THE SRI LANKA MALAYS

THE SRI LANKA MALAYS
by M MURAD JAYAH (late Murad Jayah was the nephew of Dr TB Jayah)

The Sri Lanka Malays, in order to understand their social conditions, their social problems and their social needs, It is necessary to know who the Sri Lanka .Malays are, from where they came from and at what point In history they landed in this country. Unless we go back into past history, unless we know how the Malay Community began, unless we know what their traditional occupations were, their hopes and aspirations, we shall certainly not understand and appreciate the causes which led to the decline of Malay society, and the present plight of the Community. 
It is not necessary to go back to the dawn of history to speak on the many connections between the people of Sri Lanka and those of the Malaysian regions which were then known as Suvarnambhumi, the many occasions when these peoples came to each others assistance to repel the aggression of foreign invaders, the many royal marriages between the houses of Sri Vijaya and Sri Lanka. Nor is it necessary to write on the Javanese Kingdom that was established In the North of Sri Lanka for over 50 years in the latter half of the 13th century

when such place names as Jaffna or Java Patanam, Chava Cheri anti Chavan Kottai have become relics of the glorious past, or of Hambantota or Sampan Tota, which was a great port of call for Javanese trading vessels on their way to Madagascar and the African Coast. It will be sufficient for our purpose if I take you back to the year 1709, when Susana Mangkurat Mas King of Java was exiled to this country by the Dutch with his entire retinue. He was followed in 1723 by 44 Javanese Princes and Noblemen, who surrendered to the Dutch at the Battle of Bativia and were exiled to this country with their families. 

These families formed the nucleus from which the Malay Community grew. In course of lime, more and more Javanese were brought to this country to be enlisted in the Dutch military garrison and at the time of Capitulation of the Dutch to the British in 1796 there were as many as 11 companies or 800 men. In terms of the capitulation agreement these Malay companies to Madras to join the Presidential Army of the East India Company. However in 1892 they were brought back to Colombo to enlist in the Kings service. With further recruitment this time from Malaya they formed the Malay regiment, a 1000 strong with its own complement of Malay Officers and this Regiment became the first Asiatic Regiment to be awarded the King’s colours. 

However later the Regiment was disbanded and the men were found employment in other military units, the Police and the Prisons service as well as in the Fire brigade, whilst a large number were employed in the plantation districts in various capacities such as clerks and conductors, tea makers & rubber makers, superintendents and supervisors and they pioneered the opening of a number of tea & rubber estates & thereby have contributed immensely towards national development.

The religious zeal of the early Malays and their contribution in the cause of Islam has been immense. The Grand Mosque at New Moor street Colombo where lies the shrine of Malay Saint Tuan Bagoos Balankaya, the Wekanka Jumma Mosque which was a free gift from a free Javanese, Pandan Ballie in 1786 the Masjid ul Jamiah at Java lane built out of the funds of the General Purposes & Pensioners’ Fund of the Malay Regiment, as well as several mosques built where ever the Ma!ay garrisons were stationed, also bear testimony to the strict observance of Islam by the early Malays and their desire to bring up their children in a truly Islamic atmosphere.

The Grand Mosque was designed and built by the Javanese architect Mohamed Balankaya, who was the son of Hooloo Balankaya, Minister of the Rajah of Goa, Mas Makotha Ranthay Pathola Mohamed Suhabudeen, who were together exiled to Ceylon by the Dutch in 1723, along with other princes and noblemen and their families. The present two-storeyed mosque was the first of its kind and the then Govenor of Ceylon. Sir Edward Barnes complimented Mohamed Balankaya on it’s design when he visited it in 1826.

Mohamed Balankayu devoted his life to religious activities and social work among the Muslims. He married a Moorish lady, Sithy Umrnoo Kathija, sister of Othman Lebbe Mesthri- yar (father of Mudaliyar Cassim Lebbe of Kandy) and had 9 children, the last of whom was Tuan Bagoos Krawan Balankaya, born on 28th January 1826.

Tuan Bagoos studied Islamic Theology and eventually became an Alim. He was subsequently appointed Khalifa to the disciples of Kottar Sheik. During this period,he performed“ Silla " on three occasions, in a hamlet at Palawa-Thura, half of a mile away from the Kochchikade Railway Station. On the death of Kottar Sheik, Tuan Bagoos succeeded him to the Sheikship. On 29th October 1862, at the early age or 35 years, he passed away and was buried in the premises of the Grand Mosque. To mark his attainment to sainthood, a shrine was built over his grave by his disciples.

Wekande Jummah Mosque is the oldest of the three mosques in Slave Island with which the Malays have been associated, where also lies the shrine of a lady saint, Ossen Bee Bee. The title-deed translated from Dutch reads as follows:
"I the undersigned Pandan Bali, free Javanese an inhabitant of this place acknowledge and declare hereby that I have given away out of free will to an universal church yard or burial place and mosque to the Mohametans, my garden lying to the west of Slave Island of the lake and the chart marked with La. F. No. 3/4 surveyed containing in extent one morojen 383 square rood and 48 square feet that which I under the date of the 27th July 1786 purchased from the Moor,Jayenadeen Marikar Sinne Kassim for Rs. 120 and hitherto possessed with express desire that from the date hereof nobody. whosoever he may be, shall, or may sustain any pretence whatever against this liberal enjoyment and by this benevolent gift nobody shall be disadvantaged and according to our religion each one to the welfare of his soul's security, This done to show all such benevolence requests over such the protection of the law of this land to the free use of this liberal enjoyment. Whereupon, I enforce this with my signature in the presence of the witnesses. Pandan Bali."

The Masjidul Jamiah Mosque has been initiated by the officers of the Malay Regiment, as seen from the appended title-deed.

‘On the 3rd day of June 1874, the trustees of the Pensioners and General Fund for building a Mohamedan Mosque to be called Masjidul Jamiah have offered to purchase the property for Rs. 2500 and whereas we, Meydeen Nachia and Neyna Marikar relinquishing a part of the purchase money as a contribution to the building fund of the mosque.'

In 1859,Mr. Talep Akbar gifted land nearly three quarters of an acre at Kew Road for the purpose of constructing a mosque by public subscription and for a burial ground for the use of the Mohammedan Community of Slave Island. This mosque is today known as Masjidul Akbar.

It appears that the present Thakiya In Kew Road, opposite Masjidul Akbar, has had its beginnings in the Portuguese period (1505) and was then the only mosque of the Muslims of Slave lsIand.
The general burial ground for the Muslims of Slave Island was the Wekande Mosque premises and when it was closed for burial, the Maradana premises now occupied by Zahira College were used. However, when this too was closed the northern portion of the Jawatte Burial Ground was bought by the Wekande, Akbar and Indian Muslim congregations and the southern portion by the Masjidul Jamiah Congregation.

According to the title deed, on the 11th December 1876, it was agreed that Coomarage Siyan Appu to sell and convey to Subedar Amit Veera, a part or the garden called Jawawatte in consideration for Rs. 2500. The said Subedar Amit Vcera, being One of the trustees of the Pensioners and General Fund for building a Mohammedan mosque.

Peerasaibo Madukkuwatte Cemetery was largely used by the Malays. Here lies the shrine of the Malay Saint, Tuan Pangeran, whose body,it is reported was found to be intact on exhumation several years after burial and was removed to Malaya. Tuan Sebestha Peer Saibo looked after this cemetery until his death in 1845, and he was succeeded by Tuan Sayeth. With the Malays moving their residences to Slave Island, this cemetery was ordered to be closed down about 75 years ago.

Apart from these memorable achievements of the Malays in the capital city of Colombo other similar mosques have been initiated by them on an island-wide scale where Malay settlements had come into being immediately after the disbandment of the Royal Malay Regiment.

Meanwhile, in their new occupations the Malay families were able to continue their traditional way of Community living, the kampong life. Every Police Station became a Malay kampong, because Malays constituted over 75'% or the entire Police Force. Near every prison there was a Malay kampong, as Malays formed more than 90% or the staff of the Prison Services. The Colombo Fire Brigade quarters formed one large kampong, as 100% of the staff were Ceylon Malays.

Harnbantota was another kampong, as a colony of invalid soldiers of the Regiment had been established there as far back as 1802 to work the salterns in the Mahagamapatoo, whilst a good number of them took to farming and fishing. Many a tea and rubber estate or kubbong as we call it became a Malay kampong. The kampong was the very foundation of Malay society and life in these kampongs was happy and prosperous. However, as education spread among the other communities, the Sinhalese and the Tamil, and when demands from members of these communities for employment opportunities in the Police, the Prisons, the salterns and the estates became louder and stronger, the Malays began to be displaced from their traditional vocations. As a result, the kampongs began to break up and this was the beginning of the sufferings of the Malay Community.

With increasing unemployment and the breaking up of the traditional kampong life, came other social problems and social evils, which continue to distress the Malays to the present day.
Due to increasing unemployment among them, more and more Malay girls were growing up without any hopes of marriage. Added to this was their poverty and the difficulty in finding dowries which were spiraling due to the increasing demand for, and the dwindling supply of employed husbands. The position became so acute that during the last war the arrival of kawangs or Malay troops from Indonesia was considered a great blessing, and many a poor young girl was given in marriage to them, for better or for worse, merely to get them out of the seclusion of their homes and be free from the responsibilities of parental care. Since the last war, the position has once again, become acute and is a source of a great distress to Malay parents.

Added to this problem are the problems of widowhood among Malay women. There are about 1000 Malay widows ,and their numbers are swelled by another 1000 Malay divorced women. Hopes of remarriage for these women are nil. The maintenance of these women and the maintenance of their children demand the immediate attention of Government and Muslim social service organisations.
Another social problem that is causing great distress to the Malays, namely the twin problems of housing and health. I have mentioned earlier of the. displacement of the Ceylon Malays from their traditional vocations on the estates in the Central Province, from the salterns in the Southern Province as well as from their traditional vocations in the other provinces. These displaced Malays made their way to Colombo in search of other forms of employment, and due to their depressed circumstances went into occupation of sub-standard housing. Some of them shared the accommodation in the homes of their relatives, mainly in Slave Island which was the stronghold of the Malays.

In recent years, the Sri Lanka Malays have been confronted with a new problem which have the effect of breaking up Malay society into three different and distinct sections, and this is a problem brought about by the implementation of the Government Policy with regard to the medium of instruction in schools. As you are aware, the mother tongue of Malays is Bahasa Melayu, which has been preserved in this country for over 250 years due to the fact that the original exiles from Indonesia were accompanied by their women folk and it was not necessary for them to find wives among Sinhalese and Tamil women. Bahasa Melayu was handed down from generation to generation and became less and less used as it was not a language taught in the schools. During British times, the Malays Looked increasingly to English and some acquired knowledge of Sinhala and Tamil. 
However in recent times, due to the introduction and continuation of three media of instruction, some Malay children are growing up only with a knowledge of Sinhala, some with a knowledge of Tamil, whilst others are receiving instructions in English, the language selected being dependent on the geographical situation of the school. This will eventually result, in a generation or two, in the growth of different sections of Malays, English Malays, and Tamil Malays, with little or no social contact with one another, and aggravating the existing problems within this small community.

The only effective means by which the decline of the Malay Community, leading to its present plight could have been arrested was by effective political representation of the special interests and the special problems of the Malays. In the old Legislative Council, the State Council and the Ho use of Representatives in all of which we had Malay members. Either there was an inadequate appreciation of the special problems of the Malays, or there was not sufficient emphasis on the special problems of the Malays within Parliament. 

The longest member in these legislative bodies was my revered uncle the late T. B. Jayah. Without decrying his greatness as a Muslim leader,without minimizing his wonderful contribution in the field of Muslim education and in the field of National education I must say that the general opinion of the Malays is that he was so immersed in the ideal of Muslim Unity and Muslim Solidarity that his effort to promote the welfare of the Muslim Community could not possibly benefit the Malays unless their special problems were first solved. Whatever may be the reason for the ineffective representation of the social problems of the Malays, the result has been that the Malay Com munity continued to lag behind others, and there can be no cleaner illustration of our present plight than the fact that though we had political representation since 1924, we had for the first time in 1952 been cruelly denied our traditional seat in Parliament. Again in 1965 and in 1970. we have been denied our traditional seat in Parliament.
This, in short, is a history of the Sri Lanka Malays and their present day problems.

Sender: Jeoffery Meedin
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