How Malaysia and Indonesia get their respective names

Incidentally, ‘Malaysia’ and ‘Indonesia’ were already well in existence prior to the formation of Republic of Indonesia, and later Federation of Malaysia. But ‘Malaysia’ and ‘Indonesia’ then, were terms employed as alternative  names to describe the common region of the East Indies, now known as ‘Malay Archipelago’ (a.k.a. ‘Malayan Archipelago’, and ‘Indian Archipelago’).

Nevertheless, Indonesia and Malaysia, both had pursued adoption of these common regional names as separate national identity for their respective countries, despite the names were originally intended to mean and describe the region that encompasses not only both the modern nations Malaysia and Indonesia, but Philippines, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, Brunei and Singapore, as well, so to speak.

Meanwhile, it was a known fact that Filipino leaders at one stage were contemplating renaming Philippines, Malaysia. That it came as no surprise that prior to the formation of Federation of Malaysia, President Macapagal had counter proposed Federation of Greater Malaysia (uniting Malaysia and Philippines), after earlier efforts to push for formation of Federation of Maphilindo (uniting Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia) in 1963 failed.

Whilst historical facts established that French navigator, Jules Dumont d’Urville, following his 1826 expedition in Oceania,  had invented the terms Malaysia, Melanesia and Micronesia to distinguish these Pacific cultures and island groups from the already existing term Polynesia.

In 1831, he proposed these terms to The Société de Géographie. Dumont d’Urville described Malaysia as “an area commonly known as the East Indies”.

That should help explain how Malaysia was already on this 1890 map, well before Federation of Malaysia was formed!

In 1850, George Windsor Earl, an English ethnologist, proposed the terms Indunesians — and, his preference, Melayunesians — for the inhabitants of the “Indian Archipelago or Malayan Archipelago”, the region that includes the modern nations of Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, Brunei and Singapore.

Malaysia, or Melayunesia, literally means “Malay Islands” or “Malay Archipelago”, whilst Indonesia, or Indunesia, means “Indian Islands” or “Indian Archipelago”, and that both describes an area commonly known as the “East Indies”

In the same publication, a student of Earl’s, James Richardson Logan, used Indonesia as a synonym for Indian Archipelago. However, Dutch academics writing in East Indies publications were reluctant to use Indonesia. Instead, they used the terms Malay Archipelago (Maleische Archipel); the Netherlands East Indies (Nederlandsch Oost Indië), popularly Indië; the East (de Oost); and Insulinde.

From. 1900, the name Indonesia became more common in academic circles outside the Netherlands, and Indonesian nationalist groups adopted it for political expression.

Adolf Bastian, of the University of Berlin, popularized the name through his book Indonesien oder die Inseln des Malayischen Archipels, 1884–1894.

The first Indonesian scholar to use the name was Suwardi Suryaningrat (Ki Hajar Dewantara), when he established a press bureau in the Netherlands with the name Indonesisch Pers-bureau in 1913.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. zainin abu bakar says:

    interesting backgrounder …. makaseh… dan mohon izin tag….

    1. sandiwara says:

      You’re welcomed.

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