/may"lay, meuh lay"/, adj.
1. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a racially intermixed, generally short-statured people who are the dominant population of the Malay Peninsula and adjacent islands.
2. of or pertaining to the language or culture of these people.
3. a member of the Malay people.
4. an Austronesian language of Malaysia and Singapore, differing from Indonesian only in orthography.

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Any member of an ethnic group that probably originated in Borneo and expanded into Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula.

They constitute more than half the population of Peninsular Malaysia. They are mainly a rural people, growing rice for food and rubber as a cash crop. Heavily influenced by India, they were Hinduized before converting to Islam in the 15th century. Their culture has also been influenced by the cultures of the Thai, Javanese, and Sumatrans. Malay society has traditionally been somewhat feudal; class distinctions are still marked, and marriages have traditionally been arranged by parents and governed by Islamic law.
(as used in expressions)

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Malay  Orang Melayu (“Malay People”) 

      any member of an ethnic group of the Malay Peninsula and portions of adjacent islands of Southeast Asia, including the east coast of Sumatra, the coast of Borneo, and smaller islands that lie between these areas. The Malay speak various dialects belonging to the Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) family of languages.

      The Malay were once probably a people of coastal Borneo who expanded into Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula as a result of their trading and seafaring way of life. That this expansion occurred only in the last 1,500 years or so is indicated by the fact that the languages of the Malay group are all still very much alike, though very divergent from the languages of other peoples of Sumatra, Borneo, and other neighbouring lands. In the late 20th century the Malay constituted more than half of the population of Peninsular Malaysia (West Malaysia) and more than one-eighth of the population of East Malaysia (Sarawak and Sabah).

      The Malay culture has been strongly influenced by that of other peoples, including the Siamese, Javanese, and Sumatran. The influence of Hindu India was historically very great, and the Malay were largely Hinduized before they were converted to Islām in the 15th century. The population of the Malay Peninsula today includes large numbers of Indians and Chinese.

      The Malay are mainly a rural people, living in villages rather than towns, where Chinese, Indians, and other groups predominate. Much of the Malay Peninsula is covered by jungle, and the villages, with populations from 50 to 1,000, are located along rivers and coasts or on roads. Houses are built on piling that raises them four to eight feet off the ground, with gabled roofs made of thatch; houses of the well-to-do have plank floors and tile roofs. The principal food crop is wet rice, and rubber is the main cash crop. The Malay Peninsula in the late 1970s produced more than two-fifths of the world's supply of natural rubber.

      Traditionally the Malay had a somewhat feudal social organization with a sharp division between nobility and commoners. The head of a village was a commoner, but the chief of the district, to whom he reported, was a nobleman. The nobility has now been replaced by appointed and elected officials subject to a parliament and other elected bodies, but class distinctions are still marked.

      Marriages have traditionally been arranged by the parents. The typical household consists of the husband and wife and their children. Marriage and inheritance are governed by Islāmic law.

      The Malay religion is Islām of the school of Shāfiʿī. Muslim religious holidays are observed. Some Hindu ritual survives, as in the second part of the marriage ceremony and in various ceremonies of state. In rural areas the Malay have also preserved some of their old beliefs in spirits of the soil and jungle, which are partly Hindu in origin; they often have recourse to medicine men or shamans for the treatment of disease.

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Universalium. 2010.

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