Ethnicity

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  • Topic: Malaysia, Malays, Malaysian Malay
  • Pages : 5 (1418 words )
  • Download(s) : 125
  • Published : March 31, 2013
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A Malay person can be a Malay by race, but not by ethnicity.

Ethnicity and race are often used together and and hence they are always confused. There is a major difference between both of them. Ethnicity is a group of people that has a shared common culture - the practices, values, and beliefs in groups; and also language, religion and traditions; amongst others. Race, on the other hand, artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly skin colour), ancestral heritage, cultural history etc. What is common between these two are, both ethnicity and race are social constructs. Social construct is defined as anything that is a result of a group or idea that is built through cultural or social practice, that group people together. Other examples of social constructs are government, nationality, gender and more. To incorporate all together, ethnicity is a social construct.

Ethnicity constitutes a person’s relating with a particular ideals, beliefs, and practices followed by a cultural group, and as well as his or her sense of belonging to that group. However, ethnicity also includes an element of race, and being a part and belonging to a racial group, as well.

For this assignment, I have chosen Malay ethnicity as the subject matter. Explaining a bit of background on “Malay”. The word Malay comes from the Siamese origin. It means “from the sea”. Malay itself has many ethnic groups such as, Malays, Brunei Malay, Malaysian Malays, Malays in Singapore, Malay Indonesian, Thai Malays, Cape Malay, Kedahan Malay, Overseas Malay, to name a few. Constitutionally being identified as a Malay is one who speaks the Malay language, practices the religion, in most case it would be Islam, and performs the rights and rituals of Malay culture.

The journal article that I have selected is written by Lian Kwen Fee, who is an Associate Professor of Sociology from National University of Singapore. His journal article is titled as “The Construction of Malay Identity across Nations: Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia”.

Professor Lian has referred that Malay itself is a construction of an ‘ideological work’ as regarded by Milner (1998:151-3). The Malays belonged to a single community, sharing a common sense of identity and destiny. Malays are rich with history, culture and tradition but even back in the olden days, they required protection to safeguard their identity and self-esteem. Malayness should be given the emphasis and should be strengthened, and this could be achieved by nurturing Malay culture, literature and education. Others, but not limited to, also include practices such as, weddings practices, performing and visual arts, cuisine, traditional dresses, martial arts, traditional games, and many more. Malay culture absorbed numerous cultural features of other ethnic groups, such as those Minang, Aceh; however it differs by being more Islamic.

The golden age of Malay sultanate beginning in the 15th century saw the construction of the common identity that binds Malay people together. It was used to describe the cultural preferences of the Malays as against foreigners from the same region, especially from Indonesia and Thailand.

In the 19th century, there was a language teacher called Munshi Abdullah who writes about the Malays at that time. Abdullah criticizes the rule of the sultans. Abdullah used the term ‘Malay’ as primary community or a collective identity. When there was an influx of the Chinese and Indian immigrants who came to work in Malaysia, the intellectual construction of Malays begin to be reinforced. The Malays feared that they were going to be taken over by other races. Utusan Melayu, the first major national paper at that time, begin to introduce and popularize the terms such as Tanah Melayu (Malay Land), and a few others. In fact, Utusan Melayu at that time plays an important role in promoting Malay consciousness and construct an even a...
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