This paper attempts to offer a new understanding of the “constructed” nature of ethnic identity and ethnic-relations in Southeast Asia. Using Malaysia as a case, I first sketch the history of Indian and Indonesian diasporic cultural flows into and influences on the peninsula Malay identity from pre to post-European colonisation. Second, I point out how state-led mediatised essentialising of the peninsula “Malay” as territorial and indigenous (bumiputra) appears to have led to the inclusion and exclusion of the pre and post-colonial Indonesian migrant at various moments in the process of negotiating Malay identity, making of an urban Malay-Muslim and the re-making of a capitalist Muslim-Malay. Third, I argue and maintain that the process of “othering” in multicultural Malaysia seems triggered by “ontological insecurity”and “de-traditionalisation” – as pointed out by Anthony Giddens (1990) – and the hegemonic construction of Malay(sian) identity. Finally, the national culture and identity has been described as a form of imaginative identification as an idea that is simultaneously one of inclusion (e.g. “Bangsa Malaysia” or Malay plus Indonesian) that provides a boundary around “us” and one of exclusion (e.g. “bumiputra/bukan bumiputra” or Malay minus Indonesian) that distinguishes “us” from “them”, where race (the Malay) is symbolically expressed as national and territorial, constructed differently and distinctively.
Sosiohumanika: Jurnal Pendidikan Sains Sosial dan Kemanusiaan / Vol. 3, No. 2, pp.157-174