The Malays are the dominant race which live in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines which, together with Singapore, make up what is called the Malay archipelago. The Malays are classified as a member of the Mongoloid race of man together with the Chinese, Mongols, Thais, Vietnamese and Burmese.
The term "Malay" is both generic and specific.
Generally, the name "Malay" is used to describe all the numerous related groups including the Acehnese, Minangs, Bataks and Mandailings who live in Sumatra ; Javanese and Sundanese in Java ; Banjars, Ibans, Kadazans and Melanaus in Borneo ; Bugis and Torajans in Sulawesi; and the various dominant ethnic groups in the Philippines such as the Tagalogs, the Maguindanaoans, the Tausug, the Ilocanos, and the Visayans.
Specifically, this name is also the proper name of the subgroup which is native to the Malay peninsula, southern Thailand, Singapore, the Riau islands and the eastern part of Sumatra. Sometimes, but very rarely, this subgroup is called "Riau Malays" to distinguish it as a specific group.
Other groups classified as Malays which live outside what is called the Malay archipelago include the Cham who live in Cambodia and Vietnam and the Utsuls who live on the island of Hainan. Descendants of the Malays could be found today in Sri Lanka, South Africa and Madagascar. In the latter, they are known as the Merina and one of the dominant ethnic groups in that country.
Three-quarter scale bronze sculptures 19th C. Malay people, Indonesia, Borneo. The men are readying their roosters for a cock-fight. A boy, eating a fruit, is watching them. The central figure, a woman, balances a load of fruit atop her head. Until the 1960s, it was not uncommon for women in Bali, for example, to dress bare-breasted. Antonio Pigafetta's journal 1521 records this custom in the Philippines as well. The sculptures can be seen in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago
The languages spoken by the Malays were classified in the Malayo-Polynesian family of langauges which is now known as Austronesian family of languages which includes the language spoken by the Merinas in Madagascar, the Maori language in New Zealand and the Polynesian languages such as Samoan and Hawaiian.
In terms of religion, most of the Malays are Muslims; they form the dominant religious group in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Their conversion to Islam from Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism began in the 1400s. Most Malays in Singapore and Thailand are also Muslims. Most Malays in the Philippines have been Christians since the colonization by Spain. Hinduism is the dominant religion in the island of Bali while small groups in other parts of the archipelago practice animism and Buddhism.