Malay language, like Sinhala

The Malays themselves played a formidable role in maintaining their language and customs. Although they came from same region of the East islands, they spoke variety of dialects spoken in Malaya and Java islands. During the time of the Dutch rule over Batavia, the people living in the area had developed a separate dialect called "Batavia dialect" which is a form of simple spoken Malay. As the majority of people came from this area to Dutch Ceylan13), it is possible that they retained the "Batavia dialect" and got mixed with local languages in Sri Lanka. This was only natural because of their long absence from their native land. Further, there was no proper learning and teaching of standard Malay language in Sri Lanka neither in the past nor even at present. This may have contributed to the creation of a Sri Lankan styled "Malay" language. In fact, Malay and Sinhala languages share a common root of Sanskrit language. The Malay language, like Sinhala has a strong influence from Sanskrit language as Java, Sumatra had Buddhist and Hindu empires in the past. A close look at some examples below give us a better picture of the fact.


Sanskrit
Sinhala
Malay 14)
(Meaning)
   Agama   agama   agama/igama   - religion
   Bhasha   bhashawa   bahasa   - language
   Bhumi   bhumi   bhumi   - earth
   Devi   devi   devi   - goddess
   Dosa   dosa   dosa   - sin
   Grahna   grahna   grahna   - eclipse
   Guna   guna   guna   - use/benefit
   Guru   guru   guru   - teacher
   Jeeva   jeevita   jeeva   - life
   Labha   laba   laba   - profit
   Manusya   manusyaya   manusia   - human being
   Megha   megha   megha   - cloud
   Mukha   muhuna   muka   - face
   Puja   puja   puja   - worship
   Pustaka   pustaka   pustaka   - book
   Pustakalaya   pustakalaya   pustakalaya   - library
   Sadhu   saadu   saadu   - priest
   Sawari   sawari   sawari   - tour/journey
   Senapathi   Senapathi   Senapathy   - army commander
   Sisya   sisyaya   siswa   - student/pupil
   Sundari   sundari   sundari   - pleasant
   Swarga   swarga   swarga   - paradise/heaven
   Wanita   wanita   wanita   - lady/woman
   Warna   warna   warna   - colour
   Warta   warta   warta   - report
   Wangsa   wangsa   wangsa/bangsa   - race/tribe
   Dharmawangsa   Dharmawansa   Dharmawansa   - religious tribe
   Jayawangsa   Jayawansa   Bangsajayah   - victorious tribe
   Sinhawangsa   Sinhawansa   Sinhawangsa   - lion tribe
   Weerawangsa   Weerawansa   Weerawangsa   - warrior tribe
Above are some of many Malay words that have derived from Sanskrit words and similar to Sinhala language, which show that not all words are corrupted in today's Malay language as some suggest as the language has become corrupted and left to a mere Creole language. The Malays have not lost their attachment to their linguistic identity nor to their ethnic identity of "Malays". The Malays of Sri Lanka has developed their own distinct features to an extent that Tunku Abdul Rahman, a former Prime Minister of Malaysia commented on the Sri Lankan Malays in the following:  
    The only difference is that their features have changed. They look more like Indians (the Kelings) than Malays and their language is strongly influenced by the Indian dialect. What's more they have lost touch with adat and custom, but still they call themselves Malays…
     But these (Malay) soldiers who went there without their womenfolk married into the families of the Indian Muslims. These Muslims were known as the Moors and after generations of intermarriages, it is hard to pick one from the other, Malays or the Moors, except when they themselves announce their racial identity…(Rahman 1983, 195)15)
However, there is no argument about the fact that the Malay language accorded a stronger support in forming the Malay community of its own outside Malay Peninsula and Indonesian archipelago.
 Thirdly, the religion of Islam was another force behind the formation of a Sri Lankan Malay community. Islam played a constructive role to keep them distinct from other religions. However, the Islam that Malays had embraced was not the orthodox Islam of Arabia. When the Arabs introduced Islam into South India and Indonesian islands, 'they merely wanted the new religion to be accepted by the people.'16) And the Malays who were brought especially during the Dutch period to Sri Lanka were not all Muslims.
 It is not known exactly since when the Malays of Sri Lanka got converted into Islam, though their homeland folks had done so at the beginning of the 16th century A.D. The Malays, who had arrived or lived in Sri Lanka after Chandrabhanu's invasion till the Dutch invasion, have been Buddhists, Hindus or mixture of both in the present terminology of Buddhists and Hindus. It is difficult to establish the religious back ground of these Malays because they were formed from various groups that included Amboinese; Balinese and Javanese because among the Amboinese, there was a considerable number of Christians, and Balianese belonged to Hindu or Buddhist religions. Some Javanese had become Christians and were receiving benefits from the Batavia government (Hussainmia, 1990, 53). Therefore, the Malays who came to Sri Lanka before and during the Dutch administration are not known whether all of them were Muslims. An extract from the Dutch minutes by Council of 8th September 1660 shows that there were Christians among those who came to Sri Lanka:  
    "Whereas the Javanese soldiers 28 in number have now for some time past offered themselves to be instructed in the Christian doctrine, have made public profession thereof, accepted Holy Baptism, and have solemnly married according to Christian rites; also seeing that they have procreated children and, further have elected to dwell in this land and to serve the Honourable company most respectfully and obediently; so has the Superintendent proposed (and they with the greatest delight accepted), to select a place within the watches of this City, a fertile spot, in order to settle them there with their families, and to found there a village according to the limits and ordinances that shall be appointed for them; further they shall cultivate rice according to their natural skill, but nevertheless, that they shall always continue in the military service, wherefore a general increase is hereby granted them and their wages have accordingly been raised as follows: to a sergeant, 8 Spanish reals, to a Corporal 5 1/2 , and to a Private 3 1/2 Spanish reals monthly." (E. Reimer's Translation)
There is also no historical record, which indicates that all the Malays had adopted an Ambedkar style of mass-conversion to become Muslims nor there was any Malay ethnic leader like Ambedkar of India, who got converted to Buddhism with millions of his followers of the Achut (untouchable) cast. Malays' conversion to Islam may have been a gradual and centuries long process. It is recorded that the Malays (of the Malay Peninsula) converted into Islam at the beginning of the 16th century A.D. and ceased visiting to Sri Lanka as Arabs and Mohammadians had established themselves in the seaports of Sri Lanka and 'had gradually taken over the entire trade of the Island into their hands. The Malays were the freight careers of the East, but after their conversion to Islam, they relinquished ambitious maritime pursuits in favour of their co-religionists, the Arabs contenting themselves with ventures nearer home, for which the numerous islands of the Archipelago and the extensive coastlines of the Peninsula and Java and Sumatra afforded them ample scope' (E. Reimers).
 This suggests that the majority of Malays of Sri Lanka may have converted into Islam after they came to Sri Lanka and through their Moor relatives. Although there is no mention about any mosques erected during the Dutch period, the British Administration in Sri Lanka built several separate places of worship for their soldiers. They built Sri Siva Subramaniam Swami Kovil for the Indian Hindu soldiers and the Military Mosque and Akbar Mosque for the Malay soldiers. What role did the Malay mosques play?


  The Malay mosques catered the spiritual needs of the regiment and boosted the socio-religious cohesion of the community. The first Malay mosque was built during the British rule at Wekende in Slave Island at the request of the Malay soldiers, as they wanted to have their mosque erected closer to where they live. Otherwise, they were in disadvantage in attending the Moor mosque, where sermons were held in Tamil and Arabic, not in their mother tongue, Malay. There are several mosque built in Galle, Trincomalee, Kalpitiya, Badulla, Kirinde, Kurunegala and Kandy to cater the spiritual needs of the Malay military personals as well as the ordinary Malays, who worked on their own or worked for the British as gardeners and servants.

 The mosques played very important role in the formation of a Malay community serving them with their social and cultural needs in addition to the religious service. This helped build an ethnic and cultural identity for the Malays. 'The mosques were not only the places of collective worship, but also center of community administration, where important discussions were held by members of the community and decisions taken on behalf of respective congregations. Every Muslim settlement of some size had such a mosque which was its only public building and object of great pride.'(Hussainmia, 1990, 126-127). The mosques are also the centers of learning, where the Malay children are taught Arabic language and recital of holy Koran.
 Thus the Malays arrived in Sri Lanka at different periods of time, on different reasons and from a diverse region of Eastern islands that included Malay Peninsula, Java and other Indonesian islands formed a community of their own: the Malay community with the support of British founded Malay Regiment, the Mosques erected for their sake and their own undying efforts of maintaining their lingual and ethnic identity as the Sri Lankan Malays.

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