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Malaysian History

If Malaysia can trace its success to one element, it would be geographic locatio¬Placed strategically at a major crossroads between the Eastern and Westerr worlds and enforced by the northeast and southwest monsoons, Malaysia (for¬merly known as Malaya) was the ideal center for East-West trade activities. Th: character of the indigenous Malays is credited to their relationship with the sea. while centuries of outside influences shaped their culture.

The earliest inhabitants of the peninsula were the orang asli, who are believec to have migrated from China and Tibet as early as 5,000 years ago. The first Malays were established by 1000 B.C., having migrated not only to Malaya, but throughout the entire Indonesian archipelago as well, including Sumatra and Borneo. They brought with them knowledge of agriculture and metalwork, as well as beliefs in a spirit world (attitudes that are still practiced by many groups today).

Malaysia's earliest trading contacts were established by the lst century s.C.. with China and India. India proved most influential, impacting local culture with Buddhist and Hindu beliefs that are evidenced today in the Malay lan¬guage, in literature, and in many customs.

Recorded history didn't come around until the Malay Annals of the 17th cen¬tury, which tell the story of Parameswara, also known as Iskander Shah, ruler of Temasek (Singapore), who was forced to flee to Malacca around A.D. 1400. He set up a trading port and, taking advantage of the favorable geographic location, led it to world-renowned financial success. Malacca grew in population and prosperiry, attracting Chinese, Indian, and Arab traders.

With Arabs and Muslim Indians came Islam, and Iskander Shah's son, who took leadership of Malacca after his father's death, is credited as the first Malay to convert to the new religion. The rule of Malacca was transformed into a sul¬tanate, and the word of Islam won converts not only in Malaya, but throughout Borneo and the Indonesian archipelago. Today the people of this region are very proud to be Muslim by conversion, as opposed to conquest.

Malacca's success was not without admirers, and in 1511 the Portuguese decided they wanted a piece of the action. They conquered the city in 30 days, chased the sultanate south to Johor, built a fortress that forestalled any trouble from the populace, and set up Christian missions. The Portuguese stuck around until 1641, when the Dutch came to town, looking to expand their trading power in the region. For the record, after Malacca's fall to the Portuguese, its suc¬cess plummeted, and has never been regained.

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