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Malaysia country information


Country’s official name: Federation of Malaysia
Capital city: Kuala Lumpur
Area: 329,750 km² (127,355 sq mi)
Population: 26 million (including 19 million in Peninsular Malaysia)
Peoples and ethnic groups: Malay (62%), Chinese (25%), Indian (10%), the Orang Asli: the first inhabitants of the Malay peninsula, they are comprised of several ethnic groups
Languages: Malaysian (Bahasa Malaysia in Malay, the official language), English, Chinese, Tamil
Religions: In Malaysia, Islam has been the state religion since 1450. Over half the population is Malay, and all the Malay are Muslims.
The Malay are very tolerant and practice moderate Islam, which is very much based on respecting traditions.
There are still many old beliefs inherited from Hinduism and animism.
The Chinese are mainly Buddhist, and the Indians are for the most part Hindu. The Orang Asli tribes that live in the jungle are animist.
Political institutions: Constitutional monarchy
King: Abdul Halim
Prime Minister: Najib Tun Razak

The History of Malaysia

The Malay used to be a great seafaring people. Long before the Christian Age, they had already travelled to Easter Island! Malaysia itself attracted many foreigners, as the Malay coast was an important maritime crossroads between China and India. In addition, it was easy to access thanks to the monsoon winds. Therefore, Malaysia became a sizeable trading power, as the Malay traded their rare species of trees against Indian cotton and iron.

After the 1st century AD, Malaysia appears to have been under the influence of India. Hinduism and Buddhism were introduced and the Malay people were converted. For a long time, there was a succession of kingdoms under the rule of India in Malaysia. These great kingdoms controlled part of Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Their might eventually started to concern the South Indian Empire: in the 11th century, the Indian armies conquered the Malay kingdoms.

Until the 14th century, Malacca was merely a fishing village. The port, which was founded in 1403, flourished thanks to its perfect location. Developed by a Hindu prince, it became the crossroads of trade routes connecting the Indian Ocean to the China Sea. It was inhabited, in turn, by Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and English colonists, and converted to Islam and then Christianity. Malacca is a blend of many cultures and has a rich architectural past, which is visible in its picturesque architecture. Today, it is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most popular destinations in Malaysia.

With the Treaty of London in 1824, the Dutch finally ceded Malacca to the British. This treaty officially divided the Malay world into two parts, which would later become Malaysia and Indonesia.

However, the languages remained almost identical.

In 1826, Malacca, Penang and Singapore – under the name of Straits Settlements – were placed under the control of the East India Company, which was based in Calcutta, in British India.

These Straits Settlements allowed the British to control trade in the peninsula for all of the 19th century, while leaving the various Malay sultans with a semblance of political power over their subjects. Furthermore, in addition to maritime trade, the discovery of deposits of tin made the British even more rich.

After signing a treaty with Siam, the Unfederated Malay States in the north fell under the control of the British. In 1919, with the new protectorates and the strait settlements, the British Crown ruled the entire country.

In addition, it benefited from a new asset: latex, made from the Pará rubber tree. These trees were not native to Malaysia, but a few seeds imported from Brazil as an experiment transformed the country. The planters quickly became rich, and this “green gold” planted in the Malay jungle allowed colonial Britain to control the rubber market in the 1930s.

After the Japanese occupation during World War Two (the Japanese occupied Singapore, Borneo and the Malay peninsula), popular support for independence increased and was fuelled by the Communist insurrection.

In 1946, the British – who returned after abandoning the country to the Japanese invaders – were forced, after heavy fighting, to restore a federation that took into account the power of the sultans and to initiate the independence process.

In 1955, the first national elections were held, and in 1957, Malaysia was no longer under British colonial rule. In 1963, the Federation of Malaysia was officially created. Despite Singapore’s exit (it became independent in 1965) and diplomatic issues with neighbouring countries – Indonesia and the Philippines – concerning the territories of Borneo, the new federation took the name of Malaysia.

This dependant, unified Malaysia was finally able to look to the future and launched a new economic policy. Henceforth, the government advocates national unity and promotes the “Malay” nation, which transcends current definitions (Malay, Chinese, Indian and others).

The Geography of Malaysia

The country of Malaysia is located in Southeast Asia. Malaysia is comprised of two distinct regions:

  • West Malaysia, also known as Peninsular Malaysia (south of Thailand and north of Singapore), is divided between its east and west coasts by a long mountain range, the highest point of which is 2,187 metres (7,175 feet) high (Mount Tahan in Taman Negara Park). These mountainous areas are heavily forested.
    The West Coast is flat and marshy; however, the East Coast is comprised of long sandy beaches. The farms and plantations are mainly located along the coastal plains. The north of the country (Perlis and Kedah) is considered to be the country’s rice basket.

  • East Malaysia consists of the states of Sarawak and Sabah and is located north of Indonesia (Borneo).
    It represents 15% of the population for 60% of the land. It is mainly comprised of humid, tropical forests and a mountainous interior. Mount Kinabalu, which peaks at 4,095 metres (13,435 feet) above sea level, is one of the tallest mountains in Southeast Asia.
    It shares a border with the Sultanate of Brunei (381 km or 237 miles) – an enclave on Borneo Island located between the states of Sabah and Sarawak – Indonesia (1,178 km or 732 miles), Thailand (506 km or 314 miles) and Singapore, and has a coastline of 4,675 km (2,905 miles).

The Malaysian Economy

Malaysia is one of the Asian tigers: in the span of 25 years, it went from being a developing country to a developed country.

Malaysia’s development is organised according to five-year development plans. In 2006, the government launched the 9th development plan. The government’s goal for 2020 is for Malaysia to be a self-sufficient industrialised nation. “Vision 2020” is a central theme in Malaysia. Malaysia’s economic boom is focused on modernising transport links (the metro system in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, motorways, bridges and trading ports), communications and the energy infrastructure, as well as developing industrial areas and providing tax incentives to investors in export industries.

The country’s official currency is the Malaysian ringgit (RM). A Euro is worth approximately 4.70 RM. On the 21st of July 2005, Bank Negara, the Malaysian central bank, abandoned the fixed exchange rate (the ringgit was pegged to the US dollar, but now operates in a managed float).

Japan, the US and Singapore are the country’s main economic partners. Malaysia has become one of the leading countries for the production of electric components, especially semiconductors. In addition, it was the first country in Southeast Asia to design and produce a car, Proton, which was exported all around the world. Proton is currently challenged by another Malaysian company: Perodua (Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua Sdn Bhd, which literally translates to “Second Car Company”).

Malaysian Fauna

The forests of Malaysia sustain a rich diversity of wildlife. Peninsular Malaysia is home to tigers, panthers, bears, elephants and rhinoceros.

Malaysia, like all of South Asia, is the prime habitat of langurs.

The trip to Kuala Selangor is a great opportunity to see the silvery lutung. These monkeys used to be the main source of protein of the Orang Asli, who hunted them using blowpipes and poisoned darts.

You will have the opportunity to encounter many different kinds of monkeys during this trip, but the most endearing are the proboscis monkeys and the orangutans.

Borneo is the only place where proboscis monkeys are found. They are characterised by their unusually large noses. These monkeys choose to live by the water in the coastal forests of Sarawak and Sabah and in swamp forests. Proboscis monkeys are very gentle and only eat plants.

Orangutans can also be found in Sabah and Sarawak. This large monkey is probably one of the most intelligent land mammals after man, with the African chimpanzee.

Orangutans are classified as great apes, and have long-arms and reddish, sometimes brown, hair. They are native to Malaysia and Indonesia and spend most of their time in the trees, where they build a new nest every night. Adult males measure approximately 1.4 metres (4’ 7”) and can weigh up to 82 kg (12.9 stones). Their natural range has now been reduced to the tropical rainforest on the islands of Borneo (population of 20,000) and Sumatra (population of 6,000).

The survival of orangutans in their natural habitat is greatly threatened by the growth in human activity, especially deforestation for logging, mining and agriculture (namely for the production of palm oil, which is then refined into biodiesel).

They are also threatened by poaching (supplying the wild meat market and the domestic animal market) and forest fires.

Malaysian Flora

Wild Malaysia is the perfect place for lush vegetation to grow. There are approximately 8,500 different kinds of vascular plants (that is to say plants with flowers, ferns and related species) in Peninsular Malaysia. Borneo is said to contain 11,000 of them.

The world’s fastest-growing tree was recorded in Sabah: the Albizia falcataria plant reached a height of 10.74 metres (35.24 feet) in only thirteen months. The largest leaf on record was from an Araceae, Alocasia macrorrhizos, which was discovered near Tawau in Sabah. This leaf was 3 metres (9.8 feet) long and 1.9 metres (6.2 feet) wide. The Malay tropical rainforest is one of the oldest forests in the world: the forest’s ecosystem and its many species have evolved over tens of millions of years.

Malaysia is home to different types of forests: mangrove forests are found in tidal areas between fresh water and the sea. The roots of the mangrove trees can withstand the salinity and the low oxygen levels caused by their permanent immersion in salt water. However, their roots prop themselves above the water and mud level so they can have access to enough oxygen.

The swamp forests grow far from the sea, in areas that are frequently flooded. These forests produce a cornucopia of leaves and fruit. They are inhabited by an abundance of fauna, including proboscis monkeys, orangutans, macaques, elephants, banteng and aquatic birds.

In the less humid lands that lie throughout Malaysia from an altitude close to sea level to approximately 900 metres (2,953 feet), the natural vegetation consists of dipterocarp forests. This type of tropical rainforest, which used to cover most of Malaysia, still prevails in the ranges of hills that have not yet been given over to plantations and agriculture.

As the land rises in the dipterocarp forests, the structure and composition of the forest changes. The dominant species of mountain forest start to appear: trees belonging to the same family as oaks, myrtle and bay laurel, as well as magnolias, rhododendrons, raspberry bushes, orchids and carnivorous plants.