The origin of the Malays has always been a dispute in the academic circle. There are three primary possible theories of the early history of the Malays existence. The first earliest theory is based on the Mekong river migration called the “Yunnan Theory” published in 1890. The second most latest published theory in 1965 was the “New Guinea” theory where the Malays ancestor seafarers served as scouts and laborer to traders for 2000 years, and the most latest theory is the “Taiwan Theory” published in 1997 where it states that Malay descendants are sea migrants originally from Taiwan.
Currently the Malays are an ethnic group of peoples who are primarily found living around the Malay Peninsula region, which covers the extensive vast Sumatra/Borneo areas and small low-lying islands. It is estimated there are some 23 million Malays in total population. The breakdown in general which are based on geographical locations is as follows. Malaysia has 12 million Malays, Indonesia numbers stands at 7 million, while Thailand has 1.9 million, Singapore around 450,000 and Brunei in the region of 260,000.
They’re a member of the Austronesian family of languages and the Malays can be found speaking the various languages of Malay, Indonesian, Yawi and Thai. The latest census indicates that about 99% of the Malays are Islam and the Malays as an ‘ethnic group’ which is discussed here, are not to be mistaken with the Malays as a ‘race’. That area of topic covers a wider group of people in the South East Asia and even the Pacific Islands.
Despite the varying theories of the origin of the Malays, the academics do agree on a few fact finding discoveries. The Malays although almost all are Muslims currently, they are originally Buddhist. The practice of Hinduism during the golden age of Srivijayan times was a result of influence coming from the Srivijaya Kingdom. For a millennium the Malays practiced Hinduism/Buddhism before they embraced Islam in the 15th century of the second millennium.
Archaeologists have found numerous ancient artifacts and architectures of the existence of Melayu Kingdom in Indonesia and Malaysia. The Malay kingdom have also been mentioned and etched in various early sources and records from the Tang, Mongol Yuan and even Ming Dynasty; who often referred the word Ma-La-Yu to a kingdom from the southern sea.
The origin of the Malays may not be conclusive as of now, but generally at least we have an idea of the existence of the Malays. This ethnic group now makes up a majority in the archipelago and speaks various dialects of Malay language. The Malays cultural influences are continuing to be a main stay in this region.