Malaysia: Foreign Influence and Settlement

Foreign Influence and Settlement

(For early history of West Malaysia, see Malay Peninsula; for history of East Malaysia, see Sabah and Sarawak.) When the Portuguese captured Malacca (1511), its sultan fled first to Pahang and then to Johor and the Riau Archipelago. One of his sons became the first sultan of Perak. From both Johor and Aceh in Sumatra unsuccessful attacks were made on Malacca. Aceh and Johor also fought each other. The main issue in these struggles was control of trade through the Strait of Malacca. Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu, north of Malacca, became nominal subjects of Siam.

In the early 17th cent. the Dutch established trading bases in Southeast Asia. By 1619 they had established themselves in Batavia (Jakarta), and in 1641, allied with Johor, they captured Malacca after a six-month siege. Another power entered the complicated Malayan picture in the late 17th cent. when the Bugis from Sulawesi, a Malay people economically pressured by the Dutch, began settling in the area of Selangor on the west coast of the peninsula, where they traded in tin. The Bugis captured Johor and Riau in 1721 and, with a few interruptions, maintained control there for about a century, although the Johor sultanate was permitted to remain. The Bugis were also active in Perak and Kedah. Earlier, in the 15th and 16th cent., another Malay people, the Minangkabaus from Sumatra, had peacefully settled inland from Malacca. Their settlements eventually became the state of Negeri Sembilan.

The British role on the peninsula began in 1786, when Francis Light of the British East India Company, searching for a site for trade and a naval base, obtained the cession of the island of Pinang from the sultan of Kedah. In 1791 the British agreed to make annual payments to the sultan, and in 1800 the latter ceded Province Wellesley on the mainland. In 1819 the British founded Singapore, and in 1824 they formally (actual control had been exercised since 1795) acquired Malacca from the Dutch. A joint administration was formed for Pinang, Malacca, and Singapore, which became known as the Straits Settlements.

During this period Siam was asserting its influence southward on the peninsula. In 1816, Siam forced Kedah to invade Perak and made Perak acknowledge Siamese suzerainty. In 1821, Siam invaded Kedah and exiled the sultan. The Anglo-Siamese treaty of 1821 recognized Siamese control of Kedah but left the status of Perak, Kelantan, and Terengganu ambiguous. In 1841 the sultan of Kedah was restored, but Perlis was carved out of the territory of Kedah and put under Siamese protection.

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