|c. 22 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Related ethnic groups|
Malays (Malay: Melayu) are an ethnic group of Austronesian peoples predominantly inhabiting the Malay Peninsula including the southernmost parts of Thailand, the east coast of Sumatra, the coast of Borneo, and the smaller islands which lie between these locations. The Malay ethnic group is distinct from the concept of a Malay race, which encompasses a wider group of people, including most of Indonesia and the Philippines. The Malay language is a member of the Austronesian family of languages.
The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early History, has pointed out a total of three theories of the origin of Malay:
The ancestor of Malays are believed to be seafarers knowledgeable in oceanography. They moved around from island to island in great distances between New Zealand and Madagascar, and they served as navigation guide, crew and labour to Indian, Persian and Chinese traders for nearly 2000 years. Over the years they settled at various places and adopted various cultures and religions. Notable Malay seafarers of today are Moken and Orang laut.
Some historians suggested they were descendants of Austronesian-speakers who migrated from the Philippines and originally came from Taiwan. Malay culture reached its golden age during Srivijayan times and they practiced Buddhism, Hinduism, and their native Animism before converting to Islam in the 15th century.
In the History of Jambi, the word Melayu originated from a river with name Melayu River near to Batang Hari River of today's Muara Jambi, Jambi province of Sumatra, Indonesia and even a Melayu Kingdom existed from the record of Yi Jing (a Tang Dynasty Buddhist monk) and archaeological research of Jambi, large numbers of ancient artifacts and ancient architectures of the Melayu Kingdom have been found with photo evidence. However further tracing the root of the word, a small town in Tamil district appeared called Malai Yur which means "Land of Mountains" (malai means mountain and yur means land), a reference to the hilly nature of the Malay Archipelago. Other ancient Indian sources , the Purana text, claimed "Malayadvipa" on Sumatra with the meaning 'dvipa' land surrounded by water, while the ancient Sanskrit word Himalaya means 'snow mountain'. "Maleu-kolon" was used by Ptolemy which was also derived from Sanskrit 'malayakom' or 'malaikurram', according to G. E. Gerini that was to refer to Tanjung Kuantan while Roland Bradell claimed it on Tanjung Penyabung, both in the peninsula. (see Tamil place names in Malaysia)
The word Melayu began in use during the time of Sultanate of Melaka, founded by the fleeing prince Parameswara, from the declining Melayu Kingdom of Srivijaya in Palembang. And the word was in popular use in 17th century onwards.
During the European colonization, the word "Malay" was adopted into English via the Dutch word "Malayo", itself from Portuguese "Malaio", which originates from the Malay word "Melayu". According to one popular theory, the word Melayu means "migrating" or "fleeing", which might refer to the high mobility of these people across the region (cf. Javanese verb 'mlayu' means "to run", cognate with Malay verb 'melaju', means "to accelerate") or perhaps the original meaning is "distant, far away" (cf. Tagalog 'malayo') with the root word 'layo', which means 'distance' or 'far' in Tagalog and some Malayo-Polynesian languages.
Another interesting thing to note is that in Tagalog, 'malayà' means "free", from the root word 'layâ' "to set free". Perhaps having the same etymon as the Tagalog 'layag' and Indonesian 'layar' meaning "sail, to set sail". Local legends in the Philippines point to the origin of Filipino Malays from immigrants and refugees fleeing political persecution from the sultanates in Indonesia. They came through large hardwood boats capable of housing entire clans of colonists within them called 'balangays' (from which the modern Filipino word 'barangay' for "village" came from). Indicating a common pattern of Malays periodically leaving established kingdoms to start new ones by traversing the Southeast Asian islands for colonization through boats. This may have been another alternate origin of the name 'Malay'.
According to Kedah Annals, Kadaram (Kedah Kingdom 630-1136) was founded by Maharaja Derbar Raja of Gemeron, Persia around 630 CE, and also alleged that the bloodline of Kedah royalties coming from Alexander The Great. The other Malay literature, Sejarah Melayu too alleged that they were the descendants of Alexander The Great.
Combination of the colonial Kambujas of Hindu-Buddhism faith, the Indo-Persian royalties and traders as well as traders from southern China and elsewhere along the ancient trade routes, these peoples together with the aborigine Negrito Orang Asli and native seafarers and Proto Malays intermarried each others and thus a new group of peoples was formed and became to be known as the Deutero Malays, today they are commonly known as the Malays.
The term Melayu (Malay person in the Malay Language), in the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, refers to a person who professes Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom and who has at least one ancestor from the Malay Peninsula or Singapore.
The term "Malay" can refer to the ethnic group who live in the Malay peninsula (which include the southernmost part of Thailand called Patani and Satun) and east Sumatra as well as the cultural sphere that encompass a large part of the archipelago.
The Malay ethnic group is the majority in Malaysia and Brunei and a sizable minority in Singapore and Indonesia, and they form the majority in the five southernmost provinces of Thailand which historically made up the old Malay kingdom of Patani. These people speak various dialects of Malay language. The peninsular dialect as spoken in the Malaysian states of Pahang, Selangor and Johor is the standard speech among Malays in Malaysia and Singapore. In the Malay peninsula, the Kelantanese dialect in its purest form is the most difficult to understand. Other peninsula dialects include the Kedah-Perlis dialect, the Melakan dialect, the Minangkabau dialect of Negeri Sembilan, the Perak dialect and the Terengganu dialect. In Thailand, Malays of Satun speak the Kedah-Perlis dialect while those in the Patani provinces speak the Kelantanese lingo. Meanwhile, the Riau dialect of eastern Sumatra has been adopted as a national tongue, Indonesian, for the whole Indonesian population.The ethnic Malay have had a Muslim culture since the 15th century.
In Malaysia, the majority of the population is made up of ethnic Malays while the minorities consist of southern Chinese (e.g. Hokkien and Cantonese), southern Indians (mainly Tamils), non-ethnic Malay indigenous peoples (e.g. Iban and Kadazan), as well as Eurasians.
Malay cultural influences filtered out throughout the archipelago, such as the monarchical state, religion (Hinduism/Buddhism in the first millennium AD, Islam in the second millennium), and the Malay language. The influential Srivijaya kingdom had unified the various ethnic groups in southeast Asia into a convergent cultural sphere for almost a millennium. It was during that time that vast borrowing of Sanskrit words and concepts facilitated the advanced linguistic development of Malay as a language. Malay was the regional lingua franca, and Malay-based creole languages existed in most trading ports in Indonesia.
Redirecting to Malays (ethnic group)