Monday, June 6, 2011

Jawi Peranakan - A Diminishing Community

Jawi Peranakan or Jawi Pekan: who are they?

The Jawi Peranakan community was were an elite group among the Malay community in the mid-19th century but declined in the early decades of the 20th century. The term Jawi Peranakan applied to Straits-born Muslims of mixed Indian (especially Tamil) and Malay parentage. Their publication, the Jawi Peranakkan, was the first Malay language newspaper of the region. Their illustrious era came to an end when they were caught in political troubles that led to their alienation from mainstream Malays.


Since Singapore's founding in 1819, the number of South Asian immigrants to the island grew rapidly. Most were southern Indian men. However, this does include other South Asians, from the North of India and Pakistan, who are a minority in the Indian community in Singapore, such as Punjabi and Gujarati men. Women travelled to Singapore only from the 1860s, and even then in small numbers. This led to a shortage of Indian brides, and so Indian Muslim men often married Malay women. Some non-Muslim Indians might also have married Malay women, and subsequently converted to Islam. The descendants of these unions were called Jawi Peranakan.

"Jawi" is an Arabic word to denote Southeast Asia, while Peranakan is a Malay word meaning "born of" (it also refers to the elite, locally-born Chinese). More broadly, South Asian Muslims without mixed parentage but born in the Straits Settlements were sometimes also called Jawi Peranakan, as were children from Arab-Malay marriages. Similar terms for mixed Malay-South Asian people were "Jawi Pekan" (mostly used in Penang) and "Peranakan Kling" (mostly used in Malacca), the latter made popular by the great early Malay chronicler, Munshi Abdullah. Jawi Peranakan families were found throughout Malaysia, especially Penang, and Singapore.


The Jawi Peranakan chose their spouses carefully, screening prospective matches for wealth and status, rather than racial origins. This enabled intermarriage between Jawi Peranakan and other prosperous local Muslim communities, like the Arabs, Indians and the Malay royalty. Despite their eagerness to adopt Malay culture and be accepted as Malays, the Jawi Peranakan maintained a distinct identity which was captured in their architecture, clothing, jewellery and cuisine. Culturally, they contributed to the art scene of the region, especially in music and dance.

The Jawi Peranakan were enterprising and progressive and by the late 19th century, they had accumulated considerable wealth and status and contributed to the economy as merchants and land dealers. They were also literate and English-educated, easily qualifying for government jobs. A group of Jawi Peranakan financed the first Malay language newspaper, the Jawi-Peranakan. Its first editor was Munsyi Mohamed Said Bin Dada Mohiddin, a South Indian Muslim who remained as editor for 12 years, from 1876 to 1888.

Demise of the community

There are a few Jawi Peranakan families left in Singapore and Malaysia, especially Penang, which used to be their largest settlement. However, most today register as Malays. The loss of their identity is due to various causes. Economically, other competing mercantile groups were emerging, especially the Chinese. By the 1930s, the Jawi Peranakan grew increasingly dependent on government and clerical jobs.

By the turn of the 20th century, the political climate favoured the Malays. As the largest 'racial' group and the indigenous people of Malaya, they were seen as the natural successors to the British, with the waning of the British Empire. Projecting an identity that was distinctly apart from the Malays was therefore not expedient. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Jawi Peranakan were also criticised for their brand of religious belief which did not conform to the widely-practised Shafi Islam. To make matters worse, the Jawi Peranakan tended to be reformist and they challenged the authority of the Malay royalty in religious matters. Most were born and bred in the Straits Settlements, and had never been a subject of the Sultan. They therefore lacked this political and cultural quality, which was seen to define a 'true Malay'.

From: Wikipedia - the free encyclopedia


nasuha fatin said...
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Syuhada Safar said...

dimana tempat persatuan jawi peranakan

Rais Al Attas said...

Liga Muslim Penang

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