The topic considers themes and spaces foundational to Malaysia’s history and early settlement. The link between faith and trade is introduced as well as some important locations in Malaysia’s formation; Malacca, Penang, and Singapore. Colonialism is considered, followed by immigration flows and economic effects. Twentieth Century influences including war, ideology and independence then offer context to the natural resource picture of Malaysia, an exploration of the of the principal religions coexisting in Malaysia concluding this topic.
Living by the natural resources, the Orang Asli (Original People, Figure 3.1) were amongst the first known inhabitants of peninsular Malaysia. Groups such as the Dayak, the Penan of Sarawak and the Rungus of Sabah have all but vanished, their nomadic way of life destroyed by development (Weightman, 2011). The Proto-Malay (Melayu asli, circa 1000 BC), likely seafarers of mainland Asian origin, preceded the Deutero-Malays, people from Arabia, China, India and Siam (modern-day Thailand). These latter peoples are said to have been skilled in metalwork and farming techniques and were less nomadic than their predecessors and were closely linked, via the Malacca Strait, with Sumatra based Malays. With the Orang Asli, these Proto-Malay people and their descendants constitute the Bumiputera (Sons of Soil).
Since its mountainous interior prohibited much of the primary cultivation which marked nearby countries progression, peninsular Malaysia’s strategic position between the East and West has become an important factor in its multicultural development, catalysed by trade relations from near and far. Arab Muslims are believed to have precipitated the world trade system in the Mediterranean and Indian Oceans (Kelly, 1993). Since Islam is a way of life there is little distinction between religion and commerce and the rules of commerce are thus provided. Outsiders trading with these Muslim networks often converted thus expanding the reach of Islam globally and making Malaysia the predominantly Muslim country it is today.
Arab Muslim trade spread from Mughal Empire in India to the Bay of Bengal at the end of the sixteenth century, giving more extensive and intensive access to the South East Asian coastline from the West. Pre-existing Muslim enclaves in Indonesia expanded and commodities such as Chinese steel, finding custom throughout the world, gave rise to trading posts, or entrepôts, a most renowned example being that of Malacca (see Figure 3.2). Malacca is named after the sultanate which ruled the area throughout the 15th century. Situated in Southern peninsular Malaysia on the West side Malacca occupies a naturally defensible position overlooking the strait between Sumatra and peninsular Malaysia.
Here, Indians, Javanese and Chinese migrated in search of wealth; aromatic woods, hardwoods, silk, porcelain, slaves and animals and all manner of commodity, passed through this important global location. Spices had been used for trade in the East for many hundreds of years, products such as cinnamon, cassia, cardamom, ginger, pepper, and turmeric were commonly available.
Even today, due to its protected strait connecting east and west, the Straits of Malacca, is a critical Sea-Lane Chokepoint (Masuda, 2005; Weightman, 2011).
During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries imperial wrangling for Malacca saw the construction of the A Famosa Fort by the Portuguese, which was subsequently captured by the Dutch in 1641. The Dutch maintained a strong hold on the spice trade as a result until, in 1785, the British East India Company were permitted by the Sultan to build a fort on Penang. Coinciding with France’s capture of the Netherlands in 1795 the British presence intensified, as Holland ceded temporary control of Malacca to Britain rather than lose control of it to France (Geographia, 2015).
Control of natural resources was heavily dependent upon political leadership. In 1823 Stamford Raffles signed a treaty ceding the Island of Singapore to the East India Company in return for monthly financial payments to the Sultan and the Temenggong. Despite regional frictions and confrontations between the British and Burma, and between Burma and Siam (see especially the Burney and Low treaties) Britain largely maintained a policy of non-intervention in local disputes in order to preserve profits through peaceful trading in the area. This situation held until 1873 after the establishment of the Suez Canal four years earlier increased the strategic importance of the Peninsula. The canal had significant strategic importance for the world and for the British Empire, enabling a rapid sea route to and from colonies (Cornel Dumitrescu, 2014).
At this time (late Nineteenth century) internal threats to British trade, authority and changing attitudes within Malaya, as well as the state of general lawlessness led to intervention in Perak which precipitated the Residential System in Malaysia, a system of indirect British rule (Kelly, 1993, p.36 and see Pangkor Engagement). Intervention followed in Selangor and Negri Sembilan, where tin constituted a significant income. In 1896 Perak, Negri Sembilan, Selangor and Pahang together became the Federation of Malaya, administered under British advice though ruled by sultans in each state. The Northern states ruled by Siam (Kedah, Kelantan, Trengganu and Perlis) shortly afterwards came under control of Britain as the Unfederated Malaya States through the 1909 Bangkok Treaty.
The founder of Singapore, Thomas Stamford Raffles was appointed to the office of assistant secretary in Penang in 1805, after Penang had its colonial status altered to that of a Residency. Since the Dutch still controlled much of the region, Raffles was sent in 1819 to establish a trading post in Singapore. Shortly therafter, in 1826, The British East India Company created the Straits Settlements, combining Malacca, Penang and Singapore (Figure 3.5) under one name initially with Penang as its capital though this was later transferred to Singapore in 1935. British influence was throughout this period expanded and consolidated via the establishment of protectorates (BBC, 2015).
The three principal port towns of Singapore, Penang and Malacca thus received a mandate for applying greater control, Penang became a secondary port to Singapore “…not its pale reflection, but a different society… more Indian in character because of the Bay of Bengal trade than the Chinese-dominated Singapore” (Goh, 2014, p.90).
The Straits Settlements governance was, for a time, ambiguous, fractured and disorganised. In 1858, after the dissolution of the British East India Company, which had been administering holdings, the British took direct control via the Queen’s Viceroy in India and attempted to direct the region from there. This resulted in neglect, inefficiency, foreign civil servants, poor protection for seafaring traders and general interference with trade. Throughout this period, local power was gradually usurped by negotiation with authorities on the basis of promises of protection or wealth, Perak being safeguarded from a Siamese attack from the North, for example. This state of affairs resulted in a minority of local people becoming very wealthy and further regional hegemony of the British. Precipitated by these conditions and in response to an unpopular 1855 act to make the Rupee legal currency, the establishment of the Straits Settlements as a Crown Colony occurred in 1867, bringing the region under direct control of Britain (Kelly, 1993). It was not until 1961 that Malaysia took its current name, derived from Malay, meaning ‘the people’, ‘si’ for Singapore and ‘a’ for Malaya (Weightman, 2011, p.451). Singapore left the union four years later (see also Figure 3.8).
The area of present day Malaysia was valued as a conduit for trade of resources between East and West before exploitation of Malaysia’s own resources at an industrial scale emerged. Although other European nations, particularly the Dutch, had attempted to capitalise on the emerging wealth of the Malay Peninsula earlier, major colonial influence essentially began from the early 19th century. This arose from a desire of the British for a base from which to trade, principally with the Chinese for tea, in exchange for (despite its illegality) opium produced in India.
This was facilitated by the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 when much of the Malay Peninsula, including Singapore and Malacca, was ceded to the British after a period of relative Dutch vulnerability arising from their engagement in the Napoleonic Wars (Kelly, 1993). The Straits Settlements, as these areas under British purview became known, were thus obtained in exchange with the Dutch, who consolidated their domination, and were permitted freer rein over, the East Indies.
The importance of these imperial struggles relate to the foundations of the nation and the attitude adopted towards, amongst many things, natural resources. Olsson (2009) divides early Western colonialism into ‘mercantilist’ and a later ‘imperialist’ waves, suggesting a strong correlation between duration of British colonialism in countries and an outcome of democracy, particularly in the latter ‘imperialist’ period. Olsson identifies 1850 as an approximate temporal position whereby the global socioeconomic conditions were such that British imperialist intervention after this time commonly resulted in lasting democracy.
The Malay Archipelago historically offered excellent conditions for wealth through piracy and this hampered sea trade. On land secret societies such as the Triad, originally established in China to oppose the Machu dynasty, proliferated in 19th century Singapore giving Chinese immigrants an otherwise unheard voice yet giving the British a challenging political context in which to impose order. Notwithstanding these issues the area prospered economically, continuing to trade resources between East and West (Weightman, 2011).
Political stability in Malaya, along with adoption of a legal system and enforcement of law and order, stimulated foreign investment and exploitation of natural resources, especially tin and rubber, as the following chapters will reveal. Resource exploitation led to increased revenue and, for many, an improved standard of living. Under British administration rivers were cleared and railways constructed, Malayan states were surveyed and mapped and, in general, infrastructure both administrative and physical to promote the exploitation of natural resources, was rapidly established throughout the region. Supporting social structures also developed as part of the natural resource bonanza including schools and hospitals in tin mining areas such as Kuala Lumpur (Kelly, 1993).
The natural resource exploitation that was shortly to follow was powered initially by waves of human labour. Slavery had been abolished by the British in 1833 whereupon the Indian government instigated a law allowing Indians to immigrate to British colonies as workers. Famine and a poor standard of living in the 19th century, especially in Ceylon, pushed many Indian workers to Malaya, where Chinese immigrants were already heavily utilised in the burgeoning tin industry. Indian nationals were often experienced in plantation work and naturally gravitated to the booming rubber plantations. Thus Chinese and Indian immigrants were instrumental in bringing economic success to Malaya. By 1921 the number of Chinese and Indians in Malaya together equalled the number of Malays (Kelly, 1993, p.76).
Particularly subsequent to the Great Depression following 1929 a period of protectionism, including restrictions on immigration, took place in Malaysia. A growing discontentedness directed towards the dominant power structures grew throughout the early twentieth century. By 1941 there were more Chinese in Malaya than Malays (Kelly, 1993, p.76).
Regional prosperity, based upon Malaya’s position as a global trade location between East and West, was interrupted by two World Wars of 1914-18 and 1939-1945. By the time of the Second World War the material wealth brought by the exploitation of commodities in the Malay peninsula was strategically significant as was, of course, its geopolitical position and, after the Japanese bombed a US base in Pearl Harbour (December 7 1941) Asia became more involved in the war. Notwithstanding military resource shortages due to the fight against The Axis Powers in Europe and in Northern Africa, the threat from the Japanese was underestimated and, synchronised with the bombardment of Pearl Harbour, the Japanese army moved through Thailand taking the whole of the Malay Peninsula, including Singapore on 15th February 1942.
As the British withdrew, they destroyed much vital infrastructure that might otherwise be useful to the oncoming Japanese. Equipment that would enable the uninterrupted continuance of the profitable tin and rubber industries, a crucial motive for the Japanese attack, was ruined and this, combined with Japan’s policies of governance during Japanese occupation (1942-45) resulted in much deprivation during subsequent years. Social fragmentation occurred as a direct result of Japanese divide and rule strategy; Indians, Malays and Chinese being subjected to very different treatments and encouraged to change the trajectory of the socio economic progress which had prevailed prior to the war.
On 6th and 9th August 1945, US B-29 bombers, the 'Enola Gay' and 'Bockscar', dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. On 15 August, Japan surrendered. The formal signing of surrender documents was held at Municipal Hall, Singapore on 12 September.
Malaya’s sense of nationalism was accelerated, if not precipitated, by the invasion of the Japanese. However, sultan’s positions were fragile at the end of the Second World War, and proposals made by Britain to retake political power whilst leaving religious power to the sultans was readily accepted, to the consternation of much of the Malaya populace. Economic protectionism after World War 2 to achieve food security, for example, was partly an inheritance from the Japanese-imposed self-sufficiency campaign and partly a reaction to the disruption of the early and mid-19th century, though similar ideology extended into the late 20th century (Bala et al. 2014). Only very recently have calls for a more open economy become more prevalent, the economic benefits of this now becoming better understood (Hassan et al, 2013).
In 1948 British-ruled Malayan territories unified under the name Federation of Malaya and a period of struggle between British forces and the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and associated Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) ultimately led by Chin Peng, a longtime anti-coloinialist (Hack, 2009 and see Figure 3.17).
The ‘Malayan Emergency’ was the British government's term for the anti-colonial struggle against Britain, named this way to avoid rubber plantations and tin-mining industries losses not being covered by Lloyd's insurers had it been termed a war (Peng, 2003).
Despite moderately successful British authority attempts to quell insurgency, winning hearts and between 1950 and 195 (Hack, 2009) independence was eventually bestowed in 1957. Hari Merdeka (Independence Day) held on 31 August each year, when thousands visit Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur, commemorates the independence of the Federation of Malaya from British colonial rule.
As resources and leaders the behaviour of humans has played a significant role in altering the political, infrastructural and physical landscape of Malaysia. It is people who have driven and been driven by the natural resource policy in Malaysia, whether than has related to trading other countries goods as earlier, or rubber and tin, palm and timber later. Interrelationships amongst and between people and cultures, then, perhaps affect the way in which resources have and could be managed. Weightman’s (2011) classification of Southeast Asia, an area including all countries East of India and South of China and Taiwan, roughly parallels Corlett’s Tropical East Asia. The area is described as constituting a common realm of Asian countries “based on similarities of functional interrelationships between people and their natural environments” (Weightman, 2011, p.4). Within this area Rubenstein (2007) shows that 51% are Sunni Muslim, 22% Catholic, 13% Buddhist, 5% Protestant, 5% other religions and 4% non-religious. In comparison, Malaysia contains 61% Muslim, 20% Buddhist, 9% Christian and 6% Hindu citizenry (statistics.gov.my).
Of its 28 million inhabitants, Malaysian citizens constitute 92%, of which 67% are Bumiputera, 25% Chinese and 7% Indian (statistics.gov.my). Over half of the population reside in the most populous five states of Selangor, Johor, Sabah, Sarawak and Perak (in order of decreasing population). Malay is the national language, though Mandarin, Tamil, Cantonese and English are also present among many other dialects. Whilst Islam is the dominant religion of Malaysia, other religions are widely and freely practised and are reviewed below due to their importance in contributing to the cultural landscape of Malaysia today. Weightman (2011) is used below as a primary source and the four major religions are explored in order of dominance within Malaysia.
Translating to ‘submission to God’ Islam has its origins in Mecca and Medina in sixth century Arabia. Muslims believe Allah is the one God and recognise Muhammad as Allah’s prophet (Jesus Christ is also regarded as a prophet). The word of Allah is recorded in the Qur’an. The Five Pillars of Islam translate approximately to faith, prayer, alms, fasting and pilgrimage: faith (or Iman) in Allah as the one true God and Muhammad as his messenger. Prayer (or Salah) five times per day at dawn, mid-day, late-afternoon, sunset and nightfall. Alms (or Zakah) or purification and growth obliges adherents to spread (a minimum of a fortieth of) their wealth, and as much as they please in secret as Sadaqah. Fasting (or Sawm) involves abstention from food, drink and sex from dawn until sundown for the month of Ramadan. The final Pillar of Islam, the pilgrimage (Hajj), requires those that are able to visit Mecca at least once in their lifetime in the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. The vast majority of Muslims are orthodox Sunni (around 85%) whilst differing ideas of leadership, doctrine, law and theology are held by Shia Muslims.
According to Islam humanity carries a duty and responsibility to protect the wellbeing of Allah’s creation. Accountability is important to Muslims and cruelty and a lack of respect towards the natural world will be a basis for judgement. Mankind’s duties to the environment include: “No extravagance, excessive use or over-utilisation; No illegitimate or unlawful attempt at destroying the natural resources; No damage, abuse or distortion of the natural environment in any way” (IBP, 2015, p68-69). Cruelty to living creatures is absolutely forbidden as is cutting down trees without just cause.
With adherents in much of the Southern mainland of Southeast Asia Buddhism holds, as its guiding principles, the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth is that of the existence of suffering (Dukkha). The Second describes the origins of suffering (Samudāya) being in desire (in three forms: greed and desire, ignorance or delusion and hatred and destructive urges). The Third Noble Truth describes the cessation of suffering (Nirodha) via liberation from attachment. The Fourth Noble Truth (Magga) outlines the path to the third, The Eightfold Path, through right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. These elements are sometimes grouped into wisdom (right understanding and intention) ethical conduct (right speech, action and livelihood) and meditation (right effort, mindfulness and concentration). One popular paraphrasing of one of the Buddha's teachings is "Believe nothing no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and common sense."
There are 488 million Buddhists worldwide, representing 7% of the world’s total population. Malaysian Buddhist constitute nearly 18% of total Malaysian population and 1% of world Buddhist population. According to Buddhism, spiritual liberation is attained by avoiding extremes. It emphasises the inter-connectedness among all living things.
Christianity, its spread inextricably linked to European imperialist expansion, met Asia chiefly after the thirteenth century. It was borne by sailors, traders and colonisers, soldiers and missionaries. Another monotheistic religion, Christianity is dominated by a Jew named Jesus Christ, believed to be the son of God. The Bible is the Holy Book of Christians, who belong to one of two principal branches; Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Christianity thrived in the sixteenth century as colonisation became rife. In Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Timor-Leste remain Christian dominated whilst in the majority of Southeast Asia Christianity is now a minority religion.
The figure shows that Christian religion spreads with time to Asia and Africa. As it is evident from the figure that by 1910 almost 2/3rd of total Christian population lived in European countries and rest of them lived in USA with Asia-Pacific having very less of Christian population. In a century or so, the percentage of total Christian population living in Europeans countries has come down to 25% wheres a substantial increase in percentage have been witnessed in Asia-Pacific and Sub-Saharan African countries.
A passage has been identified (Inoue, 1997, p2) which is said to shed some light on the western attitude towards nature and natural resources:
"God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Genesis 1: 27 - 28).
Possibly the oldest of the world’s major religions Hinduism is said to originate from Indus Valley civilisation over 6000 years ago. Hinduism is polytheistic, encompassing thousands of Gods within daily rituals of worship, though these are usually believed to manifest from the Supreme God, whose qualities are thus represented. The sacred text known as the Veda and derived values known as Dhama are crucial to Hinduism, as is the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, directed by Karma (action). Hinduism suggests strongly the equal sanctity of all life and for thousands of years Hinduism was related to sustainable agriculture and nonviolence (ahimsa) toward animals and nature (Dwivedi, 1990).
The topic has explored Malaysia’s history and settlement. Faith and trade have been introduced and important locations in Malaysia’s formation; Malacca, Penang, and Singapore identified. Colonialism has been considered in the context of flows of people and economics. War, ideological clashes and independence show the socio-political landscape in which natural resources have played a major part in Malaysia.