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Prehistory

Malaysia lies in an area which has yielded some of the earliest pre-human and human fossils known to man. Evidence of the presence of man goes back as far as 40,000 to 50,000 years. Excavations in the Niah Caves in Sarawak suggest the existence of highly active Stone Age peoples. The Malay Peninsula formed one of the routes south traveled by the prehistoric peoples who settled in Indonesia, Melanesia and Australia. Although Borneo was situated off tbe main path of human migration, it experienced about the same waves of migrants as the mainland, but perhaps at a lesser intensity.

In both Malaya and Borneo, short, dark-skinned, frizzy-haired Negritos were followed by Ainoids, so called because of their likeness to tbe Ainu, the non-Japanese aborigines of Hokkaido. The third hunting-gathering people to come were the Veddoids, then- physical appearance resembling the aboriginal Vedda of southern India. All three of these Stone Age peoples intermixed, but the Negroid element remained dominant.

Later, perhaps little before 2,000 BC, new peoples of possible Caucasoid stock migrated from the north and intermingled with Mongoloids resembling the present southern Chinese. The resulting mixture produced the type known as proto-Malay. The proto- Malay were farmers and had domesticated animals. They brought with them a technology of bamboo and stone implements. Primitive rice farmers, employing stone tools and the dibble, cleared the land for cultivation by burning and moved onto new sites when the soil lost its fertility. These same methods of shifting agriculture, only slightly modernized, continue in use in remote spots on the Peninsula and in parts of Borneo.

This civilization on the Peninsula, which produced fashionable ornaments and decorative pottery and which had some knowledge of ocean navigation, came in contact with Indian and Chinese traders 2 or 3 centuries before the beginning of the Christian era. On Borneo, Malays proper, more Mongoloid in appearance than the proto-Malay, were among the contemporary migrants representing initially the Indonesian Hindu and Buddhist empires. The Chinese began trade with Sarawak and Sabah around the sixth or seventh centuries AD, followed by Arab and Moslem Malays who brought Islam in about the fourteenth century AD. Of these latter entrants the Malays are distinguished as a group from other indigenous peoples mainly on the basis of religion and cultural pattern; thus, the present-day Malay proper in Borneo are descended from immigrants from Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, Arabs and the indigenous peoples who accepted Islam and intermarried with the Malay immigrants. Stone implements and early iron tools from prehistoric times sometimes appear on the banks of Malay's rivers after floods. The villagers believe that these have magic properties, and in earlier times a Malay ruler's kris (dagger) was considered exceptionally strong if its blade included some iron from an ancient tool.



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