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The Malay Archipelago (Malaysian & Indonesian: Kepulauan Melayu/Nusantara, Filipino: Kapuluang Malay, Visayan: Kapupud-ang Malay) is the archipelago between mainland Indochina and Australia. It has also been called the Malay World, Indo-Australian Archipelago, East Indies, Nusantara, Spices Archipelago, and other names over time. The name was taken from the 19th-century European concept of a Malay race, later based on the distribution of Austronesian languages.[1]

Situated between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the group of over 25,000 islands is the largest archipelago by area, and fourth by number of islands in the world. It includes Brunei, Singapore, East Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and East Timor.[2] The island of New Guinea is usually excluded from definitions of the Malay Archipelago, although the Indonesian western portion of the island may be included.[2] The term is largely synonymous with maritime Southeast Asia.[3]

Etymology and terminology[]

The term was derived from the European concept of a Malay race,[1] which referred to the people who inhabited what is now Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia (excluding Western New Guinea), the Philippines and East Timor. The racial concept was proposed by European explorers based on their observations of the influence of the ethnic Malay empire, Srivijaya, which was based on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.[4]

File:Sea Safari VII, Komodo, 2016 (04).jpg

Pinisi sailing ship exploring Komodo island, part of Lesser Sunda Islands

The 19th-century naturalist Alfred Wallace used the term "Malay Archipelago" as the title of his influential book documenting his studies in the region. Wallace also referred to the area as the "Indian Archipelago" and the "Indo-Australian" Archipelago.[5][6] He included within the region the Solomon Islands and the Malay Peninsula due to physiographic similarities.[1] As Wallace noted,[7] there are arguments for excluding Papua New Guinea for cultural and geographical reasons: Papua New Guinea is culturally quite different from the other countries in the region, and the island of New Guinea is geologically not part of the continent of Asia, as the islands of the Sunda Shelf are (see Australia).

The archipelago was called the "East Indies"[8] from the late 16th century and throughout the European colonial era. It is still sometimes referred to as such,[2] but broader usages of the "East Indies" term had included Indochina and the Indian subcontinent. The area is called "Nusantara" in the Indonesian and Malaysian languages.[9] The area is also referred to as the "Indonesian archipelago".[10][11] The term "maritime Southeast Asia" is largely synonymous, covering both the islands in Southeast Asia and nearby island-like communities, such as those found on the Malay Peninsula.[12]


File:Philippines Bohol Virgin Island.JPG

One of the majority of uninhabited islands of the Philippines.

The land and sea area of the archipelago exceeds 2 million km2.[13] The more than 25,000 islands of the archipelago comprise many smaller archipelagoes.[14]

The major groupings are:

The seven largest islands are New Guinea, Borneo, Sumatra, Sulawesi and Java in Indonesia; and Luzon and Mindanao in the Philippines.

Geologically the archipelago is one of the most active volcanic regions in the world. Tectonic uplifts have produced large mountains, including the highest in Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia, with a height of 4,095.2 m and Puncak Jaya on Papua, Indonesia at Template:Convert. Other high mountains in the archipelago include Puncak Mandala, Indonesia at Template:Convert and Puncak Trikora, Indonesia, at Template:Convert.

The climate throughout the archipelago is tropical, owing to its position on the equator.


File:Línea de Wallace.jpg

Wallace's line between Australian and Southeast Asian fauna. The deep water of the Lombok Strait between the islands of Bali and Lombok formed a water barrier even when lower sea levels linked the now-separated islands and landmasses on either side.

Wallace used the term Malay Archipelago as the title of his influential book documenting his studies in the region. He proposed what would come to be known as the "Wallace Line", a boundary that separated the flora and fauna of Asia and Australia. The ice age boundary was formed by the deep water straits between Borneo and Sulawesi; and through the Lombok Strait between Bali and Lombok. This is now considered the western border of the Wallacea transition zone between the zoogeographical regions of Asia and Australia. The zone has a mixture of species of Asian and Australian origin, and its own endemic species.


Template:See also

Over 380 million people live in the region, with the 12 most populated islands being:

  • Java (141,000,000)
  • Sumatra (50,180,000)
  • Luzon (48,520,774)
  • Mindanao (21,902,000)
  • Borneo (21,258,000)
  • Sulawesi (21,258,000)
  • New Guinea (11,818,000)
  • Singapore (5,535,000)
  • Negros (4,414,131)
  • Panay (4,307,000)
  • Bali (4,225,384)
  • Cebu (3,979,155)

The people living there are predominantly from Austronesian subgroupings and correspondingly speak western Malayo-Polynesian languages. The main religions in this region are Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and traditional animism.

Culturally, the region is often seenTemplate:Who as part of "Farther India" or Greater India—the Coedes Indianized states of Southeast Asia refers to it as "Island Southeast Asia".[15]

See also[]

  • Austronesia
  • Indonesian Archipelago
  • Insulindia
  • Malay Peninsula
  • Maritime Southeast Asia
  • Nanyang (geographic region)
  • Philippine Archipelago
    • Visayas
  • Southeast Asia
  • Malayness
    • Bumiputera
    • Pribumi
  • Malay world
  • East Indies
  • Malay race
  • Maphilindo
  • Nusantara
  • Greater Indonesia


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Template:Cite book
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
  3. "Maritime Southeast Asia." Worldworx Travel. Accessed 26 May 2009.
  4. Reid, Anthony. Understanding Melayu (Malay) as a Source of Diverse Modern Identities. Origins of Malayness, Cambridge University Press, 2001. Retrieved on March 2, 2009.
  5. Template:Cite web
  6. Template:Cite book
  7. Template:Cite book

    "If we draw a line ... commencing along the western coast of Gilolo, through the island of Bouru, and curving round the west end of Mores, then bending back by Sandalwood Island to take in Rotti, we shall divide the Archipelago into two portions, the races of which have strongly marked distinctive peculiarities. This line will separate the Malayan and all the Asiatic races, from the Papuans and all that inhabit the Pacific; and though along the line of junction intermigration and commixture have taken place, yet the division is on the whole almost as well defined and strongly contrasted, as is the corresponding zoological division of the Archipelago, into an Indo-Malayan and Austro-Malayan region."

  8. OED first edition A geographical term, including Hindostan, Further India, and the islands beyond with first found usage 1598
  9. Template:Cite book; Template:Cite book
  10. Friedhelm Göltenboth (2006) Ecology of insular Southeast Asia: the Indonesian Archipelago Elsevier, Template:ISBN, Template:ISBN
  11. Modern Quaternary Research in Southeast Asia, Volume 1
  12. Template:Cite book
  13. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named area
  14. Philippines : General Information. Government of the Philippines. Retrieved 2009-11-06; Template:Cite press release; Template:Cite web
  15. Coedes, G. (1968) The Indianized states of Southeast Asia Edited by Walter F. Vella. Translated by Susan Brown Cowing.Canberra : Australian National University Press. Introduction... The geographic area here called Farther India consists of Indonesia, or island Southeast Asia....

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