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Malays (disambiguation)

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Malay or Malays, also known as Malay kingdoms or Malay states can mean any of the following:

Rise of the ModernsEdit

The Age of ConquestEdit


Although historically significant in early modern history but nonetheless oft ignored, the Malay Archipelago nonetheless cannot and should not be ignored by the student of history. Dazzling mineral wealth and an abundance of ecological biodiversity, as well as a pivotal role in Asian maritime trade have meant that this part of the world, consisting of over 25,000 islands in an area spanning 2 million kilonetres in area, has often tipped the scales of history - and often ominously so for those who call this part of the planet home.

Early beginningsEdit

As a host of the strategically important Straits of Melaka, the Malay archipelago has always been a significant waterway and economic highway between China and India, and has spawned a number of political entities which made their living from maritime trade. Different sources in China and India attest the existence of civilisation throughout the Malayan Archipelago from the 1st century AD, with metal artifacts discovered throughout Southeast Asia postulating the adoption of metallurgy by the locals as early as 2000 BC. From this period until the modern era, the peoples of both the Malay Archipelago and neighbouring Indochina would have their fates interwoven together. Of these, the the most powerful, pre-Islamic nation ever founded by the Malay race was the Srivijayan empire. A massive empire spanning the whole of the Straits of Melaka and outlying islands, Srivijaya held sway from its base in Palembang, southern Sumatera, for more than five hundred years. Fuelled with profits from trade and rich with gold, Srivijaya wielded hegemonic influence as far as Indochina before being supplanted by several smaller successor kingdoms, the chief one of which was Singhasari. In turn, they were slowly absorbed into Majapahit, founded on Jawa in 1293. Majapahit would thus be the dominant power controlling the Straits of Melaka until civil war and court intrigues would cause the kingdom to disintegrate fully by the 16th century.

The Islamic eraEdit

Throughout the 15th century, Islam began to take hold in the Malayan Archipelago, and by the 16th century most Malays were of the Muslim faith, although in some isolated areas animists and Hindhus continued to hold sway, as in Bali today, with lasting results that would determine the fates of the Malay peoples. It was the Melaka sultanate that would become the region's greatest Islamic empire. Centred around Melaka state in present-day Malaysia, Melaka would first come into prominence in the 15th century AD, and consolidate its control well over a hundred years over the entire Malay Peninsula in mainland Asia, as well as several parts of Sumatera and outlying islands. Other serious contenders in the region also were Demak (off the northern coast of Jawa); Brunei (centred around Borneo and Mindanao); Aceh (in northern Sumatera); and the ailing Majapahit empire.

Of all these sultanates, the name of Melaka must be writ large, and for several reasons. As lord of the Straits of Melaka, it commanded the increasingly significant Euro-Asian trade routes between China, Western Asia, and distant Europe and the Middle East. The sultans were wise enough to realise the importance of trade, and Melaka was thus renowned for its sophisticated code of laws meant to encourage trade as much as to control it, attracting traders from lands as far away as Ryukyu. Equally, Melaka was known for the spread of Islam throughout the Malay archipelago, whether through assimilation through conquest, or by diplomatic means via marriage.

Although gold remained a most valuable commodity, there now was a new commodity that was proving itself ever more valuable - spices. Unfortunately for Europe, the overland routes for this commodity were now under the control of a single empire - the Ottoman sultanate - and due to religious differences, the Europeans were reluctant to trade with the infidel Ottomans (although some nations such as Venice continued to do so). These reasons, and their relative poverty, caused the Iberian nations to search for new routes to Asia.

From Above the Wind: The Malays and Western ColonialismEdit

In an attempt to compete against the Islamic world, various European powers set out on various military expeditions to to the orient, but these soon became expeditions intent on creating wealth via trade or conquest instead. Once the Portuguese had fully explored the African coast, their next target was Asia. The Battle of Diu, pitting the all-new Portuguese carrack against Venetian-built galleys off the Indian coast, opened the waters of Southeast Asia to the Portuguese. An expedition was sent to Melaka in 1511 under Afonso de Albuquerque to establish a trade factory at Melaka. Initially, relations between the Portuguese and Melaka were cordial, but once word reached the sultan of Portuguese atrocities committed against Indians (especially Muslims in particular), relations began to sour and the Portuguese soon found their demands being rejected. It was then that the Portuguese decided to use force, starting a precedent used by many European powers in subsequent centuries against more underdeveloped native rivals.

Melaka, although having very few buildings of masonry, was stoutly defended with some 2,000 artillery pieces and also hosted an army with war elephants, but the Portuguese managed to prevail. However, much to the chargrin of the Portuguese, the abuses they committed against the "heathen" peoples of Asia resulted not only in the loss of trade in Melaka, but poorer relations with other nations such as China and Japan too. In the wake of the 1511 expedition, other nations began to fill in the gap left by Melaka. To make matters worse for both Portuguese and Malay alike, a new invader appeared on the horizon: the Dutch, who became more successful and with the British would eventually become the masters of the Malay Archipelago.

Meanwhile, there were two new indigenous players in the spice trade: Johor, which was then ruled by relatives of the deposed sultan of Melaka, and Aceh. With the fall of its major rival Melaka in 1511, the scene was now set for Aceh to seize power. Under the capable rule of Mughayat Shah, all of northern Sumatera was under Acehnese rule by 1520, and was poised to take over the role formerly played by Melaka. Aceh had one advantage that Melaka never had - it had a more well-placed ally, this being Ottoman Turkey, which supplied Aceh with political clout, gunpowder, weapons and ships. Aceh was so powerful that by 1607, it incorporated northern Sumatera as well as the northern half of the present-day Malayan Peninsula as far as Pahang, its influence stretching from the Indian Ocean all the way to the South China Sea. Although after 1607 local politics would weaken the state, Aceh managed to hold out against European rule for well over two more centuries.

The Napoleonic Wars and European RuleEdit

Throughout the 17th to the 19th centuries, European rule in the Malay Archipelago generally followed a single trend - European powers would assert themselves in geostrategically important areas such as Jawa or Melaka, and leave the rest alone, preferring to trade with the locals as opposed to completely crushing them, but times were changing. In 1786, the British East India Company agent Francis Light secured Penang for the Company through shrewd dealings with the Sultan of Kedah in northern Malaya; this was followed by further efforts to claim Melaka and Singapore in later years but solely as trade factories and not as colonies per se.

Although the effect of the Napoleonic Wars in Southeast Asia was barely felt, it however changed European policies towards the region. In the wake of French annexation of the Netherlands in 1795, the British consequentially garrisoned Dutch possessions in the East Indies to deny the French their resources. It also led towards the consolidation of power by the British and the Dutch in the area to afterward forestall any further influence by other Western powers in the region (particularly France), especially after the eventual takeovers of the Dutch VOC and the British East India Company by their respective home countries, but via different methods: the British would generally leave the local aristocracy alone, preferring to use diplomacy and judicially applied coercion, while the Dutch however were involved in a brutal spate of wars to subjugate various rulers. The Philippines was "liberated" from Spain by the United States in the 20th century, even as France took on Manchu possessions in Annam and parts of the Kingdom of Siam to form French Indochina.

Despite repeated resistance by the locals, by the beginning of the 20th century, the Malay Archipelago was now largely under Western colonial rule. It would take a brutal and costly war with the Empire of Japan to smash the hegemonic apparatus of the colonial regimes before Southeast Asia would be fully free.

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