Malay Frieze on the National Museum, Kuala Lumpur History

Kuala Lumpur History told in a mural on the National Museum

Kuala Lumpur History

Kuala Lumpur History took a disorderly path to become the capital of Malaysia and widely recognized global city in Southeast Asia. British colonization and Japanese Occupancy played large roles is in development, efforts to promote equal rights and languages commonly spoken in Malaysia.

In the 19th century, the area where KL now lies was an important settlement for the tin-industry. The end of the 19th century was harsh on Kuala Lumpur in terms of disasters and adversity. Diseases, epidemics, fires and floods were at the order of the day. To be specific, a cholera outbreak happened in late 1870s that caused many to flee the town. On 4 January 1881, the town was burnt down, and later that year, severely flooded. During this period people started to build stone houses instead of wooden. This was also the period in which the first railroad was constructed.

Some people believe that not Yap Ah Loy, but Raja Abdullah was founder of Kuala Lumpur, since Raja Abdullah had already sent tin miners to look for tin years before Yap Ah Loy arrived in the area now called KL.

In 1887, Kuala Lumpur became the capital of Selangor province. Kuala Lumpur, which means “Muddy Confluence”, comes from the intersection of the two rivers, Gombak and Klang. These rivers were the historical gateways to the city. By 1896, Kuala Lumpur was named capital of the newly formed Federated Malay States. From that moment on, the city expanded from mostly jungle-filled area to urbanized. KL soon became a melting pot of Asian cultures. Special areas were erected in the city, and in every area a different culture group lived. For instance, even in that time, you had a Chinese district, and Indian district, a European district and a district for the local Malay people.

From 1913 to January 1942, the British controlled Malaysia. Japanese occupation during World War II from January 1942 to August 1945 eliminated most human rights and crippled the economy. When the war ended and Japanese forces left in September 1945, the British resumed control as colonizers who wanted KL to develop rapidly. So they oversaw construction of transportation infrastructure. Colonial buildings were erected everywhere in the city.

Monument to independence from the Japanese Occupation, Kuala Lumpur

Monument to independence from the Japanese Occupation, Kuala Lumpur

All was not well. Even under the British, KL residents were fed up with oppression and second-class citizenship in their own country. Gradually over the next 12 years, the British lost their control and influence in Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur remained the capital of the country, even though the city did not have its own administration and right. KL’s first municipal election was held on 16 February 1952. In 1957, Malays demanded independence from Great Britain and got it when the British left the country. The city did not complete its constitution until 1972, when it became an independent government. Along with many great infrastructure buildings, the British legacy is that many Malayans are fluent in English and they learned how to manage a growing economy with low crime rate.

From 1981 onwards, the city developed at an even faster rate than before, this was partly due to the work of the Prime Minister at that time, Dr. Mahathir. With his ‘Vision 2020’ he transformed Malaysia into a modern country, and the capital KL became the resemblance of that.

Petronas Towers has became the symbol of the city. Its modern yet, traditional design symbolizes that an Islamic country partakes in modern development. KL has also built an extensive network of highways, railroads and rapid transit in one the Top 10 Metro Areas of Asia.


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