Monday, October 13, 2008

SL: MALAYS! A MINORITY COMMUNITY!!

UNP and SLFP Governments have discarded the Malays since 1965
by Saybhan Samat

The 70,000 strong Sri-Lankan Malay community is distressed, dismayed and very concerned that their culture, language and identity is fast disappearing. The cultures of the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils have made inroads among the Malays so much so that many Malays do not even know their own language, but only speak Sinhalese or Tamil depending on whether they live in Sinhalese dominated areas or Tamil dominated areas. The elite among the Malays speak the English language. The dress of the Malays is also not the traditional dress worn in Indonesia and Malaysia. It is either the saree, frock and now the blouse and jean-pants. There is a slow but sure erosion of Malay culture in all cultural fields, the cultures and life-styles of the majority Sinhalese, minority Tamils and in some instances the Western culture have swamped and drowned the original culture of the Malays. This trend has alarmed the once proud Malay community, who boldly projected their unique humane and beautiful culture in the past. In addition to the Sinhalese, Tamil and Western cultures that have influenced the Malays, their co-religionist the Moors too have strongly influenced the Malays. The culture of the Moors is quite different to that of the Malays. The Moors are descendents of the Arabs and South Indian Muslims, the South Indian Muslims in turn are the descendents of Arabs who came to South India while the Malays are descendents of the Javanese and Malays of Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Malays, some of whom were of Royal descent, were exiled by the Dutch rulers, while others were brought over here as soldiers, both by the Dutch and British. Even the Sinhalese Kings recruited Malay soldiers to their Army to fight the British. On some occasions, Malay soldiers on the side of the British would battle Malay soldiers on the side of the Sinhalese Kings. Malay soldiers were absolutely loyal to whoever recruited them. They were well known for their loyalty, valour, courage and fighting abilities.

The UNF and the PA governments, despite several appeals from responsible Malay citizens, have lumped them as Muslims. The Malays do not for a moment deny that they are Muslims following the religion of Islam, but since at present ethnicity is most relevant in Sri-Lanka society more than at anytime in our history, it is indeed a travesty of justice to ignore the ethnic claim of the Sri-Lankan Malays of today.

The Malays were originally Hindus. They then converted to Buddhism and finally embraced Islam. The history of the Malays in our island is marked by epic achievements. The present day Malays are completely ignorant of the historical glory, values and bravery of this small but courageous and innovative community. Most significantly, the Malays have not caused any trouble to the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities. They have co-operated with both main political parties viz. the UNP and the SLFP. They have also had cordial and brotherly relations with their co-religionist the Moors. Malays live island-wide and can very easily get along with the other communities to live in peace and harmony. In fact, the nature of the Malay psyche is peace, which is propounded by their religion, Islam.

The Malays are also noted for their spiritual abilities. Having so many saints whose shrines abound in this blessed island, the Malays reached their peak when they truly practiced Islam. In its heyday, 75% of the Police force, 90% of the prison services and 100% of the Colombo Fire Brigade were Malays. Large numbers of Malays also served in the Hambantota salterns, H. M Customs, in plantations as estate clerks and conductors, tea, rubber makers and in government service and the private sector. The Malays had a reputation for loyalty, honesty and hard work. Some Malays were self-employed and were very skilled artisans in rattaning and masonry.

The Sri-Lanka Malay Associations, the Malay Cricket Club, the oldest cricket club, in the island and the Konferensi Melayu Sri-Lanka (Coslam) have made some efforts to revive Malay culture. The attempts are mostly cosmetic. A big brouhaha is made about the Malay Rally by the Sri-Lanka Malay Association and the Malay Cricket Club. Once the rally is over, there is hardly any follow-up. The Konferensi, Melayu (Coslam) with much hype organises ‘Hari Bahasa Melayu’ (Malay Language Day), but after their rally they go into hibernation and nothing does happen. Cynics in the community claim that these occasions are organised by office bearers for social-climbing, vanity fare, ego-building, partying and for glitz and show and not for reviving Malay culture and identity.

Many Malays feel that it is possible to revive their culture if government sponsors and supports them. Hence it is necessary that the government like in the past, nominates in the national list a Malay to represent the community. Earlier, the Malay community was represented by Dr. M. P. Drahman and B. Z. Lye under the SLFP. The Malays were very thankful for this gesture to the SLFP. The UNP nominated M. H. Amit under the national list. However, when M. H. Amit was asked by the Malays as to why he gave up his seat in favour the late Gamini Dissanayake, he said that he was appointed as a member of the Muslim League, which is affiliated to the UNP and hence did not represent the Malays.

There are many reasons as to why it is incumbent on the government to nominate a Malay on the National List to Parliament. First of all, there is a historical affinity of the Sinhalese Buddhists to the Malays on account of the 50 year rule of a Malay Buddhist King, Chandra Banu, who established a Javanese Kingdom in Jaffna which extended to Hambantota in the 13th century and because the Malays were Buddhists before they became Muslims. Secondly, the Malays have time and again proven their loyalty to their motherland, Sri Lanka. Their peaceful conduct from the time their ancestors were exiled to this island is well known. Thirdly, although they are a very small community, their contribution is immense indeed to the development of Sri Lanka. They have made valuable contributions in various fields such as the civil-services, art, journalism, sports, the defence services, politics, social services and to the Colombo Fire Brigade and Prisons services. Finally, 21 Malays have sacrificed their lives and six, missing in the on-going ethnic conflict.

Hence, it is clear beyond any doubt that the Malay community, although small in number today, has contributed immensely to our rich and colourful heritage for several centuries. From Hambantota (Sampantota) to Chavakachcheri (Sava-ka-chari) from Ja-ela to Samanthurai from Java Lane to Jakaduwa (Mawathagama), to Jawatte and from hairy Rambutan to the spiky Durian, from Babath and Mani-Pittu to the all time favourite Wattalappan to the spicy Malay pickle, tangy Sathey to Nasi Goreng from Dodol to the Sarama, the list is endless, which stamps the influence of the Malay presence in our beautiful island.

Only the SLFP government nominated two Malay MPs in 1956 and 1960. Since 1965, both the UNP and the SLFP have discarded the Malays and not recognised the distinct ethnicity of the Malays. The present practice of the both governments to categorised the Malays under the definition of Muslim is unacceptable. The Malay language belongs to the Malayu-Polynesian language family, written in either Roman script or the Arabic script. The culture is the traditional culture of the Javanese, Malays and Indonesians. Hence, the Malays have a distinct cultural identity different from the Moors, whose language is Tamil and more than Arab culture, the Moors tend to South Indian Tamil culture.

The Malays are certain that if the government appoints a Malay MP after the next general elections, this political appointment long denied to them will propel them to revive their culture, language and identity. It is only fair, considering the contribution of the Malays to the well being and development of this country, in the past and in the present, that they be recognised by the appointment of a Member of Parliament to sit in the Legislature.

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