Malaysia Culture
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Malaysia Culture & People of Malaysia. Traditional music, dance dramas, wayang kulit, silat, crafts
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Malaysia - People & Culture

People

Malaysia is a multicultural society. While Malays and other indigenous minorities make up a 69% majority, there are also 21% Chinese (especially visible in the cities), 8% Indian and a miscellaneous grouping of 10% "others", many of them tribes from the jungles of East Malaysia. There is hence also a profusion of faiths and religions, with Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism and even shamanism on the map. Some Malaysians can be very extroverted and might talk to you uninvited but most Malaysians are shy at heart and are careful not to offend others, especially tourists. However, Malaysians are very friendly when approached and will usually go out of their way to help tourists find their way around if possible.

Culture

Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multilingual society, consisting of 65% Malays and other indigenous tribes, 25% Chinese, 7% Indians. The Malays, which form the largest community, are all Muslims since one has to be Muslim to be legally Malay under Malaysian law. The Malays play a dominant role politically and are included in a grouping identified as bumiputra. Their native language is Malay (Bahasa Melayu). Bahasa Malaysia which is largely similar to Bahasa Melayu in most practical terms is the national language of the country.

In the past, Malay was written widely in Jawi, a script based on Arabic. Over time, romanized script overtook Jawi as the dominant script. This was largely due to the influence of the colonial education system which taught children in romanised writing rather than in Arabic script.

The largest indigenous tribe in terms of numbers is the Iban of Sarawak, who number over 600,000. Some Iban still live in traditional jungle villages in longhouses along the Rajang and Lupar rivers and their tributaries, although many have moved to the cities. The Bidayuh (170,000) are concentrated in the south-western part of Sarawak. The largest indigenous tribe in Sabah is the Kadazan. They are largely Christian subsistence farmers. The Orang Asli (140,000), or aboriginal peoples, comprise a number of different ethnic communities living in Peninsular Malaysia. Traditionally nomadic hunter-gatherers and agriculturists, many have been sedentarised and partially absorbed into modern Malaysia. However, they remain the poorest group in the country.

The Chinese population in Malaysia is mostly Buddhist (of Mahayana sect), Taoist or Christian. Chinese in Malaysia speak a variety of Chinese dialects including Mandarin Chinese, Hokkien/Fujian, Cantonese, Hakka and Teochew. Many Chinese in Malaysia also speak English as a first language. Chinese have historically been dominant in the Malaysian business community.

The Indians in Malaysia are mainly Hindu Tamils from southern India, speaking Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Hindi, living mainly in the larger towns on the west coast of the peninsula. Many middle to upper-middle class Indians in Malaysia also speak English as a first language. There is also a sizeable Sikh community in Malaysia with over 83,000 of them live here.

Eurasians, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and indigenous tribes make up the remaining population. A small number of Eurasians, of mixed Portuguese and Malay descent, speak a Portuguese-based creole, called Papiá Kristang. There are also Eurasians of mixed Malay and Spanish descent, mostly in Sabah. Descended from immigrants from the Philippines, some speak Chavacano, the only Spanish-based creole language in Asia. Cambodians and Vietnamese are mostly Buddhists (Cambodians of Theravada sect and Vietnamese, Mahayana sect).

Malaysian traditional music is heavily influenced by Chinese and Islamic forms. The music is based largely around the gendang (drum), but includes other percussion instruments (some made of shells); the rebab, a bowed string instrument; the serunai, a double-reed oboe-like instrument; flutes, and trumpets. The country has a strong tradition of dance and dance dramas, some of Thai, Indian and Portuguese origin. Other artistic forms include wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre), silat (a stylised martial art) and crafts such as batik, weaving, and silver and brasswork.

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