Melayu - Origin of the Word

In the comment chatter box, I noticed that there have been a number of remarks about MIB and the citizenship, and even the relevancy of MIB in the context of the religion. If you are expecting today's topic to be about MIB, let me apologise in advance. I am not an expert to speak about the topic but I can point you to a couple of seminar papers available on the website that may be of use who wants to know more about MIB.

I was more intrigued about the origin of the word Melayu. According to the latest Pusaka Vol. 12, another Brunei History Centre publication, one Malaysian historian, Nabir Abdullah who wrote in 1978 and has been widely quoted noted that there are two schools of thoughts where the word 'Melayu' comes from. Firstly, the more widely acceptable explanation is that the word Melayu comes from Sanskrit 'Mala' which means hill/mountain and 'ur' which means town in Tamil or town/village/locality in Malayalam and hence Hilltowns or Malayur/Malaur. The second explanation is that the word comes from slaves in the Celebes. They are called Melayu because of the work they do which is the word 'Mala' which means to carry and 'ayu' which means stick and hence, they carry sticks.

If you read more literature, you will come across these explanations though the first one seemed to be widely acceptable. Though I guess it will concerned some Malay supremasists to note that the word Melayu comes from our South Asian neighbours and the second explanation is not very appealing either. However another version from Wikipedia is that the word Melayu may also originate from a river named Melayu River in Jambi, Sumatra. Though whichever comes first - whether the river was originally named Melayu River or it was named after Melayu is to be debated. The Pusaka article also noted the possibility of a Malay Kingdom in Sumatra. But according to the Chinese Historians, one journal by Yi Jing (6th Century) noted that the name 'Ma-La-Yu' was already in use then and many artifacts of 'Melayu' have been found in Jambi.

The adoption of the word "Malay" in the English Language took quite a circuitous route. It was adopted into English via the Dutch word "Malayo" which itself comes from the Portuguese word "Malaio" which in turn originates from the word 'Melayu' itself. I read somewhere that the 'Malay' as a race is considered as the youngest among races in the world. This probably stemmed from a Dutch anthropoligist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach who in 1775 noted that there are 4 main human races by colour - Caucasian (white), Ethiopian (black), American (red), and Mongolian (yellow). In 1795, he added Malay as another race as Malays are "brown color, from olive and a clear mahogany to the darkest clove or chestnut brown." Though many anthropologists have rejected his theory of five races as race classifications as classifying races is quite complex and cannot simply be done by colours.

I guess the next natural topic to write would be where do the regional 'Melayu' people come from bearing in mind that 'Melayu' is a fairly substantive race all the way from Southern Thailand to the sothern Philippines. Probably after that would be to write especially for Brunei where the 'Melayu' people in Brunei come from. Now, only if I have the time...
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Anonymous said…
interesting... my colleagues and i had a nice discussion over our history and Malay.

we had a few theories but im not sure if its appropriate to discuss it here, after all, its only our theories..hehe...

but yes, definitely interesting :)
Anonymous said…
Is it true that malays are decendents of the mongolians?
Anonymous said…
check that out :
Anonymous said…
mongolians? Well i get people saying i look like "orang mongol". maybe we are...hehe *though i wished they'd say i look like Queen rania or scarlett johansson or angelina jolie!*
jazrul said…
Well i get people saying i look like "orang mongol".

malaysia seo
Henrynus Amin said…
Malays in Borneo are largely Islamized Dayaks. The Hindu Kingdom of Melayur in Sumtra and Kedah later converted to Islam. The Malaiyur Kingdom became Melayu Sultanate. Conquered territories converted to Islam. Here is the origins of the concept of "Masuk Melayu." Melayu is not a race but an ethnic identity fr those natives who convert to Islam and adopt the Malayur Sanskrit based language and their largely mixed Indianized and Arabic way of life.

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