As some readers might recall my earlier article “A Very Brief History of the Malays and Malaysia”, I have tried to explain about the subject in my own “naive” and “uneducated ways”. It was written out of my general knowledge and observations, as I have been traveling around the region extensively and I have always been a keen observer of the peoples that I came into encounter with. The fact that the “Malays” as I saw represents quite a large group of maybe around three hundred million people or more, it intrigues me to search and understand who the Malays are and their origins. Since the last writing, I have been reading and researching on the subject and slowly it becomes clearer to me. And thus, I would like to revisit the subject and put in proper perspectives some of the factual issues and hypothesis to correct some of the matters that I have raised earlier.

Fact 1: The first occupiers of Malaysia are undoubtedly the Semang Negritos which came to the region somewhere around 500,000 years ago. They are part of the first wave of human migration to South East Asia from the East African plains and gradually move throughout the “Islands” until finally they reached further south as far as Tasmania. They shared in a large degree many similarities to the Papuan natives as well as the aborigines in the Australian continent. They are in no way can be categorized as Malays.

Fact 2: The Malays are a branch of the so called “Austronesians” family which originates from the southern mainland China, cross the straits into the Taiwan Islands (3500 B.C.) then spread into the Philippines Islands, Borneo and the rest of the Malay archipelago (from 3500 B.C. to 1600 B.C.). Some of the Austronesians never crossed the Taiwan straits and instead move southwards and occupy what is South Vietnam and Cambodia today and became the so called Champa people. While some of the Island and seafaring Austronesians end up taking sea voyages and occupy the Pacific Islands (the Polynesians – Fiji, Tonga, Samoa etc) as far as the Hawaii Islands (from 1600 B.C. to 600 A.D.). This branch is called today as the “Polynesians”, while another smaller branch migrated to the Madagascar Island near the coast of East Africa. This probably answers the puzzle to my mind why these peoples outlook are so much similar to the Malays in South East Asia.

[The terminologies used, “Austronesians”, “Polynesians”, “Malayo Polynesians” etc., are labelled that has become the acceptable names among the academic circles of which are “wrong” because it identifies the final destinations rather than the origins. Probably someday, after more research and findings are made, these terminologies got to be changed. But for now we just take it as given].

Fact 3: The Malays in the early days (500 B.C. to 500 A.D.) never developed any Kingdoms or civilization except for three locations namely in Cambodia (Fu Nan in Angkor Wat), Sri Vijaya in today’s Palembang, Sumatra and in East Java (where Borobodur lies). These are the first three “agro” kingdom and civilization that sprung up. The other Malays are spread out among the Islands which at the time were too small and too far spread out to necessitate establishments of organized governments. The forms of government in most Islands are more along the lines of Chieftains (or small Rajas) as is evident from places like the Moluccas and the chieftains of the Pacific Islands. Most of the Malays remains hunter gatherers among these Islands, until gradually as the population grow; they were transformed into organized agrarian societies (around 500 A.D. to 1500 A.D.).

Fact 4: After the fall of the two Kingdoms (Fu Nan, Sri Vijaya and the Javanese), then only the Malay Kingdoms started sprung up (in coincidence with population growth and conversion from hunter gatherers to agrarian society, as well as the starting of the inter Island trading activities) in various locations throughout the Malay archipelagos. This is when the Malay Kingdom of Malacca was established (1300 A.D.) in the Peninsular Malaysia (as an off shoot from the Sri Vijaya Kingdom). The other Malays in the Borneo island remains as hunter gatherers and organized under chieftains and small Rajas – until the establishment of the Sulu sultanate (the origins of the Brunei royalty and Kingdom). [Note that I will skip discussing about other branch of the Malays such as the Polynesians and other part of the “Indonesian Islands” as my focus is about Malaysia].

Fact 5: There were no large governments prior to the Malacca Sultanate in Malaysia because the Peninsular was among the least “fertile” in terms of lands for agriculture compared to the volcanic islands of Indonesia. There were pockets of agrarian society along the various river banks of Malaysia (the Perak River, Pahang River, Muda River, Muar River, Terengganu River, Kelantan River and so on). They were too small in numbers to require major forms of government. However, given the trading activities that rose to prominence at the time, Malacca became one of the major “trading posts” for the region – and hence gave the power and prestige to the Sultanate. Which eventually subdue all other chieftains along those river banks and amalgamate them as the Malacca Sultanate (and hence many of our Sultans originate to the Malacca Sultanate – around 1400 A.D.). I believe that if we want to identify when the Malays and Malaysia originate (as a country), this event would be the best candidate as the starting point.

Fact 6: The prosperity of Malay Peninsular and the Malacca Sultanate brought along many other waves of migration of other Malays from the region. Later on during the British dominance, many other races such as the Arabs (of Yemeni descent), the Indian traders (except for the Tamils), as well as the Chinese (Cheng Ho etc) joins the fray. At the same time, Singapore and Penang gradually took over Malacca as the trading centres and eventually attracts all sorts of races and nationalities. The prosperity of Malaya rest largely on these amalgamations of other races into it (Arabs, Indians, and Chinese, Europeans), as well as migrations of many other Malays into Malaya (the Champas, the Bugis, the Javanese and so on). The fall of Malacca and the rule of the British set the beginning of the formation of Malaysia – which became a nation after the Independence.

[I skip the historical development of Sabah and Sarawak intentionally as their history literally took a different path than Peninsular Malaysia].

In summary, the establishment of Malaysia does not rise out of “great historical civilizations”, but rather a “hodgepodge” kind of events and activities that eventually gave rise to the Nationhood. Malaysia is a late comer into these nationhood and civilisation business – and claims no real former glory save for the short period of the height of the Malacca Sultanate.

Therefore, where does the “Ketuanan Melayu” arise from? The Indonesians, for example, consists of the largest Malay origin population never understood this term, and neither other branch of Malays (in Madagascar, Hawaii or the Pacific Islands) understood this subject. It comes from the British. It is part of the bargaining between the Malay Sultans and the Malay elites against the British for Independence. There is no historical claim to it except for the so called social contract that was agreed upon and became the mantra of some Malay people. The term was never well defined and understood, and in fact the social contract itself remains only a vague term that no one can really define what it means and implied. In my view, as in any contracts, it can be rewritten and redefined.

Let me now delve into another related matter: the Malay language, where does it originate? Again, evidences point out that the origins of the language is where Southern China is today (In the Provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong). The likely candidate is the so-called “Miao-Yao” language which are spoken today only among small ethnic minorities in these provinces. The reason why this language (and many other languages inside today’s China) has been eliminated and extinct was due to the thousands of years of efforts by the Chinese emperor to impose Chinese language (with Mandarin base) as the official language of China.

The Malay language, while may originate from Miao-Yao, eventually transformed itself into a more “Austroasiatic” based language, which then permeates throughout Southern Vietnam and Cambodia, the Philippines and the rest of the Malay archipelago. The lack of organized societies among the Malays (as they are scattered throughout the Islands) probably hamper the development of the language as an advanced language, each area took it own strand of development, and remains a simple language (since there was no requirements for complexities in primitive societies).

For this reason, I am of the opinion that Malay language should be kept only as communication and cultural language but we should never try or attempt to make it a scientific language. It does not have the built up for it.

Understanding the origins is important as it will clear your perspective on many things that one’s may assume or take for granted. For example, some people may feel the Chinese “immigrants” are not welcomed to Malaysia, without realizing that the Malays also migrate from the same location – except that they precedes the latter immigrants by a few thousand years and the blood in their veins shared a lot more common DNA than compared to an Indian (or Mamak). On the other hand, culturally speaking the Malays are much more closer to the Indian than a Chinese, as the Indian religion and culture were the ones that has more influence over the Malays than the Chinese.

So my conclusion is again – we are just a hodgepodge nation, a mix of everything. So do race matters anymore? Or is it that the necessity of it comes out of politics more than the reality and history? Are we going to continue race based division’s say 50 or 100 years from now? If my reading of history of mankind is correct – then give the racial divide not more than 50 years span; and race based politics not more than 10 to 20 years span, the earlier the better.


Add Yours
  1. Airata

    Pse elabrate about the Kingdom of Malacca.You mention Malay Kingdom of Malacca but as far I am concern it was a Hindu Kingdom under Parameswara and he died as a Hindu.Are you trying to change History?

    • Muz

      I think the writer never intended to misleed us in the context of Malay or Hindu kingdom of Malacca – because he did not describe/discuss the religious aspect of the kingdom. It was apparent that kingdoms/civilisation/society prior to Islamisation of the Malay kingdom ascribed to a mix of archipelago’s animism and borrowed Hinduism from India (which does not neccessarily mean that they had practised cultures all too familiar in India (apart from some of aspects of the religion given that they were Hindus) but the outlook, aspirations and temparament were most probably that of the Malays’ e.g. the Balinese (not Indian (Balinese are generally Austronesian/Mongoloid genetically) but Hindus by religion) – which was NOT discussed here (in depth) and I believe was not deliberately left out because it was probably againts the spirit of the discussion above to act/serve as a one-stop in providing extensive historical facts.

    • Ssim

      The discussion is about anthropological and geographical origin of the Malay. The Malays(in Malaysia) embracing Islamism as their religion comes much later…

  2. Truth

    Great injustice to Malay’s history by implying that the starting point was Melaka. Obviously your sources must be Malay Muslim books which deny the pre-Muslim existence of Malays and Malay Kingdoms and influence of Hindu India. Why silent about the Hindu Kingdoms that existed in Kedah (Bujang Valley), Perak, Johor, Pahang, Kelantan etc? You have also sidestepped explaning the preponderance of Indian words in Malay such Tamil, Sanskrit, Hindi etc. Last but not least, you have also forgotten the great degree of Indian/Hindu influences on Malay culture: for eg, their houseform, food, dressing, music, dance, folklore etc.

    • Van1ty

      From what my perspective, it seems he has not included such information only because his sources did not mention them. I’m sure it was not his intention to “forget” these facts. What he mentioned were simply the possible origins of the Malay language. We all know of the Tamil, Sanskrit, Hindi influences, but you could say the same about Portugese additions to the language and such.

      It’s easy to blame the author for neglecting such important pieces of this puzzle, but he did state that he was simply sharing his newly discovered insights on the topic, and not claiming it to be the entire truth.

      Your points seem to be valid, but instead of a response that targets the author’s lack of research, perhaps you could have taken a more civil approach and suggested what you know about the subject as additions that could easily be edited into the article.

    • SamSung

      It was the Malayo Polynesians,who nomadically trekked here from Funan,China after arriving from central Asia.
      Civilization didn’t arrive until Sri Vijayan Indians…..
      Gangga Negara 1st AD…a tomb found there declared to have buried Raja Pertama di Malaysia!Modern day Beruas is located in the coastal areas of the straits in Perak! Bronze Age discoveries were safely kept for viewing at the Beruas Museum.Ruins of an ancient fort spotted in the hills compounded that era.
      Lembah Bujang’s finds of chaandis & Buddhist religious Golden Chersonese’s pointed out to this era by Ptolemy in the 1st AD!Remember Alexander the Great?The Macedonean who conquered up to India, shared the same Alexandria with Ptolemy though 300 years apart!
      Recorded oldest local sultanate’s Kedah,6 th AD.By the arrival of Islam in the 8th AD,mass conversion took place.
      The Malaccan legacy in the 14th AD.Admiral Zheng He married a reported Muslim Princess to our Sultan Mansur Shah,a descendant of Parameswara,thus officiating a religion.500 consorts?
      Johore’s in the 1500s’.
      Perak’s in the 1500s’.S
      Selangor’s 1700s’.

  3. Tall Desk

    Good article. I find myself agreeing with you in many points. Indeed Malaysia is a hodgepodge nation, and racially specific politics are obsolete. About the origin of the Malays, Frank Swettenham was in the opinion that the cradle of the Malay race is at Gunung Dempo. To him, a group of southern Indians migrated to Sumatera, intermarried the locals, resulting in a new race called Malays. Another scholar stated that the Malays began labeling themselves as “Melayu” only after the founding of Melaka by Parameswara. The influences of Buddhism and Hinduism in the lives of Malays are undeniable as evidenced by archaeological finds and the Malay adat resam. The temples at the Peninsula were once religion schools that also served as temporary resting destination for monks from China on pilgrimage to India. It is obvious that the temples were built by Indian monks as the natives, at that time, were not sophisticated enough to do so. I am in the opinion that there has been all kinds of mixture involved between races. The Malay DNA tend to be more Chinese simply because majority of them were from there. I am willing to bet that we can find a Malay who has a DNA that tend to be like Indians. In summary, the Ujong Tanah Peninsula is a rojak or hodgpodge nation, like you said. I would like to point out that, for any race to lay claim of supremacy (Ketuanan) over this land, is an insult to their ancestors.


      Dear Tall Desk

      Thanks for your comments and additions. I am not a historian by profession, so the only thing that I did was through my observations as I travelled the region a lot. A bit of reading did help as well.

      After many comments and discussions, I still hold my stand that Malaysia is a hodgepodge nation of mix races and origins. And Malay race in particular reference, is a hodgepodge of many origins, and far from being homogeneous.

      Thanks and regards


      • SamSung

        Before advocating an open forum in the website,check your shallow & uncertain facts thoroughly! I find it amusing ,as your comprehension and adaptation of the topic,were widely opened to summary self-destruction and a felony!You seriously have got to read more!

    • Jackk Sparro

      As the world gets wiser,or rather as we grew older, theologies that queried us for many years, seemed to be agreed upon. Yet recently,some backward made an uncanny statement,” Malays are semantics from the Middle-East!”!
      Knowledge authored,after researching for tens of years ,washed down the drain just by a simple understatement? This misconception boosted the egos of the unlearned few,thus creating an illusion called the super race….

  4. Ghaz Baharein

    The Malay Race is a astropolynesian race in origin with mix from China and maybe India which came to the region in the second wave of migration to the Malay Archipelage (Indonesia, Malaysia, Phillipines, Borneo and the othe islands in the region) and Australia and the pacific Islands. They later remigrated all over the Archipelago for trade and later settled in various parts of the area.
    They were animists originally and latter was influenced by the Hindu and Bhuddist civilisations and various Kingdoms were established, such as Srivijaya, Majapahit and later Jambi. Of course then the Malays were either animist, Hindus or Bhudists.
    With the advent of Islam, from influence of the Arab and Indian Traders in Sumatra and Melaka and from China and Arabs in the Sulu, Patani, and the philippines most converted to Islam. Parameswara was a Malay of the Hindu faith until he converted to Islam.
    We should not mix the Malay Race to religion because the earlier settlers of Malaysia were Malays but not necessarily Muslims. For examples the early Chinese who came to Melaka married Malays who are not by then Muslims and that was the origin of the Babas and Nyonyas.
    Whatever it may be the Malay Archipelago were settled by Malays of various groups, i.e the Bugis, the Badjaus, the Muruts, the Achenese, the Sulus, the Bamjaris, the Mindanaus, etc etc. There were already Chinese, Indians and others who either intermarry and became assimilated into the Malay communities of the various regions.
    Later, because of Islamisation, colonisation, and politics, the Phillippine Malays became Christians, the Malaysians remained Muslims, The Balinese remained Hindus, the Bruneins remained Muslims and most of the Indonesians remained Muslims with the exception of Papu New Guinea, and some Islands which remained animists. Islam in a way united the majority of the Malays of the Archipelego with the exception of the Phillipines which converted to Christianity because of the Spanish persecution. (except Mindanao).
    However perspective you look at it the history of the Malays in Malaysia did NOT start with Melaka. They were already in Malaysia but under various influences and different religions. It was only in the 13th or 14th century that Islam came and changed the political and social system of the Malays and united them.
    It was during the Europeans colonisation period that the Malays were again seperated by the Europeans who carved their spheres of influence and Indonesia bacame such, Mindanao came under the Philippines, and Malaysia became Malaysia, and Southern Thailand became Thai, and Singapore became British.
    If not for these circumstance of history the Malays would consist of about 300,000,000 people comprising the region of Indonesia, Philippines, South Thailand and Burma, Malaysia and all the Islands around it, known as the Malay Archipelego then. They would be the third racial group and language after China and India.

  5. Tamar

    Malays are Austronesian first. If you are not Austronesian, then you cannot be ethnic Malay. However, there is a different explanation (if not definition) on Malay Race (ref Malayisation). Malay Race is consists of not just the ethnic Malay but also other Malays (in the rumpun Melayu), hence the plural of Malay (ref the book “the Malays” by Milner). Malay Race, is an evolving definition, which in the end, some said it may include Arabic or Mamak or Chinese (Muslims) blood in them, as long as, generally accepted that the Malay Race trace back to their loose culture, language and religious (predominantly Islam under the recent history of west of Sundaland). Since Malay Race has to be Austronesian, then they are the one that you guys keep on calling as “local” or “native”, don’t you realized that? As such, Indian and Chinese, Arabic and Mongols, since they are not Austronesian, or even malenisian, cannot be claiming as “local” or “native” right?
    You see, the bumiputera (including Malays), is a subset of the genetic O1, O2 and O3 (under the Y chromosm research) and of the anthropologist calling Austronesian (and not Malenisian) – is the one can claim as bumiputera or the native of the land. They are the one to “arrive”/ “occupy”/ “open” and live in this area first – only about thousands of years compare to modern Arabic, Chinese and Indian.
    Just like Chinese and Indian, there are many different Chinese and Indian isn’t it. Even until today, there is no one single language for “Indian” or “Chinese”, so why can’t you accept that there is a “Malay” world when there is Indian, Chinese, and Arabic worlds? If the Chinese world expand from the Tibet (which are not even ethnic Chinese) to Manchuria, why can’t you accept there is a similar world called Malay world expanding from Madagascar to Filipina, perhaps even further to Hawaii, Easter Island/Rapa Nui and New Zealand/Aotearoa? Remember, the Zhou Dynasty in China, is only as big as perhaps the current Thailand or Myanmar! Not big isn’t it!. The present China have more than 50 ethnics. In fact the dominant ethnic Han, is possibly not all homogeneous Hans, as there are variety of language of sub-ethnic Hans. Its all similar to the Malays. In fact, new theories said that the Chinese and Dravidian are originated from the Malay archipelago (Ref Bradshaw Foundation, Kota Tampan and Perak Man) – thanks to super-eruption of Toba volcano which made half of the face of populated earth into nuclear winter. The migration is actually the other way round, as this explained a lot of misteries – scientifically. You see, if Africa is the cradle of human kind, Sundaland (current Malay Archipelago) is the cradle of Asia, and second cradle of the whole human kind! If that is true, can the Malays (the brown race) claim China and India as well?
    Oh, I forgot the disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist, nor historian nor genetic engineer. I share this findings out of my own research by readings as an enthusiasts. I just become fascinated with the complexity of Malay Studies, which include Human Genome Project, Anthropology, Kota Tampan, Perak Man, Old Kedah/Kataha polity, Langkasuka, Funan, Champa, Khmer, Tanah Seri, Pan Pan, Sri Vijaya, Trambalinga, Dharmasraya, Melaka, Johor Riau, Brunei @ Borneo, Sulu, Malai, Melayu, Malayo-Polynesia, Austronesia etc.

  6. SamSung

    Malayo Polynesian were Austronesians from central Asia,as recorded traces of homo-erectus were discovered in this region @ Peking Man , 500,000 to 1mil. years old! While at the Ganges in India, similar traces were unearthed as well.
    As migration was thought to have taken place some 8000 years ago, some trekked south from the heights in Tibet,China to fill up the lower grassland in modern day Cambodia,Thailand,Indonesia etc., while others crossed into Taiwan,Philippines,Borneo…thus the Pacific islands.
    It was a known secret that the native Indians in Canada & Americas descended from this race , as others were believed to have crossed the Bering Straits into Alaka!
    Hence,the origins quested to the times before these arrivals led to the Afican Negritos,reportedly more than 10,000 years, and back.

  7. SamSung

    Agree with most of Ghaz Baharein’s input though not entirely all.Mix race of Astropolynesians were from the borders of India & China..Tibet etc.. Hence,migrating south to this land of the Three Kingdoms,namely Cambodia,Thailand etc. some 8000 years back.

    Even before the start of the millennium,Chinese from southern China, as Cambodia was known as then, & Indians,sailing across the straits were already sharing their religious beliefs.This advance era called the Golden Chersonese by Ptolemy in the 1st AD,where coins were used in trade.

    Kedah’s Hindu sultanate in the 6th AD,were beyond Malacca’s in the 14th century!Sri Vijayan’s from across the straits initiated this kingdom before converting at the arrival of Islam,again by the Indians in the 8th AD.Kadaram’s being reign over by the Cholas,another south Indian empire in 1000AD.

    Parameswara was another Indian prince who fled we learnt in school.After Temasek,he again fled to start the Malaccan legacy,circa 12th AD.Chinese Admiral Zheng He married muslim Princess Hang Li Po to our Sultan Mansur Shah,thus officiating a religion.

    Foremost European power to arrive at the straits were the Portugese in 1511. Along,came Christianity before the Dutch helped the Johore sultanate ‘recapture’ Malacca in the 1600s.Holland ruled Malacca briefly,before handing over to our colonial master,England in the late 1700s.

    Sir Francis Light was a merchant of the British East Indian co. when he landed on Penang @ Pearl of Orient by the 1700s’.Mix lots of inhabitants from China,Burma,Siam & other Sri Vijayan territories were already busily engaged in trading activities.

  8. SamSung

    Recently spoke to one lecturer from Myanmar, as he talked of their Mongolians ancestors while they performed a Harvesting Dance.The costumes they wore brought me back to the era of the warring tribes as described in the Three Kingdom novel.

    As our brothers & sisters in Sabah//Sarawak did the same harvest dance,but with a little advancement in their apparels & dance sequence,a definite similarity sure caught my curiosity.

    He professed to be a Malayo of the Shan tribe in Myanmar.
    He further recounted his predecessors’ of many tribes from India!

    Are not the local malays,Siamese,Cambodians,Indonesians etc. from this region of SEA,were of the same origin?

  9. Des

    Then why all the ketuanan melayu and the load of craps these days. When will thing change and take turn better than having to live by these Pirates.

    Everywhere I see the bringing up to thinking and idealogy that malay is supreme and they deserve what they have today by robbing others off of their rights.

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