Malaysian Ancestry Matters
by Neil Khor
In an inspiring documentary produced by Discovery Channel tracing the origins of the human ‘Eve’, archeologist Dr Zurainah Majid established that the present-day Negritos are the descendants of the earliest human migrants from coastal Africa. This is based on mitocondrial DNA (which can only be inherited through the female of the species) as well as material history.
Does this mean that the Negritos, being the first inhabitants of a geographic space that is now known as Malaysia, are the real ‘bumiputera’? Historians would have us believe that a second wave of migration from the Asian mainland saw the displacement of the Negritos by another group, also known as the Proto-Malays. Today, we do not distinguish between the two groups and collectively call them all Orang Asli – the original peoples.
Since this is a Malay term and not a neo-colonialist construction, it simply means that the Malays themselves acknowledge that they are not the original peoples as they had encountered the Orang Asli on their arrival in the Malay Peninsula and differentiated themselves from this first two groups.
Another term used by the Malays to refer to the first two groups is Orang Ulu, which refers to the communities upriver from the Malay-dominated coastal settlements.
Present-day Malays, constituting a third wave, came much later hence the term deutro-Malays. This means that successive waves of migrations have left sediments of culture, beliefs and linguistic imprints here in Malaysia. But because of the coherence of Malay culture (some would argue dominance), the whole region came to be known as the Malay world or ‘Alam Melayu’.
This world was at the crossroads of international trade and the Malays were active participants of this exchange of goods and services. Their world was open-minded, tolerant and plural. From animism, to Hindu-Buddhism and latterly, Islam, the Malay world was open to foreign influences.
Without any doubt, the Chinese and the Indians have been welcome here for many centuries. Some traded, married local women and established long-standing ties with the Malays. Some of these ‘Peranakan’ communities have been living in modern-day Malaysia far longer than some Indonesian communities.
But to the Malays, Indonesians of all shades whether Javanese, Batak or Mandailing are of the same root. Hence the term ‘serumpun’. They are not seen as immigrants although with the rising rate of crime in Malaysia and its attribution to Indonesian migrant workers, this view may soon change.
There is no question about this underlying Malay cultural context to modern Malaysia and Indonesia. The latter may be a bit different due to the great influence of the Javanese but is essentially part of the Malay world. What is difficult to understand and what gives rise to high emotions is when this underlying map is superceded by the needs of nationalism. With the emergence of the nation state, we have to define what is Malaysian.
In the case of the latter, we have failed to achieve a consensus. If the divide between the bumiputera and non-bumiputera is to be enshrined as part of the national identity, then there is no such thing as ‘Malaysian’. If a Malaysian is anyone with a Malaysian passport, then there needs to be equality among the ethnic groups.
In Indonesia, the problem is equally complicated and one sees ethnic fissures in Aceh, Papua and in the Spice Islands despite that government’s commitment to a secular constitution and the Pancasila or core national values similar to our Rukun Negara. In Malaysia, the divide is further complicated by economics and the ensuing social engineering projects.
The real challenge is to think out of this box. Does it really matter if one’s ancestor came from India, China or Indonesia? Does it really matter whether one’s family first settled here 2,000 years ago or 20 years ago? What really matters is loyalty to the state and the commitment to Malaysia, our imagined community.
Source: Malaysiakini Letters
Related Reading:What Does “Related” Mean?
The Negritos and their suspected relatives are found all over the world:
Red: 1 the Andamanese, 2 the Semang of the Malay peninsula – see Chapter 35 and Chapter 36) , 3 the Aeta of the Philippines; 4 it is likely that some of a number of barely-known groups in Indonesia also are Negrito or Negritoid (i.e. Negrito-like)
Blue: 1 the Vedda of Sri Lanka, 2 Veddoid (i.e. Vedda-like) and Negritoid (i.e. Negrito-like) groups in central and southern India, perhaps even including 3 the major Dravidian group
Orange: 1 the Barrineans, 2 the Tasmanians in Australia – see Chapter 51; perhaps other Australian groups
Grey: possible Negritoid populations in 1 Papua-NewGuinea and 2 the Solomon islands; perhaps other groups elsewhere in Oceania
Black: possible African groups such as the 1 Khoisan of South Africa, perhaps also 2 the Congo pygmies, perhaps also 3 remnant groups on the Arabian peninsula – see Chapter 47
Green: possible American relatives such as the 1 Pericu of the Californian peninsula in Mexico, 2 the Lagoa Santa people of Minas Gerais. Brazil (“Luzia”), 3 the Fuegians of southernmost South America – see Chapter 54