This article attempts to bring together recent literature about the typology of nationalism, with the ways in which ‘Malay’ or ‘Melayu’ have been used as the core of an ethnie or a nationalist project. Different meanings of ‘Melayu’ were salient at different times in Sumatra, in the Peninsula and in the eastern Archipelago, and the Dutch and British used their respective translations of it very differently. Modern ethno-nationalist projects in Malaysia and Brunei made ‘Melayu’ a contested and often divisive concept, whereas its translation into the hitherto empty term ‘Indonesia’ might have provided an easier basis for territorial, or even ultimately civic, nationalism in that country.
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