Monday, 18 June 2012

The Civilized Malay

I wrote this message with an excerpt from Sir Richard Windstedt's book, and mailed it to my colleagues on campus many years ago. I will share it with you here.

The Civilized Malay
1 Message

The Civilized Malay Saturday, 29 November, 2008 10:37:52 PM
To: akadppsp@warga.kck.usmnet

It seems that we are just one race after all...please read from:
Malaya and Its History by Sir Richard Windstedt, London. 1948


The migration of the Malays from Yunnan down to the Malay peninsula took place between 2500 and 1500 B.C. Their quadrangular adze culture, accompanied by unglazed cord-marked pottery of great variety, has been traced from China southward, and "the highly specialized pick-adzes of Java and Sumatra from a simple adze type with quadrangular cross section and semi-circular edge found in Laos through an intermediate type frequent in Malaya indicates the direction and way of their migration"--namely, down the Malay peninsula. Some may have travelled by land, others across the Gulf of Siam in craft developed from bamboo outriggers still in use on rivers in Burma and Indo-China. Among the earliest waves may have been the Jakun. But the most important movement brought the ancestors of the Malays of Kedah, Kelantan and Patani to become the civilized hinduized subjects of Langka suka and Sri Vijaya. The people of Kelantan, who have been compared to the Polynesians, are bigger than the Malays of the south, perhaps because they represent a different strain, perhaps on account of a better climate or the better food of an ancient rice area.

For the culture of primitive Malays, language and pre-historic discoveries provide the only evidence. And while earlier peoples, apparently with an Australo-Melanesoid strain, lived in caves or left gigantic shell-heaps, the debris of antediluvian meals, to bear witness to their location, the more highly civilized Indonesian and primitive Malay inhabited villages that are revealed only by some accident like the great flood of 1926, which unearthed one at Tembeling in Pahang. Yet there is ample evidence that, before these neolithic people left the continent of Asia, they made pottery and built megaliths. They were hunters--not only of game but of human heads for the sake of their soul-substance. They were fishermen acquainted with traps of bamboo and wood, though not, apparently, with the cast-net or other nets of cord. They lived, as villagers still live, in houses built on piles and lashed with rattan, with bamboo flooring and walls. In their gardens they cultivated sugarcane, bananas, the gourd and the coconut. Their field-crops were millet (still a Sakai crop) and rice, both of which provided them with food and fermented drink. They had domesticated the pig and the buffalo and perhaps cattle. Their clothes were of bark. Their numerals went up to a thousand and they possessed some knowledge of the stars.

It must have been long before the Christian that Malay names were given to many parts of Malaya like Kelantan, Muar and Tumasik (which Hindus changed to Singapore). The meaning of Naning, for example, is forgotten today, but we know from the Malay element in the Khasi of Assam that it means "Upriver". Possibly no generic name was adopted by the scattered tribes until Jambi or Melayu succeeded Sri Vijaya in the thirteenth century, after which they called themselves Malays.

Jambi fell, to be succeeded by inland Minangkabau. But when Malacca was founded with a population largely made up of Malay sea-gipsies, its commerce attracted many Malays from the opposite coast of Sumatra, more especially Hindu Minangkabaus, who sought the gold districts of Pahang and the valleys of what in the eighteenth century became Negri Sembilan. Bugis, too, from Celebes, in 1700 founded modern Selangor and in 1722 became underkings of the Johore empire.

Most of the Bugis immigrants, at any rate, were men of birth who intermarried with peninsular royalties and dominated their local Malay subjects. And to infer from the legends of the Malay Annals that most of the Malays of the peninsula crossed from Sumatra in medieval times is to ignore the evidence of prehistory and place-names. The Malays have at least as much right to be regarded as the aboriginal people of Malaya as the English have to be called the aborigines of England.

The Malay of today, a broad-headed individual with olive skin, fine eyes, a neat well-proportioned body, lank black hair and almost hairless chin, is the primitive Malay plus many foreign strains derived from marriage with Chinese from Chou times down to the advent of Islam, with Hindus of the Deccan and Bengal, with Muslim Indians, Siamese and Arabs. They have changed little since Magellan's brother-in-law, Duarte Barbosa, described them from his experience in the East between 1500 and 1517: "They are well-set-up men and go bare from the waist up but are clad in cotton garments below. They, the most distinguished among them, wear short coats which come half-way down their thighs, of silk cloth--in grain or brocade--and over this they wear girdles; at their waists they carry daggers in damascene-work which they call creews.[keris]

Their women are tawny-coloured, clad in very fine silk garments and short skirts decorated with gold and jewels. They are very comely, always well-attired and have very fine hair. . . . They live in large houses outside the city with many orchards, gardens and tanks, where they lead a pleasant life. They are polished and well-bred, fond of music and given to love."

To bring the picture up to date: all but the peasant at work in his fields wear coats nowadays: creeses [keris] are worn only at court ceremonies, and many Malays have adopted European dress for working hours. Some years ago when a Resident issued a circular in praise of Malay costume and in favour of its retention, the Malay chiefs at the next meeting of the State Council asked him the reason: was he concerned lest they should contract chobi[1]-itch?

It is a pity that modern life and the Malay's own administration for European ways have conspired to make the white man forget what Miss Isabella Bird, author of The Golden Chersonese, knew in 1879: "The Malays undoubtedly must be numbered among civilized peoples. . . . They have possessed for centuries systems of government and codes of land and maritime law, which in theory at least show a considerable degree of enlightenment."

The Malay has great pride of race--due, perhaps, as much to his Muhammadan religion as to a past he has forgotten. He has, as Sir Frank Swettenham once wrote, "as good a courage as most men", and a better sense of the values of what life offers than is generally gained from book philosophies.

Even the aborigines of Malaya have attractive manners, and the Malay has not only undergone the discipline of Hindu etiquette but has been affected by his Muslim teaching much as an English boy has been affected by the public school, acquiring poise and confidence. Because he is an independent farmer with no need to work for hire, the Malay has got an undeserved reputation for idleness, which his Asiatic competitors take care to foster.

In affairs he is not only diplomatic but intelligent and statesmanlike, with a natural ability to weigh both sides of a question. His domestic life is happy. He marries young, but in spite of the latitude of Islamic practice the peasant has seldom been a polygamist, though the immemorial need for sons to work his fields makes him prone to repudiate a childless wife.

At the 1947 census, out of 2,395,123 Malays in the Federation, 264,630 were comparatively new-comers from Sumatra and Java, men of the Malay's own racial stock and religion, who alone of the country's immigrants rapidly become absorbed into the Malay community. In the Federation, too, the Malays formed 43—77 per cent of the total population and the Chinese 38—6 per cent. But in Kelantan, for example, the population is almost wholly Malay.

[1] Hindustani for "laundryman".