Malaysian Food Blog, Travel, Diving & More

Mat Salleh

February 23, 2005 12 Comments

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


Discuss : Mat Salleh

  1. […] We went to this place called Banh Xeo 46A, an old school place by the roadside, with extended roof however. The place is packed with mostly Vietnamese, but I did see a table of mat salleh smacked somewhere in there tho. […]

  2. […] This place is introduced by the mat salleh that is ST, you can read his take here. We spent about 20 minutes looking for the place after having parked the car in some alleys. I had to call ST a couple times and even use a hardcore MMS pic to verify that we got to the correct place. By the time it’s all said and done, we were starving.. […]

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  5. Joel Braughton

    I lived in Penang in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Then I was in Miri, Sarawak(Borneo) and Singapore in the mid 1970’s.
    I was often called “mat saleh” as I passed someone by.
    There are many “fighting” names I have been called in many countries but I never felt anyone was being disrespectful calling me
    “mat saleh.”
    Now, I was a rebel but I was never drunk or crazy.
    I still miss Malaysia and Malaysians. I love the friends, schoolmates, and teachers of
    all types. Malay, Tribal, Chinese and Indian.
    May God bless you all.
    Joel Braughton

  6. Joel,
    it is usually an endearing term nowadays 😛

  7. Patrick Russel

    i think this site is only presenting the smoker guy back there…dont you have guts to tell the real story, you jackass…??!! at least dont waste your blog to show this… Mother fucker son of bitch!

  8. I’m blue da ba dee da ba da

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