Gambar hiasan - Foto via Blogspot
By Arof Ishak

AN article on the subject and with the title of “Knowing the Malays”, appeared in Malaysiakini 8/10/23 authored by Ranjit Singh Malhi. I’d rate it as an article that is unhelpful. It does not at all seek to cultivate knowledge about the Malays as the people of the region, as the title suggests.

Instead, it really has the purpose quite clearly felt, as one sifts the content, to deconstruct and dismantle the commonly understood narrative of the identity of the Malays in Malaysia and the Archipelago; an effort of dismantlement that would ‘expose’, as it were, the Malays as being actually a tiny group people and immigrants in the Archipelago, a stratagem to present the Malays as really a small, insignificant race.

The aim of the narrative is laid bare by phrases used in the article like the Malays are “Austronesian migrants … from Taiwan”, in relating a hypothesis of Malay origins said to be “accepted by most scholars”. The article summarily dismisses a “competing hypothesis” that the Malays are indigenous to Malaysia and the Malay Archipelago which it says is only “favoured by a few researchers”.

Instead of labelling the competing hypothesis as “favoured by a few researchers”, better phrases could have been used like “the latest hypothesis, which has gathered (increasing) attention”.

The reader could not avoid the obvious conclusion that the clear aim of the article is to put a stop to the Malay claim that they are natives of the Archipelago, a claim well recognised by the British during their more than 80 years of administration here.

Not only is the article hinting in broad daylight that Malays are not native to Malaysia, Malays from other parts of the Archipelago in Malaysia are considered ‘non-Malays’, and termed as “Indonesian immigrants”, even as the author is fully aware that even the distant Britishers had used the term “Other Malaysians” (in other words, ‘other Malays’), to refer to these archipelagic people in their official statistics.

The article additionally seeks to convey the image of the Malays as just a small bunch of people in Malaya and Sumatera island. It describes Malays as belonging to a “Malayic” group, a small group, a term that is employed to remove “Other Malaysians” (“non-Malayic”) from the big picture of the Malays of the Archipelago.

The article could have provided the full picture by also mentioning the fact that the “Malayics” in turn are part of a much larger group called “Malayo-Polynesians”, who in turn are part of a bigger group still, called “Austronesians” (the larger Rumpun Melayu in Malay), terms that have been very much in use internationally for more than a century.

The Austronesians are a super large group, the second largest language family (in terms of the number of languages in the family) in the world (the largest one is one in Africa).

The article takes aim also at the notion of the big “Malay World”.

With much mischief, the said article labels “some Malay scholars and activists”, as “propagandists” for claiming that the “Malay World” encompasses “more than 350 million people inhabiting areas from Easter Island in the East to Madagascar in the West, to Taiwan in the North, and New Zealand in the South”, and saying that “this overly stretched description of the “Malay World” is … misleading”.

But, this IS a knowledge about the Malays as a people and their world – one continuous world of a single cultural, civilisational and ancestral origin. If by suggesting that expansive world is ‘Malay’ (not without reason), these “some scholars and activists” are labelled propagandists, then all of us are propagandists too for suggesting alternate or other things. None would qualify to be saintly.

There was a time in the early 1880’s, when King Kalakaua of Hawaii proclaimed to the Sultan of Johor, Maharaja Abu Bakar, that he was a Malay when he came to Johor, on a trip round the world. King Kalakua called also on the King of Siam, who said he was related to Malays too.

We need to be very clear about two things when seeking to know the Malays.

First, anyone who makes the Archipelago their home, and who really seeks to understand or know the Malays, needs to understand the Malay term Rumpun Melayu (or, serumpun in the Indonesian usage). It’s the Malay reference to their one common Malay racial and ethnic stock, a people spread across the entire Archipelago of Southeast Asia (like the Arabs spread – although very much recently – across possibly a dozen countries).

The complete absence of the term Rumpun Melayu or any reference to it in the ‘to know the Malay’ article is simply ridiculous. The Rumpun Melayu are the Malay peoples of common ancestry, even without them even knowing about DNA in the past, arising in one common civilisation, and speaking a family of common languages, called ‘Austronesians’ in international scholarship. The entire rumpun is the Bangsa (the race), the Bangsa Rumpun Melayu, one single bangsa.

But, there is also a limited meaning of the term ‘Malay’ in Malaysia and Indonesia due to political and historical accident. In other words, there is also the ‘Malay’ as a political term, and the ‘Malay’ (or, ‘Malayan’, or ‘Malaysian’) as a civilisational terminology. Hence, when the term ‘Malay’ is used for instance as in the “Malay Archipelago”, it is a usage in the civilisational sense of the term.

The Malays/Rumpun Melayu are an indigenous people, a race, an ethnicity, a language, a culture, a polity, and a civilisation.

Second, the need to understand the notion of alam of the Malays, or the “Malay World”. Even accepting the hypothesis that Malays might have Taiwan as their original homeland, that does not refute the fact that Malays are the natives of the Southeast Asian archipelago, because Taiwan would then just be a proper part of the Archipelago, historically.

And, the Archipelago is the entire Alam Melayu, or “Malay World” in Southeast Asia. In other words, all the islands of Southeast Asia are the “Malay World”, including Taiwan and Hainan island too, if one knows that the natives in the latter island are also of the Malay stock!

And, that “Malay World” in Southeast Asia has had its peoples spread and its civilisation planted in the entire Pacific Ocean region (Hawaii, Easter Island, New Zealand, etc. etc.), far east from Southeast Asia from at least 3,500 years ago, and on the island of Madagascar, far south west of Southeast Asia from at least 1,400 years ago.

This very extensive land-and-sea ‘continent’ (more than half the surface of the globe) if one may use the term, is the huge world of the “Malay”/“Malayan”/“Malayo-Polynesian” (all these are internationally recognised terms) peoples.

To conclude, purpose and intent are important in the writing of articles. If the purpose is truly to know the Malays as is the subject now, plenty of weightage has to be given to the Malays’ own perspectives and consciousness of themselves as a people/s, and not to impose one’s own or another people’s description of the Malays as the superior argument.

The Malays’ conception of themselves as a stock of people needs to be understood, not dismissed as erroneous, worse still ignored altogether. No two peoples and no two worlds are alike, and they necessarily generate different narratives. The Malay/Austronesian World is different from the European World, and the Malay World has to be understood in its own terms, and its own concepts.

Least of all for other people to appoint themselves as the authority to define or determine who are the Malays. It is hardly possible to think for instance of the Mongols of East Asia as the authority to define who are the British, whether in or outside of Europe.

If the purpose of a writing is to deconstruct/dismantle the Malays as a people in Malaysia, to make them seem minor, and hence to dismiss the base argument that the Malays/ Malay peoples are the founding population in the country, a similar deconstructing/dismantling exercise can be done with respect to other people too.

As an example, Indians in Malaysia cannot be listed as a ‘race’, because even in India itself there is no such thing as “Indian race”. (And, it follows it is a total myth to refer to Malaysia as a “multiracial country”. There are just two races in Malaysia – the Rumpun Melayu, and the Austro-Asiatic Orang Asli).

What we have here in Malaysia are “Indian communities”, several of them not one, and diverse communities such as the Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, etc. They are not a stock of people either, as Punjabis and Tamils for instance are completely opposite, one is Indo-Aryan the other Dravidian, the former an immigrant group and the latter an indigenous people in India. And, none of these communities exceeds 5% of the national population in Malaysia, or can claim to be the third largest ‘race’ in Malaysia.

To honestly seek to know the Malays in Malaysia (whether, one is a non-Malay citizen, or a foreigner altogether) one has to begin with a most important principle, which is to embrace (i.e. recognise, and for the citizens, also integrate with) everything found in the land that is Malaysia.

Like the British did in Malaya; they embraced the Malay language as the language of the land, the Malay culture as the culture of the land, Malay history as the history of the land, and the Malays as the natives of the soil. Guided by this principle the British administrators voraciously learnt about the Malay language, culture, customs, and history, and contributed richly toward the development of knowledge about Malay history, for instance.

The British did not do research in Malay history in order to dispute or refute the indigeneity or identity of the Malays; but to contribute toward building up knowledge about the Malays and their land, and accordingly knowing the Malays better and correctly. The British did not deconstruct, but sought to discover likeness and similitude in the Malay character, the Malay tale and the Malay World to discover the big picture, the macrocosm of the Malay universe.

But, we have the unfortunate situation these modern times when some scholars and activists among Malaysians who do research, produce papers, filmografies or simply write, with a sole purpose of disputing, casting doubt, refuting, challenging the Malay identity, Malay indigeneity, Malay character and culture, Malay language, Malay history, Malay narrative, etc., in the motherland of the Malays itself.

— BebasNews

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