This paper is concerned with the historical development of two supposedly dominant ethnic groups: the Javanese in Indonesia and the Malay in Malaysia. Malaysia and Indonesia constitute the core of the Malay world. Through reading the relevant historical and contemporary literature, this essay attempts to shed some light on the overlapping histories of these two cultural identities since long before the arrival of the Europeans. The two were part of the same fluid ethnic community prior to the arrival of the Europeans in this 'land below the winds'. The contest among the Europeans to control the region resulted in the parcelling of the region into separated colonial states, transforming the previously fluid and shifting ethnic boundaries into more rigid and exclusive ethnic identities. In the process of nation-formation in Malaysia, Malay-ness was consciously manipulated by the colonial and post-colonial elites to define and formulate the Malaysian state and its ideology. The Javanese, on the other hand, though demographically constituting the majority group in Indonesia, paradoxically melded into the political background as the first generation of Indonesian leaders moved toward a more trans-ethnic nationalism - Indonesian civic nationalism. Indeed, when comparing 'ethnicity and its related issues' in Malaysia and Indonesia, fundamental differences in the trajectories of their 'national' histories and political developments should not be overlooked.
CRISE Working Paper 14, 19 pp.