Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Legitimacy of the Malays as the Sons of the Soil

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Legitimacy of the Malays as the Sons of the Soil

Article excerpt


This paper presents evidence to defend the Malay as legitimate sons of the soil. The arguments are supported by linguistic, archeological, paleoanthropological, prehistorian, botanical, genetic and forensic evidence. The bulk of the sources on indigenous concept of the sons of the soil are the Malay classical texts. Based those sources, it is argued that the Malays are entitled to be regarded as legitimate sons of the soil, firstly, their ancestors were not migrants, instead originated from the Nusantara region; secondly, their ancestors were the first who constituted the political establishment or effective administration in Nusantara in general and in Malaysia in particular; thirdly, the status of the Malay masses as the sons of the soil had been legitimized by the Malay Sultanates, a single supreme authority over all matter on the Malay sovereignty of all time till today; and, fourthly, the Malay themselves constituted the concept of sons of the soil and also the geo-political entity called Tanah Melayu (the Malay Land) long before the coming of foreign influences.

Keywords: colonial knowledge, migration theories, effective administration, international community's recognition, Malay classical texts

1. Introduction

Hitherto there have been challenges by the non-Malays against the Malays who regard themselves as the sons of the soil of this country (Malaysia). The most classic example of this was from the noted agitator Lim Ching Ean/Yan, a member of the Straits Settlements Legislative Council (1929-1933), who spoke to a Penang Chinese association in 1931 as follows:

Who said this is a Malay country? When Captain Light arrived, did he find Malays, or Malay villages? Our forefathers came here and worked hard as coolies-weren't ashamed to become coolies-and they didn't send their money back to China. They married and spent their money here, and in this way the Government was able to open up the country from jungle to civilization. We've become inseparable from this country. It's ours, our country (Cited from Roff1967: 209).

In 1933, during his second term, he was hailed a folk hero among the Chinese as he walked out of the council chamber in protest against the government's refusal to fund Chinese and Tamil vernacular education because the British regarded the Chinese and Indians as non-natives (Tan Kim Hong 2007: 142; The Star, 7 February 2002). He is still celebrated. For instance, a subscriber to Malaysiakini who wrote about his 'contribution' under a title "Sacrifice a must on the road to unity" (, Retrieved 10 May 2012), and The Star (7 February 2002) regarded him as a Distinguished Son of Penang.

The last decades have seen the surge of more intensive challenges toward the Malay position as the sun of the soil especially among those so-called 'colonial knowledge' reviewers (e.g Kahn 2006, Vickers 2004, Nah 2003, Fernandez 1999). By using words such as 'contesting' and 'deconstruction' as their tools, in the guise of post-structural school of thought, they have attempted to deny or challenge the status of Malays as the sons of the soil. For instance, while in January 1948, Malcolm MacDonald, the Governor General of Singapore and Malaya, announced that "The Malays are the truest sons and daughters of the Malayan soil," (Broadcast Speech by the Governor-General, 4 January 1948. NAA A1838 413/2/1/4 Part 1, BTSEA - Malayan Constitutional Reforms), Sornarajah (2010: 107) says, "Bumiputera, literally, the 'children of the land.' The Malays are not indigenous to the land. There are the Orang Asli to Malaysia, whom the Malays themselves regard as the indigenous people."

They seem to be more 'colonial minded' than the real pre-independence colonialists. For instance, speaking on the origin of the concept of Tanah Melayu (Malay Land), while Valentyn (1726, ed. 1885: 64-65), who was writing during the time before the coming of the British to this country, said "This country has generally been known since that time, during the early Melaka Sultanate, by the name 'Tanah Malayu'" and while Crawfurd (1856: 251) in nineteenth-century said "The Malays themselves call the peninsula Tanah Malayu, that is, the 'Malay land, or country of the Malays'" and while Winstedt (1966: 8) also said "By Malays it came to be termed 'Malay land' (tanah Melayu), though parts of Sumatra and Borneo are also 'Malay land' the continent of Europe still calls the country the Peninsula of Malacca," those 'colonialism minded speculators' insist that this concept was invented by the colonial British. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.