by TM Zameer Careem

The Sri Lankan Malays, known by the Sinhalese majority as "Ja Minussu" is an ethnic minority in Sri lanka yet the community is well renowned as an integral entity rich in culture and heritage. The population of this vibrant community has drastically fallen from 54,800 to fewer than 40,189, in a short span of a decade thus making them an endangered minority that needs greater focus, awareness and support. Nevertheless, the Malays have left behind an indelible mark in the history, culture, arts, and cuisine of the country and their contribution to mother Lanka is indeed enormous. The Malays are proud to have preserved their quintessential language known globally as " Sri Lankan Malay" (Bahasa Melayu Sri Lanka). 
Besides their linguistic identity, Malays also have their distinctive forms of clothing, such as kebaya, baju melayu, baju kurung, etc., and a characteristic head gear known as stangan kepala / songko worn by the males. 

The musical instruments such as rabana and angklung were also introduced to the isle by the Malay forefathers. Such uncommon features has deemed the Sri Lankan Malay community as one of the most culturally rich Ethnic minority in Sri Lanka and as an important segment of the nation's multicultural mosaic.
Throughout history, Malays as valiant soldiers have rendered relentless services, braved great dangers and even sacrificed their lives for their motherland as war heroes, securing the territorial integrity and sovereignty of this nation. While Lankan stalwarts, such as Hon.Dr.T.B. Jayah - the first Muslim Minister, Justice Mas Thajon Akbar- first Muslim Puisne, Dr. M.P.Drahaman, and Zahiere Lye are few notable Malay statesmen who have stamped their identity as prolific leaders of the country. 

The Malays, as part of the country's heterogeneous Muslim community, they have erected several mosques for the betterment of Muslim brotherhood. The Country's Grand mosque located in Colombo, was built by a Malay Royal named Mohammed Balankaya, thus testifying the service extended by this pious minority. The innumerable shrines dedicated to Malay Saints that are found across the isle, known for its miraculous healing powers helps further testify the devotion of Malays towards Islam. 

As we delve deep into the history concerning the etymology of places such as Hambanthota, Jawatte, Jagama, Jakotuwa, Ja- Ela, Kartel (Slave Island), Kinniya, Samanthurai, Bandagiriya, Bolane, Cassimgama, Akbar Town, Chavakachcheri, and even Jaffna (Java- patinum) it is evident that the names of these places were either derived from Malay literature or named in memory of Sri Lankan Malays. The wide range of Lankan delicacies such as Malay pickle, Nasi Goreng, Daging cuka ( vinigered beef ), Sate ( skewered beef/ kebabs ) Wattalapang (Sirikaya), Dodol, Cheena kuwe, Pasthol, Aliyataram, bibikan cake and the Sinhala kavuma, and many more were introduced to this nation by the Malays.

The famous katta sambol- and its variants such as ikkan sambol, kuni sambol and seeni sambol are of Malay origin, and the term sambol is derived from the word champoor meaning mixture in the Malay language. The Sarong (including the "Batik" textiles), the jewels, , Dagger (kris), the white trousers with frills at its end, seven looped chain with "padakama" that adorn the attire worn by Kandy Nilames are of Malay/ Javanese origin while the characteristic tortoise comb worn by the local Mudaliyars, adigars, dissawas, rate mahatmayas is yet another Malay feature. During the reign of Nayakkar- Waduga Royal House there were many Javanese/ Malay Mudaliyars, Muhandirams, and members of King's council who served the Lankan Kings as loyal subjects.

This Malay element in Lanka dates back to the 6th Century B.C as Sri Lanka has long since established and maintained strong and deep political and cultural links with the Malays, who were strong Buddhist/ Hindu adherents until the turn of 16th Century. The conquest led by Chandrabhanu, Invasion stormed by Kalinga Magha, and Marital alliances between Malay and Lankan Royal houses, helps exemplify the antecedents of Malays recorded in ancient Lanka. But the permanent settlement of Malays took place during the Dutch Colonial era, that opened the gate ways for the advent of Malay political Exiles, members of Royalty, Ministers, courtiers and their entourages, Military mercenaries and few reported incidents of Slaves who later settled down in the country's coastal belt.

The community grew strong in number with the intermittent arrival of Malay soldiers who reinforced the Military regiments and garrisons during the British Colonial Era. It is worthy of mention that it is the British who introduced the collective term " Malay " as for their sake of convenience. Eventually the term "Malay" was used to denote the minority made up of an intricate network of different ethnic groups such as Javanese (Orang Java), Sundanese, Madurese, Balinese, Malays, Batak, Bugis, Bantenese, Makassarese etc. who hailed from various islands of Indonesian and Malaysian archipelago.

The history of Sri Lankans in Australia dates back to as early 1816, with the advent and settlement of a Sri Lankan Malay named Drum Major O'dean credited as the first Lankan Born to have settled down in Australia.Drum Major William O’Deane, was a Malay Non Commissioned Officer of the First Ceylon Regiment, who was captured by the British in 1815, during the siege of Kandy. He was a dark complexioned Malay whose ancestors hailed from Ambon Islands, Indonesia. During the first kandyan British war 1803, the British were easily defeated by the Sinhala troops and the Malay soldiers who served the British later joined forces with the Kandyan King, to serve the Kandyan Malay regiment known as " Padikara Peruwa". 

Later after the British siege of Kandy in 1815, O’Deane was arrested for treason, court-martial-ed and sentenced to be shot, owing to his service to the Kandyan monarch. However, O’Deane’s sentence was later commuted by Governor Robert Brownrigg to “transportation to the Penal settlement of New South Wales in Australia because of the uniform good conduct of the Malay Regiment,” . Thus Drum Major O’Deane, his wife Eva, a Sinhalese and his three children were deported in the British naval ship-“Kangaroo” and the family landed in Sydney in 1816, eventually making Australia their new home. Thus the family of O’Deans became the first Ceylonese to have settled down in Australia.
During the late 19th Century, there were waves of Sri Lankan immigrant workers who reached the shores of "White" Australia to work on the cane plantations as labourers in New South Wales, as peelers in Broome and also as gold prospectors in the Gold mines in Victoria. But it was the ultimatum concerning the Sinhala Only act, that made Sinhala language to precede over English as the official language of the nation in 1956 that eventually led the English speaking Burgers (Eurasians) to migrate to Australia. But Australia back then had a policy of admitting only whites and those who claimed 75% of European ancestry hence the mass settlement of Burgers was readily supported by the Australian Officials. But the Ceylon Malays who were espoused to Burgers were also granted the opportunity to migrate to Australia. It is worthy of note, that the famous De Saram family of Sri Lanka also claim both Dutch and Malay ancestry but the family Sinhalised itself in the late 18th century. Following the easing of Australia's migration policies, and as a result of the political turmoil and atrocities in Sri Lanka, 

The Malays decided to migrate elsewhere seeking a better future. With the passage of time, the population of Sri Lankan Malay Immigrants in Australia has steadily grown in number and they have domiciled
In Australian cities such as Sydney, Melboune, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra, and Hobart where the Sri Lankan Community remains strong in size and number. The latest Census in 2011 recorded 86,413 Sri Lanka-born people in Australia, an increase of 38.8 per cent from the 2006 Census. The 2011 distribution by state and territory showed Victoria had the largest number with 43 991 followed by New South Wale (23704), Queensland (7696) and Western Australia (5339).
At present the service extended by Sri Lankan Malays isn't limited to this island nation as they have now created their own diaspora, having made permanent settlements across the globe in countries like Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, the United States of America and the Middle East etc. The commonwealth of Australia is now a foster home formanySri Lankan Malays who have stamped their identity as highly skilled professionals, and many serve the nation as Doctors, Professors, Engineers, Lawyers, Teachers, Accountants, Bankers, Business Consultants, Journalists etc. While the present generation Malays are celebrated for their excellence in Sports, as many have achieved great heights in the Sporting Arena.

In spite of all changes that has shaped their lives and their future they have successfully retained their distinctive identity as SriLankan Malays, safe guarding their Malay language, ethos, heritage, culture, traditions and their Islamic faith. The Sri Lankan Australian Malay Association ( SLAMA) in Sydney was inaugurated in 1996 to strengthen, support and unite the small pockets of Malay ex-patriots living in Australia. The Association has truly been instrumental in promoting the Sri Lankan Malay identity and continues to extend relentless services especially for the younger generation. The regular language classes, Quran recitation courses, annual Mauloods, Sporting events and Cultural shows organised by the Association are among-st the most effective, long-term, and sustainable measures undertaken by the community to safeguard the threatened identity of Sri Lankan Malays. T

ime has in act, made the need to understand the vitality of preserving the culture, tradition, ethnic identity and language of Sri Lankan Malays. The community, which is now on the peril of extinction will soon be lost and forgotten if the younger generation do not take the initiative of preserving this culturally rich minority. Thus it is verily a duty vested upon the Malay parents to instill the importance of conserving the Malay identity in the minds of their children so that it shall be preserved for posterity.

Sender: Jeoffrey Meedin
Share on Google Plus

SHARE: Someone You Know Needs to Hear This