Saturday, 13 June 2009

Malays in the 1810 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica

The first significant mention of the Malays in the Encyclopaedia Britannica appears under the entry for 'Malacca' in Volume XII of its Fourth Edition that was published in 1810. This was about 25 after the British had established its first settlement on the Malay peninsula (in Penang).

"The Malays are governed by feudal laws. A chief, who has the title 'king' or 'Sultan', issues his commands to his great vassals, who have other vassals in subjection to them in similar manner. A small part of the nation live independent, under the title of
oranicai or 'noble', and sell their services to those who pay for them best; while the body of the nation is composed of slaves, and live in perpetual servitude."

"The generality of these people are restless, fond of navigation, war, plunder, emigration, colonies, desperate enterprises, adventures and gallantry. They talk incessantly of their honour and their bravery; while they are universally considered by those with whom they have intercourse, as the most treacherous, ferocious people on earth. This ferocity, which the Malays qualify under the name of 'courage', is so well-known to the European companies who have settlements in the East Indies, that they have universally agreed in prohibiting the captains of their ships who may out into the Malay islands, from taking on board any seamen from that nation, except in the greatest distress, and then on no account to exceed two or three."

"It is not in the least uncommon for an handful of these horrid savages suddenly to embark, attack a vessel by surprise, massacre the people, and make themselves master of her. Malay batteaux, with 24 or 30 men, have been known to board European ships of 30 or 40 guns, in order to take possession of them, and murder with their poinards a great part of the crew. Those who are not slaves go always armed: they would think themselves disgraced if they went abroad without their poinards, which they call '
crit' (SZ note: 'keris'). As their lives are a perpetual round of agitation and tumult, they cannot endure the long-flowing garments in use among other Asiatics. Their habits are exactly adapted to their shapes, and loaded with a multitude of buttons, which fasten them close to their bodies."

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