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Malays (Malay: Melayu Jawi: ملايو) are an ethnic group of Austronesian peoples predominantly inhabiting the Malay Peninsula, eastern Sumatra, southernmost parts of Thailand, south coast Burma, island of Singapore, coastal Borneo including Brunei, West Kalimantan, and coastal Sarawak and Sabah, and the smaller islands which lie between these locations - that collectively known as the Alam Melayu. These locations today are part of the modern nations of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Burma and Thailand.

There is considerable genetic, linguistic, cultural, and social diversity among the many Malay subgroups, mainly due to hundreds of years of immigration and assimilation of various regional ethnicity and tribes within Maritime Southeast Asia. Historically, the Malays population is descended primarily from the earlier Malayic-speaking tribes that settled in the region, who founded several ancient maritime trading states and kingdoms, notably Brunei, Old Kedah, Langkasuka, Gangga Negara, Old Kelantan, Negara Sri Dharmaraja, Malayu and Srivijaya, and the later Cham and Mon-Khmer settlers.

The advent of the Melaka Sultanate in the 15th century triggered a major revolution in Malay history, the significance of which lies in its far-reaching political and cultural legacy. Common definitive markers of a Malay identity - the religion of Islam, the Malay language and traditions - are thought to have been promulgated during this era, resulting in the ethnogenesis of the Malay as a major ethnoreligious group in the region. In literaturearchitectureculinary traditions, traditional dress, performing arts, martial arts, and royal court traditions, Melaka set a standard that later Malay sultanates emulated. The golden age of the Malay sultanates in the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo saw many of their inhabitants, particularly from various tribal communities like the Batak, Dayak, Orang Asli and the Orang laut become subject to Islamisation and Malayisation. Today, some Malays have recent forbears from other parts of Maritime Southeast Asia, termed as anak dagang ("traders") and who predominantly consist of Javanese, Bugis, Minangkabau and Acehnese peoples, while some are also descended from more recent immigrants from other countries.

Throughout their history, the Malays have been known as a coastal-trading community with fluid cultural characteristics. They absorbed numerous cultural features of other local ethnic groups, such as those of Minang, Acehnese, and to some degree Javanese culture; however Malay culture differs by being more overtly Islamic than the multi-religious Javanese culture. Ethnic Malays are also the major source of the ethnocultural development of the related Betawi, Banjar, Cape Malay, Peranakan and Sri Lankan Malay cultures, as well as the development of Malay trade and creole languages like Ambonese Malay, Baba Malay, Betawi Malay and Manado Malay.


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