No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.
The Malaysian High Commission in Canberra supplied recent data and statistics, the National Archives of Malaysia allowed me to consult their photographic collection and the staff of the National Library of Australia and of the Menzies Library, the Australian National University were most helpful. Rebecca Kaiser and Claire Murdoch of Allen & Unwin were exemplary publishing colleagues with whom it was indeed a pleasure to work.
Some financial support towards realisation of this project was provided by the Australian Research Council’s Small Grants Scheme (1999) and by the Faculty of Asian Studies, the Australian National University. Their contribution is gratefully acknowledged. It remains to extend my special appreciation to the Series Editor, Milton Osborne, and John Iremonger, whose informed and intelligent comments shaped the book’s final form. ix Preface As a modern nation state, Malaysia is not very old, but some of the oldest known human remains and artefacts have been found within its present borders.
It is a multiracial federation formed without revolution and, although its territory is divided by the South China Sea and organised into 13 states and two federal territories, it has remained intact and weathered the economic upheavals of the late 20th century better than many of its neighbours. Among its successes may be counted the construction of a national history developed by successive governments to teach Malysian citizens and others about the formation of their modern nation state. This book acknowledges the official version but it includes other histories as well.
Each of Malaysia’s constituent states has its own rich local traditions and celebrates individuals who have influenced the course of events in their own time and place. The national history and the local histories together are crucial for an understanding of the nature of modern Malaysia. A short history is necessarily selective and this one has the perspective of hindsight (knowing the outcome of critical events) and emphasises the contribution a variety of individuals have made to their societies and peoples. In this way it is hoped to give the general reader a real taste of the flavour of the Malaysian experience.
A ‘short’ history might suggest that it is possible to present a survey of events from 40 000 BCE to the early 21st century as a compact and neat package. To do so would be misleading because history is never neat and the federation which is now known as Malaysia was, until 1963, a fluid and bureaucratically untidy conglomeration of disparate and very varied parts. This book does not pretend Malaysia’s past was neat but tries to describe the essential characteristics of its component parts and the experiences which have produced its present shape. x Preface
Experts will note how much detail has had to be omitted. Selection has been the most challenging task in writing this book. Hopefully the bibliographic essay on page 299 will encourage and stimulate readers to go on to more detailed and specialised works, of which there are now, thankfully, many. Some of the complexity of Malaysia’s past is reflected in the various changes of name which, like its neighbour Indonesia, it has borne. In this account, the phrase ‘the Malaysian territories’ is used to refer to Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore, the Riau islands and the Malay Peninsula before 1965.
Thereafter, the practice followed by the Malaysian government since 1971 will apply; that is, peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. Note to readers Readers may find the Time chart helpful to establish the dates of ‘significant moments’ in Malaysia’s past. The skeleton of the time chart is fleshed out by the Fact file, which is organised alphabetically by subject or event (Independence, political parties, currency, etc) followed by a brief factual description. It is here that one would look for details of Malaysia’s constituent states or the date of the National Day, for example.
Translations of Malay words are contained in the Glossary. Acronyms and abbreviations have a separate listing under Abbreviations. A series of maps, ranging over time as well as space, gives a graphic impression of locations as well as indicating how outsiders perceived the seas and coasts of the region. They also show vividly that the mapping of the interior and inland regions was slow, gradual, inaccurate and, until last century, incomplete. For this reason, it was only relatively recently that Europeans gained a composite picture of the complexity of the terrain and interior of the Peninsula and Borneo. i A Short History of Malaysia Sources A short history is not a work of new research but draws on existing, published material. The full bibliography at the end of the book includes all works consulted during the preparation of the history. Notes for each chapter at the end of the book indicate the sources of direct quotations. A bibliographic essay lists the main sources for individual chapters and suggests some futher reading for those wishing to follow up particular areas or topics.
Many primary sources (Malay manuscripts, official colonial records, travellers’ accounts, court records, Malaysian government records, memoirs of Malaysians and nonMalaysians) have been either published or integrated into published analyses and translated into English, and so are available to non-Malay speakers. Malaysians themselves have been actively writing about their past since the days of the Melaka sultanate (15th and 16th centuries CE) and wherever possible I have drawn on those invaluable resources.
It is easy to overlook the fact that not all records about the past are in the form of ‘official’ documents. Evidence comes also from archaeology, reconstructing older forms of languages to try and establish core vocabularies to learn what they reveal about lifestyles, anthropology and so on. Each of these sources has something to contribute to the picture of Malaysia’s past. And there are further sources which have not yet been fully exploited. All cultures in the Malaysian territories are rich in oral traditions.
Customs, laws, wise sayings, prayers, agricultural practices, forest lore, navigational methods and guides, origin stories and cautionary tales used to be an integral part of daily life. Only a fraction of this material has been recorded and published. One of the casualties of modernity is the loss of communal memory and individual knowledge of oral traditions. Some attempts, both within and outside Malaysia, are being made to preserve this specialist knowledge. Much of it is recognised as ‘scientifically’ accurate, but a great deal has already been lost.