Philippine Standard time

Locating the Filipino as Malay: A Reassertion of Historical Identity from the Regional Periphery

In Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, and Indonesia, being Malay usually means being a practitioner of Islam and a speaker of standard Bahasa. However, such understandings no longer comprehend other members of the so-called brown-skinned race who were once united with the Malay aggrupation: numerous Filipinos (and East Timorese), who inhabit the same broad geopolitical region. Challenging the recent narrowly defined conceptions of who is, or was Malay, this study recalls an inclusive borderless understanding acquired in antiquity by the Filipino nation, whose peoples were considered by Spanish and American colonizers and educated by their government to consider themselves as part of a pre-modern "Malay" world. Geohistorical evidence shows how such auto-consciousness evolved and preceded the entry of the term into the nearby British colonizers' lexicon, before its social reconstruction for the perpetuation of post-colonial polities as well. The author interweaves his textual survey with the problematization of the location of ethnicity and points out the seemingly neglected corpus of Iberian works that demonstrate how Europeans could have only approached the knowledge of Malayness from a geographic periphery, of which the Philippine archipelago was very much a part, especially the Mindanao area. The author builds on and constructively critiques work by one scholar who had initiated the claims of the Filipino to Malayness. It is shown how sociocultural and geopolitical priorities can help or hinder the relaxation of definitions of who is Malay and where Malays are properly situated, if only because these counter perceptual rigidities, and allow the creation of hybrid third spaces that admit new possibilities of coexistence.


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