Friday, 14 March 2014

Mamak, Kaaka & Tulukan

The present generation of Malaysian Indians (mostly Tamils) use English terms when refering to elderly people such as parents of their friends. We often hear this

"Hello Uncle, saptacha?" (Hello Uncle, have you eaten?)
"Hi Aunty! Sundar irukara?" (Hi Aunty! is Sundar in?)

Back in the olden days, at least before the 1980s, people communicated more often in Tamil. Due to this, Tamil kinship terms like Mama (mother's brother) and Athai (Mama's wife) were used regardless of whether we were all related to each other.

My mother still calls her former neighbors as Athai and Mama even though they are not related.

As we all know, most of the bistro which we see today are owned by Indian Muslims. Previously, they were just called as the "Mamak Stalls" . 

It had a humble origin. No air cond, no Wifi, no fancy names and obviously, way cheaper. Just a few tables with stools. We still see some today. It all changed when they started including television often broadcasting Dunhill football cup as part of the "Mamak Stall" atmosphere.

Why do we call it Mamak?

Well as I said earlier, we never used Uncle or Aunty in the olden days. The stall owners were called as Mama.

"Mama! Oru mee goreng podungga"  (Uncle! make one mee goreng)
"Mama, oru tea sollungga" (Uncle, one tea please)

So the word Mama got stuck and localized as Mamak because the non-Indians began to use it too. Just like how Anna (elder brother), pronounced locally as Anney, and Macha (brother in law) is now being used.

The other words used for the Indian Muslims are Kaaka and Tulukan. Kaaka is a Hindi word which has the same meaning as Mama but I have seen it being used for Malayalee Muslim stall owners. Not the Tamil Muslims. 

What about Tulukan?

Few hundred years ago, the Turks were ruling large parts of India. There was a dynasty known as the Tughlaks or Tughluks. They were Muslim Turks. 

The Indian Muslims who had Turkish ancestry (or without) came to be known as Tulukan. The females were known as Tulukachi. In Malayalam, the Turkish language is known as Tuluk Basha.

This is the origin of the word Mamak, Kaaka and Tulukan. Today, all Indian Muslims in Malaysia are addressed as Mamak.

I mentioned earlier about the word Athai. Another word for Athai is Mami. This word is more commonly used by the Ceylonese Tamils and some Thanjavur Tamils. 

This is why in Malaysia, girls of Indian Muslim-Malay parentage are called Anak Mami which simply means Athai Ponnu (Aunt's Daughter).

- Comments


  1. Hello. Great piece. I am writing on behalf of projek dialog and we would like to translate this to bm and publish it on our site. we will of course credit you as the original author :)

    1. Please share the link when you are done. Have a good week.