11 June 2004

Changing Names: Malaysia, the Philippines


The name "Malaysia" is derived from the term "Malay," long applied by locals and foreigners to the Malay Peninsula in recognition of the predominance there of Malay-speaking peoples (whose geographic extent, however, also includes much of Sumatra and other islands of the archipelago). The peninsula became widely known from the late eighteenth century simply as "Malaya" and, in the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, when its individual states fell under British colonial rule, as British Malaya. British Malaya also included the three Straits Settlements on the fringe of the peninsula: the islands of Penang and Singapore and the small west coast state of Melaka (Malacca). When the Malay states (including Penang and Melaka but not at that time Singapore) became independent in 1957, they did so as the Federation of Malaya. In 1963 a larger federal unit called Malaysia was formed, bringing together the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, and the British-ruled protectorates of Sarawak and Sabah in northern Borneo. The oil-rich protectorate of Brunei, situated between British North Borneo and Sarawak, declined to join Malaysia, and Singapore was expelled in 1965.

Much of Malaysia has been the recipient during the past two centuries of immigrants of other than indigenous stock (which is held to include local Malays, the aborigines or orang asli ["original people"] of the peninsula, the tribal peoples of the Borneo states, and immigrants from Java, Sumatra, and elsewhere in Indonesia). The largest immigrant group was "Chinese," a term used for individuals hailing originally from many different parts of south China, often speaking distinct local languages. Those immigrants referred to as "Indian" included Muslims as well as Hindus from Tamilnadu in south India, Bengalis, and others, in addition to many from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). One political result of the large immigrant influx has been the coining of a term that seeks to distinguish between Malaysians who are of Malay or other local descent and those who are not (no matter whether locally descended or long resident): bumiputera ("son[s] of the soil"), which confers constitutionally derived advantages of various sorts. The Malay language, now the national language of Malaysia, is known either simply as Malay or as Bahasa Melayu.

The Philippines

The Philippines was named by Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century for the prince who would become King Philip II of Spain. The national language, adopted from Tagalog in the twentieth century and spoken by most inhabitants of the capital city, Manila, has been called at various times Pilipino or Filipino. All of the indigenous languages are linguistically related to Malay, although many Spanish, Chinese, and English loan words have been incorporated.

The Spanish called most of the indigenous inhabitants indios (Indians) using the term "Filipino" only as an adjective or to describe Caucasians born in the archipelago. These were white-skinned, not brown: creoles, of European ancestry but born in the empire rather than on the Iberian Peninsula. Since the late nineteenth century the term "Filipino" has been transformed to describe any person born in the archipelago who chose to owe allegiance to the Philippines, while the term indio is generally considered derogatory. "Mestizos" (literally people of "mixed" ethnic ancestry) may have Caucasian and indio blood, Chinese and indio heritage, or a combination. In sharp contradistinction to many other places throughout Southeast Asia and the world (where the comparable term "half-caste" is a pejorative), to be mestizo in the Philippines carries no negative connotation or constraint.

There are many Hispanic names in the Philippines, but after the United States took over, most Filipinos began to abandon the use of accent marks on these names. We will follow this practice and omit accent marks on the names of persons living after 1898.

The Spanish referred to the various Muslim peoples of the south, such as the Tausug and the Magindanao, as "Moros" (Moors), a term they brought with them from their long encounters with the Muslims of North Africa. This term, which was originally rejected by Filipino Muslim communities as a slur, has recently been embraced by them as a marker of their separatist dream.
SOURCE: The Emergence of Modern Southeast Asia: A New History, edited by Norman G. Owen (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2005)

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