Malays live island-wide and can very easily get along with the other communities to live in peace and harmony. The Malays are also noted for their spiritual abilities. In fact, the nature of the Malay psyche is peace, which is propounded by their religion, Islam.
The 70,000 strong Sri-Lankan Malay community is distressed, dismayed and very concerned that their culture, language and identity is fast disappearing. The cultures of the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils have made inroads among the Malays so much so that many Malays do not even know their own language, but only speak Sinhalese or Tamil depending on whether they live in Sinhalese dominated areas or Tamil dominated areas.
The elite among the Malays speak the English language. The dress of the Malays is also not the traditional dress worn in Indonesia and Malaysia. It is either the saree, frock and now the blouse and jean-pants. There is a slow but sure erosion of Malay culture in all cultural fields, the cultures and life-styles of the majority Sinhalese, minority Tamils and in some instances the Western culture have swamped and drowned the original culture of the Malays. This trend has alarmed the once proud Malay community, who boldly projected their unique humane and beautiful culture in the past.
In addition to the Sinhalese, Tamil and Western cultures that have influenced the Malays, their co-religionist the Moors too have strongly influenced the Malays. The culture of the Moors is quite different to that of the Malays. The Moors are descendents of the Arabs and South Indian Muslims, the South Indian Muslims in turn are the descendents of Arabs who came to South India while the Malays are descendents of the Javanese and Malays of Malaysia and Indonesia.
A Sri Lankan Malay singing a Malay song
The Malays, some of whom were of Royal descent, were exiled by the Dutch rulers, while others were brought over here as soldiers, both by the Dutch and British. Even the Sinhalese Kings recruited Malay soldiers to their Army to fight the British. On some occasions, Malay soldiers on the side of the British would battle Malay soldiers on the side of the Sinhalese Kings. Malay soldiers were absolutely loyal to whoever recruited them. They were well known for their loyalty, valour, courage and fighting abilities.
The UNF and the PA governments, despite several appeals from responsible Malay citizens, have lumped them as Muslims. The Malays do not for a moment deny that they are Muslims following the religion of Islam, but since at present ethnicity is most relevant in Sri-Lanka society more than at anytime in our history, it is indeed a travesty of justice to ignore the ethnic claim of the Sri-Lankan Malays of today.
The Malays were originally Hindus. They then converted to Buddhism and finally embraced Islam. The history of the Malays in our island is marked by epic achievements. The present day Malays are completely ignorant of the historical glory, values and bravery of this small but courageous and innovative community. Most significantly, the Malays have not caused any trouble to the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities. They have co-operated with both main political parties viz. the UNP and the SLFP. They have also had cordial and brotherly relations with their co-religionist the Moors. Malays live island-wide and can very easily get along with the other communities to live in peace and harmony. In fact, the nature of the Malay psyche is peace, which is propounded by their religion, Islam.
The Malays are also noted for their spiritual abilities. Having so many saints whose shrines abound in this blessed island, the Malays reached their peak when they truly practiced Islam. In its heyday, 75% of the Police force, 90% of the prison services and 100% of the Colombo Fire Brigade were Malays. Large numbers of Malays also served in the Hambantota salterns, H. M Customs, in plantations as estate clerks and conductors, tea, rubber makers and in government service and the private sector. The Malays had a reputation for loyalty, honesty and hard work. Some Malays were self-employed and were very skilled artisans in rattaning and masonry.
The Sri-Lanka Malay Associations, the Malay Cricket Club, the oldest cricket club, in the island and the Konferensi Melayu Sri-Lanka (Coslam) have made some efforts to revive Malay culture. The attempts are mostly cosmetic. A big brouhaha is made about the Malay Rally by the Sri-Lanka Malay Association and the Malay Cricket Club. Once the rally is over, there is hardly any follow-up. The Konferensi, Melayu (Coslam) with much hype organises ‘Hari Bahasa Melayu’ (Malay Language Day), but after their rally they go into hibernation and nothing does happen. Cynics in the community claim that these occasions are organised by office bearers for social-climbing, vanity fare, ego-building, partying and for glitz and show and not for reviving Malay culture and identity.
Many Malays feel that it is possible to revive their culture if government sponsors and supports them. Hence it is necessary that the government like in the past, nominates in the national list a Malay to represent the community. Earlier, the Malay community was represented by Dr. M. P. Drahman and B. Z. Lye under the SLFP. The Malays were very thankful for this gesture to the SLFP. The UNP nominated M. H. Amit under the national list. However, when M. H. Amit was asked by the Malays as to why he gave up his seat in favour the late Gamini Dissanayake, he said that he was appointed as a member of the Muslim League, which is affiliated to the UNP and hence did not represent the Malays.
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The Malay/Javanese soldiers served in the regular army of the Dutch led by the princely class of Malay/Javanese families. Aside from these soldiers, the early Sri Lankan Malay population was comprised significantly of the Javanese/Malay ruling class who were exiled to the island.
The original Malay population of Sri Lanka consisted of diverse East Indian nationalities, preponderantly of Javanese origin, while others belonged to Sundanese, Bugis, Madurese, Minangkabaus, Amboinese, Balinese, Tidorese, Spice Islanders, and not the least the.
Although Malay social customs such as those pertaining to births, circumcisions and marriages are not significantly different from those of their Moorish co-religionists, there nevertheless do exist a few practices that do differ. A practice peculiar to the Malays until fairly recent times was the singing of Panthongs on such festive occasions.
The Malays have also retained some of their traditional fare such as Nasi Goreng (Fried rice), Satay and Malay Kueh (cakes and puddings). Pittu (rice-cake) and Babath (tripe) is another favourite dish that has found much favour amongst other communities as well.
The traditional Malay dress has however ceased to exist for some time. Local Malay women, like their Moorish sisters, dress in sari (Indian-style with a hood left at the back to cover the head when going outdoors) instead of the traditional Malay Baju and Kurung.
However, it is possible that the sarong which Malay men as well as those of other communities wear at home is a recent introduction from the archipelago.
It appears that in the olden days, Sinhalese, Moor and Tamil folk wore a lower garment similar to the Indian dhoti and not exactly the same garment we know as the sarong, whose name itself is of Malay origin.
The arts of batik printing and rattan weaving, both lucrative cottage industries in the country also owe their origins to the Malay.
Today the Malays remain a very loyal and Patriotic Sri Lankan. Malay Street is currently on at – Mount Lavinia Hotel (23rd March – 1st April 2007). Traditional Sri Lankan Malay food coupled with traditional Malay music at the Governor’s rooftop.
GM: The problem with Malay Malaysian, they always think that they are the only Malay in this world. That’s why you straight away jumped to the page with that provoking title…..By the way it is nice to know our forefather were afterall a respectable group of citizens… Lama tak dengar orang puji Melayu..
……….Malay Unity is a long road…………