The Future of the Shrinking Sri Lanka Malay Community

The Future of the Shrinking Sri Lanka Malay Community.

Sdr. Noor Rahiim
In addition to their endangered Language the Sri Lankan Malay Community are facing the following predicaments in the wake of a Community that appears to be steadily shrinking:

1. Political Aspirations
2. Inter-Marriage
3. Faith, Customs & Traditions
4. Emigration
So much talk has gone around within our small Community, in respect of the above subject; and in particular the Political aspirations of the Malays.
Let me start off by saying that I left the shores of Sri Lanka almost 30 years ago. What I write is based on my personal experiences; having lived amidst my Malay Community for 50 years in Slave Island. My heart still lies there. So let not the “Pundits” and “Critics” take offense at what I have to say. I write mostly of my own experiences.
1. Political Aspirations.
Lets’ study the background to the Political mindset of our Community. Most Malays were domiciled in the “Cradle of the Malays” – Slave Island or “Kartel” as it was known among the Malays of yore. The Community was renowned for their happy-go-lucky and carefree way of life; with political aspirations being furthermost in their minds.
Having said that we must never forget our very own Political Idol in the late Al Haj T.B. Jayah who along with the Father of the Nation the Late D.S. Senanayake and other leading Politicians of the time formed the first Government of Ceylon. This was later followed with the late Senator M.D. Kitchilan who represented the Wekande Ward in the Colombo Municipality; and subsequently became a Senator in the Senate of the Government of Ceylon/Sri Lanka. We also had nominated Members of Parliament; until J.R. Jayewardene abolished the Post of nominated members for the minorities under the Constitutional changes he made
It’s sad and somewhat hard to say that these nominees were from those who toed the line with the Political Power that governed. One, of course, did not hear of anything constructive that was accomplished for our small Malay Community; other than being called that they represented the minority.
Only the late Al Haj Jayah & Senator Kitchilan were household names in our small Malay Community. They lived for the Community and were easily approachable; amiable and ever willing to help the Community. The late Al Haj. Jayah helped the Malays in innumerable ways; especially in the field of education. Senator Kitchilan lived among the poorer quarters of the Malays and was always available for any assistance required by the Community. The great thing about these two Gentlemen were that they did not wait for the Community to come to them; but they went to the Community. So! One can just imagine the respect and love they received from the Community. Especially the Malay Community that lived in “The Cradle of the Sri Lanka Malay Community” – Slave Island (Kartel).
We as Malays could only boast of a dominating and domineering election of a Malay to the Wekande Ward of the Colombo Municipality. The other Ward with a majority of Malays in Slave Island was dominated by the late Doctor Kumaran Rutnam. The United National Party brought in a Malay from out of the Ward to contest and oust Dr. Rutnam but were futile in their attempts. The reason behind this is that Dr. Rutnam had his Hospital in Union Place and treated the Malays as if they were his own Community. He gave the poor Malays treatment at no cost to the deserving; and was always ready to meet and treat them. Hence the moral of the story is that you have to be with your Community; and in their domicile if you wish to seek their support (approval) in any Political adventure.
With the demolition of the domiciles of the Malays in Slave Island we find they have dispersed far and wide. The concentration remains in small pockets. The unity so to say has been weakened for any substantial “voting power” in any theatre of National or Municipal elections. Hence our Political Aspirations are somewhat diminished; and if ventured we will no doubt have to obtain the assistance of the other Communities and/or rely on Party Politics.
In hindsight it must be mentioned that a Premier Association was based in Slave Island at Rifle Green which adjoined the Malay Rifle Regiment Garrison and the Masjid ul’Jamiah Malay Military Mosque.
It did not take long; before the local populace realized that this August Body was run by so called “Elites” who considered themselves “Pukka Sahibs” of the Community; and was to soon turn their noses on the poorer “cousins”. Thereby creating a deep chasm between the affluent/well to do/middle class; and the struggling Malays who were looked down upon. Into this potpourri entered a few “Clan Clubs” with their self-centred agenda which further drove away the poorer Malays. I speak of the era during the 1940’s and 50’s only as an observation of mine. The situation may well have been now transformed for the better; and I do apologize if offence is taken to these observations of mine.
While “Clan” Clubs are virtually to keep the “Family Tree” intact and in vogue; it has also caused polarization in our small Community. Much to the detriment of the unity and togetherness of the Community; which was such a vibrant one, to say the least.
Dear Readers please take cognizance of the points I have made. If we are to pursue or clamour for our Political rights, we must all put our heads and our shoulders together and work towards a common goal. We have to forget that saying in the West “All Chiefs and No Indians” and treat every Malay with equality and respect. The Leadership decision must lie with all Malays and not a handful of persons or individual Associations. We will have to nurture and propel a proven/worthwhile and dedicated individual who has the Community interest at heart. One who will act without fear, favour or prejudice.
One must also be reminded of the other minority Community – The Sri Lanka Burgher Community. They too have contributed to the Country of their Birth; and amazingly enough one does not hear them clamouring for Political recognition.
They too like our very own Community are a vibrant lot – carefree, fun loving and amiable with all the other Communities in Sri Lanka. Perhaps we too should follow their lead and remain like our forefathers – easy going, care free; and with a penchant to “Peaceful Co-Existence”.
In conclusion. Wouldn’t it be better if we all united as ONE Malay Community and worked in an atmosphere of “togetherness” towards becoming a well-respected and sought after Community; rather than a politically motivated one? This question must be posed to ALL Malays; for an answer. Thus the decision to clamour for Political Representation will be one that should be in unanimity with all Malays.
The word “togetherness” is used with a very meaningful intention. For “unity” is a very loose term. Used politically it is a word used to infuse unity for political gain. Once the goal is achieved unity becomes an integral mandate for the majority in that unity to over-rule the minority. In other words “Unity” (KESATUAN) leads to “polarization” and “polarization” leads to “dissension”. But in “togetherness” (KEBERSAMAAN) there are no caste, creed or religion. Just think about these two terms and put yourself in the many instances of “unity” and “togetherness” and decide/envision for yourself the deeper meaning of the two.
In hindsight, Dear Readers, shouldn’t we also channel some of our efforts in striving to get immigration for our Community; back into the lands of our Ancestors?
2. Inter-Marriages.
The guidance of the Youth must come from the Parents themselves. In the mid "Forties" I still remember my Dad telling me - "Son, if you marry outside our very small Community; then there won't be a Malay Community; in the years to come". We speak of our dying Mother Tongue at every turn; but do we give thought to the diminishing Community? One must ask oneself - "Who is to Blame?" As a learned Man said - "Look after the small things; and the big things will look after itself". I guess we are all to blame for we are the ones that created a very deep chasm between the well-to-do to the poorer cousins of our Community. We, at the higher echelons, did not give cognizance to our Mother Tongue and to our Customs & Traditions. Instead were content in being “westernized”. The concept of economics too comes into the fray and taken a toll on the Community. Of course the rich are looking for more riches and higher social status. I wonder if they ever thought of assisting/aiding their poorer cousins. The poorer cousins, sad to say, are in the majority. Thus lies the problem; therein lies the solution. Family, morals and Cultural values must come from Parents and Elders. Communal values must be the joint responsibility of all.
In the matter of Inter-Marriage; this is one that has come to stay in the Modern Societies of the World today. We can only air our personal views; but interfere we cannot. In the olden days our Ancestors were sticklers for giving their sons and daughters in marriage within the Community. It is known that children got disowned from the family if one should marry out of the Community. Alas! These values have changed. For better or for worse lies in the future. But as long as the couple are happy and their respective parents are agreeable; the matter ends there. The concept of a Malay Community is fast becoming a reverie.
3. Faith, Customs & Traditions.
There is a current movement to castigate Malays who do not follow the Islamic Faith. Is this proper; is the question that one must seek an answer to.
Our ancestors were very devout followers of the Islamic Faith. This is more than exemplified by the Mosques they built near every cantonment, fort and garrison they served in. In addition there are many Malays that attained “sainthood” and are enshrined in our Country. It is a possibility that a few may have followed other Faiths too. If you trace back to our country of origin we will find Malays who follow not only the Islamic Faith; but also the Christian, Hindu and Buddhist Faiths; although they are a tiny minority. Following a Spiritual Faith is the choice of the individual – be it through conviction, compulsion or traditional. But Malay is their race and they shall always remain Malays; regardless of their Faith.
It was a learned scholar in Indonesia who said: “Islam is a wonderful Faith. Venerate and practice it to its fullest. But do not follow the Arab Culture; for we have a very wonderful Culture of our own”.
Which brings to mind the traditional dresses worn by our Nenek Moyang (Ancestors) that comprised of a sarong wrap; long sleeved baju; and a sarong worn around and across the shoulder, which they put over their head when going out or as a mark of respect to the others. The dress was modest and respectful and was in keeping with the Quranic concept of “dressing modestly”. With time they wore the Indian Saree that suited their requirements and in keeping with ease of dressing. One can easily see the similarity in the concepts of dressing these apparels.
One must also keep in mind that at one time the Malay Peninsular and Archipelago was part of the Indian Empire. Hence one will still see that the customs & traditions that the Malays follow, have some Indian influence to it. So are the religions that they brought along; which was to see a rapid change to the Islamic Faith by the vast majority of the Peoples of the Land.
Our Customs & Traditions comes from years of experience and know-how. Let’s continue these time-tested and proven concepts before we lose them and merge with other traditions & customs that are alien to our wonderful culture and way of life.
4. Emigration.
Emigration of Sri Lankan Malays too are taking place unabated to “western countries”. However! It’s disheartening to note that there is none to the Land of their Ancestors. Which poses the question of – “Have we been dis-inherited and shunned by our Ancestral Lands?” The second most important question is – “Will we see these immigrants to non-Malay countries blend with the peoples of that land; to finally forget their beginnings? “. Only time will tell; I guess!
Wake up Orang Jawa (Orang Melayu); for time is running very short for our small Community to survive and revive. We need to get together to iron out our differences and work out a meaningful and feasible plan to resuscitate our dying Community which has such a proven track record in its country of adoption. It is a known fact that a few diehards have closed the stable doors after the horses have bolted; but it is not too late to capture these horses and bring them back to the stable by friendly persuasion and meaningful/purposeful coaxing. (Please note that no disrespect or demeaning is meant when I used that famous saying about the horses).
Time is of the essence to resolve and rectify our needs and requirements; to awake our Community.
Noor Rahim
09 December 2016.
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