A History of Malayalees in Penang: Part One: The First Wave – Traders, Convicts and Builders

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The Malayalees originate from the modernday state of Kerala, on the south-west coast of India, and Malayalam is their mother tongue. Older historical references identify them as Malabaris because they were from the Malabar Coast,1 which was made up of British Malabar2 and the princely states of Travancore and Cochin. Only in 1956, well after Indian independence, did the state of Kerala come into existence, giving Malayalees a unified homeland. Drawing from the name of their state, they are also called Keralites.
The people of Kerala may appear divided by caste and religion but in fact, they have embraced all the major religions of the world – Hinduism, Judaism,3 Christianity and Islam – and are united by their language and common cultural heritage.


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