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Sri Lankan Malays Strive To Preserve Language, Customs


COLOMBO, May 4, 2008 (Bernama) -- Some 50,000 Sri Lankan Malays are striving to preserve their age-old social and religious customs and, most importantly, the Malay language, which is the main aspect of their identity in the diverse Sri Lankan community.

 

In the island nation of some 20 million people, who are predominantly Sinhalese, this small Malay Muslim community lives along other ethnic minorities - Tamils, Moors and Burghers (Eurasian descendents).

Now, the community is hard-pressed to preserve the language and culture from fading away in the multi-ethnic setting, as there is a growing interest among the people to speak Malay despite various other dialects having crept into Sri Lanka's linguistic landscape.

"Many don't read and write the Malay language; it is mostly spoken at home by family members but there is a strong love for the language among our people.

"But now it is becoming difficult to maintain the language, especially in urban areas where people speak more Sinhalese and English. In rural areas, our grandparents still speak Malay to their children and grandchildren," Sri Lanka Malaya Association (SLMA) president Iqram Cuttilan told Bernama.

Most Sri Lankan Malays arrived here during the Dutch and British rule, between the late 17th century and early 18th century, largely from the Indonesian archipelago, as soldiers, servants and deportees. Later, the British recruited Malays from the Straits Settlements to serve in the local infantry.

Malays are mostly concentrated in the capital, Colombo, and deep in the south of the island.

Iqram, whose ancestors are from Java, says the community finds it hard to keep the language flourishing due to lack of literature and little attempt to promote the language at the official level.

"Earlier, our newsletters and newspapers were mostly in Malay but these have dwindled; they are predominantly in Sinhalese and English now. The association is trying to encourage the use of Malay by providing classes, where students try to speak and read Malay," he added.

Faced with limited resources but a deep desire to promote Malay, SLMA seeks the help of the Indonesian and Malaysian embassies in Colombo to spread the language before it withers away in the island state's multi-ethnic setting.

"We conduct classes and try to teach basic Malay, simple sentences and words to help them increase their vocabulary. We are discussing (with SLMA) to establish a centre to sustain the language among the Malays here," Malaysian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Rosli Ismail told Bernama.

The SLMA was established in 1922 and is a branch of the Colombo Malay Cricket Club started in 1872. Its aging majestic building still remains a historic landmark in the smack of the capital, echoing the apolitical Malay community's past contribution to the South Asian nation.

Besides, the SLMA Rupee Fund is another arm of the association that helps to uplift the socio-economic status of the Malay community in the country.

-- BERNAMA