Culture of Malaysia: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Malaysian culture or Malaya culture is a mixture of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and various indigenous tribes dating back to more than fifteen hundred years ago from a Kedah kingdom in Lembah Bujang with traders from China and India. Other cultures in the past that influenced heavily on the culture of Malaya include the Persian, Arab and European.


1971 National Culture Policy

Culture of Malaysia is defined in the "1971 National Culture Policy" of Malaysia. [1] It defines 3 principles as guidelines for 'national culture':

  1. The national culture must be based on the indigenous Malay culture.
  2. Suitable elements from the other cultures may be accepted as part of the national culture.
  3. Islam is an important component in the molding of the national culture.

Orang Asli and indigenous peoples

The indigenous tribes are the oldest inhabitants of Malaysia. They account for about 5 percent of the total population, and represent a majority in East Malaysia of Sabah and Sarawak. In Sabah, the largest official ethnic group is Kadazan, though many unofficially recognised subgroups exist. The same can be said of other ethnic groups, with as many as a hundred racial groups forming the state's population. However because many subgroups possess only minor differences, they are not always differentiated. In Sarawak, the dominant tribal groups are the Dayak, who typically live in longhouses if in the rural areas and are either Iban or Bidayuh.


Malays are the largest ethnic group, accounting for over half the population. It is an ethnic native to Malaysia and in a wider sense, the Malay Archipelago. The Malay Language is the national language of Malaysia. By definition of the Malaysian constitution, all Malays are Muslims. the Malay culture are practised among the Malays throughout the country. Malays from different states in Malaysia carry distinct dialects that can sometimes be unintelligible to most of their fellow countrymen.


The first Chinese to settle in the Straits Settlements, primarily in and around Malacca, gradually adopted elements of Malaysian culture and intermarried with the Malaysian community and with this, a new ethnic group called babas (male) and nyonyas (female) emerged. Babas and nyonyas as a group are known as Peranakan. They produced a syncretic set of practices, beliefs, and arts, combining Malay and Chinese traditions in such a way as to create a new culture.

The Chinese have been settling in Malaysia for many centuries, as seen in the emergence of the peranakan culture, but the exodus peaked during the nineteenth century through trading and tin-mining. When they first arrived, the Chinese often worked the most grueling jobs like tin mining and railway construction. Later, some of them owned businesses that become large conglomerates in today's Malaysia. Most Chinese are Tao Buddhist and retain strong ties to their ancestral homeland. They form the second largest ethnic group.


The Indian community in Malaysia is the smallest of the three main ethnic groups, accounting for about 10% of the country's population. Tamils, Malayalees and Telegu-speaking people make up over 85% of the people of Indian origin in the country. The Punjabis (mostly Sikhs) are also substantial in number with around 100,000 of them in Malaysia. The people of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan origin are included in the "Indian" category for statistical purposes. Indians first came to Malaya for barter trade, especially in the former Straits Settlements of Singapore, Malacca and Penang.

However, when India came under British rule, Indian labourers were sent to Malaya to work on sugar cane and coffee plantations and later in the rubber and oil palm estates. Some of them also came to work on the construction of buildings, roads and bridges. These labourers were mostly Hindu Tamils from Southern India and they were supervised by kanganis (overseers) and mandurs (foreman) who were from the upper caste Tamils. Sri Lankan Tamils came to Malaya as white-collar workers, holding jobs like clerks and hospital assistants. As for the Punjabis from Punjab (North India), most of them joined the army in Malaya while some handled the bullock-cart services in the country. One of the main reasons the Indians willingly left their homeland for Malaya was because of the caste system being practiced in their country. Under the system, those who are born into the lower castes can never improve their standing in society.

The Indians who came to Malaysia brought with them the Hindu and Sikh culture - its unique temples and Gurdwaras, delicious cuisine and colourful garments. Hindu tradition remains strong until today in the Indian community of Malaysia. There's also the Chitty community in Malacca - similar to the Babas and Nyonyas, it is the result of the assimilation between the Indian immigrants and local culture. Though they remain Hindu, the Chitties speak Bahasa Malaysia and their women dress in sarong kebayas instead of sarees. However other Indian Hindus retain their vernacular languages and dialects. The community celebrates two main festivals - Deepavali and Thaipusam - and many other smaller religious events each year. On the other hand, the Sikhs celebrate Vasakhi, Lodi and Gurpurab. Indians in Malaysia mainly speak Tamil, Malayalam, Telegu, Punjabi and some Hindi.


Malaysia is currently in dispute with Indonesia due to accusations of heritage theft in their recent tourism ad campaign. Many Indonesian folk songs were claimed by Malaysia, notably the Rasa Sayange song which caused a stir between both countries in 2007. Other Indonesian cultural items also have been claimed as Malaysian originals such as Angklung musical instrument, Batik traditional textile, and Wayang Kulit (Central Java shadow puppets) including several traditional dances such as Reog (Ponorogo) and Kuda Lumping from East Java, Balinese Pendet dance, Ninang Tari Garinging dance from West Sumatra.


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