Malaysia’s history largely began in a place called Malacca, when a fourteenth-century Palembang prince by the name of Parameswara fleeing from the Srivijayan empayar, escaped to the island of Temasik- now known as Singapore. There, he established himself as king by courting a local princess and later sought refuge in the Malay peninsular. It was here that while resting under a Melaka tree Parameswara witnessed an extraordinarily bizarre phenomenon right before his very own eyes; he saw a mouse deer outwitting his dog! Hence he took what he saw as a good omen and decided to establish a kingdom called Malacca there.
Other sources claim that the word ‘malacca’ actually arrived with the Arabian traders and was derived from the word ‘malacat’ meaning market. It has also been said that Parameswara was actually a descendant of Alexander the great of Macedonia.
Although its origin is as much romance as history, the fact is that Parameswara’s new city was situated at a point of enormous strategic importance. Midway along the straits that linked China to India and the Near East, Malacca was perfectly positioned as a center for maritime trade. The city grew rapidly, and within fifty years it had become a wealthy and powerful hub of international commerce, with a population of just over 50,000. It was during this period of Malacca’s history that Islam was introduced to the Malay world, arriving along with the Gujarati traders from western India. In 1414 at the age of 70, Parameswara converted to Islam from Hinduism after his marriage with Malik ul Salih of Pasai’s princess and styled himself as Sultan Megat Iskandar Shah.
Parameswara died in 1424 and was succeeded by his son.By the first decade of the sixteenth century Malacca was a bustling, cosmopolitan port, attracting hundreds of ships each year. Unfortunately, this fame arrived at just the moment when Europe began to extend its power into the East, and Malacca was one of the very first cities to attract its covetous eye. In 1511 the Portuguese under the command of Alfonso de Albuquerque arrived first, taking the city after a sustained bombardment. The Portuguese controlled the city for the next one hundred and fifty years.
Surprisingly the Portuguese rule came to an abrupt end. Our fate was about to change again when in 1641, the Dutch infested Malacca after an eight-month siege and a fierce battle. Malacca was finally theirs, but it lay in almost complete ruin. Over the next century and a half, the Dutch rebuilt the city and employed it largely as a military base, using its strategic location to control the Straits of Malacca thus monopolizing the region’s economy.
In 1795, when the Netherlands was captured by the French Revolutionary army, Malacca was handed over to the British as a trade for Bencoleen, Sumatra. From 1826 onwards, the city was ruled by the English East India Company based in Calcutta and little did we know that the English importance would grow and soon the whole region would come to be a British colony. For years the British were only interested in Malaya for its seaports and to protect their trade routes but the discovery of tin prompted them to move inland and eventually govern the entire peninsula. Meanwhile, James Brooke, the ‘white-raja’ and the North Borneo Company made British inroads into Sarawak and Sabah respectively. It was during this time that miners from China and rubber tappers from India were brought in to Malaya; paving the way for a future multi ethnic society.
Unfortunately in 1942 the effects of the brewing Second World War finally reached Asia as the then powerful Japanese empire turned its vicious eye unto Malaya with its conquest to enlarge its empire. This was a dark period in Malaysia’s history as many innocent lives were lost. But the brutal Japanese occupation wasn’t for long, it ended as suddenly as it had begun. After three years of bloodshed the Japs withdrew, due to their defeat in the war and as the world witnessed the fall of the empire of Japan, the British once again came to rule what was initially theirs.
During the course of the next 10 years, as a result of the increased number of freedom fighters and uninhibited intellectual pursuit, a series of events led to the unison of the major races of Malaya to achieve one common goal. INDEPENDENCE.
And in 1957 after proving the British that we were ready and capable and reliable to take matters into our own hands, independence …we did receive.
But there followed a period of instability due to an internal communist uprising and the external ‘confrontation’ with Indonesia. In 1963 the North Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak together with Singapore joined Malaya to create Malaysia.
It has been ever since then that there has been no stopping for Malaysia as she grew and developed and thrived for what has been perceived as a relatively short period of time; a young nation experienced a tremendous growth; economically, politically, and morphed from a primarily agricultural-based economy to a technology-oriented industrial hub.
Yes, Malaysia has done it her way and still remains a paradox in today’s modern dog-eat-dog world; whereby a multicultural nation, of various race and religion could actually live in harmony and peace and yet reach the pinnacle of success.