Published in The Malaysian Insider
Fresh from being told that Hang Tuah — the icon of Malay resilience (“takkan Melayu hilang di dunia”) — did not exactly exist, some Malays may be shocked to learn that they were originally Africans. Suddenly, it dawns on them that those they have mocked freely with names like “Awang Hitam” and “Dayang Senandung” might turn out to be their ketuanan compatriots.
At least, that’s the claim made at a conference known as Konvensyen Asal Usul Melayu: Induknya di Alam Melayu (literally Convention on the Origin of Malays: Ancestry in Malay World). With a RM1.4 million grant from, of all people, the Higher Education Ministry, it is hard to argue with them.
Or is it?
To be precise, a presentation in the convention posited that the ancestral people called proto-Malays originated from Africa before migrating to the Sunda Shelf, the mass of land covering the area of Southeast Asia. It is believed that the proto-Malays then survived the supervolcanic eruption of Danau Toba in Sumatra by living in places not affected by the volcanic ash.
The Toba event happened between 69,000 and 77,000 years ago, which would make proto-Malays among the only 10,000 humans estimated left during that time. The event is an important explanation for the bottleneck in human evolution, which answers how the human race actually descended from a very small population.
Fleeing from global warming that flooded the Sunda Shelf into different islands 25,000 years ago, the people would have migrated north to the rest of the world, populating, among others, India, China, Japan and the United States. In short, these proto-Malays might be the origin of human life on Earth.
This, of course, flies in the face of the previous three theories on proto-Malays, which suggested Yunnan, New Guinea or Taiwan as their point of origin, which means they were northern people migrating south. These three theories were mostly based on archaeological findings and linguistic studies, as opposed to genetic studies which became the reference for the latest theory.