The Arrivals of Malays in Sri Lanka

The Malays of today's Sri Lanka are said to be the 'descendants of the 17th century Malay Kings, Princes and Nobles exiled from Java by the Dutch and of the Malay soldiers brought in by the British in the 18th century from the region including Malay Peninsula4), then known as Suvarnabhumi'5). However, the origin of the Malay community of Sri Lanka goes far beyond the 17th century A.D. It is impossible to say the exact date of the original arrival of the Malays to Sri Lanka. But references in Chulawamsa about an invasion by a Malay King named Chandrabhanu make it presumable that the Malays had contacts with Sri Lanka earlier than the Dutch period. According to Edward Reimers, there are also references to the Malays in other historical works of the Sinhalese of the 13th and 14th centuries A.D. that King Parakramabahu, the Great's Admiral and captains were Malays and King RajasinghaⅠis said to have had Malays in his service. This may suggest that there were Malays before they were brought or arrived during the Dutch and the British colonial rules in Sri Lanka. Therefore, the arrivals of the Malays can be categorised into three periods. What are they?

 The Early Period (1247-1640 A.D.):
 The earliest arrival of the Malays we have known took place in the middle of the 13th century A.D. with the invasion of Chandrabhanu, the Buddhist King of Nakhon Si Tammarat in the Isthumus of Kra of Malay Peninsula. Culawamsa, a chronicle of Sri Lanka has recorded the incident:

 When the eleventh year of the reign of this King Parakramabahu II6) had arrived, a king of the Javaka known by the name of Chandrabhanu landed with a terrible Javaka army under the treacherous pretext that they were followers of the Buddha. All these wicked Javaka soldiers who invaded every landing-place and who with their poisoned arrows, like (sic) to terrible snakes, without ceasing harassed the people whomever they caught sight of, laid waste, raging their fury, all Lanka. (Culawamsa LXXXIII, 36-51).

 The term Javaka used in the chronicle is a well-established name for the Malays of the Peninsula7). Chandrabhanu attacked the Sinhala kingdom twice and failed both times. In the second attack, he himself got killed. But Chandrabhanu had succeeded taking over the northern part of Sri Lanka and become the ruler of the Javanese Kingdom8) in Javapattanam (present Jaffna). This Javaka King of Sri Lanka who is mentioned in the inscriptions of the South Indian Pandyan King, Jatavarman Vira Pandyan (A.D.1235-1275) has been identified as Chandrabhanu (Sirisena 1977, 14).

 The Yalpanam Vaipava Malai, the chronicle of Jaffna mentioned of two local names such as Chavakaccheri9) (Javakaccheri-Java settlement) Chavakotte or Ja Kotuwa (Javaka Fort) confirming the Java/Malay connection with Jaffna. It is presumable that these Javakas may have moved towards the Kandyan kingdom at a later part of the history and worked for the King of Kandy, who is said to have a garrison of army consisted of the Malays. There is a well-known story that a Malay captain named Nouradeen and his brother were beheaded at the order of the King of Kandy because the brothers declined the royal offer to head the Malays in the service of the king but chose to remain loyals to their British master, the King of the Great Britain.

 Beside these Javakas who arrived in Sri Lanka as Chandrabhanu's army or servicemen during the reign of King Parakramabahu II, there were seafarer freight careers, and the merchants ventured in ambitious maritime pursuits around Madagascar. They often called round the coastline of Sri Lanka, which suggests that many of them may have settled in areas near the harbours such as Hambantota and around the coastline. According to one of my Malay informants at Kirinda Malay settlement10), Hambantota was named after Sampan, the seafarers from the Indonesian archipelago, who called to the natural harbour in the past. These seafarers, and the freight careers of the East, after their conversion to Islam at the beginning of the 16th century A.D. relinquished their ambitious maritime pursuits in favour of their co-religionists, the Arabs. The visits of Malays became lesser and ceased visiting Sri Lankan waters at the beginning of the 16th century A.D. when Arabs and Mohammadians established themselves in the seaports of Sri Lanka and gradually took over the entire trade of the Island into their hands. (Edward Reimers, 1924)

 The Dutch period (1640-1796 A.D.):
 The second arrival of the Malays in Sri Lanka took place during the Dutch administration, which ruled the coastal area of Sri Lanka for a period of more than one hundred and fifty years. Having driven away the Portuguese, who were ruling the coastal area of Sri Lanka, the Dutch established the full control of the coastal area in 1640. They brought hundreds of Malays from all over in Malay Peninsula and Indonesian islands. Those who were brought to Sri Lanka consisted of two categories. One being the political exiles from Indonesia including other deportees expelled by the Batavia11) government and second group consisted of all other classes of Malays who were brought to serve the Dutch government in Sri Lanka. This second group included those recruits for the Military and other services, too.

 Among the first category, it also included princely exiles from various parts of the Indonesian islands and the Malay Peninsula. The Batavia government banished the Javanese including the nobles and many other eastern kings, princes as well as the chiefs and the dignitaries of the region for rebelling against the Batavia rule. In 1709, Susuna Mangkurat Mas, the King of Java, was exiled to this country by the Dutch with his entire family and followers. This was followed in 1723 by 44 Javanese Princes and Noblemen, who surrendered to the Dutch at the Battle of Batavia, were exiled to Sri Lanka12). All these lived in the four main coastal towns under the jurisdiction of the Dutch, namely Colombo, Galle, Trincomalee, and Jaffna (Hussainmia, 1990, 40). Others including the slaves were confined to quarters on the Slave Island surrounded by Bere Lake in the center of Colombo. The majority of people living in the area even today are the Malays. The Dutch is said to have stocked the lake around the island with crocodiles, preventing the slaves' escape. Those who escaped were flogged and branded for a first offense, hanged for a second.

  The Dutch government also established a first settlement for the Malays, who served them, in an area close to the Slave Island. A Dutch report dated 25th June 1681 indicates that a piece of land 13 Morgen (about 28 acres) in extent was granted to the Javanese Malays situated at Wolvendahl. There were 196 houses and had coconut and jak trees planted.

 It is not known the exact number of exiles brought to Sri Lanka during the Dutch period. But by the end of 18th century A.D., it appears that at least 200 members of eastern nobility were resident in the Island. With their families, the number of Malay people amounted close to 2000 people.

 The British Period (1796-1948 A.D.):
 It was the British who brought the third category of Malays to Sri Lanka. Many came from the Malay Peninsula and became the permanent source of providing military manpower and to serve the British in the island. The British drove the Dutch away and took control of the coastal area in 1796. Frederic North, the first British Governor of Sri Lanka, at first, did not like the idea of incorporating the Malays, the soldiers who fought against the British during the Dutch rule over Sri Lanka and had become prisoners of war after the Dutch fell to the British, into his military. But he agreed to take the 300 Malay soldiers under custody of the British when the Dutch surrendered. The Dutch had stipulated that the Malays should be sent back to Java Island at the cost of the British, who in turn first sent them to Chennai, India and later incorporated into the British military in Sri Lanka. This was the starting point that recruited hundreds of Malays into the British military service, thereafter.

 Governor North was also the first British Administrator, who initiated reforms in the military and formed Malay Corps raising their salaries resembling to those of the native Corps. As a result, these Malay Corps were admitted into the King's service on 23 April 1801 forming a Malay Regiment for the first time outside Malay Peninsula. The Malays became the first Asians to hold commissions from the British Sovereign. By this time, the strength of the Malay Corps amounted to 1200 soldiers.

 During North's time, he established several Malay colonies in Sri Lanka starting from Mahagampattu region, in the southern part of Sri Lanka. The first one was opened in Hambantota, which is now a major Malay invalid settlement in the south. Later, two other settlements were established in the villages of Kirinda and Palatupana. The settlers were assigned to different kinds of work including in the saltpans found in the region and farming and fishing etc. The region at the time was a jungle and not even a coolie from other community wanted to work in the area. Having seen the Malays were enduring the hard life, Governor North was pleased with the Malays and wrote that 'they were hard workers and courageous and not easily terrified with little dangers and inconveniences' (Hussainmia 1990, 63) in one of his dispatches to the Home Government.

 Thereafter, Governor North decided to recruit Malays to enlarge his forces. His recruitments largely came from Malay Peninsula as he set up recruiting agency for the first time in Penang (Prince of Wales Island) around 1800. He also tried to bring Malays from other British colonies like, Cochin in India, Island of St. Helena etc. But larger number came from Malay Peninsula with their families to settle in Sri Lanka to serve the British military. The Malays were periodically brought to Sri Lanka until the recruitment was halted in 1803 after the British lost to the Kandyan kingdom in the war against Kandyan Kingdom on 24th June 1803. The defeat was largely attributed to the desertion of Malay soldiers who formed the main strength of the British garrison.

 The desertion of 'British Malays' had occurred mainly because of the 'Kandy Malays' who were in the Kandyan King's service and offered security and protection to the Malay soldiers in the British side. 700 Malays deserted to the Kandyan side leaving only 250 Malay soldiers behind. Governor North was so furious that he immediately ordered the halt of recruiting the Malays. But he later changed his mind and resumed taking the Malays into the service. He changed his mind in consideration of the loyalty of Captain Nauradeen who led the Malays in the British force and the assurance and "invariable attachment" shown by the Malay exiles living in Sri Lanka to the British government. He then rebuilt the Malay Regiment, which was left with only 600 soldiers by recruiting more from the Malay Peninsula and other east islands. North continued his effort to strengthen the Regiment until his departure from Sri Lanka at the end of 1805.

 3. Formation of Malay Community in Sri Lanka
 The Malay community of Sri Lanka is formed of a number of people 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. They are popularly known as "Jaminissu" among the Sinhalese community and "Jamanusar" among the Tamil community meaning "People from Java" in both languages. The term "Javaka" we found in the Culawamsa also has a similar meaning: "Person from Java" (Java+ka) (Java+person) while the Malays call them "Melayu" in Malay language. How did they form the Malay community?

 There are several factors that helped form the Malay community of Sri Lanka. Firstly, the formation of a separate regiment for Malays in the British military played an important role towards the formation of the Malay community. By the time of Governor North's departure from Sri Lanka, he had laid a foundation for a future Malay community of Sri Lankan style. During his tenure of 10 years as Governor, he persuaded 75% of the Malays that included exiles of various class and people come from different islands in the East living in Sri Lanka to join the British military service. During his administration, North recruited Malays from all over including locals and those from the Malay Peninsula. He set up a separate military regiment for Malay soldiers, formed a Boy's company to give prior training to the children of the Malay soldiers and formed an Invalid Regiment to help them find alternative jobs. North set up Malay settlements and provided jobs. He even looked after the children and wives of those soldiers who died in the battle. The Malay regiment played a central role in promoting welfare for the Malay soldiers and communicating with other Malays and settlements in cities and villages in the island. On top of that, the Malay Military mosque, primarily set up to serve the spiritual need of the soldiers, also attracted the Malays living around the area. The mosque served as a center promoting friendship among the Malays came from different places of origin.

 Secondly, 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.
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