There are 40,000 Malays in Sri Lanka, only 0.2 per cent of the population. Most of them live in the areas of Hambantota and Colombo. Many Sri Lankan Malays in the capital are upper class people, doctors, lawyers and politicians in particular.
Sri Lankan Malays are a Muslim minority and speak a Malay-based Creole. Their most famous mosques in Colombo are Masjidul Jamiya and the military mosque in the neighbourhood of Slave Island.
Though today some of the Sri Lankan Malays cannot speak their Sri Lankan Creole any more and most of speak and all of them understand Sinhalese, too, their own language is still a key element of Malay identity in Sri Lanka. Preferring Sinhalese is a major difference to the main Muslim community on the island, the Sri Lankan Moors, who speak a Tamil dialect.
The ancestors of the Sri Lankan Malays came to the island then called Ceylon during the Dutch colonial period in the 17th and 18th century, some of them arrived as late as the 19th century, when the British administered Ceylon. Indeed, "Malays" is their English name, the Dutch used to call them "Javaanse", since they had been recruited in Batavia, today's Jakarta. The earliest Indonesian Malays arriving in Sri Lanka had been exiled from the Moluccas. After 1708 Javanese princes were exiled to Ceylon, too. One of them was the King of Java, who arrived with 44 princes in 1723. But ordinary convicts were exiled from the Indonesian islands, too. Some Javanese people simply were recruited as labourers. Till the present day, the Sinhalese call the Sri Lankan Malays "Jaminissu", meaning "people from Java". In the 19th century, the British recruited soldiers from the Malay Peninsula and transported them to Sri Lanka, this is the second wave of Malay immigration.
Although Batik techniques in Sri Lanka might be as ancient as those of Indonesia, today’s arts of batik printing and rattan weaving, both lucrative souvenirs of Sri Lanka’s textile industries, owe their origins to the island’s small Malay community.
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