Many of you have undoubtedly came across the term “Mat Salleh”. While most Malaysian knows that Mat Salleh refers to caucasian male, many does not have a slightest clue as to the origin of the term. Of course, yours truely will now don square hat and attempt to educate the nescient public.
disclaimer: this information is drawn from word of mouth and online sources with no academic backup whatsoever, and of course, a bit of fill-in-the-blank by me.
The term Mat Salleh has been documented for well over a hundred years in the Malaya Peninsula and the Borneo island. A entry to the Timeline to The Rise of The Melacca Empire
1895-1905: The Mat Salleh Rebellion in North Borneo
Now, long before people residing in this part of the world speaks the western languages, contact with caucasians were aplenty, especially around the various habours such as the once great, but now reduced to ‘a place with delicious chicken rice balls’, Melacca.
The caucasians were mostly sailors. Like all sailors who live on the ship for months on end, liberation (liquor, women, party) were the norm whenever they dock. To the locals, they looked like a bunch of mad men, always drunk and usually acted silly.
The locals spoke the Malay language, and when one of them heard another English speaking referring those caucasians as “Mad Sailors”, he tried his best to learn that term.. and inevitably prounounced it wrongly as “Mat Salleh”. The term stuck till now.
If this story hasn’t convinced you enough, please check out a recent picture of this Mat Salleh and tell me if he does not look like a mad sailor here.
p/s: i still love you, ST