Outsiders often mistakenly refer to things Malaysian as simply "Malay," reflecting only one of the ethnic groups in the society. Malaysians refer to their national culture as kebudayaan Malaysia in the national language.
Identification. Within Malaysian society there is a Malay culture, a Chinese culture, an Indian culture, a Eurasian culture, along with the cultures of the indigenous groups of the peninsula and north Borneo. A unified Malaysian culture is something only emerging in the country. The important social distinction in the emergent national culture is between Malay and non-Malay, represented by two groups: the Malay elite that dominates the country's politics, and the largely Chinese middle class whose prosperous lifestyle leads Malaysia's shift to a consumer society. The two groups mostly live in the urban areas of the Malay Peninsula's west coast, and their sometimes competing, sometimes parallel influences shape the shared life of Malaysia's citizens. Sarawak and Sabah, the two Malaysian states located in north Borneo, tend to be less a influential part of the national culture, and their vibrant local cultures are shrouded by the bigger, wealthier peninsular society.
Location and Geography. Malaysia is physically split between west and east, parts united into one country in 1963. Western Malaysia is on the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, and stretches from the Thai border to the island of Singapore. Eastern Malaysia includes the territories of Sabah and Sarawak on the north end of Borneo, separated by the country of Brunei. Peninsular Malaysia is divided into west and east by a central mountain range called the Banjaran Titiwangsa. Most large cities, heavy industry, and immigrant groups are concentrated on the west coast; the east coast is less populated, more agrarian, and demographically more Malay. The federal capital is in the old tinmining center of Kuala Lumpur, located in the middle of the western immigrant belt, but its move to the new Kuala Lumpur suburb of Putra Jaya will soon be complete.
Demography. Malaysia's population comprises twenty-three million people, and throughout its history the territory has been sparsely populated relative to its land area. The government aims for increasing the national population to seventy million by the year 2100. Eighty percent of the population lives on the peninsula. The most important Malaysian demographic statistics are of ethnicity: 60 percent are classified as Malay, 25 percent as of Chinese descent, 10 percent of Indian descent, and 5 percent as others. These population figures have an important place in peninsular history, because Malaysia as a country was created with demography in mind. Malay leaders in the 1930s and 1940s organized their community around the issue of curbing immigration. After independence, Malaysia was created when the Borneo territories with their substantial indigenous populations were added to Malaya as a means of exceeding the great number of Chinese and Indians in the country.
Linguistic Affiliation. Malay became Malaysia's sole national language in 1967 and has been institutionalized with a modest degree of success. The Austronesian language has an illustrious history as a lingua franca throughout the region, though English is also widely spoken because it was the administrative language of the British colonizers. Along with Malay and English other languages are popular: many Chinese Malaysians speak some combination of Cantonese, Hokkien, and/or Mandarin; most Indian Malaysians speak Tamil; and
Symbolism. The selection of official cultural symbols is a source of tension. In such a diverse society, any national emblem risks privileging one group over another. For example, the king is the symbol of the state, as well as a sign of Malay political hegemony. Since ethnic diversity rules out the use of kin or blood metaphors to stand for Malaysia, the society often emphasizes natural symbols, including the sea turtle, the hibiscus flower, and the orangutan. The country's economic products and infrastructure also provide national logos for Malaysia; the national car (Proton), Malaysia Airlines, and the Petronas Towers (the world's tallest buildings) have all come to symbolize modern Malaysia. The government slogan "Malaysia Boleh!" (Malaysia Can!) is meant to encourage even greater accomplishments. A more humble, informal symbol for society is a salad called rojak, a favorite Malaysian snack, whose eclectic mix of ingredients evokes the population's diversity.
History and Ethnic Relations
Emergence of the Nation. The name Malaysia comes from an old term for the entire Malay archipelago. A geographically truncated Malaysia emerged out of the territories colonized by Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Britain's representatives gained varying degrees of control through agreements with the Malay rulers of the peninsular states, often made by deceit or force. Britain was attracted to the Malay peninsula by its vast reserves of tin, and later found that the rich soil was also highly productive for growing rubber trees. Immigrants from south China and south India came to British Malaya as labor, while the Malay population worked in small holdings and rice cultivation. What was to become East Malaysia had different colonial administrations: Sarawak was governed by a British family, the Brookes (styled as the "White Rajas"), and Sabah was run by the British North Borneo Company. Together the cosmopolitan hub of British interests was Singapore, the central port and center of publishing, commerce, education, and administration. The climactic event in forming Malaysia was the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia from 1942-1945. Japanese rule helped to invigorate a growing anti-colonial movement, which flourished following the British return after the war. When the British attempted to organize their administration of Malaya into one unit to be called the Malayan Union, strong Malay protests to what seemed to usurp their historical claim to the territory forced the British to modify the plan. The other crucial event was the largely Chinese communist rebellion in 1948 that remained strong to the mid-1950s. To address Malay criticisms and to promote counter-insurgency, the British undertook a vast range of nation-building efforts. Local conservatives and radicals alike developed their own attempts to foster unity among the disparate Malayan population. These grew into the Federation of Malaya, which gained independence in 1957. In 1963, with the addition of Singapore and the north Borneo territories, this federation became Malaysia. Difficulties of integrating the predominately Chinese population of Singapore into Malaysia remained, and under Malaysian directive Singapore became an independent republic in 1965.
National Identity. Throughout Malaysia's brief history, the shape of its national identity has been a crucial question: should the national culture be essentially Malay, a hybrid, or separate ethnic entities? The question reflects the tension between the indigenous claims of the Malay population and the cultural and citizenship rights of the immigrant groups. A tentative solution came when the Malay, Chinese, and Indian elites who negotiated independence struck what has been called "the bargain." Their informal deal exchanged Malay political dominance for immigrant citizenship and unfettered economic pursuit. Some provisions of independence were more formal, and the constitution granted several Malay "special rights" concerning land, language, the place of the Malay Rulers, and Islam, based on their indigenous status. Including the Borneo territories and Singapore in Malaysia revealed the fragility of "the bargain." Many Malays remained poor; some Chinese politicians wanted greater political power. These fractures in Malaysian society prompted Singapore's expulsion and produced the watershed of contemporary Malaysian life, the May 1969 urban unrest in Kuala Lumpur. Violence left hundreds dead; parliament was suspended for two years. As a result of this experience the government placed tight curbs on political debate of national cultural issues and began a comprehensive program of affirmative action for the Malay population. This history hangs over all subsequent attempts to encourage official integration of Malaysian society. In the 1990s a government plan to blend the population into a single group called "Bangsa Malaysia" has generated excitement and criticism from different constituencies of the population. Continuing debates demonstrate that Malaysian national identity remains unsettled.
Ethnic Relations. Malaysia's ethnic diversity is both a blessing and a source of stress. The melange makes Malaysia one of the most cosmopolitan places on earth, as it helps sustain international relationships with the many societies represented in Malaysia: the Indonesian archipelago, the Islamic world, India, China, and Europe. Malaysians easily exchange ideas and techniques with the rest of the world, and have an influence in global affairs. The same diversity presents seemingly intractable problems of social cohesion, and the threat of ethnic violence adds considerable tension to Malaysian politics.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space
Urban and rural divisions are reinforced by ethnic diversity with agricultural areas populated primarily by indigenous Malays and immigrants mostly in cities. Chinese dominance of commerce means that most towns, especially on the west coast of the peninsula, have a central road lined by Chinese shops. Other ethnic features influence geography: a substantial part of the Indian population was brought in to work on the rubber plantations, and many are still on the rural estates; some Chinese, as a part of counter-insurgency, were rounded up into what were called "new villages." A key part of the 1970s affirmative action policy has been to increase the number of Malays living in the urban areas, especially Kuala Lumpur. Governmental use of Malay and Islamic architectural aesthetics in new buildings also adds to the Malay urban presence. Given the tensions of ethnicity, the social use of space carries strong political dimensions. Public gatherings of five or more people require a police permit, and a ban on political rallies successfully limits the appearance of crowds in Malaysia. It is therefore understandable that Malaysians mark a
A house on Langkawi Island. Land ownership is a controversial issue in Malaysia, where indigenous groups are struggling to protect their claims from commercial interests.
Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life. Malaysia's diversity has blessed the country with one of the most exquisite cuisines in the world, and elements of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cooking are both distinct and blended together. Rice and noodles are common to all cuisine; spicy dishes are also favorites. Tropical fruits grow in abundance, and a local favorite is the durian, known by its spiked shell and fermented flesh whose pungent aroma and taste often separates locals from foreigners. Malaysia's affluence means that increasing amounts of meat and processed foods supplement the country's diet, and concerns about the health risks of their high-fat content are prominent in the press. This increased affluence also allows Malaysians to eat outside the home more often; small hawker stalls offer prepared food twenty-four hours a day in urban areas. Malaysia's ethnic diversity is apparent in food prohibitions: Muslims are forbidden to eat pork which is a favorite of the Chinese population; Hindus do not eat beef; some Buddhists are vegetarian. Alcohol consumption also separates non-Muslims from Muslims.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. When Malaysians have guests they tend to be very fastidious about hospitality, and an offer of food is a critical etiquette requirement. Tea or coffee is usually prepared along with small snacks for visitors. These refreshments sit in front of the guest until the host signals for them to be eaten. As a sign of accepting the host's hospitality the guest must at least sip the beverage and taste the food offered. These dynamics occur on a grander scale during a holiday open house. At celebrations marking important ethnic and religious holidays, many Malaysian families host friends and neighbors to visit and eat holiday delicacies. The visits of people from other ethnic groups and religions on these occasions are taken as evidence of Malaysian national amity.
Basic Economy. Malaysia has long been integrated into the global economy. Through the early decades of the twentieth century, the Malay peninsula was a world leader in the production of tin (sparked by the Western demand for canned food) and natural rubber (needed to make automobile tires). The expansion of Malaysia's industrialization heightened its dependence on imports for food and other necessities.
Land Tenure and Property. Land ownership is a controversial issue in Malaysia. Following the rubber boom the British colonial government, eager to placate the Malay population, designated portions of land as Malay reservations. Since this land could only be sold to other Malays, planters and speculators were limited in what they could purchase. Malay reserve land made ethnicity a state concern because land disputes could only be settled with a legal definition of who was considered Malay. These land tenure arrangements are still in effect and are crucial to Malay identity. In fact the Malay claim to political dominance is that they are bumiputera (sons of the soil). Similar struggles exist in east Malaysia, where the land rights of indigenous groups are bitterly disputed with loggers eager to harvest the timber for export. Due to their different colonial heritage, indigenous groups in Sarawak and Sabah have been less successful in maintaining their territorial claims.
Commercial Activities. Basic necessities in Malaysia have fixed prices and, like many developing countries, banking, retail, and other services are tightly regulated. The country's commerce correlates with ethnicity, and government involvement has helped Malays to compete in commercial activities long dominated by ethnic Chinese. Liberalization of business and finance proceeds with these ethnic dynamics in mind.
Major Industries. The boom and bust in primary commodities such as rubber and tin have given Malaysian society a cyclical rhythm tied to fickle external demand. In the 1970s the government began to diversify the economy (helped by an increase in oil exports) and Malaysia is now well on its way to becoming an industrial country. The country has a growing automotive industry, a substantial light-manufacturing sector (textiles, air conditioners, televisions, and VCRs), and an expanding high technology capacity (especially semi-conductors).
Trade. Malaysia's prominent place in the global economy as one of the world's twenty largest trading nations is an important part of its identity as a society. Primary trading partners include Japan, Singapore, and the United States, with Malaysia importing industrial components and exporting finished products. Palm oil, rubber, tropical hardwoods, and petroleum products are important commodities.
Division of Labor. The old ethnic division of labor (Malays in agriculture, Indians in the professions and plantations, and Chinese in mining and commerce) has steadily eroded. In its place, the Malaysian workforce is increasingly divided by class and citizenship. Educated urban professionals fill the offices of large companies in a multi-ethnic blend. Those without educational qualifications work in factories, petty trade, and agricultural small holdings. As much as 20 percent of the workforce is foreign, many from Indonesia and the Philippines, and dominate sectors such as construction work and domestic service.
Classes and Castes. Class position in Malaysia depends on a combination of political connections, specialized skills, ability in English, and family money. The Malaysian elite, trained in overseas universities, is highly cosmopolitan and continues to grow in dominance as Malaysia's middle class expands. Even with the substantial stratification of society by ethnicity, similar class experiences in business and lifestyle are bridging old barriers.
Symbols of Social Stratification. In Malaysia's market economy, consumption provides the primary symbols of stratification. Newly wealthy Malaysians learn how to consume by following the lead of the Malay royalty and the prosperous business families of Chinese descent. A mobile phone, gold jewelry, and fashionable clothing all indicate one's high rank in the Malaysian social order. Given the striking mobility of Malaysian society, one's vehicle marks class position even more than home ownership. Most Malaysians can distinguish the difference between makes of cars, and access to at least a motor scooter is a requirement for participation in contemporary Malaysian social life. Kuala Lumpur has more motor vehicles than people. Skin color, often indicative of less or more time working in the hot tropical sun, further marks class position. Distinct class differences also appear in speech. Knowledge of English is vital to elevated class status, and a person's fluency in that language indexes their social background.
Government. Malaysia's government is nominally headed by the king whose position rotates among the nine hereditary Malay rulers every five years. The king selects the prime minister from the leading coalition in parliament, a body which is further
Beginning in the 1970s, the government has attempted to increase the number of Malays living in urban areas like Kuala Lumpur (above).
Leadership and Political Officials. Malaysian political leaders demand a great deal of deference from the public. The Malay term for government, kerajaan, refers to the raja who ruled from the precolonial courts. High-ranking politicians are referred to as yang berhormat (he who is honored), and sustain remarkable resiliency in office. Their longevity is due to the fact that successful politicians are great patrons, with considerable influence over the allocation of social benefits such as scholarships, tenders, and permits. Clients, in return, show deference and give appropriate electoral support. The mainstream press are also among the most consistent and most important boosters of the ruling coalition's politicians. Even with the substantial power of the political elite, corruption remains informal, and one can negotiate the lower levels of the state bureaucracy without paying bribes. However, endless stories circulate of how appropriate payments can oil a sometimes creaky process.
Social Problems and Control. Through its colonial history, British Malaya had one of the largest per capita police forces of all British colonies. Police power increased during the communist rebellion (the "Emergency") begun in 1948, which was fought primarily as a police action. The Emergency also expanded the influence of the police Special Branch intelligence division. Malaysia retains aspects of a police state. Emergency regulations for such things as detention without trial (called the Internal Security Act) remain in use; the police are a federal rather than local institution; and police quarters (especially in more isolated rural areas) still have the bunker-like design necessary for confronting an armed insurgency. Even in urban areas police carry considerable firepower. Officers with M-16s are not a rarity and guards at jewelry shops often have long-barrel shotguns. Criminals tend to be audacious given the fact that possession of an illegal firearm carries a mandatory death sentence. Since the police focus more on protecting commercial than residential property, people in housing estates and rural areas will sometimes apprehend criminals themselves. The most elaborate crime network is composed of Chinese triads who extend back in lineage to the colonial period. Malaysia is close to the opium producing areas of the "Golden Triangle" where Burma, Thailand, and Laos meet. Drug possession carries a mandatory death sentence.
Military Activity. The Malaysian military's most striking characteristic is that, unlike its neighbors, there has never been a military coup in the country. One reason is the important social function of the military to insure Malay political dominance. The highest ranks of the military are composed of ethnic Malays, as are a majority of those who serve under them. The military's controversial role in establishing order following the May 1969 urban rebellion further emphasizes the political function of the institution as one supporting the Malay-dominated ruling coalition. The Malaysian armed forces, though small in number, have been very active in United Nations peace-keeping, including the Congo, Namibia, Somalia, and Bosnia.
Social Welfare and Change Programs
The Malaysian government has promoted rapid social change to integrate a national society from its ethnic divisions. Its grandest program was originally called the New Economic Policy (NEP), implemented between 1971 and 1990 and continued in modified form as the National Development Policy (NDP). Since poverty eradication was an aim of the NEP a considerable amount of energy has gone to social welfare efforts. The consequences of these programs disseminate across the social landscape: home mortgages feature two rates, a lower one for Malays and a higher one for others; university admissions promote Malay enrollment; mundane government functions such as allocating hawker licenses have an ethnic component. But the government has also tried to ethnically integrate Malaysia's wealthy class; therefore many NEP-inspired ethnic preferences have allowed prosperous Malays to accrue even greater wealth. The dream of creating an affluent Malaysia continues in the government's 1991 plan of Vision 2020, which projects that the country will be "fully developed" by the year 2020. This new vision places faith in high technology, including the creation of a "Multi-Media Super Corridor" outside of Kuala Lumpur, as the means for Malaysia to join the ranks of wealthy industrialized countries, and to develop a more unified society.
Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations
Through its welfare policies the government jealously guards its stewardship over social issues, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) work under its close surveillance. The state requires that all associations be registered, and failure to register can effectively cripple an organization. NGO life is especially active in urban areas, addressing problems peripheral to the state's priorities of ethnic redistribution and rapid industrialization. Many prominent NGOs are affiliated with religious organizations, and others congregate around issues of the environment, gender and sexuality, worker's rights, and consumers' interests.
Gender Roles and Statuses
Division of Labor by Gender. Malaysia's affluence has changed the gender divide in the public sphere of work while maintaining the gendered division
Young people are instructed at an early age to socialize primarily with kin.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. Generally men have more power than women in Malaysian society. Male dominance is codified in laws over such things as the guardianship of children. The top politicians, business leaders, and religious practitioners are predominately male. Yet Malaysian society shows considerable suppleness in its gender divisions with prominent women emerging in many different fields. Most of the major political parties have an active women's wing which provides access to political power. Though opportunities for men and women differ by ethnic group and social class, strict gender segregation has not been a part of modern Malaysian life.
Marriage, Family, and Kinship
Marriage. Even with significant changes in marriage practices, weddings reveal the sharp differences in Malaysian society. There are two ways to marry: registering the union with the government; and joining in marriage before a religious authority. Christian Malaysians may marry Buddhists or Hindus answering only to their families and beliefs; Muslim Malaysians who marry non-Muslims risk government sanction unless their partner converts to Islam. Marriage practices emphasize Malaysia's separate ethnic customs. Indians and Chinese undertake divination rites in search of compatibility and auspicious dates, while Malays have elaborate gift exchanges. Malay wedding feasts are often held in the home, and feature a large banquet with several dishes eaten over rice prepared in oil (to say one is going to eat oiled rice means that a wedding is imminent). Many Chinese weddings feature a multiple-course meal in a restaurant or public hall, and most Indian ceremonies include intricate rituals. Since married partners join families as well as individuals, the meeting between prospective in-laws is crucial to the success of the union. For most Malaysians marriage is a crucial step toward adulthood. Although the average age for marriage continues to increase, being single into one's thirties generates concern for families and individuals alike. The social importance of the institution makes interethnic marriage an issue of considerable stress.
Domestic Unit. Malaysian households have undergone a tremendous transformation following the changes in the economy. The shift from agricultural commodities to industrial production has made it difficult for extended families to live together. Yet as family mobility expands, as a result of modern schedules, efforts to maintain kin ties also increase. Improved telecommunications keep distant kin in contact, as does the efficient transportation network. A dramatic example of this occurs on the major holidays when millions return to hometowns for kin reunions.
Inheritance. The critical issue of inheritance is land. With the importance Malays place on land ownership, it is rarely viewed as a commodity for sale, and the numerous empty houses that dot the Malaysian landscape are testament to their absentee-owners unwillingness to sell. Gold is also a valuable inheritance; Malaysians from all groups readily turn extra cash into gold as a form of insurance for the future.
Kin Groups. The crucial kin distinctions in Malaysian culture are between ethnic groups, which tend to limit intermarriage. Among the majority of Malays, kin groups are more horizontal than vertical, meaning that siblings are more important than ancestors. Those considered Malay make appropriate marriage partners; non-Malays do not. These distinctions are somewhat flexible, however, and those that embrace Islam and follow Malay customs are admitted as potential Malay marriage partners. Greater flexibility in kinship practices also appears among immigrant groups amid the fresh possibilities created by diasporic life. A striking example is the Baba community, Chinese who immigrated prior to British rule and intermarried with locals, developing their own hybrid language and cultural style. These dynamics point to the varied kinship arrangements possible between the different ethnic communities in Malaysian society.
Infant Care. Malaysian babies are lavished with considerable care. Most are born in hospitals, though midwives still provide their services in more remote areas. Careful prohibitions are rigidly followed for both the infant and the mother, according to the various cultural customs. New mothers wear special clothes, eat foods to supplement their strength, and refrain from performing tasks that might bring bad luck to their babies. Grandmothers often live with their new grandchildren for the first few months of their new life.
Child Rearing and Education. Malaysian child rearing practices and educational experiences sustain the differences among the population. Most Malaysian children learn the importance of age hierarchy, especially the proper use of titles to address their elders. The family also teaches that kin are the appropriate source of friendly companionship. The frequent presence of siblings and cousins provides familiarity with the extended family and a preferred source of playmates. In turn, many families teach that strangers are a source of suspicion. The school experience reinforces the ethnic differences in the population, since the schools are divided into separate systems with Malay-medium, Mandarin-medium, and Tamil-medium instruction. Yet the schools do provide common experiences, the most important of which is measuring progress by examination, which helps to emphasize mastery of accumulated knowledge as the point of education. Outside of school, adolescents who mix freely with others or spend significant time away from home are considered "social," a disparaging remark that suggests involvement in illicit activity. A good Malaysian child respects
A textile worker creates a batik in Kota Bharu. Outside of northern peninsular Malaysia, batik designs are usually produced in factories.
Higher Education. Higher education is a vital part of Malaysian life, though the universities that are the most influential in the society are located outside the country. Hundreds of thousands of students have been educated in Britain, Australia, and the United States; the experience of leaving Malaysia for training abroad is an important rite of passage for many of the elite. Malaysia boasts a growing local university system that supplements the foreign universities. The quality of local faculty, often higher than that of the second- and third-tier foreign universities that many Malaysians attend, is rarely sufficient to offset the cachet of gaining one's degree abroad.
Malaysian society is remarkable due to its openness to diversity. The blunders of an outsider are tolerated, a charming dividend of Malaysia's cosmopolitan heritage. Yet this same diversity can present challenges for Malaysians when interacting in public. Because there is no single dominant cultural paradigm, social sanctions for transgressing the rights of others are reduced. Maintaining public facilities is a source of constant public concern, as is the proper etiquette for driving a motor vehicle. Malaysian sociability instead works through finding points of connection. When Malaysians meet strangers, they seek to fit them into a hierarchy via guesses about one's religion (Muslims use the familiar Arabic greetings only to other Muslims); inquiries into one's organization (as an initial question many Malaysians will ask, "who are you attached to?"); and estimations of age (unknown older men are addressed by the honorific "uncle," women as "auntie" in the appropriate language). Strangers shake hands, and handshaking continues after the first meeting (Malays often raise the hand to their heart after shaking), though it is sometimes frowned upon between men and women. Greetings are always expressed with the right hand, which is the dominant hand in Malaysian life. Since the left hand is used to cleanse the body, it is considered inappropriate for use in receiving gifts, giving money, pointing directions, or passing objects.
Religious Beliefs. Nearly all the world religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity are present in Malaysia. Religion correlates strongly with ethnicity, with most Muslims Malay, most Hindus Indian, and most Buddhists Chinese. The presence of such diversity heightens the importance of religious identity, and most Malaysians have a strong sense of how their religious practice differs from that of others (therefore a Malaysian Christian also identifies as a non-Muslim). Religious holidays, especially those celebrated with open houses, further blend the interreligious experience of the population. Tension between religious communities is modest. The government is most concerned with the practices of the Muslim majority, since Islam is the official religion (60 percent of the population is Muslim). Debates form most often over the government's role in religious life, such as whether the state should further promote Islam and Muslim practices (limits on gambling, pork-rearing, availability of alcohol, and the use of state funds for building mosques) or whether greater religious expression for non-Muslims should be allowed.
Religious Practitioners. The government regulates religious policy for Malaysia's Muslims, while the local mosque organizes opportunities for religious instruction and expression. Outside these institutions, Islam has an important part in electoral politics as Malay parties promote their Muslim credentials. Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist clergy often have a presence in Malaysian life through cooperative ventures, and their joint work helps to ameliorate their minority status. Religious missionaries work freely proselytizing to non-Muslims, but evangelists interested in converting Muslims are strictly forbidden by the state.
Rituals and Holy Places. Malaysia's most prominent holy place is the National Mosque, built in the heart of Kuala Lumpur in 1965. Its strategic position emphasizes the country's Islamic identity. Countrywide, the daily call to prayer from the mosques amplifies the rhythm of Islamic rituals in the country, as does the procession of the faithful to fulfill their prayers. Reminders of prayer times are included in television programs and further highlight the centrality of Islam in Malaysia. Important holidays include the birth of the Prophet and the pilgrimage to Mecca, all of which hold a conspicuous place in the media. The month of fasting, Ramadan, includes acts of piety beyond the customary refraining from food and drink during daylight hours and is followed by a great celebration. Non-Muslim religious buildings, practices, and holidays have a smaller public life in Malaysia. Part of this is due to fewer believers in the country, and part is due to public policy which limits the building of churches and temples along with the broadcasting of non-Muslim religious services. The important non-Muslim holidays include Christmas, Deepavali (the Hindu festival of light), and Wesak day (which celebrates the life of the Buddha). The Hindu holiday of Thaipussam merits special attention, because devotees undergo spectacular rites of penance before vast numbers of spectators, most dramatically at the famous Batu Caves, located in the bluffs outside of Kuala Lumpur.
Death and the Afterlife. Malaysians have a strong interest in the metaphysical, and stories about spirits and ghosts whether told in conversation, read in books, or seen on television gain rapt attention. Many of these stories sustain a relationship with people who have passed away, whether as a form of comfort or of fear. Cemeteries, including vast fields of Chinese tombs marked with family characters and Muslim graves with the distinctive twin stones, are sites of mystery. The real estate that surrounds them carries only a modest price due to the reputed dangers of living nearby. Muslim funerals tend to be community events, and an entire neighborhood will gather at the home of the deceased to prepare the body for burial and say the requisite prayers. Corpses are buried soon after death, following Muslim custom, and mourners display a minimum of emotion lest they appear to reject the divine's decision. The ancestor memorials maintained by Chinese clans are a common site in Malaysia, and the familiar small red shrines containing offerings of oranges and joss sticks appear on neighborhood street corners and in the rear of Chinese-owned shops. Faith in the efficacy of the afterlife generates considerable public respect for religious graves and shrines even from non-adherents.
Medicine and Health Care
Malaysia boasts a sophisticated system of modern health care with doctors trained in advanced biomedicine. These services are concentrated in the large cities and radiate out in decreasing availability. Customary practitioners, including Chinese herbalists and Malay healers, supplement the services offered in clinics and hospitals and boast diverse clientele.
Given the large number of local and religious holidays observed in Malaysia, few national secular celebrations fit into the calendar. Two important ones
Farm workers harvesting tea leaves. Ethnic division of labor, in which Malays work almost entirely in agriculture, has eroded in recent years.
The Arts and the Humanities
Support for the Arts. Public support for the arts is meager. Malaysian society for the past century has been so heavily geared toward economic development that the arts have suffered, and many practitioners of Malaysia's aesthetic traditions mourn the lack of apprentices to carry them on. The possibility exists for a Malaysian arts renaissance amid the country's growing affluence.
Literature. The pre-colonial Malay rulers supported a rich variety of literary figures who produced court chronicles, fables, and legends that form a prominent part of the contemporary Malaysian cultural imagination. Developing a more contemporary national literature has been a struggle because of language, with controversies over whether Malaysian fiction should be composed solely in Malay or in other languages as well. Though adult literacy is nearly 90 percent, the well-read newspapers lament that the national belief in the importance of reading is stronger than the practice.
Graphic Arts. A small but vibrant group of graphic artists are productive in Malaysia. Practitioners of batik, the art of painting textiles with wax followed by dying to bring out the pattern, still work in northern peninsular Malaysia. Batik-inspired designs are often produced in factories on shirts, sarongs, table cloths, or dresses forming an iconic Malaysian aesthetic.
Performance Arts. Artistic performance in Malaysia is limited by the state's controls over public assembly and expression. The requirement that the government approve all scripts effectively limits what might be said in plays, films, and television. The preferred performance genre in Malaysia is popular music, and concerts of the top Malay pop singers have great followings in person and on television. Musical stars from Bombay and Hong Kong also have substantial numbers of very committed fans, whose devotion makes Malaysia an overseas stop on the tours of many performers. The favorite Malaysian entertainment medium is television, as most homes have television sets. Malaysians watch diverse programming: the standard export American fare, Japanese animation, Hong Kong martial arts, Hindi musicals, and Malay drama. The advent of the video cassette and the Internet was made for Malaysia's diverse society, allowing Malaysians to make expressive choices that often defeat the state's censorship.
The State of the Physical and Social Sciences
Given the Malaysian government's considerable support for rapid industrialization, scientific research is high on the list of its priorities. Malaysian universities produce sophisticated research, though they are sapped for funds by the huge expenditure of sending students overseas for their degrees. Malaysian scientists have made substantial contributions in rubber and palm oil research, and this work will likely continue to increase the productivity of these sectors. Government monitoring of social science research increases the risks of critical scholarship though some academicians are quite outspoken and carry considerable prestige in society.
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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 on 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 Merdeka day 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.
Malaysia consists of two distinct geographical regions: Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia. Malaysia was formed when the Federation of Malaya merged with North Borneo (today the province of Sabah), Sarawak, and Singapore (seceded 1965) in 1963, and cultural differences between Peninsular and East Malaysia remain. During the formation of Malaysia, executive power was vested in the Perikatan (later the Barisan Nasional) coalition of three racially based political parties, namely the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), and Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). UMNO has dominated the coalition from its inception. Although Islam is the official state religion, the Constitution of Malaysia guarantees freedom of religion.
See also: Demographics of Malaysia
Malaysia is a multi–ethnic, multicultural, and multilingual society, and the many ethnic groups in Malaysia maintain separate cultural identities. The society of Malaysia has been described as "Asia in miniature". The original culture of the area stemmed from its indigenous tribes, along with the Malays who moved there in ancient times. Substantial influence exists from the Chinese and Indian cultures, dating back to when trade with those countries began in the area. Other cultures that heavily influenced that of Malaysia include Persian, Arabic, and British. The structure of the government, along with the racial balance of power caused by the idea of a social contract, has resulted in little incentive for the cultural assimilation of ethnic minorities in Malaya and Malaysia. The government has historically made little distinction between "Malay culture" and "Malaysian culture".
The Malays, who account for over half the Malaysian population, play a dominant role politically and are included in a grouping identified as bumiputra. Their native language, Bahasa Malaysia, is the national language of the country. By definition of the Malaysian constitution, all Malays are Muslims. The Orang Asal, the earliest inhabitants of Malaya, formed only 0.5 percent of the total population in Malaysia in 2000, but represented a majority in East Malaysia. In Sarawak, most of the non-Muslim indigenous groups are classified as Dayaks, and they constitute about 40 percent of the population in the state. Many tribes have converted to Christianity. The 140,000 Orang Asli, or aboriginal peoples, comprise a number of different ethnic communities living in peninsular Malaysia.
The Chinese have been settling in Malaysia for many centuries, and form the second-largest ethnic group. The first Chinese to settle in the Straits Settlements, primarily in and around Malacca, gradually adopted elements of Malaysian culture and intermarried with the Malaysian community and with this, a new ethnic group called emerged, the Peranakan ("Straits Chinese"). These Chinese have adopted Malay traditions while maintaining elements of Chinese culture such as their largely Buddhist and Taoist religion. The more common Chinese varieties spoken in Peninsular Malaysia are Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainanese, and Fuzhou.
The Indian community in Malaysia is the smallest of the three main ethnic groups, accounting for about 10 percent of the country's population. They speak a variety of South Asian languages.Tamils, Malayalees, and Telugu people make up over 85 percent of the people of Indian origin in the country. Indian immigrants to Malaysia brought with them the Hindu and Sikh cultures. This included temples and Gurdwaras, cuisine, and clothing. Hindu tradition remains strong in the Indian community of Malaysia. A community of Indians who have adopted Malay cultural practices also exists in Malacca. Though they remain Hindu, the Chitties speak Bahasa Malaysia and dress and act as Malays.
Some Eurasians of mixed European and Malay descent live in Malaysia. A small community in Malacca are descendants of former Portuguese colonists who married Malay women. While they have adopted Malay culture, they speak their own language and are Catholics.
Each ethnic group has its own underlying culture that separates it from the others, and they have achieved different levels of integration. The Chinese have integrated with Malay culture in a number of areas, including parts of Terengganu, and they form Malayanised groups such as the Baba Chinese in Malacca and the Sino-Kadazan of Sabah. Their years under combined British rule brought some joint sense of identity to all the ethnic groups, with English ideas and ideals providing some unifying features. A joint Malaysian culture can be seen in the symbiosis of the cultures of the people within it.
Policies and controversies
The Malaysian government defined Malaysian culture through the issuance of the "1971 National Culture Policy". It defines three principles as guidelines for Malaysian culture: that it is based on the cultures of indigenous people; that if elements from other cultures are judged suitable and reasonable they may be considered Malaysian culture; and that Islam will be an important part of national culture.
Some cultural disputes exist between Malaysia and neighbouring Indonesia. The two countries share a similar cultural heritage, sharing many traditions and items. However, disputes have arisen over things ranging from culinary dishes to Malaysia's national anthem. Strong feelings exist in Indonesia about protecting that nation's national heritage. The rivalry between the two countries began during Konfrontasi just after Malaysian independence, when Indonesia and Malaysia were almost at war. Building resentment since then coupled with the economic success of Malaysia mean these feelings are still strong in Indonesia today. The Malaysian government and the Indonesian government have met to defuse some of the tensions resulting from the overlaps in culture. Feelings are not as strong in Malaysia, where most recognise that many cultural values are shared.
One dispute, known as the Pendet controversy, began when Indonesians claimed the Pendet Dance was used in an official Malaysian tourism ad campaign, causing official protests. This dance, from Bali in Indonesia, was used only in a Discovery Channel ad, not an ad sponsored by the Malaysian government. Songs, such as the Rasa Sayange song, have caused similar controversies. The Malaysian national anthem, Negaraku, was claimed to be based on a similar Indonesian song written a year earlier. Both tunes are derived from a 19th century French song, which caused the similarity.
Traditional Malaysian art is mainly centred on the crafts of carving, weaving, and silversmithing. Traditional art ranges from handwoven baskets from rural areas to the silverwork of the Malay courts. Common artworks included ornamental kris and beetle nut sets. Luxurious textiles known as Songket are made, as well as traditional patterned batik fabrics. Indigenous East Malaysians are known for their wooden masks. Malaysian art has expanded only recently, as before the 1950s Islamic taboos about drawing people and animals were strong. Textiles such as the batik, songket, pua kumbu, and tekat are used for decorations, often embroidered with a painting or pattern. Traditional jewelry was made from gold and silver adorned with gems, and, in East Malaysia, leather and beads were used to the same effect.
Earthenware has been developed in many areas. The Labu Sayong is a gourd-shaped clay jar that holds water. Perak is famous for these. Also used to store water is the angular Terenang. The belanga is a clay bowl used to cook, with a wide base that allows heat to spread easily. Carved wood is used as ornamentation for many items, such as doors and window panels. Woodcarving was never an industry, but an art. Traditional woodcarvers spent years simply preparing the wood, due to a belief that woodcarvers need to be a perfect match with their wood. The wood also had to match the buyer, so woodcarving was a very ritualised task.
Each ethnic group has distinct performing arts, with little overlap between them. Malay art shows some North Indian influence. A form of art called mak yong, incorporating dance and drama, remains strong in the Kelantan state. However, older Malayan-Thai performing arts such as mak yong have declined in popularity throughout the country due to their Hindu-Buddhist origin. Since the Islamisation period, the arts and tourism ministry have focused on newer dances of Portuguese, Middle Eastern, or Mughal origin. Malay traditional dances include joget melayu and zapin. In recent years, dikir barat has grown in popularity, and it is actively promoted by state governments as a cultural icon.Silat is another popular Malay martial art and dance form, believed to increase a person's spiritual strength.Wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre) has been popular in Malaysia for centuries. The puppets are usually made with cow and buffalo skin, and are carved and painted by hand. Plays done with shadow puppets are often based on traditional stories, especially tales from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Traditionally, theatrical music is performed only by men. Javanese immigrants brought Kuda Kepang to Johor, and is a form of dance where dancers sit on mock horses and tells the tales of Islamic wars. The Chinese communities brought traditional lion dances and dragon dances with them, while Indians brought art forms such as Bharata Natyam and Bhangra. Colonialism also brought other art forms, such as the Portuguese Farapeira and Branyo. There are a variety of traditional dances, which often have very strong spiritual significance. Different tribes from west and east Malaysia have different dances.
In 2010, the Malaysian Art Culture was introduced to a new revival with the arrival of new independent galleries that focuses on the new contemporary young local artists. One of the most prominent key players in this new counter-culture is Minut Init Art Social in Uptown Damansara.
Architecture in Malaysia is a combination of many styles, from Islamic and Chinese styles to those brought by European colonists. Malay architecture has changed due to these influences. Houses in the north are similar to those in Thailand, while those in the south are similar to those in Java. New materials, such as glasses and nails, were brought in by Europeans, changing the architecture. Houses are built for tropical conditions, raised on stilts with high roofs and large windows, allowing air to flow through the house and cool it down. Wood has been the main building material for much of Malaysia's history; it is used for everything from the simple kampung to royal palaces. In Negeri Sembilan traditional houses are entirely free of nails. Besides wood, other common materials such as bamboo and leaves were used. The Istana Kenangan in Kuala Kangar was built in 1926, and it the only Malay palace with bamboo walls. The Oral Asal of East Malaysia live in longhouses and water villages. Longhouses are elevated and on stilts, and can house 20 to 100 families. Water villages are also built on stilts, with houses connected with planks and most transport by boats.
Chinese architecture can be divided into two types, traditional and Baba Nyonya. Baba Nyonya households are made of colourful tiles and have large indoor courtyards. Indian architecture came with the Malaysian Indians, reflecting the architecture of southern India where most originated from. Some Sikh architecture was also imported.Malacca, which was a traditional centre of trade, has a large variety of building styles. Large wooden structures such as the Palace of Sultan Mansur Shah exist from early periods. Chinese influence can be seen in brightly decorated temples and terraced shop houses. The largest remaining Portuguese structure in Malacca is the A Famosa fort. Other colonial building include the Dutch Stadthuys, the Dutch Colonial town brick buildings, and buildings built by the British such as the Memorial Hall, which combines Baroque and Islamic architecture.
The shapes and sizes of houses differ from state to state. Common elements in Peninsular Malaysia include pitched roofs, verandahs, and high ceilings, raised on stilts for ventilation. The woodwork in the house is often intricately carved. The floors are at different levels depending on the function of the room. Mosques have traditionally been based on Javanese architecture. In modern times, the government has promoted different projects, from the tallest twin buildings in the world, the Petronas Twin Towers, to a whole garden city, Putrajaya. Malaysian firms are developing skyscraper designs that are specifically for tropical climates.
Main article: Music of Malaysia
Traditional Malay music and performing arts appear to have originated in the Kelantan-Pattani region with influences from India, China, Thailand, and Indonesia. The music is based around percussion instruments, the most important of which is the gendang (drum). There are at least 14 types of traditional drums. Drums and other traditional percussion instruments are often made from natural materials such as shells. Other instruments include the rebab (a bowed string instrument), the serunai (a double-reed oboe-like instrument), the seruling (flute), and trumpets. Music is traditionally used for storytelling, celebrating life-cycle events, and at annual events such as the harvest. Music was once used as a form of long-distance communication. Traditional orchestra can be divided between two forms, the gamelan which plays melodies using gongs and string instruments, and the nobat which uses wind instruments to create more solemn music.
In East Malaysia, ensembles based around gongs such as agung and kulintang are commonly used in ceremonies such as funerals and weddings. These ensembles are also common in the southern Philippines, Kalimantan in Indonesia, and in Brunei. Chinese and Indian Malaysians have their own forms of music, and the indigenous tribes of Peninsula and East Malaysia have unique traditional instruments. In countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia it is believed that performing at the house during Hari Raya (a traditional malay festival) is a good belief as it brings goodluck and fortune to the performers and host of the house.
Within Malaysia, the largest performing arts venue is the Petronas Philharmonic Hall. The resident orchestra is the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. Malay popular music is a combination of styles from all ethnicities in the country. The Malaysian government has taken steps to control what music is available in Malaysia; rap music has been criticised, heavy metal has been limited, and foreign bands must submit a recording of a recent concert before playing in Malaysia. It is believed that this music is a bad influence on youth.
Main article: Malaysian literature
The strong oral tradition that has existed since before the arrival of writing to what is now Malaysia continues today. These early works were heavily influenced by Indian epics. Oral literature such as folktales flourished even after printed works appeared. The Arabic Jawi script arrived with the coming of Islam to the peninsula in the late 15th century. At this point, stories which previously had given lessons in Hinduism and Buddhism were taken to have more universal meanings, with their main story lines remaining intact. Each of the Malay Sultanates created their own literary tradition influenced by preexisting oral stories and by the stories that came with Islam. The arrival of the printing press in Malaysia was key in allowing literature to be accessed by more than those rich enough to afford handwritten manuscripts. There was a division between the royal Malays, who knew English, and the lower classes, who only read Malay. In the early years of the 20th century, literature began to change to reflect the changing norms of Malaysians. In 1971 the government took the step of defining the literature of different languages. Literature written in Malay was called "The National Literature of Malaysia"; literature in other bumiputra languages was called "regional literature"; literature in other languages was called "sectional literature".
Malay poetry is highly developed, and uses many forms. A Hikayat is a traditional narrative, and stories written in that fashion are named using Hikayat followed by the name(s) of the protagonist(s). The pantun is a form of poetry used in many aspects of Malay culture. The Syair is another form of narrative, once very popular. The Hikayat form remains popular, and the pantun has spread from Malay to other languages. Until the 19th century, literature produced in Malaysia focused mainly on tales of royalty, as it was produced just for royalty. It was after this point that it expanded to other areas. The race riots of 1969 strongly influenced literature; the improvements of the economy in the 1980s brought about social changes and new forms of literature.
The first Malay literature was in Arabic script. The earliest known Malay writing is on the Terengganu Inscription Stone, made in 1303. One of the more famous Malay works is the Sulalatus al-Salatin, also known as the Sejarah Melayu (meaning "The Malay Annals"). It was originally recorded in the 15th century, although it has since been edited; the known version is from the 16th century. The Hikaya Rajit Pasai, written in the 15th century, is another significant literary work. The Hikayat Hang Tuah, or story of Hang Tuah, tells the story of Hang Tuah and his devotion to his Sultan. This is the most famous Hikayat; it drew from the Sejarah Melayu. Both have been nominated as world heritage items under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 'Memory of the World' programme. Folktales such as the Hikayat Sang Kancil, about a clever mouse deer, are popular, as are adventures such as Ramayana, adapted from Indian epics. Munshi Abdullah (Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir), who lived from 1797 to 1854, is regarded as the father of Malay literature. Hikayat Abdullah, his autobiography, is about everyday life at the time when British influence was spreading. Female Malay writers began becoming popular in the 1950s.
Different ethnic and linguistic groups have produced works in their own languages. Chinese and Indian literature became common as the numbers of speakers increased in Malaysia, and locally produced works based in languages from those areas began to be produced in the 19th century. Beginning in the 1950s, Chinese literature expanded; homemade literature in Indian languages has failed to emerge. English has become a common literary language.
Main article: Malaysian cuisine
Malaysia's cuisine reflects the multiethnic makeup of its population, and is defined by its diversity. Many cultures from Malaysia and the surrounding areas have greatly influenced Malaysian cuisine, with strong influence from Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Javanese, and Sumatran cuisines. Much of this is due to Malaysia being a part of the ancient spice route. The cuisine is very similar to that of Singapore and Brunei, and also bears resemblance to Filipino cuisine. The different states of Malaysia have varied dishes, and often the food in Malaysia is different from the original dishes.
Sometimes food not found in its original culture is assimilated into another; for example, Chinese restaurants in Malaysia often serve Malaysian dishes. Food from one culture is sometimes cooked using styles taken from another. This means that although many Malaysian dishes originate from another culture, they have their own identities. Often the food in Malaysia is different from the original dishes; for example, Chinese food is often sweeter in Malaysian versions than the original. The Peranakans, Chinese who moved to Malaysia centuries ago, have their own unique cuisine that Chinese cooking techniques with Malay ingredients.
During a dinner food is not served in courses, but all at once. Rice is popular in many Malaysian dishes. Chilli is commonly found in Malaysian dishes, although this does not make them spicy. Noodles are common. Pork is rarely used in Malaysia, because of the large Muslim population. Some celebrations have food associated with them, and mooncakes are often eaten during Mooncake Festival.
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See also: Malaysian cultural outfits
See also: Hijab by country § Malaysia
As of 2013 most Muslim Malaysian women wear the tudung, a type of hijab. This use of the tudung was uncommon prior to the 1979 Iranian revolution, and the places that had women in tudung tended to be rural areas. The usage of the tudung sharply increased after the 1970s. as religious conservatism among Malay people in both Malaysia and Singapore increased.
Several members of the Kelantan ulama in the 1960s believed the hijab was not mandatory. By 2015 the Malaysian ulama believed this previous viewpoint was un-Islamic.
By 2015 Malaysia had a fashion industry related to the tudung. By 2015 Muslim Malay society had a negative reaction to Muslim women who do not wear tudung.
Norhayati Kaprawi directed a 2011 documentary about the use of tudung in Malaysia, "Siapa Aku?" ("Who am I?"). It is in Malay, with English subtitles available.
Main article: Public holidays in Malaysia
Malaysians observe a number of holidays and festivities throughout the year, on both the federal and state level. Other festivals are observed by particular ethnic or religion groups, but are not public holidays. The main holy days of each major religion are public holidays. The most widespread holiday is the "Hari Merdeka" (Independence Day), otherwise known as "Merdeka" (Freedom), on 31 August. It commemorates the independence of the Federation of Malaya. This, as well as Labour Day (1 May), the King's birthday (first Saturday of June), and some other festivals are major national public holidays. Federal Territory day is celebrated in the three Federal territories.Malaysia Day, held on 16 September, commemorates the formation of Malaysia through the union of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak, although it is celebrated mainly in East Malaysia.
New Year's Day, Chinese New Year, and the start of the Islamic calendar are all public holidays.Muslim holidays are highly prominent in Malaysia. The most important of these is Hari Raya Puasa (also called Hari Raya Aidilfitri), which is the Malay translation of Eid al-Fitr. It is a festival honoured by Muslims worldwide marking the end of Ramadan, the fasting month. They also celebrate Hari Raya Haji (also called Hari Raya Aidiladha, the translation of Eid ul-Adha), Awal Muharram (Islamic New Year) and Maulidur Rasul (Birthday of the Prophet).
Malaysian Chinese typically hold the same festivals observed by Chinese around the world. Chinese New Year is the most prominent, lasting for 15 days. Hindus in Malaysia celebrate Deepavali, the festival of light, while Thaipusam is a celebration in which pilgrims from all over the country meet at the Batu Caves.Wesak (Malay for Vesak), the day of Buddha's birth, is a public holiday. Malaysia's Christian community observes most of the holidays observed by Christians elsewhere, most notably Christmas and Easter. Good Friday, however, is only a public holiday in the two Bornean states. The harvest festivals of Gawai in Sarawak and Kaamatan in Sabah are also important for East Malaysians.
Despite most of the festivals being identified with a particular ethnic or religious group, festivities are often participated in by all Malaysians. One example of this is the celebration of Kongsi Raya, which is celebrated when Hari Raya Puasa and Chinese New Year coincide. The term Kongsi Raya (which means "sharing the celebration" in Malay) was coined because of the similarity between the word kongsi and the Chinese New Year greeting of Gong xi fa cai. Similarly, the portmanteau Deepa Raya was coined when Hari Raya Puasa and Deepavali coincided.
A practice known as "open house" (rumah terbuka) is common during the festivities, especially during Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Deepavali, Chinese New Year, and Christmas. Open house means that all well-wishers are received and that everyone, regardless of background, is invited to attend. Open houses are normally held at the home of the host and foods are prepared by the host. There are also open houses held at larger public venues, especially when hosted by government agencies or corporations. Most Malaysians take the time off work or school to return to their hometowns to celebrate the festivities with their extended relatives. This practice is commonly known as balik kampung and usually causes traffic jams on most highways in the country.
Main article: Sport in Malaysia
Popular sports in Malaysia include badminton, bowling, football, squash, and field hockey. Malaysia has small-scale traditional sports. Wau is a traditional form of kite-flying involving kites created with intricate designs. These kites can reach heights of nearly 500 metres (1,640 ft), and due to bamboo attachments create a humming sound when flown.Sepak takraw is a game in which a rattan ball is kept in the air without using hands. A traditional game played during the rice harvest season was throwing gasing, which are large tops weighing around 5 kilograms (11 lb), which are thrown by unfurling a rope and scooped off the ground while spinning. They are known to be able to spin for over an hour. Other sports are dragon dancing and dragon-boat racing. Malaysia's coastline is popular for scuba diving, sailing, and other water sports and activities.Whitewater rafting and trekking are also often done.
Many international sports are highly popular in Malaysia. Badminton matches in Malaysia attract thousands of spectators, and Malaysia, along with Indonesia and China, has consistently held the Thomas Cup since 1949. Famous players include Lee Chong Wei. The Malaysian Lawn Bowls Federation (PLBM) was registered in 1997, and already fields a strong international team and has made progress on the international stage.Squash was brought to Malaysia by members of the British army, with the first competition being held in 1939. The Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) was created on 25 June 1972, and has had great success in Asian squash competitions. Football is popular in Malaysia, and Malaysia has proposed a Southeast Asian football league. Hockey is popular in Malaysia, with the Malaysian team ranked 14th in the world as of 2010. Malaysia hosted the third Hockey World Cup at the Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, before also hosting the 10th cup. Malaysia has its own Formula One track, the Sepang International Circuit. It runs for 310.408 kilometres (193 mi), and held its first Grand Prix in 2000. Golf is growing in popularity, with many courses being built around the country.
The Federation of Malaya Olympic Council was formed in 1953, and received recognition by the International Olympic Committee in 1954. It first participated in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. The council was renamed the Olympic Council of Malaysia in 1964, and has participated in all but one Olympic games since the council was formed. The largest number of athletes sent to the Olympics was 57, to the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Malaysian athletes have won a total of four Olympic medals, all of which are in badminton. Malaysia has competed at the Commonwealth Games since 1950 as Malaya, and 1966 as Malaysia. It has been dominant in badminton, and hosted the games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. The 1998 Commonwealth Games were the first time the torch relay went through more nations than just England and the host country.
Main article: Media of Malaysia
Much of the Malaysian media is tied to the ruling UMNO party, with the county's main newspaper owned by the government and political parties in the ruling coalition. Major opposition parties also have their own newspapers. Besides Malay newspapers, there is large circulation of English, Chinese, and Tamil dailies. The media has been blamed for increasing tension between Indonesia and Malaysia, and giving Malaysians a bad image of Indonesians. There is a divide between the media in the two halves of Malaysia. Peninsular-based media gives low priority to news from East Malaysia, and often treats it as a colony of the Peninsular. Internet access is rare outside the main urban centres, and those of the lower classes have less access to non-government news sources.
The regulated freedom of the press has been criticised, and it has been claimed that the government threatens journalists with reduced employment opportunities and denial of family admittance to universities. The Malaysian government has previously tried to crack down on opposition papers before elections when the ruling party was unsure of its political situation. In 2007, a government agency issued a directive to all private television and radio stations to refrain from broadcasting speeches made by opposition leaders, a move condemned by politicians from the opposition Democratic Action Party. Sabah, where only one tabloid is not independent of government control, has the freest press in Malaysia. Legislation such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act has been cited as curtailing freedom of expression. The Malaysian government has large control over the media due to this Act, which stipulates that a media organisation must have the government's permission to operate. However, the "Bill of Guarantee of No Internet Censorship" passed in the 1990s means that internet news is uncensored.
Main article: Cinema of Malaysia
Malaysian filming has gone through five stages. The first stage occurred when narrative filmmaking began in 1933, with the production of Laila Majnun by a company operating out of Singapore. For the first couple of decades following World War II, most films were directed by directors from India and the Philippines, which produced a second stage of movies. The first locally directed film, Permata di-Perlembahan, was produced in 1952. It however failed in the cinemas. A third stage appeared as Singapore-based studios began to produce films in the 1950s, but the industry was subsequently damaged due to independence of Singapore and the loss of studios there. Indonesian films gained popularity at this time, although a small group of filmmakers continued to produce in Malaysia, forming the fourth stage. In the 1980s the local industry began to recover, bringing about the fifth and most eloquent stage, which covered more themes than any previous stage. This was also the first time non-Malay films began to have a significant presence.
The government began to sponsor films in 1975, creating the National Film Development Corporation in 1981. Through this the government offers loans to filmmaker's who want to develop films, however the criteria for obtaining funds has been criticised as promoting only commercial films. Due to this lack of government funding for smaller projects, a strong independent film movement has developed. There has been a large increase in short films, which in the past two decades have begun to gain status in international film festivals. Independent documentaries often cover areas which would normally be censored by the government, such as sex and sexuality, as well as racial inequality and tension. Although the government has criticised some films for not showing multiculturalism, its actions have been inconsistent in that respect, and often favour the Malay culture over others.
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