Malay people

From Academic Kids

Three-quarter scale bronze sculptures 19th C. Malay people, Indonesia, Borneo. The men are readying their roosters for a . A boy eating a fruit, is watching them. The central figure, a woman, balances a load of fruit atop her head. ,
Three-quarter scale bronze sculptures 19th C. Malay people, Indonesia, Borneo. The men are readying their roosters for a cockfight. A boy eating a fruit, is watching them. The central figure, a woman, balances a load of fruit atop her head. Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

Malays (Dutch, Malayo, ultimately from Malay: Melayu) are a diverse group of people living in the Malay archipelago and Malay peninsula in South East Asia.

They constitute the dominant race which live in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines and East Timor, which together with Singapore make up what is called the Malay archipelago.

The Malays are traditionally classified as a member of the Mongoloid race, along with other Asiatic peoples, including Chinese, Mongols, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Vietnamese and Burmese.

Malays are also linguistically related to the Polynesian and Micronesian groups of the mid-Pacific, as members of the wide ranging Austronesian family of languages. Evidence also suggests that Polynesians and Micronesians may be descended, at least in part, from seafaring ancestors that originated in and around the Malay racial stock stronghold. Malay peoples have black hair and are typically of darker skin complexions, usually dark brown.


Origin of the word Malay

The word "Malay" was adopted into English via the Dutch word "Malayo", which ultimately originates from the Malay word "Melayu".

According to one popular theory, the native name Melayu means migrating or fleeing, which might refer to the high mobility of these people across the region.

The term is used as a form of ethnic self-identification. It is both generic and specific.

Ethnic Group vs. Cultural Sphere

The term Malay can refer to the ethnic group who live in the Malay peninsula 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 sizeable minority in Singapore and Indonesia. This people speak various dialects of Malay language. The peninsular dialect is the standard speech among Malays in Malaysia and Singapore. Meanwhile, the Riau dialect of eastern Sumatra is adopted as a national tongue, Bahasa Indonesia, for the whole Indonesian population. The ethnic Malay are overwhelmingly Muslim.

The Malay cultural sphere has something to do with the historic pre-eminence of the ethnic Malay in the sea trading route. 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 has unified the various ethnic groups in southeast Asia into a converging the cultural sphere for almost a millennium. It was during that time that vast borrowing of Sanskrit words and concepts, led to advanced linguistic development of Malay as a language. Malay is the regional lingua franca, and Malay-based pidgins exist in most trading ports in Indonesia (see Malay-based creoles). On the other hand, the Malay presence in the Philippines might be mainly due to migrations in the late first millennium AD.

In this broad sense, the term Malay also includes most ethnic groups in the Philippines and Indonesia west of Papua. It is best understood as a cultural, not racial grouping. For example, people of the Maluku and Nusa Tenggara islands up to Timor have darker skin but are more readily described as Malays than the Dayaks of inner Borneo.

Malay Domain

Generally, the name "Malay" is used to describe all the numerous related groups including the Acehnese, Minangs, Bataks and Mandailings who live in Sumatra ; Javanese and Sundanese in Java ; Banjars, Ibans, Kadazans and Melanaus in Borneo ; Bugis and Torajans in Sulawesi ; the various dominant ethnic groups in the Philippines such as the Tagalogs, Ilocanos and Ifugao of Luzon island, the Visayans of the central Philippines, the Maguindanao, Tausug and Bajau of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipaelago ; and the people of East Timor (excluding those of older Papuan stock).

Specifically, this name is also the proper name of the subgroup which is native to the eastern part of Sumatra but migrated to the Malay Peninsula and the Riau Archipelago over the past thousand years or so. Sometimes, but very rarely, this subgroup is called "Riau Malays" to distinguish it as a specific group.

Other groups classified as Malays which live outside what is called the Malay archipelago include the Cham who live in Cambodia and Vietnam and the Utsuls who live on the island of Hainan. Descendants of the Malays could be found today in Sri Lanka, South Africa (the "Cape Malays") and Madagascar. In the latter, they are known as the Merina and one of the dominant ethnic groups in that country.

Surinam, on the north-eastern coast of South America, has a large population of ethnic Javanese descendants of fairly recent immigrant workers.


The languages spoken by Malays are classified as members of the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages, which is now known as Austronesian. This large family of languages includes all the native languages spoken by Malays across the Malay Archipielago, including Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malaysia, all of the native languages of the Philippines, Tetum (East Timorese), and the language of the Merina Malay of Madagascar. Also included as far-flung members of this large family of languages on the Polynesian branch are the languages spoken by Polynesians, such as Samoan, Hawaiian and Maori in New Zealand.


In terms of religion, most Malays had converted from Hinduism, Buddhism and animism to Islam in the early 15th century; influenced surprisingly, by Chinese seafarers from China who already had more than 700 years of interaction with Muslims from Middle East during the Islamic Golden Age. Today, Muslim Malays form the dominant religious group in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Their conversion to Islam from Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism began in the 1400s, with a large influenced by the decision of the royal court of Malacca. Most Malays in Singapore, Thailand, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Surinam are also Muslims.

Golden images of Garuda, the phoenix who is the mount of Vishnu have been found in the Philippine island of Palawan. A 4 lb., 1 foot-high, gold Hindu-Malayan idol of a goddess, now resting in the Field Museum, was discovered in the Philippine island of Mindanao, in 1917. However Islam forbids images and idols, which indicates clearly that this idol existed in Mindanao before the arrival of Islam. Many Malays in Mindanao were also Muslim, but are recounted to have been the 23rd and last group in the waves of migration, to have arrived in the Philippines from the south.

In the Philippines, as a result of Spanish colonization spaning just over three centuries, Islam is not predominant, and most contemporary Filipinos (regardless of which Malay sub-group they belong to) are Christians, primarily Roman Catholics. However, a majority of Filipinos in the southern island of Mindanao and the Sulu chain - that had resisted Spanish colonial encroachment, and still continue struggle against modern Filipino government assimilation policies - are to this day mostly Muslim.

Like most Malays of the Philippines, those of East Timor are also Christian, though this time as a result of Portuguese colonial rule. These two latter countries-along with South Korea (whose largest religious group is Presbyterian Protestantism)- together represent the only Christian-majority nations in Asia (excluding the nations of Georgia and Armenia, both demographic extensions of Europe in Southwest Asia).

Hinduism is the dominant religion in the island of Bali. Smaller groups scattered throughout the entire Malay archipelago, who managed to avoided first the spread of Islam then the rise of Christianity through European colonization, practice animism. Buddhism is also present.

See also

id:Melayu ms:Melayu ja:マレー人 pl:Malajowie zh:马来人


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