Contesting Malayness: Malay Identity Across Boundaries assembles research on the theme of how Malays have identified themselves in time and place, developed by a wide range of scholars. The authors include Malaysian anthropologist Shamsul A.B., Indonesian poet Tenas Effendy, and linguists and historians based in Australia, the Netherlands, Singapore and the U.S.A. While the authors describe some of the historical and cultural patterns that make up the Malay world, taken as a whole their work demonstrates the impossibility of offering a definition or even a description of ‘Melayu’ that is not rife with omissions and contradictions.
People who call themselves Malay—Melayu—are found in many countries, united by a notional shared identity but divided by political boundaries, divergent histories, variant dialects and peculiarities of local experience. While the term ‘Malay’ is widely used and readily understood in Southeast Asia, it remains elusive and open to varying interpretations. “Malay” as an identity, or nationality, is one of the most challenging and perplexing concepts in the multi-ethnic world of Southeast Asia.