2nd row: Hang Tuah • Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei • Lat • Mahathir Mohamad
3rd row: Roekiah • Saloma • Siti Nurhaliza • Surin Pitsuwan
4th row: Raja Ali Haji • Pengiran Anak Sarah • Amir Hamzah • Aaron Aziz
Malays (Malay: Melayu Jawi: ملايو) are an ethnic group of Austronesian people predominantly inhabiting the Malay Peninsula, eastern Sumatra, southernmost parts of Thailand, south coast Burma, island of Singapore, coastal Borneo including Brunei, West Kalimantan, and coastal Sarawak and Sabah, and the smaller islands which lie between these locations - that collectively known as the Alam Melayu. These locations today are part of the modern nations of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Burma and Thailand.
There is considerable genetic, linguistic, cultural, and social diversity among the many Malay subgroups, mainly due to hundreds of years of immigration and assimilation of various regional ethnicity and tribes within Maritime Southeast Asia. Historically, the Malays population is descended primarily from the earlier Malayic-speaking tribes that settled in the region, who founded several ancient maritime trading states and kingdoms, notably Brunei, Old Kedah, Langkasuka, Gangga Negara, Old Kelantan, Negara Sri Dharmaraja, Malayu and Srivijaya, and the later Cham and Mon-Khmer settlers.
The advent of Melaka Sultanate in the 15th century had triggered a major revolution to Malay history, with significance lies in its far-reaching political and cultural legacy. Common definitive markers of a Malay identity - Islam, Malay language and traditions - are thought to have been promulgated during this era, resulting the ethnogenesis of Malay, as a major ethnoreligious group in the region. In literature, architecture, culinary traditions, traditional dress, performing arts, martial arts, and royal court traditions, Melaka set a standard that later Malay sultanates emulated. The golden age of Malay sultanates in Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo saw many, particularly from various tribal communities like Batak, Dayak, Orang Asli and Orang laut became subject of Islamisation and Malayisation. Today, some Malays have recent forbears from other parts Maritime Southeast Asia, termed as anak dagang ("traders") and predominantly consisted of Javanese, Bugis, Minangkabau and Acehnese peoples, while some are also descended from more recent immigrants from other countries.
Throughout their history, Malays are known as a coastal-trading community with a fluid cultural characteristics. They absorbed numerous cultural features of other ethnic groups, such as those of Minang, Acehnese, and to some degree Javanese culture; however it differs by being more overtly Islamic than the Javanese culture which is more multi-religious. Ethnic Malays is also the major source of the ethnocultural development of the related Betawi, Banjar and Peranakan cultures, as well as the development of Malay trade and creole languages like Ambonese Malay, Baba Malay, Betawi Malay and Manado Malay.