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The Jawi Peranakan (Jawi: جاوي ڤرانقن) is an ethncity found in Malaysia and Singapore and were an elite group within the British Malayan community in mid-19th century Malaya. The term Jawi Peranakan referred to locally born, Malay-speaking Muslims of mixed South Asian and Malay ancestry. In addition to their substantial wealth and social standing, they are remembered for setting up the Jawi Peranakan.
Since Penang and Singapore's founding in 1805 and 1819, the number of South Asian immigrants to these colonies grew rapidly. Many were South Indian men. However, Jawi Peranakan ancestry does include a large number other South Asians, from northern India and Pakistan, before the Durand line was drawn. Women travelled to Singapore only from the 1860s, and even then in small numbers. This led to a shortage of South Asian brides, and so South Asian Muslim men often married Malay women. 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). 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 aristocrats. Despite assimilating into the Malay culture, the Jawi Peranakan maintained a distinct identity which was captured in their architecture, clothing, jewellery and cuisine. Also, the community placed a strong emphasis on getting an English education, especially since many Jawi Peranakans hold Colonial Government jobs. Culturally, they contributed to the arts scene of the region, especially in music.
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 landlords. 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. The Great Depression led many Jawi Peranakan business empires to bankruptcy and a severe fall in rent collected by landlords. Over time, 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 of Hanafi Islam which different from Shafi'i Islam practised by the Malays. Furthermore, the Jawi Peranakan tended to be reformist and they challenged the authority of 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".
Descendants of the Jawi Peranakan
In colonial Singapore and British Malaya, the Jawi Peranakan remain a community held in high regard by the local Malays primarily due to the educational achievements and the wealth inherited. Families such as the Angullias have left their mark on modern day Singapore with places like Angullia Park near Singapore's famous Orchard Road still bearing the name of the clan.
Some common Jawi Peranakan surnames include:
- Angullia, originating from Gujarat, India
- Khan, originating from Pakistan or Afghanistan, or of relation to the Azmatkhan clan, which claims descent from the Prophet Mohamed
- Munshi, originating from either Gujarat or South India
- Shah, originating from Pakistan
While due to the intermarriage with other Muslim communities, many of their descendants inherited an Arab (Syed, Sayyid) or to some extent Malay surnames (Tengku, Wan, Megat). Many whom are married to the Malays have also dropped their surnames since most Malays practised a Patronym naming system.
Notable Jawi Peranakan
- Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir: Author, translator and teacher
Singapore Infopedia article on the Jawi Peranakan http://infopedia.nlb.gov.sg/articles/SIP_356_2005-01-13.html
Nagata, J. A. (1984). The reflowering of Malaysian Islam: Modern religious radicals and their roots (pp. 14, 118-122, 186, 249). Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. (Call no.: R 297.09595 NAG)
Tan, Y. S., & Soh, Y. P. (1994). The development of Singapore's modern media industry (pp. 8–9). Singapore: Times Academic Press. (Call no.: RSING 338.4730223 TAN)
Urban Redevelopment Authority, Preservation of Monuments Board. (1991). Jamae Mosque preservation guidelines (pp. 7–9). Singapore: Author. (Call no.: RSING 363.96095957 JAM)
Jeman Sulaiman. (7 November 1988). The rise of Malay newspaper. The Straits Times, p. 6.
Khoo, S. N. (30 August 2001). A rich legacy. The Star (Malaysia), Lifestyle.
Mohani Musa. (25 October 2001). The Penang story: Flags of conflict. The Star (Malaysia), Lifestyle.