Origin of Malay race
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - July 12, 2020 - 12:00am

Race has become a global issue mainly as a result of the police killings in the United States that gave birth to the Black Lives Matter movement. This racial issue of whites mistreating blacks has become a worldwide issue. But this type of prejudice is centuries old. It has raised the consciousness of racial identity among Blacks and also among whites which has led to the increase of “white power” groups.

In the US, Trump’s attacks on China as the originator of the COVID-19 pandemic  and his labelling  the sickness as the Chinese virus has increased discrimination against Chinese. The problem is that the other peoples belonging to the same race – Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese – have been mistaken as being the same ethnicity. It seems that when white people view Asian people they conclude that all Asians must be also Chinese. This has led to Filipinos being harassed also as carriers of the virus.

It seems to me that the world is conscious of the existence of three races – white or Caucasian, black or African, yellow or Mongolian. There is a fourth race – brown or Malay distinct from  the other races . Before I proceed, I want to first observe that I do not know how the word yellow was attached to a race. The Chinese and other nationalities  who belong to that have always seemed white too. But I will leave that topic for another column.

Most experts believe that the races were categorized in 1775 by a Dr. Blumenbach who outlined five human races by skin color, namely Caucasian or white; Negroid or black; Native American or red; Mongolian or yellow and Malay or brown.

Is the brown or Malay really a separate race with a single racial history and identity? In the past there was a conscious effort to unify the Malay race. During the Commonwealth period then President Manuel L. Quezon envisioned an integrated, pan-Malayan nation in the region. Dr. Jose P. Rizal had a dream of uniting the Malay peoples which he saw as artificially divided by colonial frontiers.

In July 1963, a summit convened in Manila composed of the three largest Malay nations where they signed a series of agreements that would hopefully pave the way for a union. The union composed of Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia even adopted a possible name for the union – MAPHILINDO representing the shortened names of the three nations. Later on the union was dismantled as disagreements arose among the three countries.

The people who belonged to the Malay or brown race also belonged to the same language group which linguists have termed as “Austronesian peoples.” However, the first reference to this language group by other linguists was “Malayo-Polynesian.”

There are two theories regarding the origins of the Malay peoples. The majority of scientists believed they originated from a prehistoric seaborne migration from Taiwan at around 3000 to 1500 BC. There is still speculation that the indigenous mountain tribesmen of Taiwan are related to the mountain tribesmen of Luzon and not to the Chinese descent Taiwanese that now form the Taiwanese population.

The first wave came through the Philippines, then on to Indonesia, Malay peninsula  and reaching as far as the Maldives, reaching as far as present Malgasy, a major island republic off the coast of Africa.

The second wave went west crossing the Pacific Ocean settling in different islands in the Pacific Ocean. There are even speculations that they reached the western coast of the Americas. Prior to the colonial era, the Malays were the most widespread people in the world that were not only of the same race but also had the same linguistic ancestry. They stretch all the way from Malgasy, Africa in the west to Easter Island in western Polynesia in the east to the Maoris in New Zealand in the south.

These Malayo-Polynesian people belonging to the same Austronesian linguistic family were the first people to invent maritime sailing technology like the catarmans, outrigger boats, lashed-lug boat and the crab claw sail. They  were the first to invent oceangoing sailing techniques which allowed them to colonize a large part of the present day Indo Pacific region.

The Malays shared a common set of domesticated plants and animals that they carried along with all their migrations. These included rice, bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, yams, taro, paper mulberry, chickens pigs and dogs. There were even cultural characteristics which they shared and still exist today. Most of these are still practiced in the Philippines.  These characteristics include tattooing, stilt houses, wetland agriculture  and art motifs.

There is a minority of experts who have a second theory that the origin of the Malay race is Sudanland. Their findings are that there was a time when sea levels were lower and the major islands of present day Indonesia were actually on landmass connected to the Malay peninsula and Indochina. It also includes the Java Sea, Gulf of Thailand and portions of the South China Sea. The human migrations came from the center of Sudanland north to the Philippines and then to Taiwan. This would make Sudanland as the cradle of Asian population.

It should be pointed out that there is no superior or inferior race. All human beings have identical genes to the extent of 99.9 percent. Intermarriage has also led to a blurring of racial identity. However, there is the fact that people of common ancestry and culture will have a sense of belonging. We should just be careful that this does not result in the feeling of racial superiority or antagonism towards other races. After all, there is only one human race.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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