People familiar with Malaysian culture often say Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures. The first thing you notice about the country is its astonishing ethnic diversity. The country boasts a very diverse population of Malays, Chinese, Indians, and other ethnicities, which may be one of the most diverse populations in the world. However, these differences are not just skin deep. Malaysians of different races and cultures tend to have subtle differences in culture and language.
The language spoken by Malaysian people is called Malay. It is a widespread Austronesian language spoken by all Malay people who reside in the Malay Peninsula, the Philippines, parts of the coast of Borneo, southern Thailand, Singapore, central eastern Sumatra, the Riau Islands, Cocos, and Christmas Islands in Australia.
Malay is similar to Indonesian. Malay is officially known as Bahasa Malaysia, which translates to “Malaysian language.” This term was introduced in 1967 by the National Language Act. Once most academics and government officials reverted to “Bahasa Melayu” in 1990, Bahasa Malaysia became the official name used in the Malay version of the Federal Constitution.
Ethnic Groups Of Malaysia
About 25% of the Malaysian population consists of Malaysian Chinese, who speak using three main dialects of the Chinese language: Hokkien, Cantonese, and Mandarin. Chinese Malaysians are descendants of immigrants who came mainly from China during British rule in Malaya (now Malaysia) or after independence in 1957.
They are followed by Indian Malaysians, who make up 10% of the country’s population, and are usually descendants of South Indians who were brought into the country under British colonial rule. The Malaysian Indian community is one of the oldest in Malaysia and has been an essential part of society for more than 100 years. They had a significant impact on the cultural development of Malaysian society.
Malaysian Religion And Festivals
Malaysian people are very religious, and their festivals usually revolve around the religion they follow. They were witnessing a local festival while traveling is a great way to get to know the diverse culture of Malaysia. Malaysia has many different religions, all practiced equally, including Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and Buddhism. Islam is the country’s largest and official religion, and many Penang people have converted to Islam or Christianity as well.
Several major festivals in Malaysia, including Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Awal Muharram, and Kaamatan Festival, some of the most important ones. Awal Muharram is also known as Ashura, and it’s an Islamic holiday to commemorate the death anniversary of Imam Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of Prophet Muhammad. It marks the beginning of the Islamic New Year, and is a time for Muslims to remember those who have died in battle and their ancestors.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri is the Islamic New Year that marks the end of Ramadan, a month-long period of fasting and prayer. The celebrations last for three days in Malaysia. Today, Muslims are expected to dress in their best clothes and visit homes and mosques.
Kaamatan Festival is celebrated in Malaysia to honor the harvest season. Today, people wear traditional clothes and perform dances for their ancestors.
Picture this: Large windows also help to keep houses cool during the hot season. Wood felled from the rainforests has always been the traditional material for Malay homes and palaces. Buildings in the western Malay state of Negeri Sembilan are held together without using a single nail! Villages built over the water are constructed on stilts and linked together by planks used as walkways. These are all part of Malay architecture!
Many of Malaysia’s numerous architectural wonders were influenced by colonial rulers, the British, Dutch, and Portuguese. The British were responsible for designing many of the buildings in Kuala Lumpur during their colonial rule. These include landmarks like the Selangor Club House (1930) and Istana Negara (the royal palace). You can find out about some of the most popular Malaysian architectural miracles by following this link to the article about Malaysian architecture.
We shouldn’t forget that many beautiful mosques in Malaysia have Islamic and European influences that can be explored throughout the length and breadth of the country.
The most famous architecture in Malaysia is the Malay vernacular. It is a mixture of Hindu, Islamic, and Chinese influences. The design used indigenous materials such as wood, bamboo, and thatch for roofing. These buildings are usually small with one or two rooms but can be more significant than this if needed.
Traditional Malay Music
Traditional Malay music relies heavily on percussion. There are more than a dozen types of drums of all shapes and sizes, as well as other percussion instruments produced from natural materials. Accompanying the percussion section, visitors to the country are likely to hear the bowed strings of the rebab, the flute-like ruling, the oboe-like serunai, and a chorus of trumpets. A pair of symbols and a knobbed gong are sometimes added to the orchestra. For centuries, music in Malaysia has been used to celebrate important annual events and tell stories, as well as to communicate with others over long distances.
Traditional Malay Cuisine
Because the Malay peninsula was positioned on the spice route, traditional Malay cuisine takes its influence from surrounding countries, including Sumatra, Java, Thailand, India, and China. Visitors should make sure they try Nasi Lemak, the country’s national dish. Nasi is Malay for rice, and Lemak simply translates as tasty. Rice boiled with coconut milk, and a variety of spices is served with roasted peanuts, fried dried anchovies, and Sambal (shrimp paste and chili sauce). Side dishes include fried chicken, calamari, tofu, and egg.
Traditional Malay Dancing
Introduced by Islamic traders and missionaries way back in the 14th century, the Zapin form was originally used to spread the word of God and was once the preserve of male musicians and dancers but now includes Malay women. Since then, Zapin has been incorporated into the Malay culture and features Malay instruments, including the accordion, violin, and hand drum.
Popular in the southern parts of the Malay archipelago. Zapin Pulau is a form of dance adopted by fishing communities and incorporates dance movements influenced by the movement of the sea, and Zapin Lenga, adopted by the farmers, tells stories of life on the land. Other dance and music styles include the courtly Inang, with its fast, graceful movements; Asli, which is slow-paced and elegant; and Joget, which is fast-paced, catchy, and particularly popular at weddings.
Traditional Malay Literature
Malay literature has its routes in a strong oral tradition. Epic Indian stories were popular, and when Islam arrived, the stories were adapted to have more universal themes. The arrival of the printing press meant the stories in manuscripts that were only available to royalty and the very rich became more accessible to ordinary Malays in the Malay language. Important texts include the Sejarah Melayu or “The Malay Annals”, which tells of the rise and fall of the Malay maritime empire. Hikayat Sang Kancil is a popular folktale that tells the story of a clever mouse deer.
Traditional Malay Sports
Although Malaysia has adopted sports from abroad, including football, badminton, and squash, traditional Malay sports remain popular. These include Sepak takraw, where a rattan ball is kicked high between players without touching the ground. Wau is traditional kite flying, where intricately designed kites are flown high. Bamboo attachments cause the kites to hum in the breeze. Dragon boat racing is also a popular pastime, and visitors to Malaysia should try to add the spectacle to their itineraries.
Malaysian Culture And Etiquette
Greetings: Malay women do not shake hands with men. They only do so with women, whereas those of Malay Chinese descent shake hands lightly for a long time. In terms of who to greet first, It is generally considered polite to welcome the older family members first.
Common Ways To Greet Someone In Malaysia
|Good Afternoon/Good Day||selamat tengahari/selamat siang|
|Long time no see.||Lama tak jumpa.|
|It’s been a while!||Sudah agak lama!|
|Welcome back!||Selamat kembali!|
Gift giving: If you’re invited to someone’s home, bring chocolate or pastries. Do not expect the gift to be opened in front of you; only give gifts with your right or both hands. Malay Chinese may decline the gift before accepting it.
|Look what I have for you!||Lihat apa yang saya ada untuk anda!|
|I thought you might like this.||Saya fikir anda mungkin suka ini.|
|Here’s a little present for you.||Ini sedikit hadiah untuk anda.|
|I got you something.||Saya ada bagi awak sesuatu.|
|I hope you like it.||Saya harap awak sukakannya.|
|Thank you, I love it!||Terima kasih, saya suka!|
|What a surprise!||Sungguh tak disangka!|
|It is wonderful.||Ia adalah indah.|
|You shouldn’t have!||You shouldn’t have!|
|That’s so kind!||Itu sangat baik!|
Dress code: Western clothing is popular and acceptable, and there are no rules to follow. However, we advise you to wear conservative clothes when leaving urban areas and visiting more rural and traditional regions.
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