BY Muhaj Hamin

It is well known that Malays are not indigenous to Sri Lanka. Scholars differ in their views as to their earliest date of arrival. The Cūlavamsa , where the word Javaka itself occurs, provides us with the earliest reference to their arrival in this country. Thus the Cūlavamsa records of a Javaka Prince Chandrabanu , to have invaded Sri Lanka twice. The first was in 1247 A.D. and the second in 1258 A.D. Non-literary evidence seems to point to a still earlier period of contact between Java and Sri Lanka, which would have led to the arrival of Malays in Sri Lanka, as early as, the 7th Century comparatively in smaller numbers.

According to publications of Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka (1959), The Malay Kingdom of Seriwijaya had its birth in the 7th century. Historical and linguistic clues point out the origin of the Malays to the area Champa, Cochin-China and Cambodia. But from this point to North Sumatran states of Perlak and Pasai in the 13th century, Malacca in the 15th century, the identity of the Malays had changed tremendously.

Coming back to Sri Lanka, any Javaka or Malay who would have domiciled themselves in this island during these early times, including those who arrived with the invader Prince Chandrabanu, would undoubtedly have been assimilated to the indigenous population of Sri Lanka beyond trace. Apparently there is no evidence to show that they existed as a distinct community or even as a caste or sub-caste of the Sinhalese or Tamils, up to more recent times. Dr. K. D. Wijesekera in his book ‘The people of Ceylon’ states that there is a fair trace of mangloid found in the modern Sinhalese population and a aleveolar prognathis. Dr. K. W. Goonewardena, Professor of History, University of Ceylon, in the Royal Asiatic Society Journal Vol. VII Pt.2 p. 257 states:”I feel that it is worth noting that a number of Sinhalese family names suggests Malay connections e.g. Malaga, Malalasekera, Malalgoda and the fact that many people bearing such names have remarkably Malay features may not be altogether accidental (Fazeer Rawdin – The Island 17.9.1994).

The arrival of the Malays on a large scale took place only during the time of the Dutch. Dutch activities in Java and counter activities of the Javanese led to the arrival of more Malays in Sri Lanka including some members of the Javanese royalty who had rebelled against the Dutch were exiled to Sri Lanka in 1723. These Javanese continued to live in Sri Lanka until the British drove away the Dutch in 1796. Many royalty and soldiers opted to return to Java while others became domiciled in this country. The present Sri Lankan Malays are therefore, the descendants of both Javanese royalty and soldiery. Being well-known for their loyalty and bravery, they had no difficulty in continuing to pursue their vocations under the British who enrolled them in the Ceylon Rifle Regiment. When this Regiment was disbanded in 1873, the Malays joined such services as the Ceylon Police Force, the Prisons Services and the Colombo Fire Brigade amongst others.

The present day Malays have integrated themselves amicably into the complex social structure of Sri Lanka. Even though the Malays have integrated themselves into the social structure of Sri Lanka, they do have their own problems and do not have an articulate means of drawing the attention of the government to the particular predicament the community is placed. Often they are identified with the Sri Lanka Moors due to the religious identity. Ethnically, linguistically and culturally they are distinctly different from the Moors.

Many of the Malays in Sri Lanka are now not very conversant in their own language. Their day to day activities even at home, being conducted in English, Sinhalese or Tamil. Malay is only a spoken dialect today. Being a small community living in areas where the majority population is Sinhala or Tamil or an admixture of Sinhala and Tamil or Moor, the Malays conduct their affairs in English, Sinhala or Tamil or in two or more of these languages. Their education too is obtained in one or the other of these languages. Therefore, then is the Mother Tongue of the Malays – English ? – No; Sinhala ? – definitely not; Tamil ? – Of course not; Standard Malay ? – Cannot be; Sri Lanka Malay ? - Yes of course.

Until recently the Sri Lankan Malays were of the notion that their Mother tongue was a concoction of Bazaar Malay. On 16th July, 2006, Dr. Umberto Ansaldo and Dr. Lisa Lim (University of Amsterdam) presented a lecture on the topic ‘Language documentation and description: Sri Lanka Malay, under the auspices of the Volksagon Foundation’s initiative for the documentation of endangered languages (DoBeS). The event was organized by COSLAM and was held at the Nagarodaya Hall, Colombo 8. The aim of their talk was to introduce their research project they had been conducting in Sri Lanka for the past few years and to share some thoughts on the status of the Sri Lanka Malay (SLM) language.

They stated that the ancestors of Sri Lanka Malay did not speak Malay as we know it today because at that point it did not exist. They spoke many different languages (or dialects or varieties) of Indonesia and the Malay-archipelago. All these varieties of Malay belong to the Austronesian family. But in Sri Lanka they encountered other languages that do not belong to this family. Namely: Sinhala (of the Indo European family) and Tamil (Dravidian). In such a situation of language contact, a fairly common occurrence is language admixture, that is, speakers learn features of each respective language and mix them. Sometimes, especially where you have a new social group emerging with speakers of originally different varieties setting in a new home, a new language, with a new grammar is created. Sri Lanka Malay is such a language. It is a creative product that arises through the highly multilingual skills of its community.

Mr. S. L. Kekulawala in a paper written by in him in 1986 entitled “KINSHIP TERMINOLOGY IN SRI LANKAN MALAY – A CONTRIBUTION TO THE STUDY OF LANGUAGE UNIVERSALS “ , through a complex analysis based upon the theoretical insight afforded by Professor Joseph Greenberg, Language Universals, Mouton and Company, The Hague, 1966, states that Sri Lanka Malay is a hybrid. Typologically, kinship systems have been classified with reference to parental and parents’ sibling terms i.e. with reference to terms of the first ascending generation. The principal terms on which this classification was based were father, father’s brother and mother’s brother – all males. On this basis four types of kinship terminologies may be set up:

1. The generational type, where father, and father’s brother and mother’s brother are referred to by the same term;
2. The lineal type, where the father is differentiated by the use of a term different from the single term used to refer to both collateral relatives;
3. The bifurcate collateral type, where the three relatives are referred to by three distinct terms and;

4. The bifurcate merging type, where father and father’s brother are denoted by a single term, while mother’s brother is designated by a different term.

Sri Lanka Malay shows characteristics of both the lineal and the bifurcate collateral types; thus with reference to father’s and mother’s elder brother Sri Lanka Malay shows a single term uwa to refer to both parental collateral kin, while a separate term bapa is used to refer to father , thus indicating the possibility of its being classified as lineal. But with reference to father’s and mother’s younger brother, Sri Lanka Malay shows two different terms, muda and mama respectively to refer to the collateral kin, while a separate term bapa is used to refer to father, thus allowing it to be classified as bifurcate collateral. Since SLM is thus seen to be a hybrid of two types, it is necessary to set up a new type – to be called THE LINEO – BIFURCATE COLLATERAL TYPE – to refer to this phenomenon and to classify Sri Lanka Malay as such. Appendix I of S.L. Kekulawala is attached.

Sadly though, according to the findings of Dr. Umberto Ansaldo and Dr. Lisa Lim, Sri Lanka Malay is endangered. A language starts being endangered when it is no longer transmitted by parents to their children. Other reasons for languages being endangered are: (a) decline in functions of use, (b) lack of educational support, (c) lack of prestige, and (d) shift to other languages. Whilst Linguists can be involved in helping to revitalize a speaker population of an endangered language by (1) publishing pedagogical grammars with audio tapes, dictionaries, newspapers, etc, and (2) having courses taught in schools and community colleges, evening classes for adults, programs on the radio and television etc. the onus of revival falls on the Community alone and parents must continue passing on their mother tongue to their children in the home.

Editors Note: Coslam invites Malays to write in their views on the revival of their Mother tongue and selected letters will be published in the next issue of the Majullah.

abang elder male, husband’s elder brother, brother-in-law elder to oneself
ade younger brother, younger sister
anak daughter, son, brother’s sons, brother’s daughter
bapa father
bibi mother’s younger sister
bissar bapa paternal grand father
bissar umbo elder brother’s wife
cici grand daughter, great-grand daughter, ego’s sibling’s grand daughter
cucu grand son, great-grand son, ego’s sibling’s grand son
data elder sister
ipar younger male cousin, husband’s or wife’s younger brother, brother-in-law
younger to oneself, father’s brother’s or sister’s son younger to oneself,
mother’s brother’s or sister’s son younger to oneself
kaka elder brother
kake maternal or paternal grand-father
kiccil umbo younger brother’s wife
mama mother’s younger brother, father-in-law
mama kilaki father-in-law
mami father’s younger sister, mother-in-law
mantu sister’s son or daughter, daughter or son-in-law
mma mother
mma bapa maternal grand-father
moyang kake maternal or paternal great-grand father
moyang nene maternal or paternal great-grand mother
muda father’s younger brother
murtuwa kilaki father-in-law
murtuwa prompang mother-in-law
nene maternal or paternal grand-mother
sudara brother; (rarely, rarely male of female sibling)
sudari sister
umbo younger or older female cousin, husband’s or wife’s younger of
or elder sister, sister-in-law, father’s or mother’s brother’s or sister’s daughter
uwa father’s or mother’s elder brother or elder sister
uwamma father’s or mother’s elder sister

Sender: Geoffery Meedin
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