ORANG MELAYU

"Orang Melayu"
 HST: 16October2015



The story of Sri Lanka's Malay folks
Renowned for their martial prowess and happy go-lucky attitude, Sri-Lanka"s Malay folk have but a relatively short history in the country, albeit a very fascinating one.
This small Muslim community which comprises of about 50,000 persons are mainly descended from Javanese political exiles (nobles and chieftains), soldiers and convicts, who arrived in the island from Dutch-occupied Java during the period of Dutch colonial rule in Sri Lanka from 1658 " 1796.
Although the vast majority of Sri Lankan Malays are of Javanese ancestry, there are also considerable numbers descended from the folk of other islands in the Indonesian archipelago such as the Balinese, Tidorese, Madurese, Sundanese, Bandanese and Amboinese.
Thus the ethnic term "Malay" should not be misconstrued as indicating their origin from the Malayan peninsula. Although there do exist Sri Lankan Malays descended from the folk of the Malayan peninsula, their numbers are very few indeed.
The local Malays refer to themselves as orang Java (people of Java) and orang Melayu (Malay people) while the majority Sinhalese community call them Ja-minissu (Javanese people).
Indonesian political exiles comprised a significant portion of the early Malay population brought hither by the Dutch.
These exiles posed a serious political threat to the Dutch East India company (or "vereenigde oost indische compagnie", known as the VOC for short) which had its headquarters in Batavia (the Dutch name for Jakarta).
Sri Lanka and the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa were the principal centres of banishment for such exiles.
According to Mr. B.A. Hussainmiya (Lost cousins, the Malays of Sri Lanka. 1987) there must have been at least 200 members of this eastern nobility including the younger members of aristocratic families born in the island, in the latter part of the 18th century.
This is indeed a significant number considering the fact that during this time, the entire Malay population in the island amounted to about 2400 persons.
However, during the early British period, Governor Maitland (1805 " 1811) who believed the exiles to be "a great pecuniary burden to the colonial revenue, besides being a danger to the British interests in the island", took measures to expel them.
Although the Dutch authorities in Batavia were reluctant to take back the exiles, Maitland"s threat that he would forcibly "send them in one his Majesty"s cruises to the Eastward to be landed among these islands", sufficed to change their minds. However, a few exiles who had espoused local women stayed back and gave rise to a small community of Malays claiming aristocratic status.
However, it was the Malay soldiers brought hither by the Dutch to garrison their strongholds, who comprised the bulk of the Malay community in the island. By the turn of the 18th century, there were about 2200 Malay soldiers in the island.
To be continue...
by Mr. Asiff Hussein


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