Of Resilience and Assimilation: Contesting Spatial Dynamics of the Cocos Malay Dwelling Culture in Malaysia

Dr Md Mizanur Rashid2, Associate Professor Noor Aziah Mohd Ariffin5

2Deakin University, Geelong, Australia, 5International Islamic University Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

In the turn of the 19th century a small group of Malay population has settled in the small island of Cocos (Keeling Islands of Australia) as labourer for the private coconut plantation of John Clunies-Ross. These Cocos Malays are originated from the descendants of Malay settlers from the British colonies of British Malaya, Singapore, Brunei and the Riau Archipelago of Dutch East Indies.  During the 1940’s the island became over populated faced significant shortage of food supply and hence  a large  number of the  descendent family members were transhipped initially to Singapore and later  in different parts of  Borneo and peninsular Malaysia. This paper focuses on little known facet of the architectural history of material culture of Cocos Malays, who are later settled in Kampung Balung Cocos in Sabah. It would offer a critical interpretation of the Cocos Malay Dwelling Culture in a broader sense and scrutinize how it was developed and transformed through ages in comparison with the mainland Malay dwelling culture after almost one and half centuries of separation. The study takes an anthropological-architectural approach to discern different historical layers that reflects their value system, social status, resilience and assimilation and most importantly their imaginary parallel of a homely space in an apparently alienated land (not their place of origin). Moreover, by reading their architectures and settlement as text this paper would reveal the contesting dynamics of their material culture as well as of their everyday resilience to assimilate, which was never been recorded in the main stream discourse on Malay traditional dwelling culture.


Mizanur Rashid is an academic with particular interest on Historical Narrative, Digital Design and 4d capturing of cultural heritage using virtual and augmented reality tools. Mizanur’s research focuses exclusively on the pluralistic (both tangible and intangible) aspects of architecture and its narratives. He is currently working as Senior Lecturer of Architecture at Deakin University.

Noor Aziah Mohd Ariffin works as a faculty member at the Dept. of Architecture, International Islamic University Malaysia. She specializes in energy efficient design particularly in housing design in Malaysia. Her interests also include sustainable design and development, ecological sustainable issues and climatic and comfort studies of heritage buildings especially of the Muslim world.



The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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