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Keling (pronounced /kling/) is a word used to describe Indians or Hindus in Malaysia[1] and Singapore, more specifically Malaysian Indians or Singaporeans of Indian descent. It is now generally considered offensive by some Indians although it may often be used by other communities in Malaysia without any derogatory intention.

The origin of the term is rooted in the former cultural and economic influence of the Kalinga kingdom over south east Asian kingdoms.[2] .The ancient Indian Kalinga was located in southeastern India occupying modern day Orissa and northern Andra Pradesh.India was then referred to by the Malays as Benua Keling. In the 7th century an Indonesian kingdom was named Kalingga[3] after the aforementioned Kalinga in India. Chinese sources mention this kingdom (Holing) as a centre for Buddhist scholars around 604 before it was overshadowed by the Sanjaya or Mataram Kingdom. The most famous Kalingga ruler is Ratu Sima.

The Sejarah Melayu (the Annals of Malay history), written in the 15th century, used the term keling to refer to India and traced the origin of Malay sultans to Indian princes. In its early usage, the term was not considered offensive or derogatory.

Castanheda was a Portuguese traveller who lived in Malacca during its heyday - 1528 to 1538 has written about the Kelings.

"In the northern part of the city, live merchants known as Quelins(Kling, the people of Kalinga, from India); In this part, the town is much larger than at any other. There are at Malacca many foreign merchants, who I said before live among themselves. They are moors and pagans..... "[4]

The change of the word keling as an offensive term can be said started around 1960 / 1963. This is based on the change in terms of "orang Keling" Keling people in Cherita Jenaka published in 1960 to "orang India" Indian people in Cherita Jenaka published in 1963 [5]


In the Chinese and Malay communities, keling is augmented into various words of their language to form new phrases that may considered offensive and to discriminate Indians.


The word keling is used since 15th century within the Malay community to mean "Indian-Muslim children", but in today's multi-racial settings the term has become politically incorrect. Keling was recently used by Members of Parliament in Malaysia, resulting in uproar by the Malaysian community accusing the MPs of racism.[6] Popular usage in Malaysia also suggests a tone of general disrespect to Indian Malaysians. This derogatory term is uttered in the same way[citation needed] African Americans are called niggers and Indigenous Australians are called abos.

The phrase janji keling (janji being "promise" in Malay) OR cakap macam keling (cakap macam being "talk(s) like" in Malay) is sometimes used by people of Malay-speaking communities (regardless of race) to refer to a liar, someone who gives conflicting statements, or, more commonly, someone who changes their minds and decisions often. Considered offensive, this term is comparable to the North American English expression Indian giver (although referring to different types of "Indians") or the English expression "to welsh", meaning to fail to honour a bet.


The phrases keling-a (Hokkien; 吉寧仔; POJ: kiet-lêng-á), keling yan (Cantonese; 吉寧人; Yale: gat-lìhng-yan), and keling-kia (Teochew) are frequently used within the Chinese community in Malaysia and Singapore. These may be used in either a derogatory or non-derogatory manner: e.g., in Penang Hokkien, which is spoken by some Indians in Penang, keling-a is the only word that exists to refer to ethnic Indians.

The Hokkien and Teochew suffixes -a and -kia are diminutives that are generally used to refer to non-Chinese ethnic groups. "-yan" mean human.

Names of places

Various place names in Malaysia contain the word keling for historical reasons, e.g. Tanjong Keling.[7], Kampong Keling,[8] and Bukit Keling, etc.

In Penang, the Kapitan Keling Mosque, situated on the corner of Buckingham Street and Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling (Pitt Street), is one of the oldest mosques in George Town. Various other Penang Hokkien street names contain the word keling, e.g. Kiet-leng-a Ban-san (Chowrasta Road), Kiet-leng-a Ke (King Street/Market Street).

External links and references

id:Keling ms:Keling

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