16+ Malaysian Ethnic Groups: An Easy Guide!

Malaysian Ethnic Groups_ling app_learn Malay_group hug (1)

Two things about the population of Malaysia blow my mind, one is the food, and the other is the diversity. It may be due to the indigenous groups and many cultures living together as one nation. Let’s look at this closely as we review some essential facts about Malaysian ethnic groups. Let’s start!

We know that learning the language is a good thing, but perhaps you’re wondering why it makes sense to get to know the ethnic groups, right? Well, learning about the ethnic groups of Malaysia can provide a deeper understanding and appreciation of the country’s cultural diversity and history. It can also help to promote cross-cultural understanding and respect and can be beneficial for communication and interaction with Malay people from different ethnic backgrounds.

Planning to study at a university in Malaysia? Aside from the language, knowledge about the various ethnic groups in the country can also be helpful in fields such as anthropology, sociology, and politics or industries such as tourism and international business.

Ready to learn more? Let’s start by answering the biggest question of them all…

What’s The Difference Between Ethnicity And Race?

This question is genuinely perplexing. What could be the difference between etnik or ethnicity and keturunan or race? It’s really simple, though! To put it simply, race is dividing people according to their looks and social status. And ethnicity is dividing people according to their culture, heritage, geographical location, religion, language, and customs.

The other big question is: Is Malay an ethnic group or race? Well, here’s a simple answer: It is an ethnic group. The people around the Malay peninsula, the East coast of Sumatra, and coastal Borneo are collectively the people of the Malay World. The ethnicity is further identified because they practice Malay customs like traditional dressing, respect for parents, prayers on Friday following the laws of Islam, and even their homes are made uniquely.

List Of Malaysian Ethnic Groups

Following the data of 2022, almost 70% of the Malaysian population is Bumiputera. 23 % are ethnic Chinese, the second largest ethnic group, and 7% are ethnic Indians. Besides these three main ethnic groups, the others are called “other indigenous groups.” Let’s look at them!

Malaysian Chinese

They are also known as Orang Cina or Kaum Cina. They came to Malaysia after the 14th century and, since then, made it their home.

Iban People

They are in southeast Asia called the Dayak peoples or Sea Dayaks. They settled in Borneo.

Murut People

These are the people of Northern Borneo who inhabit 29 sub-ethnic Malays and are indigenous peoples.


Heralding from the south Asian island of Sumatra in Indonesia, the Batak are well worth seeking out for their distinctive music, which features intricate rhythms and melodies played on traditional instruments such as the gendang (drum) and the seruling (flute).

The Batak ethnic group is also known for its unique architecture, which features traditional houses made of wood and thatch roofs. Christianity is the predominant religion among the Batak ethnic group, but many also practice traditional Batak beliefs and rituals.


It also can be written and pronounced as Bumiputra or Orang Asli. Orang Asli is the word used to refer to the Malays, meaning “son of the soil” or “son of the land.”


They are the indigenous peoples in the highlands of Borneo. A few can also be found in Brunei, and UNESCO documents their heritage.


There are thousands of Kedayan people in Brunei, southwest of Sabah, north of Sarawak, and in the Federal Territory of Labuan. History states that a Sultan interested in farming techniques brought farmers from Java who intermarried with Bruneian Malays, and the Kedayan people were birthed.

Lun Bawang

Mostly called Muruts, they are recognized formerly in the Malaysian constitution as the native of Sarawak’s population and are under the Orang Ulu people.

Tausug People

They are an ethnic group belonging to both the Philippines and Malaysia. The word Tausug means the people of current or sea current.


It means “inhabitants of the land.” It is the name of several indigenous groups in South Sarawak, Kalimantan, and Borneo. The durian fruit is famous among the Bidayuhs, and they have over 25 dialects.

Malaysian Ethnic Groups - Ling App-Bidayuh
Malaysian Ethnic Groups – Bidayuh

Kadazan People

They are primarily found in Penampang in the west of Sabah. With politics involved, the name was changed to Kadazan Dusun, combining two groups and making the largest group in Sabah.

Kayan People

They are people of central Borneo with their religion called Kan Khwan. There is a belief that they originate from a man who was a part human and part angel and a woman who was a dragon.

Penan People

They are a nomadic community and are pretty small in numbers. They are best identified as hunters and gatherers, practicing medicine using plants and animal skin as clothing.


These are people of dark skin and a diverse ethnic group found in Semang, Peninsular Malaysia. They are also living in the Philippines and the Andamans.

Minangkabau People

The Minangs are known for their matrilineal systems, meaning their inheritance, titles, and so on are from their mother’s line. They are one of the world’s largest groups still following this principle. Their customs is based also on “Adat basandi syarak, syarak basandi Kitabullah” which means “Adat is based on Sharia, Sharia is based on the Quran.” They are known for being the world’s largest matrilineal society, where property and inheritance are passed down through the female line. Additionally, the Minangkabau are also known for their unique architecture, which features distinctive curved roofs and intricate woodcarvings that have become an integral part of the Malay culture.


The Bugis are an ethnic group originating from the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. They are known for their seafaring skills and prowess as traders and sailors. This ethnic group is also known for its unique architecture, which features distinctive houses built on stilts and decorated with intricate carvings. Interestingly, the Bugis decided to convert away from Islam to Animism in 1605.

According to the locals, the most influential people in politics come from this ethnic group. Several presidents, vice presidents, and prime ministers have come from among the Bugis people.

Kenyah People

They live in very remote locations in Sarawak, Malaysia. They are ordinary people with 40 subgroups of ethnicities under them. They are incredibly creative and musical.


The Javanese are the largest ethnic group in Indonesia, one of the significant non-Malay indigenous groups, and have a colorful cultural heritage. Over the centuries, this culture and heritage have significantly influenced Malaysia’s population. The Javanese are known for their love of dance, music, and poetry, and their traditions and customs are deeply rooted in their history and religion. Although like Malaysia, the Javanese were Indianized and, therefore, historically Hindu, Islam took over in the late 15th century.

Although Islam is the predominant religion among the Javanese, many also practice traditional Javanese beliefs and rituals. The Javanese language is also widely spoken in Indonesia and is loved for its gentle and poetic quality.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it, folks! A glimpse of how unique Malaysia is in its ethnicity. Ready to connect with people hailing from these groups? There’s nothing more we can recommend than learning the Malay language! After all, it’s only through languages that you can get a deeper understanding of what the country offers. And speaking of learning, we’ve got an app to recommend!

Learn Malay with Ling
Learn Malay With The Ling App

Learn Malay With The Ling App

Learning a new language like Malay can be challenging, but using a language-learning app like Ling can make the process more efficient and effective. One of the main benefits of using the Ling app is that it allows you to learn at your own pace and schedule. You can access the app whenever you have a spare moment, whether during your commute, lunch break, or evening before bed. This flexibility can make it easier to fit language learning into your busy schedule.

Another benefit of using the Ling app is that it provides various learning methods, such as interactive exercises and audio and video lessons. This can supercharge the learning process by making it exciting and engaging and allowing you to focus on the areas of the language that you find most challenging. With a variety of features and methods, you can tailor your learning journey.

Ready to try it out? Download the Ling app to your mobile today with Google Play and App Store.

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