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Malaysia, History

Humans lived in the area of present-day Malaysia as long as 40,000 years ago. The early history of the area is obscure because there are few local documents and almost no archaeological remains, especially any with inscriptions. According to Chinese sources, however, early contacts were made with China. Traders also spread Hindu influences from India, which affected people’s customs and the rituals of local rulers. Peninsular Malaysia was not unified politically but was split into small kingdoms and subdivided into chiefdoms defined by river valleys. Political rule of Borneo was even more fragmented. Some of the mainland kingdoms may have been subject to a degree of control by larger empires centered in Cambodia or Java, such as Majapahit.

About AD 1400 Parameswara, a Sumatran prince, founded the kingdom of Malacca on the site of present-day Melaka. He was converted to Islam, which traders from India had already brought to the area, and Malacca became a center for the further spread of the Muslim faith. Malacca prospered and expanded its influence into most of the Malay Archipelago, but in 1511 it was conquered by the Portuguese under Afonso de Albuquerque. The Portuguese in Malacca survived constant fighting with neighboring Johor, Aceh in Sumatra, and other states. In 1641, however, Malacca fell to the Dutch, who replaced the Portuguese as the leading European trading power in the region. Like their predecessors, the Dutch were frequently at war with neighboring kingdoms and succeeded in extending their influence to parts of Johor. In this period the northern Malay kingdoms—Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu—were frequently under the influence of Siam (present-day Thailand).

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