People Of The Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Cocos children dressed in traditional Malay attire and singing.
Cocos children dressed in traditional Malay attire and singing.

The Territory of the Cocos is also called the Coco Islands or the Keeling Islands, and forms part of the nation of Australia’s territory. The territory is located in the Indian Ocean midway between Australia and Sri Lanka and to the southwest of Christmas Island. The Territory of Cocos consists of 27 coral islands with only two of the coral islands inhabited the West Island and the Home Island. The islands have been called Cocos and Keeling since 1622 and 1703 respectively. The name Coco was due to the abundant coconut trees in the island while Keeling was named after William Keeling who was the firsts European to sight the island. Cocos (Keeling) Island covers a total area of 14.2 square kilometers of low-lying coral of atolls and 26 kilometers of the coastline. The highest elevation is 5 meters above sea level while coconut palms are the primary vegetation.The climate of these Islands is pleasant with moderate rainfall.

Demography of Cocos (Keeling) Island

According to 2010 estimates, the total population of the territory comprising the two inhabited Islands of West Island and Home Island was approximately 600 people. The population is mostly comprised of two ethnic groups. These are ethnic Europeans on West Island, accounting for a population of 100 people, and the ethnic Malays on Home Island, accounting for a population of 500 people. The major languages spoken on these Islands are English and Cocos dialect of Malays.


Malays, which belong to the Malay groups of people, are the predominant group in the Cocos Islands. They settled on the Island in 1826 when Hare brought his Malay harem and slaves to the island. However, in 1827 John Ross came with more Malays to the island to assist in the harvesting of coconuts. The Malays continued to settle in the Island where their number grew. In 1978, Ross’ family sold the Island to the government of Australia. The Coco Malays have their roots in Malaysia thus the closely related culture with the Malaysia Malays. The Malays have their own dress code including Beju Kebaya for women consisting of loose tunic worn over skirt and Beju Melayu for men consisting of a loose shirt. Coco Malays have a distinct language called Basu Pulu kokos, which is rough and unsophisticated because of the slang.

European Australians

The European Australians living in Cocos (Keeling) Island are the ethnic minority. Their ancestry originates from Europe and they form the majority of population in Australia. The majority of this ethnic group living in the Cocos Island is of British ancestry. Their culture is essentially a Western culture especially the English culture. Sports such as cricket and rugby have shaped the heritage of European Australians in the Island. However, because of the larger community of Malays on the Island, the culture of European Australians is slowly diverging from the Western culture. English remains the dominant language spoken by the ethnic group on Cocos Island.

Religion on Cocos

There are two major religions practiced in Cocos (Keeling) Island, namely Sunni Islam and Christianity. Sunni Islam which is practiced by the Malays is the main religion on the islands. The Malays Sunni Muslims hold similar faith with other Sunni Muslims around the world. Christianity, especially Anglicanism, is mostly practiced by the European Australians.


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