Exploring Bahasa Melayu, Rejang and Rencong's ancient Egyptian connection

Recently there has been some "boohaha" caused by an anonymous WhatsApp message about why Malays don't have their own writing system and they had to use or "borrow" from the Arabs...resulting in the creation of "Jawi".

This set my mind in motion to investigate if it is true that the Malays do not have their own writing systems(scripts) or something else was missed out from the official school history textbooks. I wonder if these are the same lies that I was made to believe during my adolescent time that Hokkien is just a spoken language without written words. If there are enough compelling data to debunk this WhatsApp message, I think it is worth the time to write an article about this issue.

WhatsApp message spreading hate.

WhatsApp message spreading hate

Through social media, I learned about the existence of Rencong and Rejang scripts that are still in use by the population in the South West highlands of Sumatra island. These languages are closely related to the present day Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia. ( See MATERIALS FOR A REJANG - INDONESIAN - ENGLISH DICTIONARY collected by M.A. Jaspan )

Rejang script

rejang script


Bahwa sesungguhnya kemerdekaan itu ialah hak segala bangsa, dan oleh sebab itu maka penjajahan diatas dunia harus dihapuskan. Karena tidak sesuai dengan perikemanusiaan dan perikeadilan.


Whereas independence is a genuine right of all nations and any form of alien occupation should thus be erased from the earth as not in conformity with humanity and justice. (1st paragraph of the preamble of 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia).

West Semitic and Sumatran related words

West Semitic and Sumatran related words

So, this concluded my investigation that the Malays plus the related tribes do have their own writings before switching to Pallava and Jawi in ancient time.

But wait a moment, then.....

While searching for more data about the Rencong script, I stumbled upon an article that postulated the connection between West Sumatran culture and ancient Egyptian culture. Somehow, this brings me back to my own journey of understanding History as a secondary school student back in Saint Anthony Secondary School, Teluk Intan.

Mr. Mohammad Salleh as my History teacher

My late history teacher, Mr Mohammad Salleh taught me on the History subject back in 1993-95. He is a very popular teacher among us boys and I would credit him for planting the interest in studying History in me. Before him, to me...the History class is a boring and dull subject. Mr. Mohammad Salleh turned my view about History through his jokes intermingled with historical facts. For those that knew him, for sure one will remember his special way of garnishing "sex stories" in between explaining a chapter on past history.

He is also the person that told us boys to break the English word for "Sejarah" - "History" apart. For him , the word "History" equals to "His" + "story" and so it is perfectly okay for him to garnish a few sex stories in between teaching. If the English word for History has become "Herstory", then he might have to apply for a transfer to teach at the all-girls Convent school across the street from my alma mater.

Mr Mohammad Salleh taught us many things that are outside the official History textbook scope. He told us about the Srivijaya empire that spread Bahasa from Sumatra's Riau region through out South East Asia. How Malays were once capable builders of fortress such as Kota Gelanggi, Kota Cahaya(light in Malay/Sanskrit) in present day Songhkla, Thailand, how the Europeans took many of the historical artifacts back to their home country - such as the Klang Bell and because Srivijaya was the learning center of Buddhism; hence, explained why there are so many Sanskrit words in Bahasa Malaysia(back then ... before it is known as Bahasa Melayu now)

Klang Bell in British museum.

Klang Bell

He is also the first person that pointed out to us boys that there are many words in Bahasa Malaysia are in fact inherited or loaned words from Sanskrit, Portuguese, Arabs and Hokkien languages. According to him, many Malays actually have Africans, Arabs, Indians and Chinese(Hokkien) ancestry. Thus, that is why Bahasa Malaysia was sort of becoming "rojak"(mixed fruits coated with sauce) with these words.

During some of the classes, he likes to bring us back to his own time as a student and showed his collection of newspaper clippings. He pointed out the differences of spellings compared to the contemporary time. Those days the "Rumi"(romanized) Malays words were written in such as way because they are direct translation from Jawi. He taught us how to sing the song "Berjaya" which is more energetic than "Negaraku" by bringing his own radio cassette player to class. He told us that the national anthem "Negaraku" was actually borrowed from Indonesia "Terang Bulan" song.

Terang Bulan and NegaraKu news

terang bulan newspaper

He also told us to ignore but just read certain chapters of the history text book at home just to pass the exam. For him, those are perverted version of History, not the actual truth. This is back in 1993-95 time, we don't have Internet yet back then and unable to verify his claims.

While teaching us about the origin of languages in one of his classes, I remember vividly that he openly joked that Malays have only 3 original words - "main","makan" and "mati"(play, eat & die) just to make us laugh...... but then with a stern voice and serious face....he said that these words are from the people that built the pyramids! He will start walking like a mummy and told us about Mr. Indiana Jones. He said that if we really want to know about History, we need to be brave like Indiana Jones. Go out to explore, get your hands dirty by digging for the truth.

Land Of Punt

From the available information found on the Internet, there was a recorded history in ancient Egypt about this mysterious place call the Land Of Punt. Kinda like the lost city of Atlantis described by the ancient Greeks.

Could it be that the actual Land Of Punt described by the ancient Egyptians in their eastward expedition is actually referring to South West corner of Sumatra island? The ancient Egyptians call it Ta netjer(tꜣ nṯr) ......and it does sounds like "Tanah"(land).

There are descriptions in Egypt today that described the ancient Egyptians imported gold from Land of Punt, just like how the ancient Greek description of the Golden Peninsular - Golden Chersonese or Golden Khersonese (Ancient Greek: Χρυσῆ Χερσόνησος, Chrysḗ Chersónēsos; Latin: Chersonesus Aurea). While it is not exactly on Sumatra Island, but nearby enough to warrant a similarity. It was also mentioned that the Egyptian traders returned with gold, ivory, ebony, incense, aromatic resins, animal skins, live animals, eye-makeup cosmetics, fragrant woods, and cinnamon. Yup, these are a "very" South East Asia commodities.

UPDATE : There is a book written on why Land of Punt in Sumatra. See https://atlantisjavasea.com/2015/11/14/land-of-punt-is-sumatera/ (View webpage PDF)

Pa-rehu and the prince of punt

Pa-rehu and the prince of punt

Taking an abstract from https://www.ancient.eu/punt/ :

Among the goods imported were complete incense trees as well as loose incense, an expensive fragrant tree extract that was used in [religious services] as an offering to the gods. The expedition gathered enormous heaps of it and the accompanying inscription asserts that such amounts had never before been acquired. The relief's prominence indicates how proud Hatshepsut was of the expedition's achievements (169).

For me , the incense trees could be referring to aquilaria trees which produce agarwood (gaharu in Malay).

Agarwood or gaharu in Malay

agarwood or gaharu in Malay

These are the images of houses there are built on stilts, just like present day traditional Rejang or Malay houses. Take note of the tree shapes as well.

UPDATE : To be more precise, the drawings on the reliefs look more similar to the houses on Enggano island. (https://atlantisjavasea.com/2015/11/14/land-of-punt-is-sumatera/)

Wall reliefs by ancient Egyptian. Images from Wikipedia.

wall relief by ancient Egyptian

rendering by modern day artists

drawings of Land of Punt by ancient Egyptians

Traditional Rejang house on stilts(tiang)

Traditional Rejang house

present day Malay house on stilts.

present day Malay house on stilts.

comparison of Engganese(Enggano islander) houses on stilts. Taken from https://atlantisjavasea.com/2015/11/14/land-of-punt-is-sumatera/

comparison of Engganese(Enggano islander) houses on stilts

Sumatra instead Somalia as the Land of Punt?

At present, most scholars would favor that Somalia is the Land Of Punt. The following are taken from https://www.ancient.eu/punt/:

Those who favor an interpretation of Somalia as Punt point to the descriptions of Hatsehpsut's and other's expeditions. The Egyptians traveled there by boat down the Nile, through the Wadi Tumilat in the eastern Delta and on to the Red Sea. There is evidence that the Egyptian crews would disassemble their boats, carry them overland to the Red Sea, and then hug the shores as they made their way to Punt. While this description does favor an interpretation of Eritrea, the other evidence weighs heavily in favor of Somalia. The Egyptians would have hugged the coast all the way to the Horn of Africa, present day Puntland State of Somalia. Wilson cites the reliefs at Hatshepsut's temple as evidence of how amazed the Puntites were at the Egyptian's arrival as they were, seemingly, at the edge of the world. Wilson writes:

"The people of Punt are flatteringly amazed at the boldness of the Egyptian sailors: "How did you reach here, the country unknown to men? Did you come down on the ways of heaven or did you travel by land or sea? How happy is God's Land (Punt), which you now tread like Ra!" (176)."

Punt is also represented as quite foreign to the Egyptians. Scholar Marc van de Mieroop writes:

"[The Egyptians] reached Punt by seagoing boat and found it a country very unlike their own. The representations of houses, animals, and plants suggest a location in northeast Africa along the Red Sea coast, possibly the region of modern Eritrea, although a locale farther inland has also been suggested (169)."

In my opinion, instead of Somalia... could it be that Sumatra is the Land Of Punt? Contrary to Somalia, Sumatra is an island after all.

The expedition was recorded to have returned by the ninth year of Queen Hatshepsut's reign. She oversaw the preparations and funding for a mission to the Land of Punt. The expedition set out in her name with five ships with up to 210 men that included sailors and 30 rowers. This should give us clue that the expedition took more time to return back to Egypt, so it should reach further than Somalia.

Egypt to Sumatra or perhaps the real Land Of Punt

Egypt to Sumatra or perhaps the real Land Of Punt

ancient Egyptians boarding ship with goods from Land Of Punt

ancient Egyptians boarding ship with goods from Land Of Punt


Coming back to 16 January 2020, this left me wondering perhaps that my late History teacher had read books such as "History of Java" written by Sir Thomas Raffles, "The Story of Perehu"(boat story) or knew about the work of Charles Robert Jones-Gregorio M.Div.? I will never know as I was informed that he passed away.

Whether the connection between ancient Egyptian language and present day Malay/Rejang is real or not..... I will have to leave it for the professional historians and linguists to do their job. It is hard to deny some of the similarities as pointed out by Mr. Charles Robert Jones.

 Egyptian to BM/B.Indonesia :

 maat hara -> matai bilai -> mata hari 

 mwt -> mateuit -> mati

 asam -> aseum -> asam

Maybe this merit further investigations by those that have better understanding on the topics of ancient Egyptians and Rejang people.

For now, it is more pressing to "uninstall hatred" among fellow Malaysians. The time and energy should be used to spread positive message of love and harmony instead of hatred.

uninstall hatred reboot harmony

What do you reckon? Leave your comment below.

References :

Egyptian and West Semitic Words in Sumatra's Rejang Culture.pdf

https://rejang-lebong.blogspot.com/2008/04/egyptian-and-west-semitic-words-in.html PDF









  See also : Interpreting Hokkien, Jawi(Malay) and Tamil stone inscriptions found in Bukit Cina, Melaka

By Adam Ng(黃武俊)

IF you gain some knowledge or the information here solved your programming problem. Please consider donating to the less fortunate or some charities that you like. Apart from donation, planting trees, volunteering or reducing your carbon footprint will be great too.