Michael Chick

– Anthropological Definition of Malay

As every Malaysian should know, the legal and Constitutional definition of ‘Malay’ is as follows:

“Malay” means a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom and –
(a) was before Merdeka Day born in the Federation or in Singapore or born of parents one of whom was born in the Federation or in Singapore, or was on that day domiciled in the Federation or in Singapore; or
(b) is the issue of such a person;

Article 160 of the Constitution of Malaysia

Note that the above definition does not include any actual racial, genetic or descendency aspects. Rather, what makes a Malay ‘Malay’ are cultural, lingual and (yes) religious characteristics.

Michael Chick (stated website http://www.discovermalaysia.biz/ ) posted a long, very informative comment regarding what the anthropological concept is with regard to being ‘Malay’ – that is, what races and which geographical areas the Malays are descended from.

I thought it interesting and enlightening enough to deserve its own post. Read it below. A follow up to it is at Michael Chick – Who are the Malays? And how to unite them.


It’s been interesting to read such free-flowing comments on an all “Malaysian” free for all. While we are on the subject, how many of you have read the book entitled “Contesting Malayness – Malay Identity Across Boundaries” Edited by Timothy P. Barnard published by Singapore University Press. Written by a Professor of National University of Singapore. Cost S$32 (about). It reflects the Anthropologists views that there is no such race as the “Malays” to begin with. If we follow the original migration of the Southern Chinese of 6,000 yrs ago, they moved into Taiwan, (now the Alisan), then into the Phillipines (now the Aeta) and moved into Borneo (4,500 yrs ago) (Dayak). They also split into Sulawesi and progressed into Jawa, and Sumatera. The final migration was to the Malayan Peninsular 3,000 yrs ago. A sub-group from Borneo also moved to Champa in Vietnam at 4,500 yrs ago.

Interestingly, the Champa deviant group moved back to present day Kelantan. There are also traces of the Dong Song and HoaBinh migration from Vietnam and Cambodia. To confuse the issue, there was also the Southern Thai migration, from what we know as Pattani today. (see also “Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsular”)

Of course, we also have the Minangkabau’s which come from the descendants of Alexander the Great and a West Indian Princess. (Sejarah Melayu page 1-3)

So the million Dollar Question… Is there really a race called the “Malays”? All anthropologists DO NOT SEEM TO THINK SO.

Neither do the “Malays” who live on the West Coast of Johor. They’d rather be called Javanese. What about the west coast Kedah inhabitants who prefer to be known as “Achenese”? or the Ibans who simply want to be known as IBANS. Try calling a Kelabit a “Malay” and see what response you get… you’ll be so glad that their Head-Hunting days are over.

In an article in The Star, dated Dec 3rd 2006:

   DefSpiritKeris1   DefSpiritKeris2   DefSpiritKeris3

An excerpt is reproduced here below:

“The Malays – taken as an aggregation of people of different ethnic backgrounds but who speak the same language or family of languages and share common cultural and traditional ties – are essentially a new race, compared to the Chinese, Indians and the Arabs with their long histories of quests and conquests.

The Malay nation, therefore, covers people of various ethnic stock, including Javanese, Bugis, Bawean, Achehnese, Thai, orang asli, the indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak and descendants of Indian Muslims who had married local women.

Beneath these variations, however, there is a common steely core that is bent on changing the Malay persona from its perceived lethargic character to one that is brave, bold and ready to take on the world. ”

The definition of “Malay” is therefore simply a collection of people’s who speak a similar type language. With what is meant by a similar type language does not mean that the words are similar. Linguists call this the “Lego-type” language, where words are added on to the root word to make meaning and give tenses and such. Somehow, the Indonesians disagree with this classification and insist on being called “Indonesians” even though the majority of “Malays” have their roots in parts of Indonesia? They refuse to be called “Malay”…. Anyhow you may define it.

The writer failed to identify (probably didn’t know), that the “Malay” definition also includes, the Champa, Dong Song, HoabinHian, The Taiwanese Alisan and the Philippino Aetas. He also did not identify that the “Orang Asli” are (for lack of a better term) ex-Africans. If you try to call any one of our East Malaysian brothers an “Orang Asli”, they WILL BEAT YOU UP! I had to repeat this because almost all West Malaysians make the same mistake when we cross the South China Sea. Worse, somehow, they feel even more insulted when you call them “Malay”. Somehow, “kurang ajar” is uttered below their breath as if “Malay” was a really bad word for them. I’m still trying to figure this one out.

Watch “Malays in Africa”; a Museum Negara produced DVD. Also, the “Champa Malays” by the same.

With this classification, they MUST also include the Phillipinos, the Papua New Guineans, the Australian Aboroginies, as well as the Polynesian Aboroginies. These are of the Australo Melanesians who migrated out of Africa 60,000 yrs ago.

Getting interesting? Read on…

“Malay” should also include the Taiwanese singer “Ah Mei” who is Alisan as her tribe are the anscestors of the “Malays”. And finally, you will need to define the Southern Chinese (Southern Province) as Malay also, since they are from the same stock 6,000 yrs ago.

Try calling the Bugis a “Malay”. Interestingly, the Bugis, who predominantly live on Sulawesi are not even Indonesians. Neither do they fall into the same group as the migrating Southern Chinese of 6,000 yrs ago nor the Australo Melanesian group from Africa.

Ready for this?

The Bugis are the cross-breed between the Mongolian Chinese and the wandering Arab Pirates. (FYI, a runaway Ming Dynasty official whom Cheng Ho was sent to hunt down) Interestingly, the Bugis were career Pirates in the Johor-Riau Island areas. Now the nephew of Daeng Kemboja was appointed the First Sultan of Selangor. That makes the entire Selangor Sultanate part Arab, part Chinese! Try talking to the Bugis Museum curator near Kukup in Johor. Kukup is located near the most south-western tip of Johor. (Due south of Pontian Kechil)

Let’s not even get into the Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekiu, and Hang Lekir, who shared the same family last name as the other super famous “Hang” family member… Hang Li Poh. And who was she? Legend tells us that she is the princess of a Ming Dynasty Emperor who was sent to marry the Sultan of Malacca. Won’t that make the entire Malacca Sultanate downline “Baba” ? Since the older son of the collapsed Malaccan Sultanate got killed in Johor, (the current Sultanate is the downline of the then, Bendahara) the only other son became the Sultan of Perak. Do we see any Chinese-ness in Raja Azlan? Is he the descendant of Hang Li Poh? But wait a minute….

That’s what legend says. Let’s look at the proof. The solid evidence. There is a well next to the Zheng He Temple in Malacca which is supposed to be the well built by the Sultan of Malacca for her. According to legend, anyone who drinks of it shall re-visit Malacca before they die. Hmmm smells like a romantic fairy tale already. But let’s look at who Hang Li Poh actually is. Which Ming Emperor was she a daughter to? So I got into researching the entire list of Ming Emperors. Guess what? Not a single Ming Emperor’s last name begins with Hang. In fact, all their last names begin with Tzu (pronounced Choo). So who is Hang Li Poh? An Extra Concubine? A Spare Handmaiden? Who knows? But one thing for certain, is that she was no daughter of any of the Ming Emperors. Gone is the romantic notion of the Sultan of Malacca marrying an exotic Chinese Princess. Sorry guys, the Sultan married an unidentified Chinese commoner.

Next question. If the Baba’s are part Malay, why have they been marginalized by NOT BEING BUMIPUTERA? Which part of “Malay” are they not? Whatever the answer, why then are the Portugese of Malacca BUMIPUTERA? Did they not come 100 yrs AFTER the arrival of the first Baba’s? Parameswara founded Malacca in 1411. The Portugese came in 1511, and the Dutch in the 1600’s. Strangely, the Baba’s were in fact once classified a Bumiputera, but some Prime Minister decreed that they were to be strangely “declassified” in the 1960’s. WHY? How can a “native son of the soil” degenerate into an “un-son”? The new classification is “pendatang” meaning a migrant. Wait a minute, isn’t EVERYONE on the Peninsular a migrant to begin with?

The Sultan of Kelantan had similar roots to the Pattani Kingdom making him of Thai origin. And what is this “coffee table book” by the Sultan of Perlis claiming to be the direct descendant of the prophet Muhammed? Somehow we see Prof Khoo Khay Khim’s signature name on the book. I’ll pay good money to own a copy of it myself. Anyone has a spare?

Inpersuing this thread, and having looked at the history of Prophet Muhammed (BTW, real name Ahmad) we couldn’t figure out which descendant line The Sultan of Perlis was. Perhaps it was by the name Syed, which transcended. Then we would ask which of the 13 official wives named in the Holy Koran? or was he a descendant from the other 23 names of the non-wives? Of the 13 were (at least known) 3 Israeli women. Then you would also ask yourself, isn’t Prophet Muhammad an Israeli himself? The answer is clear. All descendants of Moses are Israeli. In fact, the Holy Koran teaches that Moses was the First Muslim. Thus confirming all descendants to be Israeli, including Jesus and Prophet Muhammad. It is also found in Sura 2:58 & 59 which specifically mentions that the Torah and the Kitab (Bible) are Holy Words of Allah. But since this is not a religious discussion, let’s move on to a more anthropological approach.

So, how many of you have met with orang Asli’s? the more northern you go, the more African they look. Why are they called Negrito’s? It is a Spanish word, from which directly transalates “mini Negros”. The more southern you go, the more “Indonesian” they look. And the ones who live at Cameron Highlands kinda look 50-50. You can see the Batek at Taman Negara, who really look like Eddie Murphy to a certain degree. Or the Negritos who live at the Thai border near Temenggor Lake (north Perak). The Mah Meri in Carrie Island look almost like the Jakuns in Endau Rompin. Half African, half Indonesian.

By definition, (this is super eye-opening) there was a Hindu Malay Empire in Kedah. Yes, I said right… The Malays were Hindu. It was, by the old name Langkasuka. Today known as Lembah Bujang. This Hindu Malay Empire was 2,000 yrs old. Pre-dating Borrobudor AND Angkor Watt. Who came about around 500-600 yrs later. Lembah Bujang was THE mighty trading empire, and its biggest influence was by the Indians who were here to help start it. By definition, this should make the Indians BUMIPUTERAS too since they were here 2,000 yrs ago! Why are they marginalized?

Of the 3 books listed, “Contesting Malayness” (about S$32 for soft cover) is “banned” in Malaysia; you will need to “smuggle” it into Malaysia; for very obvious reasons….  or read it in Singapore if you don’t feel like breaking the law.

The other, “Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago, and the Malay Peninsular” (about RM84) are openly sold at all leading bookshops; Kinokuniya, MPH, Borders, Popular, Times, etc. You should be able to find a fair bit of what I’ve been quoting in this book too, but mind you, it is very heavy reading material, and you will struggle through the initial 200+ pages. It is extremely technical in nature. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t banned (yet)…coz our authorities couldn’t make head or tail of it? (FYI, if I wasn’t doing research for my film, I wouldn’t have read it in its entirety)

While the “Sejarah Melayu” (about RM 35) is available at the University Malaya bookshop. I have both the English and Royal Malay version published by MBRAS.

Incidentally, the Professor (Author) was invited to speak on this very subject about 2 yrs ago, in KL, invited by the MBRAS. You can imagine the “chaos” this seminar created…… 

There were actually many sources for these findings. Any older Philippino Museum Journal also carries these migration stories. This migration is also on display at the Philippines National Museum in Luzon. However, they end with the Aeta, and only briefly mention that the migration continued to Indonesia and Malaysia, but fully acknowledge that all Philippinos came from Taiwan. And before Taiwan, China. There is another book (part of a series) called the “Archipelago Series” endorsed by Tun Mahatir and Marina Mohammad, which states the very same thing right at the introduction on page one. “… that the Malays migrated out of Southern China some 6,000 yrs ago…”. I believe it is called the “Pre-History of Malaysia” Hard Cover, about RM99 found in (mostly) MPH. They also carry “Pre-History of Indonesia” by the same authors for the same price.

It is most interesting to note that our Museum officials invented brand new unheard-of terms such as “Proto-Malay” and “Deutero-Malay”, to replace the accepted Scientific Term, Australo-Melanesians (African descent) and Austronesians (Chinese Descent, or Mongoloid to be precise) in keeping in line with creating this new “Malay” term.. They also created the new term called the Melayu-Polynesian. (Which Melayu exists in the Polynesian Islands?) Maybe they were just trying to be “Patriotic” and “Nationalistic”… who knows…? After all, we also invented the term, “Malaysian Time”. While the rest of the world calls it “Tardy” and “Late”. It’s quite an embarrassment actually…. Singaporeans crossing the border are asked to set their watches back by about 100yrs, to adjust to “Malaysian Time”…

In a nutshell, the British Colonial Masters, who, for lack of a better description, needed a “blanket” category for ease of classification, used the term “Malay”.

The only other logical explanation, which I have heard, was that “Malaya” came as a derivative of “Himalaya”, where at Langkasuka, or Lembah Bujang today was where the Indians were describing the locals as “Malai” which means “Hill People” in Tamil. This made perfect sense as the focal point at that time was at Gunung Jerai, and the entire Peninsular had a “Mountain Range” “Banjaran Titiwangsa”, as we call it.

The Mandarin and Cantonese accurately maintain the accurate pronunciation of “Malai Ren” and “Malai Yun” respectively till this very day. Where “ren” and “yun” both mean “peoples”.

Interestingly, “Kadar” and “Kidara”, Hindi and Sanskrit words accurately describe “Kedah” of today. They both mean “fertile Land for Rice cultivation. Again, a name given by the Indians 2,000 yrs ago during the “Golden Hindu Era” for a duration of 1,500 yrs.

It was during the “Golden Hindu Era” that the new term which the Hindu Malay leaders also adopted the titles, “Sultan” and “Raja”. The Malay Royalty were Hindu at that time, as all of Southeast Asia was under strong Indian influence, including Borrobudor, and Angkor Watt. Bali today still practices devout Hindu Beliefs. The snake amulet worn by the Sultans of today, The Royal Dias, and even the “Pelamin” for weddings are tell-tale signs of these strong Indian influences. So, it was NOT Parameswara who was the first Sultan in Malaya. Sultanage existed approximately 1,500 years before he set foot on the Peninsular during the “Golden Hindu Era” of Malaysia. And they were all Hindu.

“PreHistory of Malaysia” also talks about the “Lost Kingdom” of the “Chi-Tu” where the local Malay Kingdom were Buddhists. The rest of the “Malays” were Animistic Pagans.

But you may say, “Sejarah Melayu” calls it “Melayu”? Yes, it does. Read it again; is it trying to describe the 200-odd population hamlet near Palembang by the name “Melayu”? (Google Earth will show this village).

By that same definition, then, the Achehnese should be considered a “race”. So should the Bugis and the Bataks, to be fair. Orang Acheh, Orang Bugis, Orang Laut, Orang Melayu now mean the same… descriptions of ethnic tribes, at best. And since the “Malays” of today are not all descendants of the “Melayu” kampung in Jambi (if I remember correctly), the term Melayu has been wrongly termed. From day one. Maybe this is why the Johoreans still call themselves either Bugis, or Javanese until today. So do the Achehnese on the West coast of Kedah & Perlis and the Kelantanese insist that they came from Champa, Vietnam.

Morover, the fact that the first 3 pages claiming that “Melayu” comes from Alexander the Great and the West Indian Princess doesn’t help. More importantly, it was written in 1623. By then, the Indians had been calling the locals “Malai” for 1,500 yrs already. So the name stuck….

And with the Sejarah Melayu (The Malay Annals in page 1-3) naming the grandson of Iskandar Zulkarnain, and the West Indian Princess forming the Minangkabau. Whenever a Malay is asked about it, he usually says it is “Karut” (bullshit), but all Malayan based historians insist on using Sejarah Melayu as THE main reference book for which “Malay” history is based upon. The only other books are “Misa Melayu”, “Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa”, and “Hikayat Hang Tuah” which is of another long and sometimes “heated” discussion.

I find this strange.

I also find, that it is strange that the “Chitti’s” (Indian+Malay) of Malacca are categorized as Bumiputera, while their Baba brothers are not. Why? Both existed during the Parameswara days. Which part of the “Malay” side of the Baba’s is not good enough for Bumiputera classification? Re-instate them. They used to be Bumiputera pre 1960’s anyway.

Instead of “Malay”, I believe that “Maphilindo” (circa 1963) would have been the closest in accurately trying to describe the Malays. However, going by that definition, it should most accurately be “MaphilindoThaiChinDiaVietWanGreekCamfrica”. And it is because of this; even our University Malaya Anthropology professors cannot look at you in the eye and truthfully say that the word “Malay” technically and accurately defines a race.

This is most unfortunate.

So, in a nutshell, the “Malays” (anthropologists will disagree with this “race” definition) are TRULY ASIA !!! For once the Tourism Ministry got it right….

We should stop calling this country “Tanah Melayu” instead call it, “Tanah Truly Asia”.

You must understand now, why I was “tickled pink” when I found out that the Visit Malaysia slogan for 2007 was “Truly Asia”. They are so correct… (even though they missed out Greece and Africa).

BTW, the name UMNO should be changed to UTANO the new official acronym for “United Truly Asia National Organization” . After all, they started out as a Bugis club in Johor anyway….

I told you all that I hate race classifications…. This is so depressing. Even more depressing is that the “malays” are not even a race; not since day one.

“Truly Asia Boleh”.


See also Indian Origin For Malay History, Words & Customs for more on the non-local origin of Malay customs, Where Did Parameswara Come From? The Origin Story for a hysterical look at what our ‘modern version’ of school textbook History is like, and Repulse and Prince of Wales for my own research into the Malaysian textbook misrepresentation of the famous battle.

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13 Responses to “Michael Chick”

  1. Cuarto Navegador Says:

    After reading your article here I do find there is a hidden anger somewhere inside you (or just plain p1ssed-off). Did a Malay person somehow rattle your cage? However, there are some truths in your report. The term ‘Malay’ is actually used more as a political tool now. I come from a Bugis royal family and we are TOTALLY different from the Minangkabaus, who are also classified as ‘Malays’ too and also fellow Muslims, but had been our mortal enemies for hundreds of years. I’d rather die than being classified as in the same category as theirs. I don’t really consider myself as pure Malay anyway. My ancestors came here from Sulawesi a few hundred years ago to conquer and rule this land. We are actually still ruling this country, come to think of it. Our culture is actually almost totally different from the normal ‘common’ Malays. In fact almost all the Sultans in Malaysia, with the exception of Perlis and Kedah, actually originated from the Bugis line of Royalties.
    And personally I do find the claims by the Perlis Sultanate as coming from the line Prophet Muhammad as total hogwash.

  2. michael chick Says:

    Dear Cuarto Navegador, Not really, however, if I wrote it simply like another regular report, it would be dull and boring. Mostly not suitable for regular “consumer” consumption. Add a little bits and bites here and there, and you’d get a piece that’s easy to understand, but still packed with useful information. And it make history an interesting and lively discussion.

    Glad you found it insightful. 🙂

  3. kumar Says:

    I’m a hindu. It just amuses me to see the pains the so called Malays take to glorify thier race, whose history is hardly history at all. And to think they easily like to tease a indian at any opportunity they got, including our culture. It just makes them look foolish.

  4. michael chick Says:

    Kumar, this is the attitude which we need to embrace the future of Malaysia. By 2011, there will not be a single drop of oil left in this country. When that happens, there will be total chaos, if moron who scream “Ketuanan Melayu” selfishly hold all the wealth to themselves. By that I simply mean the bums who sit at Parliament. Mahathir is Indian. Badawi is part Hainanese, part Pakistani. Nik Aziz is Champa (Vietnamese), Tengku Adnan is Achehnese. Who the HELL in Parliament is Malay anyway? Is there really a Malay to begin with?

  5. zahid Says:

    Dear Michael,

    I live in houston,texas. I am orginially from malaysia. My parents are both Malay. So where are most of the malays in malaysia from? Also, Do most malays have indiand blood because I dont like being part indian no offense to all the indians. So most malays ae from china right because i tell my friends that I am asian and how do I get that movie you are selling on your website. ok Thanks man and write me back asap.

  6. hutchrun Says:

    And personally I do find the claims by the Perlis Sultanate as coming from the line Prophet Muhammad as total hogwash.-Cuarto Navegador

    Say it long enough and it becomes reality, ask them lying `palestinians`.

  7. Subramaniam Says:

    Excellent article and an eyeopener. I find Malays generally do not like to be linked by blood or genes to Indian or Tamil ancestry or inheritance, but rather to Chinese, Arab, Pakistani, Pashtun (also Indian at one time before partition). I believe it is because the countries from which the above people originate portray themselves as victors in history, light skinned, of superior culture ( which I do not digest). If the Indians one day rule the world, like they did in South East Asia in ancient times, the Malays then will freely admit they have Indian blood just like it probably happened in the Kedah Hindu, Angkor Empire, Majapahit and SriVijaya periods. After all Tun Mutahir (bendahara Melaka) was a half Tamil, So was Munshi Abdullah a Tamil Muslim if nit half Tamil. If you drive around in Malaysia and see the driver ahead of you you will not be able to distinguish whether he is a Malay or Indian especially in Kedak and Penang and N. Perak. Observe the next time you do so.

  8. Anak Kalabakan Says:

    Anak Malaysia comments on the discourse between Michael Crick and Mat Jun in southeastasianarchaeology.com/2007/10/29/differing-concepts-of-malayness : August 26th, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    I’m impressed by the intellectual content of your bilateral discourse on the issue of ‘Malayness’. To define ‘Malay’ as a race is doubt-ridden because it is a language, very much the same as defining ‘Arabs’ as those who speak arabic. On the other hand defining a race using religion is just as flabbergasting simply because religion itself (with the exception of Judaism) does not carry a racial connotation. However, the best definition is a socio-political one. Very similar to defining a ‘Bangsa Indonesia’, however if we see this issue from the ground, we will trip on the lines that separate javanese, from batak, from acehnese … etc within ‘Bangsa Indonesia’ whereas in ‘Bangsa Melayu’ these lines aren’t as distracting.

    In Malaysia there is no real distinction between Dr. M and Pak Lah as there is no distinction between Dr. Siti Hasmah and Datin Sri Endon or Datin Sri Jeanne. I myself am of mixed descent with a dad who is 50% Bugis and 25% Minang and 25% Mandiling and a mother who is 50% Hakka, 25% Cantonese and 25% Kek, yet we never saw ourselves as anything else but Malay because our identity card defines us as Malay. The only people who question our Malaynesss are the one who don’t share the same definition on their identity cards. We would not be fully accepted by them even if we tried to be simply because I am identified as Malay even when I have chinese features.

    Tracing a race along the archeological path will lead us to a revelation of the truth that mankind was once from the same womb but has since diversified into a multitude of races and culture. Therefore in today’s reality, a race is defined within a socio-political system of identification.

    My comment:

    I am 50% Filipino, 25% Kadazan, 12.5% Chinese and 12.5% Murut. My identity card classifies me as Malay. I’m happy with that. In fact it is accepted that when an Indian embraces Islam and adopts a muslim name, his children are automatically classified as Malay even though their parents were once hindus unless he prefers to maintain them to be classified as Indian Muslim. Therefore it is possible for anyone to become Malay. Bumiputra includes the indigenous orang asli, the Iban, the Murut, the Kadazan, the Melanau, the Baba-Nyonya, the Portugese Gerago of Melaka and the Buddhists of Thai descent in Kedah, all of whom are not muslims

  9. Jtan Says:

    Anak Kalabakan Says:
    August 27, 08 at

    My comment:
    …Bumiputra includes the indigenous orang asli, the Iban, the Murut, the Kadazan, the Melanau, the Baba-Nyonya, the Portugese Gerago of Melaka and the Buddhists of Thai descent in Kedah, all of whom are not muslims

    Baba-nyonyas aren’t bumiputras

  10. H. Rahman Ibrahim. Says:

    I refer to such articles as written by Michael Chick on the subject of who is Malay.

    The word ” Malay ” is not an anthropological term.
    In the context of today’s debates about race and it’s origins ” Malay ” is a political term.

    Unless one is in denial, one has to conclude that the term ” Malay ” is a relatively new word coined by literary personalities in the early Nineties to mean ” the subjects of the Sultanates ” as defined by the British Colonials and perpetuated by our Founding Fathers who agreed to this definition and enshrined it in our Consitution.

    I am Sino-Indian by blood and a Muslim. The Constitution says I am Malay by operation of law under article 160.

    Qoute “:

    The article defines a Malay as a Malaysian citizen born to a Malaysian citizen who professes to be a Muslim, habitually speaks the Malay language, adheres to Malay customs, and is domiciled in Malaysia or Singapore.

    Above is a political definition of ” Malay ” .

    The Subjects of the Malay Sultanates happen to be Muslims or converts to Islam. By alliegance to the Sultans ( Raja Melayu ) these subjects called themselves Orang Melayu and later on Bangsa Melayu. The ( immigrant Chinese and Indians ) never questioned this status quo.
    This made it easier for the British to typecast this lot ( Malays ) into one category equal to “natives”.
    As it was then; the Chinese and Indians who were non Muslims and had a “motherland ” further made it convenient to classify them by the races of their motherland , thus Chinese and Indian.
    Other races were simply those that did not fit in these three.

    Nobody , including the late ( founding fathers ) Tun Sir Tan Cheng Lok and Tun Sambanthan even worried about this race divide because most of the Chinese and Indians at that time still owed allegiance to the Leaders in their motherlands. The Chinese up till the Sixties ( well after Merdeka ) still hung portraits of Dr.Sun Yat Sen ( the Chinese Nationalist Leader who fled to Taiwan ) in their homes . These Chinese would have hung portraits of Cumminist Chinese Leader Mao Tze Tung if it was not illegal to do so in Malaya then. Similarly Indians hung portraits of Ghandi and Nehru in their homes and shops and Pakistanis hung portraits of Ali Jinnah.

    One has to understand the feelings of Malays in the years before and after Merdaka right through the Sixties when they saw their Chinese and Indian neighbours showing allegiance to Leaders from the countries their forefathers originated. They saw what loyalty meant.
    It was quite common to hear an Indian when wanting to visit India on a vacation, telling neighbours they wanted to ” Balik Negeri “, which meant to return to his Country ( India ).

    The Chinese were not allowed to travel to China then because of the Communist regime, but inside the ( independently funded ) Chinese schools the students were thought to be loyal to their motherland and the history lessons were slanted towards Nationalism from a different land , not Malaya or Malaysia , but the Motherland ( Tanah Ibunda ). The students were told that some day they would all return to their homeland and be happier. Communism and British propaganda prevented this from becoming a reality.

    The Malays who saw all this happen through five decades after Independence got used to the idea of three separate races in Peninsular Malaysia and those of the Muslim faith in Sabah and Sarawak found it easy to align themselves as Malay albeit Melanau, Bajau etc as sub- races of Malay , so to speak.

    Politicians found it convenient to find support from grouping by race and even more convenient to form a coalition of the three main races to form the Alliance Party , which was the precussor to the BN. It was a natural order and it worked for over 50 years.

    ” Fast forward ” >> ………………………today we have become better educated and we have better access to information. We can see where we have gone wrong and we can try to put things right if our social order is in disorder.

    It looks like the division of Citizens by race is becoming archaic and unfair to those sidelined by virtue of who they were born from.
    If this is to be the change needed for a better society , then the nations Leaders must first be convinced of the need to do so and thereafter find ways to change the constitution ( Articla 160 ) to accomodate the wishes of the majority.
    The majority “race ” is Malay and the only way to democratically affect any change of their status is by convincing the Malays to agree to change. If Malays feel threatened by the change proposed by Bangsa Malaysia believers they will unite to resist such change.
    The Malays have already been divided by politics. Only Islam can unite the Malays because this is all they have left in common. But we have seen Muslims in other countries disunited by politics.
    If we can learn lessons from the failures of Musilms in other countries, we may have a chance of a united Malaysian nation where Muslims accomodate other religions with no force or compulsion.

    Unless the threat of Chinese domination in commerce and Indian domination in the legal field is removed , Malays will not trust them to allow any form of concessions from what they are now enjoying. So they will fight to preserve these concessions.
    This is what we are seeing today.

    Anthropology has very little to do with what we face today. Being Malay is already a political fait accompli , which can only be changed in Parliament.



  11. Scott Thong Says:

    Well said, H. Rahman. How many of the Chinese and Indians living in Malaysia today were born in China and India, let alone swear allegiance to those nations? Are we still to be penalised for the ‘sins’ of our forefathers?

    I recommend to you the article Ahmad Ismail is a Pendatang, Just Like All of Us as well.

  12. Wan Jun Lye Says:


    Good article, this for the first time provide me with a clearer insight with regards to my roots and reminds me of my childhood growing up as one that behaves like a Malay but not a Malay. One who was once bumiputera but not anymore.

    I am a Baba Nyonya from Melaka, it is frustrating during my teen years to understand why I am a chinese who can’t speak chinese and can’t seem to adapt to Chinese culture at all. At the same time I can speak Malay fluently, just like the Malay but I am not one of them.

    I am confuse on why my grandfather skin color is very dark like bugis and his brother is fair like chinese. Why my family wore sarong and eat with hands. We always say “Ya, Illah” just like Malay..Whenever I asked why are we different from normal Chinese family, my family mention to me that “Kita Baba & Nyonya..”

    I remember many many years back when I was young, Persatuan Peranakan Melaka did try to gain their Bumiputera status back but I remember out of frustration they announce that the authorities wants us to produce a list of family members from 7 generation back who are still alive..which no one have…even if we have..they are all long dead or gone. Your article mentioning that we were once Bumiputera strike me to that event when I was a little child.

    So all in all I went to overseas and further my studies, work there a few years, forget about my childhood and came back & I just call myself a Chinese now..as it is never easy to explain to anyone what Baba & Nyonya is all about or what is peranakan is all about.

    I do admit that I was proud to know that my so called ancestor Hang Li Poh is a princess and all as a child but then when I was in University, through some Chinese history readings and as what you have said, China had never owned a princess called Hang Li Poh..so I kept silence after that, not feeling that special or proud anymore but more confuse than ever with regards to my roots.

    All I am saying is no matter what is written in the book or history…I, my family, my people, the minorities, walk this path and take the steps of a baba and nyonya. I do hope that the Bumiputera status that have been revoked could be returned back to us, even if you don’t you have lost us as it is already and you only know us through history basically.


  13. Zack T Says:

    When I came to the part about Muhammad being an Israeli and descendant of Moses… I stopped reading.

    This would be considered blasphemy in several Muslim community (particularly in the Middle East).

    The term ‘Israelite’ (or ‘Israeli’) means to be the descendant of Abraham through his son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob/Israel. (Moses, Jesus are within this line of descendants)
    Last I recall, Muhammad is claimed to be a descendant of Abraham through the son, Ishmael. And I highly doubt that claim has been changed.

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