Melayu: A History of the Malay Peninsula (5.08.01-18.08.01)
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The Malays are the race of people who inhabit the
Malay Peninsula (what is today Peninsular Malaysia) and portions of adjacent islands of
Southeast Asia, including the east coast of Sumatra, the coast of Borneo, and smaller
islands that lie between these areas.
Anthropologists trace the home of the Malay
race to the northwestern part of Yunnan, in China. These tribal proto-Malays, or Jakun,
were a seafaring people. They were once probably a people of coastal Borneo who expanded
into Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula as a result of their trading and seafaring way of
These sea-tribes, refered to by the
Portuguese historian Godinho de Eredia as Saletes (Orang Selat, or People of
the Straits), played a major part in the making of the great Malay empires of Malacca and
Johor. The present-day Malays of the Peninsula and coasts of the Malay Archipelago are
described anthropologically as deutero-Malays and are the descendants of the tribal
proto-Malays mixed with modern Indian, Thai, Arab and Chinese blood.
Malay culture itself has been strongly
influenced by that of other peoples, including the Siamese, Javanese, Sumatran and,
especially, Indians. The influence of Hindu India was historically very great, and the
Malay were largely Hinduized before they were converted to Islam in the 15th century.
For nearly two thousand years, the
unremitting traffic of traders between the Archipelago and India resulted in frequent
inter-marriages along the whole of the west coast of the peninsula, especially Tamils and
Gujeratis. Some Hindu ritual survives in Malay culture, as in the second part of the
marriage ceremony and in various ceremonies of state.
Malays have also preserved some of their
more ancient, animistic beliefs in spirits of the soil and jungle, often having recourse
to medicine men or shamans (bomohs) for the treatment of ailments.
In the northern states of Perlis and Kedah,
inter-marriages with Thais were commonplace. The east coast state of Kelantan still has
traces of Javanese culture that date back to the era of the Majapahit Empire of the
fourteenth century. The Sumatran kingdom of Acheh dominated Perak for over a century.
The Bugis from Indonesia's Celebes Islands
colonised Selangor and fought for rulers in States along the length of the peninsula -
from Kedah to Johor. The Minangkabaus from Sumatra had their own independent chiefdoms in
what is today Negri Sembilan.
This mix of different races to form what is
the modern Malay can be clearly seen in the lineage of, for example, Malacca royalty.
Sultan Muhammad Shah married a Tamil from south India. Sultan Mansur Shah married a
Javanese, a Chinese and a Siamese - the Siamese wife bore two future Sultans of Pahang.
It was this diversity of races, cultures
and influences that has the given the modern Malay race the rich and unique historical
heritage it has today