Friday, 6 September 2013

The Kelings

The word Keling has been used by the Malays (and Indonesians) for many centuries. Even today, the Malays of Malaysia use it to refer to the local Indian population.

What is Keling?

The word Keling is taken from the word Kalinga. Kalinga was a kingdom in the Indian subcontinent. It was located in the present day state of Orissa. 

Orissa changed its name to Odisha as of 4 November 2011.

The kingdom of Kalinga was once very powerful. It was even mentioned in the Mahabaratha.

Kalinga established maritime trade with southeast asia. Settlers from Kalinga also opened up colonies in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Maldives and the Malay archipelago.

Ships from Kalinga arrived in large numbers in the southeast asian ports. It then became common for the local Malays to refer to anyone from the Indian subcontinent as Keling. India was even called as Benua Keling (Continent of Kalinga) in ancient times.

However, not all Indians were Kelings. This is because there were many independent kingdom besides Kalinga. 

One such kingdom was the powerful Chola. The Malays also had another name for the Tamils. They were known as Cholia or Chulia as many arrived in ships from Chola kingdom back in those days.

Why Malaysian Indians get angry when Malays call them Keling?

The Malaysian Indian population is made of several ethnic groups. These ethnic groups speak different languages. Most modern Indians in Malaysia are Tamils from Tamil Nadu. 

It is incorrect for the Malays to continue to call all of us as Kelings. If this was 1000 years ago, the Malays would probably call us Chulias.

We also do not like to be called Keling because those who call us  Kelings in modern Malaysia do it in a derogatory manner. 

Some go to the extend of saying that the word Keling is used in reference to the bangles and ornaments used by the Indians as it produces the 'kling-kling' sound.

We also have some Indians who thinks that we should be proud of being called Kelings. My ancestors were from south and east Tamil Nadu. They were not from Kalinga. They were Tamils of Chola and Pandya kingdoms. 

So why should I be proud of being called a Keling? It is not related to me or my ancestors. 

There are some existing Tamil royal families with surnames such as Kalingarayar. Their ancestors earned this title after winning battles with Kalinga. 
It only makes sense if the present day Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka and the people of  Odisha are referred to as Kelings. Because these people are the direct descendants of the Kalingans.

Although the ancient kingdom of Kalinga came to an end, the Indian merchants continued trading with the empires in southeast asia. This includes Malacca.

The word Keling then got stuck with the Indian traders in Malacca. Most of the traders were Tamil Muslims from the Maraikayar community. They were called as Kelings and had their own settlements in Malacca. These settlements are known as kampung Keling.

Many Tamil Muslims traders back then intermarried with the local Malays . The Malays were Hindus at that time. The intermarriage between the predominantly Hindu Malays and Tamil Muslims caused Islam to spread in this region. 

Their mixed parentage descendants are also known as Darah Keturunan Keling (Keling bloodline) or DKK in Malaysia. 

In 1456, Raja Kassim became the sultan of Malacca after his half brother, Raja Ibrahim was murdered. Raja Ibrahim was a Malay and he was supposed to become the king with a Hindu title, Raja Sri Parameswara Dewa Shah. 

Raja Kassim was a DKK Muslim. This is because Raja Kassim's mother was a Tamil Muslim woman and she was the sister of Tun Ali, the influential Maraikayar who served as the Bendahara (Prime Minister) of Malacca.

This is the actual turning point in Malacca's history. The DKKs then gained more prominence than the Malays in the royal court of Malacca. The mamak era of Malacca begins from here. The Maraikayars were so rich and powerful that they could decide the fate of Malacca's sultanate.

This is why there is an infamous saying among the Malay community:

"Kalau jumpa ular dengan Keling, bunuh Keling dulu"
(If you meet a Keling and snake, kill the Keling first)

There is also a term called 'Janji Keling' (Keling's Promise). This is used in reference to people who are unable to keep their promise.

It could be traced back to the times of Malacca. This is the story behind the word Keling.

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