Bibliographic data

Tate, Muzaffar Desmond John; Bajunid, Ibrahim Ahmad: Modern History for Secondary Schools. Vol. 1. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1978, 20, 22.

"People of Malaysia"

[p. 20]

[left column]



The Malays

The largest single group of people in Malaysia today are the Malays. Most of them live in the Peninsula, although they also make up about one-fifth of the population of Sarawak and 10 per cent of the population of Sabah. The largest number of Malays in the Peninsula live in Johore, Kelantan, Perak and Kedah. They also form the majority (i.e. outnumber all the other groups) in Kelantan, Trengganu, Pahang and Perlis.

Most of us have visited a Malay kampung. The houses are usually built of wood and are

[right column]

raised on posts above the ground. Why do you think they are built this way? Some Malay kampungs are built over water, particularly in fishing villages. Many Malays are skilful [sic] fishermen and sailors.

Nearly all the padi planters in Peninsular Malaysia are Malays. Many of them in Sabah and Sarawak also plant padi. Quite a number of Malays own rubber smallholdings where they tap their own rubber. Many are also small farmers. In Kelantan and Trengganu, Malay women weave beautiful sarungs with gold and silver thread, whilst the men are good at silverwork and wood carving.

Many Malays work in government service as administrators, or as officers and men in the police force and in the armed services. Every year more and more Malays are either going into business or taking up professions such as accountancy, law and medicine.

The religion of the Malays is Islam. People who belong to this religion are known as Muslims. Islam is one of the most important religions in the world, and is practised by millions of people in Indonesia, India and Pakistan, and in the Arab countries of Western Asia, as well as in North, West and East Africa. We shall be reading more about Islam later on in this book.

The Malay language is also an important and useful language, because it is spoken and

[Black and white photograph of two female weavers who, leaning over their looms, are focussed on their work.]

Fig. 2.2 The women from the east coast states are skilled at weaving kain songket cloth


[p. 22]

[upper left column]

Who are the Malays?

The Malays are part of a large family of peoples who began to settle down in the Peninsula and other Malay islands of South-East Asia over three thousand years ago. Other groups of this family include the Achinese and the Minangkabaus of Sumatra, the Javanese, Sundanese and Madurese of Java, the Balinese and the Macassarese, the Bugis and Minahassans from the Celebes. The Malays are also related to the Mons of southern Thailand and the Khmers of Cambodia (the Khmer Republic), as well as the Tagalogs, the Visayans and the other islanders of the Philippines.

As you can see from the map, the Malays moved into South-East Asia from their former homeland on the Yunnan Plateau. They followed the great rivers which flow southwards into what are today modern Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. When they reached the sea, they took to boats and made their way along the coasts of the islands, stopping to settle down wherever they found suitable spots. All this took place over a very long period of time–perhaps over one thousand years. They came in little groups, separate from one another. This is one of the reasons why this family of peoples is

[upper right column]

broken up into so many different groups today.

When they started to occupy the river mouths and push upstream into the interior of the Peninsula and the islands, these early Malays found other people already settled there. These older settlers had also come from the north, probably overland from India. Historians mark the difference between these two groups of settlers by calling the earlier settlers 'Proto-Malays' and the later ones 'Deutero-Malays'. ('Proto' and 'deutero' are Greek words meaning 'first' and 'second'.) The descendants of the Proto-Malays living in Malaysia today include the Jakuns of Johore, the lbans, Land Dayaks, Kenyahs and the Kadazans, and Muruts of Sabah. Do you know who are the people referred to as the Deutero-Malays?

In the same way, the Malay language is related to most of the other languages spoken by the peoples of this region. There are in fact many similarities between Malay and the languages of the Khmers and the Filipinos (especially Tagalog).

These close connections between the peoples of modern Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have led some politicians to call for a union of all these countries, called Maphilindo.

[lower left column]

understood not only in Malaysia but in all the islands of Indonesia as well. Usually Malay is written in Rumi or romanized letters, like what you are reading now, but quite often it is written in Arabic letters, known as Jawi. Why is this so? Today Malay is known as Bahasa Malaysia and is our national language.

Malaysia has been the home of the Malays for at least two thousand years. The Malays have also made their homes in other parts of this region, especially in Sumatra, Kalimantan and even as far away to the east as the Celebes and the Moluccas. No one can be sure as to when the Malays first moved into the islands of South-East Asia, or even where they came from. Many scholars think that the Malays originally lived in Yunnan, which is now part of modern China.

[lower right column]

When we mention the Malays, we usually include the Javanese, the Bugis, the Banjarese and other peoples who came from various parts of Indonesia, but live in Malaysia today. This is because they are closely related to the Malays in the way they live and in their beliefs. They all speak Malay (Bahasa Indonesia is in fact Malay) and they are usually Muslims too.


Recommended citation: