Selamat Saudara dan Saudari..
Sdr. Geoffrey Meedin


January 13, 2016
Credit to Sdr. Geoffrey Meedin

An interesting article which appeared in the CDN nearly 50 years ago highlighting the travails of the Malay community and the efforts taken by the then Malay organisation CEMRO, to draw attention, focus and alleviate their predicaments.
Some of the problems sadly still linger.


The chips are down for the Malay community in Ceylon.They peer into the future with fear.Will they disintegrate and disappear- absorbed in the national tide -or will they fight back with ancestral gallantry and retrieve themselves?
These are the questions among others which have called for compulsive study and research by the Ceylon Malay Research Organisation CEMRO led by a young engineer Mr Murad Jayah a nephew of the great Malay leader, the late Dr T B Jayah.

The CEMRO realises that poverty and lack of opportunity has eroded the underpinning of a proud , past heritage.But it also feels that it is not enough to carp and criticise, nor will it do to sweep the reality of the situation under the carpet.

The organisation is carrying out statistical surveys of the needs and requirements of Malay families and individuals and of areas of concentrations of Malay residents with a view to promoting their socio-economic upliftment and cultural regeneration.

It is also implementing a short term and long term programme of work to bring about rapid improvement in the socio economic conditions of the Ceylon Malays

Proud past

The CEMRO hopes to rouse the Malays from their torpor of resignation to a fuller life, by personal persuasion, by periodic bulletins and by talks (like the one given by Mr. Jayah at the MICH symposium) the organisation hopes to pump New blood into the community.

In the latter half of the 13th century a Javanese kingdom was established in North Ceylon for 50 years remembered by place names as Jaffna or Javapatanam, Chavakachcheri and Chawankottai, Javanese trading vessels called on Sampan Tota (Hambantota) on their way to Madagascar and the African coast.
In the 18th century the Malay soldiers served under the Dutch and later under the British when the Malay regiment had the proud distinction of being the first Asiatic regiment to be awarded the King’s colours.

When in 1873 the Regiment was disbanded, the men were found employment in other military units, police and prison services, Colombo Fire Brigade, estate and salterns.

In the next 3 decades Malays had reached their Everest - forming 75% of the Police force, 90% of the Prison service and 100% of the Colombo Fire Brigade, and a good many of them worked in the Hambantota salterns and in the estates.

The Kampong

The Malays established Kampong a la Malaya or Indonesia to continue their traditional way of community living.
According to the organisation’s research report:
"The Kampong was the very foundation of Malay society and life in these Kampongs was happy and prosperous."
But in the recent past Malays were displaced from their positions and possessions -"With increasing unemployment and breaking up of traditional Kampong life came other social problems and social evils which continue to distress the Malays to the present day.

With displacement came the influx of Malays to Colombo and suburbs in search of other forms of employment.

‘Due to their depressed circumstances’ says CEMRO research report ‘the Malays went into occupation of sub standard housing. Some of them shared the accommodation in the homes of their relatives mainly in Slave Island. This influx together with the natural increase in numbers in due course turned Slave Island into a slum area…”

“ It is pathetic to see every night, all the furnitures in the house is piled away into a corner to find sleeping accommodation for 4, 5, 6 or more people in a tiny room, in which the father, the mother, the children and even the grandparents sleep closely huddled together.
‘It is also pathetic to see how they queue up to avail of the inadequate sanitary facilities provided from the early hours of the morning’

‘It is not surprising therefore that more and more people in these congested areas are succumbing to the dreaded tuberculosis. The incidence of TB is highest in Slave Island for which there is a special CNAPT project.’

The women

The organisation is also concerned about the problems of marriage. Increased unemployment among the men and inadequate means to shoulder the responsibility of life and begin a home of their own has sent many a young Malay girl in full flower to the wall.

According to Mr Jayah ‘ Added to this is their poverty and the difficulty in finding dowries which are spiralling up 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 and Malaya 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 seclusion of their homes and be free from the responsibilities of parental care.

Since the last war the position has become acute again and Malay parents are greatly distressed.
More and more Malay girls have in the recent past found husbands outside their community. In 1956 marriage between Malays and Malays was 141 and Malays and others 84. But in 1960 marriage between Malays and Malays was 90 while the figure for Malays and others was 106

Breaking up

According to Mr Jayah “Fifty percent are marrying outside the community. I can see in these figures the first signs of disintegration of the Malay community”
“Added to this problem is that of widowhood among Malay women.There are about 1000 Malay widows and their numbers are swelled by another 1000 divorced women.”
Hopes of Marriage for these women are nil.The maintenance of these women and children demands the immediate attention of the government and Muslim social service organisations”

The mother tongue of the Malays,Bahasa Melayu spoken for over 250 years (since the original exiles here with their wives from Indonesia in the 18th century) is in danger of disuse, according to the organisation.
“ In recent years the Ceylon Malays have been confronted with a new problem which will have the effect of breaking up the Malay society into 3 different and distinct sections and this is a problem brought about by the implementation of the government policy with regard to the medium of instructions in schools.
The organisation envisages that this will eventually result in a generation or two, in the growth of different section of Malays - English Malays, Sinhala Malays and Tamil Malays. “ With little or no social life with one another and aggravating the existing problems within the small community. “

Religious Zeal

The early Malays showed remarkable religious zeal as evinced in the landmarks they have left behind. The CEMRO believes if the Malays follow the pious standards set by their forefathers they may yet stave off a calamity. Those Malays certainly made a notable contribution to the Malay community in Colombo especially.

Colombo’s main mosque, the Grand mosque at New Moors Street, not only contains the shrine of the Malay saint Tuan Bagoos Balankaya, but was designed and built by the Javanese architect Mohamed Balankaya.
The two storeyed mosque was the first of its kind and the then Governor of Ceylon, Sir Edward Barnes when he visited it in 1826 complimented Balankaya. Balankaya was the son of Hooloo Balankaya, Minister to the Raja of Goa, Mas Makotha Ranthay Pathola Mohamed Sahabudeen who along with other princes and noblemen and their families was exiled to Ceylon by the Dutch in 1723.
Being a devout Muslim Balankaya devoted himself to the religious and social uplift of the Muslims.By his Ceylon Moor wife Sithy Ummu Khadija, sister of Otthman Lebbe Maesthriyar (father of Mudaliyar Cassie Lebbe of Kandy) he had 9 children the last of whom was Tuan Bagoos Krawan Balankaya, who was born on January 28th 1827.

This is the saint whose Mausoleum is at the Grand Mosque Colombo.He was Kalifa to Kottar Sheikh whom he later succeeded. He resided for a time in a hamlet at Palawa Turam half a mile from the Kochikade railway station ministering to the spiritual needs of the Muslims. This saint died young aged only 35 years on October 29th 1862.

There were many other Malay saints too. The Malays’ zeal for Islam further manifested itself in the Wekanda Jummah Mosque, gifted by a Javanese Pandan Ballie in 1786, the Masjid ul Jamiah at Java Lane built out of the funds of the General Purpose and Pensioners Fund of the Malay Regiment and several mosques built wherever the Malay garrisons were stationed.

Promised Land

The case of the Malays of Kirinde who have been awaiting an Exodus to a Promised Land for several years is pathetic and enough to raise the eyebrows of those who advocate social justice.
Kirinde is a predominantly Malay village with 108 Malay families and 523 Malays. The majority of them live in poverty with no visible means of subsistence.
The CEMRO had made representations to the Director of Geological Surveys for providing tube wells to the village, as lack of water is the biggest problem here. But either due to lack of funds or due to the absence of any scheme for the provision of tube wells in that area, no relief or easement was given.
This village has only one school for its children and only recently did CEMRO succeed in obtaining a Malay lady teacher trained in Sinhala medium, while there is no Moulavi teacher to instruct the children in Islam.
There is not even a dispensary. A doctor calls over once a week from Tissa.
The desperate Malays of Kirinde in a bid to eke out a means of existence, asked for land for paddy cultivation.

Thumbed down

For two years correspondence with officialdom shuttled from office to office criss-crossing each other at times. And in the end they were thumbed down- in officialese. It is not possible to start a youth scheme in Kirinde. However, if your organisation requires land for the cultivation of food crops please forward an application to the Government Agent, Hambantota.
So they were back to square one. Again the Malays of Kirinde were shown a Promised Land at Ranganvally, Potuvil four years ago. It is still only a happy aspiration.

The Ceylon Malay Research Organisation fashioned on the anvil of these cases of adversity, hopes by its research and fieldwork, to reach at the jugular of the Malay problem.

The community's leaders and representatives from Legislative Council to Parliament (now they are not represented in the House of Representatives) appear to have failed the community in working for its salvation.

The Organisation says:
“Whatever may be the reasons for the ineffective representation of the special problems of the Malays, the result has been that the Malay community continues to lag behind ….. That is our plight.”
The Malays feel they have been treated as a write off. But they hope to come back into the picture soon.

(The Ceylon Daily News, Friday December 15, 1967)
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