The Orang Melayu and Orang Jawa in the ‘Lands Below the Winds’
Riwanto Tirtosudarmo
Research Centre for Society and Culture
Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI
March 2005
This paper is concerned with the historical development of two supposedly dominant
ethnic groups: the Javanese in Indonesia and the Malay in Malaysia. Malaysia and
Indonesia constitute the core of the Malay world. Through reading the relevant
historical and contemporary literature, this essay attempts to shed some light on the
overlapping histories of these two cultural identities since long before the arrival of
the Europeans. The two were part of the same fluid ethnic community prior to the
arrival of the Europeans in this ‘land below the winds’. The contest among the
Europeans to control the region resulted in the parcelling of the region into separated
colonial states, transforming the previously fluid and shifting ethnic boundaries into
more rigid and exclusive ethnic identities. In the process of nation-formation in
Malaysia, Malay-ness was consciously manipulated by the colonial and post-colonial
elites to define and formulate the Malaysian state and its ideology. The Javanese, on
the other hand, though demographically constituting the majority group in Indonesia,
paradoxically melded into the political background as the first generation of
Indonesian leaders moved toward a more trans-ethnic nationalism – Indonesian civic
nationalism. Indeed, when comparing ‘ethnicity and its related issues’ in Malaysia
and Indonesia, fundamental differences in the trajectories of their ‘national’ histories
and political developments should not be overlooked.
Riwanto Tirtosudarmo

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