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The dynamic community of Malaysia’s Telugus

The dynamic community of Malaysia’s Telugus

HISTORY | The Telugus, whose forebears mainly immigrated from Andhra Pradesh, India, to British Malaya are one of Malaysia’s most dynamic communities.

Within three generations, the Telugus have risen from being largely estate workers to becoming professionals such as doctors, educators, engineers, lawyers, planters and scientists. This remarkable transformation of the Telugu community was made possible by the first two generations of Telugus who worked hard, led simple and frugal lives, and ensured that their children received the best available education.

Historically, the Telugus and other Indians from the Coromandel Coast can trace their trading connections with the Malay Peninsula beginning several centuries BCE. The Indians arrived in greater numbers during the first century CE. From about the second century CE, Indianised Malay city-states or small kingdoms such as Ancient Kedah, Gangga Nagara (Kinta Valley) and Langkasuka (modern Pattani district) began to emerge on the Malay Peninsula. However, there is no evidence of large-scale Indian migration to the Malay Peninsula in ancient times.

Interestingly, the Malay word, ‘keling’ derives from Kalinga, the region in India currently comprising the state of Odisha and also the northern part of Andhra Pradesh. As stated by WG Shellabear, a pioneer scholar in Malay literature, the word ‘keling’ refers to “the native of the eastern coast of British India, especially the Telugus and Tamils.” Notably, 15th-century Malacca had an Indian settlement of its own known as Kampung Keling.

Beginning from about the mid-19th century, a small number of Telugus migrated to work in European-owned sugar, coconut and tapioca estates in Penang and Province Wellesley (Seberang Perai). Subsequently, the Telugus started immigrating to Malaya in large numbers during the early decades of the 20th century due to a combination of “push” and “pull”… 

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