The term Proto-Malay, which translates to Melayu Asli (aboriginal Malay) or Melayu Purba (ancient Malay) or Melayu Tua (old Malay),[5] refers to Austronesian speakers, possibly from mainland Asia, who moved to the Malay peninsula and Malay archipelago in a long series of migrations between 2500 and 1500 BC, and in one model the first of two migrations of early Malay speakers, before that of the Deutero-Malays.[6] The Proto-Malays are the ancestors of the Malays in the modern Malaysia and Indonesia.[7]

Malaysia: Melayu Asli / Melayu Purba
Indonesia: Melayu Tua / Melayu Kuno
A group of Proto-Malay Aboriginal people in Behrang, Perak, Malaysia, 1906.
Regions with significant populations
Malay Archipelago:
 Indonesiac. 13,000,000-15,000,000 (2010) (NOTE[1])[2]
 Malaysia65,189 (2010)[3][4]
 Philippinesno specific census
Malayic languages, Semelaic languages, Philippine languages, Batak languages, Dayak languages, Indonesian language, Malaysian language, Filippino language, English language
Animism, Islam, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Senoi (Semaq Beri people, Mah Meri people), Orang laut, Malays (ethnic group), Native Indonesians

The Proto-Malays are believed to be seafarers knowledgeable in oceanography and possessing advanced fishing as well as basic agricultural skills. Over the years, they settled in various places and adopted various customs and religions as a result of acculturation and inter-marriage with most of the people they come in contact with Orang Asli tribes such as the Semang and Senoi peoples.


The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early History has pointed out three theories of the origin of the Proto-Malay:[8]

  • The Yunnan theory, Mekong river migration (first published in 1889). The theory of Proto-Malay originating from Yunnan is supported by R.H Geldern, J.H.C Kern, J.R Foster, J.R Logen, Slametmuljana and Asmah Haji Omar. Other evidence that supports this theory includes: stone tools found at Malay Archipelago which are analogous to Central Asian tools; similarity of Malay customs and Assam customs; and the fact that the Malay and Cambodian languages are kindred languages because the ancestral home of Cambodians originated at the source of Mekong River.
  • The seafarers theory (first published in 1965).
  • The Taiwan theory (first published in 1997). For more information, see Austronesian languages.

Some historical linguists have concluded that there is scant linguistic basis for a Proto-/Deutero-Malay split.[9] The findings suggests that the Proto-Malay and the Deutero-Malay peoples possibly belong to the same stock and origin. Previous theories suggested that the Deutero-Malays came in a second wave of migration, around 300 BCE, compared to the arrival of the Proto-Malays who came much earlier.[10]

Geographical regions


Ernest-Théodore Hamy (1896) first identified 3 Proto-Malay groups that are found in Sumatra and Borneo, Indonesia:[11][12]

Both Koentjaraningrat and Alfred Russel Wallace's (1869) research also concluded that most of the Moluccans come under the Proto-Malay classification with a admixture with Melanesian.[13] However, António Mendes Correia's findings re-classified the Timorese[14] in Alfred Russel Wallace's ethnological chart as predominantly Proto-Malay.[15] This is evidenced by the striking similarity in the architectural designs of traditional houses in Lospalos, East Timor with the Batak and Toraja people.[16] In Sulawesi, not only are the Toraja people are regarded as part of the ancient Proto-Malay, but their neighboring Minahasan people as well who have migrated to the island in the megalithic period.[17] In Sumatra, a little known pygmy tribe called the Mante people of Aceh are regarded as Proto-Malay and have thought to be extinct.[18]

Other ethnic groups that are closely related to the Proto-Malay are such as the Nage people from Flores, which are considered a mixture of Proto-Malay and Melanesian[19][20] and the Sakai people from Riau, which were originally pure Proto-Malay until later they were forced into the interior by the Deutero-Malays which led to their mixing with the Negritos.[21] Off the west coast of Bengkulu, Sumatra Island, the indigenous people of Enggano Island known as the Enggano people are considered largely Proto-Malays.[22]


Houses of Proto-Malays near Lubuk Kelubi, Hulu Langat District, Selangor, Malaysia, 1908.

In Malaysia, the Proto-Malay are classified under the native Orang Asli group of people in the Peninsular Malaysia. They are officially known as:[23]

Other ethnic groups outside of the Peninsular Malaysia that are also regarded as Proto-Malay apart from the Orang Asli people group are such as the Rungus people.[25]

The Philippines

A comparison of height with an American (left), a mixed blood of Native Indonesians and Proto-Malay (middle) and a pure Negrito (right) from Northern Luzon, 1869.

In the Philippines, there are several people groups that have been identified as part of the Proto-Malay group:[26]

While there are other ethnic groups in the Philippines, that are in some ways related or shares a mixture of Proto-Malay, namely:[26]

See also


  1. Estimation based on the identification made by Ernest-Théodore Hamy, Koentjaraningrat and Alfred Russel Wallace
  2. Fenneke Sysling (2016). Racial Science and Human Diversity in Colonial Indonesia. NUS Press. p. 143. ISBN 978-98-147-2207-0.
  3. Kirk Endicott (2015). Malaysia's Original People: Past, Present and Future of the Orang Asli. NUS Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-99-716-9861-4.
  5. Bani Noor Muchamad (2007). Anatomi rumah bubungan tinggi. Pustaka Banua. p. 2. ISBN 978-97-933-8133-6.
  6. Neil Joseph Ryan (1976). A History of Malaysia and Singapore. London: Oxford University Press. pp. 4 & 5. ISBN 0-19-580302-7
  7. "Geneticist clarifies role of Proto-Malays in human origin". Malaysiakini. 24 January 2012. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  8. Dato' Dr Nik Hassan Suhaimi & Nik Abdul Rahman, ed. (1999). Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early History. Archipelago Press. ISBN 978-981-3018-42-6.
  9. "Karl Anderbeck, "Suku Batin - A Proto-Malay People? Evidence from Historical Linguistics", The Sixth International Symposium on Malay/Indonesian Linguistics, 3 - 5 August 2002, [[Bintan Island]], [[Riau]], Indonesia". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  10. Steven L. Danver (2015). Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures and Contemporary Issues. Routledge. ISBN 978-13-174-6399-3.
  11. Ernest Théodore Hamy (1896). Les races Malaiques et Americaines. L'Anthropologie.
  12. Fenneke Sysling (2016). Racial Science and Human Diversity in Colonial Indonesia. NUS Press. p. 143. ISBN 978-98-147-2207-0.
  13. Koentjaraningrat (2007). Villages in Indonesia. Equinox Publishing. p. 129. ISBN 978-97-937-8051-1.
  14. Fenneke Sysling (2016). Racial Science and Human Diversity in Colonial Indonesia. NUS Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-98-147-2207-0.
  15. Ricardo Roque (2010). Headhunting and Colonialism: Anthropology and the Circulation of Human Skulls in the Portuguese Empire, 1870-1930. Springer. p. 175. ISBN 978-02-302-5133-5.
  16. George Junus Aditjondro (1994). East Timor: an Indonesian intellectual speaks out. Australian Council for Overseas Aid. p. 29. ISBN 09-098-3161-0.
  17. Joan Erickson (1982). Southeast Asia. Lane Publishing Company. p. 156. ISBN 03-760-6764-0.
  18. Ferdian Ananda Majni (28 March 2017). "Mante, Suku Kuno Aceh yang Terlupakan". Media Indonesia. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  19. Fenneke Sysling (2016). Racial Science and Human Diversity in Colonial Indonesia. NUS Press. p. 119. ISBN 978-98-147-2207-0.
  20. Reginald Ruggles Gates (1948). Human ancestry from a genetical point of view. Harvard Univ. Press. p. 354.
  21. Parsudi Suparlan (1995). Orang Sakai di Riau: masyarakat terasing dalam masyarakat Indonesia : kajian mengenai perubahan dan kelestarian kebudayaan Sakai dalam proses transformasi mereka ke dalam masyarakat Indonesia melalui Proyek Pemulihan Pembinaan Kesejahteraan Masyarakat Terasing, Departemen Sosial, Republik Indonesia. Yayasan Obor Indonesia. p. 40. ISBN 97-946-1215-4.
  22. Charles Alfred Fisher (1964). South-east Asia: a social, economic, and political geography. Methuen. p. 240. OCLC 489670953.
  23. Jean Michaud, Margaret Byrne Swain & Meenaxi Barkataki-Ruscheweyh (2016). Historical Dictionary of the Peoples of the Southeast Asian Massif. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 304. ISBN 978-14-422-7279-8.
  24. Geoffrey Benjamin & Cynthia Chou, ed. (2002). Tribal Communities in the Malay World: Historical, Cultural and Social Perspectives. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 22. ISBN 98-123-0167-4.
  25. Bulletin - Institute for Medical Research, Issues 19-20. Institute for Medical Research. 1983. p. 29.
  26. Ignacio Villamor & Felipe Buencamino (1921). "Philippines. Census Office". Census of the Philippine Islands Taken Under the Direction of the Philippine Legislature in the Year 1918, Volume 2. Bureau of printing.
  27. Michael Grosberg, Greg Bloom, Trent Holden, Anna Kaminski & Paul Stiles (2015). Lonely Planet Philippines. Lonely Planet. ISBN 978-17-436-0537-0.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  28. William Cameron Forbes (1985). The Philippine Islands. Harvard University Press. p. 258. ISBN 97-117-0712-8.
  29. "Ligaya Tiamson- Rubin". Kasaysayan at pag-unlad ng Wikang Pambansa ng Pilipinas. Rex Bookstore, Inc. 2008. p. 3. ISBN 978-97-123-3321-7.
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