Aboriginal Malays (Orang Asli) began moving down the Malay peninsula
from south-western China about 10,000 years ago. The peninsula came
under the rule of the Cambodian-based Funan, the Sumatran-based
Srivijaya and the Java-based Majapahit empires, before the Chinese
arrived in Melaka in 1405. Islam arrived in Melaka at about the
same time and spread rapidly. Melaka's wealth soon attracted European
powers, and the Portuguese took control in 1511, followed by the
Dutch in 1641. The British established a thriving port in Penang
in 1786 and took over Melaka in 1795.
The British colonised the interior of the peninsula when tin was
discovered. East Malaysia came into British hands via the adventurer
James Brooke (who was made Rajah of Sarawak in 1841 after suppressing
a revolt against the Sultan of Brunei) and the North Borneo Company
(which administered Sabah from 1882). Britain took formal control
of both Sabah and Sarawak after WW II. The indigenous labour supply
was insufficient for the needs of the developing rubber and tin
industries, so the British brought large numbers of Indians into
the country, altering the peninsula's racial mix.
The Japanese overran Malaya in World War II. Communist guerrillas,
who fought the Japanese throughout the occupation, began an armed
struggle against British rule in 1948 and Malaya achieved independence
in 1957. Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore combined with Malaya to establish
Malaysia in 1963, but two years later Singapore withdrew from the
confederation. The formation of Malaysia was opposed by both the
Philippines and Indonesia, each having territorial claims on East
Malaysia. Tension rose in 1963 during the `Confrontation' with Indonesia.
Indonesian troops crossed Malaysia's borders but were repelled by
Malaysian and Commonwealth forces. The United Malays National Organisation
(UMNO) has been in power since 1974. In September 1998, the country
also hosted the Commonwealth Games.
Malays, Chinese and Indians live together in harmony in this multicultural
Malaysian society. The Malays, being the largest community, are
Muslims, speak 'Bahasa Melayu' and are also largely responsible
for the country's political ndertakings. The Chinese, comprising
about a third of the population, are Buddhists and Taoists, speak
Hokkein, Hakka and Cantonese, and are more dominant in the business
community. The Indians, accounting for about 10% of the population,
are mainly Hindu Tamils from Southern India, speak Tamil, Malayalam,
and some Hindi, and live mainly in the larger towns on the West
Coast of the peninsula.
There is also a sizeable Sikh community in Malaysia. Eurasians
and native tribes make up the remaining portion of the population.
The main native tribe is the Iban of Sarawak. They largely live
in longhouses along the Rejang and Baram rivers. The Bidayuh (107,000)
concentrate on Sarawak's Skrang River. The indigenous Orang Asli
(80,000) live in small scattered groups in Peninsular Malaysia.
Traditionally nomadic agriculturalists, many of these native bloods
have been absorbed into modern Malaysian societies. Chinese and
Islamic forms influence Malaysian music heavily. The music is based
largely around the gendang (drum), but includes percussion instruments,
flutes, trumpets, and gongs. The country has a profound tradition
of dances and dance dramas, some of Thai, Indian, and Portuguese
origin. Other artistic traditional forms include wayang kulit (shadow-puppets),
silat (traditional martial art), and craftsmanship such as batik,
weaving and silver-and brass-work.