Rename the “Malay” race: from bangsa “Melayu” to bangsa “Sawojaya”

The word “Malay” or “Melayu” in the modern and post-modern times has carried its connotation of “malaise”, “withering”, “wilting” “backwardness”, “paranoia”, disempowerment”, and even “laziness”.


Dr Azly Rahman

“History is bunk,”

               Henry Ford, American inventor

What if, like the creation of a people called “Americans”, the Malays undergo a conscious and mandated name-change — from Melayu or Malay to Sawojaya? I believe this is possible as a preamble to a suggestion of a planned “evolution” of the name “Malay”. I think we are at an exciting historical juncture in which human creativity is at its highest points, given the power of the advanced digital communication technologies such as Web 2.0 and the like.

It is time that the Malays are “rebranded” into something less contentious as the name of a race or ethnic group or even a political entity. It would be an exciting idea in postmodern anthropology, one that will signify a “discovery of the grounded theory of the Malay philology” somewhat. The anthropological challenge might be to erase all the prefixes, affixes, and suffixes of “Malay” in all existing documents that have ever existed on the Bangsa Melayu.  

Why this proposal?

Consider these, within the context of the syntagmatic perspective of history, within the paradigm of the political-economy of change, and the archaeology and philology of language analyzed within the context of class and the post-modern caste system.

The word “Malay” or “Melayu” in the modern and post-modern times has carried its connotation of “malaise”, “withering”, “wilting” “backwardness”, “paranoia”, disempowerment”, and even “laziness”.

Me-layu = wilting

Malays = malaise

Mel-ange = range of differences/fragmentation

Malas = lazy

In Malaysia, particularly wherein Malays form a substantial majority and political power is in the hands of a “Malay” party called “United Malays National Organization”, concepts related to the word “Malay” have been hovering to indicate the “malaise-ness” of ideas:

Notions such as “Ketuanan Melayu” successfully marketed by the Malay propaganda outfit The Biro Tata Negara, “Kedaulatan Melayu” trumpeted by Malay blind nationalists and ageing sloganeers, and “Tak Melayu Hilang di dunia” vainglorified by one-dimensional historians and inscribers on meaningless statues propped in front of a national museum – all these have been the reason behind the bad publicity the Malays have been getting over the last 500 years. In fact the founding of Melaka itself has been a historical accident that has catapulted the word “Malay” into a situation of historical problematique and contributed to the feel of the malaise-ness of the Malays. The biggest culprits in contributing to the malaise have been the Malay politician.

Of late, there is confusion amongst the Malays themselves as to who is representing who in the struggle to “liberate” the Malays. Many are confused why there is a small segment of the Malays supporting the continuation of the use of the repressive tool of the state, the Internal Security Act. Many are confused why the Malay linguistic nationalists are insisting that Mathematics and Sciences are taught in the Malay language. Many are even more confused which Malay political party is actually representing the Malays.

In modern times many have been written about the Malays and what is happening to this ethnic group. Works such as The Malay Dilemma, The Malays: Their problems and their future, Revolusi MentalTuntutan MelayuQuo Vadis Bangsaku, are amongst those that address the Malay racial and political-economic problematique.

“Might is right” may have been the notion that governs the dominant power of choice that dictates which political entity or entities will “guide” (pimpin) the Malays. It is as if the leadership of the Malays has undergone a process of “salah pimpin” in the process of leading due to the fact that they have undergone “salah tuntut” or wrongly following the philosophy of leading. In the culture of the Malays, “salah tuntut” is a serious matter – entailing a life relegated to following this or that cult that produces deviant teachings.

Institutions and ideologies that have permeated the psyche of the Malays, create misrepresentation, and exacerbate the malaise-ness of the Malays abound. Consider these:

– Biro Tata Negara


– Malay-only institutions

– Malay centric curriculum

– Malay Rights doctrine

– Malay centric notion of a “social contract”

– Malay postmodern bourgeoisie class

– Malay media power that monopolizes the indoctrination of the Malay mind

– UMNO or United Malays National Organisation

The Malays are generally considered a people of a dark brownish skin color. In the language it is called “sawo matang” drawn from the Kiwi/Mango-looking brownish fruit popular in the island of Java.

The word “Jaya” is a Sanskrit word meaning “Victory”; the core idea of The Mahabharata. The assassin=prince of Melaka, had a name of a Hindu god, Parameswara. I consider the suffix “Jaya” as a successful idea that can be used in hybridizing the word “Sawo” (“brownish-skin”) to replace the word Malay. Examples abound, especially in the names of places — symbols installation of the ideology of “victory” : “Cyberjaya”, “Putrajaya”, “Petaling Jaya”, “Subang Jaya”, “Kelana Jaya” “Seberang Jaya”, “Nusajaya” “Johor Jaya”. There is also a Malaysian mall that uses the word “Jaya”: Jaya Jusco.  There is also a favourite 1980s composition called “Raja Jaya” by the Malaysian percussionist Lewis Pragasam’s band Asiabeat Percussion.

A new race is born

In the age of biogenetics, cloning, nanotechnology, embedded journalism, casino-capitalism, stimulus packages, this or that “-nomics” Web 2.0, deconstructionism, and cultures that undergo re-enculturalisations, a name-change of the Malays is necessary. A new identity, a karma, a rebirth, a renaissance, a cure for this linguistic myopia in the form of a construction of a brave new world is necessary.

I invite the Malays for a name-change.

Viva Bangsa Sawojaya!
While the opinion in the article/writing is mine, 
the comments are strictly, respectfully, and responsibly yours; 
present them rationally, clearly,  politely, and ethically.


DR AZLY RAHMAN, who was born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York) doctorate in International Education Development and Master’s degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 300 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience spans Malaysia and the United States, over a wide range of subjects from elementary to graduate education. He currently resides in the United States.!/azly.rahman