Friday, January 22, 2010


Who is a Malay?

What constitutes the Malays race?

Here is an excerpt of the reference to the Malays on Wikipedia:

The term "Malay" can refer to the ethnic group who live in the Malay peninsula (which include the southernmost part of Thailand called Patani and Satun) and East Sumatra as well as the cultural sphere that encompass a large part of the archipelago.

The Malay ethnic group is the majority in Malaysia and Brunei and a sizable minority in Singapore and Indonesia, and they form the majority in the five southernmost provinces of Thailand that historically made up the old Malay kingdom of Patani. These people speak various dialects of Malay language.

The peninsular dialect as spoken in the Malaysian states of Pahang, Selangor and Johor is the standard speech among Malays in Malaysia and Singapore. In the Malay peninsula, the Kelantanese dialect in its purest form is the most difficult to understand. Other peninsula dialects include the Kedah-Perlis dialect, the Melakan dialect, the Minangkabau dialect of Negri Sembilan, the Perak dialect and the Terengganu dialect. In Thailand, Malays of Satun speak the Kedah-Perlis dialect while those in the Patani provinces speak the Kelantanese lingo.

Meanwhile, the Riau dialect of eastern Sumatra has been adopted as a national tongue, Indonesian, for the whole Indonesian population. The ethnic Malays have had a Muslim culture since the 15th century.

In Malaysia, the majority of the population is made up of ethnic Malays while the minorities consist of southern Chinese (e.g. Hokkien and Cantonese), southern Indians (mainly Tamils), non-ethnic Malay indigenous peoples (e.g. Iban and Kadazan), as well as Eurasians.

Malay cultural influences filtered out throughout the archipelago, such as the monarchical state, religion (Hinduism/Buddhism in the first millennium AD, Islam in the second millennium), and the Malay language. The influential Srivijaya kingdom had unified the various ethnic groups in Southeast Asia into a convergent cultural sphere for almost a millennium. It was during that time that vast borrowing of Sanskrit words and concepts facilitated the advanced linguistic development of Malay as a language. Malay was the regional lingua franca, and Malay-based Creole languages existed in most trading ports in Indonesia.

The above definition, I believe, is more of an anthropological one.

For a slightly, more political definition of the Malay (in Malaysia), we need to refer to our own national constitution:

Artikel 160 Perlembagaan Malaysia mentakrifkan pelbagai istilah yang digunakan dalam Perlembagaan Malaysia. Menurut Perkara 160 (2) Perlembagaan Malaysia, orang Melayu itu mestilah beragama Islam, mengamalkan adat budaya Melayu, bertutur menggunakan bahasa Melayu dan lahir sebelum hari merdeka sama ada di Tanah Melayu atau Singapura, atau pada hari merdeka telah bermastautin di Tanah Melayu atau Singapura.

Since Merdeka, I am sure thousands of learned persons – Malay and non-Malays alike – have debated on this definition.

However, it is a very sensitive issue I might add.

So, let me once again clarify my intention. I am not going to question or even discuss the ‘special rights’ of the Malays as enshrined in the constitution. I am not even trying to prove that Malays are special. Hardly.
These next few postings that I will do is that I am just trying to figure out, where my race, the Malays, are in preserving itself as a race, as a culture and a tradition. So basically I am trying to analyse my own race.

If we were to refer to our constitution, it is quite definite. A Malay has to be a Muslim. Have to ‘amal’ or practice/adher to the Malay culture, speak using the Malay language and is born before Merdeka in the Malay Peninsula or in Singapore.

If anyone of these ‘clauses’ does not fit your profile, you are not Malay, or rather Malaysian Malay.

Let’s break it down.

You can be a Malay born in Southern Thailand, speak Malay (albeit with a Pattani or Kelantanese accent), practice the budaya Melayu (albeit the culture of the Melayu Pattani) a Muslim but unfortunately not born in Malaysia, you are NOT a Malay.

You can be a Baba or born in a Peranakan family, and most of us know the Babas actually practice Malay culture, speaks Malay (and spouts the pantun and sings the dondang sayang), born in Malaysia before Merdeka, but is not Muslim, and therefore not Malay.

You can be a Muslim, born from Indian non-Muslim parents, speaks Malay (but speaks Tamil at times), live like a Malay, born in Malaysia before Merdeka, hmmmm would you be a Malay?

You are a Javanese, not a Muslim, born in pre Merdeka Malaysia, speak Malay, live like a Malay – culture and all – and you are NOT a Malay?

You are the child of two Chinese Muslim couples, who speak Malay and nothing else, you also practice budaya Melayu because since young you lived amongst kampung Malays, and you were born before Merdeka in Malaysia – are you a Malay?

The combinations are numerous – but sometimes, it still doesn’t make you a Malay.

Now, the strange thing is that, I know of many rich or rather well-to-do Malays, who claim to be Muslims, who speak English daily, and live like Westerners (hardly wear kain sarong, eat with fork and spoon, have bangers and mash for breakfast) and were born in Malaysia before Merdeka, and yet they are Malays. Hell yes, they are Malays!

In fact, what peevs me is that Malays are slowly losing their Malay-ness – and worse still, they are either comfortable with that or oblivious to it. The Malays in the towns and cities are becoming more Westernised whilst those in the rural areas, who are very religious, are turning into pseudo Arabs.

The latter accepts all that is Arabic as things they need to practice and follow, and they are more than willing to expound that all other Malays should follow suit. They confuse tamaddun Islam with tamaddun Arab.

The former pulak, feels that being a Malay prevents them from embracing modernity and therefore they need to be Americans or Britons, like those successful Pakistanis and Indians in the US of A and London. These Malays, think, speak and behave like Westerners. They don’t care about adat and budaya Melayu. The only thing Melayu that they may still find acceptable in their lifestyle is Malay cuisine.

All you have to do is check out the Malay city weddings in recent years. They are now basically the parents’ ego trip trying to outdo their peers by spending hundreds of thousands of Ringgit in five star hotels. Most if not all these functions usually have extravagant AV shows of how the bride and bridegroom met. There will be also a combo playing pop music and rarely a ghazal or asli group.

The couples’ love theme played during their entrance is usually from some soppy American movie like Titanic. They walk to the dais in their Gucci suits and Jimmy Choos, a flowing white gown straight out from an upmarket SS2 Bridal Agency, and have little kids in matching tuxedos and dresses. You’d be surprised to see a real bunga manggar procession, a traditional mak andam moment, a silat performance and classic berpantun session.

Luckily, the menu is still Malay (most of the time).

What happened to the kompangs? What happened to the berzanji and bergendang.

What happened to the gotong royong? Is the term ‘kerja kahwin’ only meant for people living in the rural areas? Aren’t Malay brides now not interested in berinai but look forward to western styled bridal showers?

That’s just the modern Malay wedding.

There’s more.



Kat said...

Melayu takkan hilang di dunia, selagi adanya bahasa, budi, adab sopan dan adat. It is all that we have to define us. Our ethnicity is not defined by our blood or religion or nationality, it is deeper than that.

Saya anak melayu di perantauan, melayari web mencari-cari anak-anak melayu lain yang mahu mengembalikan budaya cara kita.

anwardi said...

Dear Kat,
So how do we still remain a relevant race? Apa yang Melayunya pada kita? Bahasa? Budi? Adab Sopan? Adat?
How many Malays really care about this today? How many teach the kids about Pak Pandir? About Sang Kancil?
How many kids wash their feet before sleeping?
The fact that we knowlingly have to protect out identity means that it is in trouble. It doesn't come naturally because as a race we are becoming too oblivious about who we are or should be.

Kat said...


I could be wrong, but I think that the adaptability of the Malays could be both strength and weakness.

Significant portions of our vocabulary and traditions, are traditionally borrowed. Why stop now? Why do we equate tradition with antiquities only?

Malays constantly reinvent themselves. They wander. But the concept of the word 'kampung' itself means that Malays have a home, a root, a past that still exists. This is not a concept that exists in the English world (aside from the Jews).

Like I said, I may be wrong too. Malays adapt too easily. We absorb things like sponges. To follow the west, the east, the middle east. I have a particular dislike for the quick Islamic bans on traditional Malay performing arts.

How do we remain relevant? Not sure. But I strongly believe that the Malays carry something valuable and have a feeling that there are people who want to revive the Malays. The rest I'm still trying to figure out.

Anonymous said...

Bermula akan titah paduka, melayu jua carek kalamnya, menjadi sifat akan sabdanya, bayangan paduka lautan maya, nyata mahkuta singgahsana paduka, diatas dunia puncak mahendra, ibarat cermin seribu mata, melihat akan isinya dunia, maka bila tiba masanya, kehendak paduka meneraju dunia, lalu paduka menurunkan dirinya, dimedang kamula asal desanya, menjadi raja manusia pertama, inilah sastra dibaca pendita, mula cipta rupa nyata, di baca ciri pembuka cerita, hikayat melayu itu adanya, asal paduka manurong dunia, pembuka kota sijagad raya, memulakan wayangan adengan purba, paduka rajalah dalangnya jua, bermula cerita di tanah basra, belum lagi bernama sunda, kerana tanah air sahaja, paduka turun jejak kakinya, tenggelam sekaki gunung jadinya, kirakan wahai yang bijksana, berkurun paduka dibumi nyata, dia yang mula dialah akhirnya, sukmanya itu jadinya kita, batin akan zahirnya kita, titisan mulia didarah kita, keturunan raja pemerintah dharmanya, jangan kita tiada rasa, bukan mudah dipandang mata, barang manusia sementara, tiada kekal selama-lama, sejak mula manusia didunia, melayulah wangsa yang pertama, jangan ada yang mudah mengata, melayu bukan baru ada, turun dari seguntang raya, kahyangan itulah asalnya kita, bukan asalnya kita manusia, tapi dari keturunan dewa, amat sakti tiada tara, anak melayu anak mahawangsa, tahulah sekelian adatnya kita, ada rakyat ada raja, baru sentosa jiwa dan raga, kita melayu ada negara, dimana saja dunia bunia, terkenal melayu dimana jua, pahlawan dharma naga mulia, bersifat arya gagah perkasa, menjadi kalifah bertugas diatas dunia, menjaga keamanan sekelian manusia, ada yang jadi pendita agama, ada menjadi panglima ternama, menjadi raja yang bijaksana, berjuang demi keturunan kita, menyusun cara hidup didunia, tiada kira apa bentuknya, melayu jualah empunya karsa, jangan malukan dirinya kita, tunduk melayu pada yang esa, bukan mereka pengkhianat bangsa, apatah manusia yang hina asalnya, bukan melayu wahai rastana, kita titisan mani wasesa, kita keturunan bharata varsa, ingatlah sejarah melayu purba, para dewata resi dan sidha, pemegang kuasa pengganti paduka, digelar orang pelbagai nama, semuanya anak melayu belaka, seluruh bangsa menghikayat mereka, adunan zaman berganti masa, tiada lupuk dingatan mereka, betapa hebat ilmu saktinya, menjadi pujaan sekelian manusia, menjadi guruan guru dunia, mengajar hakikat hidup beragama, berzaman didunia mencipta nama, terbukti pada ajaran manusia, menjadi bualan sekelian arhana, mengenal tuhan pelbagai cara, mengenal alam segala isinya, ilmu diguna pada manusia, berbakti demi kesejahteraannya.
Inilah hikayat bicaranya sida, paramuni pancamalaya, mendapat ajaran paduka raja, dituntut diamal melayu mulia, hebat melayu dipandang manusia, bergetar dunia melihat mereka, saktinya melayu tiada tara, contohi mereka sekelian yang ada, agar menjadi manusia berguna, berbakti pada paduka raja, baru melayu namanya kita.

idrus said...

read MILLENNIUM MALAY by D. Ruse (Kinibooks). It poses the question of what is a Malay who is also a Bumi and a Muslim. The 3-in-1 psyche is tested when a conflict takes place asking him whether he wants to respond to the conflict as a Malay, Bumi or Muslim. Should be read by all thinking Malays regardless of political affiliation.