From Singapore Hotels & Singapore Lifestyle
Malays in Singapore, like the Chinese and Indians, are largely descendants of immigrants, although their arrival most certainly predates that of the other races. For this reason, the Malays are considered the indigenous people of Singapore. Today, they make up 14 per cent of Singaporeans, and are an agglomeration of several sub-ethnic groups who trace their origins to the Javanese, Sumatrans, Bugis, Boyanese, Jawi-Peranakans, Malay-ised Arabs and local Malays, among others.
At independence, Singapore's Malay origins were enshrined in the symbolic trappings of statehood - the national anthem is sung in Malay, the national language is Malay and the island's first president after independence was a Malay. Today, despite Signapore's overt Chineseness, given its overwhelmingly Chinese population, it retains in many ways its Malay core: graceful baju-kurong-clad girls, or the more traditional tudong-attired females, are as much a part of the cityscape as their western-attired compatriots; the surau, or community mosque, lies at the haert of every Malay neighbourhood; and Satay - skewered pieces of grilled meat dipped in spicy peanut sauce - is as much a symbol of Singapore as Fried Hokkien Mee.
Until as late as the 1970s, everyday Malay life centred on the kampung or village - a collection of old-style wooden slat houses on stilts where food was grown to feed the community and life was simple. Such kampung are now increasingly rare, although an isolated few can still be found tucked away between clumps of trees on the way to Changi, Punggol and at the edges of the island. Most Malays have moved to government apartments and adapted to high-rise living. Having imbibed the ambitious approach, many have merged into the landscape as professionals and entrepreneurs.
Historically, however, the Malay community has always been socio-economically weaker than the Chinese and Indians, partly because of its cultural roots. Malay education, which closely follows a religious syllabus, has a reputation of lagging behind the Chinese and English school systems. The government, aware of the social and educational problems of the Malay community - including a drug problem and school dropouts - has set up a self-help organisation called Mendaki to promote the progress of the Malay community. Consequently, Malay youths are successfully entering the main-stream, slowly improving the negative perceptions attached to their community.
The Malays are deeply religious and follow Islam, which calls for the study of the Koran and fasting during the month of Ramadan. Orthodox Malays save hard for holy pilgrimages to Mecca. Malay status increases with the title "haji" and the white skull cap earned from pilgrimage.