The Malays

Milner, Anthony
Date published: 
October 2008

There is something mercurial about being labeled a 'Malay'. Connotations run the gamut - from Joseph Conrad’s mysterious and dangerous pirates to the 'lazy natives' of colonial-era economies. Another early stereotype tagged them as the 'best-mannered' gentlemen of the East. More modern portraits point to the 'New Malays' as entrepreneurs of a modern, triumphant Malaysia, skillful region-builders of ASEAN, and a people divided over the proper role of Islam. Their geographical boundaries aren’t much clearer. Often, the Malays are said to consist of groups clustered on the Malay Peninsula and along coasts and rivers of Sumatra and Borneo. Sometimes they are described as a vast race reaching across Indonesia and the Philippines and on to Madagascar. So just who are the Malays? This provocative study poses the question and considers how and why the answers have changed over time, and from one region to another. Anthony Milner develops a sustained argument about ethnicity and identity in an historical, 'Malay' context. The Malays is a comprehensive examination of the origins and development of Malay identity, ethnicity, and consciousness over the past five centuries.