By Ooi Keat Gin
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Additional resources for Malaysia: Revised Edition
Harmonious co-existence is one of the nation's principal characteristics and the hallmark of strength that has underlain the country's stability since its Page xx birth as a national entity in the post-war period. Malaysia's multiethnicity, multiculturalism and tolerance of a wide diversity of religious practices and creeds derive from the country's historical development. Archaeological finds at Niah in Sarawak showed samples of prehistoric cultures. Excavations at the West mouth of the Great Cave revealed the earliest evidence of human settlement with a skull whose dating to about 38,000 BC made it the oldest relic of homo sapiens in South-East Asia.
However, the advent of the Spaniards in the Philippines, and later the rise of Dutch hegemony in Java, weakened Brunei's commercial and political power, which waned from the 17th century. The fall of Melaka saw the flight of the Malay court to the southern part of the Malay Peninsula; the dispossessed Malays attempted in vain to recapture Melaka from a base in Johor. Johor's ambition to emulate Melaka's heyday was frustrated by increasing European intrusion in the region, initially by the Portuguese at Melaka and later by the Dutch in particular, but also by rivalry from the Achenese, Minangkabaus and Bugis.
Malaysia's population is a highly variegated ethnic mix, making it one of the classic cases of a multiracial society. Generally the various ethnic communities can be categorized into two large groups: the bumiputerathat is, those communities with cultural affinities indigenous to the region and to one another; and the non-bumiputera, whose cultural affinities lie beyond the region. Within the bumiputera group, there are three categories: Orang Asli or aborigines; Malay and Malay-related; and non-Malay.