Culture of Malaysia

Table of Content

The flag of Malaysia, also known as the Jalur Gemilang (Malay for “Stripes of Glory”),[1] comprises a field of 14 alternating red and white stripes along the fly and a blue canton bearing a crescent and a 14-point star known as the Bintang Persekutuan (Federal Star). The 14 stripes, of equal width, represent the equal status in the federation of the 13 member states and the federal government, while the 14 points of the star represent the unity between these entities.[2] The crescent represents Islam, the country’s official religion; the blue canton symbolizes the unity of the Malaysian people; the yellow of the star and crescent is the royal colour of the Malay rulers.[3] In blazon, the Malaysian flag is described as: “A banner Gules, seven bars Argent; the canton Azure charged with decrescent and mullet of fourteen points Or.” This means “a red flag with seven horizontal white stripes; the upper-left (hoist) quarter is blue with a yellow waning crescent (i.e. horns pointing to sinister) and a yellow 14-pointed star.”


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Malaysia does not have a president. The country operates under a Constitutional Monarchy (A Royal head of state, a head of government and a parliament) and the reigning king is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

The culture of Malaysia draws on the varied cultures of the different people of Malaysia. The first people to live in the area were indigenous tribes that still remain; they were followed by the Malays, who moved there from mainland Asia in ancient times. Chinese and Indian cultural influences made their mark when trade began with those countries, and increased with immigration to Malaysia. Other cultures that heavily influenced that of Malaysia include Persian, Arabic, and British. The many different ethnicities that currently exist in Malaysia have their own unique and distinctive cultural identities, with some crossover. Arts and music have a long tradition in Malaysia, with Malay art dating back to the Malay sultanates. Traditional art was centred around fields such as carving, silversmithing, and weaving. Islamic taboos restricted artwork depicting humans until the mid-20th century.

Performing arts and shadow puppet shows are popular, and often show Indian influences. Various influences can be seen in architecture, from individual cultures in Malaysia and from other countries. Large modern structures have been built, including the tallest twin buildings in the world, the Petronas Twin Towers. Malaysian music has a variety of origins, and is largely based around percussion instruments. Much early Malaysian literature was based on Indian epics, which remained unchanged even as Malays converted to Islam; this has expanded in recent decades. English literature remained restricted to the higher class until the arrival of the printing press. Locally created Chinese and Indian literature appeared in the 19th century. Cuisine is often divided along ethnic lines, but some dishes exist which have mixed foods from different ethnicities.

Each major religious group has its major holy days declared as official holidays. Official holidays differ by state; the most widespread one is Hari Merdeka, which celebrates the independence of Malaya. Although festivals often stem from a specific ethnic background, they are celebrated by all people in Malaysia. Traditional sports are popular in Malaysia, while it has become a powerhouse in international sports such as badminton. Malaysia hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1998, the first Commonwealth Games where the torch passed through more countries than England and the host. The Malaysian government has taken the step of defining Malaysian Culture through the “1971 National Culture Policy”, which defined what was considered official culture, basing it around Malay culture and integrating Islamic influences. This especially affected language; only Malay texts are considered official cultural texts. Government control over the media is strong, and most media outlets are related to the government in some way.

Malaysian Traditions

An ancient art in Malaysia which continues to be extremely popular is the art of crafting the “Wau”, a large and colourful Malaysian kite. The name derives from the similarity of its wing to the Arabic letter pronounced “wow”. There are numerous types of wau, for example the wau merak (peacock kite) or wau kuching (cat kite). Malaysian Traditions It is not a surprise that in a country where nature is so intricately involved in providing for all of the inhabitants needs that their leisure time would also centre around it while involving art in such a complex way. The waus are meticulously designed and fashioned in vivacious colours and intricate patterns and the competitions now draw participants from around the globe. Another very important part of Malaysian culture is the art of Pencak Silat, or “fighting by using techniques of self defense”. The goal of Pencak Silat is to build and develop personality, noble character and honor and those who train the art are training and exercising their control over their spiritual and mental energies while tuning their physical abilities. When using the art in combat, the Silat practitioner will continuously combine positions and stances with movements until an opening presents itself in their opponent’s defence, at which time they strike with a fast attack.

The art is practiced not only at cultural events with traditional music and costumes and appears as a dance but is also currently applying for recognition as an Olympic sport. Silat demonstrations can be commonly found. And no mention of Malaysian culture and sports would be complete without mentioning “Sepak Takraw”, or “Kick Volleyball” which has been popular in Malaysia since the early 1400’s. The basic rules of the game allow only the head and feet of the participants to touch the ball, made out of “rattan” or palms somewhat similar to bamboo on the outside. A close observation of a traditional rattan ball would appear to most westerners to be made out of wicker, with several holes covering the surface. Malaysian folklore is especially colourful and varied, a result no doubt of the influence of the numerous cultures which helped shape the history and identity of the country.

Batu Caves, Malaysia
The Batu Caves are a series of spectacular 400 million year old chambers beneath limestone hills just 30 minutes north of Kuala Lumpur. At the mouth of the cave complex, an enormous gold statue of Lord Murugan stands guard; at almost 43 meters in height, it is the worlds largest statue of this beloved Hindu deity. Visitors access the caves via an imposing staircase of 272 steps, each one individually numbered.

Once inside the caves, beneath the 100 meter cathedral-like ceilings, the atmosphere takes on an intensely spiritual quality, as worshipers pay their respects at the important Hindu shrines and temples. Below the temple cave, the dark cave is home to stunning rock formations and a number of animals species that are unique to the area. In the interests of conservation, entry to this relatively untouched cave complex is restricted. Elsewhere around the caves, bird life, fruit bats, spiders and Macaque monkeys are to be seen. The monkeys however, should be avoided as they can bite and will steal food and other items from unsuspecting tourists.

The Batu Caves attracts visitors throughout the year, particularly during the annual Thaipusam festival when the temple complex – the most popular outside India – becomes the focal point for over 1.5 million pilgrims. In recent years the caves and surrounding hills have become the centre for Malaysian rock climbing and the site offers over 160 routes of various grades.

Petronas Tower Taman Negara

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Culture of Malaysia. (2017, Jan 10). Retrieved from

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