convert to Islam, adopting the name Sultan Ismail Shah. All of the sultan's officials also agreed to convert. However, there is fragmentary evidence that some local people had begun to convert to Islam prior to this. The existence of a diasporic Pasai community near Patani shows the locals had regular contact with Muslims. There are also travel reports, such as that of Ibn Battuta, and early Portuguese accounts that claimed Patani had an established Muslim community even before Melaka (which converted in the 15th century), which would suggest that merchants who had contact with other emerging Muslims centres were the first to convert to the region.

Patani became more important after Malacca was captured by the Portuguese in 1511 as Muslim traders sought alternative trading ports. A Dutch source indicates that most of the traders were Chinese, but 300 Portuguese traders had also settled in Patani by 1540s.[74]

Malacca Sultanate
Malacca Sultanate ©Aibodi
1400 Jan 1 - 1528

Malacca Sultanate

Malacca, Malaysia

The Malacca Sultanate was a Malay sultanate based in the modern-day state of Malacca, Malaysia. Conventional historical thesis marks c. 1400 as the founding year of the sultanate by King of Singapura, Parameswara, also known as Iskandar Shah,[45] although earlier dates for its founding have been proposed.[46] At the height of the sultanate's power in the 15th century, its capital grew into one of the most important transshipment ports of its time, with territory covering much of the Malay Peninsula, the Riau Islands and a significant portion of the northern coast of Sumatra in present-day Indonesia.[47]

As a bustling international trading port, Malacca emerged as a centre for Islamic learning and dissemination, and encouraged the development of the Malay language, literature and arts. It heralded the golden age of Malay sultanates in the archipelago, in which Classical Malay became the lingua franca of Maritime Southeast Asia and Jawi script became the primary medium for cultural, religious and intellectual exchange. It is through these intellectual, spiritual and cultural developments, the Malaccan era witnessed the establishment of a Malay identity,[48] the Malayisation of the region and the subsequent formation of an Alam Melayu.[49]

In the year of 1511, the capital of Malacca fell to the Portuguese Empire, forcing the last Sultan, Mahmud Shah (r. 1488–1511), to retreat south, where his progenies established new ruling dynasties, Johor and Perak. The political and cultural legacy of the sultanate remains to this day. For centuries, Malacca has been held up as an exemplar of Malay-Muslim civilisation. It established systems of trade, diplomacy, and governance that persisted well into the 19th century, and introduced concepts such as daulat—a distinctly Malay notion of sovereignty—that continues to shape contemporary understanding of Malay kingship.[50]

Bruneian Sultanate (1368–1888)
Bruneian Sultanate (1368–1888) ©Aibodi
1408 Jan 1 - 1888

Bruneian Sultanate (1368–1888)


The Sultanate of Brunei, located on the northern coast of Borneo, emerged as a significant Malay sultanate in the 15th century. It expanded its territories following the fall of Malacca[58] to the Portuguese, at one point stretching its influence to parts of the Philippines and coastal Borneo. Brunei's initial ruler was a Muslim, and the sultanate's growth was attributed to its strategic trading location and maritime prowess. However, Brunei faced challenges from regional powers and suffered internal succession disputes.

Historical records of early Brunei are sparse, and much of its early history is derived from Chinese sources. The Chinese annals referenced Brunei's trade and territorial influence, noting its ties with the Javanese Majapahit Empire. In the 14th century, Brunei experienced Javanese dominion, but after Majapahit's decline, Brunei expanded its territories. It controlled regions in northwest Borneo, parts of Mindanao, and the Sulu Archipelago. By the 16th century, Brunei's empire was a powerful entity, with the capital city fortified and its influence felt in nearby Malay sultanates.

Despite its early prominence, Brunei began declining in the 17th century[59] due to internal royal conflicts, European colonial expansion, and challenges from neighboring Sultanate of Sulu. By the 19th century, Brunei had lost significant territories to Western powers and faced internal threats. To safeguard its sovereignty, Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam Aqamaddin sought British protection, resulting in Brunei becoming a British protectorate in 1888. This protectorate status continued until 1984 when Brunei attained its independence.

Pahang Sultanate
Pahang Sultanate ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1470 Jan 1 - 1623

Pahang Sultanate

Pekan, Pahang, Malaysia

The Pahang Sultanate, also referred as the Old Pahang Sultanate, as opposed to the Modern Pahang Sultanate, was a Malay Muslim state established in the eastern Malay peninsula in 15th century. At the height of its influence, the Sultanate was an important power in Southeast Asian history and controlled the entire Pahang basin, bordering to the north, the Pattani Sultanate, and adjoined to that of Johor Sultanate to the south. To the west, it also extended jurisdiction over part of modern-day Selangor and Negeri Sembilan.[60]

The sultanate has its origin as a vassal to Melaka, with its first Sultan was a Melakan prince, Muhammad Shah, himself the grandson of Dewa Sura, the last pre-Melakan ruler of Pahang.[61] Over the years, Pahang grew independent from Melakan control and at one point even established itself as a rival state to Melaka[62] until the latter's demise in 1511. During this period, Pahang was heavily involved in attempts to rid the Peninsula of the various foreign imperial powers; Portugal, Holland and Aceh.[63] After a period of Acehnese raids in the early 17th century, Pahang entered into the amalgamation with the successor of Melaka, Johor, when its 14th Sultan, Abdul Jalil Shah III, was also crowned the 7th Sultan of Johor.[64] After a period of union with Johor, it was eventually revived as a modern sovereign Sultanate in the late 19th century by the Bendahara dynasty.[65]

Kedah Sultanate
Sultanate of Kedah. ©HistoryMaps
1474 Jan 1 - 1821

Kedah Sultanate

Kedah, Malaysia

Based on the account given in Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa (also known as the Kedah Annals), the Sultanate of Kedah was formed when King Phra Ong Mahawangsa converted to Islam and adopted the name Sultan Mudzafar Shah. At-Tarikh Salasilah Negeri Kedah described the conversion to Islamic faith as starting in 1136 CE. However, historian Richard Winstedt, quoting an Acehnese account, gave a date of 1474 for the year of conversion to Islam by the ruler of Kedah. This later date accords with an account in the Malay Annals, which describes a raja of Kedah visiting Malacca during the reign of its last sultan seeking the honour of the royal band that marks the sovereignty of a Malay Muslim ruler. The request by Kedah was in response to be Malacca's vassal, probably due to fears of Ayutthayan aggression.[76] The first British vessel arrived in Kedah in 1592.[77] In 1770, Francis Light was instructed by the British East India Company (BEIC) to take Penang from Kedah. He achieved this by assuring Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Adilin II that his army would protect Kedah from any Siamese invasion. In return, the sultan agreed to hand over Penang to the British.

Capture of Malacca
The Conquest of Malacca, 1511. ©Ernesto Condeixa
1511 Aug 15

Capture of Malacca

Malacca, Malaysia

In 1511, under the leadership of the governor of Portuguese India, Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese sought to capture the strategic port city of Malacca, which controlled the crucial Strait of Malacca, a vital point for seagoing trade between China and India. Albuquerque's mission was twofold: to implement King Manuel I of Portugal's plan to outpace the Castilians in reaching the Far East and to establish a strong foundation for Portuguese dominance in the Indian Ocean by controlling key points like Hormuz, Goa, Aden, and Malacca.

Upon their arrival at Malacca in July 1, Albuquerque attempted negotiations with Sultan Mahmud Shah for the safe return of Portuguese prisoners and demanded various compensations. However, the Sultan's evasiveness led to a bombardment by the Portuguese and subsequent assault. The city's defenses, despite being numerically superior and having various artillery pieces, were overwhelmed by the Portuguese forces in two major assaults. They quickly captured key points in the city, faced war elephants, and repelled counter-attacks. Successful negotiations with various merchant communities in the city, particularly the Chinese, further strengthened the Portuguese position.[51]

By August, after rigorous street combat and strategic maneuvers, the Portuguese had effectively taken control of Malacca. The plunder from the city was vast, with soldiers and captains receiving a substantial share. Though the Sultan retreated and hoped for a Portuguese departure after their loot, the Portuguese had more permanent plans. To that effect he ordered the construction of a fortress close to the shoreline, which became known as A Famosa, due to its unusually tall keep, over 59 feet (18 m) high. The capture of Malacca marked a significant territorial conquest, expanding Portuguese influence in the region and ensuring their control over a key trade route. The son of the last Sultan of Malacca, Alauddin Riayat Shah II fled to the southern tip of the peninsula, where he founded a state that which became the Sultanate of Johor in 1528. Another son established the Perak Sultanate to the north. Portuguese influence was strong, as they aggressively tried to convert the population of Malacca to Catholicism.[52]

Perak Sultanate
Perak Sultanate ©Aibodi
1528 Jan 1

Perak Sultanate

Perak, Malaysia

The Perak Sultanate was established in the early 16th century on the Perak River's banks by Muzaffar Shah I, the eldest son of Mahmud Shah, the 8th Sultan of Malacca. After Malacca's capture by the Portuguese in 1511, Muzaffar Shah sought refuge in Siak, Sumatra, before ascending the throne in Perak. His establishment of the Perak Sultanate was facilitated by local leaders, including Tun Saban. Under the new sultanate, Perak's administration grew more organized, drawing from the feudal system practiced in democratic Malacca. As the 16th century progressed, Perak became an essential source of tin ore, attracting regional and international traders.

However, the sultanate's rise attracted the attention of the powerful Sultanate of Aceh, leading to a period of tensions and interactions. Throughout the 1570s, Aceh persistently harassed parts of the Malay Peninsula. By the late 1570s, Aceh's influence was evident when Perak's Sultan Mansur Shah I mysteriously disappeared, fueling speculations of his abduction by Acehnese forces. This led to the Sultan's family being taken captive to Sumatra. As a result, Perak was briefly under Acehnese dominion when an Acehnese prince ascended the Perak throne as Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin Shah. Yet, despite Aceh's influences, Perak remained autonomous, resisting control from both the Acehnese and the Siamese.

Aceh's grip on Perak began diminishing with the Dutch East India Company's (VOC) arrival in the mid-17th century. Aceh and the VOC vied for control over Perak's lucrative tin trade. By 1653, they reached a compromise, signing a treaty that granted the Dutch exclusive rights to Perak's tin. By the late 17th century, with the decline of the Johor Sultanate, Perak emerged as the last heir to the Malaccan lineage, but it faced internal strife, including a 40-year-long civil war in the 18th century over tin revenues. This unrest culminated in a 1747 treaty with the Dutch, recognizing their monopoly over the tin trade.

Johor Sultanate
Portuguese vs. Johor Sultanate ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1528 Jan 1

Johor Sultanate

Johor, Malaysia

In 1511, Malacca fell to the Portuguese and Sultan Mahmud Shah was forced to flee Malacca. The sultan made several attempts to retake the capital but his efforts were fruitless. The Portuguese retaliated and forced the sultan to flee to Pahang. Later, the sultan sailed to Bintan and established a new capital there. With a base established, the sultan rallied the disarrayed Malay forces and organised several attacks and blockades against the Portuguese position.

Based at Pekan Tua, Sungai Telur, Johor, the Johor Sultanate was founded by Raja Ali Ibni Sultan Mahmud Melaka, known as Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah II (1528–1564), in 1528.[53] Although Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah and his successor had to contend with attacks by the Portuguese in Malacca and by the Acehnese in Sumatra, they managed to maintain their hold on the Johor Sultanate.

Frequent raids on Malacca caused the Portuguese severe hardship and it helped to convince the Portuguese to destroy the exiled sultan's forces. A number of attempts were made to suppress the Malay but it was not until 1526 that the Portuguese finally razed Bintan to the ground. The sultan then retreated to Kampar in Sumatra and died two years later. He left behind two sons named Muzaffar Shah and Alauddin Riayat Shah II.[53] Muzaffar Shah continued on to establish Perak while Alauddin Riayat Shah became the first sultan of Johor.[53]

1528 Jan 1 - 1615

Triangular War

Johor, Malaysia

The new sultan established a new capital by the Johor River and, from there, continued to harass the Portuguese in the north. He consistently worked together with his brother in Perak and the Sultan of Pahang to retake Malacca, which by this time was protected by the fort A Famosa.

On the northern part of Sumatra around the same period, Aceh Sultanate was beginning to gain substantial influence over the Straits of Malacca. With the fall of Malacca to Christian hands, Muslim traders often skipped Malacca in favour of Aceh or also of Johor's capital Johor Lama (Kota Batu). Therefore, Malacca and Aceh became direct competitors.

With the Portuguese and Johor frequently locking horns, Aceh launched multiple raids against both sides to tighten its grip over the straits. The rise and expansion of Aceh encouraged the Portuguese and Johor to sign a truce and divert their attention to Aceh. The truce, however, was short-lived and with Aceh severely weakened, Johor and the Portuguese had each other in their sights again. During the rule of Sultan Iskandar Muda, Aceh attacked Johor in 1613 and again in 1615.[54]

Golden Age of Patani
Raja Hijau. ©Legend of the Tsunami Warrior (2010)
1584 Jan 1 - 1688

Golden Age of Patani

Pattani, Thailand

Raja Hijau, the Green Queen, ascended to the throne of Patani in 1584 due to a lack of male heirs. She acknowledged Siamese authority and adopted the title of peracau. Under her rule, which lasted 32 years, Patani prospered, becoming a cultural hub and a prominent trade center. Chinese, Malay, Siamese, Portuguese, Japanese, Dutch, and English merchants frequented Patani, contributing to its economic growth. Chinese merchants, in particular, played a pivotal role in the rise of Patani as a trading center, and European traders viewed Patani as a gateway to the Chinese market.

Following Raja Hijau's reign, Patani was ruled by a succession of queens, including Raja Biru (the Blue Queen), Raja Ungu (the Purple Queen), and Raja Kuning (the Yellow Queen). Raja Biru incorporated the Kelantan Sultanate into Patani, while Raja Ungu formed alliances and resisted Siamese dominance, leading to conflicts with Siam. Raja Kuning's reign marked a decline in Patani's power and influence. She sought reconciliation with the Siamese, but her rule was marked by political instability and a drop in trade.

By the mid-17th century, the power of the Patani queens had waned, and political disorder plagued the region. Raja Kuning was allegedly deposed by the Raja of Kelantan in 1651, ushering in the Kelantanese dynasty in Patani. The region faced rebellions and invasions, most notably from Ayutthaya. By the end of the 17th century, political unrest and lawlessness discouraged foreign merchants from trading with Patani, leading to its decline as described in Chinese sources.

1599 Jan 1 - 1641

Sultanate of Sarawak

Sarawak, Malaysia

The Sultanate of Sarawak was founded in the aftermath of internal succession disputes within the Bruneian Empire. When Sultan Muhammad Hassan of Brunei died, his eldest son Abdul Jalilul Akbar was crowned as Sultan. However, Pengiran Muda Tengah, another prince, contested Abdul Jalilul's ascension, arguing he had a superior claim to the throne based on the timing of his birth in relation to their father's reign. To address this contention, Abdul Jalilul Akbar appointed Pengiran Muda Tengah as the Sultan of Sarawak, a frontier territory. Accompanied by soldiers from various Bornean tribes and Bruneian nobility, Pengiran Muda Tengah established a new kingdom in Sarawak. He set up an administrative capital at Sungai Bedil, Santubong, and, after constructing a governance system, adopted the title Sultan Ibrahim Ali Omar Shah. The establishment of the Sultanate of Sarawak marked the beginning of a new era for the region, separate from the central Bruneian Empire.

Siege of Malacca (1641)
Dutch East India Company ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1640 Aug 3 - 1641 Jan 14

Siege of Malacca (1641)

Malacca, Malaysia

The Dutch East India Company made multiple attempts to gain control over the East Indies, particularly Malacca, from the Portuguese. From 1606 to 1627, the Dutch made several unsuccessful attempts, with Cornelis Matelief and Pieter Willemsz Verhoeff among those leading failed sieges. By 1639, the Dutch had amassed a sizable force in Batavia and formed alliances with local rulers, including Aceh and Johor. The planned expedition to Malacca faced delays due to conflicts in Ceylon and tensions between Aceh and Johor. Despite the setbacks, by May 1640, they resolved to capture Malacca, with Sergeant Major Adriaen Antonisz leading the expedition after the death of previous commander, Cornelis Symonz van der Veer.

The siege of Malacca began on 3 August 1640 when the Dutch, along with their allies, landed near the heavily fortified Portuguese citadel. Despite the stronghold's defenses, which included walls 32-feet-high and over a hundred guns, the Dutch and their allies managed to drive the Portuguese back, establish positions, and maintain the siege. Over the next few months, the Dutch faced challenges such as the deaths of several commanders, including Adriaen Antonisz, Jacob Cooper, and Pieter van den Broeke. However, their resolve remained firm, and on 14 January 1641, under the leadership of Sergeant Major Johannes Lamotius, they successfully seized the citadel. The Dutch reported a loss of just under a thousand troops, while the Portuguese claimed a much larger casualty count.

In the aftermath of the siege, the Dutch took control of Malacca, but their focus remained on their primary colony, Batavia. The Portuguese prisoners captured faced disappointment and fear for their diminished influence in the East Indies. While some wealthier Portuguese were permitted to leave with their assets, rumors of the Dutch betraying and killing the Portuguese governor were debunked by reports of his natural death from illness. The Sultan of Aceh, Iskandar Thani, who had opposed the inclusion of Johor in the invasion, died under mysterious circumstances in January. Although Johor played a part in the conquest, they did not seek administrative roles in Malacca, leaving it under Dutch control. The city would later be traded to the British in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 in exchange for British Bencoolen.

Dutch Malacca
Dutch Malacca, ca. 1665 ©Johannes Vingboons
1641 Jan 1 - 1825

Dutch Malacca

Malacca, Malaysia

Dutch Malacca (1641–1825) was the longest period that Malacca was under foreign control. The Dutch ruled for almost 183 years with intermittent British occupation during the Napoleonic Wars (1795–1815). This era saw relative peace with little serious interruption from the Malay sultanates due to the understanding forged between the Dutch and the Sultanate of Johor in 1606. This time also marked the decline of the importance of Malacca. The Dutch preferred Batavia (present-day Jakarta) as their economic and administrative centre in the region and their hold in Malacca was to prevent the loss of the city to other European powers and, subsequently, the competition that would come with it. Thus, in the 17th century, with Malacca ceased to be an important port, the Johor Sultanate became the dominant local power in the region due to the opening of its ports and the alliance with the Dutch.

Johor-Jambi War
Johor-Jambi War ©Aibodi
1666 Jan 1 - 1679

Johor-Jambi War

Kota Tinggi, Johor, Malaysia

With the fall of Portuguese Malacca in 1641 and the decline of Aceh due to the growing power of the Dutch, Johor started to re-establish itself as a power along the Straits of Malacca during the reign of Sultan Abdul Jalil Shah III (1623–1677).[55] Its influence extended to Pahang, Sungei Ujong, Malacca, Klang and the Riau Archipelago.[56] During the triangular war, Jambi also emerged as a regional economic and political power in Sumatra. Initially there was an attempt of an alliance between Johor and Jambi with a promised marriage between the heir Raja Muda and daughter of the Pengeran of Jambi. However, the Raja Muda married instead the daughter of the Laksamana Abdul Jamil who, concerned about the dilution of power from such an alliance, offered his own daughter for marriage instead.[57] The alliance therefore broke down, and a 13-year war then ensued between Johor and the Sumatran state beginning in 1666. The war was disastrous for Johor as Johor's capital, Batu Sawar, was sacked by Jambi in 1673. The Sultan escaped to Pahang and died four years later. His successor, Sultan Ibrahim (1677–1685), then engaged the help of the Bugis in the fight to defeat Jambi.[56] Johor would eventually prevail in 1679, but also ended in a weakened position as the Bugis refused to go home, and the Minangkabaus of Sumatra also started to assert their influence.[57]

Golden Age of Johor
Golden Age of Johor ©Enoch
1680 Jan 1

Golden Age of Johor

Johor, Malaysia

In the 17th century with Malacca ceasing to be an important port, Johor became the dominant regional power. The policy of the Dutch in Malacca drove traders to Riau, a port controlled by Johor. The trade there far surpassed that of Malacca. The VOC was unhappy with that but continued to maintain the alliance because the stability of Johor was important to trade in the region.

The Sultan provided all the facility required by the traders. Under the patronage of the Johor elites, traders were protected and prospered.[66] With a wide range of goods available and favourable prices, Riau boomed. Ships from various places such as Cambodia, Siam, Vietnam and all over the Malay Archipelago came to trade. The Bugis ships made Riau the centre for spices. Items found in China or example, cloth and opium were traded with locally sourced ocean and forest products, tin, pepper and locally grown gambier. Duties were low, and cargoes could be discharged or stored easily. Traders found they do not need to extend credit, for the business was good.[67]

Like Malacca before it, Riau was also the centre of Islamic studies and teaching. Many orthodox scholars from the Muslim heartlands like the Indian Subcontinent and Arabia were housed in special religious hostels, while devotees of Sufism could seek initiation into one of the many Tariqah (Sufi Brotherhood) which flourished in Riau.[68] In many ways, Riau managed to recapture some of the old Malacca glory. Both became prosperous due to trade but there was a major difference; Malacca was also great due to its territorial conquest.

1760 Jan 1 - 1784

Bugis Dominance in Johor

Johor, Malaysia

The last sultan of the Malaccan dynasty, Sultan Mahmud Shah II, was known for his erratic behavior, which went largely unchecked after the death of Bendehara Habib and the subsequent appointment of Bendahara Abdul Jalil. This behavior culminated in the Sultan ordering the execution of a noble's pregnant wife for a minor infraction. In retaliation, the Sultan was killed by the aggrieved noble, leaving the throne vacant in 1699. The Orang Kayas, advisors to the sultan, turned to Sa Akar DiRaja, Raja Temenggong of Muar, who suggested that Bendahara Abdul Jalil inherit the throne. However, the succession was met with some discontent, particularly from the Orang Laut.

During this period of instability, two dominant groups in Johor—the Bugis and the Minangkabau—saw an opportunity to wield power. The Minangkabau introduced Raja Kecil, a prince claiming to be Sultan Mahmud II's posthumous son. With the promise of riches and power, the Bugis initially supported Raja Kecil. However, Raja Kecil betrayed them and crowned himself Sultan of Johor without their consent, causing the previous Sultan Abdul Jalil IV to flee and eventually be assassinated. In retaliation, the Bugis joined forces with Raja Sulaiman, the son of Sultan Abdul Jalil IV, leading to Raja Kecil's dethroning in 1722. While Raja Sulaiman ascended as Sultan, he became heavily influenced by the Bugis, who, in effect, governed Johor.

Throughout Sultan Sulaiman Badrul Alam Shah's reign in the mid-18th century, the Bugis exerted significant control over Johor's administration. Their influence grew so substantial that by 1760, various Bugis families had intermarried into the Johor royal lineage, further consolidating their dominance. Under their leadership, Johor experienced economic growth, bolstered by the integration of Chinese traders. However, by the late 18th century, Engkau Muda of the Temenggong faction began reclaiming power, laying the foundation for the sultanate's future prosperity under the guidance of Temenggong Abdul Rahman and his descendants.

1766 Jan 1

Selangor Sultanate

Selangor, Malaysia

The Sultans of Selangor trace their lineage to a Bugis dynasty, originating from the rulers of Luwu in present-day Sulawesi. This dynasty played a significant role in the 18th-century dispute over the Johor-Riau Sultanate, eventually siding with Sulaiman Badrul Alam Shah of Johor against Raja Kechil of the Malaccan lineage. Because of this allegiance, the Bendahara rulers of Johor-Riau bestowed upon the Bugis nobles control over various territories, including Selangor. Daeng Chelak, a notable Bugis warrior, married Sulaiman's sister and saw his son, Raja Lumu, recognized as Yamtuan Selangor in 1743 and later as the first Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Salehuddin Shah, in 1766.

Raja Lumu's reign marked efforts to solidify Selangor's independence from the Johor empire. His request for recognition from Sultan Mahmud Shah of Perak culminated in his ascension as Sultan Salehuddin Shah of Selangor in 1766. His reign ended with his demise in 1778, leading his son, Raja Ibrahim Marhum Saleh, to become Sultan Ibrahim Shah. Sultan Ibrahim faced challenges, including a brief Dutch occupation of Kuala Selangor, but managed to reclaim it with the help of the Pahang Sultanate. Relationships deteriorated with the Perak Sultanate over financial disagreements during his tenure.

The subsequent reign of Sultan Muhammad Shah, Sultan Ibrahim's successor, was marked by internal power struggles, resulting in Selangor's division into five territories. However, his reign also witnessed economic growth with the inception of tin mines in Ampang. Following Sultan Muhammad's death in 1857 without designating a successor, a significant succession dispute ensued. Eventually, his nephew, Raja Abdul Samad Raja Abdullah, ascended the throne as Sultan Abdul Samad, delegating authority over Klang and Langat to his sons-in-law in the subsequent years.

Founding of Penang
Armies of the East India Company 1750–1850 ©Osprey Publishing
1786 Aug 11

Founding of Penang

Penang, Malaysia

The first British vessel arrived in Penang in June 1592. This ship, the Edward Bonadventure, was captained by James Lancaster.[69] However, it was not until the 18th century did the British establish a permanent presence on the island. In the 1770s, Francis Light was instructed by the British East India Company to form trade relations in the Malay Peninsula.[70] Light subsequently landed in Kedah, which was by then a Siamese vassal state. In 1786, the British East India Company ordered Light to obtain the island from Kedah.[70] Light negotiated with Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah, regarding the cession of the island to the British East India Company in exchange for British military aid.[70] After an agreement between Light and the Sultan was ratified, Light and his entourage sailed on to Penang Island, where they arrived on 17 July 1786[71] and took formal possession of the island on 11 August.[70] Unbeknownst to Sultan Abdullah, Light had been acting without the authority or the consent of his superiors in India.[72] When Light reneged on his promise of military protection, the Kedah Sultan launched an attempt to recapture the island in 1791; the British East India Company subsequently defeated the Kedah forces.[70] The Sultan sued for peace and an annual payment of 6000 Spanish dollars to the Sultan was agreed.[73]

1821 Nov 1

Siamese invasion of Kedah

Kedah, Malaysia

The Siamese invasion of Kedah in 1821 was a significant military operation launched by the Kingdom of Siam against the Sultanate of Kedah, situated in today's northern Peninsula Malaysia. Historically, Kedah had been under Siamese influence, especially during the Ayutthaya period. However, after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, this changed temporarily. The dynamics shifted again when, in 1786, the British acquired a lease of Penang Island from Kedah's sultan in return for military support. By 1820, tensions escalated when reports suggested that the sultan of Kedah was forming an alliance with the Burmese against Siam. This led King Rama II of Siam to order an invasion of Kedah in 1821.

The Siamese campaign against Kedah was strategically executed. Initially uncertain about Kedah's true intentions, the Siamese amassed a significant fleet under Phraya Nakhon Noi, disguising their true intent by feigning an attack on other locations. When they reached Alor Setar, the Kedahan forces, unaware of the impending invasion, were taken by surprise. A swift and decisive attack led to the capture of key Kedahan figures, while the sultan managed to escape to British-controlled Penang. The aftermath saw Siam impose direct rule over Kedah, appointing Siamese personnel to key positions and effectively ending the sultanate's existence for a period.

The repercussions of the invasion had broader geopolitical implications. The British, concerned about the Siamese presence so close to their territories, engaged in diplomatic negotiations, leading to the Burney Treaty in 1826. This treaty recognized Siamese influence over Kedah but also set certain conditions to ensure British interests. Despite the treaty, resistance against Siamese rule persisted in Kedah. It was only after the death of Chao Phraya Nakhon Noi in 1838 that Malay rule was restored, with Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin finally regaining his throne in 1842, albeit under Siamese oversight.

1824 Mar 17

Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824

London, UK

The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 was an agreement between the United Kingdom and the Netherlands signed on 17 March 1824 to resolve disputes from the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. The treaty aimed to address the tensions that arose due to the British establishment of Singapore in 1819 and the Dutch claims over the Sultanate of Johor. Negotiations began in 1820 and were initially centered around noncontroversial issues. However, by 1823, the discussions shifted towards establishing clear spheres of influence in Southeast Asia. The Dutch, recognizing the growth of Singapore, negotiated for an exchange of territories, with the British ceding Bencoolen and the Dutch giving up Malacca. The treaty was ratified by both nations in 1824.

The terms of the treaty were comprehensive, ensuring trade rights for subjects of both nations in territories like British India, Ceylon, and modern-day Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. It also covered regulations against piracy, provisions about not making exclusive treaties with Eastern states, and set guidelines for establishing new offices in the East Indies. Specific territorial exchanges were made: the Dutch ceded their establishments on the Indian Subcontinent and the city and fort of Malacca, while the UK ceded Fort Marlborough in Bencoolen and its possessions on Sumatra. Both nations also withdrew oppositions to each other's occupations of specific islands.

The implications of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 were long-lasting. It demarcated two territories: Malaya, under British rule, and the Dutch East Indies. These territories later evolved into modern-day Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. The treaty played a significant role in shaping the borders between these nations. Additionally, colonial influences led to the divergence of the Malay language into Malaysian and Indonesian variants. The treaty also marked a shift in British policies in the region, emphasizing free trade and individual merchant influence over territories and spheres of influence, paving the way for Singapore's rise as a prominent free port.

Colonial Eraornament
British Malaya
British Malaya ©Anonymous
1826 Jan 2 - 1957

British Malaya


The term "British Malaya" loosely describes a set of states on the Malay Peninsula and the island of Singapore that were brought under British hegemony or control between the late 18th and the mid-20th century. Unlike the term "British India", which excludes the Indian princely states, British Malaya is often used to refer to the Federated and the Unfederated Malay States, which were British protectorates with their own local rulers, as well as the Straits Settlements, which were under the sovereignty and direct rule of the British Crown, after a period of control by the East India Company.

Before the formation of the Malayan Union in 1946, the territories were not placed under a single unified administration, with the exception of the immediate post-war period when a British military officer became the temporary administrator of Malaya. Instead, British Malaya comprised the Straits Settlements, the Federated Malay States, and the Unfederated Malay States. Under British hegemony, Malaya was one of the most profitable territories of the Empire, being the world's largest producer of tin and later rubber. During the Second World War, Japan ruled a part of Malaya as a single unit from Singapore.[78] The Malayan Union was unpopular and in 1948 was dissolved and replaced by the Federation of Malaya, which became fully independent on 31 August 1957. On 16 September 1963, the federation, along with North Borneo (Sabah), Sarawak, and Singapore, formed the larger federation of Malaysia.[79]

Founding of Kuala Lumpur
Part of a panoramic view of Kuala Lumpur c. 1884. To the left is the Padang. The buildings were constructed of wood and atap before regulations enacted by Swettenham in 1884 required buildings to use bricks and tiles. ©G.R.Lambert & Co.
1857 Jan 1

Founding of Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, originally a small hamlet, was founded in the mid-19th century as a result of the burgeoning tin mining industry. The region attracted Chinese miners, who set up mines around the Selangor River, and Sumatrans who had established themselves in the Ulu Klang area. The town began to take shape around Old Market Square, with roads extending to various mining areas. Kuala Lumpur's establishment as a significant town came around 1857 when Raja Abdullah bin Raja Jaafar and his brother, with funding from Malaccan Chinese businessmen, employed Chinese miners to open new tin mines. These mines became the lifeblood of the town, which served as a collection and dispersal point for tin.

In its early years, Kuala Lumpur faced several challenges. Wooden and 'atap' (palm frond thatched) buildings were susceptible to fire, and the town was plagued by diseases and floods due to its geographical positioning. Moreover, the town became embroiled in the Selangor Civil War, with various factions vying for control over the rich tin mines. Significant figures like Yap Ah Loy, the third Chinese Kapitan of Kuala Lumpur, played pivotal roles during these turbulent times. Yap's leadership and his alliance with British officials, including Frank Swettenham, contributed to the town's recovery and growth.

The British colonial influence was instrumental in shaping Kuala Lumpur's modern identity. Under British Resident Frank Swettenham, the town underwent significant improvements. Buildings were mandated to be made of brick and tile for fire resistance, streets were widened, and sanitation improved. The establishment of a railway line between Kuala Lumpur and Klang in 1886 further boosted the town's growth, with the population surging from 4,500 in 1884 to 20,000 by 1890. By 1896, Kuala Lumpur's prominence had grown such that it was chosen as the capital of the newly formed Federated Malay States.

From Mines to Plantations in British Malaya
Indian labourers in rubber plantations. ©Anonymous

The British colonization of Malaya was primarily driven by economic interests, with the region's rich tin and gold mines initially attracting colonial attention. However, the introduction of the rubber plant from Brazil in 1877 marked a significant shift in Malaya's economic landscape. Rubber quickly became the primary export of Malaya, meeting the rising demand from European industries. The burgeoning rubber industry, along with other plantation crops like tapioca and coffee, necessitated a large workforce. To fulfill this labor requirement, the British brought in people from their longer-established colony in India, predominantly Tamil-speakers from South India, to work as indentured laborers on these plantations. Concurrently, the mining and related industries attracted a significant number of Chinese immigrants. As a result, urban areas like Singapore, Penang, Ipoh, and Kuala Lumpur soon had Chinese majorities.

The labor migration brought its set of challenges. Chinese and Indian immigrant workers frequently faced harsh treatment from contractors and were prone to illnesses. Many Chinese workers found themselves in escalating debt due to addictions like opium and gambling, while Indian laborers' debts grew due to alcohol consumption. These addictions not only tied workers longer to their labor contracts but also became significant revenue sources for the British colonial administration. However, not all Chinese immigrants were laborers. Some, connected to networks of mutual aid societies, prospered in the new land. Notably, Yap Ah Loy, titled the Kapitan China of Kuala Lumpur in the 1890s, amassed significant wealth and influence, owning a range of businesses and becoming instrumental in shaping Malaya's economy. Chinese businesses, frequently in collaboration with London firms, dominated the Malayan economy, and they even provided financial support to Malay Sultans, gaining both economic and political leverage.

The extensive labor migrations and economic shifts under the British rule had profound social and political implications for Malaya. Traditional Malay society grappled with the loss of political autonomy, and while the Sultans lost some of their traditional prestige, they were still highly revered by the Malay masses. Chinese immigrants established permanent communities, building schools and temples, while marrying local Malay women initially, leading to a Sino-Malayan or "baba" community. Over time, they began importing brides from China, further solidifying their presence. The British administration, aiming to control Malay education and instill colonial racial and class ideologies, established institutions specifically for the Malays. Despite the official stance that Malaya belonged to the Malays, the reality of a multi-racial, economically interconnected Malaya began taking shape, leading to resistance against British rule.

1909 Jan 1

Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909

Bangkok, Thailand

The Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909, signed between the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Siam, established the modern Malaysia–Thailand border. Thailand retained control over areas like Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala but ceded sovereignty over Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis, and Terengganu to the British, which later became part of the Unfederated Malay States. Historically, Siam's monarchs, starting with Rama I, worked strategically to maintain the nation's independence, often through treaties and concessions with foreign powers. Significant treaties, like the Burney Treaty and the Bowring Treaty, marked Siam's interactions with the British, ensuring trade privileges and affirming territorial rights, all while modernizing rulers like Chulalongkorn made reforms to centralize and modernize the nation.

Japanese Occupation of Malaya
Japanese Occupation of Malaya ©Anonymous
1942 Feb 15 - 1945 Sep 2

Japanese Occupation of Malaya


The outbreak of war in the Pacific in December 1941 found the British in Malaya completely unprepared. During the 1930s, anticipating the rising threat of Japanese naval power, they had built a great naval base at Singapore, but never anticipated an invasion of Malaya from the north. There was virtually no British air capacity in the Far East. The Japanese were thus able to attack from their bases in French Indo-China with impunity, and despite resistance from British, Australian, and Indian forces, they overran Malaya in two months. Singapore, with no landward defences, no air cover, and no water supply, was forced to surrender in February 1942. British North Borneo and Brunei were also occupied.

The Japanese colonial government regarded the Malays from a pan-Asian point of view, and fostered a limited form of Malay nationalism. The Malay nationalist Kesatuan Melayu Muda, advocates of Melayu Raya, collaborated with the Japanese, based on the understanding that Japan would unite the Dutch East Indies, Malaya and Borneo and grant them independence.[80] The occupiers regarded the Chinese, however, as enemy aliens, and treated them with great harshness: during the so-called sook ching (purification through suffering), up to 80,000 Chinese in Malaya and Singapore were killed. The Chinese, led by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), became the backbone of the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA). With British assistance, the MPAJA became the most effective resistance force in the occupied Asian countries.

Although the Japanese argued that they supported Malay nationalism, they offended Malay nationalism by allowing their ally Thailand to re-annex the four northern states, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, and Terengganu that had been transferred to British Malaya in 1909. The loss of Malaya's export markets soon produced mass unemployment which affected all races and made the Japanese increasingly unpopular.[81]

Malayan Emergency
British artillery firing on MNLA guerrillas in the Malayan jungle, 1955 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1948 Jun 16 - 1960 Jul 31

Malayan Emergency


During occupation, ethnic tensions were raised and nationalism grew.[82] Britain was bankrupt and the new Labour government was keen to withdraw its forces from the East. But most Malays were more concerned with defending themselves against the MCP than with demanding independence from the British. In 1944, the British drew up plans for a Malayan Union, which would turn the Federated and Unfederated Malay States, plus Penang and Malacca (but not Singapore), into a single Crown colony, with a view towards independence. This move, aiming towards eventual independence, was met with significant resistance from the Malays, primarily due to the proposed equal citizenship for ethnic Chinese and other minorities. The British perceived these groups as more loyal during the war than the Malays. This opposition led to the dissolution of the Malayan Union in 1948, giving way to the Federation of Malaya, which maintained the autonomy of Malay state rulers under British protection.

Parallel to these political changes, the Communist Party of Malaya (MCP), primarily backed by the ethnic Chinese, was gaining momentum. The MCP, initially a legal party, had shifted towards guerrilla warfare with aspirations of expelling the British from Malaya. By July 1948, the British government declared a state of emergency, prompting the MCP to retreat into the jungle and form the Malayan Peoples' Liberation Army. The root causes of this conflict ranged from constitutional changes that marginalized the ethnic Chinese to the displacement of peasants for plantation development. However, the MCP garnered minimal support from global communist powers.

The Malayan Emergency, lasting from 1948 to 1960, saw the British employ modern counter-insurgency tactics, masterminded by Lt.-Gen Sir Gerald Templer, against the MCP. While the conflict saw its share of atrocities, such as the Batang Kali massacre, the British strategy of isolating the MCP from its support base, coupled with economic and political concessions, gradually weakened the insurgents. By the mid-1950s, the tide had turned against the MCP, setting the stage for the Federation's independence within the Commonwealth on 31 August 1957, with Tunku Abdul Rahman as its inaugural prime minister.

Indonesia–Malaysia Confrontation
Queen's Own Highlanders 1st Battalion conduct a patrol to search for enemy positions in the jungle of Brunei. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1963 Jan 20 - 1966 Aug 11

Indonesia–Malaysia Confrontation


The Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation, also known as Konfrontasi, was an armed conflict from 1963 to 1966 arising from Indonesia's opposition to the formation of Malaysia, which combined the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, and the British colonies of North Borneo and Sarawak. The conflict was rooted in Indonesia's previous confrontations against Dutch New Guinea and its support for the Brunei revolt. While Malaysia received military aid from the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, Indonesia had indirect backing from the USSR and China, making this a chapter of the Cold War in Asia.

The bulk of the conflict took place along the border between Indonesia and East Malaysia on Borneo. The dense jungle terrain led to both sides conducting extensive foot patrols, with combat usually involving small-scale operations. Indonesia sought to capitalize on the ethnic and religious diversity in Sabah and Sarawak to undermine Malaysia. Both nations heavily relied on light infantry and air transport, with rivers being crucial for movement and infiltration. The British, along with periodic assistance from Australian and New Zealand forces, bore the brunt of the defense. Indonesia's infiltration tactics evolved over time, shifting from relying on local volunteers to more structured Indonesian military units.

By 1964, the British initiated covert operations into Indonesian Kalimantan called Operation Claret. That same year, Indonesia ramped up its offensives, even targeting West Malaysia, but without significant success. The conflict's intensity dwindled after Indonesia's 1965 coup, which saw Sukarno replaced by General Suharto. Peace talks began in 1966, culminating in a peace agreement on 11 August 1966, where Indonesia formally acknowledged Malaysia.

Formation of Malaysia
Members of the Cobbold Commission were formed to conduct a study in the British Borneo territories of Sarawak and Sabah to see whether the two were interested in the idea to form the Federation of Malaysia with Malaya and Singapore. ©British Government
1963 Sep 16

Formation of Malaysia


In the post-World War II era, aspirations for a cohesive and united nation led to the proposition of forming Malaysia. The idea, initially suggested by Singapore's leader Lee Kuan Yew to Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaya's Prime Minister, aimed to merge Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo, Sarawak, and Brunei.[83] The concept of this federation was supported by the notion that it would curtail communist activities in Singapore and maintain an ethnic balance, preventing Chinese-majority Singapore from dominating.[84] However, the proposal faced resistance: Singapore's Socialist Front opposed it, as did community representatives from North Borneo and political factions in Brunei.

To assess the viability of this merger, the Cobbold Commission was established to understand the sentiments of Sarawak and North Borneo's inhabitants. While the commission's findings favored a merger for North Borneo and Sarawak, Bruneians largely objected, leading to Brunei's eventual exclusion. Both North Borneo and Sarawak proposed terms for their inclusion, leading to the 20-point and 18-point agreements respectively. Despite these agreements, concerns persisted that the rights of Sarawak and North Borneo were being diluted over time. Singapore's inclusion was confirmed with 70% of its population supporting the merger via a referendum, but with the condition of significant state autonomy.[85]

Despite these internal negotiations, external challenges persisted. Indonesia and the Philippines objected to the formation of Malaysia, with Indonesia perceiving it as "neocolonialism" and the Philippines laying claim to North Borneo. These objections, combined with internal opposition, postponed Malaysia's official formation.[86] Following reviews by a UN team, Malaysia was formally established on 16 September 1963, comprising Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore, marking a significant chapter in Southeast Asian history.

Proclamation of Singapore
Hear Mr Lee proclaim Spore independence ■ (Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew announcing Singapore's separation from Malaysia during a press conference on Aug 9, 1965. ©Anonymous
1965 Aug 7

Proclamation of Singapore


The Proclamation of Singapore is an annex of the Agreement relating to the separation of Singapore from Malaysia as an independent and sovereign state dated 7 August 1965 between the Government of Malaysia and government of Singapore, and an act to amend the Constitution of Malaysia and the Malaysia Act on 9 August 1965 signed by the Duli Yang Maha Mulia Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong, and read on the day of separation from Malaysia, which was 9 August 1965, by Lee Kuan Yew, the first Singaporean prime minister.

Communist Insurgency in Malaysia
Sarawak Rangers (present-day part of the Malaysian Rangers) consisting of Ibans leap from a Royal Australian Air Force Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter to guard the Malay–Thai border from potential Communist attacks in 1965, three years before the war starting in 1968. ©W. Smither
1968 May 17 - 1989 Dec 2

Communist Insurgency in Malaysia

Jalan Betong, Pengkalan Hulu,

The Communist insurgency in Malaysia, also known as the Second Malayan Emergency, was an armed conflict which occurred in Malaysia from 1968 to 1989, between the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and Malaysian federal security forces. Following the end of the Malayan Emergency in 1960, the predominantly ethnic Chinese Malayan National Liberation Army, armed wing of the MCP, had retreated to the Malaysian-Thailand border where it had regrouped and retrained for future offensives against the Malaysian government. Hostilities officially re-ignited when the MCP ambushed security forces in Kroh–Betong, in the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia, on 17 June 1968. The conflict also coincided with renewed domestic tensions between ethnic Malays and Chinese in Peninsular Malaysia and regional military tensions due to the Vietnam War.[89]

The Malayan Communist Party received some support from the People's Republic of China. The support ended when the governments of Malaysia and China established diplomatic relations in June 1974.[90] In 1970, the MCP experienced a schism which led to the emergence of two breakaway factions: the Communist Party of Malaya/Marxist–Leninist (CPM/ML) and the Communist Party of Malaya/Revolutionary Faction (CPM–RF).[91] Despite efforts to make the MCP appeal to ethnic Malays, the organisation was dominated by Chinese Malaysians throughout the war.[90] Instead of declaring a "state of emergency" as the British had done previously, the Malaysian government responded to the insurgency by introducing several policy initiatives including the Security and Development Program (KESBAN), Rukun Tetangga (Neighbourhood Watch), and the RELA Corps (People's Volunteer Group).[92]

The insurgency ended on 2 December 1989 when the MCP signed a peace accord with the Malaysian government at Hat Yai in southern Thailand. This coincided with the Revolutions of 1989 and the collapse of several prominent communist regimes worldwide.[93] Besides the fighting on the Malay Peninsula, another communist insurgency also occurred in the Malaysian state of Sarawak in the island of Borneo, which had been incorporated into the Federation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963.[94]

13 May incident
Aftermath of the riots. ©Anonymous
1969 May 13

13 May incident

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The 13 May incident was an episode of Sino-Malay sectarian violence that took place in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, on 13 May 1969. The riot occurred in the aftermath of the 1969 Malaysian general election when opposition parties such as the Democratic Action Party and Gerakan made gains at the expense of the ruling coalition, the Alliance Party.

Official reports by the government placed the number of deaths due to the riots at 196, although international diplomatic sources and observers at the time suggested a toll of close to 600 while others suggested much higher figures, with most of the victims being ethnic Chinese.[87] The racial riots led to a declaration of a state of national emergency by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King), resulting in the suspension of Parliament. A National Operations Council (NOC) was established as a caretaker government to temporarily govern the country between 1969 and 1971.

This event was significant in Malaysian politics as it forced the first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman to step down from office and hand over the reins to Tun Abdul Razak. Razak's government shifted their domestic policies to favour Malays with the implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP), and the Malay party UMNO restructured the political system to advance Malay dominance in accordance with the ideology of Ketuanan Melayu (lit. "Malay Supremacy").[88]

Malaysian New Economic Policy
Kuala Lumpur 1970s. ©Anonymous
1971 Jan 1 - 1990

Malaysian New Economic Policy


In 1970 three-quarters of Malaysians living below the poverty line were Malays, the majority of Malays were still rural workers, and Malays were still largely excluded from the modern economy. The government's response was the New Economic Policy of 1971, which was to be implemented through a series of four five-year plans from 1971 to 1990.[95] The plan had two objectives: the elimination of poverty, particularly rural poverty, and the elimination of the identification between race and prosperity.https://i.pinimg.com/originals/6e/65/42/6e65426bd6f5a09ffea0acc58edce4de.jpg This latter policy was understood to mean a decisive shift in economic power from the Chinese to the Malays, who until then made up only 5% of the professional class.[96]

To provide jobs for all these new Malay graduates, the government created several agencies for intervention in the economy. The most important of these were PERNAS (National Corporation Ltd.), PETRONAS (National Petroleum Ltd.), and HICOM (Heavy Industry Corporation of Malaysia), which not only directly employed many Malays but also invested in growing areas of the economy to create new technical and administrative jobs which were preferentially allocated to Malays. As a result, the share of Malay equity in the economy rose from 1.5% in 1969 to 20.3% in 1990.

Mahathir Administration
Mahathir Mohamad was the leading force in making Malaysia into a major industrial power. ©Anonymous
1981 Jul 16

Mahathir Administration


Mahathir Mohamad assumed the role of Malaysia's prime minister in 1981. One of his prominent contributions was the announcement of Vision 2020 in 1991, which set a goal for Malaysia to become a fully developed nation in three decades. This vision required the country to achieve an average economic growth of around seven per cent annually. Along with Vision 2020, the National Development Policy (NDP) was introduced, replacing the Malaysian New Economic Policy (NEP). The NDP was successful in reducing poverty levels, and under Mahathir's leadership, the government reduced corporate taxes and relaxed financial regulations, leading to robust economic growth.

In the 1990s, Mahathir embarked on several significant infrastructure projects. These included the Multimedia Super Corridor, aimed at mirroring Silicon Valley's success, and the development of Putrajaya as the center for Malaysia's public service. The country also hosted a Formula One Grand Prix in Sepang. However, some projects, like the Bakun Dam in Sarawak, faced challenges, particularly during the Asian financial crisis, which halted its progress.

The Asian financial crisis in 1997 severely impacted Malaysia, leading to a sharp depreciation of the ringgit and a significant drop in foreign investment. While initially adhering to the International Monetary Fund's recommendations, Mahathir eventually adopted a different approach by increasing government spending and pegging the ringgit to the US dollar. This strategy helped Malaysia recover faster than its neighbors. Domestically, Mahathir faced challenges from the Reformasi movement led by Anwar Ibrahim, who was later imprisoned under controversial circumstances. By the time he stepped down in October 2003, Mahathir had served for over 22 years, making him the world's longest-serving elected leader at the time.

Abdullah Administration
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi ©Anonymous
2003 Oct 31 - 2009 Apr 2

Abdullah Administration


Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became Malaysia's fifth Prime Minister with a commitment to fight corruption, introducing measures to empower anti-corruption bodies and promoting an interpretation of Islam, known as Islam Hadhari, which emphasizes the compatibility between Islam and modern development. He also prioritized revitalizing Malaysia's agriculture sector. Under his leadership, the Barisan Nasional party achieved a significant victory in the 2004 general election. However, public protests like the 2007 Bersih Rally, demanding electoral reforms, and the HINDRAF rally against alleged discriminatory policies, indicated growing dissent. Although re-elected in 2008, Abdullah faced criticism for perceived inefficiencies, leading him to announce his resignation in 2008, with Najib Razak succeeding him in April 2009.

Najib Administration
Najib Razak ©Malaysian Government
2009 Apr 3 - 2018 May 9

Najib Administration


Najib Razak introduced the 1Malaysia campaign in 2009 and later announced the repeal of the Internal Security Act 1960, replacing it with the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012. However, his tenure witnessed significant challenges, including the incursion in Lahad Datu in 2013 by militants sent by a claimant to the Sultanate of Sulu's throne. Malaysian security forces swiftly responded, leading to the establishment of the Eastern Sabah Security Command. The period also saw tragedies with Malaysia Airlines, as Flight 370 disappeared in 2014, and Flight 17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine later that year.

Najib's administration faced significant controversies, particularly the 1MDB corruption scandal, where he and other officials were implicated in embezzlement and money laundering related to a state-owned investment fund. This scandal triggered widespread protests, leading to the Malaysian Citizens' Declaration and the Bersih movement's rallies demanding electoral reforms, clean governance, and human rights. In response to corruption allegations, Najib made several political moves, including removing his deputy prime minister, introducing a controversial security bill, and making significant subsidy cuts, which affected living costs and the Malaysian ringgit's value.

The relationship between Malaysia and North Korea soured in 2017 following the assassination of Kim Jong-nam on Malaysian soil. This incident garnered international attention and resulted in a significant diplomatic rift between the two nations.

Second Mahathir Administration
Philippine President Duterte in a meeting with Mahathir in the Malacanang Palace in 2019. ©Anonymous
2018 May 10 - 2020 Feb

Second Mahathir Administration


Mahathir Mohamad was inaugurated as Malaysia's seventh Prime Minister in May 2018, succeeding Najib Razak, whose term was tainted by the 1MDB scandal, the unpopular 6% Goods and Services Tax, and increasing living costs. Under Mahathir's leadership, efforts to "restore the rule of law" were promised, with a focus on transparent inquiries into the 1MDB scandal. Anwar Ibrahim, a key political figure, was granted a royal pardon and released from incarceration, with the intent of him eventually succeeding Mahathir as agreed upon by the coalition.

Mahathir's administration took significant economic and diplomatic measures. The contentious Goods and Services Tax was abolished and replaced by the Sales Tax and Service Tax in September 2018. Mahathir also reviewed Malaysia's involvement in China's Belt and Road Initiative projects, labelling some as "unequal treaties" and linking others to the 1MDB scandal. Certain projects, such as the East Coast Rail Link, were renegotiated, while others were terminated. Additionally, Mahathir displayed support for the 2018–19 Korean peace process, intending to reopen Malaysia's embassy in North Korea. Domestically, the administration faced challenges when addressing racial issues, as evidenced by the decision not to accede to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) due to significant opposition.

Towards the end of his term, Mahathir unveiled the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030, aiming to elevate Malaysia to a high-income nation by 2030 by bolstering the incomes of all ethnic groups and emphasizing the technology sector. While press freedom saw modest improvements during his tenure, political tensions within the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, combined with uncertainties over the leadership transition to Anwar Ibrahim, eventually culminated in the Sheraton Move political crisis in February 2020.

Muhyiddin Administration
Muhyiddin Yassin ©Anonymous
2020 Mar 1 - 2021 Aug 16

Muhyiddin Administration


In March 2020, amidst a political upheaval, Muhyiddin Yassin was appointed Malaysia's eighth Prime Minister following Mahathir Mohamad's sudden resignation. He led the new Perikatan Nasional coalition government. Shortly after taking office, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Malaysia, prompting Muhyiddin to enforce the Malaysian movement control order (MCO) in March 2020 to curb its spread. This period also saw former Prime Minister Najib Razak being convicted on charges of corruption in July 2020, marking the first time a Malaysian Prime Minister faced such a conviction.

The year 2021 brought additional challenges for Muhyiddin's administration. In January, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong declared a national state of emergency, halting parliamentary sessions and elections, and allowing the government to enact laws without legislative approval due to the ongoing pandemic and political instability. Despite these challenges, the government rolled out a national COVID-19 vaccination program in February. However, in March, diplomatic relations between Malaysia and North Korea were severed after a North Korean businessman's extradition appeal to the U.S. was denied by the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

By August 2021, the political and health crises intensified, with Muhyiddin facing widespread criticism for the government's handling of the pandemic and the economic downturn. This resulted in him losing the majority support in parliament. Consequently, Muhyiddin resigned as Prime Minister on August 16, 2021. Following his resignation, he was designated as the caretaker Prime Minister by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong until a suitable successor was chosen.



Origin and History of the Malaysians

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Malaysia's Geographic Challenge

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