Different “Fates” of Malays

In Malaysia, the Malays are the largest ethnic group, accounting for over half the population. With the oldest indigenous peoples they form a group called bumiputera, which translates as sons or princes of the soil.

Though Malaysia is a multi-cultural and multi-racial society, the Malays, are shown official favour in education and government policy. This bias is an effort to strengthen Malay society to enable it to compete intellectually and economically with the, to-date, more successful minority ethnic Chinese and Indian populations. They enjoyed a lot of privileges like university entrance quota, discounted price for property purchase, bank loans and so on. In addition, mosques are built everywhere to cater for their prayer needs. All hotels have to provide halal foods.

Traditional Malay culture centers around the kampung, or village, but today one is likely to find Malays in the business and in pubic sectors. Their native language is Bahasa Malayu (Malay), which is also the national language of the country and all school children have to learn. The school children also learn from the text books about the different customs, cultural values and religious beliefs of different races, including those of Malays, like Hari Puasa, Hari Raya Aildilfitri, Songkok, their prayers and so on.

Crossing the border, the “fate” of Malays are very different….

Chatting in front of a mosque in Betong/The shy Kampung boys

Malay women/The happy Malay students

Most Thai muslims are of Malay descent. Though more than 80% of the population in Southern Thailand is Malays, they are still considered to be minority in Thailand, which accounts for 8% of the total population.

Most of the muslims in Southern Thailand are farmers and fishermen who are generally less well-off than their fellow Muslims elsewhere in the country. The economy in this region is struggling and poor in comparison to the rest of the country. As a result, the Pattani lead a subsistence type lifestyle. In Narathiwat Province, the per capita monthly income is 2,120 baht ($51), less than half the national average, which is always among the country’s poorest regions.

For centuries the Muslims of Thailand have to defend their identity as Malays with a culture and history of their own against successive Thai leaders who sought to transform them culturally into mainstream Thais…

Islamic organizations in Thailand have been lobbying Thai government to give them funding and build Islamic schools. The lately good news is that the 1600 “tadika” or Islamic religious schools predominantly in southern border region are likely to soon be under the care of the Education Ministry, instead of the Interior Ministry so that they can better serve the interests of Muslim villagers and help preserve their customs and cultures.

Few months ago, I had an opportunity to follow one of the royal representatives with the police and army officers to visit a Malay kampung in Yala provinve. The villagers were gathered to receive the gifts (daily consumables) and to voice their requests. Most of the attendants were elders. When I translated their request, I was a little shock that their main concern were as basic as water supply which had disturbed them for long time…

Part of a Malay Kampung

(Pictures only for better visual, not related to the kampung visited)

4 responses to “Different “Fates” of Malays