Archeologists have found evidence that humans lived on Borneo as early as 40,000 years ago. About 2000 B.C., ancestors of the Malaysians migrated from the north to the Malay Peninsula. Chinese and Indian influences date from around the first century A.D.

Sri Vijaya, a powerful Sumatran empire, dominated the peninsula from the 7th to the 13th century, when the Majapahit Empire of Java gained control of the south and Siam invaded the north. About 1400 a Majapahit prince established a powerful sultanate at Malacca. From there, Islam spread over the peninsula and surrounding islands. The Portuguese captured Malacca in 1511. In 1641 it fell to the Dutch.

Important dates in Malaysia
c. 40,000 B.C. Earliest known inhabitants of what is now Malaysia lived in the Niah Caves in Sarawak.
A.D. 1400's A powerful Muslim trading kingdom called Melaka developed on the Malay Peninsula.
1511 The Portuguese took control of Melaka.
1641 The Dutch seized Melaka from the Portuguese.
1786 The British acquired Penang Island.
1824 The Dutch surrendered their possessions on the Malay Peninsula to the British.
1826 The British formed a colony called the Straits Settlements, which included Melaka and the islands of Penang and Singapore.
1846 The sultan of Brunei gave the English adventurer James Brooke the right to rule Sarawak and the title rajah.
1881-1941 The British North Borneo Company controlled Sabah.
1888 North Borneo and Sarawak became British protectorates.
1948 The Malayan Communist Party began a guerrilla uprising called the Emergency that did not end until 1960.
1957 The Federation of Malaya became an independent nation.
1963 Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak joined Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia, but Singapore withdrew in 1965.
1993-1998 Petronas Towers, among the world's tallest buildings, were erected in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
1998 Kuala Lumpur International Airport opened in Sepang, Malaysia.
British Rule

The British set up trading centers on the islands of Penang (1736) and Singapore (1819). In 1824 the Dutch ceded their Malay possessions to the British. Penang, Singapore, and Malacca were combined to form the Straits Settlements. In 1867 they became a crown colony. Great Britain extended its control over the peninsula. Between 1874 and 1895, four native states were brought under British protection. They became the Federated Malay States. Treaties in 1909 and 1914 added five other states, but they remained outside the federation. Expanded rubber and tin production attracted many Chinese and Indians to Malaya. By 1939 they outnumbered the Malays.

Japan held Malaya from 1942 until the end of World War II, when the British returned. In 1946 Singapore, Sarawak, and North Borneo became crown colonies. The Straits Settlements (except Singapore) and the other British Malay states formed the Malayan Union (later called the Federation of Malaya). Malayan Communists who launched a guerrilla war that year were not subdued until 1960.

Independence

Malaya received independence in 1957. In 1963 the Federation of Malaysia was formed, uniting Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, and North Borneo (now Sabah). From 1963 to 1966, Malaysia had to contend with a guerrilla war waged by Indonesia, which opposed the inclusion of Sabah and Sarawak in the federation.

The unity of the federation was continually threatened by conflict between the Malays, who had political control, and the Chinese, who held economic power. Such dissension caused Singapore, which was largely inhabited and controlled by Chinese, to secede from the federation in 1965. In 1969, violent clashes between Malays and indigenous Chinese severely disrupted the nation. By the mid-1970's peace had been restored, and nation subsequently experienced economic prosperity through the 1980's. A regional financial crisis that began in 1997 temporarily threatened the Malaysian economy. Meanwhile, a power struggle developed between Prime Minister Mahatir and Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. In 1999 Anwar was arrested and convicted on charges of corruption. After he was sentenced to a six-year prison term, his wife formed an opposition political party.

Starting in 1999, some government offices moved to a new administrative capital named Putrajaya, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Kuala Lumpur. Parliament remains in Kuala Lumpur. In 2003, Mahatir stepped down as prime minister. His deputy prime minister, Abdullah bin Ahmad Badawi, succeeded him.