The Federation of Malaya (Persekutuan Tanah Melayu in Malay and ڤرسكوتوان تانه ملايو in Jawi) was a federation of 11 states (nine Malay states and two of the British Straits Settlements, Penang and Malacca) that existed from February 1, 1948, until September 16, 1963. The Federation became independent on August 31, 1957, and in 1963 Malaysia was formed with the Singapore, North Borneo, and Sarawak Crown Colonies. The combination of states that formerly made up the Federation of Malaya is currently known as Peninsular Malaysia. It had an area of 50,700 square miles (131,312 square kilometers) and shared a land border with Thailand in the north. The island of Singapore is to the south while across the Strait of Malacca to the west lies the island of Sumatra (Indonesia). East Malaysia (on the island of Borneo) is to the east across the South China Sea. The estimated population in 1961 was 7,139,000 with the capital at Kuala Lumpur.
The word “melayu” in Malay may derive from the Tamil words “malai” and “ur” meaning “mountain” and “city, land”, respectively. “Malayadvipa” was the word used by ancient Indian traders when referring to the Malay Peninsula. Whether or not it originated from these roots, the word “melayu” or “mlayu” may have been used in early Malay/Javanese to mean to steadily accelerate or run. This term was applied to describe the strong current of the river Melayu in Sumatra. The name was later adopted by the Melayu Kingdom that existed in the seventh century on Sumatra.
Before the onset of European colonization, the Malay Peninsula was known natively as “Tanah Melayu” (“Malay Land”). Under a racial classification created by a German scholar Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, the natives of maritime Southeast Asia were grouped into a single category, the Malay race. Following the expedition of French navigator Jules Dumont d’Urville to Oceania in 1826, he later proposed the terms of “Malaysia”, “Micronesia” and “Melanesia” to the Société de Géographie in 1831, distinguishing these Pacific cultures and island groups from the existing term “Polynesia”. Dumont d’Urville described Malaysia as “an area commonly known as the East Indies”. In 1850, the English ethnologist George Samuel Windsor Earl, writing in the Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, proposed naming the islands of Southeast Asia as “Melayunesia” or “Indunesia”, favoring the former.
In modern terminology, “Malay” remains the name of an ethnoreligious group of Austronesian people predominantly inhabiting the Malay Peninsula and portions of the adjacent islands of Southeast Asia, including the east coast of Sumatra, the coast of Borneo, and smaller islands that lie between these areas.
The state that gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1957 took the name the “Federation of Malaya”, chosen in preference to other potential names such as “Langkasuka“, after the historic kingdom located at the upper section of the Malay Peninsula in the first millennium CE. The name “Malaysia” was adopted in 1963 when the existing states of the Federation of Malaya, plus Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak formed a new federation. One theory posits the name was chosen so that “si” represented the inclusion of Singapore, North Borneo, and Sarawak to Malaya in 1963. Politicians in the Philippines contemplated renaming their state “Malaysia” before the modern country took the name.
The older term “Malaya” can still be found in many institutional titles, e.g. the High Court of Malaya, the University of Malaya, Malayan Railway, etc., as well as in legal contexts in the phrase the “States of Malaya” (Negeri-negeri Tanah Melayu), which should not be confused with the Malay states. In current everyday usage the word Malaya is almost always used jocularly, e.g. “Gempar satu Malaya!” which roughly means “(This news) shakes the whole of Malaya!”
In 1946, the British colony of the Straits Settlements was dissolved. Penang and Malacca which had formed a part of the Straits Settlements were then grouped with the Federated Malay States — a federation of four protected states in the Malay Peninsula (Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang) which had been established by the British government in 1895 — and the Unfederated Malay States — Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis, and Terengganuand — to form the Malayan Union.
On April 1, 1946, the Malayan Union officially came into existence with Sir Edward Gent as its governor and the capital at Kuala Lumpur. The former Strait Settlement of Singapore was administered as a separate crown colony.
The Malays generally opposed the creation of the Union. The opposition was due to the methods Sir Harold MacMichael used to acquire the Sultans’ approval, the reduction of the Sultans’ powers, and easy granting of citizenship to immigrants. The United Malays National Organisation or UMNO, a Malay political association formed by Dato’ Onn bin Ja’afar on March 1, 1946, led the opposition against the Malayan Union. Malays also wore white bands around their heads, signifying their mourning for the loss of the Sultans’ political rights.
Some ex-Malayan government officials, including Sir Frank Swettenham, criticized the way these constitutional reforms were brought about in Malaya, even saying that it went against the principles of the Atlantic Charter. They also encouraged Malay opposition to the Malayan Union.
After the inauguration of the Malayan Union, the Malays, under UMNO continued opposing the Malayan Union. They utilized civil disobedience as a means of protest by refusing to attend the installation ceremonies of the British governors. They had also refused to participate in the meetings of the Advisory Councils, hence Malay participation in the government bureaucracy and the political process had totally stopped. The British had recognized this problem and took measures to consider the opinions of the major races in Malaya before making amendments to the constitution.
The Malayan Union was dissolved and replaced by the Federation of Malaya on February 1, 1948. Nine of the states of the new Federation of Malaya continued as British Protected States, while two of them, Penang and Malacca remained as British colonies. Like the Malayan Union before it, the Federation did not include Singapore, despite its traditional connections with Malaya.
Chinese rebels under the leadership of the Malayan Communist Party began launching guerrilla operations designed to force the British out of Malaya. The withdrawal of Japan at the end of World War II left the British Malayan economy disrupted. Problems included unemployment, low wages, and high levels of food inflation, well above the healthy rate of 2–3%. The Malayan Communist Party began to use the failing economy as a tool of propaganda against the British. The British had not addressed the underlying economic problems that were now worse within Malaya than they had ever been. There was considerable labor unrest and a large number of strikes occurred between 1946 and 1948. One example of this was a 24-hour general strike organised by the MCP on January 29, 1946. During this time, the British administration was attempting to organize Malaya’s economy, as revenue from Malaya’s tin and rubber industries was important to Britain’s own post-war recovery. Protesters were dealt with harshly, by measures including arrests and deportations. In turn, protesters became increasingly militant. In 1947, alone, the communists in Malaya organised a further 300 strikes.
The Malayan Emergency lasted from 1948 to 1960, and involved a long anti-insurgency campaign by Commonwealth troops in Malaya. The first overt act of the war took place on June 16, 1948, when three European plantation managers were killed at Sungai Siput in Perak. The British brought emergency measures into law, first in Perak in response to the Sungai Siput incident and then, in July, country-wide. Under the measures, the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and other leftist parties were outlawed and the police were given the power to detain communists and those suspected of assisting them. The MCP, led by Chin Peng, retreated to rural areas and formed the MNLA, also known as the Malayan Races Liberation Army (MRLA) or the Malayan People’s Liberation Army (MPLA). The MNLA began a guerrilla campaign, targeting mainly the colonial resource extraction industries, which in Malaya were the tin mines and rubber plantations.
The MNLA was partly a re-formation of the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), the MCP-led guerrilla force which had been the principal resistance in Malaya against the Japanese occupation. The British had secretly trained and armed the MPAJA during the later stages of World War II. Disbanded in December 1945, the MPAJA officially turned all of its weapons in to the British Military Administration. Members who agreed to disband were offered economic incentives; however, around 4,000 members rejected these incentives and went underground.
The MNLA commonly employed guerrilla tactics, sabotaging installations, attacking rubber plantations and destroying transportation and infrastructure. Support for the MNLA was mainly based on around 500,000 of the 3.12 million ethnic Chinese then living in Malaya. These 500,000 have been referred to as ‘squatters’ and the majority of them were farmers living on the edge of the jungles where the MNLA were based. This allowed the MNLA to supply themselves with food, in particular, as well as providing a source of new recruits. The ethnic Malay population supported them in smaller numbers. The MNLA gained the support of the Chinese because they were denied the equal right to vote in elections, had no land rights to speak of, and were usually very poor. The MNLA’s supply organisation was called “Min Yuen”. It had a network of contacts within the general population. Besides supplying material, especially food, it was also important to the MNLA as a source of intelligence.
The MNLA’s camps and hideouts were in the rather inaccessible tropical jungle with limited infrastructure. Most MNLA guerrillas were ethnic Chinese, though there were some Malays, Indonesians and Indians among its members. The MNLA was organised into regiments, although these had no fixed establishments and each encompassed all forces operating in a particular region. The regiments had political sections, commissars, instructors and secret service. In the camps, the soldiers attended lectures on Marxism–Leninism, and produced political newsletters to be distributed to civilians. The MNLA also stipulated that their soldiers needed official permission for any romantic involvement with civilian women.
In the early stages of the conflict, the guerrillas envisaged establishing control in “liberated areas” from which the government forces had been driven, but did not succeed in this.
The initial government strategy was primarily to guard important economic targets, such as mines and plantation estates. Later, General Sir Harold Briggs, the British Army’s Director of Operations in Malaya, developed an overall strategy known as Briggs’ Plan. Its central tenet was that the best way to defeat an insurgency, such as the government was facing, was to cut the insurgents off from their supporters amongst the population. The Briggs plan also recognized the inhospitable nature of the Malayan jungle. A major part of the strategy involved targeting the MNLA food supply, which Briggs recognized came from three main sources: camps within the Malayan jungle where land was cleared to provide food, aboriginal jungle dwellers who could supply the MNLA with food gathered within the jungle, and the MNLA supporters within the ‘squatter’ communities which lived on the edge of the jungle.
The Briggs Plan was multifaceted, with one aspect which has become particularly well known: the forced relocation of some 500,000 rural Malayans, including 400,000 Chinese, from squatter communities on the fringes of the forests into guarded camps called New Villages. These villages were newly constructed in most cases, and were surrounded by barbed wire, police posts and floodlit areas, meant to keep the inhabitants in and the guerrillas out. At the start of the Emergency, the British had 13 infantry battalions in Malaya, including seven partly formed Gurkha battalions, three British battalions, two battalions of the Royal Malay Regiment and a British Royal Artillery Regiment being used as infantry. This force was too small to fight the insurgents effectively, and more infantry battalions were needed in Malaya. The British brought in soldiers from units such as the Royal Marines and King’s African Rifles. Another effort was a re-formation of the Special Air Service in 1950 as a specialized reconnaissance, raiding and counter-insurgency unit.
The Permanent Secretary of Defence for Malaya, Sir Robert Grainger Ker Thompson, had served in the Chindits in Burma during World War II. His vast experience in jungle warfare proved valuable during this period as he was able to build effective civil-military relations and was one of the chief architects of the counter-insurgency plan in Malaya.
Sir Gerald Templer became the commander of the British forces in 1952. He is widely credited with turning the situation in favor of the British forces. During his two-year command ‘two-thirds of the guerrillas were wiped out, the incident rate fell from 500 to less than 100 per month and the civilian and security force casualties from 200 to less than 40.’ Orthodox historiography suggests that Templer changed the situation in the Emergency and his actions and policies were a major part of British success under his command. Revisionist historians have challenged this view and frequently support the ideas of Victor Purcell, a Chinese scholar who as early as 1954 claimed that Templer merely continued policies begun by his predecessors.
In 1951, some British army units began a “hearts and minds campaign” by giving medical and food aid to Malays and indigenous tribes. At the same time, they put pressure on the MNLA by patrolling the jungle. The MNLA guerrillas were driven deeper into the jungle and denied resources. The MRLA extorted food from the Sakai and thereby earned their enmity. Many of the captured guerrillas changed sides. In comparison, the MRLA never released any Britons alive.
On October 6, 1951, the MNLA ambushed and killed the British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Gurney. The killing has been described as a major factor in causing the Malayan population to roundly reject the MNLA campaign, and also as leading to widespread fear due to the perception that “if even the High Commissioner was no longer safe, there was little hope of protection and safety for the man-in-the-street in Malaya.” More recently, MNLA leader Chin Peng stated that the killing had little effect, and that the communists anyway radically altered their strategy that month in their “October Resolutions”. The October Resolutions, a response to the Briggs Plan, involved a change of tactics by reducing attacks on economic targets and civilians, increasing efforts to go into political organisation and subversion, and bolstering the supply network from the Min Yuen as well as jungle farming.
Gurney’s successor, Lieutenant General Gerald Templer, was instructed by the British government to push for immediate measures to give Chinese ethnic residents the right to vote. He also pursued the Briggs Plan, and sped up the formation of a Malayan army. At the same time he made it clear that the Emergency itself was the main impediment to accelerating decolonization. He also increased financial rewards for detecting guerrillas by any civilians and expanded the intelligence network (Special Branch).
On September 8, 1955, the Government of the Federation of Malaya issued a declaration of amnesty to the communists. The Government of Singapore issued an identical offer at the same time. Tunku Abdul Rahman, as Chief Minister, made good the offer of an amnesty but promised there would be no negotiations with the MNLA.
Following the declaration, an intensive publicity campaign on an unprecedented scale was launched by the government. Alliance Ministers in the Federal Government traveled extensively up and down the country exhorting the people to call upon the communists to lay down their arms and take advantage of the amnesty. Public demonstrations and processions in support of the amnesty were held in towns and villages.
Despite the campaign, few Communists surrendered to the authorities. It was evident that the communists, having had ample warning of its declaration, conducted intensive anti-amnesty propaganda in their ranks and among the mass organisations, tightened discipline and warned that defection would be severely punished. Some critics in the political circles commented that the amnesty was too restrictive and little more than a restatement of the surrender terms which had been in force for a long period. The critics advocated a more realistic and liberal approach of direct negotiations with the MCP to work out a settlement of the issue. Leading officials of the Labour Party had, as part of the settlement, not excluded the possibility of recognition of the MCP as a political organisation. Within the Alliance itself, influential elements in both the MCA and UMNO were endeavouring to persuade the Chief Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, to hold negotiations with the MCP.
On August 31, 1957, Malaya became an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations. After this a plan was put in place to federate Malaya with the crown colonies of North Borneo (which joined as Sabah), Sarawak, and Singapore. The date of federation was planned to be August 31, 1963, so as to coincide with the anniversary of Malayan independence; however, federation was delayed until September 16, 1963, in order for a United Nations survey of support for federation in Sabah and Sarawak, called for by parties opposed to federation including Indonesia’s Sukarno and the Sarawak United Peoples’ Party, to be completed. Singapore separated from Malaysia to become an independent republic on August 9, 1965.
The Federation of Malaya didn’t issue its first postage stamps until May 5, 1957, a set of four definitives (Malaya Scott #80-83). The final stamps of the Federation prior to the formation of Malaysia were released on June 26, 1963, commemorating the opening of the Cameron Heights hydroelectric plant (Scott #114-115). Only 37 postage stamps were issued by the Federation of Malaya. However, each of the individual states also issued their own stamps which had the additional inscription of Malaya.
Scott #101 was released on October 30, 1961, the high value in a set of three marking the 13th meeting of the Consultative Committee for Technological Cooperation in South and South East Asia. This was held at Kuala Lumpur from October 30 until November 18, 1961. The 30 sen bright blue and black stamp portrays the emblem of the Colombo Plan and was printed by the photogravure process on unwatermarked paper, perforated 13½. The Colombo Plan is a regional organization that embodies the concept of collective intergovernmental effort to strengthen economic and social development of member countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The primary focus of all Colombo Plan activities is on human resources development. The Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic and Social Development in Asia and the Pacific was conceived at the Commonwealth Conference on Foreign Affairs held in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in January 1950 and was launched on July 1, 1951. It has grown from a group of seven Commonwealth nations — Australia, Britain, Canada, Ceylon, India, New Zealand and Pakistan — into an international organization of 26, including non-Commonwealth countries.