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Malaysia People - Bumiputra Malay

The constitution specifies that a Malay speaks Malay, is a Muslim and practices the Malay culture. The features of being Malay are cultural. Chinese are excluded from this definition. According to the 2000 census, half of the population is Malay, and a quarter Chinese.

The claim that Malays are the indigenous peoples is certainly true in a relative sense, given the nature of the Malay world of historical Southeast Asia. United by a common language and shared cultural features, there was continual interchange and mobility of peoples among the traditional states of the Malay world. However, except for occasional periods, there was no united polity that could claim sovereignty on the basis of Malay identity.

As a modem state was formed under colonial direction, the map did not follow cultural boundaries. Although the northern states ofKedah, Perlis, Kelantan, and Terengganu were wrested from Thai control, the Malay state of Patani remained part of Thailand, as present-day Pattani. Sumatra was joined with Indonesia. The inclusion of Sabah and Sarawak added a broader variety of ethnic communities in addition to the Malay Muslim populations in each state. This formal division of international boundaries by the colonial powers meant that regional migration became defined as international migration. Thus the claim that many Malays are descendants of Indonesian immigrants can be best under- stood as an element of the present debate over the definition and entitlement of the Bumiputra community.

There are few records of the volume of migration from Sumatra, Java, and other Southeast Asian islands to the Malay Peninsula during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although it appears to have been substantial. Not only did such migrants come independently (outside of the normal immigration channels) but many have also gradually been assimilated within the broad Malay community, although anthropological studies reveal continued differentiation in some areas. About 5 percent of the Malay population of Peninsular Malaysia reported their ethnic community as Indonesian (Javanese, Buginese, and the like) in the 1970 census.

In addition to those who claim Indonesian ethnic identity, state of origin is probably the key subdivision within the Malay community. There are some structural and cultural features that differentiate the Malay population among states, but there are also informal ties related to common schooling or kinship that link individuals together, even after migration to new environments. Malays from the east coast states, particulary Kelantan, claim to have a distinct identity. This may be influenced, in part, by the fact that the Malay population forms the overwhelming (90 per- cent or more) majority of the population in the east coast states. Malays of Negeri Sembilan are also considered to be unique be- cause of their customary law (adat) that recongnizes matrilineal descent and inheritance. Negeri Sembilan was also quite different from the other Malay states, in that elections were part of the process of selecting individuals for political office.

Standard accounts of Malay cultural values suggest that respect for authority (those with higher status), strong familiar ties, and the performance of proper social behavior are of paramount importance. There are many words in the Malay language (Bahasa Malaysia) as well as parables that emphaize these and other traditional cultural themes. Yet, it is difficult to confirm the degree of continuity of these values because external forces such as education have influenced successive generations in new ways. Moreover, ethnographic accounts typically report "ideal" forms of behavior rather than the considerable variations in behavior that are actually acceptable.

Perhaps the one universal element of Malay culture is the Muslim faith. Although all Malays are not equally devout in their behavior, there are practically no Malays who deny Islam. There are some Javanese who are unorthodox Muslims and a few who are Christians. Historically, becoming a Muslim has often meant acceptance within the Malay community. The line between Indian Muslims and Malays is often a narrow one, and there has been considerable intermarriage as well as shifts in ethnic identity.

Divisions within the Malay community are based on aristocratic-commoner status, wealth (including landownership), language ability, and urban-rural residence. Although Malay identity spans these and other alignments, there are significant internal variations. In all of the states of Peninsular Malaysia except Penang and Malacca, there is a sultan, usually with a large extended family.

Members of the royal family are usually treated with great deference, which includes elaborate ritual and special terms of address. Rarely are the social divisions between royalty and commoners bridged, except on ceremonial occasions, for the two groups inhabit separate social worlds.

In the traditional Malay village, the penghulu (a part-time local government administrator) and the headman are usually given great respect and social deference, as are religious officials and village elders. Traditional authority is often aligned with other bases of social stratification. In Malay villages the primary determinant of economic position and social status is landholding. Although comprehensive data on land tenure in Malaysia are unavailable, many case studies have revealed considerable inequality in landownership and a sizable number of landless peasants in many villages. Many villagers own a small amount of land, and some rent more from larger landowners. Land tenancy is more of a problem in padi than in rubber areas. In many cases, the landlord-tenant relationship is crossed by ties of kinship with mutual obligations.

Officials of Malay-based political parties and elected reperesentatives to the national parliament and the state assembly play very important social and economic roles in many areas throughout the country. These "new leaders" can influence government administrative decisions and often sponsor their followers.

Other significant factors that are shaping Malay social organizations are the spread of primary and secondary schooling throughout the country as well as the rising share of Malay urbanization. The traditional characterization of the Malay population as rural peasants with little or no schooling no longer fits. By 1980 onefourth of Malays lived in urban areas, and the majority of Malay youth would undoubtedly complete secondary schooling. The impact of such modernizing factors on Malay culture and social organization is not at all clear.

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Page last modified: 24-11-2017 18:56:21 ZULU