The Historical Development of the Malay Nationalism Before Independence

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2014
29 Pages


Table Of Content




Early History of Western Idea
British Entry Into Malaya
The Beginning of the Conflict Between British and the Malay Community
Malay Nationalism Before the Second World War
Malay Nationalism During and After the Second World War



End Notes


This study will analyze the historical development of Malay nationalism against Western powers, particularly the British in Malaya before independence in 1957. The method used in this study is based on the method of observation of the resources available at the library and the National Archives of Malaysia. This study will begin with the dismantling of the prior history of Malaya’s early economic development. The arrival of the Western powers, namely the Portuguese, Dutch and British to Malaya was due to the economic importance of Malaya, which is also known as the Land of Gold and Gold Peninsular by foreign races. Malaya was colonized for more than 400 years since the Portuguese colonization in 1511. When the British controlled Malaya, the inclusion of their pro-Western idea has created conflict with the Malay community. This study will focus on the historiography of the Malay community to look at the historical development of Malay nationalism and the parties involved in the resistance against the British. After the country gained independence, the implementation of the Look East Policy by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in 1982 is seen to end the continuous conflict between pro-Western idea that been brought by the colonists and the Malay nationalism spirit, with the Japanese model representing the East model has replaced the long-standing Western models that dominate the lives of the Malays as far back as the Portuguese domination of Malacca in 1511.

Keywords: British, Malaya, Malay Community, Nationalism, Pro-Western Idea


The word nationalism is derived from the Latin word namely nation originated from the word natu that means birth or born. It also carries the meaning of a group of people belonging to the same lineage or roots. Nation or race is also commonly referred to as human beings who live in a state's own. Thus, it can be said that the nation is a large group of people formed in a specific region, speak in one language and usually have politics nature or idea for politics. (Zubir, 2013). The term nation, nationality and nationalism, according to Robert I. Rotberg (1965) is near the abuse, which was used to describe a wide variety of circumstances, the human position and thinking patterns (Azmi, 1999). This statement is accurate to provide a snapshot of nationalism that is a symptom of history that is often understood and explained in a varies way by many nationalism historians and researchers such as Benedict Anderson (1991), Hans Kohn (1967), Elie Kedourie (1966), Anthony D. Smith (1971 & 1986), Elfiondri (2004), Louis L. Snyder (1964), R. Suntharalingam & Abdul Rahman Hj. Ismail (1985) and Roeslan Abdulgani (1975).

Benedict Anderson in his important literature, Imagined Communities, culminating in a theory that nationalism triggered by what is call as print-capitalism, which carries the meaning of a widespread prionting culture in a large scale. If seen in Malaya, the emergence of nationalism can be linked with the role of print commodities. But in terms of its content and its form, nationalism that appears is not apart from the question of 'race' itself. The approach of Anthony d. Smith (1971, 1986) that focuses on the question of ethnicity can be used to describe symptoms of nationalism growing in multiethnic society in Malaya.

The study of nationalism and the struggle for the Malays has been touched many researchers before. Starting with simple writing by authors such as G. Maxwell (1941), Virginia Thompson (1943) and K. P. Landon (1943) in the early 1940s, deeper study done by T. H. Silcock and Ungku Abdul Aziz (1953), Radin Soenarno (1960) and Isaac Tadin (1960). Based on preliminary studies done by Radin Soenarno and using Malay newspaper prior to the Japanese occupation as done by Nik Ahmad Haji Nik Hassan (1963), W. R. Roff published his book, The Origins of Malay Nationalism in 1967. The influence of W. R. Roff seems evident when many studies about Malay nationalism after 1941, as did John Funston (1980), Firdaus Abdullah (1985), Mohamed Noordin Sopee (1974), Khong Kim Hoong (1984) and others, are generally did not questioning Roff’s finding and summary for a period until 1941.


The discovery of artifacts such as bone, rock and food waste at the cave's occupants in Southeast Asia region including Malaysia shows the availability of culture spreading during prehistoric era. The Malays who are an expert cruise members has giving them connection with foreign countries in the trade business, this makes the Malay region as a sought-after trade area from India, Arabic and China mechants (Haziyah, 2004). Since the first century appears a number of early Hindu and Buddhist governments in the North of Malaya (Nik Hasan Suhaimi, 1996). As early as the sixth century, India and China literatures have been discussing the strategic position of Malaya (Hamidah et al., 2009). China information resource stating Yau-Chu-Li (Malaya) is the port and trade center with India since the year 280 to 22 A.D. again. According to Sanskrit records, a small Hindu temple was built in Kataka (Kedah), about the first century again. The Malay Kingdom at this time has grown in south of Segenting Kra (Haziyah, 2004).

Before the arrival of Western powers into the region, the Malay community has been very active in trading activities in the region waters (Haziyah, 2004). In the sixteenth century and earlier than that, China records and Western travelers report shows that Malay and Javanese merchant ships conduct trading activities to East Africa, Madagascar, Aden and China. In the Malay waters, the Bugis people ever renowned as the sailor and merchant that can match the Dutch merchants (Khazin, 1996). The importance of sea routes around the South China Sea, particularly the East Coast waters of Malaya was seen in connection with the formation of the early Governments since first century that feature maritime government (Mohd Samsudin et al., 2011). Use of Malaya’s East Coast maritime routes intensifies during the grandeur of the maritime trade from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries.

The Malay community emerged as a sovereign state in 1403 with the establishment of Malay Kingdom in Malacca.[1] Ships passing through the Straits of Malacca will be anchored at the Malacca port where tax will be imposed and services will be provided (Gullick, 1963). As a port that has a range of facilities (Joginder, 1964), Malacca has become an entrepot port for India-China trading route (National Archives of Malaysia, no year). At the moment traders from China, India, Arabic and Javanese engaged in trading activities in Malacca (Tan Ding Eing, 1979). On the East Coast, the Thai Government put its officers at Pahang River mouth to control trading (Mubin, 1982). Malacca port task schedule specified only to the foreigners and it is administered fairly and efficiently by Malay officers (Tan Ding Eing, 1979). The smooth encourages confidence and further growth in Malacca’s trade. In addition to port duties and entrepot income, the Malacca Sultanate also reap other revenue in the form of contribution from neighbouring states (Winstedt, 1966). In return, these states would get protection from the Malacca Sultanate (Drake, 2004).

As early as the sixteenth century the relationship between Malacca and Japan is said to have established. There is also a Japanese settlement in Malaya. After Japan ruled by Syogun Tokugawa, the relationship between Japan and Malacca became limited because of Japan’s isolation policy or close door policy[2] to foreign countries. The relationship that exists at that time only through China traders. There is also a Japanese Government official trade visit to Malacca, known as Goshusen.[3] The close relationship also happens between Malacca and China governments especially during Ming Dynasty era in politics, language, culture and trade (Tuan Abdul Manan, 2603).

In Malay Kingdom, the Sultan or King had a very high position and is the most powerful person to determine the direction of public life. The Malays believe that leaders have daulat and tulah that claiming them to put allegiance undivided. Sejarah Melayu[4] states that the agreement between Sang Sapurba with Demang Lebar Daun has established the nature of adherence and allegiance and create awareness about the status existence. The presence of Islam after Hindu fading in Malay Government reinforces the bond between the King and the people. The concept of the King as 'the shadow of God on Earth ' that brought by Islam has replaced the concept of Kings comes from 'gods' that brought by Hindu (Zubir, 2013). The economy of the Malay community during this time is feudal (Mohd Faidz et al., 2011), with people ready to serve for the ruler and also tax activities occurred on any export and import activities. The river system is the cornerstone to domestic communications. (Abd Hamid, 1980).

Malacca’s grandeur as the center of the Malay civilization described by Sejarah Melayu that put Melaka as a prestigious country in everything. Starting with rulers’ descendant inherited from great figures, various negative pictures surrounding government such as Siam and Majapahit highlighted for confirming the greatness of Malacca. Malacca’s greatness executed more via its Malay people. For example, the character of Hang Tuah in Hikayat Hang Tuah[5] described as a nationalist with perfect personal and decorated with the finest properties, prudent, strong, wise and civilized. The decline of the Malay community during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries encourage the creation of culture heroes so that people go back to support the values and the superiority of their own past (Zubir, 2013).

The Malay Archipelago is also not devoid of women warrior. For example, Tun Fatimah help Bendahara Tun Perak in the match against the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century. Tengku Tengah from Johor dare to lift sword faced with opponents of his father, and recover his dignity by associated with the Bugis. In Kelantan, Cik Siti Wan Kembang believed ruled the state between the years 1548 and 1580, and known for her beauty and abilities on the battlefield with swords armed and led the cavalry of women soldier (Dyana, 2014).

The introduction of the international economic system in Malaya have occurred before the arrival of Western powers again. This is because there are already local merchants in the Malay world waters. For example during Admiral Paduka Abdul Jalil era (1670s to 1690s), Riau has developed into a booming commercial centre. China and Europe resources registered a variety of ethnic groups from areas of Malacca Sultanate heritage had conducted trade from Patani, Cambodia to Sulawesi, Java and Maluku Sea (Mohamed Anwar, 2011).

Western powers such as the Portuguese, Dutch and English entered Southeast Asia from the sixteenth century. In addition to racing in competition to own as much as possible colonies, they also have a hidden mission, namely want to develop Christianity to colonies society. This is the result of endless revenge after a long war with the Islamic world in Crusade War (Zubir, 2013). Portuguese see Malacca as a strategic placement and the spice trade Centre. They conquered it in 1511 (Caballero, 2001). Sejarah Melayu displays saga role as stimulants the spirit of struggle for the Malays against invasion at this time. In the battle with the Portuguese, Malacca fighters will read or hear story either from Hikayat Amir Hamzah or Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah in the night for uplifting their spirit (Abdul Rahman, 2006a).

Around the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Netherlands sought to enter the spice trade of the world. Earlier, they had purchased the East products from Portuguese, but were expelled from the Portuguese port in 1594.[6] This causing the Netherlands was determined to take over Malacca which not only allows them to monopolize the trade in the Straits of Malacca from the Portuguese, but also give them influence and revenue from the Malay States (Drake, 2004). Malacca fell into the Dutch hands in 1641 (Sheppard, 1982). Britain also saw the need to establish a base in Dutch East area. This is because trading activities between the British East India Company and China grow rapidly (Baker, 1999) and British ships require a port along the path (Andaya & Andaya, 1982). Britain also requires a port for its marine force to protect British traders from pirates and managing operations against French (Tan Ding Eing, 1979) outside India coast. The existence of ports in Malaya also will provide an opportunity for British to break the Dutch trade monopoly in the region.

To carry out trading activities on a large scale in the East region, either directly or entrepot, it is necessary to provide port facilities, restaurants or rest places to traders and guard posts to protect them. With the intense competition between Britain, France, the Netherlands and Spain in the Eastern trade, guard posts and restaurant is also important as trading port (Drake, 2004). They see Malaya is important for trading activities between East Indies, Europe, India and China (Sheppard, 1982). The Straits of Malacca strategic position also resulted parties that able to control it will control trading activities between India and the Far East.


Early History of Western Idea

In the nineteenth century, Western societies interest to study cultural differences in the handling of idea process has produced an approaches that distinguish culture and race based on mental characteristics. Their amazing successes in the various fields of knowledge convinced them that their way of thinking were more advanced than other races in the world. Humanity theories such as Evolutionary Positivism and The Great Divine Theory materialize the concept of white supremacy that consider Europeans as the highest human in the scale of civilization and evolution level in life. This ego-sentrisme makes them believe that they are the most competent to interpret and evaluate knowledge and their responsibility to guide other races (Zubir, 2013).

Western societies assumed the colonized races such as the Malays as dirty and ugly images, barbaric, primitive and their culture are outdated. This oblique ideas and perceptions as well as bias are the characteristics of a strong eurosentrik. It arises from the degree of achievement of modern civilization which supported by the anti religious movement and Western technology measurement which is much more developed from material and science development in the East. Europe's culture is considered to be appreciated while other cultures are considered to be negative and contrary to their culture. Superiority concept for the West while inferiority for the colonized society has imbued in their soul and thinking, thus lifting their cultures dignity including languages as civilized. They marginalize religious values, etiquette and code of living of the colonized society (ibid., 2013).

Britain under the reign of Queen Victoria facing stiff competition with France, Russia, Germany, Spain and Italy to maintain the image as the strongest empire and sea power, in turn led to imperialism ideas over the non-European races. This thinking in line with the theory of Darwinism that says humans such as animals, have the right to kill other animals to ensure its survival (Houghton, 1957). Because this theory originated from Europe, the European race is considered selected race. Human social evolution from wild era to barbaric era, and later more fully civilized era has influenced the thinking of politicians and scholars in Britain by the end of the nineteenth century. Darwinism confirm the grandeur of the white race and the notion of more black a race, they become closer to evil and barbaric nature (Azmi, 2006).

British Prime Minister at the time, Benjamin Disraeli expressed due to the black people more resemble to the black apes than humans (Savage, 1984), then they should be enslaved or becoming pets only. On this cause British implementing slavery policy and brutal murder of the indigenous population in America, India and Africa continents. Up to the end of the nineteenth century, there are two different natures of imperialism in Britain. The first represented by figures such as Cecil Rhodes, Alfred Milner, George Curzon and Joseph Chamberlain who think empire and imperialism, other than taking care of British economy interests, also white race’s responsibility or white man's burden as prescribed by God in developing Western civilization, European technology and Christian teachings to the entire world's population to make this world better (Azmi, 2006).

Second idea represented by most of British politicians and scholars such as Charles Kingsley, Thomas Carlyle, James Froude, Thomas Hughes, John Ruskin and many more who think that imperialism is a tool to fight, kill, exploit and find greater profit. Both types of thinking is seen about the same, glorify white race but in second thoughts, views on non-white race are more clearly stated. The creed of imperialism has dominated the thinking of the community in Britain, politicians at all levels whether conservative, socialist, liberalis, academicians and Government officials ahead of the nineteenth century. Through propaganda process, continuous teaching and reading, Britain society especially the elite and the younger generation has been educated and imbued with these beliefs (ibid., 2006).

This type of thinking are embedded in the minds of British visitors as well as British officials that sent to Malaya. They already consider the British people as the advanced race, while residents of Malaya under their rule are persons who are still alive in wild, backward, cruel and violent. Therefore, they need to find evidence of this backwardness to warrant their intervention on the life of the local community. During the colonization, many reports and notes that lowering Malays class as written by Stamford Raffles, W. E. Maxwell, Hugh Clifford, Frank Swettenham, J. F. MacNair, Douglas Cator, L. A. Mills, W. Linehan, R. J. Wilkinson, R. O. Winstedt, J. M. Gullick and many others (ibid., 2006).


[1] See Anon, Melaka ditubuh 1262, bukannya 1400 atau 1278? in Utusan Malaysia, 31 May 2010. The decision to choose the date of 1262 as inception date and year of the Malacca Malay Kingdom resolved from a study for a year by a team of researchers appointed by the Government of Malacca through Institut Kajian Sejarah dan Patriotisme Malaysia (IKSEP). The decision was reached at the Seminar Tahun Pengasasan Kerajaan Melayu Melaka organized by IKSEP with Universiti Malaya (UM), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and Kolej Universiti Islam Melaka (KUIM) held on 31 May 2010. See also R.S.N. Murali, More Research needed on new date of Malacca Sultanate in The Star, 10 October 2011. The findings were also confirmed by Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) which makes research on the matter on 10 October 2011.

[2] See C.R. Boxer, Sakoku or Close Country in History Today 7 (2), 1957, p. 80. Door closing policy (Sakoku) is a policy that resulted Japan separated from the outside world for 200 years.

[3] See Shamsul Amri Baharuddin & Zahra S. Abdullah, Keperluan Malaysia, Kepentingan Jepun Menjalinkan Hubungan Untuk Mencapai Sebuah Visi in Dewan Masyarakat August 1990, p. 17. Goshusen is the "official passport with vermillion seal" or ships certified by the Japanese Government. The ship was given the privilege as a representative of Japan to trade in Southeast Asia. Therefore, if the traders in Japan made a mistake as not in accordance with the rules of trade at the port visited then a local administrator can make a complaint to the Japanese Government.

[4] Sejarah Melayu or Sulalatus Salatin is a literary works about the history of the origin, development and collapse of the Malacca Malay Sultanate. This work written between the 15th and 16th centuries, is considered one of the best literary works and Malay history.

[5] Hikayat Hang Tuah is a heroism epic about Hang Tuah who is a major admiral and Malay warrior who obey his king, especially during the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah in the 15th century. The saga is believed to have first written around the year 1700 but the complete manuscript is dated 1849.

[6] The Netherlands has a good relationship with the Portuguese, become their main customers in spices and other goods from the East, which is distributed throughout the northern part of the Europe continent However, in 1580 Portugal has joined Spain under the reign of King Philip II, which is the main rival of the Dutch. He had forbid the Netherlands from entering the port which is under the Portuguese.

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The Historical Development of the Malay Nationalism Before Independence
National University of Malaysia
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Uqbah Iqbal (Author)Nordin Hussin (Author)Ahmad Ali Seman (Author), 2014, The Historical Development of the Malay Nationalism Before Independence, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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