Timeline: Malaysia’s history

Key dates in history of multiracial, Islamic nation greatly shaped by its key spot along East-West trade routes.

Rubber worker in Malaya
Rubber extraction was a major source of wealth during Malaysia's time under British rule [GALLO/GETTY]

Pre-history: Among the first signs of human life found in present-day Malaysia was a skull found in Sarawak in the 1950s, dating to 40,000 years ago.

10,000 years ago: Anthropologists believe aboriginal Proto-Malays migrated from southwest China, eventually traveling to Indonesia, Sumatra and Borneo. Proto-Malays have been found to be ethnically related to people in Sumatra, Java and parts of the Philippines.

300 BC: Arrival of Deutero-Malays, descended partly from Cham people of the Mekong Delta. They push the Proto-Malays into the north and become direct ancestors of today’s ethnic Malays.

100 BC: Commerce begins with China and India, establishing ports in Malaysia along essential trade routes and bringing foreign influence.

0-400 AD: Buddhism and Hinduism arrive from India and are adopted; Sanksrit becomes the writing system.

600-1200: Much of Malay peninsula ruled by maharajas of the trade-based Srivijaya empire, which enhances the area’s vital role in regional trade.

1200-1300: Islam is gradually introduced by Arab and Indian traders, and is first adopted by the Malay elite.

Early 1400s: Port of Malacca founded by renegade prince Iskander Shah, purported to be a descendent of Alexander the Great, and who soon converts to Islam.

1405: Visiting Chinese admiral offers to protect Malacca against invading Siamese; support allows Malacca to expand influence over much of peninsula. Malacca and other Malysian sultanates dominates China-India sea trade over next 100 years as Mongol armies close land route to the West; Malay becomes official language and Malacca becomes important Islamic centre.

Colonial rule

1511: Portugal makes first European colonial claim on Malaysia, capturing Malacca.

1641: Dutch East India Company and local allies push Portuguese from Malacca.

1700s: Now known as Malaya, its trading ports gain more economic clout as British trade with China expands. Mining of tin and gold brings influx of Arab, Indian and Chinese immigrants who soon control business.

Late 1700s-1800s: Britain establishes colonies and trading ports on Malay peninsula; Penang is leased to the British East India Company.

1824: Anglo-Dutch Treaty sets boundaries between British Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies, which is present-day Indonesia.

1857: Modern-day Kuala Lumpur is founded as a trading post for immigrant miners, and becomes capital of Federated Malay States in 1896.

Late 1800s to 1941: Profits pour in due to wartime demand for tin and rubber; Britain builds strong naval presence to counter Japanese expansion.

World War II

1941: Japan bombs Singapore and Kota Bharu in Kelatan. Unprepared and outmanned for a land assault, British forces are routed and Singapore falls in February 1942.

1942 to 1945: During Japanese occupation, exports are stripped, nationalism grows, and ethnic tensions between Malays, Chinese and Indians are exacerbated. Japan’s so-called sook ching (purification through suffering) campaign leads to the death of 80,000 ethnic Chinese in Malaya and Singapore.

1945: After US drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, British forces regain control of Malaya.

1946: United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is founded by Onn bin Jaafar, chief minister of Johore. The nationalist group seeks independence from Britain, but will only tolerate a state dominated by ethnic Malays.

1948-1960: Influenced by Cold War politics, ethnic Chinese communist guerrillas maintain insurgency in jungle areas. Known as the Malayan Emergency, the uprising is eventually suppressed by British and Commonwealth forces.

Independent Malaysia

1957: Federation of Malaya becomes independent from Britain.

1963: British colonies of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore join Federation of Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia.

1965: Singapore is expelled from Malaysia over political and racial concerns.

1969: Violent race riots, particularly in Kuala Lumpur, leave hundreds dead.

1981: Dr Mahathir Mohamad begins tenure as prime minister in which economy is diversified and grows at rate of eight percent each year.

1998: Mahathir sacks his deputy Anwar Ibrahim for alleged sexual misconduct amid differences over economic policy in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. Before he is arrested on charges of sodomy and corruption, Anwar mobilises thousands of people to rally against the government.

2000: Anwar is found guilty of sodomising a former male aide and jailed for nine years. A year earlier, he was sentenced to six years in prison for corruption.

2003: Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is named prime minister as Mahathir resigns after 22 years in power, making him Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister.

2004: Abdullah wins landslide general election victory. Anwar is freed after court overturns the sodomy verdict but the corruption conviction continues to stand, meaning he is banned from politics for five years.

2008: Abdullah’s National Front coalition suffers its worst election result in decades after Anwar leads the opposition to unprecedented gains. Shortly after the vote, Anwar is hit with new sodomy charges.

2009: Anwar Ibrahim’s second sodomy trial begins; Badawi steps down as prime minister and is replaced by his deputy, Najib Abdul Razak.

2010: Religious tensions increase following court decision allowing non-Muslims to use the word Allah to refer to God. Several churches are attacked.

2011: Police fire tear gas and water cannons to break up opposition-backed protest with thousands of people calling for reform of electoral system.

2012: The High Court acquits Anwar of sodomy charges.

2013: Malaysia launches air strikes in March on Filipino fighters who occupy a Borneo village claiming ancestral ownership rights.

April 2013: Najib dissolves parliament to make way for general elections.

May 5, 2013: Malyasia to vote in landmark elections pitting Najib and the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional coalition against Anwar and his opposition movement.

Source: Al Jazeera