Malaysia is a multi racial
country consisting of Malays, Chinese, Indians and numerous
indigenous people. With this, comes a myriad of religion,
festivals, food and customs.
Today, the Malays, make up
Malaysia's largest ethnic group, which is more than 50% of the
population. In Malaysia, the term Malay refers to a person who
practices Islam and Malay traditions and speaks the Malay
language. Their conversion to Islam from Hinduism and Buddhism
began when the Sultan of Melaka embraced it in the 14th
Century. They are known for their good mannerisms.
The second largest ethnic
group, the Malaysian Chinese form 25% of the population. Mostly
descendents of Chinese immigrants during the 19th century,
different dialects are spoken. Hokkien is spoken mainly in the
North, in Penang and Cantonese in Kuala Lumpur. There are other
dialects like Teochew and Hakka and other smaller dialects such as
Foochow, Henghua, Kwongsai, Hokchia and Hokchui. Mandarin is
widely spoken in the southern states. The Chinese are known for
their diligence and keen business sense.
Indians & Sikhs
The Indians constitute 10% of
the Malaysian population and is the third and smallest of the
three main ethic groups. Most are from Tamil Speaking South India
who immigrated to Malaysia during British colonial times. Mainly
Hindus, they brought their colourful cultures such as ornate
temples, spicy cuisine and exquisite sarees. The Punjabi speaking
Sikh community in Malaysia owes its beginnings in the country to
the British connection and in particular with the recruitment of
Sikhs for the paramilitary and police units in the 1870s and
Peranakan, Baba-Nyonya and
Straits Chinese are terms used for the descendants of the very
early Chinese immigrants(15th
century) to the Nusantara region, including both the British
Straits Settlements of Malaya and the Dutch-controlled island of
Java among other places, who have partially adopted Malay customs
in an effort to be assimilated into the local communities. The
spoken language is Baba Malay, which is Malay language with
Chinese Hokkien mix. However it is a dying language that only the
older generation speaks. Peranakans are found mainly in Melaka and
Penang, although there is a lesser known 300 year old Peranakan
community in Kelantan.
The Chitty are a distinctive
group of Tamil people found mainly in Malacca, who are also known
as the Indian Peranakans. Historical records stated that the Tamil
traders from Panai in Tamil Nadu settled down in Malacca during
the sovereignty of the Sultanate of Malacca. Like the Peranakans,
they later freely intermingled with the local Malays and Chinese
settlers. However, with the fall of the Malacca Sultanate after
1511, the Chitty eventually lost touch with their native land.
Like the Peranakans, the Chitty speak a Malay patois, which is
mixed with many Tamil loan words. Many of the Chitty are unable to
communicate in Tamil fluently. The Chitty population is around
2000 and the traditional Chitty settlement is located at Kampung
Tujuh along Jalan Gajah Barang, Melaka.
Known also as Eurasians, they
are the descendants of the Portuguese who
arrived in Melaka in
1511, coming from Goa, India. Upon arrival from Goa, they built
settlements and married the locals. Their spoken language is Christang, which is
an old form of Portuguese. The Eurasians are predominantly
Catholic. Numbering around 2000, they live in a settlement in Ujong Pasir, Melaka.
Orang Asli means Original
People. These indigenous ethnic groups are found in both East and
In West Malaysia, they are
divided into three main tribal groups
from the North,
in the middle and
in the south. The Semang from the North, which consist of Kensiu,
Kintak, Lanoh, Jahai, Mandriq, and Batiq. The Senoi from the
middle includes Temiar, Semai, Semoq Beri, Jahut, Mah Meri, and
Che Wong and the Proto Malay in the south consist of Temuan,
Semelai, Temoq, Jakun, Kanaq, Kuala, and Seletar.
The Temers of Kelantan might be
called the ‘dream people’. As soon as they wake they tell one
another their dreams, and in whatever action they do-whether
hunting, fishing or planting tapioca-they allow themselves to be
guided by spirits talking to them in their sleep. By speaking out
their dreams, their guilt feelings of the previous day are brought
to the surface as in confession, and dissipate in the morning
mists and sun.
Temers never argue. By the time
they become adults, Temiars have learnt to feel anxious that their
actions might cause someone else harm. If they are embarrassed by
a questioner, they avoid conflict by quietly leaving. Their code
of behaviour is strict: ‘Never talk to your mother-in-law; never
shoot poison darts at humans; and don’t laugh at butterflies!’
In East Malaysia, the
indigenous people of Sarawak are known as the Dayaks, the Iban,
Bidayuh and Orang Ulu. The largest indigenous ethnic groups of
Sabah's population are the Kadazan Dusun, the Bajau and the Murut.
Dayak means upstream or inland.
Typically, they live in longhouses traditional community homes
that can house 20 to 100 families.
Iban is the largest of
Sarawak's ethnic groups with over 30% of the state's population.
In the past, they were a fearsome warrior race known for
headhunting and piracy. Sometimes wrongly called Sea Dayaks for
their boating skills, they live in the heart of Kalimantan.
The Bidayuh are peace loving
and easy going but ironically have a history of headhunting. Their
roundhouses are mainly located in Sarawak's mountainous regions.
Orang Ulu are the upriver
tribes of Sarawak. Artistically inclined, their longhouses are
ornately decorated with woodcarvings and murals. Their utensils
are embellished with intricate beadwork; and aristocratic ladies
cover their body with finely detailed tattoos.
Sabah’s indigenous people
include Kadazan-Dusun, Kwijau, Murut, Bajau, Illanun, Lotud,
Rungus, Tambanuo, Dumpas, Mangka’ak, Suluk, Illocano, Orang Sungai,
Brunei, Kedayan, Tagalog, Bisaya, Tidong, Indonesian, Maragang,
Orang Cocos, Paitan, Ida’an, Minoko, Rumanau, Serani, Chinese of
mixed bumibutra parentage and Filipino of mixed bumiputra
The largest ethnic group of
Sabah, the Kadazan Dusuns form about 30% of the state's
population. Actually consisting of two tribes; the Kadazan and the
Dusun, they were grouped together as they both share the same
language and culture. However, the Kadazan are mainly inhabitants
of flat valley deltas, which are conducive to paddy field farming,
while the Dusun traditionally lived in the hilly and mountainous
regions of interior Sabah.
The second largest ethnic group
in Sabah, the Bajaus make up about 15% of the state's population.
Historically, a nomadic sea-faring people that worshipped the
Omboh Dilaut of God of the Sea, they are sometimes referred to as
the Sea Gypsies. Those who chose to leave their sea-faring ways
become farmers and cattle breeders. These land Bajaus are
nicknamed 'Cowboys of the East' in tribute to their impressive
equestrian skills, which are publicly displayed in the annual Tamu
Besar festival at Kota Belud.
Murut means ‘Men of the Hills’
and they are the third largest ethnic group in Sabah, making up
about 3% of the state's population. Traditionally inhabiting the
northern inland regions of Borneo, they were the last of Sabah's
ethnic groups to renounce headhunting. Now, they are mostly
shifting cultivators of hill paddy and tapioca, supplementing
their diet with blowpipe hunting and fishing. Like most indigenous
tribes in Sabah, their traditional clothing is decorated with
distinctive beadwork. ‘Kaansayan Minatong’ means welcome in Murut
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