Malaysia’s recorded history dates back to the first century BC. Located strategically at the crossroads between the East and West, Peninsular Malaysia had attracted early travellers from different parts of the world. Evidence of ancient civilisations such as tomb stones can be found in Bujang Valley and Merbok Valley in the state of Kedah, as well as Hindu-Buddhist influences from India and China.
Islamic influence came during the Melaka Sultanate in the 1400s with traders from the Middle East and India. It spread across the nation when the Sultan of Melaka embraced the religion and personally helped spread it across the nation. The reign of the Sultanate also created trade ties with the Kingdom of China.
Melaka’s spice trade led to its attack by the Portuguese in 1511, resulting in the fall of the Sultanate. Together with their conquest, the Portuguese brought in Catholic Christianity to the locals. In 1641 the Dutch took control of Melaka. The British came at the end of the 18th century in the wake of the Industrial Revolution in Europe. They formed crown colony states of the Peninsular called the Straits Settlements and subtly intervened in the administration of the previously independent states.
In East Malaysia, Sabah became a British protectorate under the Chartered Company, British North Borneo, whilst the Brooke family ruled Sarawak as the White Rajah, meaning the White King, for 100 years. In 1941, the Japanese invaded the country and ruled for about three years before their surrender to the Allied Forces after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.The end of World War II was the beginning of the birth of nationalism in Malaysia.
On August 31, 1957 at 9.00am, Tunku Abdul Rahman (who became the first Prime Minister) read the Proclamation of Independence and declared that the Malay States of Malaya “with God’s blessing, shall forever be a sovereign democratic and independent state…” Freedom had been won peacefully. In 1963 Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak joined hands to form Malaysia (but Singapore seceded in 1965).
Since independence Malaysia has had six Prime Ministers; namely, Tunku Abdul Rahman (known as Father of Independence), Tun Razak (Father of Development), Tun Hussein Onn (Father of Unity), Tun Dr Mahathir (who was born in 1925 is the longest running leader in Asia having been Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003), Tun Abdullah Badawi and the incumbent Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak.