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Discover a Land of Intriguing Diversity

Malays, Chinese, Indians and many other ethnic groups have lived together in Malaysia for generations.
All these cultures have influenced each other, creating a truly Malaysian culture.

The largest ethnic groups in Malaysia are the Malays, Chinese and Indians. In Sabah and Sarawak, there
are a myriad of indigenous ethnic groups with their own unique culture and heritage.


Malay
Today, the Malays, Malaysia's largest ethnic group, make up more than 50% of the population, although
this drops to less than 25% in East Malaysia. In Malaysia, the term Malay refers to a person who
practices Islam and Malay traditions, speaks the Malay language and whose ancestors are Malays. Their
conversion to Islam from Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism began in the 1400s, largely influenced by
the decision of the royal court of Melaka. The Malays are known for their gentle mannerisms and rich
arts heritage.


Chinese
The second largest ethnic group, the Malaysian Chinese form about 25% of the population. Mostly
descendants of Chinese immigrants during the 19th century, the Chinese are known for their diligence
and keen business sense. The three sub-groups who speak a different dialect of the Chinese language
are the Hokkien who live predominantly on the northern island of Penang; the Cantonese who live
predominantly in the capital city Kuala Lumpur; and the Mandarin-speaking group who live
predominantly in the southern state of Johor.

In Sarawak this 25% is made up of a mix of dialect groups including Foochow, Hakka, Hokkien, Teochew,
Hainanese and Puxian Min while in Sabah the population of Chinese drops to around 10% who
predominantly speak the Hakka language.


Indian
The smallest of three main ethnic groups, the Malaysian Indians form about 10% of the population.
Most are descendants of Tamil-speaking South Indian immigrants who came to the country during the
British colonial rule. Lured by the prospect of breaking out of the Indian caste system, they came to
Malaysia to build a better life. Predominantly Hindus, they brought with them their colourful culture
such as ornate temples, spicy cuisine and exquisite sarees.
Traditional Architecture


Malay
Traditional Malay architecture employs sophisticated architectural processes ideally suited to tropical
conditions such as structures built on stilts, which allow cross-ventilating breeze beneath the dwelling to
cool the house whilst mitigating the effects of the occasional flood. High-pitched roofs and large
windows not only allow cross-ventilation but are also carved with intricate organic designs.

Traditional houses in Negeri Sembilan were built of hardwood and entirely free of nails. They are built
using beams, which are held together by wedges. A beautiful example of this type of architecture can be
seen in the Old Palace of Seri Menanti in Negeri Sembilan, which was built around 1905.

Today, many Malay or Islamic buildings incorporate Moorish design elements as can be seen in the
Islamic Arts Museum and a number of buildings in Putrajaya - the new administrative capital, and many
mosques throughout the country.


Chinese
In Malaysia, Chinese architecture is of two broad types: traditional and Baba-Nyonya. Examples of
traditional architecture include Chinese temples found throughout the country such as the Cheng Hoon
Teng that dates back to 1646.

Many old houses especially those in Melaka and Penang are of Baba-Nyonya heritage, built with indoor
courtyards and beautiful, colourful tiles.

A rare architectural combination of Chinese and Western elements is displayed by Melaka's Terengkera
mosque. Its pagoda-like appearance is a fine example of Chinese-influenced roof form, combined with
Western detailing in its balustrades and railings.


Indian
With most of Malaysian Hindus originally from Southern India, local Hindu temples exhibit the colourful
architecture of that region.

Built in the late nineteenth century, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Kuala Lumpur is one of the most
ornate and elaborate Hindu temples in the country. The detailed decorative scheme for the temple
incorporates intricate carvings, gold embellishments, hand-painted motifs and exquisite tiles from Italy
and Spain.

The Sikhs, although a small minority, also have their temples of more staid design in many parts of the
country.

Experience the Expressions of Community

Malaysians' strong sense of community is reflected in many of their traditional games and pastimes.
These activities are still played by local children on cool afternoons and are also a communal activity
during festivities such as before or after the rice harvest season and weddings.


Silat
This fascinating Malay martial arts is also an international sport and traditional dance form. Existing in
the Malay Archipelago for centuries, it has mesmerising fluid movements that are used to dazzle
opponents. It is believed that practising silat will increase one's spiritual strength in accordance with
Islamic tenets. Accompanied by drums and gongs, this ancient art is popularly performed at Malay
weddings and cultural festivals.


Sepak Takraw
Also known as sepak raga, it is a traditional ball game in which a ball, made by weaving strips of buluh or
bamboo, is passed about using any part of the body except the lower arms and hands. There are two
main types of sepak takraw: bulatan (circle) and jaring (net). Sepak raga bulatan is the original form in
which players form a circle and try to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible. Sepak takraw jaring
is the modern version in which the ball is passed across a court over a high net.


Wau
A wau is a traditional kite that is especially popular in the state of Kelantan, on the East Coast of
Malaysia. Traditionally flown after the rice harvest season, these giant kites are often as big as a man -
measuring about 3.5 metres from head to tail. It is called wau because its shape is similar to the Arabic
letter that is pronounced as 'wow'. With vibrant colours and patterns based on local floral and fauna,
these kites are truly splendid sights.


Gasing
A gasing is a giant spinning top that weighs approximately 5kg or 10lbs and may be as large as a dinner
plate. Traditionally played before the rice harvest season, this game requires strength, co-ordination and
skill. The top is set spinning by unfurling a rope that has been wound around it. Then it is scooped off
the ground, whilst still spinning, using a wooden bat with a centre slit and transferred onto a low post
with a metal receptacle. If expertly hurled, it can spin for up to 2 hours.


Wayang Kulit
Wayang kulit is a traditional theatre form that brings together the playfulness of a puppet show, and the
elusive quality and charming simplicity of a shadow play. The flat two-dimensional puppets are
intricately carved, then painted by hand. It is either made of cow or buffalo hide. Each puppet, a stylised
exaggeration of the human shape, is given a distinctive appearance and not unlike its string puppet
cousins, has jointed "arms". Conducted by a singular master storyteller called Tok Dalang, wayang kulit
usually dramatises ancient Indian epics.


Congkak
Congkak is a game of mathematics played by womenfolk in ancient times that only required dug out
holes in the earth and tamarind seeds. Today, it is an oval solid wood block with two rows of five, seven,
or nine holes and two large holes at both ends called "home". Congkak, played with shells, marbles,
pebbles or tamarind seeds, requires two players.

Traditional Attire
A Dazzling Tapestry of Asian Traditions

From magnificent tribal head-feathers with bark body-covers to antique gold-woven royal songket
fabric, the array of Malaysia's traditional costumes and textiles are stunningly diverse and colourful.

In the early days, the aboriginal tribes wore native bark costumes and beads. With the advent of the
ancient kingdoms, hand-loomed fine textiles and intricate Malay batik were used by the Malay royalty.
As foreign trade flourished, costumes and textiles such as Chinese silk, the Indian pulicat or plaid sarong
and the Arabian jubbah a robe with wide sleeves were introduced to the country.

Today, traditional attire such as the Malay baju kebaya, Indian saree and Chinese cheongsam are still
widely worn.


Malay
Before the 20th century, Malay women still wore kemban, just sarongs tied above the chest, in public.
As Islam became more widely embraced, they started wearing the more modest yet elegant baju
kurung. The baju kurung is a knee-length loose-fitting blouse that is usually worn over a long skirt with
pleats at the side. It can also be matched with traditional fabrics such as songket or batik. Typically,
these traditional outfits are completed with a selendang or shawl or tudung or headscarf.

The traditional attire for Malay men is the baju melayu. The baju melayu is a loose tunic worn over
trousers. It is usually complemented with a sampin - a short sarong wrapped around the hips.


Chinese
Comfortable and elegant, the traditional cheongsam or 'long dress' is also a popular contemporary
fashion choice for ladies. Usually, it has a high collar, buttons or frog closures near the shoulder, a snug
fit at the waist and slits on either one or both sides. It is often made of shimmering silk, embroidered
satin or other sensual fabrics.


Indian
The saree is the world-renowned traditional Indian garment. A length of cloth usually 5-6 yards in width,
the saree is worn with a petticoat of similar shade and a matching or contrasting choli or blouse.
Typically, it is wrapped around the body such that the pallau - its extensively embroidered or printed
end - is draped over the left shoulder. The petticoat is worn just above or below the bellybutton and
functions as a support garment to hold the saree. Made from a myriad of materials, textures and
designs, the saree is truly exquisite.

Popular with northern Indian ladies is the salwar kameez or Punjabi suit; a long tunic worn over trousers
with a matching shawl.

The kurta is the traditional attire for men on formal occasions. It is a long knee-length shirt that is
typically made from cotton or linen cloth.

An Exotic Ensemble of Enchanting Experiences

Malaysia's multi-cultural and multi-racial heritage is most prominently exhibited in its diverse music and
dance forms. The dances of the indigenous Malay, Orang Asli and different ethnic peoples of Sabah and
Sarawak are truly exotic and enchanting. As the Chinese, Indians and Portuguese settled in Malaysia, the
traditional dances of their homelands became a part of Malaysia's culture and heritage.

Kompang
Arguably the most popular Malay traditional instrument, the kompangis widely used in a variety of
social occasions such as the National Day parades, official functions and weddings. Similar to the
tambourine but without the jingling metal discs, this hand drum is most commonly played in large
ensembles, where various rhythmic composite patterns are produced by overlapping multiple layers of
different rhythms.
Zapin
Islamic influence on Malaysian traditional dance is perhaps most evident in Zapin, a popular dance in the
state of Johor. Introduced by Muslim missionaries from the Middle East, the original dance was
performed to Islamic devotional chanting to spread knowledge about the history of the Islamic
civilisation.

Malay Mak Yong
Originating from Patani in Southern Thailand, Mak Yong was conceived to entertain female royalty,
queens and princesses, when their men were away at war. Combining romantic drama, dance and
operatic singing, tales of the golden age of the Malay kingdoms are dramatised in enchanting
performances.


Chinese Lion Dance
Usually performed during the Chinese New Year festival, Lion Dance is energetic and entertaining.
According to the legend, in ancient times, the lion was the only animal that could ward off a
mythological creature known as Nian that terrorised China and devoured people on the eve of the New
Year. Usually requiring perfect co-ordination, elegance and nerves of steel, the dance is almost always
performed to the beat of the tagu, the Chinese drum, and the clanging of cymbals.


Dragon Dance
The dragon is a mythical creature that represents supernatural power, goodness, fertility, vigilance and
dignity in Chinese culture. Typically performed to usher in the Chinese New Year, the Dragon Dance is
said to bring good luck and prosperity for the year to come. Usually requiring a team of over 60 people,
this fantastic performance is a dazzling display of perfect co-ordination, skill and grace.

Indian Bharata Natyam
This classical Indian dance is poetry in motion. Based on ancient Indian epics, this highly intense and
dramatic dance form uses over 100 dance steps and gestures. As mastery requires many years of
practice, some children begin learning the dance form at the age of five.


Bhangra
Bhangra is a lively folk music and dance form of the Sikh community. Originally a harvest dance, it is now
part of many social celebrations such as weddings and New Year festivities. Typically centred around
romantic themes with singing and dancing driven by heavy beats of the dhol, a double-barreled drum,
the bhangra is engagingly entertaining.