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Malay

Malay

ETHNONYMS: Malayan, Malaysian, Melayu


Orientation

Malays live chiefly in peninsular Malaysia, where they are more than half of the population. Malays also live in East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), on the coasts of Sumatra and other islands of Indonesia, extending up to the Sulu Sea of the southern Philippines. The name "Malay" is sometimes used for all of these people and refers to a cultural area called Malaysia, which ranges from southern Thailand to the Sulu Sea. This cultural sense of Malaysia never had any political unity, and "Malaysia" now refers to peninsular Malaysia (West Malaysia) and Sabah and Sarawak (East Malaysia). Malay (Bahasa Melayu) belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian Family of languages, which extend from mainland Southeast Asia to Easter Island in the Pacific. Malay is similar to modern Indonesian to about the degree that British and American English are similar, except that Indonesian shows the effects (both in structure and vocabulary) of long contact with Dutch, while Malay exhibits English influences. Malay is written in a Latin alphabet (Rumi) and a derived Indian script (Jawi).


Demography. There are more than eight million Malays in Malaysia, about 90 percent of them in peninsular Malaysia. On the peninsula, Malays tend to live in the river delta areas and the wet-rice (padi or sawah ) growing regions. Towns and cities have large Chinese and Indian populations. The Malays are clustered on the east coast in the states of Kelantan, Terengganu, and Pahang. Sizable populations of Malays are also found along the west coast, in Johor, and in Singapore. The population density is about 125 persons per square mile, and the rate of increase is about 2.4 percent per year (2.8 percent in East Malaysia).


History and Cultural Relations

Malays were part of the migration southward from Yunnan and eastward from the peninsula to the Pacific islands where Malayo-Polynesian languages still predominate. Malays came in several, probably continuous, waves, pushing aside people who are now the Orang Asli (aboriginals) and the pre-Islamic or proto-Malay. Early Chinese and Indian visitors and voyagers from about 600 b.c. reported on village farming and metal-using settlements of Malays. The earliest historical date on the peninsula is about a.d. 1400. The actual history begins with the Malacca Sultanate (1402-1511), although there is mention of Malaya in the maritime empire of Srivijaya that was based on Java about a.d. 700. The trading empire based on control of the Strait of Malacca was the center of the diffusion of Islam throughout Malaysia. This spread, which was led by teachers and sufis, was peaceful. Between the 1500s and the 1800s there were struggles among competing groups such as the Acehnese, the Bugis, and the Minangkabau for dominance on the peninsula, while Melaka struggled with the Dutch and other European powers who sought to straddle the commerce in the strait. The British founded Penang in 1786, then developed Singapore and took over Melaka to form the Straits Settlements; then they intervened on the mainland in the fratricidal wars of the Sultans and formed the Federated Malay States, and in 1909 they merged all of the above with the unfederated states to form Malaya. With the expansion of Western enterprise in tin mining, rubber, and palm plantations, Malaya imported Indian and Chinese populations to form a plural society in which Malays were just under half. With the outbreak of World War II the Japanese occupied Malaya and were expelled with the defeat of the Japanese empire. A twelve-year war called the "emergency" followed, and Malaya received its independence in 1957. For a brief time Singapore was part of the union, but is now independent. A brief war with Indonesia called the "confrontation" settled rival claims on Borneo. Civil unrest caused by communal tensions among the Malays and Chinese ushered in a period of centralized rule from 1969 to 1972, but since then Malaysia has had a working parliamentary system with coalitions among the major communal groups. Malaysia keeps close cultural ties with Indonesia and is taking a larger role in the world of Islam.


Settlements

Malay settlements tend to be strung out along the mouths of rivers, on stretches of beach, or in ribbons along a road or highway. The settlement is a village (kampung ) made up of various houses, often built on stilts and set among orchard crops, with rice fields outside the bounds of the village. The kampung usually has no public building, unless it has a surau (chapel) or a small mosque. Towns and cities are the product of immigrant populations and commercial and administrative activities, with a few cities combining the above with transport centers. Markets are held in the towns; produce flows in from the countryside via trishaw, boat, truck, bus, and train. In addition to the village patterns there are plantation line settlements. Urbanization and the formation of towns are rapidly increasing, and the cities are the fastest-growing type of settlement in Malaysia.


Economy

Wet-rice growing is the chief occupation of the Malay farmer, now often accomplished with modern irrigation systems that allow double cropping. This crop is consumed within Malaysia. The paddy farmers, who sell their rice in a market economy, are likely to be sharecroppers or tenants, not a rural proletariat. Fishing is the next-largest occupation of Malays, and this too is a small-scale commercial operation. Like most rural dwellers, the Malay peasant is engaged in smallholder rubber tapping, and just under half of the rubber production of Malaysia comes from smallholders rather than from the estates or plantations. Malays are only slightly engaged in tin mining, but they are increasingly involved in factory work and modern occupations, especially on the west coast. They are involved in transportation to and trading in the local pasar markets and, increasingly, in government, professional, and town- and urban-based salary occupations. Because paddy farming is a low-paying occupation engaged in virtually by Malays only, Malay income is below that of other ethnic groups; it is government policy to reduce the income differential between Malays on the one hand and Chinese and Indians on the other. Certain Malay arts and crafts still flourish, especially on the east coast with its dense Malay occupation. Batik cloth is woven and dyed, and silver-, brass-, and ironwork are produced and sold. Malaysia has been the fastest-growing economy of mainland Southeast Asia during the 1970s and 1980s.


Kinship

Malay kinship terminology is structured by generation, each generation having its set; by gender, male and female being differentiated within generations; and by seniority, older and younger among siblings and birth order within a family. If other status terms are available, like titles, occupations, pilgrimage or other sorts of pangkat, they are preferred over personal names or kin terms. There are no descent groups among the Malay, except for the matrilineages and clans among the Minangkabau of Negri Sembilan, who follow a form of customary law (adat ) based on matrilineal descent and inheritance; this is different from the rest of the Malays, who follow bilateral norms of inheritance and descent, without formal groups. The heirs, a category called waris, are stipulated in Islamic usage, but equal inheritance is followed just as often.


Marriage and Family

Marriage is expected of every adult person in the society. Up to four wives are permitted under Islamic law, but the overwhelming majority of unions are monogamous. Couples are married by registering with a religious official, usually the local imam. A woman needs the consent of a male guardian to marry. Many marriages are arranged, but the consent and knowledge of the parties is sought and required. Marriage takes place after a series of gifts and counter-gifts between the families, including both bride-price and dowry. The public ceremony of marriage often takes the form of a bersanding, a kind of copy of a royal Hindu-style wedding. Feasting accompanies this marriage ritual. Divorce is common, simple, and frequent in an individual's life. The high rate of divorce in Kelantan and other Malay states still defies full explanation, but the ease with which a man can sever a marriage by pronouncing a verbal intention to do so must contribute to the high rate of Malay divorce. The nuclear family in neolocal residence is the preferred and most common family form; other forms of compound or extended family are but phases in a domestic cycle culminating with the nuclear family in its own compound. One common feature of Malay family life is the frequency of adoption. Childless couples may ask relatives for the opportunity to bring up one of their children, and this request is rarely refused. Adoption is partly caused by the necessity of having children to participate in the kampung-wide activities of gift exchange and feasting, from which childless couples would be barred. Children are highly valued, permissively indulged when young, but taught the proper elements of deferential behavior and speech as they grow up. A well-socialized child exhibits budi bahasa, the language and character of the properly raised, while ill manners are scorned as kurang ajar, or lacking education.


Sociopolitical Organization

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system and a prime minister. The parliament has an upper and a lower house, and operates much like the Indian model after which it was fashioned. At the head is a king, however, chosen from the nine hereditary rulers (sultans) and serving for five years. The other two states on the peninsula are headed by governors. Below this national government with its bureaus, departments, military, constabulary, and other agencies, are the state governments with their chief ministers and departments. The day-to-day work of the government as it affects and impinges on the ordinary Malay comes through the district officer and his staff. The district officer has command of regional officers (penggawas ), and this lowest level of the state civil service is in contact with local kampung headmen (penghulu ), some of whom are elected, others chosen from above. With all of this formal political organization goes a system of civil courts and Islamic domestic law courts, and a flourishing political culture of competing parties and their branch organizations. Police constables and courts contain and settle disputes, and the various officers of civil government often adjudicate troubles, as does the leader of the congregation (imam). If there is a learned, pious man (alim ), he will often be called in for advice on amelioration of conflict.


Religion and Expressive Culture

Malays are Muslims, and their Islamic faith is of the Sunni variety. This religion stresses the observance of the five pillars of Islam but also pays attention to the sincerity of belief by enjoining interior states of pious intent called niat. In some towns and cities Sufi brotherhoods exist. In the Malay areas of the northeast, much Islamic belief and practice is transmitted in residential boarding schools called pondok, under the tutelage of learned tok guru. Recently there has been a movement, especially among the young and in the university, to return to a more vigorous and purer form of Islam. This movement is called dakwah, from the Arabic word for a "call" back to religion. The compulsory beliefs of Islam include a severe monotheism, angels, judgment day, and Mohammed as the final prophet who received the Quran from God via the angel Gabriel. Malays should make their pilgrimage to Mecca if they are able, and there is always a waiting list of Malay pilgrims seeking passage to Mecca. The ritual calendar is geared to Islamic holidays, and the end of the fasting month of Ramadan sees the major holiday of hari raya pusa marked by feasting and visiting among relatives and friends. Underlying Islamic belief and practice are earlier beliefs and practices from Hindu and animistic sources. These hantu-hantu (as the spirits, goblins and ghosts of pre- or non-Islamic provenience are called) are mainly to be avoided, overcome, or propitiated, and are not much different from similar power in other cultures of Southeast Asia. The major venue of these spirits and forces is the curing ceremony, where a bomoh or dukun will undertake to cure a patient by an elaborate trance and body-smoking ritual. The bomoh calls on his familiar spirit from the world of spirits to remove the source of illness from the patient. There is also a large list of Malay poisons and herbal medicines used in treatment by bomohs. Bone-setting is another common form of local medical practice, and midwives still assist in the majority of deliveries.

Arts. The major form of entertainment is still the wayang kulit, the shadow play derived from the Hindu epics. The performance may cover several nights and the puppet master must be paid for his performance, either by a host or by communal contribution. Top-spinning and kite-flying contests are still part of adult entertainment. Bersilatea, the Malay form of the martial arts, is enjoying a revival in both the countryside and the cities.

See also Singaporean

Bibliography

Firth, Raymond (1975). Malay Fishermen: Their Peasant Economy. New York: W. Norton & Co.


Ginsburg, Norton, and C. F. Roberts, Jr. (1958). Malaya. Seattle: University of Washington Press.


Nash, Manning (1974). Peasant Citizens: Politics, Religion, and Modernization in Kelantan, Malaysia. Athens: Ohio University Center for Southeast Asia Studies.


Swift, M. G. (1965). Malay Peasant Society injelebu. London: Athlone Press.


Wang Gungwu, ed. (1964). Malaysia: A Survey. New York: Frederick Praeger.

MANNING NASH

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Malay

Ma·lay / məˈlā; ˈmāˌlā/ • n. 1. a member of a people inhabiting Malaysia and Indonesia. ∎  a person of Malay descent. 2. the Austronesian language of the Malays, closely related to Indonesian, that is the official language of Malaysia. • adj. of or relating to this people or language.

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Malay

Malay: see Malayan.

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Malay

Malayaffray, agley, aka, allay, Angers, A-OK, appellation contrôlée, array, assay, astray, au fait, auto-da-fé, away, aweigh, aye, bay, belay, betray, bey, Bombay, Bordet, boulevardier, bouquet, brae, bray, café au lait, Carné, cassoulet, Cathay, chassé, chevet, chez, chiné, clay, convey, Cray, crème brûlée, crudités, cuvée, cy-pres, day, decay, deejay, dégagé, distinguée, downplay, dray, Dufay, Dushanbe, eh, embay, engagé, essay, everyday, faraway, fay, fey, flay, fray, Frey, fromage frais, gainsay, gay, Gaye, Genet, gilet, glissé, gray, grey, halfway, hay, heigh, hey, hooray, Hubei, Hué, hurray, inveigh, jay, jeunesse dorée, José, Kay, Kaye, Klee, Kray, Lae, lay, lei, Littré, Lough Neagh, lwei, Mae, maguey, Malay, Mallarmé, Mandalay, Marseilles, may, midday, midway, mislay, misplay, Monterrey, Na-Dene, nay, né, née, neigh, Ney, noway, obey, O'Dea, okay, olé, outlay, outplay, outstay, outweigh, oyez, part-way, pay, Pei, per se, pince-nez, play, portray, pray, prey, purvey, qua, Quai d'Orsay, Rae, rangé, ray, re, reflet, relevé, roman-à-clef, Santa Fé, say, sei, Shar Pei, shay, slay, sleigh, sley, spae, spay, Spey, splay, spray, stay, straightaway, straightway, strathspey, stray, Sui, survey, sway, Taipei, Tay, they, today, tokay, Torbay, Tournai, trait, tray, trey, two-way, ukiyo-e, underlay, way, waylay, Wei, weigh, wey, Whangarei, whey, yea

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