Sri Lankan Malays

Sri Lankan Malays
Melayu Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Malay man and child
Total population
40,189 (2012 census)[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Western 24,718
 Southern 8,343
 Central 2,889
 North Western 1,675
Islam (mostly Sunni)
Related ethnic groups

Malays of Sri Lanka (also known in Sinhalese language as Ja Minissu meaning Javanese) originated in Southeast Asia. The group consists of about 40,000 people and they make up 0.20% of the Sri Lankan population. Their ancestors initially came to the country when both Sri Lanka and Indonesia were colonies of the Dutch, while a second wave (1796–1948) came from the Malay Peninsula, when both Malaya and Sri Lanka were in the British Empire.

Significant Malay presence in Sri Lanka dated as early as 13th century, when Chandrabhanu Sridhamaraja a Malay of Tambralinga managed to occupy northern part of the island in 1247, nonetheless the followers of Chandrabhanu would mostly assimilate to the local population.[2] Many of the ancestors of present-day Sri Lankan Malays coming from soldiers posted by the Dutch which later continued by the British for colonial administration to Sri Lanka, who decided to settle on the island. Other immigrants were convicts or members of noble houses from Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia) who were exiled to Sri Lanka and who never left. The main source of a continuing Malay identity is their common Malay language. Many Sri Lankan Malays have been celebrated as courageous soldiers, politicians, sportsmen, lawyers, accountants and doctors.

Malay place names in Sri Lanka

Historical population
1881 8,900    
1891 10,100+13.5%
1901 11,900+17.8%
1911 13,000+9.2%
1921 13,400+3.1%
1931 16,000+19.4%
1946 22,500+40.6%
1953 25,400+12.9%
1963 33,400+31.5%
1971 43,500+30.2%
1981 47,000+8.0%
1989 (est.) 48,000+2.1%
2001 54,800+14.2%
2011 40,189−26.7%
Source:Department of Census
& Statistics[3]
Data is based on
Sri Lankan Government Census.

Some place names in Sri Lanka have references, indicating the presence of Javanese and Malay communities or contribution to the location.[4] Some of these are:

and names of streets such as Malay Street, Java Lane, Jalan Padang


See Sri Lankan Malay language


Like their ancestors in present-day Indonesia and Malaysia, Sri Lankan Malays are Muslim.[5] Mosques were erected by the local Malays along the coasts of Sri Lanka in places like Hambantota, Beruwela, and Galle. The Jawatte mosque in Colombo and Masjidul Jamiya, the military mosque in Slave Island, are acclaimed mosques renowned for their architecture and long history. The first two storey mosque in Sri Lanka was built by HH Mohammed Balankaya, an exiled Malay noble of the Royal House of Gowa (in present-day Sulawesi, Indonesia). Today the mosque is of great significance and is a symbol of Muslims in Sri Lanka and is the Grand Mosque of Sri Lanka.


Notable Sri Lankan Malays

See also


  1. "A2 : Population by ethnic group according to districts, 2012". Census of Population & Housing, 2011. Department of Census & Statistics, Sri Lanka.
  2. Malays in Sri Lanka
  3. "Population by ethnic group, census years" (PDF). Department of Census & Statistics, Sri Lanka. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
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