The meeting of people of different ethnic compositions and cultural orientations is an age-old phenomenon that occurs as a result of colonial conquest, military occupation, trade and missionary activity, displacement of people by domestic unrest and civil war, and in modern times, voluntary immigration. It is perhaps tautologous to say that the human instinct for survival, which makes man gregarious and mobile as he moves to new pastures to seek a better livelihood, is universal. The impact and effect of migration and cultural contact, however, are more distinctive and are determined to a large extent by the intrinsic characteristics of the human groups that come into contact with one another, their demographic characteristics, the nature of the contact and by extraneous factors in the socio-cultural environment of contact. The socio-cultural adaptation, in particular acculturation and assimilation of different groups to the same environment may have quite different results as can be seen with the different migrant groups that settled in Malaya.

The assimilatory powers of a common religion, Islam, played a great part in easing the socio-cultural adaptation of the Indian Muslims to the core Malay society. Intermarriage between the Indian Muslim men and the local Malay women, which was facilitated by their common belief in Islam, produced offspring who were brought up in the language and domestic customs of their Malay mothers and the activity and diligence of their commercially-inclined Indian Muslim fathers. Through a recurring pattern of intermarriage from generation to generation the Jawi Peranakan or Jawi Pekan as they were classified in the British census categories, underwent a process of acculturation or cultural assimilation as they adopted the more overt Malay cultural patterns in language, dress and food as well as the less tangible elements of culture like beliefs, customs and traditions.  Acculturation being a reciprocal process also resulted in the borrowing of Indian Muslim cultural elements by the native Malays, for example in the dietary and language patterns.

Where intermarriage occured on a considerable scale as in Penang, and where the urban socio-cultural environment encouraged continuous contact and interaction between the Jawi Peranakan and the local Malays, they underwent a greater degree of assimilation into the core society at the structural and identificational levels. What this means is that the cultural differences between the two ethnic groups disappeared as the Jawi Peranakan gained acceptance into the societal networks and institutions, that is the societal structure of the Malay community. With this developed the sense of peoplehood or ethnicity based on the wider Malay society. Thic process of cultural assimilation followed by structural, marital and identificational assimilation was reinforced through several generations until the Jawi Peranakan community became absorbed into the Malay community.

Independence and the Federation of Malaya’s rapid socio-economic and political development saw great efforts to integrate the country’s various ethnic groups into one nation of people. Government policies consolidated the status and position of the Malays by bringing together the different Malay sub-groups under the Federal Constitution’s definition of Malay ethnicity, thus ensuring their total assimilation into the greater Malay society. Today, Malays of   different ancestries and ethnic compositions including the Jawi Peranakan have formally adopted a single Malay ethnicity, partaking of the rights and privileges that accrue to the group as defined in the Malaysian Constitution. At the formal structural and identificational levels it can be surmised that their assimilation has been total.




3 Responses to “”

  1. February 28, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Very inspiring. Gives me goosepimples reading her beautiful words. Thanks for sharing.

  2. 2 ninitalk
    February 28, 2010 at 7:33 am

    kak teh – I think you meant this comment for Angelou’s poem in my later posting.
    Yes – it can be read at many levels and the poignancy is gripping!

  3. 3 mekyam
    March 2, 2010 at 9:25 am

    hi tin lim! hi kt!

    i too love maya’s poems. not just for the power of her messages and the richness of her imageries, but also because they are without exception always rhythmic. it takes a great deal of discipline, not to mention awesome creativity, to weave multi-layered ideas and pictures into a tight cohesive structure — using just the right words, having them dance to the appropriate metres and falling within just a certain number of lines.

    at this, i think maya stands apart among present day poets. reading any of her poems will find one mentally tapping a beat, if not physically getting up ando grooving. 😀

    guess you could tell i’m old school when it comes to poetry. most blank verses leaves me cold. esp when written by those who don’t realize that even blank-versing must obey prosodic rules. otherwise all verbose gooey prose can pass as poetry, ya tak? 😀

    i agree with you tin lim, though at surface level maya’s poems always address her african american heritage, often leaning to ‘femininism’ and/or ‘femme fatalism’, her message always resonates at many levels and to a universal audience.

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