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home > Malaysia > History of Malaysia 




Ancient Malaya 

myMalaysiabooks shares with you the history of Malaysia and Singapore.


Stone artifact, Archeological Museum, Bujang Valley, Kedah

Bone and artefacts discoveries at caves in Sarawak and Perak confirm modern human habitation in the Malaysian peninsular dates to 10,000 to 40,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence shows that peninsular Malaya inhabited for at least 6,000 to 8,000 years. Early inhabitants of the Malay peninsular were mainly nomadic hunters, farmers and fisherman.

Free Map of Peninsular Malaysia     Small Malayan kingdoms is said to have flourished around the 2nd or 3rd century AD, a time when Indian traders, priests and Buddhist missionaries began travelling to the region. The most significant evidence of a Hindu-Buddhist Kingdom is found around Kedah Peak – at the Bujang Valley, Kedah, Malaysia. Kedah Peak (Gunung Jerai) served as the navigational point and a transit centre for traders awaiting the changing of the monsoon winds. The kingdom soon came under the influence of SriVijaya and Siam [Details in History of Kedah].

     While Chinese and Indian products of silk and spices were traded, the jungle and land provided the resource for trade by the locals. The Malay peninsular was an international maritime centre and source of gold and tin.  Seafarers and settlers soon populated Malaya. Islam soon filtered into the region, brought mainly by Arab and Indian merchants.

     The importance of Kedah waned with the fame of Malacca (Melaka) – located at the narrowest tip of the Straits of Malacca. This lured Europeans to the region and the Portuguese captured Malacca in 1511. Acehnese attacked and exerted influenced on many of the Malay states. The Dutch and British soon came to the region and Siam controlled most of the northern states.

Details in History of Melaka and History of Kedah


British Malaya

Francis Linght, Penang, Malaysia

Fort Conwallis, Penang Malaysia

City Hall, Penang - colonial architecture

English East India Company took over Penang Island from Kedah and occupied Singapore Island off the southern tip of the Malay peninsula in 1819. The British placed Malacca, Penang and Singapore under an administrative entity, under the British Colonial Office called the Straits Settlement. British officials began intervening in the Malay Sultanates by the 1870s, exerting political influence (mainly by force) through a system of British residents (or advisers).

    The states of Pahang, Selangor, Perak and Negeri Sembilan, called the Federated Malay States, were under the rule of British residents who took orders from the High Commissioner in Singapore, who in turn received orders from the Colonial Office. The other peninsular states (Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, previously under Siam/ Thailand) were known as the Unfederated Malay States and had British advisors. British North Borneo (Sabah) was a British Crown Colony under the rule of the Sultanate of Sulu. The territory of Sarawak became a fiefdom of the Brooke family. Intervention into Malayan internal affairs without understanding the culture resulted in the murder of the first British resident to Perak [see history of Perak]. Britain ruled Malaya until 1941 when the Japanese invaded Malaya.


Japanese Occupation

Malaya was invaded by the Japanese on 8 December 1941. The Japanese regarded the Malays as liberated from British imperialist rule which gained them some cooperation from the Malay civil service and intellectuals. The Chinese however were regarded as enemies and received brutal treatment from the Japanese.

Thousands of mainly Chinese Malayan, were killed in Malaya and Singapore and Chinese schools were closed. This led to the setting up of resistance group such as the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), which was the backbone of the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), which was assisted by the British so as to fight the Japanese.

The Japanese occupied Malaya until 1945.


Malaysia's Independence

Malaysia TrishawPopular support for independence grew after the Second World War when the Japanese were defeated. After the defeat of the Japanese, conflict also began when the MCP disagreed with British post-war policy of a Malayan Federation, mainly because of British strategy of anti-communism. Intense jungle war began, fought by the British, British Commonwealth and Malay forces against the Malayan Communist Party. The Emergency ended in 1960.

     An independent, multi-racial Federation of Malaya was formed in 31 August, 1957 when Malaya was granted independence from British rule. Tunku Abdul Rahman became the first prime minister. The British colonies of Singapore, and Sarawak & Sabah (or North Borneo) joined the Federation to form Malaysia on September 16, 1963.  However, Singapore withdrew from the Federation on August 9, 1965, and became an independent republic.


History of the States

Before the formation of the Federation of Malaya, the administration of the 13 states of Malaysia were in the States. Learn more about the states through the history of the small Kingdoms and  Sultanates of the Malaysian Peninsular.

History of Kedah - the oldest kingdom and sultanate in Malaysia                 

History of Malacca (Melaka) - historical city along the Malacca Strait        

History of Perak - a sultanate that evolved from Kedah

History of Penang - part of the Straits Settlement under British Colonial rule



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