The story of the Malays.
When the British colonized Malaya, the demography of the Malay Peninsula change rapidly. In the straits Settlement, the Chinese community dominated and, by the first quarter of the twentieth century, Singapore had become a de facto Chinese state. Only 15 per cent of the population was Malay. Had the Malays been in the majority, Singapore would have been included as a part of Malaya and Malaysia.
Before the Chinese came it was the Malays who had been the region’s traders. The peoples of Southeast Asia, including Malays, had formerly collected spices and forest products for shipment to the entrepot port of Sri Vijaya, where they were exchanged with product from China, India, Arabia and Europe. But eventually all this business also came under the total control of the Chinese traders, who in time started their own spice gardens which displaced the Malay farmers. When the European came, therefore, the Chinese were well positioned to act as a middleman. Over time, more Chinese immigrants came to Southeast Asia to provide all the services that the European traders and colonialist needed, and in the end, even the Malays began to depends on the Chinese for their supplies and services.
That was the status quo ante upon the arrival of the European powers. The Malays were not just the indigenous people of the region but also the demographically preponderant part of the population. They still set the shape and form of the social and political order in which trading activities were carried out. But all that was to change. Under European domination of the region, the Malays lost their central position within the new framework of sociopolitical and commercial life.
The Malays might have prevented their land from being inundated by foreigners had they shown some inclination to take up the new jobs required to service the rubber and tin Industries established by colonialist. But, now concentrated in the countryside and not the port cities or commercial and administrative centers, they preferred to remain padi planters and fishermen. As a result, the British brought in Indians and encouraged the Chinese to seize the many opportunities created by the new industries. In response, the Malays retreated further and further from all the urban activities in which they had once been involved. As the indigenous people became ever less involved in business, the commercial skills that they possessed deteriorated. Had they persisted, they would not have been as marginalized as they were after the European gained total control over their land.
By the time the Pacific War began, the various Southeast Asia natives (or ethnic Malays) had been sidelined and had become the poorest people in their own countries. In most parts of Southeast Asia that had been colonized by the Europeans, the social and economic order was roughly the same; the European were at top, followed by the Eurasians, the Chinese, and other, with the indigenous people trailing at the bottom. In the Malay Peninsula, the most extreme examples of economic and social stratification were found in the British colonies of Singapore, Penang and Malacca. The Malays did not relish the prospect of becoming a poverty stricken minority in the Peninsula as they had become in Singapore.