17 October, 2021

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Surnames Of Sri Lankan Malays Are Gradually Disappearing 

 By C.T. Abeysinghe

The Malay community of Sri Lanka, whose ancestors came from the present-day Indonesian archipelago, Malaysia, and Singapore, accounts for less than 1% of the country’s population, and official statistics show that there are fewer than 40,000 Malays living in the country at the moment. My interest in this tiny but culturally vibrant community began with the reading of a book titled “Orang Regimen” (2008), written by a historian named Prof B.A. Hussainmiya, a Sri Lankan of Malay descent, who provides an extensive account of the Malays’ history from remote antiquity to the present. According to Prof Hussainmiya’s writings, the community’s ancestors are primarily from what is now known as Indonesia, formerly known as Dutch East Indies, which came under Dutch Colonial rule in the 17th century. During the Dutch Colonial period, the Dutch East India Company brought Easterners (Oosterelingen) from the Malay islands to fight the natives of Ceylon, build fortresses for the Dutch, and work in the cinnamon plantations. Some worked as supervisors, and those from the royal, aristocratic and Peranakan (those of mixed Malay/Indonesian and Chinese parentage) families held important positions in the Dutch regiments in Ceylon. The most notable of these Peranakan chiefs was Captain Baba Aboo Sally Lye, who served as second in command of the Dutch Regiment during the governorship of Iman Willem Falck. It is said that those of good social standing were offered bounty salaries when they joined the Dutch Forces, and when the British usurped the Dutch and took control of the island, they too offered higher ranks and salaries to those of the gentry. During the Colonial period, the Malays distinguished themselves as a martial race, playing a pivotal role in the Dutch and British conquests of Ceylon, and were praised by the Colonising powers for their loyalty, valour, martial prowess, and unwavering support. In 1802, they became the first Asian regiment in history to be awarded the prestigious King’s colours, and they played an important role in the Ceylon Rifle Regiment, Ceylon Police, and the tri forces, intelligence, prisons, and the fire brigade. According to M.M. Thawfeek, at the turn of the twentieth century, Malays made up 75% of the police force and 100% of the Colombo fire brigade.

Malay exiles and the Kandyan Kings

Many Royals, aristocrats, and their retinues were exiled to Ceylon from the Malay archipelago during the Dutch Colonial period, and they were held captive in Dutch fortresses across the island, including a place called “Kampung Pangeran” (Prince’s quarters) in Hulftsdorp, Colombo. Prof Husseinmiya’s book includes the names of these “anti-imperialist” Royals who were exiled to the country. Unlike those who came to Ceylon to join the soldiery and clerical staff, the Malay Royals were political exiles who were sentenced to Ceylon because of their opposition to colonial rule; as a result, they were fiercely anti-Dutch, and many escaped the Dutch clutches and joined the service of the Kandyan Kings. Those who made it into the interior of the island were given refuge by the Kandyan Kings and appointed captains of the native regiment known as “Padikara Peruwa,” which was manned by Malays who had previously served the Dutch. During the Kandyan Dutch Wars (1764-66), these Malay soldiers are said to have been deserted and betrayed by their Dutch officers. They were later apprehended by the Kandyans and given the option of joining the Kandyan King’s service, which many did and fought against the Dutch in subsequent wars as loyal subjects of the Kandyan King.

Dr Zameer Careem, historian and author

During the reign of Kandy’s last King, King Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe, the Kandyan Malay regiment grew to 22 companies of 32 men each, and by the turn of the 19th century, these Malay soldiers made up half of the Kandyan King’s force. Even the military commander of ‘Padikara Peruwa’ was a Makassarese Malay Captain, Karaeng Sankilang, dubbed “Sankelan” by Prof.Paul E.Peiris, son of the exiled King of Gowa [Celebes], Batara Gowa Amas Medina II. Among the notable Malay Chieftains appointed during King Wickrama Raja Singh’s reign are Assana Kapitan, Kuppen, Creasy (Greasy), and Kaladay (Kalladi) Kaya. Chieftain Kaya of Kalladi, was the descendant of an exiled Orang Kaya (title used by chieftains/Princes/Rajas) from Banda Islands, where nutmeg was discovered. Many Bandanese were tortured and massacred in large numbers, while many Rajas and Orang Kayas were impaled by Japanese executioners, and one of the chieftains was exiled to Ceylon, which was considered a worse punishment than death. According to records, he escaped from the Dutch fort in Jaffna and sought asylum in Kandy. He married locally, and his descendant, rose to become the Mudaliyar/chief of Batticaloa. Colonial records say that the wearing of the tortoise shelled comb was first introduced into Ceylon about the 18th century by some Malay Prince from Java, Pangeran Cinta Soesoma Raden. Following the arrival of the British, most Malays had their titles of Royalty and Nobility anglicized and borne as surnames; for example, the title “Raden” was anglicised to Raden, “Maas” to “Marso,” Raden was simplified to “Dain or Deane,” “Orang Kaya” was simplified to just “Kayat/Kayath” and some bore Peranakan title for males, “Baba” as their surname, as evidenced by the Jubilee Book of Colombo Malay Cricket Club, the oldest cricket club in Sri Lanka. Research suggests that surnames like Engha, Juhan, Draim, Warish, Thillas, Ramblan, Satheen, Bartholl, Kayath, Emaum, and Sameon are on the brink of extinction.

Firi Rahman, Malay artist

Young talents and the Malay contribution

Malays form a small population that has declined over time, and many of their young people are working hard to promote and raise awareness about this dying community. Firi Rahman, a multidisciplinary artist from Slave Island, is one of them. He expresses the simplicities of life through his paintings and helps raise awareness about the historic “Slave Island,” which had a large Malay population until the early 1990s. He is well-versed in Malay cuisine, culture, traditions, “slave Island life,” and the hardships endured by Malays of Slave Island. Firi recalled stories his grandmother told him about gang wars, laundry communities that once worked in Beira Lake, and a cinema being burned down by a mob in the 1980s during one of his interviews. Firi also works hard to promote animal conservation and other praiseworthy projects in Sri Lanka.  Dr. Zameer Careem, a 28-year-old medical doctor-historian and author, is yet another interesting personality, working to preserve Lankan culture and heritage while also promoting coexistence, religious and racial equity, and tolerance through his writings, artwork and TV series “Lost and Forgotten”, which airs every Friday at 9.30 pm on TV1. Given that he was mentored by Deshamanya Tissa Devendra and that one of his maternal great-grandfathers, B.T. Lye, was a military historian, poet, and decorated soldier who served as native equerry to Lord Herwald Ramsbotham, 1st Viscount Soulbury, the last British Governor-general of Ceylon, it comes as no surprise that the young Dr Zameer Careem is highly erudite, competent in History, and eloquent.  Interestingly, his mother whose maiden name is Kayat, is among the few remaining descendants of Mudaliyar Orang Kaya “Kayat” of Kaladay (cited by Sir.J.E. Tennent’s accounts as Kaladay Moodliar), and Javanese Prince Pangeran Cinta Soesoma Raden. In fact, many Malays held important positions during the Colonial period; Baba Arifin Doole and Baba Hakim Muthalip were appointed as Gate Mudaliyars, as were others such as Baba haji Bahar and Jainudeen made Mudaliyar, while several other Malays held titles and important positions under the British.

The Malay community has produced several such leaders in every field. The first non-Christian to sit on the Supreme Court bench was a Malay Justice-Puisne named Mass thajon Akbar, the first minister of social services and labor of Independent Sri lanka,  Dr. T.B. Jayah, a Malay; Gemini Kantha, the first female comedian in Sinhala cinema, was a Malay; Tuan Ibhan Saldin, a Malay, choreographed the first Sinhala ballad Vijaya and Kuveni; and Tuan Saybhan, a Malay constable, was the first police officer to die in the line of duty. Artists like Haroon Lantra, G.S.B. Rani Perera, Stanley Omar and Umara and Umaria Singhawansa are all Malays.  Senators and legislators such as M.K. Saldin, Dr. M.P. Drahaman, B. Zahiere Lye, and M.D. Kuttilan are Malays, as are Snr DIG M.R. Latiff and military officers such as Brigadier T.S.B. Sally, Major General Suraj Bangsajayah, Major General M Z R Sallay, Brigadier Kumban Bohoran, Colonel Nizam Muttaliff and many others. Despite their services and contributions to Sri Lankan society, this vital community is gradually dwindling.

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Latest comments

  • 5
    8

    It is a pitty that all historians and authors who write about the History of the Malay Community in Sri Lanka had always forgotten to remember or mention the Malays of “KINNIYA” a rural village in the district of Trincomalee or the Malays who moved into Colombo from the rural Sri Lanka, then Ceylon and excelled public administration, business/trade and politics.
    Some of the Malaya families who belong to this group are the Hassan family, Euthar Hajiar family and Pakeer Hassan family, a handfull to mention.
    Sergent Major Pakeer Hassan was my grand father (mother’s father) who was holding the highest position of training Senior police offices under then Sir Herbert Layard Dowbiggin CMG (26 December 1880 – 24 May 1966) the eighth British colonial Inspector General of Police of Ceylon from 1913 to 1937, the longest tenure of office of an Inspector General of Police (IGP)
    The two sons of Ehitar Hajiar, a land owner, famer, pearl trader and pilianthrophist, M.E.H. Mohamed Ali and M.E.H. Maharoof were elected to parliament and represented the Trincomalee district for many years. M.E.H. Maharoof also functioned as the District Minister of Mannar and later as a Deputy Minister of Ports and Shipping. His only son Hon. Imram Maharoof is the present MP for Mutur/Kinniya (Trincomalee district)..

    • 3
      0

      So ask somebody write abt them too..It is no use showing your jelousy here.. Show modesty..It is true that no one can complete writing about people who have made great contributions. But when someone does, I really appreciate it..So contact the author and suggest.

  • 5
    19

    Doesn’t that show that the Malays have assimilated to the society and now are indistinguishable from Sinhalese?

    Unlike practicing tribalism like the other minorities?

    • 20
      1

      RS Perera
      “–Doesn’t that show that the Malays have assimilated to the society and now are indistinguishable from Sinhalese?”
      And the Sinhalese have become indistinguishable from the Portuguese, going by your name?

      • 6
        3

        eh….RS Perera is a Portuguese practicing tribalism here!

    • 4
      3

      Shemale Portuguese now living in Canada, we Eelam Tamils need not assimilate into the Sinhalese identity, as we are also indigenous to the island and have a much older history and richer language and largely live in our own lands, where we have lived and ruled for thousands of years until European colonisation. The North and East of the island were never Sinhalese, until the British handed them over their favourites the Sinhalese on a platter in 1948 and created all this mess. For your information the Sri Lankan Malays hardly assimilated into the Sinhalese but into the Indian origin converted Tamil Muslims now calling themselves Sri Lankan Moors. May be a few families like the Rajapakses assimilated into the Sinhalese identity and are now promoting Sinhalese Buddhist Fascism and causing chaos.

    • 3
      3

      Raginald from ( English again derived from Latin) Shamal( from Sanskrit) Perera ( Catalan/Spanish/Portuguese for pear or pear grove) . What is Chingkallam about you? You are one of these recently Chingkallised imports from what is modern Thamizh Nadu and then Thamizh Kerala. Now making up the majority of the present day Chingkallms and beating the anti Thamizh drum( Parai or Bera in Chingkallam)
      If you have nothing else to do ., Dance this folk harvest dance from your original homeland in Thamizh Nadu where they dance to the traditional Parai drum, that the Chingkallams call Bera

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eh_JWYR6Y1o

  • 11
    2

    It was an interesting read. Malays, like other communities, have made significant contributions to this country. What’s interesting is that, unlike previous generations, young people like Firi Rahman and Dr Zameer Careem promote the Sri Lankan identity and identify as  “Sri Lankan.” Firi collaborates with people from all walks of life, as well as artists from all over the world, and his paintings are mostly about animal conservation, wild life, and his hometown of Slave Island. Truly impressive artworks that are all one-of-a-kind and carry important social messages. Dr. Zameer, on the other hand, is an eloquent, unbiased historian, a well-read guy with a great memory, and I enjoy watching his Lost and Forgotten show on TV1, which covers significant periods in Sri Lankan history. However, Firi deserves to be recognized more than Zameer because he comes from nothing, whereas Zameer comes from a privileged family with prominent ancestors; history is in his blood. Firi Rahman had to learn everything on his own because there were no “Mentors” to assist him, he has gone through a lot to achieve his goals, while for Zameer it must have been much much easier. The two photographs of the two gentlemen reveal a great deal about their respective personalities.

    • 1
      7

      Zameer doesn’t have prominent ancestors. It’s a mere show of bullocks… he is a guy who lived in Maligawatte and came from nothing, all he did was simply completed his medicine degree in Ukraine and doesn’t even have a Sri Lanka Medical Council Registration and simple regurgitates what’s available on the internet as a lame historian since he can’t practice medicine as a medical doctor….

    • 6
      0

      Dr Zameer Careem also posses great potential, not everything is inherited. At present Zameer is a MPhil student-researcher at the University of Colombo and a guest lecturer at home and abroad, has authored four books, two on Malays ‘Persaudaraan’ (brotherhood series), the former Prime Minister rendered the foreword for it, and his books are available in all major University libraries and archives across the world including Princeton, and Singapore, his Diamond Jubilee poem won prizes in United Kingdom and was even read during the church service, on top of everything he was the valedictorian, won first upper class degree in Medical School and upon completion of his internship, he returned to SL, all these achievements in 28 years. So we should appreciate his potential as well, and acknowledge his hard work too. https://dailynews.lk/2017/09/13/features/127984/malay-muse

      • 1
        4

        Do you know how many people have bribed their way to the Ukrainian Medical Qualification? The said degree/ university doesn’t even have UGC approval…what good is his first upper class medical degree?

  • 5
    2

    Reginald Shamal Perera is Sinhala? What rubbish? He is surely from the three communities that came to Sri Lanka from Kerala. Now he professes to be more Sinhala than the Sinhalas. Just because your ancestors became ‘Sinhala’ upon coming to Sinhaladeepa, do you expect all to do so? Don’t they have a right to their own identity?

    • 4
      1

      The three communities did not come from Kerala. Two of the three arrived from what is modern Thamizh Nadu and the largest the Karaiyar or Karawe which itself is a Thamizh word derived from Karai( the shore ) arrived from both what is modern Thamizh Nadu and Kerala. However when they arrived Kerala was still speaking a variant of Thamizh called Malayalam, which is different from what is now called Modern Malayalam, which is a highly Sanskritized dialect, that was originally called Grantham or Grantha Bhasha written in the Tilgari script ( not Thamizh script like old Malayalam was) . This language was only confined to the Namboothiris and few of the Nairs, whoever they were the allies of the British East Indian Company and the Tamil Masses in Kerala were against the British, therefore at the behest of the Namboothiri Brahmin allies the British East India company banned the use of the local Thamizh dialect Malayalam in Kerala around 1820 and destroyed all trace of this and imposed the Grantha Bhasha of the Namboothiris as the official language of Kerala and cunningly renamed it as Malayalam, which originally meant the western Chera Thamizh dialect. However even now unless its highly Sanskritized normal Malayalam is almost Thamizh , as evidenced by these song
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNg556FUOUsng.

      Out of the all the Dravidian languages . Malayalam is the closest to its Thamizh mother, as only recently branched out, whereas the others branched out thousands of years ago.

      • 3
        1

        However even now unless its highly Sanskritized normal Malayalam is almost Thamizh , as evidenced by these song
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNg556FUOUsng.

        Out of the all the Dravidian languages . Malayalam is the closest to its Thamizh mother, as only recently branched out, whereas the others branched out thousands of years ago.

    • 1
      3

      Mr Samarakoon,

      My Great Grand Father took the name Perera to get an economic “edge” so to speak.
      My Maternal Grand Mother is of Kandyan Radhala ancestry. My Mother is a Miss Dunuwille, also a Kandyan Radala.

      Every Sri Lankan knows where the “koons” are from. Low caste Karawa, Berawa or Durawe.

      • 2
        0

        Koon/Konar or Kone is a Tamil word meaning king. All names ending with Koon/Konar or Kone means something king in Tamil eg. Thenarkone now Tennekone in Sinhalese means king of the south. Weerakoon or Kone means the brave or valiant king. Amarakone or koon means king of the gods. Alagakone or Alakakoon means the handsome king. Some of the Koons/Kone belong to Kandyan upper caste families Eg like Tennekone but most like you state are from the Karawa, Berawa or Durawe castes. Either way low or high born they are of Tamil origin. OK you are from a upper caste Kandyan heritage from your mother’s side, which again means your heritage is upper caste South Indian Tamil origin, either Pandian or Naicker but your father is a Perera which means who are also from one of these low caste South Indian Tamil immigrant origin Karawa, Berawa, Durawa, Hunu or Salagamma communities. No Kandyan upper caste will change their name to Perera to get any sort of edge. As per you. You are mixture of Indian Tamil low and high castes. Now claiming to be Sinhalese Aryan.

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