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British Intervention

In the mid-19th century, social disorder was created by the succession wars among the Malay chiefs of Perak and the rival Chinese secret society factions. It led to a political opportunity for the British.

It was Raja Abdullah who agreed to a British Resident. He signed a treaty called Pangkor Engagement in January 1874 to accept British administration and was installed as Sultan of Perak.

According to the agreement, the Resident’s advice “must be asked and acted upon on all questions other than those touching Malay religion and custom.” It was recorded that the Christians missionaries to evangelise among the Malays carried out such non-interference policy on religion and custom to the extent of opposing any attempts.

The treaty set the first Residential System and effectively gave the British a foothold for political dominion in the Peninsula.

Before the end of 1874 Residents had also been appointed in Selangor and Sungai Ujong (which united with nearby small kingdoms to form Negeri Sembilan). The British “advice” was later extended to the rest of Negeri Sembilan and Pahang in 1887. The four Protected States with full Residents were grouped into Federation on 1896, with the capital in Kuala Lumpur.

Johor accepted a treaty of protection in 1885 and eventually gave in under pressure to accept a British Advisor in 1904.

Under 1909 Bangkok Treaty, Siam (now Thailand) transferred power over the northern Malay states (Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis) to the British. Similar treaties were imposed on them and they became the Unfederated Malay States, each with a British Advisor as chief officer of the colonial administration.

All treaties between British and Peninsular states were largely similar, i.e. to accept British protection and diplomatic role as well as the appointment of British Resident / Advisor. Protection against foreign invasion was guaranteed.

The Residential System continued until the arrival of Japanese in 1941. After the Japanese occupation, the British tried to maintain their position by introducing a new administration system that was the Malayan Union in 1946.

The people, however, rejected the new the new system. In a combined effort, they rebelled against the British administration. Finally, in 1957, the British granted Malaya independence.

The Federation of Malaysia was formed in 1963 incorporating Singapore, North Borbeo (now Sabah) and Sawarak. Singapore withdrew in September 1965.

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