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Contesting Malayness: Malay Identity Across Boundaries

TIMOTHY P. BARNARD is associate professor in the Department of History at the National University of Singapore. He is the editor of Nature Contained: Environmental Histories of Singapore, also published by NUS Press.

NUS Press (Reprint, 2014)
332 pages including Notes


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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.


1. Understanding Melayu (Malay) as a Source of Diverse Modern Identities
– Anthony Reid

2. ‘Malay Identity’: Modernity, Invented Tradition and Forms of Knowledge
– Adrian Vickers

3. The Search for the ‘Origins’ of Melayu
– Leonard Y. Andaya

4. The Makassar Malays: Adaptation and Identity, c.1660-1790
– Heather Sutherland

5. Text, Raja Ismail and Violence: Siak and the Transformation of Malay Identity in the Eighteenth Century
– Timothy P. Barnard

6. A Malay of Bugis Ancestry: Haji Ibrahim’s Strategies of Survival
– Jan van der Putten

7. A History of an Identity, and Identity of a History: The Idea and Practice of ‘Malayness’ in Malaysia Reconsidered
– Shamsul A.B.

8. Reconfiguring Malay and Islam in Contemporary Malaysia
– Virginia Matheson Hooker

9. Contesting Straits-Malayness: The Fact of Borneo
– James T. Collins

10. A Literary Mycelium: Some Prolegomena for a Project on Indonesian Literatures in Malay
– Will Derks

11. An Epic Poem of the Malay’s Fate
– Tenas Effendy, translated by Timothy P. Barnard and Rohayati Paseng Barnard

12. Afterword: A History of Malay Ethnicity
– Anthony Milner


Weight0.488 kg
Dimensions22.9 × 15.2 × 1.5 cm

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