Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

Malays live chiefly in peninsular Malaysia, where they are more than half of the population. Malays also live in East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), on the coasts of Sumatra and other islands of Indonesia, extending up to the Sulu Sea of the southern Philippines. Their language (also called Malay or Bahasa Melayu) belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages. Wet-rice agriculture, occasionally with modern irrigation, is the primary occupation of Malays, followed by fishing and rubber tapping. These products are sold commercially.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Asia --Southeast Asia




OWC Code


Number of Documents


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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

In addition to this culture summary, the Malays collection (AN05) consists of documents, all of them in English, containing cultural, historical and socio-economic information from 1904-1996. Some of the documents were compiled by British government officials who spent most of their career in different parts of Malaysia beginning from early twentieth century. Together, these documents provide the earliest first hand information on Malayan culture and society. Topics covered in these works include history of Malayan culture and society (Winstedt 1950, no. 1; Wilkinson 1911, no. 17), classic Malay literature (Wilkinson 1925, no. 8), folklores and proverbs (Wilkinson 1924, no. 10; Winstedt 1923, no. 9), customary law (Wilkinson 1922, no. 12), and daily life and salient features of Malayan custom (Wilkinson 1920, no. 18; ), arts and entertainment (Wilkinson 1925, no. 20), magic and religious practitioners (Winstedt 1961, no. 137), traditional architecture (Winstedt 1925, no. 19), and aspects of material culture (Wilkinson 1925, no. 21). Other themes include economic activities with particular reference to fishing, hunting, trapping (Winstedt 1929, no. 22), and rice farming (Shaw 1926, no. 23).

The information from these earlier documents is further enriched by the works of anthropologists Raymond and Rosemary Firth who conducted ethnographic fieldwork among Malayan villagers in Kelantan State 1939-1940. Together, these works provide a thorough description of pre-independence Malayan culture and society, but mostly focusing on economic organization (Firth 1946, no. 4) and gender roles (Firth 1943, no. 6). The collection also includes the works of two Ph.D. students who completed their dissertation research in Malaysia under the guidance of Raymond Firth. One is M. G. Swift who studied village life in Jelebu district, Negri Sembilan (Swift 1965, no. 198). The other is J. M. Gullick’s work which describes dynamics of indigenous Malayan political systems since 1870 (Gullick 1958, no. 138).

The remaining documents in the collection were compiled by two contemporary American anthropologists; Michael Peletz and Douglas Raybeck. Based on fieldwork in the Jelebu district of Negri Sembilan state in 1978-1993, Peletz discusses the effects of colonialism and global market forces on property relations (Peletz 1988, no. 195), kinship system and gender issues (Peletz 1996, no. 194). Raybeck described the life and cultural values of Malayan villagers near the capital of Kelantan state as observed in 1968-1993 (Raybeck 1996, no. 196; 1986, no. 197). Together, these works provide rich information relating to important socioeconomic changes that have occurred at the family and village levels since the advent of colonialism in 1830.

For more detailed information on the context of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Adat –customary law– Use LEGAL NORMS ( 671)

Akal –reason– Use DRIVES AND EMOTIONS ( 152) with ETHNOPSYCHOLOGY ( 828)

Amil –local official– Use LOCAL OFFICIALS ( 624)

Anak –adoption– Use ADOPTION ( 597)

Darah Kotor –dirty blood– Use MENSTRUATION ( 841) with AVOIDANCE AND TABOO ( 784)

Darat –lineage– Use LINEAGES ( 613)

Dukun –healer– Use SHAMANS AND PSYCHOTHERAPISTS ( 756) with MAGIC ( 789)

Harta Pembawa –assets brought by the groom to his marriage– Use MODE OF MARRIAGE ( 583)

Ilmu –religious knowledge– Use RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE ( 781) with REVELATION AND DIVINATION ( 787)


Kadi –Islamic magistrate– Use LEGAL AND JUDICIAL PERSONNEL ( 693) with SPECIAL COURTS ( 698)

Kampong –village– Use SETTLEMENT PATTERNS ( 361) with COMMUNITY STRUCTURE ( 621)

Kena Hantu –spirit possession– Use REVELATION AND DIVINATION ( 787)

Kuta Kampong –village heard– Use COMMUNITY HEADS ( 622)

Latah –pathomimetic behavior– Use MORBIDITY ( 164) with PERSONALITY DISORDERS ( 158)

Mak Andam –bridal attendant– Use BEAUTY SPECIALISTS ( 305) with NUPTIALS ( 585)

Malu –shame– Use SOCIAL PERSONALITY ( 156) with SOCIAL CONTROL ( 626)

Najis –pollution, state of impurity– Use AVOIDANCE AND TABOO ( 784)

Pasar –local markets– Use DOMESTIC TRADE ( 438) with BUSINESS STRUCTURES ( 347)

Pelacuian –prostitution– Use ILLEGAL ENTERTAINMENT ( 548) with SEX AND MARITAL OFFENSES ( 684)

Pemberian –marriage present (gift)– Use MODE OF MARRIAGE ( 583) with GIFT GIVING ( 431) and/or NUPTIALS ( 585)

Pondan –males who dress and/or behave like female– Use HOMOSEXUALITY ( 838) with PERSONALITY DISORDERS ( 158)

Sawah –wetrice (also called )– Use CEREAL AGRICULTURE ( 243) with WATER SUPPLY ( 312)

Suku –clan– Use CLANS ( 618)

Sumbang –incest– Use KINSHIP REGULATION OF SEX ( 835)

Surau –small mosque (chapel)– Use RELIGIOUS AND EDUCATIONAL STRUCTURES ( 346)

Ulama –religious teachers– Use PRIESTHOOD ( 793)

Waris –heirs– Use INHERITANCE ( 428)

Zekat –obligatory charity– Use PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES ( 782) with TAXATION AND PUBLIC INCOME ( 651)

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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