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Monday, January 14, 2013

I'm not insulted when called a Keling. A scrutiny of the term.

Happy Ponggal to all.

I'm writing this piece after reading through some articles that are found online, describing the origin, usage and sentiment of the supposedly sensitive word 'Keling'. I want to drive the message that, being called a Keling should not be accepted as insulting anymore, if we care to 'educate the idiots' (pun intended) on the history of the term. Whenever someone call me a Keling, I take the initiative to tell them a small story, which I've appended at the end of this article. Read on, find out when and who turned it into a sensitive term.


I'm called Keling? So what?

The word Keling in Malaysian context is seen as derogatory or insulting now. If any non-Indians call another Indian Keling, immediately there will be tense moments among them. I'm intrigued with the way Indians squirm when called Keling, as such I took particular interest to read some articles online to see what, why, where and how the term has evolved from referring to a great kingdom into a racial slur (only in Malaysia). Do click on the links in the article to read further.

The Origin ..
We need to turn our attention to historical and geographical facts to find the origin of the term Keling. Historically, the origin of the term is rooted in the former cultural and economic influence of the Kalinga kingdom over south east Asian kingdoms.Geographically, the area which is now Orrisa is called Kalinga in the ancient times. According to the historical source, Kalinga is mentioned in the Adiparva, Bhismaparva, Sabhaparva, Banaprava of Mahabharata. This place saw a great war between Mauryan empire's Great Ashoka, which resulted in casualty beyond 100,000 between 262-261 BC.


The Usage ..
According to the above sources, its stated that India was then referred to by the Malays as Benua Keling. Furthermore, in the Sejarah Melayu (the Annals of Malay history), written in the 15th century, the term Keling used to refer to India. Long past the end of the Kalinga Kingdom in 1842 CE, derivatives from its name continued to be used as the general name of India in what are now Malaysia and Indonesia. "Keling" was and still is in use in these countries as a word for "Indian", though since the 1960s Indians came to consider it offensive. A point to note is, in its early usage, the term was not considered offensive or derogatory by anyone.

The word Keling has long been used to name many items in Malaysia throughout the time. Here are few of them:

  1. Sireh Keling (Piper betel Linn)
  2. Ubi Keling (Ubi Kemili - Stemona tuberose) – Kelantan
  3. Kampung Sungai Keling - Labuan
  4. Kuih Telinga Keling - Johor
  5. Masjid Tanjung Keling - Melaka
  6. Pengkalan Ubi Keling - Terengganu
  7. Cempaka Keling (Michelia Figo/Magnolia Figo/Magnolia fuschata)
  8. Gelama Keling (Johnius amblycephalus)
  9. Gendang Keling Ibu - Kedah
  10. Jambu Keling (Eugenia malaccensis)
  11. Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town - Pulau Pinang

According to the sources, its also noted that, the change of the word keling as an offensive term can be said started around 1960 / 1963. In the original Cerita Jenaka, which was a collection of stories was prepared for the Malay Literature Series, and first published in 1908. When a new edition of the book was published in the year 1963, the editors have in some instances adjusted the text to modern tastes, for example, by changing orang Keling to orang India. This is where we can see the transformation of the term, used in a derogatory or insulting manner.

The Addition, Definition & 'Misuse' ...
Then came the era of 1960s, where the word Keling is 'coupled' with other words and made into new terms with attached meanings, that skewed towards labeling the Indian community in an insulting manner. See the word being listed in DBP's 'dictionary', note the examples marked in red box:

This is where the word Keling in the so-called poem/puisi turns everything upside down, from being used as identification of a great kingdom or ethnicity, its now used to insult. I'll translate for better understanding.

Orang Keling sembahyang kusami, (Indians pray to God/Goddess)
Bawa dian sepuntung seorang; (bringing a lamp each)
Ibarat ambo rumput di bumi, (like the grass on land)
Pagi petang dipijak orang. (stepped upon every time)

Then there's a 'proverb', claims that workers who are lazy but only wants to eat are termed 'Golok Keling'. More 'proverb' like Keling mabuk todi indicates drunkards:



From here, we can see how a simple term derived from Kalinga kingdom, to word Keling used widely to (proudly) identify people from south east India in Malaysia & Indonesia before, is now 'corrupted' by those who feel its OK to insult others. An article in The Star denotes that, but at some point, the term keling degenerated into a racial slur and took on an offensive edge, with some people even claiming that the word now has an additional connotation – “coarse”, as in coarse in looks and character.

The story that I wanted to tell everyone is, whenever someone calls you a Keling, tell them that you're proud to be a descendant from the great kingdom from India. Well many (dunggus) wouldn't know or accept the history, so tell them this: 1 of the top 3 richest person in Malaysia, the man who funded 1st satellite enabling cellular communication and (quite expensive) cable TV is from Indian origin, another man who enabled everyone to 'balik kampung naik kapal terbang' is from Indian origin, there's another man who's behind world icons like Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, KLCC, KL Sentral etc. is from Indian origin, the list of successful and prosperous Indians in Malaysia goes on. All these so-called Kelings, have employed thousands of non-Kelings in this country, enabling them to have a career, feed their family and live a good life... thus I'm proud of them and all people from the same origin, Keling or not!

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keling
http://www.mapsofindia.com/history/ancient-kalinga.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalinga_(India)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalinga_War
http://mcp.anu.edu.au/N/CJen_bib.html
http://www.sabrizain.org/malaya/keling.htm
http://mahaguru58.blogspot.com/2006/07/malaysias-history-do-not-distort-past.html
http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?sec=lifefocus&file=/2009/6/22/lifefocus/4092855

30 comments:

  1. I'm not insulted when called 'Keling' too. When i was in primary school....a guy called me 'Keling' and i was sooo upset. I came home and complained to my Amma. And she told me....don't be offended by that. Indian ladies love to wear Kolusu (anklets) which makes the sound kling kling! So that's why they started calling Indians Keling. And be proud too.....in Melaka there is a place by the name Tanjung Keling. So if it was a bad word...why would they name a place with that word!!! :)
    Thank you for the wonderful explanation and details too!

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    1. Yess !! Indeed !! I hope all Malaysians and Malay like me read and know this article..i'm even share it just now to my whtsap groups..bless you brother

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  2. Nicely said. One more thing I would like to add here. At times non indians used to call the Indians DKK (Darah Keturunan Keling). There were times I used to get angry when I heard the words keling or DKK. But I did realise one thing, the Malays have been lead by some well known leaders for almost a quarter of century since independence by these DKKs also. Just because they change religion it does not mean that the lineage of descendents is gone. Well in our country many DKKs are the leaders leading the Malays. Many forgot their origin as well.Sharifah is one of them as well.Maybe the kalingas have ruled great continents before but still their descendants are still in ruling even though not as indians or kalingans. In a way we should be proud to be kalingans...as the article above states.

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    1. True, many Tamils have forgotten their lineage from Africa, easy to hide under a British invented "Indian" tag. In north India, you would be called "Kaaalu Mama ch--ootiya", which means "Black uncle c__t'. Be proud to be Tamil and stop claiming other people into your lineage, as if the entire world originated from you austrolids. Be proud of your African roots once in a while, everyone knows Tamils are descendants of African migrants to India. DNa tests clearly confirm Tamils are a different people entirely in haplogroup and blood descent from rest of ethnic groups in India.

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    2. Many Tamils are so deeply ashamed and driven by self-hate, that they want to claim everyone as the same. Mahathir's ancestors came from Kerala, only 1/3rd of him belongs to that group, the rest is Malay blood. Of course, women are not valued by the Hindus so they are left out of the lineage. 90% of the Indians themselves are half-breeds, except for the more Black original African blooded Tamilians. Instead of being obsessed with other people's ancestry, be more focused in giving your descendants a better future. After all, the Tamilian and Malay and the Chinaman all trace their common lineage from an ape in African tree. Isn't it? We can keep going backwards. Having "same blood or dna" won't change the reality, ideology divides people, regardless of race. Grow up mates.

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    3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maritime_history_of_Odisha

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  3. Nice read. Sharing something that i wrote in 2008 as we share similar thoughts.
    http://rujjcoomarh.blogspot.com/2008/12/proud-to-be-keling.html

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  4. When someone call an indian keling they dont use the word out of respect. I am sure a malay wouldnt want to be named "belacan" for even tho sambal belacan taste yummy. Or i am sure chinese wouldnt want to be called "pig" as they consume pork often.
    Same goes to the term "bangla", i am sure most of us dont use bangla out of respect.

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    1. this is the most sensible reply. when u use it in a derogatory manner it is insulting.

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    2. But Bangla IS the word the Banglas call themselves. So by that score if I use India or Tamil in a derogatory manner then I cant use them also? sonnymak

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  5. Good job Bro. Make all Indian proud. Thank you.

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  6. We proud be tamilan ..well said bro..born to win..

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  7. Its a good answer with strong explanations.I was so curious when i saw a post from a person in facebook where she mentioned d word keling.I was adviced by my parents that it is not a bad word n it has a origin.so atlast i found some website that is sensible.Hope more indian makkalz can view this and be cool!

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  8. Well said Bro. My Grandfather is from India. It makes me angry when people keep calling Indian keling as an insult!. For me, keling is a good word. I'm proud to be a Keling descendent. Use to get angry when people said I'm Indian (that was 30 years back). BTW - I'm Malay because my grandma is malay and my dad is malay. I would really love to go to India to trace my heritage.

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    1. There is no such thing as "Indian" race, rather you need to know which ETHNIC GROUP you come from, a north Indian is not the same as a south Indian, go to India you will be shocked and treated a "Pariah" if you go around claiming ties to everyone. Most people don't understand why Malaysian Hindus are too ashamed to call themselves as "Tamil" or "Punjabi" or Gujarati, when a Tamil goes to Gujarat, he is treated as a foreigner. Grow out of the low self-esteem, and learn to value your Malay mothers, who gave birth to you. Don't hate your mother's race, unlike how a lot of Tamils spit venom on Mahathir's mother and grandmother who was Malays.

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  9. Im not an Indian...i kind of mix and my wife from punjabi lineage...long2 time ago when Im still a small boy...I keep wonder why Indian dont like non indian call them keling...then when the time of google I start searching the origin of the word keling came from ...Kalinga...after that in hindi movie also..Ashoka the great there is one scene when ashoka want to attack kalinga...but i think not all indian in Malaysia know about this..when i futher check...at the time before 20 century there is the term that use by Malay Peninsular communities to address each of different race...malay-awang chinese-apek indian -keling...which is so harmony at that time...the movement that make word keling become slur actually made by APIM(base on reading)...Persatuan India Muslim around 1960...hope as Malaysian we always in peace and harmony...thank for sharing bro...

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  10. Yess ! I hope all Malaysians especially Malay like me have knowledge about this. I'm even share it just now to my whtsap groups..God bless

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  11. Who told you, Tamils are from Orissa? Oriyas and Tamils are two entirely different people. Understand history properly. In fact Tamils would be called racial slurs in Indian subcontinent from the fair skinned North Indians and Pakistanis and Afghans. So it happens everywhere. There are no modern Kalinga descendants in Malaysia, from Orissa region. Tamils have supplanted them. Tamils and Kelings are entirely two different nations, eventually joined together by the British. Until the British arrived, the Tamils had their own country in Indian subcontinent. The same Tamils are fighting the Sinhalese in Sri lanka in which 80,000 died, and don't want to be called "Indian". Indian is a very generic term used to describe different nations of people, it is not even a race scientifically. A fair skinned Kashmiri has nothing in common with a Tamil who is of Austrolid/Negroid race and perhaps with some mixture. Rather than be called a British invented word/Greek invented word "Indian" that comes from "INDIOS" or Indus river of Pakistan, you should call yourself proudly as A tamilian

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    1. Tamils are not the only people known for maritime trade

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  12. What a Punjabi accomplishes or a Gujarati accomplishes, the Tamilian also jumps in to share the claim, because he is too ashamed to stand on his own as a Tamil. That is the problem, it is like a Russian claiming a Britishers achievements because both are called "Europeans", when they are entirely two different nations and mindsets and cultures and lineages. Racially there are only 4 races on earth - Caucasian, Mongloid, Negroid and Austroloid, everyone in this planet is either a descendant of these 4 or a mix of any of these 4. They don't teach biological anthropology properly in Malaysian schools, thus their outdated definition of race - "Indian, Malay and Chinese". Guys like you should go to India, live there, and then come back completely change of your opinions. Indian constitution calls "Indians not as a race but a multitude of ethnic groups" that is why the official name of India is the UNION OF INDIAN STATES.

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  13. A colleague of mind was talking to my other collegue and she mentioned sina as she was referring to a person name and suddenly a chinese collegue responsed immediately by quoting, apa cina cina?? I immediately corrected him as it was supposed to be sina not cina!!! I wonder, is it an offence to a chinese person if non chinese say cina? Then how would we refer them to in a polite way? I thought being called cina or melayu or india should be polite enough. Sometimes when one person makes it a big deal withouy any reason, it would be offensive to others as well and make matter worst.

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    1. Orang Cina here. I'd say if you have to, use the English word 'Chinese' instead. Or at the very least say 'Orang Cina'. If you say cina itu, you might be considered rude, just as saying india itu or melayu itu is rude, though it is very common in Malaysia to identify one by ethnicity.

      For your info, the term 'cina/china' is not used in the Chinese languages. It is a term used by outsiders. It has historical baggage because the Japanese in WW2 used the same word 'shina' (zhi na in mandarin) as a very derogatory term to basically demean the chinese people and is associated with atrocious war crimes targeted at the Chinese. It is now deeply offensive in the whole chinese-speaking world.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shina_(word)

      It is also associated with discrimination that Chinese have faced in the region, most notably in Indonesia where there was suppression under suharto and brutal violence in the 60s and 90s. Which is why they have now changed the official term from 'orang cina' to 'orang tionghoa'(a term which is actually used by the chinese).

      http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/03/25/cina-or-tionghoa-why-it-matters-and-why-now.html

      So there is a lot of history of unhappiness there. Being called cina meant really bad things were coming your way.

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  14. Keling is a celebrity prince to the Dayaks community in Sarawak, Malaysia.With that I sincerely hope our Indian brothers and sisters don't feel slighted by the term. Positive thinking rulesbthecday. Uuuuaa (cheers)

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  15. Tamils are the God chosen people akin israel. We have the supreme inteligence and know superior things that took western world many thousand years to learn. Mind you tamil includes malayalee, telungu n others. We are the core of india

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  16. Tamils are the God chosen people akin israel. We have the supreme inteligence and know superior things that took western world many thousand years to learn. Mind you tamil includes malayalee, telungu n others. We are the core of india

    ReplyDelete