Malaysia Culture Essay

Malaysian culture is a harmonious melting-pot of many different Asian cultures, all co-existing together in one country. The famous slogan used by the Malaysian Tourism Promotion Board in their ads is Malaysia- Truly Asia. While Malaysia has a lot to offer visitors to her shores, one of the truly unique attractions on offer is the country’s people. After all, what is a country without its people? The largest community in Malaysia is the Malays, accounting for 50% of the population.

It is a widely held belief that the ancestors of the Malays were very likely the first civilization to inhabit Malaysia.

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Excluding the small pockets of indigenous people, the Malays are believed to be first settlers all along the Malay Peninsula. In fact, it is because of this that they are afforded privileged status in Malaysia’s Constitution, where they, along with the indigenous folk are deemed to be Bumiputras (the literal translation being ‘son of earth’).

Many of the Malay families today can trace their ancestry back to Javanese, Bugis and Minang sailors from Indonesia.

All Malays are Muslims, as enshrined in the Constitution. The language most commonly used within the community is Malay, also known as Bahasa Melayu (literal translation being ‘Malay language’) and their stance as moderate Muslims emphasizes being warm, good-natured and well-mannered. As a majority community, and given certain special privileges due to their status as a Bumiputra, the Malays play a dominant role in Malaysia’s politics.

Being the largest community, Malaysian culture has been heavily influenced by Malay contributions, most notably with Batik (patterned cloth), wau bulan flying (traditional kite flying), wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre), dikir barat (traditional group singing with instrumental accompaniment) and silat (a stylized martial art). Because a significant portion of the Malay families have a lineage that stretches back several centuries to Indonesia, the music and art of the Malays bear some resemblance to those of its neighbours.

However, upon closer inspection, there are definitely distinct differences between the two. Thus, the Malays’ contributions to the country’s culture are uniquely Malaysian. Next we come to the Chinese, who account for 26% of the country’s population and is Malaysia’s second largest community. The Chinese in Malaysia today are a legacy of the Chinese merchants who plied their trade in Malacca during the 14th and 15th centuries and the Chinese who immigrated to the country during British rule in order to work the lucrative tin mines.

The Chinese have shown minimal assimilation. They have adapted very well to life in this South-east Asian country, but a huge majority of them still have very strong ties with their parent culture, and can even trace back their roots to China’s various provinces. Many have even taken a pilgrimage back to China to trace or renew old relations. The main religion among the Chinese in Malaysia is Buddhism and Taoism, though many have also converted to Christianity.

Not surprising considering that most of them can trace their ancestry back to the Chinese merchants and traders of old, the Chinese in Malaysia possess an incredibly strong entrepreneurship spirit, being very dominant in the country’s economy and business sectors. Because of their minimal assimilation, a large majority of the community are fluent in Mandarin or various other Chinese dialects.

However, this might not necessarily be the case among the younger generation, some of whom speak English as their first language. And we come to Indians, who make up approximately 8% of the population and whose lineage follows the same line at those of the Chinese: Indian traders during the hey-days of the Malacca Sultanate and Indian immigrants, brought in during British rule in order to work as laborers in the various plantations dotting the Malayan landscape.

Tamil and English are the two most common languages of communication between the Indians in Malaysia. The community’s contributions to the country are very substantial, disproportionate to their relatively small size compared to the Malays and the Chinese. To this day, they play an integral in influencing Malaysia’s cultural landscape.

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