Culture and Language

First Settlers

The Cocos Malay people of Home Island in the Cocos Keeling Islands have a history of isolation from the outside world, only a handful of outsiders having lived among them.


The first group of settlers were brought to the islands as workers by the merchant Alexander Hare in 1826. They were mostly of Malay decent with a number of people of Chinese, Papuan and Indian heritage. While now being referred to as Cocos Malay, the settlers came from places such as Bali, Birma, Celebes, Madura, Sumbawa, Timor, Sumatra, Pasir-Kutai, Malacca, Penang, Batavia and Cerebon.


Unique Identity

The tiny society of about 600 people has been held together for more than 150 years by geographical isolation, shared religious beliefs, strong family loyalty and a unique version of the old 'Trading Malay' language of the East Indies. Despite their mixed origins, the Cocos Malay people achieved an identity of their own within one generation of settlement on the Cocos Keeling Islands. The 'Cocos-born', as they were officially called, lived separately from the European owner-settlers of the islands. The Cocos Malay people had their own mosques, their own leaders and their own ceremonies.


Elements of the English-Scottish traditions of the early ruling Hare and Clunies-Ross families have been absorbed into Cocos Malay culture. Some foods, dances and musical influences have been passed down through generations. Today the cornerstone of Cocos Malay society is the Islamic religion. Few depart from its teachings and observances, and Islam is the focus of most people's lives.


Cultural Tips

* It is respectful to dress modestly when visiting Home Island, shoulders and knees should be covered but please make sure you are comfortable for the weather conditions.

* Entry to the mosque can only be in the company of a Cocos Malay person.

* Please ask permission before photographing residents.



The Malay dialect spoken by the Cocos Malay people today is an oral language. It contains words that reflect their diverse origins and their history of irregular contact with outsiders. Modern interpretation is given in Bahasa Indonesia/Malay with some adaptation to local usage.




Cocos Malay



Good morning

Selamat pagi

Good afternoon

Selamat siang

Good afternoon (after 2pm)

Selamat sore

Good evening / night

Selamat malam

See you later

Jumpa lagi


Selamat tinggal / jalan


Selamat tidur

Thank you

Terima kasih

How are you?

Apa kabar?

I'm fine